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THE WOMAN IN THE WILDERNESS

 

 

Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Revelation 12:13–17

 

We have given chapters 12 through 14 a subtitle of Systems of Religion. In these chapters we have identified 7 systems of religion which correspond to the visions of the seven seals and the seven trumpets. In chapter 12 we encounter two of those systems of religion under the symbol of the woman clothed with the sun.

The first system of religion we found to be the church built by Jesus from its beginning through ten seasons of persecution ending in A.D. 303 with the Edict of Milan, also known as the Edict of Toleration that officially ended the persecution of the church. Verse 6 records that at the end of the persecutions the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared for her by God.

The second system of religion still involves the woman clothed with the sun in this wilderness condition. God prepared a place for her and in verse 14 we learn that this place is a place where she is nourished. The Greek word nourish means to fatten, which seems logical, but in this fattening there is also an element of loving care—to cherish. Verses 13–17 show the church as a second system that is somewhat different from its original position but still the church.

 

Persecution By Means of a Flood

 

Verse 13, “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.” Starting with this verse the war in heaven is over and the ten seasons of persecution have come to an end. The dragon, which we have identified as Christ-less religion, has been cast to the earth. We learned in previous lessons that the earth symbolizes the unregenerate. Michael and His angels proved through their teaching and the example of their lives that there is no salvation, no way to God, outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ-less religion leaves people in an unregenerate state without salvation of any kind.

The dragon and his angels were defeated but the dragon did not give up; now he changes his tactic and continues persecuting the church in a more subtle way. The word persecution conjures up thought of oppression, torments, killing, and so forth. While the word includes such things, the original Greek word also means to pursue or to follow after someone. Having given up outward persecution the dragon subtly infiltrates the church in such a way as to retard the spreading of the gospel of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. Notice that here the church is called the woman who gave birth to the male Child. It is this giving birth or converting people from sin to salvation that the dragon wants to stop.

The tool he uses is a flood.

 

Two Wings of a Great Eagle

 

Before the dragon can spew out his flood God gives the woman two wings of a great eagle. Isaiah saw something similar in Isaiah 5:19, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard.” The waters spewed out of the dragon’s mouth are a flood of enemies that begin infiltrate the church. The place God prepared for the church is where it could be cherished during this attack. No matter what comes against the church, God always loves His church and takes care of it. In defense of the church, the Holy Spirit lifts up a standard of truth to protect it from doctrinal error the serpent begins to pour out in an attempt to replace the truth of the gospel.

David sang a song of praise to God when he was delivered from King Saul’s persecution in 2 Samuel 22:5–7, “When the waves of death surrounded me, the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears.” David was persecuted by ungodliness that threatened him with death. The floods that came against the church from the dragon were designed to replace spiritual life with spiritual death through teachings that attempted to look like life-giving truth but actually were death-dealing error. God heard David’s prayer and God heard the prayer of the church in the wilderness God had prepared for it.

God gives the church two wings of an eagle to take her into this wilderness He prepared for her. The scene here evokes memories of David’s escape from King Saul. He speaks of wings as God’s way of deliverance in Psalm 55:6–7, “So I said, Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness.” As David prayed for rest from the battle so the church needed rest that only God could give. David wanted to go into the wilderness, which is a place remote from the presence of other people and where he could get the rest he needed from the conflict.

David prayed for the wings of a dove but God gave the church two wings of an eagle. We encountered the eagle symbol in chapter 4 of the Revelation where the four living creatures worship Christ around the golden throne. The creatures had four faces, one of which was the face of an eagle and we learned from this that one trait of the redeemed is the grace to endure.

In summary of verses 13–15, We find the following:

The dragon, Christ-less religion has been shown to be a lie and not a way to God and salvation, and because of this the literal persecution of the church has stopped.

The dragon, here called the serpent indicating his demonic nature, changes his tactic and follows after the church spewing out a flood.

The flood is made up of men who try to replace life-giving truth of the gospel with thinly veiled errors that only produce spiritual death.

God in His mercy gives the church grace to endure this new battle. This grace is His tender, cherishing love that sustains the church through this next era in the history of the church. This era is a wilderness condition. It is a place of spiritual barrenness except for the spiritual strength God provides. It is unlike the first era where the church went forth conquering and to conquer; it is an era focused on spiritual survival.

 

Heresy

 

The first struggle the Christian church faced after the cessation of literal persecutions under the Edit of Milan in 303 A.D. was the struggle against heresy.

Harold Brown in his book Heresies, Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church writes, “The Christian life is often presented as spiritual warfare; if the pagans are the enemies, the heretics are the traitors.”[1] The enemies that persecuted the church as the first system of religion were Christ-less religions that tried to destroy Christ, His church, and the gospel of salvation from sin. In this second system of religion the church is in a wilderness condition where the enemies are now people within her own ranks.

The battle now is heresy. Alan Cairns defines heresy as:

 

A deliberate departure from Christian orthodoxy, together with the acceptance of error (2 Peter 2:1). The basic meaning of the Greed word hairesis is “choice,” giving the meaning of heresy as a self-willed opinion in opposition to biblical truth. Such opinions frequently give rise to sects or parties. A heretic, therefore, is a sectarian. Thus he is to be cut off from church fellowship (Titus 3:10).[2]

 

Shortly after the Edict of Milan the church was called to Nicaea in what is now Turkey in 324 A.D. to resolve a doctrinal dispute espoused by a clergyman from Alexandria named Arius. The error put forth by Arius called into question the divinity of Christ. The church developed the Nicene Creed that strengthened the church’s official teaching on the divinity of Christ.

The struggle with heresy did not end with the Nicene Creed. There was a continual emergence of heresies concerning the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ for the next several hundred years.

 

Early heresies

 

Monarchianism: God is one, the sole monarch of the universe. It existed in two forms. Adoptionism. Began around 109 A.D. Jesus is a supernaturally endowed human being. Modalism. Confuses Christ and the Father. Modalism gave rise to Sabellianism in the third century. Sabellius taught a strict unity of the godhead defined as one Person, three names.

Arianism. Arius lived from A.D. 256–336. Arianism denied the deity of Christ. In his thinking the Son was a created being that came into existence at some point in time.

Between 362 and 381 A.D. a semi-Arian movement came into being that accepted the divinity of the Son but denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Apollinarianism was declared heresy in 381 A.D. by the First Council of Constantinople. This teaching concerned the nature of Christ and the idea that He was more God than man—not the true incarnation.

Nestornianism developed during the fifth century. While Nestorius tried to steer the church away from deifying Mary as the mother of God, he tried to explain too much about the nature of Christ.

Monophysitism developed around 448 A.D. in an attempt to explain how the eternal Son of God became incarnate as man.

Pelagianism, named after Pelagius, a British monk who was active in Rome from 400–420 A.D. He taught that humans were untouched by the fall of Adam saying that original sin was only the example of Adam. He was refuted by Augustine. The dispute continues to the present time. Rather than the technical issues addressed by both men, the issue in our time is over free will. In Protestant it exists in the dispute between Calvinism and Arminianism—predestination vs. free will.

 

The Flood Spewed Out

 

Verses 15–16, “So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.”

The dragon spewed out a seemingly never ending string of heresies against the church. The church is in its wilderness state where God’s grace and love is sustaining her but with the flood of heresies we learn that the earth helps the woman by swallowing up the flood.

We learned in previous studies that the earth represents unregenerate mankind; so when unsaved people help the church it cannot be a good thing. The growth of the church as the first system of religion was remarkable, carrying its influence around the then-known world. With the passing of the Apostles and the disciples that followed them and various heresies that popped up in different places, the church found itself reaching barbarians in what were considered to be uncivilized lands. The growth of the church was still remarkable but in its wilderness condition it made many concessions in reaching and holding the barbarians. Barbarians from the various uncivilized cultures had their celebrations honoring their various pagan gods. To ease their transition from paganism to Christianity, the church adopted many of the pagan festivals and rituals giving them Christian names and significance, such as: Christmas, idols, worship of saints, and the worship of Mary.

 

The Dragon Goes Into the Church Business

 

Chapter 12 closes with verse 17, “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The verse tells us that the dragon, while somewhat successful in infiltrating the church with heresy and some paganized church ritual, was not satisfied because he did not completely destroy the church. Recalling that Jesus said the gates of hell cannot prevail against His church, the dragon now decides to make war with the rest of her offspring, the future generations of the church. To wage this war, the dragon decides to go into the church business. His first attempt is seen in the beast of the sea in chapter 13.



[1] Brown, Harold O. J.;  Heresies, Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church;  Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, MA;  1998;  pg. 3.

[2] Cairns, Alan;  Dictionary of Theological Terms;  Ambassador Emerald International: Greenville, SC;  2002;  pg. 207.