Good evening, and a very happy new year to you! I love going to the cinema. But I haven’t been in a long time. And I’m sure you probably haven’t either! The book of Revelation is a bit like going to the cinema. It’s visual and it’s exciting. And it’s meant to engage our hearts – we’re meant to read Revelation and feel the action like we’re really there. We’ve been looking at Revelation 12 the past couple of weeks. A chapter which in picture language describes the great cosmic conflict between good and evil. Think of a huge battle maybe like something from Lord of the Rings – that’s what’s the image is here.
And last week in Revelation 12.1-6 we encountered the dramatic story of a pregnant woman who stands for the people of God. And a powerful red dragon who stand for Satan, the devil. But, although he tried, the devil was unable to destroy the woman, or her son – who stands for the Lord Jesus. This week we’re looking at the same cosmic conflict. But it’s like a bit like a football replay – we’re looking at the same events, but from a different angle adding a different perspective. And we need God’s help. So, let’s pray:
Father, help us this evening to see both the triumph of Christ and the lies of the devil. Amen.
So, here’s the first thing this passage teaches us:
Know that Jesus has victory over the power and claims of the devil.
Reading from Revelation 12.7-8:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven…
So, on one side there’s God’s army led by a chief angel called Michael. They’re the winning side. And then there’s the opponents – the devil and his angels. And we see in Revelation 12.9 just what the devil is like. He’s the deceiver of the whole world. And, skip on to Revelation 12.11 and we read he’s the accuser of our brothers. The devil accuses us by reminding God how we’ve treated him. Because, left to our own devices, we are guilty of the crime of ignoring God and choosing to rule our own lives. Think of all the ways you’ve pushed God to one side and said “no thanks”? Even this week. Now imagine, the devil taking all of that, all the things we’ve ever done, and said, and thought, and bringing it all to God and asking, “What are you going to do about this?” “What are you going to do about the way that Matt treats you? Look how he’s ignored you?” With these charges against us, it should be a quick verdict. But, Revelation 12.10-11:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
The authority of the Christ has come to rule! Because Jesus really came that first Christmas. God-become-man, in history, to save the world. And the devil couldn’t stop what he would go on to do! And so, from the day Jesus was born, the writing was on the wall: the devil was finished. And the victory was won by Jesus’ blood. The image is of it being shed like a sacrificial lamb, as he died on the cross bearing all our sin on himself.
Tsar Nicholas of Russia apparently used to wander round his military barracks in normal uniform so he could inspect without being noticed. And on one of these inspections late one night, he saw a light on with a soldier asleep at his desk. So, he crept inside. And he noticed the solider was actually the son of one of his old friends. And on the desk was a gun positioned by the soldier’s hand and a piece of paper. As the Tsar looked at the paper he realised it was a long list of gambling debts, and that large amounts of money had been stolen from the army in an attempt to pay them off. In despair the soldier had intended to take his own life, but, through emotional exhaustion, had fallen asleep. At the bottom of the page the soldier had written “So big a debt, who can pay?” And the Tsar took a pen from the table and below it wrote one word: “Nicholas”. And when the solider woke up he saw the Tsar’s signature and knew all his debts had been paid.
When the devil accuses us, and says to God “so big a debt, who can pay?” God says, “The debt has been paid at the cost of Jesus’ life. It’s been paid for in full. They belong to me now. And they’re part of my kingdom.” So, if you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, all this can be true for you if you trust in Jesus and make him Lord of your life! And if we are Christians we need to remember that the devil no longer has a case against us. He no longer has that power over us. He’s thrown out of heaven. He can’t stand in God’s courtroom when there is no longer any charge to be brought. And a victorious king can’t be surrounded by rebels. And we share in this great victory! That’s what the second part of Revelation 12.11 is about:
And they have conquered him…by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation was written to persecuted Christians facing the temptation to give up. And Revelation 12.11 was a reminder to them that if they endured persecution, if they kept going as Christians, the fact that the devil was, ultimately, defeated and conquered would be made visible/made-known/reinforced. So, any suffering we face for being Christians - from trouble at work, to difficult friendships, to our lives being at risk. None of it is wasted. God will use it, because it encourages other Christians, and it shows the world that the devil has lost and that Jesus has won. Because why else would suffering for Christ be endured, if he hasn’t won? You don’t suffer for something unless you’re absolutely convinced it’s true.
A friend of mine lost almost all their friends when they became a Christian. Apparently, to these friends, they were no fun anymore, and they faced complete rejection and lots of hostility. But here’s how that friend described becoming a Christian. They said, “At the end of the day, God doesn’t want much from us, does he?” This was someone who lost the majority of friends: “God doesn’t want much from us”. That’s someone who understands the victory of Christ over the devil. Someone who understands that whatever trouble the devil throws our way, nothing can separate us from Jesus’ love.
And that that’s worth any trouble. It’s worth giving up anything for. And it’s worth counting whatever we give up as nothing. And so, Revelation 12.12 – there is rejoicing in heaven at Christ’s great victory! And that’s for us to share in! Great news for a new year! So, when the devil whispers to us in his accusing voice, saying: “God won’t accept you, he won’t forgive you again, over that again. How can you think God can accept you?” We can say, “God accepts me because Jesus, the lamb, died for my sins, once and for all!”
And we know that the source of all the evil has been defeated, we can look forward to the day when Jesus will return to wrap up history. And we know that on that day there will be no contest. God will prevail. Good will prevail. Because the great victory has been won. And with that we rejoice! And we long for that day! But there’s a second part to Revelation 12.12:
But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
That’s the bad news. The devil is a defeated enemy, but until Jesus returns he’s out to attack Christians. So, secondly:
Know that the devil rages war against the church.
Reading from Revelation 12.13-16:
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.
So, Revelation 12.14 is a link back to the Old Testament, where God reminds the people of Israel how he rescued them from captivity in Egypt. And the image is of him carrying them out on eagle’s wings and bringing them to himself. It’s a picture of God’s intimate protection of the church, despite hardship. The church is nourished here – it’s given what it needs to survive, for a time, and times, and half a time – which means for a defined time, and not forever. Because one day Jesus will return to wrap up history. And the suffering of the church will be over.
But even the worst of the devil’s tactics, however powerful they may seem (like the image of water pouring out like a river in Revelation 12.15), the church can’t be destroyed, because it’s protected by God. And it always will be. The early church suffered terrible persecution. Yet it continued to grow. Christianity was declared dead in China. Yet now there are millions of Christians. More Muslims have become Christians in the past decades than ever before. The church is still here. It’s still growing today. And we will see some of that growth among us! Yet the devil fights against it.
I went fishing once in the North Sea. And, I’d love the next line of this story to be “and I caught loads of fish”. But that would be a lie! It would actually be a lie to say I caught a single fish. But, a few of my friends did – so I can at least I was with them. And they found, unsurprisingly, that once you caught a fish it was game over for the fish – it’s caught and that’s it. But it wasn’t easy for you as the fisherman. Because you had to reel in your line and pull and pull, and although the fish was caught, it was making its last stand in a desperate struggle to escape. Our trouble with the devil is not because he’s winning. It’s because he’s beaten. And he’s making his last stand. Revelation 12.17:
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
In our culture, the devil tries to convince us that he doesn’t exist. That’s what he wants. And this part of Revelation is partly designed as a wakeup call to his schemes. So, we need to know - the devil will pursue the church and continue to attack Christians until Jesus comes again. He’s on borrowed time – like a fish on a hook. Yet he simply won’t give up. And we need to be wise to the fact that he will attack us. C.S. Lewis famously wrote:
Readers are advised to remember the devil is a liar.
That’s what this passage shows us. He lies to us about God. So, we begin to question God’s character. And he lies to us about ourselves. So, we think we’re free to do what we want, when we want. And suddenly disobedience is made to look attractive. How might you be vulnerable to his schemes? John writes that the early Christians 'loved not their lives even unto death'. That’s giving the devil nothing at all. So that all that’s left is our lives.
If we keep our money to ourselves – the devil will use against us. If we keep our relationships to ourselves – the devil will use them. If we don’t give everything in our lives to King Jesus the devil will use whatever we haven’t against us. Because he’s a liar and a deceiver. It’s what he does. Fight against him. Asks others to help you. Pray. And don’t ever give up. The devil will not give up spreading his web of lies. He’s whispering to us at the minute, isn’t he? “Just look at the mess of this world. Covid-19, political division in this country - in Europe - in America, divisions in the church nationally, famine and poverty. Our own hearts…EVIL IS WINNING”.
Yet Revelation 12 says, “No, Jesus has won over evil. And just like the devil was banished from his presence, one day all evil will be.” So, the question is: how do we keep going when the world is a nasty place and the devil is always ready to attack? I think it’s there in Revelation 12.17. We hold to the commands of God. And we hold to the testimony of Jesus. That’s it. We keep going in faithfully living for Jesus – publicly, boldly, and bravely. And we trust his word and not the devil’s lies. All in God’s strength. It’s so simple. But it’s hard to do. But it’s worth it. That’s what Revelation 12 is saying – it’s worth keeping going with Jesus. No matter what, because he came into history to defeat the devil once and for all. And – when we trust in him – we’re on his winning side. And that really is tidings of comfort and joy. Let’s pray:
Your word teaches us that the devil is a like a roaring lion, out to pounce and devour. Help us to be wise to his schemes and in your strength to fight against them. And we thank you that big battle between good and evil has taken place – and that on the cross the devil was defeated, and that Jesus triumphed. We thank you that, although we don’t deserve it, as Christians we share in that victory. And we pray that on the final day, we’ll experience it fully and completely. For Jesus’ name. Amen.