Go to Verse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
This is the central chapter of the book of Revelation, thematically.
This chapter does not flow in strict chronological order, but is arranged as a chiasm.
Diagram of the literary structure of this chapter
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.
"And there appeared a great wonder"
The discussion of the seven trumpets being completed, we now turn to a new scene.
The first half of this chapter is presented from a heavenly perspective, the last half from an earthly perspective.
A woman in prophecy represents a church. In several places in both the Old and New Testaments the church is symbolized as a woman.
Revelation chapter 12 gives an overview of the history of the church.
"Clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet"
The sun and the moon are the "two great lights" which God has set in heaven "to give light upon the earth." Genesis 1:16, 17. They are two sources of light to the world.
The greater light, the sun, represents Jesus Himself, the Sun of righteousness. Malachi 4:2. The church, here pictured as being "clothed" with the sun, has "put on Christ," "the Lord our righteousness." Galatians 3:27; Jeremiah 23:6. "For he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness." Isaiah 61:10. See comments on Revelation 3:18.
The lesser light, the moon, does not generate light of itself, but only reflects the light of the sun. Since the woman is depicted as standing on the moon, the moon symbolizes the foundation on which the church stands. Paul tells us that the "household of God" is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." Ephesians 2:19, 20. The prophets, as the lesser light, transmit to the church the testimony of Jesus, which is the word of God.
"And upon her head a crown of twelve stars"
"And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land." Zechariah 9:16.
In Genesis 37:9 and 10, Joseph dreamed that each of his eleven brothers was a star. Thus the twelve sons of Jacob and their tribes made up a "crown" of twelve stars -- God's chosen messengers. In Revelation 12:1 this crown of election is seen to be resting now upon the Church.
At the gates of the the New Jerusalem stand twelve angels. Remember that angels are symbolized in prophecy as stars. These gates have "names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel." Revelation 21:12. All who enter the New Jerusalem are therefore identified with one of the twelve tribes.
The lesson is that the church has inherited the position of the descendants of Jacob as God's chosen messengers.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
Based on the additional identifying information given in verses 4 and 5, we see Jesus introduced here as the child of the woman. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law." Galatians 4:4.
Addressing the serpent in the garden of Eden, the Lord God gave the
most important background verse
for the book of Revelation when He said,
|"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Genesis 3:15
Genesis 3:15 is unpacked in Revelation 12 which, being the central chapter of the book, summarizes the entire Revelation.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
"A great red dragon"
Chapter 12 is the transition point between the first and second halves of the book of Revelation. The second half of the book deals much with this dragon, which is introduced here for the first time. This dragon is identified in verse 9 as Satan.
Overview of the dragon's five attacks in this chapter
"Having seven heads"
|Ugaritic myths from ancient Canaan featured a seven-headed sea serpent or dragon by the name of Lotan who personified evil and was slain by Baal. The biblical word Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1) is the Hebrew equivalent. In Psalm 74:14 Leviathan has "heads" (plural). Sumerian literature featured a seven-headed serpent, mus-sag-imin, and the Old Akkadian seven-tongued serpent, hubullu may also have had seven heads. The image on the right is a Sumerian carving of a seven-headed monster. Many pagan cultures have multiple-headed dragons or serpents in their ancient traditions. See photos of seven-headed dragons in southeast Asia. The dragon has thus become a common symbol of paganism itself.
The seven heads of Revelation's dragon represent the various earthly powers through which Satan has sought to hold dominion over men. An attempt to identify these heads is found in comments on Revelation 17:9, 10. Each of these heads becomes a manifestation of the dragon. This means that not only Satan himself, but also the earthly powers through which he works, can be represented in prophecy under the symbol of "the dragon."
"The dragon figured among the military ensigns of the Assyrians. Cyrus caused it to be adopted by the Persians and Medes. Under the Roman emperors, and under the emperors of Byzantium, each cohort or centuria bore for an ensign a dragon" (Salverte, Des Sciences Occultes, Appendix, Note A, p. 486).
"And ten horns"
We first saw ten horns in Daniel chapter 7. A study of that chapter shows them to be the various nations into which the Roman Empire was absorbed. Being on the head of the fourth beast, the horns were actually the continuation of that empire in a new, divided or diversified form. Those who identify Revelation's dragon with the fourth beast in Daniel would also equate their horns. Rome, as one manifestation of the dragon, does in fact play an important role in this chapter.
It appears, however, that a better comparison for this dragon is the beast of Revelation 17. In that case, the time context of chapter 17 would rule out any identification of these horns with those of Daniel 7.
"And seven crowns upon his heads"
The Greek word for "crown" here is diadem, a kingly crown, as opposed to the stephanos crown on the woman's head in verse one. These diadems confirm the dragon's heads to represent world-controlling governments.
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth"
Revelation 12 is a war story. Here we see the first of Satan's five attacks. Verses 7-9 describe this war in heaven and its outcome: Satan was cast out of heaven, and his angels were cast out with him.
Here we find that Satan actually drew one-third of heaven's angels with him. "Stars" symbolize "angels" (Revelation 1:20). One third of God's angels became the messengers of Satan. These are the evil spirits, devils, or demons, mentioned in Scripture.
"And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born"
Satan's second attack was aimed at Jesus Himself. Matthew 2:16 tells of how Satan attempted to destroy Jesus soon after He was born. Satan worked through Herod who ruled under the authority of Rome. Rome, therefore, is the immediate application of the term "dragon."
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
"Who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron"
Here is a preview of the scene described in Revelation 19:15.
"And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne"
This is "Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." 1 Peter 3:21, 22.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
"And the woman fled"
Unable to destroy Jesus, the dragon now turns his efforts toward destroying the church. This is the dragon's third attack.
"Into the wilderness"
"Wilderness" suggests a desolate place away from the centers of civilization. The fact that she is fleeing indicates that the church is the target of persecution.
"Where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there"
This reminds us of how God provided for Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1-16.
"A thousand two hundred and threescore days"
In the chiastic structure of Revelation 12, this verse parallels verse 14. There the time period is given as "a time, and times, and half a time", which is the same designation used in Daniel 7:25 as the period allotted for the supremacy of the little horn. (See all seven Biblical references to this period and a historical explanation.) This verse, then, is describing the persecution of God's true church during the middle ages. See verse 14 for additional information.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
This chapter is arranged topically rather than chronologically. Verse seven begins the third section of the chapter's chiasm.
Sin first orginated in the mind of Lucifer, who was the first and highest created being. Read about his rebellion in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19.
Michael is not a created being. He can be none other than the divine Son of God. See the evidence.
Here is described the beginning of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
"Now is come salvation and strength"
Because of Jesus' victory on earth, the success of the plan of salvation is assured.
"The kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ"
Verses 10 and 11 are Revelation's thematic pinnacle. As we examine these two verses, please take time to read the Greek definitions of key words found here. Notice the judicial context of the passage. Here we discover the essential issue in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. It's first about the kingship of our God and the authority of his Christ. That's what Satan has challenged, and that's what the cross and the judgment confirm.
"The accuser of our brethren"
This expression reveals Satan's primary purpose. He is not presented here as the accuser of our God, but as the accuser of our brethren. When Joshua the high priest (representing the people) stood in filthy garments before the angel of the Lord (Zechariah 3:1), Satan stood at his right hand to accuse him. Day and night he accuses the brethren, claiming that since they have transgressed the law they are his rightful subjects.
And so, the judgment is set and the books are opened (Daniel 7:9, 10) to see whose side we are on. For more information read Why the Judgement?
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
"They overcame him"
Definition of "overcame" in this context.
Here is seen the outcome of the heavenly court proceedings. The verdict is established in the judgment on two points of evidence:
"By the blood of the Lamb"
We are the subjects of Christ because He purchased us by His blood.
"And by the word of their testimony"
Jesus paid the price for everyone's redemption. But not everyone chooses to be His subject. Since both God and Satan honor our free will, only those who have personally chosen to serve Christ really belong to Him. By an examination of our lives it is readily seen who we have chosen to serve. This becomes the deciding evidence in the case.
Here is a literal paraphrase of verses 10 and 11, the ultimate message of the book of Revelation:
"Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingship of our God, and the authority of His Christ.... For the one who has placed formal, criminal charges against the brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they came off superior in the legal case by the blood of the Lamb, and by the judicial evidence presented."
"And they loved not their lives unto the death"
Put to the ultimate test, God's people demonstrate their loyalty to God.
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
"Two wings of a great eagle"
This verse reminds us of Exodus 19:4 where God said to Israel, "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself." It appears that eagles' wings are symbolic of God's providential and often miraculous leading.
During the middle ages, the church of Rome was intolerant of any individual or religious group that did not conform to Catholic teachings or submit to papal authority. Such individuals were either killed or forced into submission, or they fled "into the wilderness". Notable among these were the Waldenses.
"Behind the lofty bulwarks of the mountains--in all ages the refuge of the persecuted and oppressed--the Waldenses found a hiding place. Here the light of truth was kept burning amid the darkness of the Middle Ages. Here, for a thousand years, witnesses for the truth maintained the ancient faith." E. G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 65, 66.
"A time, and times, and half a time"
Clearly a reference to a prophetic period, this expression applies to the 1260 years from A.D. 538 to 1798, during which the papacy held supremacy in Europe. Compare similar texts.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
Here is the dragon's fourth attack. During the Dark Ages, Satan had attempted to completely extinguish the flicker of Biblical light. When the Protestant Reformation swept Europe, Satan knew his third attack had failed. Now he faced a new challenge.
Water dilutes a solution. And excessive water makes a flood. The dragon's only chance of countering the Reformation was to dilute it and issue forth such a neutralizing current that truth would be carried away with the tide.
It worked. The maturing Protestant movement quickly lost its vital force, as illustrated in Christ's words to the church of Sardis, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Revelation 3:1. Once new creeds were set in place, doctrinal advancement screeched to a near halt.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
"The earth helped the woman"
Church growth specialists remind us that the life cycle of a typical organization or movement follows an Incline, Recline, Decline pattern. Incline describes the growth of an advancing movement that is mission-focused and future-oriented. Recline occurs when the emphasis shifts from advancement to maintenance, from mission to management. Once this happens, the only way to prevent Decline is to raise the sights to new goals, new challenges, and new advancement.
It would have been difficult for the Reformation to continue its advance while based in traditionalism-steeped Europe. The Reformation needed a new frontier, a new land where other forgotten truths could be rediscovered.
"Water" as a prophetic symbol, signifies people (Revelation 17:15). The "sea" symbolizes the Old World, where many "peoples and multitudes, and nations and tongues" have "gathered together" (Compare Genesis 1:10, KJV). The "earth," by contrast, is Revelation's designation for the vast, empty frontiers opening up in North America in the 17th to 19th centuries. Here was a land where truth could advance unmolested by the dragon.
The arrival in America of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620 marked the beginning of America's role as a haven for religiously oppressed and persecuted peoples. The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and the Statue of Liberty, all illustrate the freedom for which America stands. The "earth" was helping the "woman".
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
In context, this verse is to be applied after the Dark Ages of persecution (verses 13, 14), and after the establishment of the United States as a haven of refuge (verses 15, 16). Now, the dragon's fifth attack is against the "remnant" of Christ's church.
"And the dragon was wroth with the woman"
Here is fulfilled God's word to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." Genesis 3:15.
"And went to make war"
This is the same word that described the beginning of Satan's rebellion in heaven (verse 7). War is the theme of this chapter. We call it "the great controversy." It is Satan's struggle for supremacy.
"With the remnant of her seed"
A "remnant" is the last remaining part of something. Here it designates Christ's church in the last days.
"Which keep the commandments of God"
"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey." Romans 6:16. The final conflict in the controversy between Christ and Satan is here played out. The issue is "whom ye will serve". When the laws of man contradict the commandments of God, our loyalty will be demonstrated by whose law we obey.
The dragon's war against the remnant, thumbnailed here, is described in detail in Revelation 13:11-17. There we will meet with human legislation that will bring a test to the whole world because it causes people to violate God's law. In the context of that test, the true people of God will be distinguished by firm adherence to God's Commandments.
"And have the testimony of Jesus Christ"
Revelation 19:10 explains that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
In that same verse the angel says, "I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus." He later clarified, "I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets." Revelation 22:9.
Speaking of "the prophets," Peter explains how "the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified" (1 Peter 1:10, 11). Thus the prophetic manifestation of the Spirit is called "the testimony of Jesus" and "the spirit of prophecy." According to Revelation 12:17, this is a gift the remnant are to possess.
The Bible speaks of prophets in our day.
We have, therefore, two distinguishing characteristics of Christ's church in the last days: (1) They keep all of God's commandments in spite of the dragon's threats, and (2) there exists among them a manifestation of the gift of prophecy. This picture of the remnant matches the description of the church in its early days. Compare the two. This comparison reinforces the chapter's mirror structure.