Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 12:3–9

Revelation 12:3–9
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. 4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.
5 So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 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.
Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 9 So that huge dragon — the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world — was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.
(NET Bible)

War in heaven!

As a boy I learned my stellar constellations early. My favorites were Orion in winter — because of its bright supergiants named Rigel and Betelgeuse —  and the summer constellation Sagittarius, which looks like a teapot and contains the galactic core of the Milky Way with its vast black hole.

I was also familiar with another constellation near the Big Dipper. It winds sinuously and dimly between the Big and Little Dippers and bears the name Draco, Latin for Dragon. In our brightly lit urban skies, you can hardly see it, but its namesake is our ancient enemy, the Dragon. He is more commonly called Satan.

Greg Beale[1] explains that chapter 12 is the start of most of Revelation’s remaining visions. It reveals that Satan is the driving force behind the persecution of the saints as well as being the one behind the beast, the false prophet and the whore named Babylon.

By now you know that no group of symbol-interpretations meets with universal acceptance, and most of the dispute falls on the identity of the woman (12:1–2). Craig Keener says: “The woman represents Israel or the faithful remnant of Israel. . . . Scholars have found here hints of the story of Eve. God had promised that this woman’s ‘seed’ [Jesus, the Messiah] would ultimately crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), a promise surely echoed in Revelation 12:9, 17.”[2] That identification seems correct to me.

We need not guess the identity of the dragon because John expressly identifies him in 12:9 as “the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan.” Grant Osborne[3] explains that the dragon was a familiar symbol in every ancient culture; indeed, the dragon was a symbol closely associated with demonic powers throughout the ancient world.

Osborne[4] also interprets the “seven heads and ten horns” (12:3) by using the ancient idea that horns symbolized strength, especially military strength. He connects this section with 17:12–14 where the ten horns are explicitly identified as ten kings who give their authority to the beast.

Before trying to destroy the newborn Christ, Satan first led a revolt in heaven, described symbolically in 12:4. Keener says: “Jewish people recognized that Satan’s revolt had long ago led to the fall of many angels (often associated with Gen. 6:2), a view supported by 1 Peter 3:19–22, 2 Peter 2:4.”[5] The rebel Satan and his angelic allies attempt to destroy Jesus at birth (12:4). This may refer to King Herod’s attempt to find and kill the infant Messiah (Matt. 2) by using the wise men to locate him.

In an apparent reference to Jesus’ resurrection, John speaks of Jesus being “caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5) by using the forceful Greek verb harpaz? (“snatch away”).[6]

Rev. 12:6 informs us that a remnant of Israel — others say it is the church — will be preserved in some fashion for the 1260 days (42 months). This would appear to be the same period of time identified for the two witnesses (11:3) to speak out.

By any measure, Rev. 12:7 is one of the more astonishing statements in the Bible: “Then war broke out in heaven.” While the prior verses dealt largely with events on the earth, next we have an expansion of the idea broached in 12:4: “Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth.” Keener[7] informs us that in Revelation stars usually symbolize angels. When Satan rebelled, he took allies down with him.

A more literal translation of 12:8 would be: “No longer was any place found for them [i.e., the dragon and his angels] in heaven.” This is a divine passive! God found no place for Satan and his angels in heaven. The NLT aptly paraphrases, “And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven” (12:8, NLT).

Keener points out: “Satan’s being hurled to the earth ends his position of privilege in God’s court. Ironically, Satan’s loss of ‘place’ ([Greek] topos, 12:8) contrasts starkly with the ‘place’ (topos) of refuge God provides his own people persecuted by Satan (12:6, 14).”[8]

How goes the war?

No, I am not talking about Afghanistan or Iraq; nor do I speak of the dozens of smaller wars now occurring world-wide. Satan has waged total war against God, his people, and you personally from the beginning. Jesus said this about Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).

Remember what Jesus said for our benefit: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage — I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 622–623.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 314–315.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 458.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 460.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 317-318.

[6] This same verb is used in 1 Thess. 4:17 to refer to the believers who will “be suddenly caught up together with them [the dead in Christ, who rise first] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

[7] Keener, Revelation, 317.

[8] Keener, Revelation, 321.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!