A Great Sign

Here’s an overview of  what everyone will be talking about in 2020, though the devil will be worried about other things. 

The first item dominating the news cycle will most likely be the 2020 elections, and the ongoing attempts to impeach a sitting President.  In the business world, we’ll of course, be occupied with the technology of hoverboards, drones, cell phones, and gaming. 3-D printing, cloud computing, voice-tech, and self-driving cars aren’t going away, either.  On the International front, the North Korean Powder keg will probably continue being something talked about, and now Iran, as well.  

While most of the world is paying its attention to those things, it will miss what is actually going on.   

That’s why Revelation chapter 12:1 says, “A great sign appeared in heaven.”  It’s a great sign, so your attention will not be drawn away from numerous distractions to what really matters.     

What is the sign?

”A woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve Stars.  She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pain and the agony of giving birth ”

It’s a woman clothed in light, and in labor.   The Bible calls this a sign which means that a certain level of interpretation is needed here concerning her identity.  Some commentators say it is Eve, the first woman of the human race, because she was promised to bring forth a seed that would crush the head of the devil (Gen. 3:15).   Others say the woman is collective, the nation of Israel, because in Genesis chapter 37, Joseph had a dream about the sun, the moon, and the stars. Israel did bring forth the most significant child in history–Jesus Christ.  Other theologians see the woman as Mary, because obviously Mary delivered Jesus.  

Rather than say anyone is flatly wrong, I believe everyone is right to some extent.  I’m going to collapse them all together and say there’s truth to all of these interpretations.  This woman is actually a collective of all the people of God from the beginning up until now, both Old Testament and the New Testament.  The woman is a corporate female who will bring forth Christ. That’s the interpretation I’m going with.  

I’ll especially linger on the thought of how the New Testament church figures into this sign, because the Bible comes right out and says Christ lives in His believers:  

Colossians 1:27 says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  Not only Christ is in you, but there’s a hope for something in the future.  There’s a delivery date. Colossians also says, “When Christ who is your life appears”–when he’s manifested from the inside of you–”then you also will appear with him and Glory” (3:4).  Second Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of Jesus, saying, “When he comes on that day to be glorified in his Saints.” On one hand He’s coming from heaven and on the other, he’s coming from within you.  I don’t claim to understand what this will look like.  

Between the time that Christ is in you and the time that Christ is glorified in you there’s a long gestation during which Christ is formed in you.  This is a sometimes difficult process, especially when we’re trying to help other people.  

We can often detect Paul’s hardship, as when he wrote to Christians in Galatia with these words of pain:  “I am astonished that you’re so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6).  One can hardly miss the disappointment in those words.  

This is what he meant by a different gospel: “You observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:10).  They had been attracted to ceremonialism. The world of ritual had charmed them, enticing them with the idea that they could enhance their faith with props.  Isn’t it all so cool?  The Jews have circumcision, special foods, special days, and all these neat practices! Wash your hands once, and it helps you remember the crossing of the Red Sea.  Wash again to remember the crossing of the Jordan River. Wash the third time, and you’ll remember how you were cleansed by the Holy Spirit. Aren’t all these wonderful?  

Paul was saying, “No!  It isn’t! This is leading you astray!”  He continues, “I’m afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”  Then in verse 19, the apostle begins looking distinctly like the woman in the great sign of Revelation:  “My little children for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”  

The Colossians also gave him cause for heartache.  Some of them had been seduced by deep religious philosophies tainted with paganism.  Paul therefore cuts it all off in Colossian 1:28, by saying, “Him we Proclaim, warning everyone, and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me.” Paul’s words–”struggle,” “toil,” “perplexed,” “childbirth,” “anguish,” “labor”–reflect the anguished collective woman of Revelation 12:1.  

While the apostle exemplified the suffering of spiritual labor, he wasn’t to be the only person to feel it.   Even little potatoes feel it. I’m a relative tater tot in ministry, but I have a long line of people behind me over my thirty-two years of ministry, whom I’ve given differing levels of help.  But sometimes after I spent a good amount of time with them, a number decided to bail out of the Christian Life and live in sin. Others accepted a lower level of commitment, barely recognizable as believers.  In each case I worried, prayed, and wondered if I might be happier had I not tried to help them at all.    

Case in point:  I remember years back, when I was sitting with some newly minted ministers, and we were complaining about how we didn’t have anyone to disciple.   An older man said, “It’s very simple. Approach one hundred people, and you’ll find one who will read the Bible with you.” Having brushed aside the cynicism, I went to a nearby community college twice a week, and approached one person after another.  It was hard. People made snarky comments, and gave me the brush-off. But I kept going.  

Essentially, I’d talk to people for a few minutes, ask them about their religious views.  Then at the end, if it went well, I would ask if we could get together again and talk more.  Most said no. Eventually a guy told me, “Sure, I’d like to talk more about this. I’ve got a bunch of questions.”  We met week after week there on the campus, searching the Scriptures, and it was thrilling to see God work in him. And then three months into it,  the whole thing ended. My friend was suddenly too “busy” for fellowship. That was it.    

Now flash forward three years.  I was leaving a church event, walking out of the facility, when there he was…my friend.  Somehow he had tracked me down. Embracing me, he apologized for disappearing, confessed he had drifted around the religious arena, had not found anything measuring up to the fellowship we’d had.  

And then he vanished again.  

That was twenty-nine years ago.  

Whether you are in vocational ministry or not, discipling people can be an emotional roller coaster.  Tired of the drama and unpredictability of people, over the years, I often wanted to swear off making any further relational investments.   I told myself I’d take care of my own Christian Life and help run a religious organization, but that would be it.  

Every time I felt tempted to that course of action though, I kept being reminded, John, there’s a great sign–a woman crying out in the anguish of childbirth.  Do you still want to be part of it?  By God’s grace–and after pouting for a bit–I always said yes.   

If you’ve ever loved somebody in the Name of Christ and sacrificed time and energy for them, rooted for them to make the right decisions, and they just didn’t, then the grief you felt for them means you’re normal.  

You’re part of the Great sign of Revelation 12:1.  If you’ve cried over an adult child who has selected an unbiblical lifestyle, or you’ve gone to your knees over something your middle schooler has gotten into, or even if you can see the sin nature forming in your toddler and it worries you, you’re normal.  In fact, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then maybe you haven’t entered the Great Sign yet.   

Why is it so hard for Christ to be formed in us or in others?  Where does the problem come from?  

Verse 3 states, “And another sign appeared in heaven.   Behold, a great red dragon with seven heads, and ten horns, and on his head seven diadems.”  

This is Satan, but it doesn’t sound like the caricature we’re used to.  For instance, why the hydra imagery? Well, there is some correspondence between these heads and their crowns with the seven kings of Revelation 17:10.  It shows us that a lot of Satan’s power is political in nature. That’s the reason why you feel dirty and angry when you feed too much on the political news cycle–because at a certain level the devil’s involved in it.  His “horns” are for fighting, and his “diadems” are his authority. And that is the narrative of this current age–fighting, power, turf, control.  

The verse goes on to say “his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the Earth.”  This reflects his ability to apostasize others. He has a way of reducing heavenly and spiritual status, bringing it down to the ground.  

“And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth so that when she bore her child he might devour it.”  And he tried. True to the fact that the devil uses political machinery, he tried to destroy Christ through the authority of King Herod (political), and then killed him through crucifixion under the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (political).  Later, under Nero (political) Paul and Peter were killed, and throughout history, various government-sponsored persecutions rose up against the confessing church.    

The devil is not distracted by the new iPhone release.  He’s not distracted by any of the things his world system generates.  He knows where to train his attention, and places a laser-like focus on the one thing that counts:  that child being brought forth by the laboring Believers.  

If he’s clear about what is important, then how much more should we be as well?   

Still, regardless of what the devil does, Revelation chapter 12 is really just a record of satanic failures.  The great sign will be accomplished. We are told that this travailing, laboring, crying out woman “gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the kingdoms with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.”  We might quickly identify this child as the Christ of history, who was born and who has been crucified for our sins and then rose from the dead, and that would be true. But at the same time, there’s more.  

Recall Revelation 2:26, where Jesus promised believers that “to the one who conquers, and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations and he will rule them with a rod of iron as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.”  

“Even as” Jesus overcame and rules, so does the victorious believer. The same Christ who lived in history is now in you.  As he grows in you, elements of his life will manifest in your life. This continues until He is brought forth in you to a compelling and ruling degree (c.f. Rev. 3:10).

Finally, the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (v. 6).  The woman, bereft of her strength, is especially vulnerable during the days the Bible otherwise calls the Great Tribulation, a time of unprecedented trouble for people of faith that will even overshadow the Holocaust for severity.  At this point you may wonder if Christians could be on Earth during the Great Tribulation. Surely they were all already raptured?   There is some evidence to the contrary, beginning with the fact that the child, not the woman, is raptured.  

Having studied the end times, and written papers on it until I was dizzy, I certainly don’t want to get at loggerheads with people who plant flags in their eschatology.  I used to believe I had put all the pieces together perfectly, and figured out the big picture.  

I’m a bit less matter-of-fact these days.  Christians on the earth during the 1,260 days may reflect one of several scenarios:  People who got saved during the Great Trib; Jews who got saved during the Great Trib; Christians who were left to mature, since they had been living in a non-committal state toward Christ; or, something none of us currently see.  

At any rate, the signs of Revelation defy chronological perfection.  Whatever you think, the safest thing to do is allow Christ to form in you and to assist others in Christ being formed in them.  We don’t want to lose sight of that goal.     

When my daughter was born, we went to a nice hospital with remodeled birthing suites.  Half the room was like a restful little cabin in the woods. The other half was sterile, with tile floors, and a hospital bed, reminding us that we were not there for a weekend getaway, but a mission, and one especially difficult for my wife.  In fact, we’d be leaving with a baby the next day. It was going to happen, and it did.

Never let the cute, remodeled world distract you from the fact we’re supposed to deliver something.  There are always Christians who will choose to sit this one out, but as for the rest of us, we want to push.  

That’s what 2020 is really going to be about. 

If somebody asks you what’s your sign, don’t say Sagittarius. Learn to say, “My sign is the Great Sign of Christ formed in me, and through me, in others.”  

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