|Phil Clandillon (original artwork, Fire Escape Sign with Fire-breathing Dragon, 2008)|
We are a blessed generation. Blessed by the One who has already given us every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Blessed because we are watching unfold great and awe-inspiring signs as seen and foretold by the apostle John (Rev. 12; c.f. Lk. 21:11), and we are only beginning to scratch the surface. Dig deeper, and you will discover further blessings. When you mine the depths of this wonderfully mysterious passage at the center of the last book of the Bible, you will discover that our Lord was right:
Blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near!" (Revelation 1:3, HCSB).
A Little Bit of Backstory
Before I dive in too far, I must acknowledge several sources that have influenced my thinking in this area of Bible study: First, like many who are studying the heavens now with greater clarity and Scriptural insight, the documentary by Rick Larson entitled The Star of Bethlehem opened up new vistas of interpreting and understanding the word of God (Gen. 1:14; Ps. 19; Rev. 12). I laugh now because I had put off watching it for a long time. Then [around the summer of 2014], when I finally did get around to it, I had a difficult time focusing on any other subject after that. Apparently, Gary and the Unsealed Team had already beat me to it :)
Second, I began searching online for others who were discussing signs in the heavens. I landed on Scott Clarke's YouTube channel, eternalrhythymflow, where I literally gasped upon discovering there was a literal sign in the sky that seamlessly aligned with the prophetic vision in Revelation 12. The more that I watched Scott's videos, the more relieved I became after realizing that he was, not only Pre-Trib in his teaching, but also aware of crucial distinctions between YHWH's plan for the Church versus that of the nation Israel (props to you, brother, it is no accident you have been given an online platform to interpret the sign correctly for all who are diligent students of the Word).
Further still, I was overjoyed to see that someone had supplied Scott with a link to Dr. Mike Svigel's discussion concerning the Rapture of the Church in the context of Revelation 12 (see his series called "Prophecy Autopsy"). Around the same time, I had also caught on to Dr. Svigel's writings on the topic. I share sentiments along with Greg L. that any further study of the Rapture of the Church in Revelation 12 owes a debt of gratitude to the stellar work of a Dallas Seminary prof who dug up a jewel that had been buried and long forgotten.
I have since graduated from Dallas Seminary, but during one of my final semesters there, I was walking on campus and stumbled upon a timely blessing. After much reflection upon the Revelation 12 sign and being extremely unsettled in spirit that we were still around after the blood moon tetrad had passed, finding Dr. Svigel's academic article posted to a bulletin board was the perfect pick-me-up. Just when you think you have seen and heard it all, you hear the infamous cry of the infomercial salesman, "But wait, there's more!" And again, I found Him to be faithful to His word:
Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7, HCSB).
|Here I am on campus at DTS, Feb. 2014; the fountain froze over!|
Anyone willing to venture that the timing of Dr. Svigel's discovery was an accident, or mere happenstance? Is it blind chance that his contributions have shed tremendous light on a GREAT SIGN whose fulfillment occurs in the Fall of 2017? Bah!
If you're still tracking with me, please keep reading. I have discovered yet another hidden gem within this passage that has become oh-so-relevant for our time.
Two Great Escapes to Places Prepared
The twelfth chapter of Revelation is central to the book as a whole; being right at the midpoint, it is the fulcrum, the hinge in the narrative, and yet it remains comprehensive in scope. I will even go a step beyond—it is the culminating vision of all that the OT and NT prophets have been reporting on all along throughout Scripture. In other words, the Day of the LORD isn't just near anymore (Isa. 13:6; Joel. 1:15; Jm. 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7)...it is here.
How do we know that this Revelation 12 sign, which involves a woman going into labor, struggling to give birth, specifically indicates the beginning of sorrows, or the time of Jacob's trouble? Answer: "A woman in labor" is a major metaphor consistently employed throughout the Bible which relates to the Tribulation period. If we were to sample both Old and New Testaments, drawing out passages that include this coded language, it would be unmistakably clear how we should then interpret this "great sign" that the apostle John sees appearing in the sky/heaven (and one which we see coming together before our very eyes as well!)
*Gary has noted that Gen. 3:15-16 contains in seed form a prophetic template that would later sprout throughout the Bible to include passages referring to a woman going into labor in order to give birth, though not without immense struggle and suffering (see this and other OT/NT passages cited here). In Revelation 12, the prophetic metaphor is now in full-bloom, or better yet—it has come to full-term!
Even though chapter 12 comes at the midpoint of the book, this does not necessarily indicate that the events described occur during the middle of the Tribulation period [if you have studied Revelation long enough, you'll soon discover that your chronological charts were not as airtight as you once thought]. In a later post I would love to delve into the timing of everything involved in this chapter, but for now I will focus on our soon-coming rescue and escape.
Israel: a remnant of Jacob's children chosen by grace, escapes to the wilderness
Let the panoramic vision of Revelation 12 fill your mind for a minute. Think about the major players involved. Greg L. [linked above] has done a great job outlining the who's-who in this passage in order to prevent confusion. We must acknowledge the individual/corporate cast of characters if we have any hope of a sound interpretation. If you are desiring to teach others, click here to access Mike Svigel's PowerPoint presentation (slides #43 and 60 are perfect to print out and provide a visual for what you are seeking to explain; just make sure you cite your source if you are going to use them).
Two escapes are mentioned in Revelation 12 in back-to-back verses; however, two very different hiding places are given for each of the two parties who are rescued and delivered.
Israel, a chosen remnant (Rom. 9:6), corporately represented by "the woman" (Rev. 12:1), flees the dragon to a place prepared for her in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6); notice as well that it is "a place prepared by God" and also referred to again as "her place in the wilderness" later in the chapter (Rev. 12:14). Remember, it was in the wilderness where the Israelites first entered into covenant with YHWH (Ex. 19:1), and they will meet Him there again. Take a look at a few other passages that speak of Israel's future escape and rendezvous in the desert:
- Ezekiel 20:35-38 [undeniable reference here to making Israel "pass under the rod," "purging rebels," and meeting them "face-to-face in the wilderness"]
- Hosea 2:14-15 [YHWH will win her back!]
- Joel 2:32 [escape for those in Jerusalem during the Day of YHWH; only a remnant chosen]
- Matthew 24:15-22 [specifically, v. 16 "those in Judea must flee to the mountains (i.e. get out of the city and into the hill country/desert); v. 20 "pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath," which would be a distinct, "Jewish" concern, especially when Third Temple ceremonies have been reinstated]
So, according to the prophetic word given to John in Revelation 12, the appearing of the "great sign" means trouble for Jacob. Interestingly, this chosen remnant of ethnic Israelites is promised rescue and Escape, but not before harsh discipline from YHWH himself (Jer. 30:11); and they will be delivered out of their trouble (Jer. 30:7), but not removed from the earth (Rev. 12:6, 13-17).
The Church: Christ's complete body chosen by grace, escapes to God's throne
Now things get really interesting. Anyone with maturity, intelligence, and experience knows where babies come from...or do they? Well, you know, God is always game for confounding the wise [humanly speaking] and doing amazing, powerful acts of mercy in behalf of His people (1 Cor. 1:18-25). The birthday surprise in Rev. 12:5 is no exception. Let's take a closer look.
The Church, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 1:22-23), united in Him by one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), flees the dragon to a place prepared in a similar manner to Israel. Only in this instance, the body of Christ escapes to a different realm altogether—the woman's child (Gal. 3:16, 29; 4:6-7) is snatched up, seized, harpazoed [see the Greek]...taken outta here to God's throne in heaven (Rev. 12:5). Yes! I'm getting excited just thinking about it. This sudden birthing and catching away of the male child [corporately, the Church] will surprise many, even some of our own brothers and sisters in the Lord (1 Thess. 5:10).
I give Scott Clarke credit for a paradigm shift in thinking, because I used to hear all the time that Pentecost was the "birthday" of the Church. However, this is a misnomer. It should really be deemed the "conception" of the body of Christ. It makes perfect sense. The Holy Spirit was the agent of conception for the incarnation of our Lord Jesus (Matt. 1:20; Lk. 1:34-35), and He was also present to conceive the Church on the day of Pentecost, circa A.D. 33 (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4). Throughout this age of grace, the year of YHWH's favor (Isa. 61:2; Lk. 4:19), the body of Christ has been gestating, maturing, and being primed for a miraculous delivery (Eph. 4:11-13; Rev. 12:5). Here are a few key passages that refer to our sudden removal to God's throne at the time of Jacob's trouble:
- Isaiah 26:17-21 [a strong and unmistakable reference for those with eyes to see]
- John 14:1-6 [Jesus says, "I am going away to prepare a place for you"]
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:1-11 [this passage has it all—Rapture of the Church, then Tribulation, "labor pains on a pregnant woman," and those who don't escape—with the assurance that some do! See 5:4, 9]
- Revelation 3:10; 4:1 [John, an apostle of the Church, becomes a prophetic type caught up to God's throne from where he will be given the rest of the book—hey, including our chapter of study!]
Hidden From View
Ok. To recap: When the Day of the LORD arrives, both Israel and the Church will see an escape. However, Israel's escape is God's protective covering through their own tribulation on earth, while the Church's escape involves a complete removal of an entire mass of redeemed humanity from the earth. Both Israel and the Church have a place prepared for them at just the right time. Israel will escape and find refuge in the wilderness, where she will be given instructions by YHWH and wait for the Greater Moses to return, and from there He will lead them into the promised land. The Church, on the other hand, will be forcefully taken away from the earth, physically united with the Head of the body, and find their hiding place in the Father's house.
We have a place; believing Israel has a place; and even the devil and his angels have a place (Matt. 25:41). In fact, the wicked sons of God are getting kicked out of the house soon...and we are moving into their former residence (Rev. 12:7-9).
But she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule all the nations with an iron rod, and her child was snatched up to God—to His throne!" (Rev. 12:5, my own translation)
If you have made it this far, then you are probably like me and enjoy a deeper study of God's word. So now, a reward. I have chosen to provide my own translation of Rev. 12:5 above, because it is my firm conviction that the context warrants a certain minor, yet major, deviation from the norm. Most English translations consistently begin this verse with "And" or "She" in order to move the narrative along. However, since the Greek conjunction kai is flexible [it can be translated "and," "but," "even," or "also"], I feel strongly that the contrastive is necessary to bring out the full force of what is being revealed here.
The dragon is seeking to devour the woman's child, and it almost looks like he is in prime position to do so (Rev. 12:4). But! Suddenly, the unexpected. The woman gives birth, yes, but this is not a normal labor and delivery process. Usually, a woman would experience joy when her baby is born (John 16:21), but in this particular case, there is no joy...only continued sorrow, pain, and increased labor (Rev. 12:6, 13-17). What's going on here?
Well, now that we know that the Rapture, or "snatching up" of the Church, is coded into this text, the next question in my mind involves timing. Is there also a clue in the text as to the timing of this momentous event in relation to the rest of Jacob's trouble? Keep going, there's more. In his article The Apocalypse of John and the Rapture of the Church, Svigel highlights a key Greek term, arsen, that John specifically employs in order to direct readers back to an original source—Isaiah 66:7 in the LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures).
In Greek there are three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Rev. 12:5 reads, "But she gave birth to a son [masculine noun], a male child [arsen, a neuter adjective]..." Some have dismissed this as a grammatical error, but Svigel argues that this was intentional. And, boy, is it clever...you might even say, God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16)!
While Svigel uses Isaiah 66:7-9 to argue for a corporate representation of the male child, and I wholeheartedly agree with this connection, there is yet another surprise contained in Isaiah 66:7. Let's take a look at it in depth:
Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son" (NIV).
Almost every English translation that I've seen is unanimous in how they translate the Hebrew. I was reading this verse one day and it hit me...it's right there in plain sight, yet hidden from view. Look at it again, "Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son [a male child]." The timing is there! John gives us the key to go back and look at this verse with the knowledge that we are going to be fully delivered, "birthed," but taken up suddenly to be with God in heaven [contra Israel, the woman, who remains below to go into labor and eventually see the birth of her other children (Isa. 66:8; Rev. 12:17; c.f. Mc. 5:3).
I was overjoyed to find this hidden gem, and it's not the first time that the Holy Spirit has impressed upon my heart something that I had been turning over in my mind, while continuing to dig for more discoveries in the treasure of God's word (Prov. 2:3-6). Further still, here's something else I found during my study which relates to the timing of our birth and delivery. Look carefully at Leviticus 12:2, where the LORD says to Moses:
Tell the Israelites: When a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is during the days of her menstrual impurity" (HSCB).
Hmmm...intriguing isn't it? If you think I'm allegorizing or "spiritualizing" here, then take it up with Matthew and ask him what he did with Hosea 11:1 (see Matt. 2:15). It's evident to me that we need another prophetic template by which to understand the timing of events in Revelation 12. In this verse we have a woman giving birth to "a male child,"—and this is the same Hebrew word used in Isa. 66:7 [zachar]—and post-partum, you have the woman being unclean for "seven days," or one week. If you're tracking with me, then you have already jumped to Daniel 9:27, the most explicit OT reference for Israel's tribulation being one week, or 7 years in duration.
On the Eve of Year 2017
Frankly, I'm stunned. I can remember how agonizing it was to constantly waffle between covenant/dispensational theology, amillenialism/premillenialism, pre/mid/post-trib, and everything in between. But I'm not looking back, or second-guessing anymore. I've studied long enough to see that our Pre-tribulation escape and rescue is confirmed by what is drawn out of the Scriptures. You know, maybe we just don't get God's grace at times. We'll grasp it, and then lose it for a time. It's a head-scratcher for sure, but Pre-trib truth is like a woman giving birth to a child before she actually goes into labor :)
Cheers, my friends. I pray that you have been blessed by this little gift. It's a hidden gem, for sure. But hold on to it, 'cause we are on the eve of 2017. The great sign of Revelation 12 is on the horizon, and that means our rescue is that much closer.