The fourth view takes the longest sweep of any, thus far, goes into much more detail, and gives much fresh information. It runs through chapters twelve to fourteen. In the intensely picturesque language of a woman arrayed in the most glorious splendour and dignity and power imaginable the nation of Israel is depicted.
This woman is with child. In more intensely dramatic language Satan is pictured as standing before the woman waiting to destroy her child as soon as born. The child is born, a man-child, who is to rule all the nations with autocratic sway. He is caught up to heaven, and his mother flees into the wilderness from the serpent. This is the opening action of this view.
The meaning lies open on the face. Israel gave birth to the man Jesus, who foiled all the attacks of Satan and ascended to heaven. The old prophetic characteristic of connecting events far apart without reference to intervening time is marked here. The long interval between the break-up of the Jew nation and its taking shape again as a nation, which has lasted nineteen hundred years roughly, comes between the last word of verse five and the first word of verse six.
The prophetic writing takes no reckoning of Israel, except as a nation. The woman fleeing into the wilderness is Israel organized again as a nation suffering persecution. She is so persecuted for twelve hundred and sixty days, but divinely protected and preserved. Such is the first act of the drama pictured here. [Note: Rev_12:1-6.]
Then we are told why the woman flees, that is, the explanation of this special persecution of the Jew this time. [Note: Rev_12:7-17.] Satan has had his headquarters somewhere in the heavens, below God's throne, but above the earth. Now, after a conflict, he is cast out of heaven, down to the earth. Here is a third event that comes approximately at the beginning of the tribulation time, Satan is cast down to the earth.
The Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the Church up to heaven, so removing the restraint upon evil. Satan is cast out of heaven and comes down to earth. Thus there is a double intensifying of evil on the earth, the withdrawal of restraint, and the presence of the evil one himself. And as the witness of the Holy Spirit is withdrawn the special witness of the two men in Jerusalem begins.
The defeat of Satan in this heavenly conflict draws out a burst of praise from the upper hosts. It is because of the great victory of our Lord Jesus in His death that this victory is gotten. They overcome because of the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death,—a threefold cord that could never, and can never, be broken or successfully resisted.
This explains the special persecution at this time of the reshaped Jewish nation. It is the outburst of the rage of the freshly defeated Satan. But the Jew is protected. The armies that would swallow the Jew up are swallowed up by the great earthquake that closes the tribulation time.
The length of this persecution is put in two different ways, twelve hundred and sixty days, and "time, times, and half a time." This latter phrase seems to be an old Oriental or Hebrew way of saying a year, two years, and half a year. The same length of time is expressed in yet another way in the eleventh chapter, forty and two months. The time is thus put in three different ways, that we may know surely that it means just plain three and a half years of our common time. It is significant that the dragon makes war with "the rest" of the woman's seed. This can only mean the Church, which of course was born in the Jewish nation. This is the first run of events in this view. [Note: Rev_12:1-17.]
Then follows a description of the awful leader of evil during the tribulation time. [Note: Rev_13:1-18.] It is significant that, as Satan is cast out of heaven down to the earth, this leader appears among men. He has great intelligence and power and is the very embodiment of blasphemy. He is described as a strange mixture of wild beasts, having the chief characteristic strength of each, the cunning of the leopard, the feet of the bear, and the mouth of the lion.
He is the personal representative on earth among men of Satan. There is something strangely uncanny in the suggestion that he is some former leader, who died, and is now raised from the dead. There seems to be nothing too daring for Satan to attempt in his impious opposition to God. This leader comes into great prominence and power. All the world wonders after him. And they worship Satan, who is recognized as giving his power to this notorious leader.
He comes to be accepted as the world ruler, and is commonly worshipped by the people. And he not only persecutes God's people, but overcomes them. A limit of time is set to his sway. It is the same as already noted for Jerusalem being desecrated, for God's two witnesses, and for the persecution of the Jew, i.e., forty and two months, three and a half years.
It is striking that in the midst of the description of his terrible reign there comes a word that sounds like an echo from those messages to the Churches. "If any man hath an ear, let him hear." [Note: Rev_13:9-10.] Then the word goes on warning, pleading, and encouraging. In the midst of these blasphemous conditions every man must do as he personally decides. He may yield to this evil and become a captive of evil, bound hand and foot. He may try to use the world's weapons in fighting God's battle, but will find himself outmatched in their use. He may rise to the true level, and steadfastly cling to his faith, and endure, and by faith be victorious in the end.
The description goes on to tell of the blasphemous worship demanded of all. This leader has an assistant or lieutenant to whom he deputizes great power. He makes an image to his chief, and demands all to worship at this shrine. He has supernatural power, that is, devilishly supernatural. He performs great miracles, even calling down fire from heaven. He gives breath to the image and makes it speak. And he punishes with death any one who refuses this blasphemous worship to the leader and his image. And every one is required to have a mark on his hand or his forehead as indicating his loyalty to the leader. Whoever refuses is unable to buy or sell. It is the boycott principle carried to the last extreme.
While God's two witnesses are doing miracles by divine power this lieutenant is doing them by devilish power. So the fearful account goes on. One can easily imagine the vast crowds swayed by the idolatrous worship, and the intense suffering and distress among those who insist on being steadfast and true in their faith.
Now in the midst of all this terrible scene John is suddenly and tremendously startled by something else. [Note: Rev_14:1-5.]
In the vision John is in heaven looking down on these scenes on the earth. Now his attention is attracted by a scene that suddenly takes place before his eyes in heaven. It is a scene of wondrous winsomeness and beauty. It stands out in sharpest contrast with what is going on on the earth.
There's a great company standing around the Lord Jesus, before the throne. They are singing a wonderful song to the accompaniment of harps, which they have. The volume of music is like the voice of many waters, or like great thunder. There is a simple, fine description of the character of these singers. They are pure, and they are obedient. In their purity they are as undefiled virgins, the highest possible statement of purity. And they follow the Lamb unquestioningly whithersoever He goeth with fullest obedience.
Who are these, and where have they come from so suddenly, at this moment, into the presence of the One on the throne? The description tells just what has happened. When things are at their devilish worst down on the earth the Lord Jesus has caught up His own from the earth. And they have become like Him in character, for now they see Him face to face as He is.
This recalls the scene, essentially the same, back in the first view, in chapter seven, where the great multitudes are suddenly seen before the throne with palm branches, songs, and white garments. It is the same company as there. But there is a difference in telling the numbers. There they are too many to be counted. Here they are said to be a hundred and forty-four thousand. It is symbolical, a picture number, the number of full corporate completeness as with the Spirit-baptized Jews in chapter seven.
The believers caught up out of the great tribulation have been joined by the trusting hearts of all time who have been waiting in the Father's presence for this glad day. The number is now complete of all from creation's earliest dawn, who by grace have followed fully, regardless of hindrance or opposition. This great climax is thus seen by John in sudden and sharp contrast with the climax of hellish evil on the earth.
Then John is shown the steps by which this climax is reached. [Note: Rev_14:6-20.] Verses six to the close of this chapter seem clearly to be a detail of what has gone before, describing the steps by which this climax is reached, and then reaching further to the judgment upon the evil. During the iniquitous scenes being enacted on earth an angel is seen flying in mid-heavens calling to the people on earth, in warning, to give their worship and reverence to God only. The gracious wooing of God never ceases.
Another angel follows, calling out that the great system of iniquity, in which they are enmeshed, is doomed. A third gives solemn warning that those who yield to the terrible pressure, and engage in the blasphemous worship, will be surely and terribly punished. Again there comes another echo of the strain of pleading in the Church messages. In the midst of just such conditions as prevail then, the saints can be steady in keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
And down into the awful persecution being waged comes an encouraging voice from heaven. There is special blessing from God on all those who remain true, even unto death. There will be sweetest rest for them, and their faithful witnessing and suffering shall be all noted and acknowledged and rewarded as they come up into the Father's presence.
And then follows the blessed harvest of the righteous whose wonderful arrival in heaven has already been told in the opening scene of this chapter. And then follows the awful harvest of evil down on the earth, the visitation of judgments coming at the very end of the persecution.
So closes this long remarkable view of the tribulation. It connects back with the nation of Israel. Its beginning is connected practically with the casting of Satan down to earth. It gives a description of the leader and the nature of the persecution, and a brief statement of the steps with which it ends. And it states in three different ways that the length of time involved is three and a half years.