How Long, O Lord? Steadying Our Soul in the Midst of the Storm

Bethlehem 2016 Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Although I have preached on the passage before, when my topic was assigned to me, I could not think of a passage more relevant, more immediate than the passage we are about to study together. Revelation chapter 12:1–17 (all Scripture references from the NIV). I shall begin by reading the entire chapter. Here then what Holy Scripture says:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times, and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

This is the word of the Lord.

What Lies at the Root?

I have a son who is six foot three, a bit of a bruiser, but he has the most remarkable deep blue eyes of anyone I know. When he was about three, I asked him one day, “Nicholas, where did you get your deep blue eyes?” And he said, with all the authority that only a three-year-old can muster, “From God.” Now, of course, if he’d been 20-years-old and a biology student, he might have answered, “Well, although neither you nor mom has blue eyes, both of you must carry the necessary recessive gene, which, in my case, happily combined to form my DNA.” Which answer would’ve been truer? Well, they’re equally true. Which answer is more fundamental?

Here’s another question. What caused the destruction of the southern kingdom of Judah in 587 or 586 BC? Well, it was the rise of the Babylonian superpower, the decline and decay of the Davidic dynasty, the foolish stupidity of Hezekiah in disclosing the wealth of the realm several generations earlier to emissaries from the fledgling Babylon, and the sins of the people — sins that attracted God’s judgment. Or one could say, “God did it.” Which answer is truer? As far as I can see, they’re equally true. Which is more fundamental?

Or you can run it to the realm of individual suffering. What made Job suffer? Well, the bands of Sabeans and Chaldeans running off with his livestock and cattle, the natural elements that took down the house in which his 10 children were living, killing them all — bereavement, loss of health, a nagging wife, or you could say the devil did it. Or you could say God did it. Which answer is truer? Which answer is more fundamental?

Now then, what has caused the church her greatest difficulties and sufferings and challenges during the last few decades? It depends a bit on where you are in the world, I suppose. Increasingly in some Muslim countries it is extraordinarily dangerous to be a Christian. Think of Saudi Arabia. In a country like China, about which anything you say is true somewhere and not true somewhere else. The greatest dangers in the free economic zones like Shanghai are, frankly, materialism, greed, and rising secularism.

But in more rural parts, there is still a great deal of opposition and incarceration for being a Christian, especially being a Christian pastor. In parts of Central Africa, you could point to tribalism, AIDS, lack of trained leadership, and drought. You could point to the conflict on the edges between Christianity and Islam in countries like Sudan and Nigeria.

What about the West? You could point to material prosperity that creates its own gods, the rapid pace of life that forbids us to think, the impact of mass media training us in ways that are ungodly, and rising secularization, which does not mean the abolition of religion; it means the squeezing of religion to the periphery so that it is entirely privatized. One can think of certain forms of pluralism, moral indifferentism, and prayerlessness in many of our churches. One could think of this “age of authenticity”, as Taylor calls it, an age in which we prove our importance and our authenticity by making our own choices and sticking with them, even if they are astonishingly egocentric and frankly idolatrous.

But if you notice those categories, they’re sociological, they’re historical, they’re occasional, they’re demographic, they’re psychological. There’s nothing about the devil and nothing about God. Now, do not misunderstand me. I am certainly not saying that there is nothing to be learned from sociological analysis, or that there’s nothing to be learned from the horrible lessons we’ve seen at the horizontal level with respect to racism. I’m not suggesting any of those things. I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing to be learned by talking about boomers and busters and millennials. But if all of our analyses are cast in such terms, not only are we superficial, but our answers tend also to be cast in such terms. And then we’re not only superficial, we’re wrong.

The Deeper Analysis

Now, if I understand the passage before us aright, God here gives us a deeper analysis of the difficulties and sufferings of the church. Chapters 12 through 14 mark a major division in the Book of Revelation. Before the final display of wrath in the seven plagues of chapter 16, John traces in these chapters the underlying cause of the hostility and suffering that fall upon the church. And it is nothing less than the rage of Satan under the sovereignty of God.

First, John outlines the occasion for this satanic rage in Revelation 12:1–9. In John’s vision the scene opens with a great and wondrous sign appearing in heaven. The word “sign” here, as sometimes elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, is a great spectacle that points in some ways to the consummation, a spectacular pageant. The content of this spectacle is a woman. And what a woman she is. Revelation 12:1–2 says she is “a woman clothed with the sun, with a moon under her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head,” and she is pregnant, crying out in pain as she is about to give birth.

The New Jerusalem, Our Mother

Many have argued that this is Mary, since, after all, she gives birth to a son in Revelation 12:5, a male child who will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” But that identification is not right. The identification is larger. The woman here represents the messianic community, whether under the old covenant or the new. For just as Zion in the Old Testament, Jerusalem, is the mother of the people, so in the New Testament, the heavenly Jerusalem is the mother of God’s new covenant people.

So for example, in a passage that is full of talk about the future glory of Zion, we read in Isaiah 54:1:

“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child;
     burst into song,
     shout for joy, you who were never in labor . . .

And in Galatians 4:26, on the new covenant side, it says:

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

And that is confirmed, of course, by Revelation 12:17 in this chapter. It says:

The dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus . . .

Or as we put it, Christians. So this is more than Mary. Mary is merely the outworking in one particular individual of the glorious truth that the Messiah comes from the messianic community. She is clothed with the sun, utterly radiant. Her feet on the moon suggests dominion. The 12 stars on her head constitute the totality of the people of God, the 12 tribes of the Old Covenant and the 12 apostles of the New Covenant, which is a symbolism that recurs constantly in the Book of Revelation. And she is pregnant in Revelation 12:2. She’s in travail.

Jews and then Christians spoke of the birth pains of the Messiah. That does not mean that the Messiah himself has birth pains, but that there were birth pains born before the Messiah came out, as it were, came to present himself. This imagery goes back to the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah 26:17–18 says:

As a pregnant woman about to give birth
     writhes and cries out in her pain,
     so were we in your presence, Lord.

So we have then, in this first spectacle, true Israel in an agony of suffering, an agony of expectation as the Messiah comes to birth.

The Ancient Serpent

Here’s the second sign in the pageant. Revelation 12:3 says:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.

This is the Dragon, Leviathan, a monster of the deep. These are the standard expressions for all that opposes God. Such expressions are tied in the Old Testament to Egypt when it held God’s people in slavery (Psalm 74:14), to Assyria and Babylon (Isaiah 27:1), and to pharaoh (Ezekiel 29:2–3). But the supreme opponent is Satan himself. He’s identified for us in Revelation 12:9, in case there was any doubt. It says:

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.

He has seven heads, like Leviathan in Psalm 74:14, suggesting the universality of his power. He has 10 horns, recalling the fourth beast of Daniel 7:19–20. He has awesome power, kingly authority. A horn always represents kingly authority in apocalyptic literature. And the crowns are not victory wreaths but crowns of usurped authority against him who is described in this book as the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), the one who in Revelation 12:5 of this chapter will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.

Seeing Behind the Curtain

Now before we press on, we need to pause for a moment to remind ourselves how Satan stands behind ancient Syria, for example. It doesn’t mean that all ancient Assyrians were demon possessed. Think what Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16:23. Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Messiah. But when Jesus goes on to talk about how this Messiah must suffer and die and rise again the third day, Peter still has no categories for that. Messiahs win. They rule, they triumph, especially one like Jesus who can do such spectacular miracles. They don’t die. Peter says, “Never Lord, this shall not happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus wheels on him and says, “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23).

Are we to imagine that at that moment Peter was demon possessed? No, of course not. He was giving his own opinion. But his opinion was so aligned with the maliciousness and the lies and the hatred of Satan that he was Satan’s mouthpiece. It’s not that Jesus when he said, “Get behind me, Satan,” was saying, “Peter, it’s not your fault. I’m just addressing the Satan who’s behind you.” What we need to see is that Satan himself stands behind so much of the evil that does have historical causes. Superficial isn’t even the right word. They are real causes, it’s just that they’re inadequately analyzed when you don’t see Satan behind the evil.

Cosmic Evil with Sweeping Power

So those are the two signs and then the drama begins to unfold. Revelation 12:4 says:

Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.

This scene is spectacularly grotesque. You’re to picture the woman with her feet in the stirrups, pushing to give birth, and there’s this dragon standing between her legs ready to grab the baby and eat it. And what’s the historical reality which this symbolism depicts? Think of the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. Think of the malice of Satan as he tried to drive Jesus over a hill to be killed. He is always pushing, always trying to kill. He was a murderer from the beginning, all the way to the cross.

The sweeping of one third of the stars out of the sky is part of pretty common nature symbolism in Scripture. When things are going well, the hills clap their hands, the trees dance for joy, or the other way around. And when things are going disastrously or when wickedness seems to be triumphing, then stars fall from heaven. This is not a statement about astronomy. It’s a symbol-laden way of showing that the good or the evil are both cosmic in their sweep. And in this particular case, the imagery is drawn right from the prophecy of Daniel 8:9–10:

Out of one of them (one of the horns just mentioned) came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.

A close study of Daniel 8 shows that this is referring to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. And it’s worth mentioning that, not because of its historical detail, but because that sets the stage for something else that’s going to show up in this passage in a few moments.

The child is spared the dragon. It says, “She gave birth to a son,” this woman, “a male child who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter and her child was snatched up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5). So you move in this verse from Jesus’s birth to his ascension in about two lines. Why? Why not linger a little more on the earthly ministry? Why not linger a little more on the cross and the resurrection? Why is it just his birth to ascension?

The Setting and the Drama

Well, the reason is straightforward. It’s because this book builds on previous visions. And before you have the vision of chapter 12, you have the vision of chapters four and five. Chapter four is to chapter five, what a setting is to a drama. In chapter four, the setting is the throne room of God. And in symbol after symbol that chapter extols the greatness and transcendence of God. He is the one before whom even the highest order of angels dare not gaze but cover their faces with their wings and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.” And there is praise in the heavens as thousands upon thousands join in around the throne praising God because he is the creator and everything exists because of him. That’s the setting for the drama that takes place in chapter five.

In chapter five, this God seated on a throne holds in his hand, his right hand, the hand of power, a scroll sealed with seven seals. And in the peculiar symbolism of the book that scroll holds all of God’s purposes for judgment and blessing for the entire universe. And the symbolism dictates that unless those seals are slit, what is decreed in the scroll will not be enacted. The slitting of the seals is not to enable us to peek inside to satisfy our curiosity; the slitting of the seals is for the effecting of what God has decreed in the scroll.

So a voice, a powerful voice from a powerful angel, challenges the whole universe: “Who is worthy to approach this God, to take the scroll from his hand to break the seals?” (Revelation 5:2). And no one is found who is worthy. That’s why the setting of chapter four is so important. If the highest order of angels. Untainted by sin, dare not gaze on this God, we’re going to saunter into his presence and say, “Oh, I’ll have a go. Here am I. Send me.”

No one is found. No heavenly being. No human being. No one under the earth. No necromancer from the abodes of the dead — no one. And John weeps. He weeps, not because he’s a nosy parker who has a frustrated curiosity and he can’t get his eschatology sorted out. He weeps because in the symbolism of the vision, this means that God’s purposes will not be effected. And that means that the suffering of the church, for example, is for no reason. It’s just chance stuff. It’s just happening. God’s purposes are not being rolled out. Injustice may prevail. Who can be sure that justice will be done and be seen to be done? Where is the glory in that? It’s just amoral chaos and anarchy. He weeps.

Conquering Lion, Slain Lamb

He reminds me of some 20th century theologians, except he wept because he had more sense. Rudolf Bultmann declared, “The meaning of history is now meaningless.” That’s what John saw, but he had the good sense to weep. And then an interpreting elder touches him on the shoulder as it were and says, “Stop your crying. Look, the lion of the tribe of Judah, he has prevailed to open the scroll.” “So I looked,” John says, “and I saw a lamb.” It’s lion-lamb. He is not half-lion and half-lamb. That’s why you can’t paint the symbolism of the Book of Revelation without looking stupid. We don’t worship a half-lion, half-lamb. It’s why the word symbolism is important here, not visual symbolism.

This is the lion-lamb. It is 100% lion, 100% lamb. And at that, the lamb is confusing in the symbolism. It’s a “slaughtered” lamb the text says, but with seven horns on his head, a perfection of kingly authority. And instead of having to approach this God from the outside, he comes from the center of the throne himself.

And then it is declared, “Take down your harps, sing songs of joy, break out in praise, for the Lamb has prevailed to open the scroll and bring about all of God’s saving purposes, redeeming men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.” And the whole universe breaks out in applause and adoration before, not only him who has created all things, but before him who sits on the throne and the Lamb.

Allured into the Wilderness

Now all that’s presupposed before you get to this chapter. You have to squeeze it in the middle of verse five. John’s not reviewing it. He’s presupposing it. This man-child is born and ascends, and in between, read Revelation 4–5. So now the focus is not quite on Christ. There’s a return to Christ in a moment. Now the focus is on the woman and her offspring, Christians.

There are two elements of symbolism here that we should pause to unpack. Revelation 12:6 says:

The woman fled into the wilderness, to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

The wilderness, first of all, in the Old Testament is simultaneously the place of parched ground, of challenge, and of difficulty before getting into the promised land. And it’s a place of almost romantic overtones where God wooed his people. That’s why the symbolism is picked up in Hosea 2:14, which says:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
     I will lead her into the wilderness
     and speak tenderly to her.

He is taking her back, you see, to those difficult challenging times where God was particularly close in miracles and signs and voices and fiery clouds and cloudy pillars and so on. So Israel, now an abominable prostitute, spiritually speaking, is going to be wooed by God Almighty, back to the wilderness all over again to start teaching her the fundamentals all over again.

So this woman, having given birth to the man-child, to the Messiah, to the lion-lamb, is now being taken by God into the wilderness, a tough time before the end. Yet it is also a place and a time where God will woo her and love her and allure her.

A Time, Times, and Half a Time

And what about the 1,260 days? Well, as you can imagine, there have been a lot of theories about that. There are several expressions that all mean the same thing. One thing is that 1,260 days, assuming 30 days a month, amounts to 42 months. That expression is used in Revelation 11:2 and Revelation 13:5. Forty-two months is also three and a half years. And it’s another way of saying the same thing in Revelation 12:14 — time (one year), times (two more years), and half a time (half a year). All of them say the same thing. All of them refer to three and a half years. Why?

In my view, the overwhelmingly most likely interpretation is this. In many places and cultures, a certain period of time resonates as a culture-laden symbol that everybody in that culture resonates with. If I were to say to you, “Four score and seven years,” I suspect that every American in the audience knows what I’m talking about, and everyone who’s not an American doesn’t, unless you’ve become Americanized in some way.

That’s the Gettysburg address. It says, “Four score and seven years our fathers brought forth in this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and so on and so on and so on. Schoolchildren are taught it. They memorize it. They might not memorize much else in our educational system, but they memorize the Gettysburg Address. So four score years and seven resonates.

But in Israel’s history, three and a half years resonates and 42 months because Israel faced that terrible time from 167 to 164 BC, when the Syrians to the north (under the Seleucid Dynasty) that had been trying to crush little Israel for a long time became really powerful under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose reign is predicted in Daniel. He declared Judaism, in effect, an illicit religion. He made it a capital crime to own any part of Torah. He made it a capital crime to observe the Sabbath. He made it a capital crime to worship at the temple. He resolved to kill priests as he found them. He was going to paganize the nation.

An old priest by the name of Mattathias, in a small Judean hill country town, managed to kill instead, the man who had been sent to kill him. He had three sons. The first was called Judah, and he came to be called Judah “the Hammer,” or “Judah Maccabeus”. And hence we speak of the Maccabean revolution. He was eventually killed, and then his brother took over, and he was killed and his brother took over.

But they generated a three and a half year guerrilla war that was bloody, no holds barred. It was three and a half bloody years, until finally they grew strong enough for a set peace on the bank of Orontes River, and the Syrian army was finally crushed. And for the first time, the first time since the fall of the temple, for the first time in half a millennium, the Jews were free to reconstruct their nation as they wanted to.

Banished from Heaven

Now sadly, they did not put a Davidic monarch back on the throne. Rather, as so often happens, the revolutionaries themselves promoted themselves to governing authority. And a bare century later, the Romans took over in 63 BC. So they never did gain back the Davidic throne, until the Davidic King par excellence came.

But this Maccabean revolt figures so heavily in Jewish self-identity, even to this day, that the three and a half years becomes symbol laden. It becomes a way of talking about a limited period of time during which evil has a remarkably free course before there is a final triumph over all that is wretched. So hear Revelation 12:6:

The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then, Revelation 12:7–9 pictures war in heaven. If I am not mistaken, it is the heavenly counterpart to Christ’s triumph on the cross. Satan makes an all out bid to have God’s rights, but he’s defeated and thrown out of heaven. It reminds us of Jesus’s words, “I saw Satan cast out of heaven” (Luke 10:18).

The result then is that Satan is defeated in principle. He is no longer in heaven. Revelation 12:10 says:

The accuser of our brothers and sisters,
     who accuses them before our God day and night,
​​     has been hurled down.

Then Revelation 12:12 says:

Therefore rejoice, you heavens
     and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
     because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

Satan’s Restricted Time

What we have in the first place is this. John outlines the occasion for this satanic rage. Second, John identifies the reasons for this satanic rage. There are three. Number one: Satan knows his time is short. Number two: Satan’s sphere is restricted. Number three: Satan’s success is limited. Let’s deal with all three.

Satan knows his time is short. That’s what the text explicitly says. Revelation 12:12 says:

He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

In World War II in 1944, the Russians were pressing hard from the east. The Western allies had cleared out North Africa and were pushing up the boot of Italy. And then came Normandy. And in three days, 1.1 million men and tons and tons of tons of war material landed on the beaches and began to make their way in bloody warfare, hedge by hedge, row by row into the heart of Europe.

Now anybody with half a brain in his head should have been able to see that the war was over. In terms of the numbers of available troops, in terms of the amount of available energy, in terms of the production capacity to produce tanks and armaments and the like, in terms of financial strength, in every kind of measurement the war was over. It was done. Does that mean Hitler said, “Oops. How about a peace treaty?” No, he was filled with fury because he knows his time is short. He’s not going to give in. So what happens instead is the breakout once again, as the Germans made a spectacular push for the coast again. And the only reason they didn’t get there in the Battle of the Bulge is because they ran out of gas.

This is a period of Satan’s terrible, vengeful wrath. If he ever had delusions that he could somehow displace God, if he had temptations to think himself able somehow to displace God, or at least to be on a par with him, now he is defeated in principle. He knows he’s done. But does he say, “Oops, I’m so sorry. I repent. Could we have another go at this?” Rather, he is filled with fury because he knows his time is short.

What this means is that as you and I contemplate Satan’s wrath working out in vituperation against the gospel and Christ’s people, we must constantly remember that this rage is directed at us, not because Satan might win, but precisely because he’s lost. He’s done. It’s a mop-up operation. But like many mop-up operations in military worlds, that fighting can be the bloodiest of all.

Satan’s Restricted Rule

So he knows his time is short. He knows his fear is restricted. Revelation 12:12 says:

Therefore rejoice, you heavens
     and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
     because the devil has gone down to you!

He has lost this cosmic dimension, this sweeping ability to enter into God’s presence with the other angels. Think about Job 1, for example. He is banished, he’s done, and he’s defeated. He has no claim. Revelation 12:13 says:

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

In other words, all of his vituperation is precisely, not only because his time is short, but because his sphere is restricted. And in that sphere we are in the war zone, and he is, dare I say it, mad as hell.

Satan’s Restricted Success

And then on top of all of that, his success is limited, which is Revelation 12:14–17. In these verses — we don’t have time to go through them in detail — you find element after element of Exodus typology. The people of God are borne up on wings of an eagle, which calls to mind Isaiah 40, Exodus 19, and Deuteronomy 32. He tries to drown the people with a great torrent, possibly reflecting Exodus 1:22. It speaks of the opening of the Earth, like Numbers 16, and there are many, many passages such as, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2).

The point of all of this is that Satan’s hatred for the church is clearly based on his hatred for Jesus, for the man-child that he tried to devour. And the church faces this enraged Satan. The dragon is enraged that the woman goes off to wage war against the rest of her offspring — those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. God is still in control. He provides some measure of relief. But nevertheless, this rage goes on until the very end.

Let Both Grow to the End

When the wall came down in Berlin in 1989, it was not long before the pundits were talking about what the future would bring. In 1992 or 1993, Fukuyama came out with a book called The End of History. He didn’t mean that history was really ending. He meant that history as we know it was really ending — history as we know it, bound up with major conflict and superpowers at odds and so forth. He thought that with the coming down of the wall and the fall of Communism, there would be a period of a few hundred years — he suggested 300 years — when there would be regional skirmishes and the like. Gradually the world would become more and more democratic and more and more peaceful.

There would be no east versus west anymore. What he thought of China, I don’t know. But nevertheless, that’s what he said. The history as we know it, history defined by wars and empires and struggles and so on, is over. We’re at the end of history.

I remember when I read the book, and I thought, “Well, either Fukuyama is right or Jesus is right, but they’re not both right.” After all, Jesus says, “There will be wars and rumors of wars. Don’t be dismayed. The end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). The problem is not with non-democratic superpowers; the problem is with the human heart. You don’t fix that by taking down a Berlin Wall.

Would anybody today say that Fukuyama is right, that the world is heading for massive stability and peace? In fact, that forces us to remember some of the parables of Jesus. Think of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The master forbids his workers from going in and trying to pull out the weeds early. He says, “Let both grow until the end.” And then there is a final separation. So, as I claim no prophetic expertise, I’m quite prepared to tell you what’s going to happen. Both will grow until the end. Jesus said so.

So we will see times of revival and reformation and growth and thousands — hundreds of thousands, millions — being swept into the kingdom as is happening in many parts of the world today. And we will see weeds growing and disaster and judgment and sorrow and war and bloodshed. And the end is not yet. Both will grow until the end. Don’t you see?

So I fully expect greater revival than we’ve ever seen yet. I fully expect greater war than we’ve ever seen yet. We’ve just come through the bloodiest century in human history. And for the life of me, I can’t think of a single, biblical theological reason why we shouldn’t have a bloodier century for this one. It might not be, but it shouldn’t be surprising if it is. “Let both grow until the end.”

We face a Satan who is full of fury because he knows his time is short, his sphere is limited, and his success isn’t all that wonderful either.

How We Overcome

At last I come to the main point. John specifies how Christians overcome this satanic rage. John specifies how Christians overcome this satanic rage. Revelation 12:10–11 says:

Now have come the salvation and the power
     and the kingdom of our God,
     and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
     who accuses them before our God day and night,
     has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
​​    by the blood of the Lamb
     and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
     as to shrink from death.

So they overcome him by the blood of the Lamb. This is the great redemptive act that freed them from their sins, which is the way the Book of Revelation opens up in Revelation 1:5. It establishes their right to reign with Christ (Revelation 5:9). The kingdom has come. It’s dawning even now waiting for the consummation when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever.

This picture of the accuser of our brothers; it’s awful. What we’re to think of is something like this. Satan says to God, as he says in effect with respect to Job, “Do you think that particular Christian is so faithful? You have no idea how weak he is, God. That John Piper, that Don Carson, they’ve got hearts that are steeped in unbelief, and you call them your sons? How can you in your holiness pretend to maintain your holiness and have dealings with people as disgusting as that?” He is constantly accusing us before God, constantly accusing us in our own consciousness and on every front. The devil who is himself steeped in rebellion and sin is making much of our rebellion and sin to destroy us.

And he calls God down for not being as holy as God claims to be. He’s the accuser of the brothers, and now he’s been hurled down. Why? It says, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

The Efficacy of the Blood

Picture two Jews by the name of Smith and Brown, remarkably Jewish names, the day before the first Passover, and they’re having a little discussion in the land of Goshen. And Smith says to Brown, “Boy, are you a little nervous about what’s going to happen tonight?” And Brown says, “Well, God told us what to do through his servant, Moses. You don’t have to be nervous. Haven’t you slaughtered the lamb and dabbed the two doorposts with blood, and put blood on the lintel? Haven’t you done that? Are you all ready and packed to go? Are you going to eat the whole Passover meal with your family?”

And he says, “Of course I’ve done that. I’m not stupid. But it’s still pretty scary when you think of all the things that have happened around here recently with the flies and the river turning to blood. It’s pretty awful. And now there’s a threat of the firstborn being killed. It’s all right for you. You have three sons and I’ve only got one. And I love my Charlie, and the angel of death is passing through tonight. I know what God says and I’ve put the blood there, but it’s pretty scary. I’ll be glad when this night is over.”

And the other one responds, “Bring it on. I trust the promises of God.” That night the angel of death swept through the land. Which one lost his son? The answer, of course, is neither because death doesn’t pass over them on the ground of the intensity or the clarity of the faith exercised, but on the ground of the blood of the lamb. That’s what silences the accuser. The blood silences the accuser of the brothers as he accuses us before God.

He silences our consciences when he accuses us directly. How many times do we writhe in agony, asking if God can ever love us enough, if God can ever care for us enough after we’ve done such stupid, sinful, rebellious things after being Christians for 40 years? What are you going to say? “You know, God, I tried hard. I did my best. It was a bad moment.” No, no, no.

I have no other argument. I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me."

We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb. There is the ground of all human assurance before God. There is the ground of our faith, not guaranteeing intensity of faith, so fickle are we. It’s not the intensity of our faith, but the object of our faith that saves. They overcome him on the ground of the blood of the Lamb.

The Testimony of the Saints

But it’s also on account of the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11). That does not simply mean they give their testimonies a lot, but it’s close. God’s means of ruling, of reigning is regularly through his word. So here, the cause of the victory is the word of their testimony — that is, the proclamation of the gospel. By this gospel worded out, Satan is defeated.

How do you defeat Satan? Send in the Marines? There’s a place for the Marines. God gives the sword to the nation. My son with blue eyes is a Marine, but the Marines have never yet been known for bringing lots of people to Christ. How does the kingdom of God in this age, before the consummation, advance? It’s by the word of their testimony, by Christians talking about the gospel.

Do you want Satan to win? Shut up. Do you want Satan to lose? Talk about the gospel. It’s as simple as that. We make it so complex, but that’s the way the word of God, the kingdom of God, advances in this age. It’s through the word that we proclaim, to which we testify, about which we bear witness, which we share with others. We talk about the gospel.

Our Willingness to Die

And then on top of that, they win by their simple willingness to die. What are you going to do with people who are really convinced that when they die, they go to heaven and are with Christ and they’ll see God face to face and enjoy resurrection bodies one day in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness? What are you going to do to stop them, kill them? I don’t want to present death in a romantic garb. It still remains the last enemy, but although it’s the last enemy, it does not have the last word.

So Christians need to be taught how to die well, to use an old Puritan expression, and the more so where there is opposition and real risk of life and limb and suffering for the gospel’s sake. But, if they are willing to die, if as the text puts it, that they “do not love their lives so much as to shrink from death,” what are you going to do to silence them? Let me conclude.

Rightly Seeing Our Situation

There are two applications of overwhelming importance. Number one: We must analyze our situation in every generation biblically and theologically, and not simply or exclusively sociologically, historically, and psychologically. Again, do not misunderstand me. It’s not that there is nothing to learn from those kinds of observations, but at the end of the day, we must see God at work and we must see the devil at work, and we must understand that even our Christian witness as we share the faith with a neighbor, talk to a Muslim about Christ Jesus, and build up the saints within the context of the church, all of this struggle is within a cosmic, sweeping struggle between God and Satan, in which Satan is defeated already in principle.

Luther understood that:

And though this world with devils filled Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.

The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure; One little word will fail him.

Utilizing Our Weapons

Second, we must recognize and use our weapons, our God-given, effective weapons — all that are based on Christ’s atoning death, all the authority based on proclaiming the word of God, and all that involve courage and integrity that emerged because death cannot frighten those who follow the Prince of life.

What do we have of value that has not been secured by the blood of the Lamb? Do you have forgiveness of sins? It’s secured by the blood of the Lamb. Do you have courage to approach a holy God? It’s secured by the blood of the Lamb. Do you have eternal life? It’s secured by the blood of the Lamb. Do you have the gift of the Spirit, the down payment of the promised inheritance? It’s secured by the blood of the Lamb. Do you have the fellowship of the saints? It’s secured by the blood of the Lamb. Do you have, in prospect, resurrection bodies? It’s secured by the blood of the Lamb. It’s all secured by the blood of the Lamb.

So we overcome Satan on the ground of the blood of the Lamb. And we preach it. We preach it — the word of their testimony. And we think in eternal terms, not in terms of creaturely comforts here.

Hast Thou No Scar?

In the words of Amy Carmichael, who served for 55 years in India:

Hast thou no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand? I hear thee sung as mighty in the land; I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star. Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound? Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent, Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned. Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar? Yet, as the Master shall the servant be, And piercèd are the feet that follow Me. But thine are whole; can he have followed far Who hast no wound or scar?

If They Persecuted Me, They Will Persecute You

Or similarly but in more contemporary guise:

I told the folk I cherished how my sins had been forgiven, How Jesus changed my outlook, took my guilt, and gave me heaven. They thought I’d lost my senses, turned fanatic, lost my reason. They charged me with betrayal, with a vicious kind of treason. And I wondered why salvation should cause me so much pain.

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you For the slave is not above the Lord he serves. My assignment was the cross; you my slave will bear some loss: My disciple takes his cross and daily nerves his heart and mind to follow me.

Then soon I learned my brothers and my sisters in the Savior So often shine in suffering with astonishing behavior, Adorn the blessed gospel with forbearing perseverance, Forgive their cruel tormentors with a graceful, firm endurance. Still I wondered why salvation should cause them so much pain.

What alien perspectives I’ve pursued with willful blindness. For apostolic servants would rejoice at God’s great kindness In reckoning them worthy to take on a little battering; They longed to know Christ’s power and the fellowship of suffering. For they understood their calling to trust and suffer pain.

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you For the slave is not above the Lord he serves. My assignment was the cross; you my slave will bear some loss: My disciple takes his cross and daily nerves his heart and mind to follow me.

is emeritus professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member of The Gospel Coalition, and the author of How Long, O Lord?