"They Loved Not Their Lives" (Revelation 12:7-17)
Revelation: The Time is Near
Do you love life? Do you love your life?
Should you love your life?
The text that we come to in our study of Revelation seems to hold up as a good example people who did not love their lives. Should we imitate them? Before we answer that question, we have to understand who they are and what they did.
Turn in a Bible to Revelation 12. We focus in this message on the second section of chapter 12 which begins at the very bottom of the right column on p. 1034 and continues onto p. 1035 of the church Bibles. Listen to vv. 7-17 and consider what kind of person does not love his life.
12:7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. (Revelation 12:7–17)
We are in a section of Revelation, Chapters 12-14 that describe the cosmic, epic war between the Dragon and the Woman. We reviewed the summary of that war in 12:1-6 last week. Today in vv. 7-17 John replays the war with greater detail and commentary.
In the overview (vv. 1-6) we meet a woman who represents the people of God. She is destined for splendor but lives now in a wilderness oasis for protection from the threats of a Dragon that represents Satan. The Dragon initiated a war against God and convinced a third of the angels in heaven to join him. At some point, he shifted the battlefield from heaven to earth. There, he first focused his hostility against the woman’s male child (Jesus Christ). But God exalted Jesus as the Victorious Prince to share His throne. So the Dragon turned his anger toward God’s people on earth.
In 12:7-12 we watch a replay of this war with greater detail. Early in his rebellion, the Dragon maintains a place in heaven. Though he has turned against God, he continues to approach God. He has standing in heaven’s courtroom to accuse God’s people of being traitors like he is. But when Jesus Christ lives, dies, rises, and ascends to heaven’s throne, Michael leads the loyal forces in heaven against the Dragon and defeats him and his armies.
The Dragon did not leave heaven voluntarily. He was thrown out by God, with Michael and his soldiers doing the job. The Dragon no longer has standing in heaven as v. 8 says. God’s people in heaven see the results of Christ’s work and celebrate that salvation has come (v. 10). The loud voice in v. 12 belongs to a worship leader who calls the hosts of heaven to rejoice.
In vv. 13-17 we watch a replay of Satan’s activity on earth now that he no longer has a place in heaven. He attacks the woman and her offspring. But God makes her like an eagle (v. 14), to fly to a safe place, where He nourishes her for 3 ½ years. Note all the parallels to v. 6 from last week.
Our concern this morning is how God’s people survive the Dragon’s attacks. V. 11 assures us that they do more than survive. They conquer him with three defenses: the blood of the Lamb; the word of their testimony; and not loving their lives even unto death. We will touch on all three, but focus on the last.
They did not love their lives even unto death. It’s not that they loved their lives until death and then stopped loving them. No, they did not love their lives, and not even death could make them start. How should we make sense of all this? Let’s ask and answer four questions: Who is not to love his or her life? What does it not mean not to love one’s life? What does it mean to not love one’s life? And, how can we live this way?
Who is Not to Love His/Her Life?
First, who is not to love his or her life? The phrase appears in an announcement from a loud voice in heaven. The voice begins to speak in v. 10 and the announcement continues through v. 12. The last declaration we heard from loud voices in heaven introduced the song of the twenty-four elders back in 11:15. This loud crowd represents God’s redeemed people who have died and entered the Lord’s presence, worshiping Him around the throne.
The loud voice here in 12:10 is a spokesman for that group. He announces that Satan has been accusing “our brothers.” These brothers include fellow believers who continue on earth as well as those who have graduated to glory. In other words, all God’s redeemed people, all the brothers and sisters from all eras and cultures.
The point is that it is not an elite group of martyrs who are commended for not loving their lives even unto death. Rather, this is a description of every true believer in Jesus Christ. Earlier when we studied the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, we heard Jesus in each letter commending the one who conquers. He makes promises that include a taste of the Tree of Life, protection from the second death, a new name, authority in Christ’s kingdom, and righteous clothing for life in the new creation. These blessings belong to all believers, not a select few.
The description “did not love their lives even unto death” applies to every Christian. V. 11 is, effectively, the story of every Christian.
Every Christian conquers Satan by the blood of the Lamb. If you are a Christian you came at some point to understand that you belong to Christ not because of what you have done but what He has done. God dealt with your sin long before you were born. Before creation, before the world began, he appointed his Lamb, his perfect Son, to come to earth as a human being. He offered that Perfect Lamb as a sacrifice, the only one whose blood washes sin away. This Perfect Lamb shed his blood as the completely sufficient payment for all the blessings that his people will enjoy forever in his eternal kingdom.
If you are a Christian, you recognize that all this took place on a hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. You can add nothing to his work to merit your salvation. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” (“Paid in Full” John 19:30). Satan no longer has standing to accuse you before the Father because the Son is at the Father’s right hand pleading the merits of his blood for you.
But the Christian story continues. Every Christian at some point responds by testifying to faith in Christ. He or she overcomes by the word of testimony. If you are a Christian, you came to confess Christ personally. You repented of sin and received King Jesus as Savior and Sovereign. As Paul says in Romans 10, you confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believed in your heart that God raised him from the dead. The facts of the gospel became the reality of your experience. We call this conversion, when you became conscious that God had worked salvation for you in Christ.
But the story does not end there. Every Christian’s story includes growing more and more like Christ, not loving life even unto death. We’ve not yet defined this. At the moment, we simply underline the truth that this is for all Christians. This is part of the Christian story. We cannot slide over this as if it were for a few brave martyrs that we admire from a distance. If you do not find your story in the phrases of v. 11, you are not a Christian.
But you can be. This can be your story. Is your heart heavy because you are guilty in the eyes of the God who is perfectly good and pure? Do you see that God provided the only way for sinners like you and me to be right with Him and free from Satan’s control? Does Jesus Christ’s love move you to love him more than anything else? Then turn from your sin and trust Him. You will conquer in Him.
What Does It Not Mean Not to Love One’s Life?
If Revelation 12:11 describes every Christian, then the phrase, “not loving life even unto death” must be important. Everyone who claims to know Christ must know what it means. But before we try to define it directly, let’s ask about the opposite. What does it not mean not to love one’s life? What should we not conclude from the phrase?
Simply, and emphatically, the Bible is not promoting self-harm of any kind. Human life – including our individual lives – is precious. We are called to promote and protect life. Every human being, including you, is made in God’s image by God, valuable, and accountable to Him.
The apostle Peter assumes that people will “desire to love life and see many days” (1 Peter 3:10), quoting David from Psalm 34. Jesus often speaks of His Father’s kindness in supplying daily needs. Consider his words from Matthew 6.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:26, 31–32)
When Jesus identifies the most important commandment, He begins, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then He adds a second, love your neighbor as yourself.” He assumes that we love ourselves. And that’s not bad to a point. Paul can argue for a husband to love his wife by insisting,
“He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. (Ephesians 5:28-29)
Not loving one’s life does not involve self-harm or self-destructive behaviors. Those who struggle with these find freedom and joy in the gospel, though the battle for well-being is difficult. The Bible does not promote neglect of our physical health and well-being.
What Does It Mean?
So, what does it mean not to love one’s life even unto death? Let’s pull apart the phrase for an answer. First, the word “lives” is the common word for “souls.” NT writers use the word in a variety of ways. In some contexts, it refers to the non-material aspect of human life, the part of us that is not a body. In other cases, the word refers to the whole self, the whole life as it does here. We could translate the word “lives” with a phrase like, who you are as a human being, your human identity.
Second, the word “love” points to the highest affection and adoration. We could translate it in this context as worship. If I’m right, then this verse is saying that a Christian does not worship who he is as a human being even if his identity is threatened by death.
A Christian refuses to value anything about her human identity that replaces her worship of Jesus Christ. Her core identity is defined by Jesus Christ. It is her central purpose to offer love and affection to Jesus Christ. Christians are learning to re-order all loves to make Him most important.
Augustine back in the fifth century noted so perceptively that our problem as sinners is that our loves are disordered. Most of our loves are not wrong but wrongly emphasized. We love some things too much and others too little. Satan scores a victory when he pushes us to love something or someone more or less than we should. He takes a good thing and tempts us to love it as if it were the most important thing, that we would die if we were to lose it.
We have many ingredients in our human identity, most of them praiseworthy. But when we worship our identity or any part of our identity, we dishonor Christ who is the Christian’s ultimate identity. Our political affiliation, our job, our ethnic heritage, our education, the skills we learn, the things we own, our health, our home, the institutions to which we belong, including our earthly families – all these shape who we are.
\But when these define us, when they determine our identity not just flavor it, we come to “love our lives.” We worship ourselves rather than the One who created us. We must live for someone larger than ourselves. We were designed by Jesus Christ to live for Him. This is the way we conquer.
How do you finish the sentence, “I can’t live without ….” Is your answer another person, a pet, or some possession? Fill in the blank.
Now, take the disappointment/despair test. If you were to lose it or be threatened with the loss of
it, would your response tend toward disappointment or despair? Disappointment includes a season of grief, sadness, and sorrow. Despair involves intense and sustained anger, resignation, and turning inward. Despair is a sign that we love something or someone more than Jesus Christ. We grow in Christ when we learn to read our responses and expose self-worship in our souls.
As one of you reminded me this week, Jesus takes things from us – things of great value to us – to reorient our hearts to love Him as the greatest and only necessary treasure. John Newton says it so clearly: “Everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.”
Jesus defined what “Not loving one’s life even unto death” means:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:35–36)
If the whole world isn’t worth it, then nothing in the world is worth it.
At the close of our passage this morning, we see what it looks like not to love one’s life. V. 17 defines Christians as those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Obey Christ no matter what. Keep confessing Christ no matter what.
Whatever I love that keeps me from obeying and confessing Christ is self-worship.
How Can We Live “Not Loving Our Lives?”
And I fail so often. My life frequently looks like I care only about my interests. How can we live this life in which we do not love our lives? What conquers self-worship?
The core answer is in the phrase the blood of the Lamb. Jesus Christ did not love his life even unto death. He loved his people and gave himself up to death for them. He suffered separation from God so that they will never have to.
Apart from Christ’s death, sin remains and Satan’s accusations stand. But through Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan is cast down. He no longer has standing in heaven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
He pleads His blood before God’s throne for all who will trust in him. Satan can afflict Christ’s loved ones on earth with temporary suffering. But he cannot inflict God’s wrath on them because Jesus did not love his life even unto death. They conquer through Christ. As the writer of Hebrews declared about Christ,
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost [completely] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
Such love creates love. True obedience flows from affection.
Christian, because Jesus said, “Father, not my will but yours be done,” we can say it every day.
And mean it.