SYNOPSIS – The vision of the “Dragon” persecuting the “seed of the Woman” represents Satan’s present “war” against the saints of God – Revelation 12:1-17.
In Chapter 12 of the book of Revelation, a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman “arrayed with the sun and the moon beneath her feet.” She was in labor pains. The description borrows language from the dream of the Patriarch, Joseph, in which he saw the sun, the moon, and eleven stars rendering homage to him. The stars represented the twelve tribes of Israel paying homage to the twelfth star, that is, to Joseph (Genesis 37:9, Revelation 12:1-5).
This Woman represents the people of God. Elsewhere, the number twelve is associated with the saints, the redeemed people of the Lamb. The woman symbolizes the covenant community of God from both the Old and New Testament eras (Revelation 7:4-8, 21:12-14).
Her labor pains portray the persecution of the covenant community, both in the era before the birth of her messianic “Son,” and the one inaugurated by him. The images of her “labor pains” and her “offspring” have the promise made to Adam and Eve in view, along with a prophecy from the book of Isaiah:
- (Genesis 3:15-16) – “I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your pain and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children.”
- (Isaiah 7:10-14) – “A sign…in the height above…a sign, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son.”
Likewise, in this passage, John saw a “great sign in the heaven, a woman…with child…and she brought forth a son.”
John then saw a second “sign,” a “great red dragon” with “seven heads and ten horns” poised to “devour” the Woman’s “child” as soon as she gave birth. The description links the “Dragon” to the fourth beast from the sea from the book of Daniel, a creature that also had “ten horns” and “devoured.” In Daniel, that beast represented a political power that persecuted God’s people (“The little horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them” – Daniel 7:21, 7:7-8, Revelation 13:1-4, 13:7).
The Woman gave birth to a “son, a male, who is going to shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron; and her child was seized toward God and toward his throne.” Two Old Testament passages are alluded to in Verse 5. First, the shepherd who is to rule the nations is a messianic promise from Psalm 2:7-9 (“You are my Son…You will break them with a rod of iron”).
Second, the “Woman” brought forth a “son, a male,” a description derived from Isaiah 66:7 where “Zion,” a female figure, “brought forth a male.” (Septuagint – eteken arsen). To this latter clause, the book of Revelation adds the noun “son” or huios, which links both Old Testament passages to the present verse – What was promised in the past era finds fulfillment in the birth of the Woman’s “child.”
This messianic psalm was used previously to promise that overcoming believers will participate in Christ’s rule over the nations, a position he “received of my Father.” It is applied to Jesus again when he is portrayed as a “Rider on a White Horse” who is appointed to “shepherd the nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 2:27, 19:15).
The “son” born of the Woman is none other than the Messiah who came from the covenant community. The identification is made explicit when a loud voice proclaims – “Now has come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” (Revelation 12:10).
The Dragon’s attempt to destroy the messianic “son” backfires. This attack occurred at his execution on a Roman cross, not at Christ’s physical birth, or when King Herod slaughtered the male children of Bethlehem. By resurrecting Jesus, God turned Satan’s effort on its head, and the death of the Son became his victory over the “Dragon.” Upon his “birth,” the “son is seized toward God and His throne.” Elsewhere, Christ’s installment on God’s Throne is linked to his sacrificial death (Revelation 1:4-5, 3:21, 5:5-10).
The Woman’s flight into the Wilderness evokes images from Israel’s escape from Egypt. Following the exaltation of the “son,” the covenant community begins another exodus in the “Wilderness.” His victory does NOT mean the removal of the “Woman” or God’s people from the earth. Instead, He provides protection and “nourishment…in the Wilderness” (Revelation 12:6).
John next saw a “war in heaven,” a pictorial representation of the “heavenly battle” that lies behind events on the earth.
A much larger conflict is transpiring behind the scenes, which is not readily apparent to individual saints and congregations. It manifests on the earth in the attempts by the Dragon through his earthly allies to deceive and persecute the church; most immediately, in the daily struggles of the seven churches of Asia against apostasy, false teachers, false accusers, and persecution by local authorities (Revelation 12:7-12).
The “loud voice heard in heaven” interprets the vision. It declares Satan’s defeat because of the victory the Son achieved by his Death and Resurrection. The Devil lost his legal basis to accuse the saints before God; therefore, they have been declared “not guilty” in the heavenly court; they are exempt from the “second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:6).
With the victory of the Messiah, Satan’s traditional role as the accuser came to an end. His ultimate defeat is assured but he is not yet out of the fight. With his expulsion from the “courts” of heaven, he assumes the role of the deceiver of the world, the one “who is deceiving the whole habitable earth” (Compare – Job 1:9, 2:5, Zechariah 3:1-2, Luke 10:18).
A voice declared “woe” to the earth and the sea because the Devil had come down “having great fury.” Note well – This warning is to the “earth and the sea,” not to the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth.” It pictures the Dragon’s impending attacks against the saints. The Greek noun rendered “fury” (thumos) is a different one than the term rendered “wrath” elsewhere in the book (orgé).
In the book of Revelation, “wrath” is directed against the “inhabitants of the earth” at the instigation of God or the Lamb, not the Devil. In contrast, Satan’s “fury” or thumos is unleashed gainst the saints (Revelation 6:1-8, 8:5-9:21,11:7, 13:7-10, 16:1-21).
(Revelation 12:13-17) – “And when the Dragon saw that he was cast to the earth, he pursued the Woman who had brought forth the male. And there were given to the Woman the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly into the Wilderness to her place where she is nourished a time, times half a time from the face of the Serpent. And the Serpent cast out of his mouth water like a river after the Woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. And the earth helped the Woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river that the Dragon cast out of his mouth. And the Dragon was angered against the woman and went away to make war with the rest of her Seed, with them who were keeping the commandments of God and holding the testimony of Jesus.”
The Dragon is enraged – He is unable to destroy the Son. His final defeat is assured, and he knows he has only a “short time” remaining to inflict destruction. He vents his rage by persecuting the Woman, not the unsaved “inhabitants of the earth.”
God’s “nourishing” of the Woman alludes to the story of Yahweh feeding Israel in the wilderness with “manna.” Jesus previously promised to give “hidden manna” to saints who “overcame.” God sustains the woman through the persecuting activities of the Dragon. The “two wings of the eagle” is an allusion to the Exodus story where Yahweh declared to Israel, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bare you on eagles’ wings” (Exodus 16:15-35, 19:3-4, Revelation 2:17, 11:1-2).
The reference to the “Serpent” is a verbal link t0 the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden when she was “deceived” by the Serpent. The image of the “Serpent casting water like a river out of his mouth” does not refer to literal floodwaters but, instead, to the flood of deception Satan poured out against the Woman (Genesis 3:13).
The churches of Asia experienced deceptive onslaughts from the Nicolaitans, the “false apostles,” “Jezebel,” and the “doctrines of Balaam.” In each case, the attack was associated with Satan: the “synagogue of Satan,” the “throne of Satan,” and the “deep things of Satan” (Revelation 2:2, 2:9, 2:13-14, 2:20-24, 3:9).
But God intervened to thwart the Serpent’s assault against the Woman. Enraged further, he turned his fury against the “rest of the Woman’s seed, to make war with them who were keeping the commandments of God and holding the testimony of Jesus.”
“To make war with them” is a clause from Daniel 7:21 where the “Little Horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them.” It is also a verbal link to the “Two Witnesses” against whom the Beast from the Abyss “made war with them, overcome them, and slay them” (Revelation 11:7).
The description at the end of Chapter 12 forms a transition to the next section. The story of the “Beast from the Sea” in the next chapter provides a more detailed picture of this onslaught against the Woman’s “seed.” It is also another link to the previous attack against the “Two Witnesses” by the “Beast from the Abyss.” That is, the three images portray certain aspects of the same set of events – All three visions are closely related (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:1-10).
The saints who make up the “rest of the Woman’s seed” are those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.” This clause is a link to the martyrs seen under the altar when the Lamb opened the fifth seal (“Who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had”). They were told they must wait until the full number of their brethren “who were going to be slain as even they” were gathered in by God. (Revelation 12:17).The Woman’s “
seed” represents the saints who follow the Lamb and, consequently, suffer persecution. They are identified with Jesus because they have the “testimony of Jesus.” This company is not Israel or a group of ethnic Jews, although many individuals among their number will be of Israelite descent.The war against the woman’s “seed” includes several verbal links to other passages in Revelation where the Devil or his agents wage war against followers of Jesus, who are described variously as “saints,” the “two witnesses,” and they who have the “testimony of Jesus.”
In short, the vision of the Dragon persecuting the “seed of the Woman” represents Satan’s ongoing “war” against the saints of God, the men and women redeemed from every nation by the Lamb. This group is comprised of individuals who have overcome the Dragon by the “blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives unto death” (Revelation 12:11). God vindicates their overcoming faith, not by removing them from the earth, but by sustaining them through the onslaughts of the Dragon.