I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (February 17-23) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments are related to the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.
SATAN, A DEFEATED ENEMY
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 12:11.
Study Focus: Revelation twelve covers the entire sweep of Christian history with glimpses of the universal war that lies behind the conflicts of earth.
Introduction: Revelation twelve portrays the history of both Old and New Testament Israel in four stages: 1) The period before the birth of Christ; with a glimpse of Israel represented by a woman (Rev. 12:1-2) and the original expulsion of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12:3-4). 2) The birth, ascension and enthronement of Christ with a fresh picture of the war in heaven as seen in the light of the cross (Rev. 12:5, 7-11). 3) The history of the Christian church between the two advents of Jesus, with a particular focus on the persecution of the church during the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:6, 13-16). 4) The experience of the end-time remnant in the final conflict of earth’s history (Rev. 12:17).
Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:
1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Rev.
2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict.
3. Application of the Year-Day Principle.
4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant.
5. Textual Issues in Rev. 12:17.
6. The Testimony of Jesus.
Life Application. 1) How does awareness of the cosmic conflict impact the way we look at the world and the way we find meaning and purpose in it? 2) What is the significance of the cosmic conflict on our understanding of the character of God?
Part II. Commentary
The twelfth chapter of Revelation portrays the history and experience of the church from the birth of Christ (Rev. 12:5) to the final crisis of earth’s history (12:17). As such it sets the stage for Revelation’s primary focus on end-time events from chapter thirteen on (see next week’s lesson for details on Rev. 13).
Main Themes of Lesson 8 Elaborated:
1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Rev. There is an important literary pattern in the book of Revelation. Whenever a new character appears in the story, the author pauses the narrative and offers a visual description of that character and a bit of its previous history. This “freeze frame” often helps the reader identify the character. After this introduction, the character plays a role in the larger story.
In chapter one, Jesus appears as a character in the vision for the first time (Rev. 1:12-18— He is named earlier: 1:5,9). There is a visual description (1:12-16) and a bit of His previous history (1:17-18) followed by His actions in the subsequent vision (Rev. 2 and 3). In chapter eleven, the two witnesses are introduced similarly (11:3-6) followed by their actions in the context of the vision (11:7-13).
Two new characters appear at the beginning of chapter twelve (Rev. 12:1-4). First there is a visual description of a woman (12:1) and a bit of her previous history (12:2). Then a dragon appears and is similarly introduced (12:3-4). Only then do both characters begin to act in the context of the vision itself (Rev. 12:5ff.). The male child of verse five, on the other hand, is not introduced with a visual description, probably because He has already been introduced earlier in a different form (1:12-18).
2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict. The war in heaven is described in military language. There is the language of “war” (12:7– Greek: polemos), and “fighting” (Greek: polemêsai, epolemêsen). These Greek words normally describe armed conflict. But they can be used in figurative ways as well, to heighten the drama of quarrels and verbal disagreements (Jam 4:1). Upon closer examination, the war in heaven is more a war of words than a military event. There are four main evidences for this in chapter twelve.
First, the dragon sweeps a third of the stars down from heaven with his tail (Greek: oura). The tail is an Old Testament symbol for a prophet who teaches lies (Greek LXX: oura). Second, the dragon is defined in Rev. 12:9 as “that ancient serpent,” a clear reference to the lies about God spoken to Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:1-6). Third, the dragon/Satan is cast out of heaven as the “accuser of the brothers” in Rev. 12:10. It is his accusing words, rather than physical weapons, that cause his casting down. And finally, the dragon/Satan is overcome by “the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). So the war of Revelation twelve is not a military battle, it is a war of words.
3. Application of the Year-Day Principle. The year-day principle is a crucial element of Adventist interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. It goes something like this: “In Bible prophecy, whenever a period of time is listed in days, its fulfillment should be counted in years.” The principle as stated is not found anywhere in Scripture. But the Bible paves the way for it by highlighting year-day equivalencies. In Numbers 14:34, the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness corresponds to forty days of disobedience. In Ezekiel 4:5-6 the prophet is ordered to lie down one day for each year of Israel and Judah’s disobedience. In Leviticus 25 the concept of a week and its Sabbath is extended from days to years. People would farm the land for six years and let the land “rest” during the seventh or sabbatical year. Daniel 9 contains seventy “weeks” of years. So the sabbatical concept highlights year-day thinking in biblical times.
But when should one apply prophetic days as years? There are several guiding principles to consider. 1) Since apocalyptic prophecies, like Daniel 7 and Revelation 12, are full of symbols, a symbolic meaning for any numbers in the prophecy should be considered. 2) Year-day numbers tend to be the kind one would not use in normal speech. No parent, for example, would say their child is 1260 days old, 42 months old, or even less, 2300 evenings and mornings! 3) In a sequence of prophetic events, if the prophecy makes more sense when counting the days as years, one should do so. For example, in Daniel 7, each of the four beasts rules for multiple decades, even hundreds of years. But when the chief opponent of God appears, it rules for only three and a half years. From the perspective of the end of history, it becomes evident that the unusual prophetic time period of Daniel 7 should be interpreted in years.
4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant. The people of God in the final conflict are called the “remnant” (Greek: loipôn) in Rev. 12:17. The original meaning of “remnant” is “survivors of a disaster.” Due to flood, earthquake or conquest, a tribe or people could be totally destroyed. The survival of a remnant brought hope that the tribe or people could be restored to greatness in the future (see Gen. 7:23). Within the OT, a moral or spiritual meaning also came to be attached to “remnant.” The remnant was a “believing minority” through whom God could ultimately save the human race from extinction in spite of the presence of sin and evil in the world.
As a result, “remnant” was used in three different spiritual ways in the OT. 1) Historical Remnant. Any group that has experienced a mighty deliverance of God in the past, such as the descendants of Noah and the Israel of the Exodus. Such a group is visible, nameable and countable. It is a surviving witness to God’s prior salvation, whether or not it remains faithful to God (see 2 Chr. 30:6) 2) Faithful Remnant. This means those among a given historical remnant who remain faithful to the original message and mission of that historical movement. These are those God knows are faithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:19). They are, thus, less visible and countable to human eyes than the historical remnant (1 Kings 19:14-18). 3) Eschatological Remnant. The eschatological remnant is made up of all who are faithful during the apocalyptic woes of the end-time (Joel 2:31-32). This eschatological remnant will reach far beyond the borders of the historical or faithful remnants of the past (Isa. 66:19-20).
The book of Revelation contains all three types of remnant. The historical remnant in Rev. is the seed of the woman that appears at a particular point in history (Rev. 12:17). The church of Thyatira contains a faithful remnant in the midst of apostasy (Rev. 2:24). A surprising, expansive end-time remnant emerges just before the close of probation (Rev. 11:13). It is God’s purpose that the historical remnant faithfully prepare the way for the greater remnant to come.
5. The Testimony of Jesus. One of the marks of the remnant in Rev. 12:17 is that they are those who “have” or “hold to” (Greek: echontôn) the “testimony of Jesus” (Greek: tên marturion Iêsou). This means that John foresaw an end-time revival of the kind of visionary, prophetic gift he himself was given (Rev. 1:2). This meaning for “testimony of Jesus” is confirmed by a careful comparison of Rev 19:10 and 22:8-9. Those who hold to the testimony of Jesus in 19:10 are called “the prophets” in 22:9.
Part III: Life Application
1. Thought question: How do you see the world differently because of the cosmic conflict? What would it be like to live without that knowledge? The cosmic conflict powerfully answers the three great questions of philosophy; 1) where did I come from, 2) where am I going, and 3) why am I here? Knowledge of the cosmic conflict provides meaning and purpose to all that we do, connects us to something bigger than ourselves, and enables us to be relaxed about the future, knowing it is safely in God’s hands.
2. What is the significance of the heavenly “war of words” on our picture of what God is like? God’s side in the cosmic conflict places priority on love and self-sacrifice, respects the freedom of God’s creatures, and does not coerce but rather is patient, seeking to provide persuasive evidence. On the other hand, Satan seeks to win by persecution (force) and deception (telling lies). The casting out of Satan in Rev. 12:9-10 is more intellectual than physical. The hosts of heaven no longer take his lies seriously, his arguments have lost credibility.
Our picture of God to a large degree determines how we live and behave. If we think of God as severe and judgmental, we become more like that. If we think of God as gracious and self-sacrificing, we become more like that. We become like the God we worship.