Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 12:10–14

Revelation 12:10–14
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down. 11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore you heavens rejoice, and all who reside in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you! He is filled with terrible anger, for he knows that he only has a little time!”
13 Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 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.
(NET Bible)

One awesome war!

Many a young man has stood in football gear, breathing hard after wind sprints, while his coach solemnly intones: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” If you had been watching and listening closely, you might have heard a smaller player in the back mutter between gasps, “Yeah, or they die!” [That may have been my  voice.]

In the midst of the great tribulation, the going gets very tough indeed. But those committed to Christ keep on obeying him and testifying about him. And, yes, many of them die.

It is not so clear when the war in heaven, whose outcome is celebrated in Rev. 12:10–12, took place. Presumably, we can say that if the timing were important to us, then we would have been told. Heartened by the defeat of Satan, believers will become overcomers “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11), and they will demonstrate this by bearing witness to Christ even when it costs their lives.

Victory in heaven brings rejoicing there, but heaven’s gain comes at the cost of the earth which must mourn and bear the rage of the fallen devil (12:12). Grant Osborne says: “In the OT heaven and earth are normally called on to rejoice together (Ps. 96.11; Isa. 44:23; 49:13). Since the ‘earth’ has come under the control of evil powers, however, it must suffer the consequences.”[1]

Interpreting the section covered by 12:13–17 depends upon the identification of two entities: “the woman who had given birth to the male child” (12:13) and “the rest of her children” (12:17). The number of options does not permit me to examine all the interpretive choices. However, it is clear that in biblical history Satan has attacked both Israel, the children of Abraham, and the church, which is the assembly composed of people from every nation, tribe, and language who are committed to Jesus Christ.

My resolution of the two identities is that the woman represents Israel and “the rest of her children” (12:17) represents the church. Israel must survive the tribulation in order to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah 12, which involve the national conversion of Israel at the second coming of Christ. That accounts for God’s protection of the woman since “a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days” (12:6, 14).

When I say “the rest of her children” (12:17) means people who belong to the church, some will object that the church will be taken out of the world prior to the terrors of the tribulation in keeping with 1 Thess. 4:16–17, an event known as the rapture of the church.[2] In my view, the rapture will occur before the tribulation, but many do not agree. No matter who is right, there will be people who trust in Jesus Christ during the tribulation, and they are just as surely part of the church as those of us who came to Christ before those terrible times come. So, no matter what position a person takes about the timing of the tribulation and the rapture, part of the church will endure Satan’s attacks when he cannot destroy the protected woman.

Although these times will be terrible, the believers “keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus” (12:17).

What do you fear?

We do not know what the future holds for Christians. Some today wring their hands, predict dire developments and express outrage. But Christians described in the New Testament lived and thrived in a much more hostile cultural environment than we face. They did so by obeying the Lord’s commands and maintaining a vibrant witness about Jesus.

No matter how fierce the cultural winds become, Jesus defines our focus: “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels.” (Luke 12:8).

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

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 477.

[2] “Rapture” means snatching away or taking away, a translation of the Greek verb harpaz? in 1 Thess. 4:17.

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.
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 Revelations 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 womans 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 Satans 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 Herods 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 dragons 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: Satans being hurled to the earth ends his position of privilege in Gods court. Ironically, Satans 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, Plano, Texas. 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.