Revelation 12, Jesus Defeats Satan

  I.      Introduction

History and prophecy.  God uses both throughout time to display to all creation that He alone is in control.  There is prophecy that tells what God will do, then, when God fulfills His promise, the prophecy becomes history.  And then there is new prophecy.  Some prophecies have already come true; others are yet to come.

Open your bibles to Revelation 12 and this morning we’re going to study both prophecy and history and examine the battle between good and evil, God and Satan, throughout time, beginning thousands of years ago and is ongoing today and is still yet to come.

Ever heard that statement, “Jesus never says He is God?”  While technically accurate, if you’re a student of the bible you know it isn’t true.  Jesus used word specifically to indicate to the Pharisees that Jesus was Lord, and the Pharisees turned him over to Pilate to be crucified for it.  Also, the entire book of Revelation points to the deity of Jesus and His Kingdom and millennial reign.  Revelation doesn’t even try to justify the deity of Jesus with words like, “Jesus is God because…”  No Revelation just states it as fact.

II.      Christmas and Easter, Revelation 12:1-5

Today’s study is intense with symbolism, verse 1 begins with “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  But just because it’s symbolic doesn’t mean it’s hidden from us, or cloaked in mystery.  The passages of Revelation open up to us if we examine the scriptures carefully and try to understand each verse separately, then put them all together to understand the story that is being told.

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And Revelation is meant to be understood, it is “revealed” so we can understand our place in this world and the parallels in the heavenly realm.  The Greek word for Revelation is Apokalupsis which means to reveal that which was before unknown.  To reveal the things that have been, that are, and are to come.

There is a system to understanding the symbology Revelation.  First, search the immediate verses.  Throughout Revelation, 26 times the interpretation is given in the immediate verses.  If that doesn’t provide the interpretation, then search the Old Testament for the same symbol.  There are 404 verses in Revelation, and 278 of them are explained in the Old Testament.  Most of the symbology refers to Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  In particular, the visions of Daniel are represented.

The first 5 verses of Revelation 12 are a history lesson from the perspective of heaven.  It’s a story that needs earthly translation, as God says, “His ways are above our ways.”  Let’s read verses 1-5 –

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.

Ok, there’s some symbolism here, but it’s relatively easy to figure out.  There are three characters in this symbolic story so far, let’s see if we can figure out who they are –

  • Verse 1: A woman.
  • Verse 3: A dragon.
  • Verse 5: A son.

Let’s take them in reverse order.  The son is a male child who will rule the nations with an iron scepter.  Let’s take a peek at the Old Testament where this phrase is used in Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 laments that the nations conspire against the Lord and the kings and rulers of the band together against the Lord.  The Lord responds by saying in Psalm 2:5-9,

He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter,
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Our male child is the Messiah, savior of His people, ruler of nations.  And when Revelation 12:5 says the male child was “caught up unto God,” it’s reminiscent of Acts 1:9, when Jesus ascended into heaven in sight of His apostles.

The second character in our story is a dragon.  And the dragon is the devil because I can skip down to verse 9 where it says the great dragon was called the devil.  I could figure that one out on my own, didn’t need any bible study guides at all.

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The third character in the story is the woman, and she’s a little harder to figure out.  For years some scholars posited that she was the early Christian church, but that can’t be right.  The woman gives birth to the male child, and the Christian church didn’t give birth to Jesus.  Quite the opposite – Jesus through His sacrifice opened God’s grace to the gentiles and the Christian church was born.

Since the surrounding verses don’t positively identify the woman, let’s see if we can find our clues in the Old Testament.  The woman is described as having the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  Let’s go all the way back to Genesis 37, where Joseph had a dream.  Joseph was the son of Jacob who God renamed Israel, Joseph was Israel’s favorite, and Jacob’s brothers would eventually drop him in a deep well and leave him.  But just before that, Joseph had a dream he told to his family.  Joseph said, “Listen, I had a dream, and in this dream the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”  His father Israel rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream you had?  Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”  In this dream, we understand that the sun is Joseph’s father Israel, the moon is Israel’s wife Leah (Rachel had already died by this time), and the 11 stars are Joseph’s brothers who became eleven tribes of Israel, which Joseph becoming the twelfth tribe.

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The woman in Revelation 12, then must be Israel.  The twelve stars are the tribes of Israel, and the woman brought forth Jesus, who brought forth His church.  And then we realize Revelation 12:1-5 is the Christmas story as told from the heavenly perspective.

Let’s look at the exact same story from the earthly perspective, told in Matthew 2 and is already very familiar to you.  Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  The Magi from the East, commonly referred to the Three Wise Kings, stop at King Herod’s and discuss the birth of the new King of the Jews.  Herod is so disturbed by this, that his rule may be overthrown, that he orders every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed.  The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt.

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Jesus was born, this is the Christmas message.  Matthew 2 tells the story from the perspective of the earthly realm, Revelation 12:1-5 tells the same story from the spiritual realm perspective, as Satan tries to prevent the birth of our Savior.  Revelation 12:1-5 tells us a history lesson about Satan’s failed strategy to prevent the birth of the Messiah..

Verse 4, the angelic realm’s perspective of the devil trying to destroy the Messiah before He was born, we have to realize that this isn’t the only time Satan tried to destroy the Messiah.  Throughout the Old Testament, the devil tried many times to prevent the arrival of the Messiah.  Satan is trying a preemptive attack, trying to prevent the arrival of the Messiah and prevent God’s prophecies, because the devil knows he loses the spiritual warfare and Jesus will conquer death.  Satan is a fallen angel that believes he can take the place of God, and he used Herod’s insecurities to kill every baby in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt and escaped.  Before that, the devil tried for millennia to prevent the birth of Jesus.

Before Herod (Matthew 2), Cain killed Abel.  Satan believed since God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice, then the Messianic line would certainly come through Abel (Genesis 4, 1 John 3:2).  God’s plan, though, was through the lineage of Abel’s  younger brother Seth.  Then, in Exodus 1, Pharaoh tried to drown all the Jewish babies.  In 2 Chronicles 22, Athaliah tries to destroy all the royal offspring of the house of Judah, but the priest hid Joash in the temple and the Messianic line is preserved.  In the book of Esther, Haman tried to exterminate all the Jews.

Satan is called the prince of this world, and he doesn’t want to give it up.  It’s all he has.  He even tried to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:5-7 by offering Him the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus didn’t disagree that Satan was the prince of this world.

But the history is past, God is in control, and the Messiah, our Savior is brought into this world.  The devil loses.  How wicked, how dangerous the devil then becomes.  Now the devil needs a new strategy; to destroy Israel.

III.      War in Heaven, Revelation 12:6-12

God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that in him, all the nations of the world will be blessed.  Israel is the only nation that God started directly and has a covenant with God.  God will bless Israel, and Israel will bless the world, that’s God’s plan.  Israel has already blessed us.  Israel has provided scripture – all the authors of the bible with the possible exception of Luke were Jewish.  It says in Romans 3:2 that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.  The Jews gave us a Savior.  Did you know Jesus wasn’t Baptist?  No, He was a Jew.  And it says in Isaiah 2:2-3 that the Kingdom in the future would be headquartered in Jerusalem.

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So just like Revelation 12:1-5 is Satan’s past failed strategy, Revelation 12:6-17 is Satan’s present and future strategy, also failed.  Satan is trying to do a preemptive strike to destroy the nation of Israel to prevent the coming of the kingdom.

Satan knows that the kingdom is coming to the earth through Israel.  He is trying to destroy Israel like he once tried to destroy the messiah.  Verse 6 is set in the future to the 2nd half of the Tribulation.  It 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.

To understand the symbology, the woman is Israel, as we’ve studied.  The wilderness most scholars believe to be the city of Petra, in the wilderness, to be taken care of my God.  And 1,260 days means… 1, 260 days.

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The study of eschatology is the theology of the end times for mankind and the word.  We’re not going to get into the various comparisons, other than to note that not all scholars agree on how the future unfolds.  In the eschatology of a pre-Tribulation worldview, first comes the Rapture where believers meet Jesus in the air according to the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. Then begins seven years of Tribulation as God pours out His wrath, and Jesus comes to establish 1000 years of the millennial kingdom on earth.

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At the midpoint of the seven years of Tribulation, there is a blasphemous desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus tells the Jews in Matthew 24:15 that they are to flee to the mountains.  And this is where we find ourselves in Revelation 12:6 as the woman flees to the desert for 1260 days, which is 3 and 1/2 years.  We are looking at these verses that describe the spiritual war from the angelic realm.

Revelation 12:7-12,

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.”

Satan is furious.  Christ is coming, the Lion of Judah, and bringing the Kingdom of God.  Up to this point, Satan believes he can still thwart God.  Satan has access to God’s throne room – remember in Job 1 where God and Satan have a discussion about Job’s future?  Satan is in God’s throne room, not to worship as other heavenly beings do, but to accuse.  In fact, this verse says Satan accuses us before our God day and night.  We should be careful we ourselves do not become accusers.  The side doing the accusations has an ally that we should want nothing to do with.

But now, halfway through the Tribulation, Satan is thrown down from heaven, permanently.

IV.      War on Earth, Revelation 12:13-17

Then we look at verse 13, and Satan is losing the war.  He has already failed in the past when he was unable to prevent the coming of the Messiah, then he loses access to the heavenly throne room as he is thrown down, and here in the future, furious, Satan pursues Israel in earnest because he knows he only has 3 1/2 years to prevent God’s kingdom on earth.  And just like God rescued the Messianic line from Satan’s plans, now God rescues the woman Israel.

Verse 13-17,

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.

The most difficult part of Revelation 12 for me to figure out was “time, times, and half a time.”  Sounds like a math problem, and I’m an engineer, I should be able to figure this out.  It’s just a weird way of saying 3 1/2 years or 1260 days.  “Time” is “1 year,” “times” is “2 years” and then add “half a time” for a total of 3 1/2 years.

Satan’s final efforts to destroy Israel will also fail.  Notice Israel is given “the two wings of a great eagle.”  This symbology comes from Exodus 19:4, when God protected Israel from Pharaoh.  God tells Moses to say to the people of Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The image of being carried on eagles’ wings shows God’s protection during persecution, carried safely out of harm’s way.  This is God’s divine protection.

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Also, a favorite verse is Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Some scholars have tried to interpret the eagles’ wings as being protected by the USA who has the bald eagle as our emblem.  I’d like to say we will continue to protect Israel, but sadly, that’s not to be the case.  The USA, too, will one day persecute Israel.  Indeed, just in the last month the USA struck a deal with Iran so that Iran will have nuclear technology.  Iran then chants, “Death to America” and pledges to wipe Israel off of the map with nuclear weapon technology provided by the USA.

Wiping Israel off the map, though, would actually be an improvement, though, because the official world map from Iran doesn’t even show Israel.  I guess that means they will put Israel on the map first, then wipe Israel off.  Psalm 83:4 sounds exactly like something the leader or Iran might say.

“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”

Here is a map of the Middle East showing the Muslim countries, with Israel at the center.  They say there will be peace in the Middle East if Israel just gives up a little more territory.  Here’s what Benjamin Netanyahu says about the Middle East peace process:

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more ‎violence. If the Jews put ‎down their weapons ‎today, there would be no ‎more Israel.”

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Satan been trying throughout the ages to destroy Israel.  Perhaps he thought for a while he succeeded – the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD and the Jewish diaspora were scattered throughout the earth.  Even without a country, the Jewish people and culture survived, so Hitler and his Nazis destroyed 6 million of them in World War II.  And still Satan was unsuccessful, and when the United Nations reestablished Israel as a nation in 1948 after nearly 1900 years without a country, Satan realized his plan was failing again.

One cannot underestimate how furious Satan is.  Look at some of the words used to describe Satan’s emotions:  Verse 12, “filled with fury,” verse 13, “persecuted.”  Verse 15, “sweep away,” Verse 17 “war” and “enraged.”    God’s divine protection is in place, though.  In fact, the word for “persecuted” in verse 13 is the exact same Greek word that is used on Jesus’ sermon on the mount when He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Satan knows scripture, and he knows how badly things end for him.  But he believes he can replace God, and there is no end of his deceptions and lies in order to thwart God’s will.  1 Peter 8 says that your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  And if you think the deceptions and lies and accusations he uses against Christians are tormenting, it pales when measured against Satan’s fury against Israel.

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See, God’s plan is to bless Israel, and Israel will bless the nations.  Satan’s plan is not.  I believe antisemitism, and hatred of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is driven by Satan himself.  The desire to wipe out Israel is our earthly demonstration of the war in heaven and is rooted in the angelic conflict of good versus evil.

Jerusalem will be at the center of the Kingdom of God and of His Christ according to Zechariah 14:17 and several other verses.  Satan hates this.  Once the kingdom comes, his kingdom of this world is permanently ended, he is permanently bound and thrown into the lake of fire.

  V.      Conclusion

Be ever careful and vigilant to stay on the side of good.  Nobody is immune from Satan’s lies and deceits.  We have a God of love and forgiveness and grace, and all hatred is against His will, but antisemitism is especially evil and comes from the devil.  Satan has an evil plan for this hatred of Israel.

This battle in heaven with the battle on earth that mirrors it is widely perceived as a struggle between good and evil.  There are wars and famine and death in this world that may seem evil is winning, but it’s not.  Sata is dangerous, but Satan also is defeated.  The battle isn’t even close.  Jesus wins overwhelmingly.

To God be the glory.

The Promised Messiah

Zechariah title  I.      Introduction

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets, and these minor prophets have stark messages.  These messages display God’s glory and how God communicates both His love and His wrath, and how they are both consistent with His character, that our God is a consuming fire that loves us gently, and He has given us what we need for service in this world and eternity with our Lord forever.

Through the minor prophets, we learn 3 things about God –

  • God is sovereign.   He alone is God.  He alone is King.  He alone is the Creator.  He alone has the right to judge what is right and wrong.  He alone is the great I AM.
  • God is holy. He is perfect, He is all that is good.  His holiness is untainted by evil, there is no sin in His presence.  His wrath will destroy all that is evil, judged with perfect justice, revenge belongs to Him alone.
  • God is love. His wrath is withheld so that no one may perish, but have everlasting life.  He has given us His one and only son as a perfect sacrifice, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us.

Zechariah is one of the more difficult of the minor prophets, not just for the Jews living under the Law at the time, but for us Christians today.  Many of the verses are full of symbols and imagery; there are lampstands and menorahs, olive trees, flying scrolls, and a woman in a basket.  Fortunately, there’s an angel speaking to Zechariah that explains much of the imagery, but it’s still a challenging book to understand.

Zechariah imagery

Zechariah was a young man when he began his ministry; some scholars suggest he may have been as young as 16 years old.  He was a contemporary and friend of the prophet Haggai, and while Haggai encouraged the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, Zechariah encouraged the people with the hope of a coming messiah and reign of glory.

The Book of Zechariah is divided primarily in 2 “advents.”  The word “advent” means the arrival of something important, especially something that has been awaited.  The first 9 chapters, which we’ll study today, prophecy the advent of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Let’s take a peek at our key verse today Zechariah 9: –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is the 1st advent, a prophecy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem 500 years after Zechariah, of Jesus riding into town on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, today is Palm Sunday, so I think it is so very appropriate that we’re studying this today.

The second half of the book of Zechariah concerns itself with the 2nd advent, or the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Zechariah 14:3-4,9

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Revelation tells us that one day every knee will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but there are certain benefits to bending our knee voluntarily.

Today, as we look forward to Easter on this Palm Sunday, we are going to focus on the 1st advent, Zechariah’s prophecy of a messiah for Israel.

II.      Examine the Prophecy

Most people who study Old Testament prophecy can point to the book of Isaiah for prophecy about Jesus the Messiah.  Verses like …

  • Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Will have a Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1,2)
  • Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
  • Will have His way prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • Will be spat on and struck (Isaiah 50:6)
  • Will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2)
  • Will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5)
  • Will bear our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
  • Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:7,8)
  • Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)

These are not the only prophecies about Jesus, of course.  The Books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel – indeed, the entire Old Testament points to a Messiah who will suffer and die for us, taking away all of our sins.

The Jews understood – intellectually, at least – these prophecies of a messiah.  This messiah would be a mighty king of both victory and peace.  In Zechariah 9:9, the messiah is king –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The messiah king would usher in a new day for Jerusalem.  The days of captivity would finally be behind them, they would be free to worship and serve the king of the Jews.  The Jews had not had a king since Babylon destroyed the temple, and this verse told the people that a king of impeccable character, righteous and victorious, was coming for them.  A day to rejoice, a day to shout with triumph, a day to celebrate the arrival of their king.

In Zechariah 9:10, they knew the Messiah would be a man of peace –

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The Jews understood the coming Messiah to bring peace among men, among distant lands, from Jerusalem to the promised land of Abraham and his descendants to the very ends of the earth. His kingdom would be peaceful, because the Messiah was a victorious conqueror.  There would be no need for weapons for the Messiah to establish His rule.

In the next two verses, Zechariah 9:11-12, the Messiah would be a man of victory –

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

The Messiah would be a mighty conqueror.  Nothing would be able to withstand the might and power from heaven to rescue His daughter Zion from those that would persecute her.  Those that had been captured by evil and confined to darkness would be rescued and set free, given hope and a stronghold in the Lord.

Zechariah often refers to the Lord as the “LORD of hosts”, as in chapter 1 verse 3.   It could also be translated, “LORD of armies.”  This is a powerful name of God, Jehovah, Leader of an army of angels and our strong and mighty tower.  There is no need to fear with such a mighty leader of armies on the side of Zion.

When would this messiah come and rescue them?  We have to look to other Old Testament prophets to get the whole picture, but a key prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25.

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

These “sevens” would have been very familiar to the Jews; each “seven” is a period of seven years, and the end of each seven years the Jews had a Sabbath year.  And for the phrase “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” we have go back to Nehemiah 2.  Remember just a couple of months ago when we studied this?  Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes, and the in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad.  Nehemiah had been praying for that moment, and he asked the king to let him rebuild the city.

Well, now it’s simple math to determine when the messiah comes.  Artaxerxes came to power in 474BC.  The twentieth year of his rule was 455 BC.  “Seven ‘sevens’” is 49 years, and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” is another 434 years, so the Messiah arrives in 29AD.  And since the Messiah is foretold to be in the temple, when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, Jews know the Messiah was to have come between 29AD and 70AD.

Zechariah prophecy

The timing of the Messiah has since come and gone, and Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  But if not Jesus, then who?  I read several rabbinical letters on this subject.  Through the years, the Jews have put their hope in a Messiah on several people through the years such as Bar Kokhba in 132 AD.  Bar Kokhba fought a war against the Roman Empire, defeated the Tenth Legion and retook took Jerusalem. He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple.  He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name. Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, the Jews said, “well, I guess he’s not the messiah, either.”  Today, the Jews still wait for a messiah.  They believe he didn’t come at the prophesied time because the Jewish people weren’t ready.  The Jewish people will either have to be so good that they deserve a messiah to rule over them, or so bad that they deserve to have a messiah to rule over them.

How did the Jews miss the arrival of their messiah?  They were looking for a mighty warrior.  They were looking for a man of peace.  They were looking for a king in the year 29AD while Jerusalem was occupied by Roman forces.  And then, Jesus came riding to the temple on a donkey.

On one hand, I’m sort of glad the Jews missed the coming of the messiah.  It’s because God knew the Jews would reject His one and only son that the offer was then extended to the gentiles, and gentiles like me have an opportunity to accept this offer of salvation.  God’s not done with the Jews yet, they are still His chosen people.  Following the tribulation, things will be different, and the Jewish leaders will receive Jesus’ love in their heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 –

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

III.      Prophecy is true

How many prophecies did Jesus fulfill?  The easy answer is “all of them.”  It’s hard to determine an accurate count of the prophecies, but one study I read counted them at 365 prophecies foretelling the coming Jewish Messiah, of which 109 that *only* Jesus could have fulfilled.

http://bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm

Today, we know that Christ died for us on a tree, our sins upon Him and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, that we may have everlasting life with Him.  It is so obvious, nobody can miss it.

Or can they?  I know people that have accepted Christ, but I know far more that haven’t.  Some might even say they are Christian, but based on their fruit, they would be hard to recognize as believers.  And others are agnostic, unsure of any belief.  And some are atheistic, certain there is no God.  And some follow other gods of their own making.

IV.      Jesus came for us

Why did the Jewish people miss the 1st Advent of Christ?  Or better yet, why do some of us still miss the signs of Jesus in our lives?

John 5:36-40,

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus must be in our hearts, not just in our heads.  Studying God’s Word is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Evangelizing is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Compassion, good works, attending church, prayer is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.

The Jewish religious leaders studied the Old Testament diligently.  To them, salvation came with knowledge.  If you understood the word, you were given a place in the kingdom of heaven.  If you didn’t study, you were doomed.

John 7:49 –

The Pharisees said, “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”

2 Corinthians 3:15 –

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.

But it’s not what you know in your head that counts, but rather faith that trusts Jesus as the Messiah – something these Jewish leaders were unwilling or unable to do.  But we are to believe with our heart, not just our head –

Romans 10:9

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.

  V.      Conclusion

Today, in Zechariah 9, we’ve learned that the Messiah was a king, victorious, peaceful, righteous, and humble.

Matthew 21:1-9 –

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus speaks to us even now.  We must be in His word to hear him, or we miss the message He has for us. We must walk in His ways to see Him at work.  We must be with believers to see His love in action.

Isaiah 53:3-6 –

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Our Messiah has arrived during this celebration of Palm Sunday.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest heaven.  Thank you for coming for us, king of victory, king of peace, king of righteousness.  King of kings.

Zechariah Palm Sunday

To God be the glory.

Sword of the Spirit

              I.      Introduction

The wall is built around Jerusalem.  Chris taught us last week that we are all on the winning Superbowl team, even though not all of us are recognized.  We have a great quarterback, great coaches, and one awesome owner.

So… we’re done, right?  The wall is built.  What’s left to do?

How about an after-party celebration in honor of the Owner?

            II.      Nehemiah 8. The People Rejoice

Let’s open our bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8:1-10 –

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Ah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  That phrase was with me all weekend.

In verse 9, the people were weeping as they listened to the words.  Why do you think they were weeping?

          III.      A Bad Word

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information.  For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.   This is found in the book of Guinness, where beer was first mentioned.

After the book of Guinness comes the book of Exodus.  The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw.  Then Moses led the Israelites into the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.  Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven.  Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says.  But the bible is a big book.  Do you know what it really says?  God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass.  The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  God speaks to us through his Word.

If we don’t know the Word, then we can be misled.  Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from a) patience, b) God, c) man’s labor.  (Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: In 2 Corinthians 4:9, Christians are persecuted but not a) depressed, b) suffering, c) abandoned.  (Answer: Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?  A)  Make hay while the sun shines, b) Eat, drink, and be merry, c) In the nick of time.  (Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?  A) fly in the ointment, b) rule of thumb, c) dyed in the wool.  (Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?  A) Money is the root of all evil, b) God helps those who help themselves, c) without rhyme or reason. (Answer: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

Let’s try something more recent, a quiz on Nehemiah.  (Hint:  It’s the book we’ve been reading for the last 6 weeks).

  1. Under which Persian king did Nehemiah return to rebuild Jerusalem? A) Artaxerxes, king of Persia, B) Cyrus, king of Persia, C) Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, D) Sennacherib, king of Assyria?  (Answer: C, Nebuchadnezzar)
  2. Nehemiah was concerned by the news he received from the land of Judah for what reason? A) Jerusalem’s walls and gates were in disrepair, B) Drought had destroyed all the crops, C) Romans had invaded the land, D) The temple was in shambles.   (Answer: a), the walls were in disrepair)
  3. Which of the following was not the name of a gate in ancient Jerusalem? A) Sheep, B) Fish, C) Pearl, D) Dung (Answer: C, Pearl)
  4. How long did it take to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership? A) 70 weeks, B) 52 days, C) 40 days and nights, D) 13 months (Answer: b, 52 days)
  5. Who stood and read the Law after the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt by Nehemiah? A) Nehemiah, B) King David, C) Ezra, D) Moses (Answer: c, Ezra)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God is saying to you?  How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth?  If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books.  I found his books inspiring and comforting, easy to understand.  I still Like Max Lucado’s books.  But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said was God’s Word.   Why would I think Max Lucado is a better source of truth than the Source of Truth itself?  The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God through His Word for the answers.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time.  The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation.  To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7 –

“And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character.  The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.”  The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm.  Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.”  That sort of torah.  The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor.  Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments.  They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached.  Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important.  Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  In our time, the bible is the bestselling book ever, every year.  At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone.  Worldwide sales of the top 8 bestselling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year.  Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah.  No neighborhood OfficeMax.  Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy.  So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great reading of God’s Word from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight?  I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever.  Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of reading or listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous.  Scripture can be taken out of context to prove almost any point, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear.  We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives.  The Word of God is powerful.

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God.  The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it.  Once it is revealed, we can repent.  Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God.  But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin.  We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears.  The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?”  That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all.  We can’t clean ourselves up good enough to get to heaven.  We bring our messy, filthy sins to God, confess them, and God will give us the strength and wisdom to get clean.  God does a much better job of cleaning my soul than I can do on my own.

            IV.      A Sharp Word

How does the bible do this?  It’s because the bible is not just a book.  Let’s see what the bible says about the bible –

Let’s turn to the book of John, book 1, verse 1-5, 14 –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Right away we can see that the Word of God is more than just words in a book.  The Word of God is holy, the very words of God, the very words of Jesus, who gave His very life to live among us and to freely give His life for us that we may live.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 –

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God speaks these words, every one of them.  Not taken out of context, but all of the words.  It is useful, it corrects us, it trains us, it prepares us.  The word of God in its entirety is meant to be applied to our everyday lives.

2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible is not a man’s interpretation of God; the bible is directly from God through the Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit inspired the men to write the books of the Bible.   Each book may have an individual’s flair or spiritual gift influencing him – certainly the book of John is very different than the book of Luke – but the words themselves come directly from God.

Hebrews 4:12-14 –

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The word is relevant to our lives, and we discover through the word what pleases and displeases the Lord, and we are compelled to repent from sin.  But that sin is embedded into our very fabric, and giving it up isn’t easy.  The Word of God cuts like a knife, surgically removing sin from our lives.

John 8:31-32 –

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Often we don’t even know we are a slave to sin.  We can be very sincere about our beliefs, but sincerity is not enough.  Religious people can be wrong.  But following the teachings of Jesus, becoming a follower of Jesus, is the only way to eternal freedom.

Acts 17:10-12,

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Don’t believe what you are told.  If I teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if what I said is true.  If Theresa or Libby or especially Chris teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If Dr. Young teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If the Apostle Paul himself appears before you in a great flash of light and teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  God doesn’t mind if you question what you’re told.  In fact, he will consider you noble if you read the bible for yourself.

And finally, our class anthem, Ephesians 6:17,

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The Word of God does more than protect us; it allows us to go on the offense against the powers of darkness.  It is a double-edged sword of the Spirit.  We are well equipped with the Word of God.

              V.      A Good Word

At the end of Nehemiah 8, in verse 9, the people have heard the word of God, they have been cut by the double-edged sword of God, their thoughts and attitudes of the heart have been judged.  And the people are weeping.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

They realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen.  But let’s look back at Nehemiah verse 2 for a second.  What day is this?  It’s the first day of the seventh month.  Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.  Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin.  Talk about opening the floodgates.  This is a holy day, a Sabbath day.  A day made for rest, a day made for feasting.  It’s a day for celebration.  Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

            VI.      Conclusion

Celebrate that we have read the Word, that we are on a path to understand God’s unique will for us.  Nehemiah 8:10-12,

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians.  We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery?  Why should it be a bad thing to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards?  We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Instead, it should be an opportunity.  Celebrate!  With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us.  If we repent of our sin, that is great news!  That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord.  The angels rejoice at the news of our repentance.  Luke 15:10, Jesus says,

there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities.  That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated.  They went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”  So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections.  Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.”  1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.”  God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word.  If you’re not experiencing joy when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right.  Ask the Lord to help.  Go to Him in prayer and ask Him.  Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life.  Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.”  God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.  And let us sing the praises of Christ our Savior for His Word and His beautiful mercy and grace, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

To God be the glory.