Part 6. Conflict between the church and the powers of evil (12:1—14:20)
6.1. The woman, dragon, and male child (12:1-6)
6.2. War in heaven (12:7-12)
6.3. War on earth (12:13-17)
† PICTURE: John is now on the earth. He witnesses 3 visions: (1) A pregnant woman about to give birth, a red dragon, and a male child who later rises to heaven. (2) In heaven, a war broke out between God’s angels and Satan’s fallen angels. (3) On earth, Satan pursues the woman who is saved by God and Satan turns around and makes war against faithful believers.
12:1 The first vision appearing in the sky is a “sign”, probably referring to its role of representing deeper meaning than what is seen by John. The woman is Mary the mother of Jesus but the Church, the ideal Israel. It is out of faithful Israel that the Messiah will come.
The woman is clothed with the sun indicating her belonging to God as a radiant bride (Ps 104:2). The moon beneath her feet speaks of dominion, and the crown of stars depicts loyalty. The number 12 may signify a relationship with the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 apostles, or both.
12:2 The woman is about to give birth to a child. She cries out in pain signifying “the true Israel (OT saints) in her pre-messianic agony of expectation.”
12:3 In v.9, John clearly identifies the dragon as “the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan.” Here the dragon is the arch-enemy of God and His people.
The red colour of the dragon symbolizes the murderous character of Satan (Jn 8:44). The 7 heads depict the universality of his power. The 10 horns recall the 4th beast in Daniel 7 (Dan 7:7,24).
12:4 The great dragon gathers one-third of the stars with his great tail and hurls them down to the earth. The sign is similar to Dan 8:10 where the little horn casts to the ground some stars and tramples them underfoot. Some use this verse to symbolize Satan’s corruption of one-third of the angels, turning them into fallen angels or evil spirits.
The dragon stands ready to destroy the child (the Messiah) at birth. Satan’s attempts included many dangers and temptations that Jesus encountered in His earthly life, beginning with King Herod’s attempt to kill the Christ-child, and culminated in Jesus’ crucifixion.
12:5 The newborn Messiah is destined to rule all the nations with an iron scepter (Ps 2:9). He will strike the nations that oppress and persecute His church. In the end, Christ was “snatched up to God” in His ascension to heaven and “to His (God’s) throne” on the right hand of God.
12:6 The escape of the woman was explained by some as the escape of the Palestinian church to Pella at the outbreak of the Jewish war in AD66. However, it may have another meaning for end-time. The wilderness symbolizes a place of spiritual refuge (Hos 2:14). God has prepared for His people a place of spiritual (note: not physical) refuge so that they will be able to stand fast against the devil. The 1,260 days correpond to the period of persecution in 11:2 and 13:5.
12:7 The second vision is a large scale war in heaven between the archangel Michael and his angels against Satan and his (fallen) angels. In the OT, Isa 14:12-15 is often interpreted as describing Satan as a corrupt angel who attempted to achieve equality with God.
12:8 Satan’s loss rouses his great anger against God’s people, the Church.
12:9 The dragon and his angels are hurled down to the earth, just as what Jesus saw (Lk 10:18).
The dragon is identified as the ancient serpent (Gen 3:1), the one who is called the devil or Satan. The word “satan” (Hebrew) was not originally a proper name. It simply meant “adversary” (Nu 22:22; 1Sa 29:4; 1Ki 5:4; 11:14,23). In time, it became a proper name. Satan is the Adversary, the prosecutor who accuses people before God in the heavenly court (Job 1:6-11; Zec 3:1-10). Satan is also known as the devil, that is, the Slanderer (Gr. ho diabolos). He is also the deceiver of the whole world. He leads the whole world astray, away from the truth. (Rev 13:11-15)
12:10 The voice is from one of the angels, referring to God’s children as “them”.
Satan always accuses believers of sin but by virtue of the death of Christ, Satan is unable to successfully lodge a charge against God’s elect (Ro 8:33-34).
12:11 Not only does Satan suffer defeat at the hands of the archangel but he is overcome by faithful believers who won victory with the blood of the Lamb and the testimony they have proclaimed.
12:12 Those who “tabernacle” in heavens are the angelic beings. They can rejoice because Satan is expelled. But Satan who was hurled down from heaven will do his worst on earth because he is angry and he knows he has only a short time.
12:13 The third vision is a continuation of the action from v.9, after the hymn of praise. Satan, angry that he is hurled down from heaven and angry that he could not destroy the Messiah turns against the mother—the true Israel, the church.
The story of the pursuit of whe woman is similar to Pharaoh’s pursuit of the children of Israel as they fled from Egypt (Ex 14:8). The two wings of a great eagle echo the words of God from Sinai, “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). the river of water from the dragon’s mouth may reflect Pharaoh’s charge to drown the male children of the Israelites in the Nile (Ex 1:22). The opening of the earth recalls the destruction of the men of Korah when they were swallowed up by the earth in the wilderness (Nu 16:31-33).
12:14 The wings of a great eagle symbolize divine deliverance. Those who wait upon the Lord “will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles” (Isa 40:31). The desert is a place of spiritual refuge (see v.6). There, the woman is nourished for three and a half years.
12:15 The dragon/serpent opens its mouth and sends forth a great flood to overtake the woman. The flood in OT is a common metaphor for overwhelming evil (“the floods of ungodliness” in Ps 18:4). It could refer to the attempt by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to stamp out the early church or it could refer to persecution in the future. But God preserved the church.
12:16 The opening of the earth to save the woman again symbolizes divine deliverance.
12:17 The angry Satan starts to make war against the rest of the woman’s offspring, meaning the faithful believers. The Church as an institution survives but the persecution of the believers by Satan continues.
† While God’s angels are fighting with Satan and his devils, we also are fighting the evil forces daily in a spiritual war. We are winning (v.11) because of our 2 weapons: the claim of salvation because of the sacrifice of Jesus, and the testimony that we belong to God. With these, we can conquer two main human fears: the fear of guilt (because we have been justified by the blood of Jesus before God) and the fear of death (because we know that God has prepared an eternal life for us).
† Satan is the Slanderer. A Christian must not slander, especially in the church. Otherwise, he is following the way of Satan. That is why slander is a major sin in the Bible.