The Dragon (Revelation 12)

We were told in Revelation 10:11 that John still had to prophesy about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings. Now that the fall of the Jewish nation has been detailed in Revelation 11, our attention is turned to the next object of God’s judgment. Curiously, many of our brethren see chapters 12-19 as a recapitulation of the events we have read about in chapters 6-11. That is, if the author sees Rome destroyed in chapter 11, then chapters 12-19 are about the fall of Rome from a different perspective. Similarly, if the author sees Jerusalem destroyed in chapter 11, then chapters 12-19 are about the fall of Jerusalem from a different perspective. I believe the book of Revelation is moving forward in prophecy rather than restating that which was already predicted in the earlier chapters of the book. The prophecy about many people and nations is beginning in chapter 12.

The Woman (12:1-2)

A new sign is given for John to see. A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She is pregnant and experiencing labor pains. The imagery pictures her as a glorious woman. She has been given authority and honor as seen with the crown of twelve stars and the moon under her feet. The important image to identify this woman is found in the description of her labor pains. This is a prophetic image found in a few places in the Old Testament.

Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? 10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies. (Micah 4:9–10 ESV)

Micah prophesies that Israel will go into Babylonian captivity in severe pain like a woman in labor. But there they will be rescued and redeemed. The picture is of suffering bringing about a remnant, God’s spiritual nation, that God will rescue and redeem. Micah continued this imagery a few verses later in his prophecy.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5:2–4 ESV)

Micah says that the suffering of the nation will continue until the remnant brings about the birth of the Messiah. This was a prophecy of hope. The Messiah will come and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord. You will recognize the birthplace of the Messiah predicted, the small town of Bethlehem. The labor pains were a prediction of the suffering of the physical nation of Israel which would result in the purifying of the people so that God would have his remnant. The remnant would be people through whom the Christ would come.

The Dragon (12:3-4)

The next sign given in Revelation 12 is a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. On the seven heads were seven diadems. The horns are a symbol of power and the crowns are a representation of authority. The seven heads and ten horns picture a terrifying image of great power, authority, knowledge, and strength. It is worth noting that the word “diadems” (a transliteration of the Greek word diadema) can only be found in Revelation and in no other book in the New Testament. It is a different word than the crown (stephanos) we read the woman having in verse 1. The distinction between the word “crown” and “diadem” is that the crown represents a permanent victory, while the diadem represents a ruling authority and power. This great power is shown in verse 4 where the dragon is able to sweep down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. The sweeping of the stars is a display of the dragon’s great authority. Stars frequently represent nations and kings. The dragon has some power over the nations and kings of the earth. Verse 9 makes clear who the dragon represents. The dragon is that ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan. He is the deceiver of the whole world. Verse 4 reveals that Satan is awaiting for the birth of the Christ so as to destroy him.

The Child (12:5-6)

Verse 5 confirms our interpretation of these symbols using language reserved for the Messiah. The child is the “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” This is a reference to the messianic prophecy in Psalm 2:9.

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:7–9 ESV)

We will see Christ later in the book of Revelation ruling with a rod of iron.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15 ESV)

The dragon (Satan) is attempting to devour the child (Christ). However, the Christ is born and caught up to God and to his throne. Satan attempts to kill the Christ, but Christ is raised from the dead and ascends to the Father. The woman (the remnant) flees for protection in a place prepared by God. The spiritual nation, the true people of God, are preserved for 1260 days. We learned in Revelation 11 that 1260 days is the same as 42 months, which is the same as a time, times, and half a time. This is referring to a limited period of distress, persecution, and tribulation. The people of God are under attack by Satan, but they are spiritually secure.

Satan Cast Down (12:7-12)

A battle is described occurring in heaven. Michael and his angels are fighting the dragon and his angels. The dragon was defeated and thrown down to the earth along with his angels. A battle occurred and Satan lost. What event is this referring to? For help, let us turn to the words of Jesus while he was on the earth.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:27–33 ESV)

Jesus said that Satan would be cast out when he died and rose from the dead. Jesus is picturing the victory he is about to achieve. He will draw all people to himself as he is glorified on the cross. The heavenly counterpart to Christ’s victory on the cross and at his resurrection are described in Revelation 12:7-9. I do not think we should start reading this as a literal activity of Satan living in heaven but now lives on the earth. Rather, the symbolism continues. Christ has dealt a blow to Satan with his death and resurrection. Satan has been defeated. Satan’s plans have been thwarted. All that Satan has left to do is battle the people of God on the earth. The battle against Christ, the heavenly battle, was lost.

The effect of Christ’s victory on the cross over Satan and sin is declared in verse 10. Salvation has come. Power has come. The kingdom has come. The authority of Christ has come. The accuser has been thrown down. Christ has shown his power. Christ has exercised his authority in his victory on the cross. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection salvation has come and Christ is exercising his rule in his kingdom. No longer can Satan accuse us because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 ESV)

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33–34 ESV)

The effect of this expulsion from heaven will be illustrated in Revelation 20:1-3. The ultimate meaning of Christ’s victory over Satan will be graphically revealed to us in Revelation 20. The people of God through Christ are victorious (12:11). Notice the wording in verse 11. Who conquered Satan? “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.” Here is a picture of those who conquer Satan. We conquer because of the blood of the Lamb. We needed his redemptive work on the cross so that we can defeat Satan. Further, we conquer by the word of our testimony. We are those who overcome when we proclaim this good news to the world. Through all things, the people of God must be faithful, testifying and confessing Jesus, even to the point of death. The conquerers do not love their lives. They love Jesus and will give their lives for him. Verse 12 tells us that there is cause for rejoicing because of our status in Christ. But woe to the earth because Satan is enraged and he knows his time his short. Satan is not done. But his time is short.

Satan’s Attack (12:13-17)

Because Satan’s plan has been thwarted to destroy the Christ, Satan turns his attention to the woman. We were told back in verse 6 that the woman would flee to the wilderness for protection during these tribulation times. Verse 13 picks back up on that thought after noting the effect of Christ’s victory over Satan. Satan looks to attack the faithful remnant that brought about the Christ. However, the woman was given two wings of the great eagle to fly to wilderness for protection for a time, times, and half a time.

Being carried on eagles’ wings into the wilderness is a reference to how God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery into the wilderness to Mount Sinai. You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Exodus 19:4 ESV)

It is also a picture of comfort and security to the remnant, the spiritual Israel. But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)

Flood waters are used to describe persecution. David used language like this when Saul was trying to kill him. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me. (Psalm 18:4) David uses a torrent of water to describe the persecution. Then he uses waters to describe his deliverance. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. (Psalm 18:16) Therefore, Satan does not give up even though the remnant are protected. Satan will try to destroy the true people of God. But verse 16 shows that he will fail in that effort.

Verse 17 shows that this failure enrages Satan all the more. Satan turns his attention to the rest of her offspring to make war with them. We are told who the rest of the offspring are. “Those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” This gives us a time frame for what is going on in this chapter. The woman represented the remnant of Israel who were spiritually true to the Lord and brought about the child, the Christ. The woman is attacked by Satan but is preserved. The woman is still the first century remnant who are enduring tribulation but are spiritually secure. All that is left is for Satan to take his attack to the future. He is going to make war with the rest of her offspring. Satan is going to turn his attention to the church. This is what we are going to read about in chapter 13. Chapter 13 is going to show us how Satan is going to take his attack to the church in the future. Satan was unsuccessful in defeating Christ and unsuccessful in extinguishing the remnant. Satan now attacks the church, those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. More persecutions are to come.

Lessons

  1. The victory we have in Christ (12:10-11)
  2. The call for faithfulness (12:11). Do not love your lives even to death.