We live at a time of peace, don’t we? For the last ten years we have been living in the UK after moving here from China. I can say that generally speaking it is quite comfortable being a Christian here. Sure, we sometimes have some frustrations; culture is shifting away from our Christian heritage which can be uncomfortable, we can sometimes get in trouble for publicly voicing our Christian opinion, we could even lose some friends, or worse lose our job, but 99.99% of us won’t lose our jobs for being a Christian. There is an even smaller chance of being thrown in prison for our Christian faith. It would be unimaginable for any of us to lose our lives being a Christian.
So when we get through the strange beasts and dragons and read Revelation and see all the battles and fights and difficulties that Christians face, we struggle to see how this is relevant for us, don’t we? We aren’t seeing Christians persecuted all the time for their faith. We definitely aren’t seeing any Christians dying for their faith either.
John was writing Revelation to Christians, who generally speaking lived most of their lives in peace with not a lot of persecution. They too would have spent most of their time working, having families, and living out their lives as Christians with not a lot of persecution. It is true that during some parts of early Christian history there was persecution, people were thrown in prison, and some people were killed because of their faith. Take a look through Acts. But then shortly after, Christianity became a significant influence in the Roman Empire.
I think it would be fair to say that for most Christians, throughout most of history, for most of their lives they did not face persecution. I am not saying that Christians throughout church history did not face persecution, because that would be false. My point is this, for most Christian readers of Revelation, for most of their lives, they would have struggled to see the relevance of Revelation. All these wars, battles, beasts and dragons. What does this have to do with my life? Most of the time life is straight forward, normal living. There is very rarely a time of war against Christians.
But the truth that John wants to communicate is, brothers and sisters, we are in a battle. We are in a spiritual battle and there are enemies all around trying to harm the church, to destroy the church and cause us pain. So I have titled this passage today: Prepare for battle.
I am not sure how familiar you are with Revelation. It’s a book very close to my heart that I have spent a lot of time studying. So let me give you a quick overview for those of you wanting to understand what’s going on. The key word to watch out for in Revelation is conquering. It comes up all over the place. A few key questions we want to keep asking as we read through revelation are: how does Jesus hope to conquer? What does it look like for a Christian to conquer? What does it look like for a whole church to conquer? As Revelation seeks to answer these questions, we get to see what it means to repent, living a godly life and what it means to endure and persevere.
This section we are in today is Revelation 12-14. It’s the central part of the book. It helps us answer the question: what is the present age for? Or how to conquer in the present age. I would like to preach the whole of Revelation to you, but I have been given just 21 minutes and just 6 verses. Our small passage today fits into this conquering by telling us in this section that we are to prepare for battle. Let’s get into the text.
In a nut shell, we get to see the battle raging in the heavenly kingdom. There is a pregnant royal woman with her crown (Revelation 12.1-2) who is at battle with a royal dragon with his seven crowns and God on his throne in Revelation 12.3. Then we see that this heavenly battle turns into an earthly battle. The battle is against God’s people and we are to prepare for battle.Three points that flow out of the passage in its context:
1. The royal dragon is terrifying
The dragon is terrifying isn’t he? Revelation 12.3 Seven heads with seven crowns. He looks very royal and important. And so powerful - swipes a third of the stars! We don’t have to try and understand all the detail, but we can see that a third is greater than a quarter of a few chapters ago (see Revelation 6.8). The battle is getting more intense. The dragon is also evil: he wants to devour a newly born child. There are few things more evil than wanting to kill someone so weak and dependent: a human with so much potential. Just last month we had news about the evil nurse who killed multiple babies. She is a bit like the devil. With Christmas last week we also can remember that Herod wanted to kill all the babies under his rule, so he is a bit like the devil too.
The dragon, the devil is terrifying and has declared war. This is who we need to be prepared to fight. The devil was in heaven, and we will see next week from Revelation 12.7 that the devil and all his cronies get kicked out of heaven. The battle is coming to earth. We need to prepare for battle. What sort of battle will it be? How can we conquer? There are so many questions that the passage wants us to ask and John will answer them all.
2. But Jesus is on his throne
Spoiler alert, we are going to see that there is victory in heaven in the next few chapters. But even here we can see that Jesus was never in danger from being killed by the dragon; it wasn’t a ‘real’ battle. Just like we say in the Apostles Creed: He came to earth, lived his life, died and rose again and then ascended to heaven. He is now sitting at the right hand of the Father. Jesus has conquered. He is in control.
If you are familiar with Revelation, John has spoken about this several times before (For example Revelation 5.11, 5.13, 6.16, 7.9, 7.10 7.15, 7.17, 8.3 and Revelation 11.16). We already know from the previous section of Revelation that because Jesus is on the highest throne he is in charge of our future, we don’t need to be anxious about the future.
As Jesus is on the throne, what kind of royal ruler is he? Revelation 12.5 He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Jesus is powerful. Iron - the strongest material known to man 2,000 years ago. He is a powerful ruler.
It’s good to know that Jesus has already won and because he is on the throne we are preparing to fight a winning battle. What a huge encouragement.
3. God prepares a place for his people and nourishes them
God is clearly in control throughout this passage; he rescues Jesus from the devil, he places him on his throne and they rule together in unity with the Holy Spirit. But not only this, Revelation 12.6 God prepares a place for her and nourishes her. Who is this woman? This woman is God’s people. From God’s declaration in Genesis 3 that the woman will go to war with Satan, all the way through the Old Testament of God’s people, leading to the Messiah, and then into the New Testament of God’s people after Jesus’ ascension. This woman is God’s people. We are to prepare for a winning battle against the devil. God is in control. He provides for his people and nourishes them. As we prepare for this winning battle, we need to know God will provide for us and nourish us.
Here are a few pointers which flow from the passage:
1. We need to remember that the devil is terrifying and evil and wants to cause God’s people great harm. We need to recognise that we have an enemy. We need to recognise that we have someone who wants to cause us harm. As we prepare for battle we need to know our enemy and undermine his plans to harm God’s people. We can do that by being more familiar with God’s Word. Particularly the book of Revelation.
2. We need to recognise that Jesus is powerful and he is on the highest throne. He’s got our backs. We are preparing to fight a winning battle. Sometimes Christians can get a bit overwhelmed with our Christian culture being undermined. With all the difficulties that we are facing in the public sphere, we need to remember that Jesus is powerful, and he is in control. The devil will use all the things in his power to harm God’s people, but Jesus is on his throne. He is in control. He’s got this.
3. The most encouraging thing to know is that God prepares for and nourishes his people. Our heavenly father gives us good gifts. Sometimes it's a really helpful exercise to look back over the last few years of our Christian lives and see how God has provided for and nourished us. I know for my short 15 years being part of God’s people that God has provided for and nourished me.
At the beginning of this sermon I suggested that the original readers wouldn’t have been likely to think they were in a huge spiritual battle against the devil. I assume that’s where most of us put ourselves too. Perhaps we think that’s what the charismatics down the road believe. But John’s big message today is that we need to prepare for battle.
I would love to have been preached through the whole of Revelation to you. Perhaps I might preach through the whole book when I move to Hong Kong? I encourage you to read through the whole of Revelation. Look out for the word conquer. Look out for the battle that Christians have to face. Start to put together what it means for Christians to conquer and how to prepare for battle with Satan. Brothers and sisters, what does Revelation 12.1-6 encourage us to do? Prepare for battle. We are going to sing, but before that let me close in a prayer:
Heavenly Father, you know that we are in a battle. Help us to prepare for this battle. Help us to know that the devil is terrifying. Help us to recognise that Jesus is powerful and on the highest throne and help us to know that you provide for and nourish your church. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.