Issues, Etc.

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The Woman with Child and the Dragon
Revelation 12:1–18 Translation

Revelation 12

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed about with the sun, and the moon underneath her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, 2 and she was carrying [a Child] in her womb, and she cries out loud as in birth pains and as she strains in anguish to give birth. 3And there appeared another sign in heaven: behold, a great red dragon who had seven heads and ten horns and upon his heads seven diadems, 4 and his tail sweeps down the third of the stars of heaven and he threw them down to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth in order that, when she should give birth, he might devour her Child. 5 And she gave birth to a Son, a male Child, who is going to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. And her Child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has there a place prepared by God, so that there they might care for her one thousand two hundred sixty days.

7 And there came about war in heaven, for Michael and his angels had to make war with the dragon. And the dragon went to war and also his angels, 8 but he did not prevail nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown out, the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the entire inhabited [world]; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels with him were thrown out. 10 And I heard a great voice in heaven saying,

"Now has come about the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ,
because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out,
the one who was accusing them in the presence of our God day and night.
11 And they conquered him because of the blood of the Lamb,
and by the word of their witness,
and they did not hold their life dear even in the face of death.
12 On account of this break out in celebration, O heavens,
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and to the sea,
because the devil has come down to you,
having great fury,
knowing that he has but a short time!"

13 And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he tore after the woman who had given birth to the male Child. 14 And the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly into the wilderness to her place where she is cared for there a time and times and half a time from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent spewed out of his mouth after the woman water like a river so that he might cause her to be swept away in its flood. 16 And the earth heard the cry of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon spewed out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon became furious at the woman and went away to make war with the rest of her seed—those who are keeping the commandments of God and who hold the witness of Jesus.

18 And he stood on the edge of the sea.

[Textual notes on the Greek omitted]

by Louis Brighton

Introduction to Revelation 12–14, an Interregnum

Chapters 12–14 serve as an interregnum, that is, a pause between the second (8:6–11:19) and the third (15:1–16:21) sevenfold visions of events taking place on earth. During this pause opposing forces vie to rule. This break between the second and third earthly visions is more than an interlude, such as the interlude that appeared between the sixth and seventh seals in the first sevenfold vision (7:1–17) and the one that transpired between the sixth and seventh trumpet-angels of the second sevenfold vision (10:1–11:14). For in this break between the second and third visions there is a lengthy pause or cessation by which the normal flow of the visionary prophecy in Revelation concerning events on earth is interrupted. The portrayal of events on earth is suspended in order to permit John to see a cosmic vision expounding events that overarch what he has been seeing happening on earth. What John views in Revelation 12–14 dominates and controls the events that he sees taking place on earth. That is, these chapters visually explain to John why the events on earth are occurring.24

The events depicted in this interregnum are cosmic in character because the actions depicted occur both above and on the earth. For what is portrayed before the eyes of John is nothing less than the cosmic war between God and the prince of darkness, a war that takes place in the heavens and then drops down to earth. This warfare between God and Lucifer (the fallen angel, see Is 14:12; cf. Is 27:1; Lk 10:17–18) is the source and cause of the warfare between God’s people on earth and the forces of evil. Revelation 12–14 is thus an exposition and an explanation of all that John sees happening on the earth from the time of Christ’s exaltation up to the end of this present world at Christ’s return.

Chapter 12 presents the awesome scene of the woman with Child, the dragon who attempts to destroy the Child, and (after the Child is taken to heaven) the war in heaven which results in the expulsion of Satan from God’s heavenly presence. The chapter concludes with the dragon venting his fury on the woman and her offspring. The vision continues in chapter 13 with the scene of two terrifying beasts that the dragon conjures up for use in his warfare against the woman and her seed. The cosmic vision of this interregnum concludes in chapter 14 with scenes of victory and rejoicing over the judgment and overthrow of the evil forces of the dragon.

A Great Sign in Heaven: A Woman (12:1–2)

"A great sign" (12:1) appeared in heaven. The phrase suggests and points to something of importance. For a "sign" in the biblical sense is a visual presentation that exhibits something of the divine. It could be a visible token which serves as a confirmation of a gracious promise of God, or a visible guarantee of God’s presence (see Gen 9:12–17; Ex 3:12; 7:3). In his gospel John called miracles of Jesus "signs" because they were visible evidences of the saving presence of God in Jesus Christ.f In Lk 2:12 the "sign" given to the shepherds was that they would find the Christ Child when they found a Child "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a feeding trough." Strikingly, here in 12:1 the word refers to "a woman clothed about with the sun" and with "the moon underneath her feet." She is referred to as a "great sign," implying that what she is and represents is of great importance. The sign of the woman appears "in heaven," indicating that her presence is before God in heaven (see 4:4; 7:9–17). She is from God, that is, she is related to His saving presence. Yet the woman and what she represents is also on earth (12:13).

The woman was clothed in the brilliance of Christ as exhibited by the sun. Her face and appearance themselves do not shine like the sun, for that is reserved for the exalted Son of Man (Rev 1:16; cf. Mt 17:2) and for the angel that stands in the place of Christ and represents him when commissioning John and the church (Rev 10:1, 11). But God has put around her the brilliant, sunlit glory of his Christ, signifying that in Christ and because of him she stands in God’s holy presence. "Clothed about with the sun" also suggests how much God in Christ honors the woman.

The moon is "underneath her feet." While "clothed about with the sun" indicates glory, "the moon underneath her feet" suggests dominion.25 In the OT the sun and moon are mentioned on occasion in reference to the glory and beauty of a human being. In Gen 37:9 Joseph saw in a dream the sun and moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. In Song 6:10 the woman who is King Solomon’s beloved appears like the dawn, and she is beautiful like the moon and brilliant or pure like the sun. In the pseudepigraphal writing of the Testament of Naphtali (5:4–5), Levi is likened to the sun and Judah to the moon.26 In those writings both the sun and moon are used to symbolize honor and glory conferred upon an individual. Here in Rev 12:1 the sun is also used as a symbol of glory and honor, but the moon, because of its position under the feet, is used more as a symbol of dominion and authority which the woman exercises as she carries out her mission given by God (see 10:11; 11:1–13).

The woman wears "a crown of twelve stars" on her head. The crown or wreath was a reward given because of victory in a contest or struggle of some kind. Her crown is made up of or contains twelve stars. In 1:20 seven stars in the right hand of the exalted Son of Man represent the seven angels of the churches. Here the twelve stars of the woman’s crown represent twelve of the twenty-four elders enthroned around the great throne of God in heaven in 4:4. Prior to her Child’s birth, her twelve stars signify the twelve elders representing the twelve tribes of Israel, who in turn represent the people of God in the OT. After her Child is born and is taken to heaven, the crown of twelve stars would then represent the other twelve elders, who stand for the twelve apostles and the NT church.27 The twelve stars of the crown signify that the woman represents the entire people of God, both Israel and the church of Christ.28 "Salvation is of the Jews" (Jn 4:22) and so Jesus is born of Mary, but he was born to be the Savior of all people, Jew and Gentile alike. The people of God are victorious because of the Christ Child, and they are always under the protective care of the angels. The crown also suggests that the woman is the crown jewel of God, his pride and prized possession in Christ.

With the exception of Jesus Christ, no human figure in the entire Bible is so clothed and glorified as this woman. This should not be surprising when it is noted that she bears a Child "who is going to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod" (Rev 12:5), that is, the Messiah.29 Mary is called "favored of God," because the grace of God was with her (Lk 1:28–30). In addition Mary would be called blessed among women because she would bear the Christ Child (Lk 1:31–33, 42). Here in Rev 12:1–2 this honor is typified by the sun and the crown with which the woman is adorned, and the dominion she inherits through her Son is typified by her feet on the moon.30

Mary, the mother of the Christ Child, is the model for the woman here in 12:1–2, for the woman, as does Mary, symbolizes and represents the church.31 The woman thus represents the faithful people of God who longed for the Messiah to come, and who by their faith can be said metaphorically to be the mother of the Child and thus to have given birth to him. After the birth and the ascension of the Child, the woman becomes and represents the church of the apostles. As Swete says, "Doubtless the Church of the Old Testament was the Mother of whom Christ came after the flesh. But here … no sharp dividing line is drawn between the Church of the Old Testament and the Christian Society."32

The church, symbolized by the woman, is adorned with the sun and the crown of stars. This certainly illustrates how much God loves and honors his people (see Is 62:3; Zech 2:7–8; 9:16; Eph 5:27). The fact that the moon is under her feet suggests that she is the dominant entity in his creation. Under God’s sovereignty all things and all creation are governed for the benefit of the church, to spread and increase the church, care for her, and protect her while in her earthly pilgrimage. For the church is the jewel, the apple of God’s eye.

In Revelation three women appear and illustrate important roles. The woman of 12:1 illustrates the church in her beauty and position before God. The harlot of 17:1–18:24 in her deceptive beauty represents the anti-church and as such is the archrival and enemy of the woman of 12:1. The bride of the Lamb in 19:7–8 is to be identified with the woman of 12:1 as she meets her husband, the Lord Christ, at the End.33

Another Sign in Heaven: A Dragon (12:3–4a)

"Another sign" appeared in heaven: "a great red dragon" (12:3). As in the case of the woman with Child, the fact that this other appearance is designated as a "sign" points out that what it pictures is important—yet not as important as the "great sign" (12:1) of the woman. The sign of the dragon also appears in heaven, thus indicating that what it depicts is above the earth, though it will greatly influence what happens on the earth too. The dragon has "seven heads and ten horns and upon his heads seven diadems" (12:3). The "seven heads" are similar to the seven horns and the seven eyes of the Lamb in 5:6. The number seven is God’s number, in particular symbolizing the sevenfold presence of Yahweh through his Holy Spirit (1:4; 3:1; cf. 1:20). The fact that the Lamb in Revelation 5 has seven horns and seven eyes signifies that the exalted Christ is all-powerful (the horns; cf. Lk 1:69) and all-knowing (the eyes, 2 Chr 16:9; Prov 15:3) and that he exercises this power and authority by the Spirit.34 In the OT the horn symbolized power on earth and the authority to exercise it (e.g., Deut 33:17; Dan 7:8, 24–25). Similarly, the seven eyes refer to the Lord Christ’s omniscience, which also he exercises through the sevenfold presence of the Holy Spirit. The dragon’s seven heads reflect his deceptive claim that he, and not the Christ, is the spirit who has all knowledge to supervise all earthly matters. Each head is crowned with a diadem reflecting his deceptive claim that he possesses all royalty and lordship. The ten horns point to the boastful claim that the dragon has supreme earthly power. The number ten means that while other earthly powers exist, the dragon has dominating power and authority to exercise it. Any other earthly power, symbolized by a single horn, can exist and exercise that power only under the consent and sanction of the dragon and by his guidance.35 By such an appearance the dragon boasts that he has all wisdom and all power over all the peoples and kingdoms on the earth (cf. Mt 4:8–9). Of course this is all a lie (Jn 8:44)—but a lie that will spell doom for those who believe it. For the color of the dragon is red, the color of murder and bloodshed (see Rev 6:4) of both a spiritual and a physical nature.

The dragon sweeps down with his tail "the third of the stars of heaven" and he throws them "down to the earth" (12:4). Stars represent the angels (1:20). In 9:1 a star falling from heaven represents the angel of the abyss, the devil (9:11; cf. Lk 10:18). Elsewhere in the Scriptures angels are represented by stars (Judg 5:20; Job 38:7) and fallen angels by fallen stars, especially the devil (Is 14:12). In 1 Enoch fallen stars portray fallen angels.36 Here in Rev 12:4 the casting of the stars out of heaven to the earth dramatically portrays the dragon pulling other angels with him in his rebellion against God. A third of the stars were involved with the dragon in this rebellion. Whether one takes "the third" as a literal number or as a symbolical number, it suggests not a majority, but a sizable minority of the angelic host. This is the only reference in the Bible which suggests the number of angels that the dragon took with him in his opposition to God.37

The Dragon and the Child (12:4b–6)

The dragon awaits the birth of the Child so that at his birth he might destroy him. The dragon’s opposition is not at first against the woman, but against the Child, for the Child is the focus in the dragon’s warfare against God. Only after the Child has escaped his clutches and is safe in heaven does he vent his rage on the woman in his hatred (12:13).

Ancient mythologies have a number of stories of a woman with child who is pursued by a monster or dragon.38 These myths provide evidence that ancient peoples had heard the truth of a woman whose Child would deliver the human race from the forces of evil and darkness, embodied in the ancient serpent or dragon. These myths originated from the original promise God gave to Adam and the woman when he said that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:14–15). By the time that these ancient myths were recorded in the extrabiblical literatures in which they are preserved, they had already been distorted and given shape by pagan ideas and influences. Nevertheless, in their core they witness to the one true, original story of a Child from a woman who would rescue the human race. John, the author of Revelation, would know of some of these stories, and in this retelling of the ancient story of the woman with Child and the dragon, he sets the record straight. There was an original, true promise of a woman and her Child, the Child who would save the human race from the clutches of the dragon. And that Child is the Christ Child.

The woman gives "birth to a Son, a male Child" (Rev 12:5). The "male Child" is clearly identified as the One who would "shepherd all the nations with an iron rod." In Psalm 2 the "Anointed One" (or "his Christ"; Ps 2:2), who is the "King" installed by God on Mt. Zion (Ps 2:6) and who is declared to be his "Son" (Ps 2:7), will rule over all other kings and over all the peoples of the earth (Ps 2:1–2, 8, 10). He will reign with an "iron rod," breaking them to pieces like pottery (Ps 2:9).39 The "iron rod" looks beyond Christ’s present hidden reign in grace to his future reign in revealed power and glory, when all opposition to him will be shattered. He will begin that reign after the end of this world at his return, as indicated by the future sense of "who is going to shepherd" (Rev 12:5). In light of that future reign in wrath over his foes, all peoples and all kings are invited now to fear and love him and thereby through faith enter his present kingdom of grace and escape God’s future wrath (Ps 2:11–12). But that invitation is not extended to the dragon; he can only look forward to the termination of his evil rule and to his own destruction, hence his fury against the Child.

In Lk 1:31–32 the angel Gabriel said that the male Child to be born to Mary would rule the house of Jacob on the throne of David forever. Here in Rev 12:5 through the quote of Ps 2:9 the male Child is unmistakably identified as the Messiah of God, the Christ, the Anointed One, and also as the Child of Mary, the promised Savior, whose name is Jesus (see Lk 1:31; cf. Mt 1:21). In his earthly ministry Jesus of Nazareth declared that he was the shepherd promised by God who would lay down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11–15; cf. Ezek 34:15–24). His staff of office, his shepherd’s crook, symbolizes the care of his people (see Jn 10:27–28; cf. Zech 11:7–10). However, at the same time the staff of office represents his authority in judgment by which, like a shepherd, he will separate the sheep from the goats, God’s people from unbelievers, and thus in judgment vanquish the enemies of God (Mt 25:32–33; cf. Ps 2:9; Ezek 34:17–22). This shepherding authority of the Christ Child will be shared by God’s people according to Rev 2:26–27: in the letter to the church of Thyatira, every Christian who is victorious and keeps doing Christ’s work to the End "will shepherd them [the nations] with an iron rod." God’s people will share in Christ’s authority over the nations and in his demonstration of judgment.

The Child is "snatched up to God and to his throne" (12:5). Here the incarnation and the entire ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are compressed into the words "snatched up to God." "The Seer foreshortens the Gospel history."40 John’s purpose is to emphasize the final outcome of Christ’s incarnation and passion and resurrection, that is, the dragon’s failure to destroy the Child and the victory of the Christ over the enemies of God’s people. The fact that Christ was taken "to God and to his throne" (12:5), his ascension, demonstrates and vindicates his victory over the dragon and the forces of death and evil. He is exalted and enthroned, not the dragon. Christ’s session at the Father’s right hand is the ultimate confirmation of his victory, and here it is reenacted and dramatized for John in order to confirm his faith in the victory of the Lamb over the dragon, won years before at the cross and empty tomb.41

The dragon tried his utmost to destroy the Child when the woman gave birth. The action of King Herod in killing the infants of Bethlehem in his effort to destroy the infant Christ is certainly a part of the dragon’s design against the Child. But the Child was snatched from Herod’s wicked hands and taken to Egypt (Mt 2:13–18), a type of the final snatching to God at Christ’s ascension. Also Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is to be viewed in connection with the dragon’s continued effort to intimidate and to destroy the Christ (Mt 4:1–11). Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry the devil attempted to thwart his mission (see Heb 4:15).42 But despite the agony and the suffering that the Lord Christ endured, the dragon did not and could not destroy the Child.

After the ascension of the Christ to God, "the woman fled into the wilderness" (Rev 12:6). The woman at first, after the model of Mary, typified Israel, the people of God of old. Now she becomes the new and larger Israel, the Christian church, the people of God, both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11–22). The church would not immediately share in the exalted glory of the ascended Christ, for the woman flees "into the wilderness." As was prophesied of Mary, so now the church would be pierced with a sword (Lk 2:35). The "wilderness" brings to mind the wanderings of Israel in the Desert of Sinai after the deliverance and exodus from Egypt (Ex 19:1–2; Num 14:20–35; Deut 8:2). So now the new Israel, the church of Christ, enters her wilderness experience after having seen and been the recipient of the great salvation worked by the Lamb of God. As the Israelites of old were cared for by God in the barren desert with manna and food and water and safety (Ex 16:4–5, 13; 17:3–7; 23:20), so now the church would be nourished and defended by God in her harsh and dangerous environment.43 Oecumenius (sixth century) in his Greek commentary says that as Mary had to flee into Egypt, a barren-like existence for her away from home (where she was kept safe by God from the murderous desires of Herod), so now the woman in Rev 12:6 is kept safe by God. He furthermore says that the 1,260 days are typified by the length of time that Mary, the "mother of God," remained in Egypt until the death of Herod.44 Here in Rev 12:6, whether or not though the 1,260 days are patterned after Mary’s stay in Egypt, this number does symbolize the length of time that the church will be in exile here on earth.

The time period of 1,260 days that God cares for the woman in the desert (12:6) is the same period of time, also designated as 1,260 days, that the two witnesses carry out their prophetic ministry (11:3).45 Since it amounts to three and a half years, it is also the same length of time as the "forty-two months" when the church, represented by the holy city and its temple, is trampled underfoot (11:1–2). These time periods designate the same period of history, which spans the church age: from the ascension of Christ to the end of the present world at Christ’s return.46

War in Heaven (12:7–9)

What is now announced and portrayed to John staggers the human imagination. That there should be war before God’s presence in heaven would seem to be unthinkable, utterly out of place. The angels sang at the birth of Jesus, "Glory in highest places to God and on earth peace" (Lk 2:14). The pilgrims who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem sang a similar hymn of blessing: "In heaven peace and glory in highest places" (Lk 19:38).47 They were singing about "peace" and "glory" in heaven. According to Luke, then, the Christ was born to bring peace to earth and through his death and resurrection was about to bring peace in heaven. But what does that "peace" mean? While human warfare on earth includes physical struggles and bloodshed, to the Christian on earth the most horrible battle is a spiritual one fought against forces in the heavenly realms: "our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities and cosmic powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph 6:12).48 While Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection established peace between God in heaven and humanity on earth, that peace is now being contested by evil spiritual powers in heavenly realms who seek to sever the peace between God and people achieved by Christ. The warfare in heaven must be interpreted as a spiritual struggle in which the dragon attempts to displace the Christ Child, the victorious Lamb who was slain, in order to establish himself again in the presence of God as the prince of the angels and as the one who has dominion over humanity on earth, and specifically as the one who has the authority to stand before God and accuse people for their sins.49

At the center of this warfare in heaven is Satan’s ability to stand in God’s holy presence and accuse the saints of God (Rev 12:10). It is a war, so to speak, of words—the words with which Satan accused God’s saints of their sins (e.g., Job 1–2; Zech 3:1–5). With these words Satan claimed that he, not the Christ, truthfully represented the saints before God’s heavenly throne. This warfare, though of words, is deadly serious, for if Satan’s accusations were validated in the heavenly court, then God’s justice would require him to deny even his own people because of their sin. But for that to happen God would have to deny the claim of his own Son to be the rightful representative and advocate for God’s people. Christ’s victory has earned for him the right to represent fallen humanity; he is the one "who loves us and set us free from our sins by his blood" (Rev 1:5). Therefore the accusations of Satan are thrown out of court, and Satan himself is thrown out of heaven (12:8–10). Because of the rightful claim of Christ to represent God’s people with Christ’s own sinlessness and righteousness, the very presence of Satan in heaven was now an offense to God and all the heavenly host.

The war in heaven was concluded by "Michael and his angels" against "the dragon" and "his angels," that is, it reached its climax when Michael cast the dragon out of heaven (12:7–9). This war, this casting of Satan out of heaven, took place as a result of Christ’s victory and at his ascension and session at the right of God (see 5:1–14). There was no room for two opposing advocates, each claiming to be the rightful representative of sinful humanity. No longer could God tolerate Satan’s presence since his accusations were rendered false by the victorious Lamb, who now returned to heaven. At the command of God, Michael and all the faithful angels drove out the dragon and his angels. The dragon and his hordes were not to take part in the celebration that ensued among the heavenly hosts—the celebration of Christ’s coronation at his ascension. Once the Messiah of God, the Savior and Champion of his people, had defeated the prince of darkness and had taken his seat at the right of God, the dragon was expelled by Michael. Now dethroned from his seat in the council of angels (see Job 1:6; Zech 3:1), the dragon could never again appear before God.

The idea that God would hold court and solicit the counsel of his angels in the heavenly council can be seen in biblical references.g In Dan 7:10, for example, the assembly of angels around the throne of God is called "the court." Related to this idea of God holding court and taking counsel is the fact that angels are often pictured surrounding the heavenly throne of God (Is 6:1–8; Ezek 1:22–28; Dan 7:9–10; Lk 2:13; Rev 4:6; 5:11).

According to LXX Is 9:5 (ET 9:6), the holy Child to be born would be called the "angel of the great council" or the "angel of the great counsel," depending on how one interprets the Greek.50 In this well-known passage from Isaiah, the Hebrew text (Is 9:5) has the name of the messianic Child as "Wonderful Counselor,51 Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." One could say with regard to Rev 12:7, now that the miraculous, divine Counselor (MT) or "angel of the great counsel or council" (LXX) has come back to take his rightful place as the Lord of the council of angels, the devil who had made claim to that seat could no longer do so.

In 12:7 Michael, while not called an "archangel," is the captain of the host of angels engaged in the war with the dragon and his hosts. The verbal construction "had to make war"52 governed by the nominative forms "Michael" and "the angels" of Michael suggests that the war was at God’s command and that they "had to make war" because of the exaltation of the Christ Child before God in heaven. As a result of Christ’s victory on the cross and his public vindication over the dragon at his ascension and exaltation, there was no longer any room in heaven for the accuser. The dragon had to be thrown out of heaven, for Christ’s vicarious atonement and justification of the saints made Satan’s accusations false—lies—and an offense against God’s gracious justice in Christ. Once Christ was elevated and enthroned, the slanderer was held in contempt of God’s court and "was thrown out" (12:9),53 never again to appear before God’s heavenly presence.

The dragon did not want to leave his lofty place before God. But although he struggled to maintain his position, it was to no avail. At his expulsion the dragon is clearly identified to John: he is "the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan" (12:9; cf. Gen 3:1–5; Mt 4:10; Lk 4:3). That is, he is the ancient and ever-present enemy of the human race, and in particular of God’s holy people. The word "Satan" means "adversary" or "enemy," sometimes also "accuser."54 Likewise "devil" means "slanderer" or "false accuser" (Jn 8:44), and true to his name he "deceives the entire inhabited [world]" (Rev 12:9). He and his host of evil angels are now confined to the earth and its sphere.

When did this war, this expulsion of the dragon and his evil host, take place? According to 12:5, it happened when the "Child was snatched up to God and to his throne," that is, at the ascension of Christ. Apparently before Christ’s victory and ascension, the devil could at will stand before God and bring accusations against God’s saints. There are two well-known instances of this in the OT. In both Job (1:6–11; 2:1–5) and Zechariah (3:1–7), Satan stands before God’s heavenly presence to accuse two of his saints: Job and Joshua the high priest. From the original rebellion to Christ’s ascension, Satan could take his place in the council of angels before God in heaven (Job 1:6; 2:1; cf. Dan 7:7–8). But at Christ’s enthronement at the right of God, Satan was forever banished from God’s presence and his place in the heavenly court was taken from him.55

This war in heaven in Rev 12:7 is not the original rebellion of the devil against God, which took place before the fall of Adam and the woman (Gen 3:1). The war and expulsion described in Revelation 12 happened as a result of Christ’s victory and elevation. Not only is Satan judged, because of Christ’s triumphant return to his heavenly Father’s throne, Satan is now expelled and banished forever from God’s presence. And finally, at the End when Christ returns, Satan and all his fellow evil spirits will be cast forever into hell, the lake of fire (Rev 20:10; cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). The conclusion that the expulsion of Satan from heaven here in Revelation 12 is the result of Jesus’ ministry of redemption agrees with Jesus’ statement at the return of the seventy-two, when he said, "I was watching Satan falling like lightning from heaven" (Lk 10:18).56 Jesus also said, "Now the ruler of this world will be thrown out outside, and I, when I am lifted up from the world, will draw all people to myself" (Jn 12:31–32).57

The Song of Victory (12:10–12a)

"A great voice in heaven" now calls forth a declaration of victory and celebration, for "the accuser" of God’s saints "has been thrown out" (Rev 12:10). The saints here are called "our brothers." Because of that designation, the "great voice" apparently is not that of an angel or one of the four winged creatures (e.g., 4:6–8; 6:1; 7:2). Most likely it is spoken by the twenty-four elders,58 since the elders represent OT Israel and the NT church (see 4:4, 10; 5:5; and the commentary on 4:4). If so, then the elders, together with all the saints in heaven and on earth, had to suffer the accusations of the devil as he stood before God, but now they suffer no longer.

In response the elders shout out their words of praise and celebration.59 The "great voice" declares, "Now has come about the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ" (12:10), that is, "the salvation, power, and kingdom of God are present realities."60 The victory was won on the cross (5:6; cf. Jn 12:31–32), and the completeness of that victory is demonstrated by the resurrection of the Christ for all to see and witness (Rev 1:17–18; cf. Acts 2:29–36). Now at the ascension and elevation of the Christ of God, that victory is fully displayed and consummated in the heavens when the dragon is expelled and can never again stand before God’s heavenly glory. The devil can never again bring accusations against the saints before the heavenly throne (see Rom 8:31–39).

The phrase "the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ" (Rev 12:10) is similar to "the kingdom of the cosmos has become our Lord’s and his Christ’s (11:15). In 11:15 the total and cosmic comprehensiveness of "the kingdom" is emphasized. Here in 12:10 the sovereignty and power of that kingdom in its completeness is emphasized. "The authority" of Jesus Christ is displayed now in all its power and grandeur at the expulsion of Satan. The Lord Jesus partially exercised and displayed some of this authority during in his earthly ministry, though not all recognized it (e.g., Mk 1:27; 2:10; 3:22–27).61 But now this "authority" of Christ is seen in all its consummating power, before which no enemy can stand and by which Christ completely exonerates his followers and the faith they have in him (cf. Phil 2:7–11).

The saints of God, the followers of Christ, were not destroyed or condemned by God based on the accusations of the devil. Though tormented by his accusations because of their guilt over sins they had indeed committed, they never gave in to despair. For their faith was that their sins were washed away in the blood of the Lamb (see Rev 7:13–14). Now it becomes evident for all to see that the guilt of sin no longer clings to believers in Christ. And God’s people had trusted that they were innocent despite the accusations of "the old evil foe."62 They knew that truth because of the Word of promise to them (cf. Jn 17:15–17). "The blood of the Lamb" was the actual cause of their acquittal, and "the word of their witness" (Rev 12:11) was the result that testified to their victory in Christ.63 They gave "witness" to that truth of God’s forgiveness because of the blood of the Lamb. They held to that witness even in the face of threats, suffering, and death (see 2:10, 13; 3:10–12). Their faith was their victory because they held firmly to the victorious Christ (1 Jn 5:4–5). And for that victory in faith they were not afraid to die. Thus they were a living demonstration of Jesus’ words: "The one who loves his life loses it, but the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12:25; cf. Mt 10:39; Mk 8:35).

The "great voice" (Rev 12:10) then calls upon the very "heavens" themselves and all "those who dwell in them" to "break out in celebration" (12:12)! At various times the heavens were invoked to hear and to testify to God’s words and promises (e.g., Deut 32:1; Ps 19:1 [MT 19:2]; Is 1:2). Now they praise God for the fulfillment of those words and promises. The angels are invited to rejoice with the elders and all the people of God. Though the angels are not the recipients of the saving victory of Christ, they, nevertheless, celebrate with the followers of the Lamb (cf. Rev 5:11–14). They also celebrate because their Lord, the Christ of God, has returned triumphantly to claim his rightful seat at God’s right in the council of angels.

The Dragon and the Woman on Earth (12:12b–18)

The "great voice" (12:10) also cries out, "Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has come down to you" (12:12)! He has been thrown out of heaven and is now confined to the earth and sea, and he will attack its inhabitants in his evil designs of destruction. No longer able to vent his hatred or plot evil against the Christ of God, and no longer able to express his hatred and cunning craft in lies before God concerning God’s saints, he takes out his fury on the human race and life on earth. The dragon also knows "that he has but a short time" (12:12) to attempt the destruction of God’s creation.64 The End is soon to come, and then the dragon will be forever separated from all of God’s creation. And so the devil "sets to work at once with redoubled zeal, goaded by his defeat."65 And this "short time" of his activity "is the time of unprecedented peril"66 in which the church lives, from Christ’s ascension to the end of this world when Christ returns.

The dragon vents his anger and evil designs especially against the woman, the church, the bride of the exalted Christ. While the devil, as "the angel of the abyss" (9:11), assails the entire human race (as depicted in 9:1–11), it is the woman who is the focus of his intense warfare. In particular he hates the woman because she gave birth to the Child, and now he vents his hatred of the Child upon the woman, the church, because she puts her trust and life into the care of Christ and refuses to worship and serve the dragon.67 But the woman is cared for by God and is protected so that she will not be destroyed. The metaphorical imagery of this godly care, "the two wings of the great eagle" (12:14), is reminiscent of the care by which God succored the people of Israel in their wilderness pilgrimage: in Ex 19:4 the Lord God reminds the people of Israel, "I carried you on eagles’ wings, and I brought you to myself" (see also Is 40:31). In his farewell address Moses reminded the people how God found them in the barren wasteland of the desert and how he protected and cared for them "as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovering over its young" (Deut 32:10–11). And the psalmist declares that God saves his people from danger: "with his feathers he encloses you, and under his wings you find refuge" (Ps 91:4). The woman, the church of Christ, like Israel of old, is now on a desert pilgrimage here on earth as the devil hunts her down, causing her all manner of fear and suffering and depredation. God’s loving care, however, will sustain her through it to the promised land.

The length of time of her fear and anxiety in the wilderness is given as "a time and times and half a time" (Rev 12:14). This time period of the woman’s suffering probably represents three and a half years and is equivalent to the "forty-two months" in 11:2, when the holy city of God will be trampled underfoot by the pagan nations; to the 1,260 days in 11:3 during which the two witnesses of God will carry out their prophetic ministry; and to the 1,260 days in 12:6, during which the woman is sustained in the place prepared for her in the desert.68 The time period symbolized by these three equivalent expressions ("a time and times and half a time"; forty-two months; and 1,260 days) is the time between the ascension of Christ and the end of this world at his return. A model and type for it is the wilderness sojourn of the children of Israel, forty-two years in total when the time from the first Passover to the stay at Mt. Sinai is added to the subsequent forty years of wandering in the desert. The fact that the dragon is referred to as "the serpent" (12:14–15) indicates that in the dragon’s warfare against the woman, the most dangerous onslaught against her will be the temptation to leave the truth of Christ in the quest to become her own god in wisdom and saving care—the same temptation by which the serpent successfully lured Eve and Adam (Gen 3:1–6). This suggests that the most severe suffering caused by the dragon will be of a spiritual nature, in particular the temptation and pressure to commit the sin of apostasy (see Eph 6:12; Rev 2:12–14).

Though God cares for the woman by hindering and restraining the serpent, nevertheless the serpent causes her much anxiety and pain.69 "The serpent spewed out of his mouth" a raging flood of "water like a river" in order to drown the woman (12:15). In great terror the woman cries out, and God hears her cry and responds by causing the earth to swallow the river. The people of God have always been confronted by the dragon and the fear of being overwhelmed by the torrents and raging floods of evil (see, e.g., Ps 18:4–5 [MT 18:5–6]; 32:4–7). But God always hears the cries of his endangered and fearful people. In Ps 124:2–5 the psalmist declares that if God had not been by his side when the torrents and the floods of evil had engulfed him, he would have perished. And in Is 43:1–2 the prophet hears the promise of God that when he would travel through waters and rushing rivers, they will not sweep him away, for the Lord God, his Redeemer, would be with him (cf. Ps 18:6 [MT 18:7]). One may also recall how God stopped the flow of the Jordan River so that his people could cross on dry land (Joshua 3), as well as the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15) and the universal flood (Genesis 6–9), during which God protected Noah and his family, typifying Holy Baptism (1 Pet 3:20–21).

The earth swallows the water. This brings to mind how the earth opened its mouth in God’s service to swallow up Korah and those with him in his rebellion against Moses (Num 16:1–3, 28–34). Moses had said that if those rebels should die a natural death, that would confirm that Korah was right in his opposition. But if the earth miraculously split open and swallowed Korah and those with him, then all the people of Israel would know that Korah was really opposing God. In this manner God delivered the faithful Israelites from the sin of apostasy. The use of such imagery here in Rev 12:16 suggests that, if necessary, God will rescue and defend his people from the onslaughts of the evil one even through miraculous events (cf. 11:5–6). Rebels may oppose God and usurp the authority of those properly called to shepherd God’s flock, and such schisms may lead some of the flock astray, but the church will be preserved by grace and ultimately the schismatics will be put to shame.

Since even the earth takes part in God’s work of protection, the dragon becomes even more furious that he cannot destroy the woman. So now he focuses his attention on "the rest of her seed," her children (12:17). The dragon could not destroy the Christ Child. He could not destroy the woman, the church. So he attempts destroy her seed, at least some of them. Swete says, "If he can neither unseat the Throned Christ nor destroy the Church, yet individual Christians may enjoy no such immunity."70 So the devil "went away to make war" with her children, "those who are keeping the commandments of God and who hold the witness of Jesus" (12:17). This description of her children, who are the individual members of the church, indicates that despite the dragon’s attempt to destroy the church and the dire threats of annihilation, many tenaciously hold to their faith. Still, individual Christians become the targets of the dragon’s desperate designs by which some, at least, could be destroyed.

The next stage in the dragon’s warfare against the children of the woman is to stand at the edge of the sea, the place of chaos and evil.71 He will first conjure up the beast from the sea (13:1) and then the beast from the earth (13:11). With these two beasts and what they represent, the dragon will carry on his evil war against the members of Christ’s church. The two beasts under the control and inspiration of the dragon will be the cause of all the tribulations and sufferings that the church and her children will endure throughout the remainder of the message of Revelation.

Footnotes Omitted

Taken from the Concordia Commentary on Revelation, copyright 1999 by Dr. Louis Brighton. Used by permission of Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO 63118-3968. You can order the Concordia Commentary on Revelation for a total of $35 by calling the Issues, Etc. resource line at 1-800-737-0172.

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