Read the Passage: Revelation 12
Reminder: The book of Revelation is structured around seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. These sections can be delineated into chapters 1–3, 4–7, 8–11, 12–14, 15–16, 17–19, and 20–22.
The Woman (12:1–6)
Revelation 12–14 constitutes John’s fourth telling of the unfolding of the story of history, from Jesus’ first coming to His second advent. However, Revelation 12 is also a turning point in the book of Revelation, as chapters 1–11 and 12–22 can be grouped together. Although each half of the book of Revelation describes the unfolding of history, the general narrative of chapters 1–11 focuses upon the struggle between the church and the world, whereas chapters 12–22 reveal the spiritual forces behind this struggle. We noted earlier in this study that as the story of history is reiterated in this book, each cycle of history tends to become more eschatological in emphasis. Moreover, chapters 12–22 are even more symbolic in content than the previous 11 chapters. The three major symbols in this chapter are: the woman, who represents God’s people; the dragon, who is Satan; and the Child, who is Christ.
Interestingly, while the content of the book of Revelation is highly symbolic, only three things are explicitly labeled as “signs” in this book, two of which occur in this chapter—the woman and the dragon. The third sign is the seven last plagues (cf. Rev. 15:1). While the woman, dragon, and child are all mentioned in this passage, the focus of Rev. 12:1–6 is the woman. We know she represents God’s people as the reference to the sun and moon were first applied to Israel at Gen. 37:9. The garland of twelve stars (cf. Rev. 12:1) is symbolic for the 12 tribes of Israel, and later the 12 apostles of Jesus. Note that the conflict between the woman and dragon is present all throughout history, as is seen in the enmity between Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Saul and David, and many others in the narrative of Scripture and in the lives of God’s people throughout history.
The Dragon (12:7–12)
The dragon is first described in Rev. 12:3–4, and becomes the focus of Rev. 12:7–12. In this passage we learn that the dragon desires to destroy the Child who was born by the woman, but that the dragon was frustrated in this endeavor by God who protected the woman and the Child. We’re told that the dragon is the “serpent of old, called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9), which is a reference to the serpent of Gen. 3:13. The dragon’s seven heads communicate worldly wisdom and his ten horns communicate great power. The fact that the woman flees into the wilderness and is protected represents the church’s place in the world—that is, its ongoing experience of suffering and safety, alienation and nourishment, trial and testimony. The citation of 1,260 days is a reference to the time, times, and half a time of Dan. 7:25 (cf. Rev. 12:14). This number depicts an undisclosed fixed period of time that will end suddenly.
The teaching in this passage of Satan’s fall from heaven is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching at Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” While God has indeed triumphed over Satan, and this is cause for great rejoicing, in his wrath, Satan currently torments followers of Christ on the earth, “because he knows that he has a short time” (Rev. 12:12). This is a great woe upon mankind; yet, believers must not forget that they have ultimate victory in Christ (cf. Luke 10:19–20). The sparing of God’s people, or at least a remnant thereof, can be seen all throughout history, from God’s freeing of Israel from Egypt, to His ongoing deliverance of the church from worldly persecution. Note that the reference to the Child’s “rod of iron” in Rev. 12:5 is an allusion to Messiah’s reign (cf. Ps. 2:7–9). The fact that the Child is caught up to God depicts Jesus’ ascension.
The Child (12:13–17)
As we noted previously, the Child who is delivered in this passage, and who rules the nations with a rod of iron, is Jesus Christ. In Rev. 12:13–17 we learn that dragon, who is Satan, is unable to harm the Child, who is Christ. Therefore, he attempts to harm the woman, who is the church, during this current age. The dragon’s spewing of water in an attempt to drown the woman represents Satan’s attempt to harm the church via lies, heresies, delusions, false religions, secular philosophies, political utopias, and the like. The universal church, however, is protected by Jesus Christ. This protection comes mainly via the Word of God (cf. Rev. 11:5; 19:11–16); however, it also comes via seen or unseen supernatural means, which is communicated in this passage by the earth swallowing up the flow of water from the dragon’s mouth (cf. Num. 16:31–33).
- What does Paul mean when he teaches that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities . . . of the darkness of this age” (Eph. 6:12)?
- Is it appropriate to speak of believers in Israel as the church, or the church as Israel (cf. Rom. 2:28–29; 9:6; Gal. 3:7, 29; 6:16; Eph. 2:12; Phil. 3:3; Jas. 1:1)?
- Does framing current conflict between the church and culture in the context of an ongoing struggle comfort or concern you?
- In the midst of the present flourishing of Satan and his kingdom, do you ever feel as though God is not in control of all things? What is the cure for such feelings?
- Given the importance of the Word of God for the protection of the church in the present context, do you rightly value and intake Scripture?