All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
The Church is composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Throughout most of this chapter the focus is on the believing Jews of the early days of the Church (the Jerusalem church). After that period of history, the rest of the believers of the Church age come into the picture in the last verse of this chapter (alluded to in vs. 6). What mostly takes place in this chapter is a matter of history. However, what we see in verse 17 continues throughout the duration of the Church age, from Pentecost to the return of Christ.
Prominent in the book of Revelation is, the persecution of God’s people. I believe the purpose of this chapter is to reveal what or who is behind it all. The “what or who” is revealed to be Satan, the deceiver and god of the world (2 Cor 4:3-4). The reason Christians are hated and persecuted so much in the world, is because people are being influenced by Satan and his demonic army. He hates God and he hates Christians and he hates the truth, and so he attacks it with everything he’s allowed, and he does that through people – haters of Christ, haters of Christianity. In the process, Satan is destroying the very people he uses to destroy Christians (physically). They believe his lies about Christ, and while they’re destroying Christians (physical persecution), they unwittingly are destroying themselves — for all eternity.
The “war in Heaven” (vs. 7), Satan’s defeat and his being cast down to earth, took place before the creation of mankind — but I believe it’s used in this chapter as a picture or a parallel to his “fall” of defeat that occurred at the cross when Christ accomplished His work of redemption for mankind. It’s used to symbolize his defeat and fall when Christ accomplished all that He came to do. That’s what we see in this chapter. It’s the only reasonable way to explain the context in which it’s presented.
Therefore, what we see in this chapter, is the warfare between light and darkness, between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan. This helps us to correctly interpret the next chapter (chapter 13).
1 And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars;
I believe Genesis 37:9-11 gives us the identity of this “woman,” which is Israel, the “twelve stars” being the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel), and the sun and moon being the parents. However, this is not to be understood as national Israel, but as believing Israel or spiritual Israel, Jews who share the faith of Abraham (Ro 4:13-16; 9:6-8). We have to keep in mind as we’re going through this book, that this is a Christian book, not a Jewish book. We see in this chapter both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. We see believing Jews (of the early years of the Church) from this verse all the way to the last verse, where we see believing Gentiles in verse 17. Both make up the Church in Christ. This also helps to confirm the identity of the “temple of God” and “two witnesses” of chapter 11, as being the Church (Rev 11:1-4).
2 and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered.
NET – 12:2 She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth.
Because of the description given of this child in verse 5, this has to be referring to the birth of Christ. Jesus came through the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — who are the corporate heads of believing Israel (true Israel). Or more accurately, “sub-heads,” since Christ is the true corporate Head of His people, the Church (true Israel).
3 And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems.
NET – 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns.
“great red dragon”
Verse 9 plainly states that this dragon is Satan, who was once an angel of Heaven and served in the presence of God.
The “seven heads” and “ten horns” and “seven diadems” (diadem crowns) refer to Satan’s world domain and influence. This will be dealt with in detail when we get to chapters 13 and 17.
4 And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child.
NASB – 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
“third part of the stars of heaven”
These “stars” are angels (vs. 9), who became demons. Both Satan (vs 9) and his demonic army were cast out of Heaven because of their rebellion against God. That is why they’re referred to as “fallen angels.” They fell from both a right standing with God, and out of Heaven itself (Gen 3:1-5; Ez 28:12-19).
The actual casting out of Satan and his fellow rebellious angels, occurred before man was created. While that is certainly in view in this passage (verses 4-13), it serves as a picture or a type here. There’s a spiritual parallel that took place when Christ accomplished His work of redemption for sinful man, and it’s that aspect that’s primarily in view in these verses. We have to remember that Revelation is a book characterized by symbolism, and this passage is no exception. I will talk about this as we go through this verse by verse.
We’ve seen throughout this book, that “third part” is not to be taken literally. I believe it’s more that it represents a smaller number than the whole, and not an exact amount. Therefore, how many angels were expelled from Heaven is unknown, but we do know that it must be a very great number for them to have so much influence in the world (Eph 6:10-12).
“devour her child”
Satan tried to “devour” Jesus through Herod when he killed all the male children in the whole region of Bethlehem, from two years old and under (Matt 2:16), with the hope that Jesus would be one of them.
5 And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne.
The description of this child is so unmistakably of Christ, I don’t know how anyone can entertain any other interpretation.
While Christ rules now in the kingdom of His Church, here it does not refer to that. Here it refers to His judgment (‘rod of iron”) upon the world when He returns (Rev 19:11-15), as Ruler of the universe.
“caught up unto God, and unto his throne”
Quite clearly, this refers to Christ’s ascension into Heaven to sit upon His throne at the “right hand of God” (Acts 1:9; Acts 2:31-35; Ro 8:34; 1 Cor 15:25; Col 3:1; He 10:12; 1 Pet 3:22) after His resurrection. Here, this does refer to Christ’s reign over His Church. He reigns now as our King and Great Shepherd, but He will return to “rule – judge” this world (Rev 11:18; 16:12-21; 19:11-18; 20:7-10). A parallel passage is Daniel 7:13-14:
NASB – 13 “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14) [see Acts 1:9]
James Burton Coffman on Daniel 7:13-14 (bold mine):
This paragraph somewhat out of chronological sequence relates to the setting up or the establishment of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note the statement that he was brought near unto God (the Ancient of Days) “with the clouds of heaven,” corresponding exactly with the facts related in the New Testament, that upon Christ’s ascension to the Father to receive the kingdom that he was taken up “with the clouds of heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). Keil and other usually dependable scholars are mistaken in their view that “coming with the clouds of heaven” indicates Christ’s coming down from heaven to earth. We are sure that the words refer to Christ’s “coming with the clouds of heaven” is a reference not to the Second Coming, but to His Ascension to heaven “to receive the kingdom.”
“One like unto a son of man …” This expression should be capitalized. “Son of Man,” by far and away Jesus’ favorite title for himself, simply cannot refer to anyone else who ever lived. See extensive discussion of this title under John 1:51 in this series of Commentaries.
The problem encountered by the position of this paragraph relates to the fact that it appears that Christ received the kingdom only after the total and final destruction of the world kingdoms. However, the placement of this paragraph cannot indicate the chronological sequence of the event of Jesus’ receiving the everlasting kingdom. Daniel 7:9-12 merely indicate the fact of the vision’s continuing until the time of the judgment and the destruction of the four beasts. These verses do not teach that all of the world powers were destroyed before Christ’s kingdom was established.
Daniel 7:13-14 simply announce the establishment of Christ’s kingdom with no word whatever of exactly when this magnificent achievement took place. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 states categorically that at the time of Christ’s giving that commission, “All authority in heaven and upon earth” were at that time in the possession of Christ. Without this light from the New Testament, it would be difficult to discern this. Daniel 2:44, however, which is parallel to the visions here and must be consulted in connection with the interpretation, makes it very plain that the kingdom was to be established “in the days of those kings,” not in the days after the kings were destroyed.
So we see that the Kingdom of Christ began after He ascended into Heaven and sat down upon His throne of authority. Again, it should be clear to anyone without a positional bias that this passage of Rev 12 is about Jesus and His ruling authority.
6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
NET – 12:6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.
“thousand two hundred and threescore days” (1260 days)
I believe this is an allusion to the forty years of wilderness of the children of Israel (Num 14; Acts 7:36-44). Though Old Testament Israel was in the wilderness because of their unbelief and rebellion, God, nevertheless, provided for them. Here believing Jews of the early Church are in their own “wilderness,” which refers to the world. The “1260 days” is symbolic for the whole course of the Church age (see commentary Rev 11:2), where all believers are alluded to here, and are provided for by God. As our Father, He takes care of His children. Though this life be full of trials and tribulations, God sustains us throughout our lives till we enter His glorious presence.
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels;
8 and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9 And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.
Satan and his demonic army rebelled against God and fought with Michael and the other faithful angels, and were defeated. What this war was actually like, no one can say. But the point is, they were defeated and cast out of Heaven to “earth,” among mankind (Eph 6:11-12; 1 Pet 5:8). Though this event occurred before the creation of mankind, I believe this vision brings it forward to depict their total defeat by the work of Christ upon the cross. Satan, who has the power of death, the power of death has been broken (He 2:14) through Christ and the eternal life that He provides.
Satan has the power of death in the sense that sin and death (physical and spiritual) entered the world through his temptation of Eve and Adam (and their fall). Furthermore, until we’re born-again, we dwell in the kingdom of Satan — the domain of darkness and blindness (Col 1:13; 2 Cor 4:3-4; Acts 26:18; 2 Ti 2:25-26). As ruler of his kingdom, he “deceives the whole world” (Rev 13:14; 20:7-10) with the darkness of his lies. Deception is our death (spiritual) until our spiritual eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit to the truth (1 Cor 2:12-14), and the response of faith to that truth.
I feel that I need to keep repeating this, that, as we go through this chapter, we have keep in mind that this “war in Heaven” occurred before the creation of mankind, but since it’s in the context of Christ and His Church, that event is used here in this passage to symbolize Satan’s defeat through the “blood of the Lamb” (vs. 11). It serves as a picture of his defeat that was to occur at the cross. Sin and death entered the world through his temptation of Eve, but forgiveness of sin and eternal life come through faith in Christ for what He did for us upon the cross.
Satan’s ultimate defeat will be when God casts him (and his host of demons) into the eternal lake of fire, where he will never again deceive the world (Rev 20:10).
10 And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying, Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night.
“Now is come”
Refers to the time of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to His throne in Heaven. This marked the beginning of His reign over His Kingdom, with the “authority” that was given to Him (Matt 28:18-20). The Kingdom of Christ is now over His Church, which includes those in Heaven. Christ’s kingdom continues into the Eternal Kingdom of the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1) where He will co-reign with His Father (Rev 22:1-5). Christ’s Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
Christ’s work upon the cross defeated Satan, which is depicted by his fall from Heaven, his being “cast down.”
“for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night.”
(Job 1 & 2 ; Zech 3) (Ro 8:33-34)
While this certainly pertains to all believers in Christ, it seems clear that believing Jews of the early Church are primarily still in view. We don’t see a focus on the rest of the Church age believers until we get to verse 17. Therefore, “our brethren” primarily refers to believing Israel, and I think Zech 3 confirms that. There, Satan stands as an “adversary” against Israel, which is represented by Joshua, the High Priest. The accusations are not given, but the indication is, he finds fault with Israel as the people of God, which are no doubt true. However, God’s response to him indicates that he wasn’t fully aware of the ultimate plan of God for Israel, that it would have its fulfillment in Christ and continue in the Church as a spiritual nation. Thus his accusations against God’s people had to cease at the cross, which is part of what’s in view with his being “cast down.” Apparently, before the cross, Satan continuously (“day and night”) brought charges against Israel to show their unworthiness as the chosen people of God. What he evidently did not see, is that God Himself in Christ would fulfill all that Israel was called to be. At that point, charges could no longer be brought against God’s people of Israel who are in Christ. He was no longer allowed to approach God is such a manner – being “cast down.”
An alternate interpretation of Zech 3, is that Satan actually was aware that Christ would come through the line of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) as the Redeemer, providing salvation for the world. Being aware of that, he continuously brought charges against Israel as being unworthy of what God wanted to accomplish through them. Either way, whether Satan understood the plan of God regarding Israel or not, he brought charges against them continuously. Again, once Jesus accomplished the plan of God, the accusations had to cease.
It should be noted that while Satan’s accusations were apparently normally directed to God’s people overall, there were occasions where he brought accusations against specific individuals, as the account of Job reveals. I don’t include Joshua the High Priest, because in his case, he represented all Israel.
Considering our text about Satan being “cast down to earth” from before the creation of man, I need to note that it’s highly unlikely that Satan was actually allowed to go back into Heaven before God (with his accusations), as many Bible teachers believe. I believe he approached God the same way we do, from where we’re at on earth, in the form of prayer. Thus Satan was simply speaking to God as we would. In regard to the account of Job and Joshua, it’s quite possible, if not likely, that God appeared on earth as the pre-incarnate Christ (Gen 18:1-3; 32:24-30; Jud 13:3-6,20; Jud 6:21-22), and that is how Satan approached him. But in no way should we interpret Satan as going back into Heaven into the very presence of God from where he was cast out.
11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.
While everyone in Christ overcomes Satan, I believe the focus is still on the believing Jews of the early Jerusalem church. We have to recognize that at this point in time, we were in transition from Old Testament to New Testament, Old Covenant to New Covenant, and it was the Jews of the nation of Israel who were primarily in focus at that time.
This continues to show Satan’s defeat. This whole passage is about His defeat by the blood that Jesus shed on behalf of the world. We “overcome” Satan through faith in Christ. The saved and unsaved alike are in a spiritual battle with the powers of darkness, but we have “victory in Jesus.”
“because of the word of their testimony”
With believing Israel still in view, this refers to the persecution that the early Church experienced (Acts 8:1), which consisted primarily of believing Jews at that time. However, throughout this book, we see all Christians “overcoming” by our confession of Christ as Lord and Saviour. Through faith in Him, with our eyes on eternity, we cling to our profession of faith in Christ in the midst of persecution.
12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.
The devil was defeated and cast out of Heaven and “down” to earth before man was created, but this is not speaking of that event. No, in context, the language here is figurative, with that event in view. His “going down” refers to his fall of defeat at the cross, and his response of “great wrath” against mankind. In other words, his fall is equated to going down. Just as he fell from Heaven when he was defeated by God’s angelic army, so is his defeat at the cross depicted by that fall.
Knowing that he has been defeated, knowing that his plan of preventing man’s salvation has failed, Satan is full of wrath to try and deceive and prevent as many individuals as possible from obtaining salvation through Christ, knowing that he has such a “short time” to do it in. He does that through false religion (which is prominent in this book), materialism, power, the pleasures of the world, etc.
“Short time” refers to the entire Church age up to the return of Christ. “Short time” is relevant to eternity. Also, this is from Satan’s point of view. As a spirit, it’s highly likely that he’s not affected by time in the same way we are.
13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast down to the earth, he persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child.
When Jesus accomplished His work of redemption for mankind at the cross, and Satan realized he had been defeated, he persecuted the “woman,” which was believing Israel who “gave birth” to Christ. The early Church experienced much persecution in Jerusalem, and so they scattered into the regions of the Gentiles, as the book of Acts details — beginning in chapter 8.
14 And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
NET – 12:14 But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of – away from the presence of the serpent – for a time, times, and half a time.
“a time, and times, and half a time”
(See commentary on Rev 11:2)
This refers to 3.5 years. This is the same as 42 months (Rev 11:2; 13:5) and 1260 days (vs. 6; Rev 11:3). They are all symbolic for the entire Church age, up to the return of Christ.
As we already talked about, the “wilderness” refers to the world. The “time, and times, and half a time,” is symbolic for the whole Christian era up to the time Jesus returns. God nourishes His people spiritually throughout this time. Though the Church consists of both believing Jews and Gentiles, believing Jews are still in view here. The Church has its beginning in Jerusalem, and that is what this chapter is primarily focused on. It’s a matter of history that we’re seeing here. Following the persecution of the believing Jews in Jerusalem, we see the focus switch to all the world, as verse 17 shows.
15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream.
16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
NET – 12:15 Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood,
12:16 but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth.
This, of course, is all figurative language for God’s protection over believing Israel in the early years of the Church. Persecution didn’t reduce the numbers of Christians, instead it caused the gospel of Christ to spread even more as Christians fled Jerusalem to live among the Gentiles, as we see in the very next verse:
17 And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus.
NET – 12:17 So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus. And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.
The “rest of her seed” (“children”) refers to all other believers throughout the Church age from the time of the Jerusalem persecution. True believers are those who “keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus.” That’s what true faith in Christ looks like. Faith is characterized by faithfulness. All believers are of the spiritual seed (children) of Abraham, who is the Father of us all (Ro 4:16; Ro 9:6-8; Ga 3:16,29). We are children of Abraham through our shared faith in Christ.
So then, after the initial persecution of believing Jews of the early Church, Satan turned his attention to all other believers throughout the entire world, which continues to this day, and will continue until Christ returns.