Posted by: stpowen | December 18, 2012

Revelation (8). Chapter 12: The Woman & The Dragon

1 John 4:4. ‘You are of God, little children, and have overcome…because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.’

We now come to a new division in the Book of Revelation. Elsewhere I have stated that Revelation is divided into seven sections, each one giving a different view of the time between our Lord’s ascension and His return in glory; each section gives a new aspect and a new understanding of the battle between Christ and Satan. However, Chapter 12 is also the pivotal point of the entire book. Until now, although there are certainly great visions of heaven, almost all the action takes place on earth. We have seen the seven churches, the seven seals, seven trumpets and the two witnesses. Now we have a glimpse of the great conflict that lies behind these other happenings.

The first thing we shall see is two ‘signs.’ The A.V. translation of ‘wonders’ is rather poor. The Greek word is semeion, from which we get our word ‘semaphore.’ These are signs. It is not the thing itself to which we need to pay attention, but what it signifies. These signs take place in heaven and are invisible to the earth, but they have enormous significance to it.

Verse 1. ‘Now a great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then, being with child, she cried out in labour and in pain to give birth.’

Who is this woman? We note that she is about to give birth, and if you look at verse 5 and compare it with Psalm 2:9, you will be in no doubt that the child is the Lord Jesus Christ; but who is the woman? Well, the Church of Rome states that this is the Virgin Mary, but where else in the Bible does Mary have anything to do with the sun, moon and stars? Others have suggested that she is the Church, but the Church does not give birth to Christ. No, if we want to find this woman we have to turn to Gen 37:9. Here the sun, moon and stars stand for Jacob and the Patriarchs- the Messianic Line. Noting the hatred of the dragon for the woman and her Son (v.4), we can go back even further to God’s words in Gen. 3:15. “And I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Christ is the Seed of the woman. The woman therefore represents the Messianic Line and the covenant community of all eras. Her children are those ‘who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus’ (v. 17). ‘But Jerusalem above is free which is the mother of us all’ (Gal. 4:26).

The ‘garland’ upon the woman’s head is a stephanos, a crown of victory. She is clothed with the sun. ‘Notice the difference between the cosmic glory of this woman and the human glitter of the great prostitute’ (17:4){1}. She is about to give birth, which speaks of the coming of Christ to the earth.

Verse 3. ‘And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven diadems on his heads.’

There is no difficulty in identifying this second sign. We are told in verse 9 that the dragon is Satan. We must remind ourselves that this is a sign; the devil doesn’t necessarily look like this, but his great size indicates his might and his redness his anger and malevolence. Seven is the number of perfection and ten the number of fullness. His heads, horns and crowns symbolize his great might and his complete conquest of the world as it lies outside of Christ. That is why he is called ‘the prince of this world’ (John 14:30; cf. Luke 4:6). The whole picture is one of great power and we are reminded of 1 John 5:19; ‘We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.’ Satan rules the kingdoms of this world. There are two interesting contrasts between the woman and the dragon. Firstly, the adjective ‘great’ describes the woman’s sign, but not the woman herself, whereas it is the dragon who is called ‘great’ and not his sign. God’s people may appear weak and insignificant in this world and Satan appear extremely powerful, but in God’s eyes, His people have far more significance than does the devil. Secondly, the crowns on the dragon’s heads are diademoi or crowns of royalty- “The symbols of arrogated dominion” (Lenski), whereas the crown or garland on the woman’s head is a crown of victory. We are ‘more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37) and so it shall be proved at the Last Day.

Verse 4. ‘His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.’

It might just about be possible to interpret the first half of this verse literally in the light of 8:12. However, the one third of the stars which are swept out of heaven are surely the fallen angels who joined in Satan’s rebellion. Jude speaks of ‘the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their first abode.’ The dragon stands in front of the woman, to destroy her Child, and we should think of the enmity between Satan and the woman’s Seed foretold back in Gen. 3:15. Satan is filled with hatred against our Lord and all down the ages has sought to bring about the end of the Messianic Line. For example:

Gen 6:2. ‘….The sons of God saw the children of men, that they were beautiful.’ Satan incited the seed of Seth to mingle with that of Cain, with the result that, ‘The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth’ (v.5). So God sends the Flood- will the messianic seed be destroyed? No! God saves Noah and his sons.

Gen 16. Abraham has no son and Satan incites him to doubt God’s promise and seek a child after the flesh by Hagar. But when there seems no hope, Isaac, the child of promise, is born (cf. Gal. 4:29).

1 Sam. 19:10. David plays the harp before Saul, who flings a spear at him to kill him, but David escapes.

2 Kings 11. The wicked queen Athaliah slays all the royal children. Will the messianic line be lost? No! Jehosheba saves the baby Joash and the Line is safe.

2 Kings 25:7. Nebuchadnezzar takes Jerusalem and the children of King Zedekiah are put to death along with ‘All the princes of Judah’ (Jer. 52:10). Is the line of David finished? No! Isaiah 11:1 says, ‘There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.’ The Line might seem to be finished, but it was still continuing in secret until that day more than 500 years later when three foreigners came to the court of King Herod and asked, “Where is He that has been born King of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2). Then Satan stirred up Herod to slay all the little children in Bethlehem, but, ‘Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word”’ (Matt 2:13). As we read these accounts, it seems almost like a cosmic chess match, with Satan constantly attacking, but God successfully counter-moving every time and steadily moving towards victory.

Verse 5. ‘She bore a child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.’ Did the dragon think he had finally won when he saw Christ upon the cross? What a shock the Resurrection must have been to him. And now Christ is reigning in heaven (Psalm 110:1) far above all of Satan’s malice- for Satan, as we shall see was cast down at the same time.

But the woman (v6) flees into the wilderness. This is how it is for God’s people; they must pass through the desert before they reach the Promised Land. Heb. 13:14 tells us, ‘Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.’ Like Isaac, we are the heirs of the promises, but the present world is not our home. Let the worldlings make the most of it; for them, this is as good as it gets. Like Abraham, we are waiting ‘For the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God’ (Heb. 11:10). The woman must stay in the wilderness 1,260 days- all the current age and all the time in which the Gospel is being preached {2}. Christians should not imagine that this world can be improved to any marked extent. Paul writes that, ‘In the last days perilous times will come’ and that ‘Evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse’ (2 Tim. 3:1, 13). I am writing this just as the Government has announced its intention to press ahead with legislating for homosexual ‘marriage.’ We are living in a moral wilderness and whilst we should certainly seek to be salt and light to our generation, we are not going to change things morally or culturally; our job is to hold onto the truth and to preach the Gospel, which is the means God uses to bring men out of darkness and into His glorious light.

In Verse 7, we read of war in heaven. I wonder what comes into your mind here. Is it something out of King Arthur or Lord of the Rings? Well, that’s fair enough, but I think of Perry Mason; I see a courtroom battle. Satan is the accuser or adversary of mankind. Consider Zech. 3:1. ‘Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”’ We too are brands plucked from the fire. We have fled to Christ for forgiveness and salvation and Satan can no longer accuse us. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). If you are Christ’s today, then He has taken away your guilt on the cross, and has dressed you, like Joshua, like Isaiah, in His own spotless righteousness (Zech 3:4; Isaiah 61:10). ‘Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is he who condemns?’ (Rom. 8:33-4). Michael says, “Satan, you’re out of here! There’s no charge for God’s people to answer. Christ has paid the charge in full.”
So the accuser of the brethren (v.10) has been cast down and can no longer accuse us before God. Although this is a decree of heaven, we can see (v.11) that it is also we who have cast down the dragon. We have done it, yes, by the blood of the Lamb, but also through our testimony. Every time we testify of Christ, Satan suffers another defeat; every tract that is given out advances the kingdom. And every martyr, of whom there are around 150,000 each year, is a mighty victory. ‘And they did not love their lives to the death.’

But although Satan is defeated and cast down to earth, he is filled with rage and malice. Heaven is told to rejoice (v.12), but ‘Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.’ So what should we do? What should our attitude be? Why, we rejoice! We are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). ‘[He] made us alive together with Christ…..and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph 2:5-6). In the eyes of God we are already in heaven, so we rejoice with heaven. 1 Peter 1:6 says, ‘In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.’ Yes, in this world we will have trials and tribulations, but in the light of eternity it is just a little while until Christ will crush Satan under His feet- indeed, He will crush him under our feet (Rom. 16:20), for ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37).
Verses 13-14. ‘Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast down to earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time, times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.’

As we saw (v.6), the woman escapes from the dragon into the wilderness. Here in v.14, she is given the wings of an eagle to flee Satan’s persecutions. We might be reminded of Exodus 19:4 or perhaps of Isaiah 40:31. ‘But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.’ By God’s grace we can soar high above all the trouble that the devil can throw at us. Though we are the heirs of heaven, we have to live for a time in the wilderness of this world, but we shall be nourished and protected from Satan during that period. The time the woman spends in the wilderness is 1260 days; here it is a time, times and half a time- symbolically three and a half years or 42 months (11:2; 13:5). As already discussed {2}, I believe this time represents the Last Days, the Gospel period between the ascension of our Lord and His return. God’s people are in the wilderness all through the Gospel age. ‘Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy’ (1 Peter 4:12-13). Where does three and a half years come from? It comes from the time of Elijah (James 5:17). It was a time of persecution for God’s people, yet God has His own people whom he sustains. ‘Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him’ (1 Kings 19:18).

Verse 15. ‘So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.’

Satan’s hatred of the woman and her seed is still not exhausted. He sends a flood of worldliness, lies and filth after the woman, in the hope of sweeping away God’s people into sin. Do we know anything about this? Of course we do! We see it every time we turn on the newspaper or open a newspaper. But the tide of rubbish doesn’t reach God’s elect so as to sweep them away. The earth swallows it up. The world is more than happy to consume all Satan’s flood, but the true seed, though they may stumble, will never be swept away by the tide of evil. ‘We know that whoever is born of God does not [continue in]{3} sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him’ (1 John 5:18).
So the devil, cheated of his prey, is furious with the woman and has gone to make war with the remnant of her offspring. Who are they? They are true Christians, ‘Who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ’ (v.17). There is no other kind of Christian, so are you seeking to keep God’s commandments and do you have the testimony of Jesus on your lips? If so, you are the object of Satan’s fierce and abiding hatred, and so it is that, ‘All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2 Tim 3:12). And yet we rejoice. ‘Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed, great is your reward in heaven’ (Luke 6:22-23). Satan’s time is short. The Lord is coming, and when He comes we shall receive from Him the stephanos, the garland or crown of victory that the woman was wearing in verse 1 (cf. 2 Tim 4:8), and we shall be seen to be what we already are; ‘More than conquerors through Him who loved us.’

{1} Simon J. Kistermaker, Revelation (Baker Book House, 2001. ISBN 0-8010-2252-5).
{2} See Rev. 11:3 and my comments on it.
{3} The Greek present tense denotes continuous action. That John is not teaching sinless perfection here is evident from 1 John 1:8-10; 2:1-2.


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