Home > Book of Revelation, Promised land, The 3 ½ years > The church’s Exodus in Revelation

The church’s Exodus in Revelation

July 18, 2011

In the book of Revelation, John alludes to themes from the Old Testament, such as the Exodus, and Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, and the conquest and possession of the land under Joshua, and other events in Israel’s history, which are applied to the church’s spiritual experience.

The trumpet plagues were foreshadowed in the trumpets blown at the capture of Jericho, and the sudden destruction of Babylon described in Revelation 14:8 and 18:21 alludes to the collapse of the walls of Jericho.

In Revelation 12:6, 14 the woman who represents the church flees to the wilderness, alluding to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. The eagle’s wings given to the woman in 12:14 allude to the wings of eagles mentioned in Exodus 19:4: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” Eagles’ wings are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:9-12.

The prophecies describing a future Exodus, as in Jeremiah 23:3; 32:37, and Ezekiel 34:13, apply to the spiritual Exodus that Christians experience, as they escape from the corruption that is in the world, [2 Peter 1:4] and are delivered from the power of darkness, and are translated into Christ’s kingdom of light. [Colossians 1:13]

In Revelation, Christ is frequently referred to as the Lamb, alluding to the passover lamb that was killed on the night of the Exodus in Egypt. In Revelation 11:8, where John calls the great city where Christ was crucified Sodom and Egypt, no doubt he alludes to the passover Lamb which was slain in Egypt, a figure representing Christ as our passover. Israel’s exodus to the wilderness followed the sacrifice and eating of the passover lamb, and similarly, the Exodus of the church from the bondage of sin, and from the world, represented in the types and figures of Egypt and Pharaoh, is featured prominently in Revelation, especially in chapter 12.

The role of the Exodus theme in Revelation was discussed in Bobby Grow’s quotation from Richard Bauckham, in Revelation’s Eschatological Exodus, reproduced below. Bauckham wrote:

The second of the three major symbolic themes is that of the eschatological exodus. Since the exodus was the key salvation event in the history of Israel, in which God liberated his people from oppression in Egypt, destroyed their oppressors, made them his own people and led them to theocratic independence in a land of their own, it was naturally the model for prophetic and apocalyptic hopes of another great salvation event in the future. In some Jewish apocalyptic the eschatological intervention of God in which he will finally judge the evil powers and bring definitive salvation to his people was conceived as an eschatological exodus, surpassing the first exodus as eschatology surpasses history. Traces of an interpretation of the saving work of Jesus Christ as bringing about the eschatological exodus can be found in many parts of the New Testament, but it is Revelation that develops the idea most fully.

The central image in this complex is that of Jesus himself as the Passover Lamb (first introduced at 5:6, 9–10). That Revelation’s image of the Lamb refers to the lamb sacrificed at the Passover is clear especially from 5:9-10. There it is said that by his blood the Lamb has ‘ransomed’ a people and made them ‘a kingdom and priests serving our God’. The latter phrase echoes the well-known words of the Sinai covenant (Exod. 19:5-6), by which God made the people he had brought out of Egypt his own people. God’s liberation of his people from Egypt was often referred to as his ransoming them from slavery to be his own people (e.g. Deut. 7:8; 13:5), and the same image could be used of the new exodus of the future (Isa. 35:10; 51:11). When Revelation treats the blood of the Lamb as the price of redemption, this really goes beyond the role which the blood of the Passover Lamb played in the exodus (cf. Exod. 12:12, 23). Moreover, the Passover Lamb played no role in Jewish expectation of a new exodus. But it is likely that in Revelation 5:6, 9 John alludes not only to the Passover lamb, but also to Isaiah 53:7, where the Suffering Servant is portrayed as a sacrificial lamb. He may well have connected this verse with the new exodus language of Deutero-Isaiah and seen the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as the Passover lamb of the new exodus. In any case, it is the central role which the death of Jesus played in the Christian understanding of redemption which accounts for the centrality of the Lamb to Revelation’s use of the new exodus motif.

In 15:2-4 the Christian martyrs, victorious in heaven, are seen as the people of the new exodus, standing beside a heavenly Red Sea, through which they have passed, and singing a version of the song of praise to God which Moses and the people of Israel sang after their deliverance from Pharoah at the Red Sea (Exod. 15). Moreover, the plagues which are God’s judgment on their enemies in this context (15:1, 5-16:21) are modelled on the plagues of Egypt at the time of the exodus. We have already noticed, in chapter 2 above, that the final judgment of this series is linked to a reminiscence of the Sinai theophany (16:18). Other allusions to the exodus narratives are in 11:6, where the activity of the two witnesses is in part modelled on Moses and the plagues of Egypt, and 11:8, where one of the prophetic names of the great city where the witnesses are martyred is Egypt. Already in 2:14, the false teachers in Pergamum, who are persuading Christians to compromise with paganism, are compared with Balaam, the false prophet who was responsible for the seduction of the Israelites into idolatry, as a result of which they failed to reach the goal of the exodus entry into the promised land.

As with the messianic war, John’s use of the new exodus imagery shows that for him the decisive eschatological event has already occurred: the new Passover Lamb has been slaughtered and he has ransomed a people for God. The goal of the new exodus is still to be attained, when Christ’s people will reign with him as priests on earth (20:4-6; 22:3-5), attaining their theocratic independence in the promised land. But revelation’s new exodus does not consistently follow the sequence of the Old Testament narrative. The imagery is used flexibly — in literal terms, inconsistently — to characterize all three stages of the work of Christ as Revelation portrays it. (Richard Bauckham, The Theology Of The Book Of Revelation, 71-2)

  1. July 29, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Interesting blog but I am curious about a your interpretation of who the woman is in Revelation 12. I have seen several interpretations which characterise the woman here as the Church but this does not fit metaphorically or otherwise (unless by church you are referring to the first church that was in the wilderness, Acts 7:38?). Question? Assuming that you are referring to the church as being the New Testament church are saying here that the church “gave birth” to Christ? That is a logical impossibility isn’t it? The Church has always been characterised as “the bride of Christ” and NOT Christ’s “mother”. I believe the correct interpretation is that the woman here referred to is Israel. In support of this we may refer to Gen 37:9-11 where Israel Joseph dreamt a dream in which is mother and father were characterised as the sun and moon and his brothers as stars.

    • July 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      The figure of a woman in heaven who is confronted by a great dragon alludes to the story of Eve being tempted by the serpent in the garden, and the same prophecy also alludes to other female figures who were types of the church. Eve was called the “mother of all living.” Women believers are said to be daughters of Sarah. [1 Peter 3:6] Rachel was “purchased” from her father as Jacob labored for seven years for her; similarly Ruth the Moabitess was “purchased” by Boaz to be his wife. Acts 20:28 says the church of God is “purchased with his own blood.”

      Visions and dreams often involve things that in a literal sense, would not be logical. They present us with images that illustrate spiritual truths.

      The woman is with child, and her seed are those who “have the testimony of Jesus Christ,” which excludes unbelieving Jews, who reject the New Testament.

      By describing the birth of a man child, who is Christ, who was caught up to God and his throne, John simply depicts a basic fact about the church; she is the spiritual mother of all. Paul said Christ is “the firstborn among many brethren.” [Romans 8:29] Other scriptures refer to Jesus as the “firstfruit” [1 Corinthians 15:20, 23] and “the firstborn from the dead.” [Colossians 1:18]

      Richard Bauckham wrote:

      For the same period in which the sanctuary is protected, in which the holy city is trampled and the witnesses prophesy (11:1-3), the heavenly woman who has given birth to the Messiah is kept safe in the wilderness (12:6, 13-16), while the dragon, frustrated in his pursuit of her, turns his attack onto her children (12:13-17) Her refuge in the wilderness is an alternative symbol for the same spiritual safety of the church in persecution as is depicted by the protection of the sanctuary in 11:1-2. She is kept safe while the beast rules and puts her children to death (13:5-7) She is the mother of Jesus and of Christians – Eve and Mary, Israel, Zion and the church all combined in an image of the spiritual essence of the covenant people of God. She is the female figure corresponding to the holy city of 11:2.

      Thus the New Jerusalem of the future, the bride of the Lamb, has both a forerunner in the present and an opposite in the present. The forerunner is the holy city, mother Zion. The opposite is Babylon, the great whore. But while Babylon is ‘the great city that rules over the kings of the earth’ (17:18), the holy city exists only in hiddenness and contradiction. While it resembles the New Jerusalem in its holiness, it contrasts sharply with the unchallenged glory of the New Jerusalem which the kings of the earth will honour (21:24) And while the New Jerusalem contrasts with Babylon in her evil, she resembles Babylon in splendour and universal dominion.

      Richard Bauckham. The theology of the book of Revelation. pp. 127-128.

  2. August 1, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Hello Doug,

    We are agreed on the point that the male child described in Revelation 12 is Jesus Christ. In my view though I believe that the woman referenced is Israel (i.e., the nation of Israel), if we examine the specific context of that prophecy. Joseph’s dream was symbolic of the 12 tribes and we have the same symbols being drawn out here in Revelations 12. I think this is a significant point. Another significant point is the fact that the dragon is described as having 7 heads, 10 horns and 10 crowns. This tells us that Satan was working through Rome in order to try to kill Jesus. It was Herod, the Roman surrogate king of Israel who sought to kill Jesus at his birth. Here we read the account in Matt 2:13:

    13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
    We can also identify Rome as the beast having 7 heads, 10 horns and 10 Crowns from Daniel’s vision of the four great beasts that would stand “on the earth” – these were the Babylonian Empire, the Medeo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire and lastly the Roman Empire. This can be ascertained from Daniel 2 to Daniel 7. It was therefore Satan working through Rome who stood before the “woman”, Israel, in order to attempt to devour the child as soon as He was born. After the ascension of Jesus, the dragon then persecuted the woman and cast a flood out of his mouth after her when she fled into the wilderness. This can be conflated with Daniel 9 which again gives us a clear view that the woman in question is Israel. Compare the following verses of Daniel 9:

    25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
    26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
    Note that this is in relation to Titus Vespasian and his army who sacked Jerusalem in 70AD and scattered the Jews. The term “flood” used both here in Dan 9:26 and in Rev 12:15 is not literal water but the “flood of an army” as can be noted from Dan 11:22.

    The remnant of the woman’s seed is therefore the church which Rome has made war with since the 1st Century and throughout the Middle Ages.

    In a nutshell therefore, I believe this is the correct view of the symbols in Revelation 12. The church did not bring for the Christ – Christ however is the chief cornerstone on which the church which He started is being built. The Church is Christ’s body – He is the first born from the dead (Col 1:18, Rev 1:5) but He was not born again as He was sinless.

  3. August 1, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Hello Henry,

    Paul called Jesus “the firstborn among many brethren.” [Romans 8:29] Who are his “brethren”? Who did Jesus honor as his mother and father? He has the same mother, and the same father, in a spiritual sense, as all believers. Otherwise, how could the saints be his “brethren”?

    Jesus said his brothers, and sisters, and his mother, are those who “do the will of God.” [Mark 3:35]

    Paul also taught, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” [Galatians 4:28]

    Was not Jesus also a “child of promise”? Of course he was. Paul contrasts those who are “children of promise” with those who are disqualified, by their unbelief. He said, “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” [Galatians 4:31] Paul identifies the earthly Jerusalem, Jews after the flesh, who reject the gospel, with Hagar, the Egyptian bondwoman, who was cast out of Abraham’s house. He identifies the heavenly Jerusalem in this passage with Sarah, the freewoman.

    I think this underlies the imagery in Revelation chapter 12. The mother of Jesus, and of all the saints, is the woman who John described as in heaven, and clothed with the sun. She is not the earthly Jerusalem, or Jews after the flesh, or Israel after the flesh. She is the heavenly Jerusalem. The woman in heaven represents the saints, who “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:6] The sun that clothes her represents the gospel. [Matthew 4:16; 13:43]

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