Home > Book of Revelation, Promised land, Rivers in prophecy, The Gospel > The serpent’s flood and the better land

The serpent’s flood and the better land

September 21, 2012

Rivers bring the water from places where the rain falls, or from high snowy mountains, to places that normally receive very little rain. The prophetic rivers are metaphors. Rain represents God’s word, and the prophetic rivers are streams of God’s revelations, themes of knowledge that extend throughout the Bible. Isaiah said,

Isaiah 55:10-11
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

The rivers depict themes of the gospel, and they are parables, that illustrate how God’s promises work out through the ages.

The teachings of the apostles in the New Testament are but larger streams and rivers of the principles and concepts revealed in the Old Testament, especially the promise given to Abraham, which Paul calls the gospel, “In thee shall all nations be blessed.” [Gal. 3:8] This brief statement, but a stream in Genesis, grows in significance, with further revelations, and eventually, in the New Testament, the promises made to the patriarchs and their progeny are extended to people of all nations, who become the seed of Abraham by faith.

Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezek. 47:1-11 describes a river which originates at the temple and flows through the wilderness, causing trees to flourish along its course. Fish are plentiful in it. Men cast nets along its banks. When the river reaches the sea, the waters of the sea are healed.

If the course of the river is time, the place where it empties into the sea, and heals the waters of the sea, represents the ultimate effect of the gospel, and a time when the knowledge of God fills the earth, as the waters cover the sea. [Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14]

In this view, Ezekiel’s prophecy indicates that the benefits of the healing waters are available now, and in all ages before that ultimate healing event occurs, as the river heals the wilderness areas where it flows, and causes trees to flourish along its banks. But there are marshy and miry places which are not healed. They are given to salt. We need to avoid being stuck in such places.

The wilderness or desert is a prominent theme in prophecy, and it represents the spiritual environment of Christians, who have “escaped the corruption that is in the world.” [2 Pet. 1:4] The bondage of sin is represented by Egypt, and Sodom. [Rev. 11:8] The sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness before they came to the promised land is a metaphor of the church’s present state. [1 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Pet. 2:1]

The world’s social systems, governments, philosophies, and religions are represented by the great city Babylon, in Revelation 18:1-4. Verse 4 says, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”

Coming out of Babylon, which represents the world, implies going into a wilderness or desert. This concept is prominent in Revelation 12, where the church is represented by a woman in heaven, who is clothed with the sun, the sun being a symbol for the gospel, who also flees to the wilderness in verse 6, and in verse 14. These are complementary, because being in heaven in a spiritual sense involves one’s separation from sin and the corruption of the world. Thus the faithful are described as “virgins” in Rev. 14:4, not because they lack sexual experience, but because they are not joined to the world spiritually and emotionally, but are joined to Christ.

In each of the two verses where the woman flees to the wilderness she has a place prepared by God, and is nourished there. The place prepared for her by God represents the spiritual environment in which Christians dwell in all ages of the church. Like as the Israelites camped in many places in the wilderness, the church has persevered through various spiritual and cultural environments, over the centuries, and today exists in all nations.

Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” [John 14:2-3]

The “place” prepared for the woman in Rev. 12:6 and Rev. 12:14 is no doubt the same as the “place” Jesus prepares for the saints in John 14, which is called a wilderness, as it is separate and distinct from the world. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” [Heb. 13:14]

The woman is threatened by a flood of water which the serpent casts out of his mouth, to carry her away in the torrent.

Revelation 12:15-16
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

Pareus identified the floods from the serpent’s mouth with heresies. He wrote: “For, as the doctrine of the Gospel proceeding out of the mouth of God is compared to streams of water, which none are able to resist, as Christ saith; ‘He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water:’ so the heresies coming out of the dragon’s mouth, what are they but as a violent vomit or floods to swallow up the church?”

[Apocalypse, chap, xii., p. 278. Cited in: Augustus Clissold, The spiritual exposition of the Apocalypse, Volume 3. 1851.]

G. K. Beale, professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, commented on the significance of the serpent’s flood, and identified it with false teachings and similar influences that threaten the church. He wrote:

Therefore, OT and Jewish use of the flood waters metaphor and the use of mouth metaphors in the Apocalypse indicate that the image of the flood proceeding from the serpent’s mouth portrays his attempt to destroy the church by deception and false teaching (see further below). V 15 presents the devil continuing to attempt to “deceive” the church, as he does “the whole inhabited earth,” in keeping with his intrinsic trait (so 12:9, and as demonstrated in Matt. 24:24; Luke 22:31; John 13:2; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:3, 13-15; 1 Tim. 2:14; Jub. 1:20; 1 En. 69:4). V 9 traced the first expression of this trait to Eden by calling the devil “that ancient Serpent…the one who deceives.” This is picked up again in v 15 by the repeated reference to the devil as “the serpent.” This name emphasizes the activity of deception here and further confirms that deception is the figurative focus of the picture of the river spewed forth by the serpent. Just as the serpent deceived the first woman with words, so he attempts to deceive the latter-day woman with a flood of words. Satanic agents–false teachers, compromisers, and demons–infiltrate the church to deceive her and contribute to her demise (cf. 2:14-16, 20-22; 3:15-17; cf. Rom. 16:17-20; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:15; 2 Tim. 2:23-26). Chs. 2-3 have revealed that the churches to which John was writing had already begun to experience the devil’s flood of deception (2:2, 14, 20), false accusations (2:9; 3:9), temptations, and persecution (2:10, 13). It is beyond coincidence that wherever chs. 2-3 mention these problems, the devil is mentioned as having his “synagogue” (2:9; 3:9), “throne” (2:13), or “deep things” (2:24) in those cities. The remainder of the book after ch. 12 will also focus on the problem of Satan’s persecution and deception carried out by his agents, the beast (13:14; 19:20) and the Babylonian harlot (18:23; cf. also 13:11-17; 16:13; cf. generally chs. 13, 17-18).

[G. K. Beale. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1998.]

Many commentaries provide similar interpretations of the flood, but there is little consensus on what is meant by the earth opening her mouth and swallowing up the flood. Beale noted that this image alludes to the hosts of Pharaoh who drowned in the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus, and to the flood that threatens the city and the sanctuary in Dan. 9:26. Also, the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up the familes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who challenged the authority of Moses. [Exod. 15:12; Num. 16:12-14; Deut. 11:5-6; Psa. 106:17]

The literalist approach says that all the prophecies about the land, the mountains, and rivers refer to the literal Canaan, literal mountains, and literal rivers, and so that kind of interpretation obscures the spiritual significance of these figures, like clouds and mists that obscure the peaks of the mountains. Typically, the literalists deny that the promises in scripture, such as the healing waters of the river from the temple, apply during the present age, and they say it is for a future millennium, or the after-life. They deny that possessing the promised land, and possessing the mountains of Israel, are promises that apply to those who are in Christ now. Instead, they say that all these promises are literal, and apply to ethnic Jews. IMO, their interpretations involve “dumbing down” prophecy, and contribute to the “flood” that the serpent spews from his mouth in order to carry away the woman.

Perhaps the earth opening its mouth and swallowing up the flood is the land, [Gk. ge] the promised land, which represents the spiritual things promised to the saints, including understanding prophecy. Jesus said the Spirit would guide his disciples to all truth. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” [John 16:13]

The land that swallows up the serpent’s flood is the better land, which is the spiritual place to which the Spirit of Christ guides us. It is a metaphorical wilderness, one that prophecy shows will flourish and blossom. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” [Isa. 35:1] “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” [Isa. 35:6] “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” [Isa. 41:18]