Revelation chapter twelve
In chapter twelve we find a vision of the arrival of the ‘virgin-birthed’ One and of an enemy (Satan), the ‘one whose time is limited’ who tries to destroy the ‘virgin-birthed’ One and continually comes against God’s people (2 Pet 3:3).
Satan is the ‘banished from heaven’ one and limited in power, the ‘hurled to earth’ one. He is a created being and no match for the creator of the heavens and earth. The conflict the church is now engaged in at all levels is part of an age-long resistance to the God of heaven, yet victory has always been in the hands of the Creator of the heavens and earth.
Before moving into chapter twelve we pause to ask ourselves a question and remind ourselves of the amazing answer before moving on. The question is, “How is it that a holy God can have any dealings with a fallen world without compromise to either holiness or His love”?
The answer to our question is found in Jesus, who, unlike the first man ‘birthed’ from dust, came from heaven (1 Cor 15:47) to make our sin His personal responsibility. In Him we have the costly offer of forgiveness and the only way home to a heavenly Father (John 14:6).
Jesus is the One through whom the universe was made (Heb 1:2) and also the One who came to serve those who had forfeited any right to life whatsoever (Phil 2:7-8). He willingly became the ‘nowhere to lay His head incarnate Son’ (Luke 9:58) even though He owns all things (Col 1:16).
Jesus is the most offended person in history, yet is the person through whom grace is poured out into the lives of the ‘who deserve nothing’ ones (1 Tim 1:14). He is the ‘who faced judgement’ one so that you and I could receive forgiveness. Who is this Jesus? He is the supremely holy One, the Servant-King, the one who stood in poverty so that we could stand in His riches. He is the Righteous One (1 John 2:1) and in Him alone holiness and love are found together without compromise.
“…But how does God counter human pride? On the one hand, he does so through the most brilliant and surprising subversion ever conceived, and once again it is not by might, nor by power, and at first it is not even by God’s Spirit. It is by his Son…what the shepherds saw when they abandoned their sheep and hurried down to Bethlehem was the one they worshiped as God Almighty, lying defenceless in a crib, who one day would die deserted and derelict on a cross. Just so did supreme power mask itself as weakness, unbounded wealth takes on the guise of poverty, unfathomable wisdom arrive incognito as foolishness, and ultimate worth come down looking humble to the point of being contempt.”
Prof Oz Guinness in, ‘Renaissance, The Power of the Gospel however dark the times’, page 105.
The birth of the Servant king.
In the Roman Empire of John’s day, there were many stories circulating about battles in the heavens such as the following one mentioned by C. Koester in his book on Revelation:
“In one such story that circulated in John’s time the antagonist was a fierce dragon name Python and the protagonist was a woman named Leto, who was the mother of the god Apollo. When Leto became pregnant by the god Zeus, the dragon pursued her in order to kill her and her child. The north wind rescued Leto by carrying her away, so that she eventually found refuge on the island of Delos, which lay in the Aegean Sea. There the woman gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. Four days later, Apollo set off in pursuit of the dragon, soon slaying the creature to avenge his mother.”
C. Koester in, ‘Revelation and the end of all things’, page 119.
Roman emperors often used idolatrous beliefs and stories that were circulating in their day for their own benefit and propaganda and they often identified themselves with gods or as the sons of gods. This was done, in part, to make their position and standing more secure. In complete contrast to this we have the King of Kings giving up His position (Phil 2:6) and coming as a servant (Mk 10:45) in order to raise up those who were, by nature, His enemies (Rom 5:8).
The first prophecy concerning the Servant-King was given in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:15) and reveals in space and time the beginning of an awesome story of a Saviour, the ‘God with us’ One (Gal 4:4, Is 7:14, Mt 1:18, 24-25). However, this story comes about because of a decision made before the world began in the heart of God in eternity past (1 Peter 1:19-20). It is a story that reaches beyond all our earthly futures and is the story of the One who will return as the King of Kings (2 Thes 1:7).
“For every prophecy of Jesus’ first coming, there are seven of His second. He is not just the Christ of ancient history, or of present experience – He is the Coming King, coming in clouds of power and great glory. He is the Rightful Owner of all creation, at whose advent all people will be called into reckoning, small and great, rich and poor, religious or not. He is not the Christ of a long-gone past; He is the present Saviour, and the world’s future Judge, a future that is fast moving into present reality.”
Dr W. Pratney, ‘Nature and Character of God.’
The camera focuses in on chapter twelve.
Revelation twelve reveals the heart-beat of agape love that is at the centre of this universe and in chapters twelve to fifteen is seen through a series of visions. As the chapter begins the camera moves round to focus on heaven and we see a woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars above her; she is also pregnant.
The sun, moon and stars speak of Israel in that they cast our minds back to Abraham (Gen 15:5) and passages of scripture such as Genesis 37 where Joseph has a dream in which his parents and brothers were depicted as the sun, moon and stars. At the risk of digressing a little we briefly look at part of Joseph’s story and note the words that he later speaks to his brothers, and do so because they point us to God’s amazing grace and mercy to those who deserve nothing; a grace and mercy so clearly seen in Jesus.
Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him (Gen 37:21) but they eventually sold him into Egyptian slavery (v 27) where he suffered false accusation and imprisonment (Gen 39:7). Despite everything that happens to him Joseph is aware that God is still present (Gen 39:5; Gen 50:20) and despite initial hardship and suffering Joseph ends up as second-in-charge of the most powerful nation on earth.
The years roll by and we arrive at a time when his brothers are in great difficulty due to a famine in the land. They end up as beggars walking into the domain where Joseph now has incredible power and prestige. In an act of amazing grace reconciliation comes about in what in a worldly sense was very much an ‘impossible to fix’ family. When Jacob, the head of the family dies, Joseph’s brothers think their time is up, assuming they were only kept alive because of Jacob. It is then that we read, yet again, of amazing grace and mercy. Joseph gives glory to God and informs them yet again that they are totally forgiven and restored into fellowship with the one they wanted to kill.
Many years previously Joseph’s older brothers had power over Joseph and wanted him dead. When the position is reversed and Joseph is in power we see him exercising grace and mercy (Gen 50:19-21). In the arrival of the Servant King amidst paupers who were rebels we see the full extent of God’s grace and mercy towards you and I.
“Christianity is the reality of communion with God in the present life; it is the understanding that there is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; it is the understanding that there is the moment-by-moment empowering of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is the understanding that the fruit of the Spirit is ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’ It is the understanding that the fruit of the Spirit is meant to mean something real to all Christians. It is the understanding that prayer is real and not just a devotional exercise.”
Dr F. Schaeffer, ‘The New Spirituality’, page 400.
Looking back to the vison that John has, we see that the woman in heaven is pregnant (Rev 12:20), speaking of the fulfilment of prophecy made to Eve in Genesis 3:15 and also of Jesus as the true seed of Abraham (Gen 15, 22) coming into the world (Isaiah 9:6).
Many of the prophecies that were spoken about Jesus’ life were fulfilled as He walked the dusty realms of this world, despite the heavy and oppressive presence of evil. He truly is the “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” One (Mat 16:18). All other prophecy will be fulfilled at His Second Coming.
A dragon with seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns.
In verse three we read about the power and rebellion of Satan and the beings that accompany him. In all his power Satan seeks to destroy Jesus, the legitimate ruler of heaven and earth, who arrives in the vulnerability and weakness of the flesh.
Canaanite mythology speaks of seven-headed monsters (e.g. ‘Loan’ in the Ras Shamra texts) and the seven-headed dragon with ten horns and seven crowns in Revelation speaks of the incredible power of evil that seeks to conquer all. The ten horns remind us of Daniel 7 and the kingdoms that emerge from Rome at the demise of the empire. Yet as Scripture clearly states, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8) and that includes all who take their stand against God.
All kingdoms will finally fall before the kingdom of the One who is beyond the horizons of the horizons; beyond time itself, yet present in tangible and demonstrative ways. Despite all opposition, Jesus defeats Satan at every turn of the coin, He being the One who will ‘rule with a rod of iron.”
The woman gives birth to a son who will rule with an iron sceptre (Rev 12:5).
In the Ancient Near East a rod of iron speaks of a sceptre that was representative of kingship, with iron being a symbol of strength. For example there is the rod of iron mentioned in the Narmer Palette, discovered by English archaeologists (James Quibell and Fred Green in 1897). In it we hear of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under King Narmer. The Palette is one of the earliest historical documents found and depicts rulers striking the enemy with a rod/sceptre. Egyptian kings wrote the names of conquered enemies on pots and then smashed them with a mace symbolically revealing their supremacy over the enemy.
In Psalm two, a Psalm containing warnings against those who rise up against God’s kingdom, David speaks of the Anointed One (set apart and empowered) and an iron sceptre. The Hebrew word for Anointed (Massach) is transliterated ‘Messiah’ and the Psalm ultimately points forward to Jesus whose central teaching was the Kingdom of God. He is the true King of Israel and King of Kings (Rev 19:16). In God and God alone we find our true security and strength.
“Psalm 2 faces us with the historical reality of power politics. Yet the Lord God laughs at every Nebuchadnezzar and Herod who vaunts his cruel domination. The Lord promises that those whom God anoints will be safe from the evil principalities which beset us. Whoever follows the Anointed Messiah, the Christ, will find shelter.”
C. Seerveld in, ‘Voicing God’s Psalms’, page 19.
Shortly after Jesus’ birth King Herod was poised to kill Him (Mt 2:16ff) and as Revelation 12:4 reveals, this attempt was satanically influenced. The attempt to destroy Israel’s deliverer can remind us of Pharaoh’s attempt to kill all male children in Egypt many centuries earlier. The power of God was seen at that time in how Pharaoh’s daughter brought up Israel’s deliverer (Moses) in the very household of the person who had decreed his death – Pharaoh, her father.
In Revelation we then see that victory is taken and the servant-king is snatched up to heaven (which had always been an open door to Him). The woman (representing the church) is then spoken of as being protected by God for 1260 days.
The number 1260 symbolises the kind of time between Jesus’ first and second coming, the number being based on the length of His earthly ministry. In light of this we see it points to the type of time, the colour and flavour, so to speak, rather than being literal. Every day during Jesus’ earthly ministry and journey to the cross was a day when His Father and the Holy Spirit were present with Him. No matter what Jesus went through He was never alone. Likewise, God is with the church in whatever it goes through, as is seen, for example, in Jesus words to Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul was persecuting the church and Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
Throughout Jesus’ ministry Satan constantly sought to challenge and destroy the work of the Servant King, yet was always overcome by the living Word of God. Likewise believers will face tribulation and suffering, yet are never alone and live out their calling in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (Ps 44:3-7, Zech 4:6, Acts 1:8).
Before continuing we now pause and turn to look at Jesus in the desert as a reminder that no matter what challenges we face, we can overcome them in Him and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows what we are going through and as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the true Shepherd of the Covenant, He walks with all who are open to the leading of the Spirit.
Protection in a desolate place.
As the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45), Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where, over a forty day period, he was tempted by the devil. The first Adam had been placed in a world of beauty and order with food and water available at all times; yet Adam fell. Jesus, as the second Adam was tempted in a desolate and inhospitable desert, which in one way is indicative of what the world has become. Despite suffering through lack of water and food Jesus overcame each temptation that Satan threw His way; at all times He remained in open communion with His Father and was reliant on the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In the first temptation, Satan suggests that Jesus satisfy His hunger by turning stones into bread, speaking in a way that was not so dissimilar to the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the temptation Satan effectively says, “Use your own thinking and power to do things the way you want to; take charge of your own life – you have every right to do so.” In doing so the enemy is trying to get us to stand in the place of God.
Jesus came to live as man in man’s place and to show man what a relationship with His heavenly Father really looked like. If Jesus had turned stones into bread He would have stepped away from His father’s will and would no longer have been able to be our representative, for no man has the power to turn stones into bread in his own strength.
Jesus did not rationalise or avoid the situation He faced, nor did He pretend it was not happening. Jesus met the temptation head on with the word of God and said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes through the mouth of God….” These words are from Deut 8:3f where God reminds a struggling Israel in the desert that he is the One who sustains all life.
In quoting the verses Jesus makes a very simple point: the One who provided for His people in the desert is the One who sustains all people in whatever way He chooses. The only one who loses out is the one who is not open to the Spirit.
God is the All Powerful One, the One who brought the world into existence by the breath of His word (Gen 1:1; John 1:1) and from this we recognise that the physical proceeds from the spiritual. The spiritual is not a strange sort of ‘somewhere over there’ place, but that which proceeds from the very heart of God. When God speaks, it happens – whether this is reducing the walls of Jericho to rubble (Josh 6:20), repairing cells and nerve impulses in the eyes of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), or calming a storm (Mat 8:24-28). When God speaks, things happen and, as Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4:34.
“Jesus knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns and eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or axe. He only needed a word…He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history (Rev 1:5) while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it (John 14:2). He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life.”
Prof D. Willard in ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, page 108
In all our ‘desert’ wanderings the Shepherd King walks with us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the second temptation (Mt 4:5f) the devil asks Jesus to jump off the Temple parapet, stating that He is going to be ok because it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'(Mt 4:6).
This temptation is very subtle in that it seeks to take part of the word of God out of context with an ‘I’ll have some of that’ sort of attitude, which can lead to trusting in our own assumptions rather than in God.
It is when we slow down and seek the Lord before all else that we know the leading of the Spirit and what should or should not be said in a given situation. Our lives are to continually speak of an ever-deepening relationship lived in the power of the Spirit and this relationship does not come from a few favourite verses being taken out of context in our attempts to get through life. God does not always work the way we do as is seen, for example, in a Shepherd boy becoming a king, a tax collector becoming a disciple and fishermen becoming ambassadors for the kingdom of God.
By way of action God is not always predictable, but by way of character He is known by His love, grace, mercy and compassion.
In the third temptation (Mt 4:8ff) Jesus is challenged to worship the devil and to receive all the kingdoms of the world for doing so. Yet Satan has no legitimate right to the kingdoms of the world.
Satan is spoken of as the ruler of the world (John 14:30) because the world follows a lie and is manipulated at times by a superior spiritual enemy. Yet this enemy is also of the created order and is no match for a heavenly King who stooped low in order to lift us up. Jesus reminds the enemy of just who it really is that is in control (Mt 4:10-11) and Satan then leaves.
Throughout Jesus’ life Satan made various attempts to stop Jesus’ mission, yet to no avail. Crowds wanted to stone Him (Luke 4:28-30), Satan tried to sift one of his companions (Peter: Luke 22:31) and at the cross many religious people jeered the Suffering Servant (Mt 27:39-43). Yet at no point in Jesus’ life was He out of control in a life of intimacy with the Father and a total reliance upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. At no point was Jesus helpless or hopeless and His entire history is an amazing revelation of God’s love and concern for us; for the needs of those who have no justifiable claim to His care.
Michael Sischy was born in Johannesburg in 1970, the descendent of Orthodox Russian, Polish and Lithuanian grandparents, and was brought up in the Jewish faith. After leaving school he went to Witwatersrand University and graduated with a degree in medicine in 1993, then doing an internship at Hillbrow hospital.
Michael was always looking for answers and the question “Why” would often arise. For example, “Why all the hurt and suffering?” He also questioned whether this life was all that there was and what happened when it was over.
In his fourth year of studies Michael met Teresa who was studying for a nursing degree. She had grown up in church but was not close to God in any way whatsoever. In her fourth year she went to a church with a classmate and came back very different telling Michael she had been saved. She also told him that she said she was praying that God would open his eyes. On the Sunday after Passover (Easter Sunday) Michael found himself at a sunrise service and was so affected that, in his own words, he struggled to pull himself together.
Michael then read the New Testament for the first time in his life. He read about the life of Jesus, the predictions He made about His death and resurrection and that Jesus’ followers were Jews who believed He was the Messiah.
A few weeks later Michael committed his life to Jesus and, in his own words, experienced a wonderful peace as the truth really set him free. Michael has faced rejection and persecution from friends and family in the Jewish community but has always found God to be faithful and has given strength to him through difficult times. In 2002 he took over the directorship of Jews for Jesus in South Africa.
The accuser is hurled down.
Through the incarnation and all that Jesus has done, Satan and his followers are cast out of heaven. For example, when Jesus cast out demons, we see the strong man being bound (Mat 3:27). We also find Jesus drawing back the spiritual curtain, so to speak, so that people could understand this in saying, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
Throughout the O.T. we see Satan as an accuser, as is the case for example, in Job 1 where the enemy states that the only reason Job follows God is because of what he gets out of it. We also hear of the accuser in Zechariah where we read:
“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you." Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.” Zech 3:1-2
In Zechariah’s day, Joshua represented the Priesthood at a time when Israel had come out of Babylonian captivity. Things were not as they should be, yet God was helping them and Satan did not agree with this.
In one sense, the accusation that Satan made can almost seem justified. After all, how could God possibly accept a group of people who were so obviously sinners? Surely the penalty for sin should be exacted? Yet in all of this, Satan totally underestimates God’s grace and mercy which never compromises holiness.
“Until the death of Christ, it would appear that the devil had a good case, since God ushered all deceased OT saints into his saving presence without exacting the penalty of their sin. Satan was allowed to lodge these complaints because there was some degree of truth in them. But the devil’s case was unjust even before the death of Christ, since the sins about which he was accusing and from which he wanted to punish people, were instigated by his own deceptions. Thus he is called both “deceiver” and “accuser” in v 9-10.”
Prof Theselton in ,’ Book of Revelation NIGCT.’
After the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, all of Satan’s accusations are seen for what they really are – totally unjustifiable. The second Adam has come and underwent more than the first Adam ever did, then gave His life so that we could find forgiveness and reconciliation. No believer has ever been let off of their sin; someone else has paid the price for our wrongdoing: Jesus Christ. Through Jesus alone, sin is atoned for. Through the work of Christ, Satan has no legitimate grounds to attempt to ‘prosecute’ or accuse anyone and is cast out of heaven. Our legal testimony as the ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ ones means that we stand solely in the work of Christ that has been credited to our account. We are redeemed (Gal 3:13) and witness to this through a transformed life (Rom 12:2) in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has ascended and Satan and his angels are cast out of heaven by Michael (one of the chief princes: Dan 10:13) and end up on earth. Yet salvation belongs to God and all who overcome evil will do so by the blood of the Lamb. The church is then spoken of as being persecuted and flees into the desert on eagle’s wings to a place prepared by God.
The wings of eagles.
In Isaiah 40:31 we read that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and that they will mount on wings like eagles. The word ‘eagle’ comes from the root word ‘Nesher’ meaning, ‘to lacerate’ and in the Ancient Near East ‘Nesher’ is more often used to speak of a vulture than an eagle. Egypt was known to have the vulture goddesses Nekbat who was the protector of Upper Egypt and wore a loop of rope signifying eternal protection. Her priestesses wore cloaks of feathers signifying this protection and they would sometimes give a protective feather to those going into battle.
Unlike Egypt who had not been able to prevent God releasing His people from slavery, God carried His people out as on eagles wings (Ex 19:4; Deut 32:11f) and brought them to Himself. In bringing them into the wilderness, they were in a place of protection (Ps 61:4). In Revelation the woman (the church) is spoken of as being given the wings of an eagle signifying protection and security.
“Where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, the Devil seems to reign. From a heavenly perspective, however, evil rages on earth not because it is so powerful but because it is so vulnerable. Revelation likens Satan to a rogue animal that the forces of God had corralled, driving it off the expansive plains of heaven into the fenced in years of earth. The beast rampages within its newly limited circumstances, seeking to do as much damage as possible during the short time that remains until the company of heaven slips the noose around its head, binds its legs, and chains it up so that it can do no further damage (12:11; 20:2). Those who think that Satan rages because he is invincible will give up in despair, but those who recognise that Satan rages on earth because he has already lost in heaven and is now desperate have reason to resist him, confident that God will prevail.”
C. Koester in, ‘Revelation and the end of all things’, page 123.
The church in the wilderness (Rev 12:6) speaks of the now, but not yet, between the first and the second coming of Christ, with the term ‘wilderness’ reminding us of Israel’s desert wanderings after coming out of Egyptian slavery.
In Hebrew thought the wilderness became known as the place of hearing, as God taught His people that man does not live by bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God. The wilderness was also a place where Israel came to understand covenant blessing. They were in no position to sustain self and were undergoing discipline for getting things the wrong way round. Yet God still fed them (Ps 78:24), provided clean water (Num 20:11) and did not allow their clothes or footwear to wear out (Deut 29:5), this being symbolic of the atonement where we are clothed in the work of Christ. They were also led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day (Neh 9:2). All of this was the outworking of Covenant grace from the One who can reach into our lives wherever we are (1 Kings 17:1-3). As with Israel we are all encouraged to place our trust in God alone on His journey of life as we walk through the dusty realms of this world.
In a sense the church is the church in the wilderness of what this world has become. Yet Jesus is building His church and we are a part of His building programme. As Christians we do not get it right all the time, yet we are accepted because of His work. We are not just accepted, or even grudgingly accepted; we are completely accepted and need to believe what He has to say about our lives first and foremost and not the words of the accuser. What Jesus says is that we are His and as Paul states, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us” (Romans 8:37).
“Conquering takes place through dying not killing. The kingdom of Jesus, while definitely in this world, does not take up the values of this world or engage in politics as usual. A stance of passive resistance or even of non-resistance is nonetheless a profoundly political posture and act. It is not quietism or a retreat into mysticism; it is a way of saying no to the demands of the powers and principalities, no to idolatry and immorality, without resorting to the tactics of one’s opponents. Part of this has to do with a profound commitment to forgiveness, which breaks the cycle of reciprocating violence, and part has to do with the commitment to witness.”
Ben Witherington 3rd in ‘Revelation’, page 174.
Jesus has taken the victory, yet it is not the victory of a more powerful being over another. It is the victory of love and holiness, the victor of the Creator’s heart over all the power of the enemy.
It is the God of the Bible who ultimately exercises control over all kingdoms, nations and timescales, whether specific periods of time (time), the whole of time (times), or at any particular point He chooses to reach into this world (half a time). God knows all things and communicates in ways whereby everyone has the opportunity to respond.
The Master of time who protects His people.
The church has faced, does face and will face many difficulties as time marches on, but the One who is in control of all things is never taken by surprise. No matter what we face, we do not have to face it alone and the great promise of God is that ‘He who began a good work in us will carry it on to the completion until the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Phil 1:6). An example of this good work being carried on during great suffering and hardship is found in the story of Eric Liddell.
Eric Liddell was the 400m champion at the Olympic Games held in Paris in July 1924. The film ‘Chariots of Fire’ was made concerning his early life and the particular stance that he took for Christianity. He turned his back on fame and fortune and became a missionary in Northern China in an area under Japanese rule. When the Americans entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Japanese rounded up all foreigners and kept them in internment where malnutrition and disease soon became rife. When you read about all that went on in those camps, you soon come across many stories about Eric from people whom he helped. He died in the camp three months before American liberation at the end of the war.
The legacy of Eric Liddell, a man who always knew that God was with him, was later captured in the words of Isabel Herron, a fellow internee. Isabel Herron was a 14 year-old girl at the time of Eric’s internment and later in life she wrote these words:
“When Eric died one of the women in the camp, a Russian prostitute, told my mother that Eric Liddell was the only man who had ever done anything for her and not wanted to be repaid in kind. I think that when she first moved into the camp, he’d gone and put some shelves up for her. She was a woman living on her own; she didn’t have anyone to do that kind of thing. And it didn’t matter what walk of life a person came from, Eric wouldn’t judge anybody…There were missionaries in the camp who wouldn’t have helped someone like her, But Eric didn’t see things that way.”
Julian Wilson in ‘Complete Surrender’, pages 124 and 136.
Eric’s wife Florence did not get to hear of Eric’s death until two months after he had left for heaven when two friends of the family came to her house and broke the news to her. Yet Florence was already aware that something had happened to Eric and wrote about how she became aware of this She wrote…
‘About a month before the visit, I had had the strangest feeling. I was standing at the stove and I thought - if you turn round, Eric is standing there.’ I could just feel vibrations; He was so full of life and bounce. And he said, “It’s OK Flossie. Everything is going to be all right.” For three weeks I was conscious of his presence in this way.’
Taken from, Julian Wilson in ‘Complete Surrender’ page 136
God is the Master of time and encourages us to hand our lives over to Him on a daily basis. Throughout the history of the Roman Empire those who were often labelled as weak and unimportant found themselves able, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to stand in the strength of the Lord no matter what came their way. This amazing strength and power in weakness and suffering is seen across the world today as Jesus stands with believers.
In verses fifteen and sixteen we then read of the serpent spewing out a river of water to overtake Gods’ people. The earth then swallows this river of water and reminds us that God is in ultimate control of the created order.
In the Exodus, God parted the Red Sea, protected His people and destroyed the army of the enemy as nature obeyed His command. In Revelation the enemy tries to wipe out God’s people, but in the ‘earth opening’ we are reminded that Satan does not exercise control over the created order.
Creation does the bidding of God and the only power that the enemy can exercise is that which God allows for a season. This is often allowed so that people realise who and what the enemy is like, thereby giving them the opportunity to turn from evil to God. There is no point in our lives when God does not have overall control, although He will allow us to reap the harvest of our own desire to control at times in order to bring us to a place of repentance. God sees all things and no matter how powerful the movement of nations may be, He is never distracted from His work which includes you and I. We are His workmanship (Eph 2:10) in that we have been brought into fellowship with Him and are, in the power of the Holy Spirit, able to regain our true identity as sons and daughters of the living God.
“But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert. It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever-flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.”
There is a spiritual battle going on right now, yet Jesus has taken the victory and clearly states that He will build His church (Mat 16:18). In incredibly difficult and diverse situations we continue to see His church growing even in places where there is great opposition and hardship.
A few months ago I spoke with a man who was reminded of this truth. He made regular trips to India and on one occasion helped out in a state which was 98% Hindu and included militant Hindus who actively came against Christians. This man prayed about revival and told those around him that he believed God was going to encourage His people. Shortly after this, in 2008, many churches and the homes of Christians were burnt down with Christians being forced to move out of some of the small towns. The Christians were told they could not return to the villages until they converted back to Hinduism. However, over the next few months a strange thing started to happen; the local populations (from which Christians had been forcibly removed) started complaining. They said life was not so good and they were missing the Christians who often helped them and supported their families. The tide then began to change in favour of the Christians, so much so that some new Hindu temples that had been illegally built were bulldozed to the ground. People also started turning to Christ. As Jesus, who holds time in His hands once said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail.” There is an enemy (v17) who seeks to destroy the church yet, the only victory he ever gains over a Christian is when a Christian stops talking to God.