Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Study on Revelation 12: Part Four (The identity of the male child, continued)

Revelation 12
5 And she brought forth a son, a male, who is about to be shepherding all the nations with an iron club. And her child is snatched away toward God and toward His throne.

Having ruled out the 144,000 as being the company of saints represented by the male child, I must again stress that I see one of the keys to determining the identity of the male child as being found in the fact that John saw him being “snatched away toward God and toward his throne.” As we’ve seen, this fact has undermined both the view that the male child represents Christ, individually, as well as the view that the male child represents the 144,000. Another key to determining the identity of the male child is, I believe, in the fact that his snatching away was seen by John as taking place sometime prior to the time when the woman must flee to the wilderness (which is just before the 3½ year period of “great affliction” begins).

Thus, if there is a company of saints described elsewhere in Scripture that will, in fact, be snatched away “toward God and toward his throne” at some point before the midpoint of the 70th heptad begins, then I think we can reasonably conclude that it is this company of saints whom the male child should be understood as most likely representing. And I believe that there is, in fact, such a company of saints referred to elsewhere in Scripture. The company of saints I have in mind is, of course, that which Paul described as “the body of Christ” and “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body” (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27; Eph. 1:22-23).

Concerning this company of saints, Paul prophesied as following in 1 Thess. 4:15-18:

“For this we are saying to you by the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose, for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord.

Ironically, in order to make the snatching away of the male son seem less like a depiction of the snatching away of the body of Christ, some have emphasized that the more accurate translation of Rev. 12:5 is “toward God and toward his throne” (rather than “to God and to his throne”). But rather than pointing away from the snatching away of the body of Christ, this fact actually strengthens the connection between Rev. 12:5 and 1 Thess. 4:17. For the event prophesied by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:17 does not involve the saints in the body of Christ reaching their celestial destination immediately. We are, rather, snatched away to meet Christ “in clouds” and “in the air” first. How long this meeting in the upper atmosphere takes place is not revealed by Paul, but we know that this is the location to which we’ll be snatched away. But the direction in which we will be travelling to reach this atmospheric location can be accurately said to be “toward God and toward his throne” (this is certainly more so the case than any other direction in which one could travel). Thus, the more accurate translation “snatched away toward God and toward his throne” better matches what will actually occur when the body of Christ is snatched away (of course, it’s also possible that, after the meeting in the air take place, we’ll be snatched away again to the throne room of God!).

Moreover, just as the child who is destined to be snatched away is said to be “a son, a male,” so the saints who constitute the body of Christ can be collectively described as male. In Ephesians 4:11-13 we read, “And the same One gives these, indeed, as apostles, yet these as prophets, yet these as evangelists, yet these as pastors and teachers, toward the adjusting of the saints for the work of dispensing, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ…”

Christ is, of course, a son and male, so it is appropriate that the saints who constitute the body of which he is the head be collectively described as male in accord with this imagery (this, of course, is in contrast with faithful Israel, which is consistently described in feminine terms; the imagery of the sun-clothed woman is a prime example of this, and elsewhere in Revelation faithful Israel is described as “the bride of the Lambkin”; see Rev. 19:7; 21:9; cf. John 3:29). [1]

The Body of Christ in Prophecy

Some may object to this view of the male child on the grounds that it’s just not possible that the body of Christ could appear in the book of Revelation (even in symbolic form). According to this view, the ecclesia of this present administration is completely absent from all prophecy, and that one’s search for any direct (or indirect) reference to it outside of Paul’s letters would necessarily be in vain. In response to this sort of objection, I need only quote the following remark from Ande Piet: That the Ecclesia could play no role in prophetic passages is an assumption that cannot be proven from Scripture.” Even if it were true that the ecclesia of this present administration was entirely absent – both explicitly and implicitly - from all Hebrew prophesy written before this present administration began and the ecclesia came into existence (which I think is debatable), it wouldn’t mean that there could be no prophetic reference to it after the present administration began and the body of Christ came into existence.

While I don’t see any problem with the idea of the body of Christ being referred to in Revelation, I do think it’s significant that the vision given to John basically “ignores” the entire present administration. Based on what John described as seeing, it would appear as if the male child is snatched away as soon as he is “brought forth” from the sun-clothed woman. Now, it’s possible that the bringing forth of the male son refers to the body of Christ’s being completed at the end of this present administration (i.e., with regards to the last individual, or individuals, chosen for membership in the body of Christ believing Paul’s evangel and becoming sealed with the holy spirit). In this case, the labor of the woman (and the dragon’s standing before her seeking to devour her unborn child) should be understood as spanning the entire duration of the present administration.

Although this view is possible, I’m inclined to understand the “birth” of the male child as figuratively depicting the body of Christ first coming into existence as a corporate entity distinct from faithful Israel (in which case the company of faithful Israelites represented by the woman in verses 1-5 is not the same company of faithful Israelites represented by the woman in v. 6). In any case, this present administration – which has, thus far, spanned nearly 2,000 years of history – is clearly not the focus of the vision in Rev. 12. But this fact should not come as any surprise to the reader. John’s focus in this chapter and throughout Revelation as a whole is on Israel and the nations, and on events involving Israel and the nations during the final years of this eon and beyond.

Brought forth from the woman?

But if the male child represents the ecclesia which is Christ’s body, how can it be said that this company of saints was “brought forth” from faithful Israel? I think there are at least two senses in which it could be said that the body of Christ was “brought forth” from faithful Israel (and, I should note, these two senses are not mutually exclusive).
First, the body of Christ clearly owes its existence to Christ himself. It is our spiritual union with the risen and living Christ that makes us “members of his body.”[2] Christ is the “head” of the ecclesia which is his body (Eph. 5:23) and the one into whom we are growing (Eph. 4:15-16). But of course, Christ himself came out of faithful Israel (as is evident from his lineage); even in what was likely his last letter, Paul emphasized Christ’s descent from David (2 Tim. 2:8). And insofar as Christ is our “head” and was himself “brought forth” out of faithful Israel, it can be said that the body of Christ itself was “brought forth” from faithful Israel. This fact doesn’t make us Israelites, of course. Just as the “male child” is a completely different individual than (and is to be distinguished from) the sun-clothed woman who brought him forth, so we are completely different from faithful Israel, despite the fact that we, in a sense, owe our existence to faithful Israel.

Another sense in which it can be said that the body of Christ was “brought forth” from faithful Israel concerns the nationality of the first members of the body of Christ. Not only was the head of the body (Christ himself) brought forth out of faithful Israel, but the original members of the body of Christ came out of faithful Israel as well. At this point, it may be objected that, although Paul was indeed an Israelite, he was an unbeliever before Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. In response to this objection, I am not denying that Paul wasn’t a part of faithful Israel before his conversion. However, after his conversion, it is a different story entirely.

There is absolutely no evidence that Paul heard and believed the evangel of the uncircumcision (which is the evangel by which one is “called” into the body of Christ) at the time of his conversion on the Damascus road. At this time, Paul “merely” came to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (which is the evangel of the circumcision). It was even by means of Ananias – an Israelite who was clearly part of the “Israel of God” - that Paul was baptized and “filled with holy spirit” (Acts 9:17). Thus, before Paul became a member of the “ecclesia which is Christ’s body,” he became a part of faithful Israel. Other Jewish members of the body of Christ - such as Barnabas and Apollos – undoubtedly had the same “starting point” as Paul, and were likewise part of the Israel of God before being called through the evangel of the uncircumcision that was entrusted to Paul at some point after his conversion (which may have taken place sometime during Paul’s three-year stay in Arabia).

Shepherding the Nations with an Iron Club

But what about the fact that the male child is said to be “about to be shepherding all the nations with an iron club” (Rev. 12:5)? Some may see this as an objection to the view that the male child represents the body of Christ, especially in light of what we read in Rev. 2:26-27. There, we read of Christ exhorting the (Jewish) members of the ecclesia in Thyatira with the following words: "And to the one who is conquering and keeping My acts until the consummation, to him will I be giving authority over the nations; and he shall be shepherding them with an iron club, as vessels of pottery are being crushed, as I also have obtained from My Father.” 

In response to this objection, it must be emphasized that “shepherding all the nations with an iron club” is, first and foremost, the prerogative and prophetic “job description” of Christ Jesus himself (Psalm 2:7-9). Christ – and Christ alone – is the one to whom God directly gave this authority. Certain Israelites (those who are “conquering and keeping [Christ’s] acts until the consummation”) will be privileged with this authority only insofar as it is delegated to them by Christ. But Christ is the one who, ultimately, carries this God-given authority. And not only is Christ the first person referred to in Scripture who we’re told would be given this authority (as prophesied in Psalm 2:7-9), but, according to Rev. 19:14-15, he’s also the first one who will actually exercise it.

Thus, when we read Rev. 12:5, it needs to be kept in mind that “shepherding all the nations with an iron club” is not so much Israel’s “job description” during the eon to come - at least, not inherently or distinctly so - as it is Christ’s. Besides Christ himself, this particular task will, to some degree or another, be performed by whomever Christ delegates his authority to. But if that’s the case, then it would only make sense that those saints who constitute his body (and who can be said to be in a more intimate relationship and union with Christ than even those faithful Israelites to whom Christ will be giving authority over the nations as a reward for their acts) will, likewise, have - and in some way exercise - this authority given to Christ. To assume that we couldn’t possibly be given or exercise this authority because it’s prophetically related to Christ would be like saying we can’t possibly be considered members of the body of Christ since Christ (the Messiah or “Anointed One”) is the central figure of Hebrew prophecy, and inseparably connected with Israel and the kingdom that is to be restored to her. But that, of course, is simply not the case.

Although I once believed that we would have little, if anything, to do with the affairs of earth during the eons to come, I suspect that we’re all going to be somewhat surprised (some of us more so than others) by just how much our work in the heavens and among the celestials will be tied to the affairs of earth, rather than being completely unrelated to them. Just because “our realm is inherent in the heavens” doesn’t mean our work will not involve the people and goings-on of earth in some important way. I think many of the saints in the body of Christ today would affirm that we are destined to replace the wicked celestial hierarchy referred to in Eph. 6:12, and that we’ll be exercising the sort of authority they’ve been exercising while in power, but in a contrastive way that glorifies God and Christ (and which fulfils – rather than violates - what Christ considered to be the two greatest precepts). But if this is the case, then consider the following: Satan and the hierarchy of wicked spiritual beings of which he is the chief have most likely been celestial beings since the beginning of their existence. And yet, they have been - and will continue to be, as long as they are permitted by God - very much involved in the affairs of earth.

The fact that Paul referred to Satan as the “chief of the jurisdiction of the air” (Eph. 2:2) suggests that Satan’s “sphere of influence” is as extensive and all-encompassing as the air that covers the earth (it is no wonder that Paul referred to him as “the god of this eon” in 2 Cor. 4:4). The staggering degree of power and influence that Satan presently has over the kingdoms of the world during “this wicked eon” is confirmed by the fact that, when being tried by Satan, Christ did not dispute his ability to offer him “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” in exchange for worship (Matt. 4:8-9). In order for this to have been a legitimate temptation for Christ, it had to have been a legitimate offer.

Moreover - and as noted earlier - some of the highest-ranking celestial beings within the hierarchy headed up by Satan are referred to as the “chiefs” of certain gentile kingdoms (Daniel 10:12-14 and 20-21). Apparently, there are different jurisdictions on earth to which certain celestial “chiefs” have been assigned to oversee. There’s also evidence that God himself is the one who assigned certain celestial beings to different regions of the earth. In Deut. 32:8-9 (ESV), we read: When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.[3] Based on Gen. 6:1-2[4], Job 1:6 and Job 38:7, it can be inferred that the “sons of God” referred to here are celestial beings.

Another passage of Scripture which reveals the relationship that certain celestial beings have to the nations of the earth is found in Psalm 82. In this remarkable Psalm of Asaph, we read as follows:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:  “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

Based on both the internal evidence of this passage as well as its similarity to other passages in which celestial beings are clearly in view (such as Psalm 89:5-7 and Job 1:6-12; cf. 1 Kings 22:19-22), I think it can be reasonably concluded that the “gods” and “sons of the Most High” present at this “divine council” are, in fact, celestial beings (most likely those same beings constituting the hierarchy referred to by Paul in Ephesians 6:12). In this Psalm, we find God rebuking these beings for their unjust administration, and for the misuse of the authority that God had given them. Rather than making sure that the weak, fatherless, afflicted, destitute and needy are taken care of, these beings instead “show partiality to the wicked,” allowing (or even enabling) the wicked to prosper and take advantage of those less powerful than they. The final verse of this Psalm is especially telling. The Psalmist clearly believed that this unjust state of affairs would be made right when God finally intervened and judged the earth. And the end result of this judgment? “For you [God] shall inherit all the nations!” This plea and expectation of the Psalmist reveals that it is “all the nations” which were being (and continue to be) negatively influenced by the wicked “gods” which God is described as rebuking.

Since it’s clear from these and other passages of Scripture that Satan and the rest of the wicked celestial hierarchy are very much involved in the affairs of the earth (exercising their delegated authority in ways that affect the nations), I think it is likely that those who are destined to replace them among the celestials (i.e., the saints in the body of Christ) will be just as involved in the affairs of the earth. The authority and influence that Satan and other celestial beings have over the gentile kingdoms of which they are “chiefs” is, of course, consistent with there being human kings (as well as other religious and political leaders) exercising their own authority on the earth. But if that’s the case, is it not possible that certain saints in the body of Christ will have similar administrative roles in the eon to come – roles which, like the celestial “sons of God” and “chiefs” referred to in Daniel, may involve some sort of “behind the scenes” activity and intervention on our part? I think that this is not only possible but highly likely.

Like the influence which the wicked “chiefs” of Daniel 10 and the “gods” of Psalm 82 have over the nations, our work during the eon to come may be “behind the scenes” and go largely unnoticed by the inhabitants of the earth. But I’m inclined to believe that we will have just as much of an influence on what takes place on earth as these celestial beings have had (with the main difference being, of course, that we’ll be using our authority over the nations in a way that is just, merciful and compassionate, unlike Satan and the rest of his wicked celestial hierarchy). Our authority and influence over the gentile nations will not be in conflict with Israel’s role as the dominant earthly power, or with the exercise of her political and religious authority during the eon to come; rather, it will complement and harmonize with it.

Part Five:

[1] Understanding the male child as the company of saints that constitute the body of Christ could shed some light on an otherwise enigmatic statement made by John in Rev. 12:6. There we read, “And the woman fled into the wilderness, there where she has a place made ready by God, that there they may be nourishing her a thousand two hundred sixty days.” Who was John referring to as “they” here? Although I think it’s possible that John was referring to Michael and his messengers (who are introduced in v. 7), this view is not without problems. If John had in view Michael and his messengers here, why didn’t he simply refer to them as such in v. 6? The use of the word “they” instead might suggest that John is pointing the reader back to a group of people he had already mentioned. Prior to v. 6, the only “characters” which have been introduced are the sun-clothed woman, the dragon, the son/male child, the nations which he will be “shepherding,” and God. The last character mentioned before we get to v. 6 (besides God himself) is the male child. In light of this fact, Andre Piet suggests the following interpretation:

Who are the ‘they’ in verse 6? It cannot be missed that it is the male son, already presented as a people! The Ecclesia is, as Christ’s (administrative-) body, destined for the throne and behind the scenes he will actively be involved in feeding (literally and/or metaphorically conceived) the faithful remnant in the wilderness.”

If the “they” of v. 6 does in fact point back to the male child of v. 5, then this verse would provide us with some fascinating insight into what sort of things we in the body of Christ will be doing during the final years of this eon. It would mean that one of the first tasks that will be assigned to us by Christ after we’ve been glorified will involve serving others.

[2] The “Israel of God” existed on the earth long before Christ was ever conceived and long before he lived on the earth, and continued to exist even while he was dead and entombed for three days and nights. However, the ecclesia which is Christ’s body could not have come into existence before Christ was conceived, nor could it have remained in existence while he was dead.

[3] Other Bible translations that read “sons of God” (or something similar) in Deut. 32:8 are the New American Bible (Revised Edition), the New Revised Standard Version and the Concordant Version of the Old Testament. It should be noted that some Hebrew manuscripts read “according to the number of the sons of Israel” rather than “according to the number of the sons of God,” and the majority of English translations (starting with the KJV) have opted for this reading (with many including the alternative in a footnote). However, this textual variant is almost certainly a corruption of the original text. In an article entitled “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Michael Heiser provides a compelling defense of the “sons of God” reading. See also

[4] For a concise defense of the view that the “sons of God” referred to in Genesis 6 were celestial beings, I recommend the following article by Chuck Missler:

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