Chapter 12: The Holy War

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

The Book of Revelation, we have noted, is organized in terms of the five-part treaty structure of the Biblical covenant. Chapter 12 falls into the fourth main series of visions (Trumpets), proclaiming God’s judgment on the false king and the false prophet (chapters 8-14). But Chapter 12 also marks the intersection of this fivefold structure with another overarching pattern of the book: the theme of the Bridegroom and the Bride. Chapters 1-11 deal with the victory of Christ over His enemies, culminating in the glorious establishment of the Church as His holy Temple. Chapters 12-22 deal with the victory of the Church over her enemies, ending with her glorious establishment as God’s holy Temple. Thus the second half of the Book of Revelation covers much the same ground as the first, but from a different perspective. Milton S. Terry comments: “Part First has revealed the Lamb of God under various symbols, glorious in power, opening the book of divine mysteries, avenging the martyred saints, and exhibiting the fearful judgments destined to come upon the enemies of God. Everything is viewed as from the throne of the King of heaven, who sends forth his armies and destroys the defiant murderers of his prophets and burns up their city (comp. Matt. 22:7).

“Part Second reveals the Church in conflict with infernal and worldly principalities and powers, surviving all persecution, and triumphing by the word of her testimony, and, after Babylon the harlot falls and passes from view, appearing as the wife of the Lamb, the tabernacle of God with men, glorious in her beauty and imperishable as the throne of God.”[1]

Thus, although there is a progressive development toward a climax in the second half of Revelation, we will also see both a repetition of familiar concepts and a diversity in portraying them, a device often used by the Biblical prophets (see examples of this in Gen. 37:5-11; 41:18-25, 32; Dan. 2, 7). “The great red Dragon (12:3) is not to be regarded as different from the angel of the abyss (9:11). The hundred and forty-four thousand on Mount Zion (14:1) are the same as the sealed Israelites of 7:4-8. The seven last plagues (chaps. 15 and 16) correspond noticeably to the seven trumpets of doom. ‘Babylon the Great’ is the same as the great city where the Lord was crucified (11:8), and the new Jerusalem, filled with the glory of God and the Lamb, is but another symbol of the temple of God in the heaven (11:19).”[2]

This point in the prophecy, therefore, is something of a new beginning; and to show the conflict between Satan and the Church, St. John goes back to the beginning, to the birth of Christ and to Satan’s unsuccessful attempts to destroy Him, ending with Christ’s victorious ascent into heaven. This sets the stage for, and reveals the origin and meaning of, Satan’s persecution of the Christian Church throughout the world. The struggle will be fierce and bloody; but Satan is already doomed, for Christ is reigning from His heavenly throne, and His people are destined for complete victory on the basis of His work and through their own faithful and fearless proclamation of the Gospel.

The Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (12:1-6)

  1. And a great sign appeared in heaven: a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
  2. and being with child she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.
  3. And another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red Dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.
  4. And his tail sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the Land. And the Dragon stood before the Woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her Child.
  5. And she gave birth to a Son, a male, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her Child was caught up to God and to His Throne.
  6. And the Woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God, so that there they may nourish her for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

1-2      St. John alerts us from the outset that we must give careful attention to the subject of this vision, for the symbol of the Woman here is a great sign.[3] “Literalists” would have it that the use of this term implies that “most of Revelation is to be taken literally.”[4] But this is to miss the point. St. John is not saying that this passage, in contrast to the rest of the book, is a “sign,” for he has already told us that the entire book is composed of “signs” (1:1). The point here is that this is a great sign, an important symbol, central to the interpretation of the prophecy as a whole. St. John is telling his readers to think carefully about the Biblical meaning of the sign.

This central symbol is a Woman,[5] a familiar Biblical image for the Church, the people of God. (Specifically, as we shall see, the Woman here stands for the Church in the form of Old Covenant Israel.) St. John’s first readers would immediately have thought of previous prophetic uses of the Woman as representing the Church (see, e.g., Isa. 26; 49-50; 54; 66; Jer. 3-4; Lam. 1; Ezek. 16; Hos. 1-4; Mic. 4). Some of the prophetic passages about the Woman-Church are not particularly complimentary, for Israel had often descended into adultery with heathen gods. But the symbol in Revelation 12 is a glorious vision of the Church in her purity, as the wife of God: She is, in the image of her Husband (Ps. 104:2; Rev. 1:16; 10:1), clothed (the same word as in 10:1) with the sun (cf. Isa. 60:1-2). The moon under her feet and her crown of twelve stars enhance the picture of glory and dominion – indeed, of her ascent from glory to glory (1 Cor. 15:41; 2 Cor. 3:18). Solomon proclaims that the Bride is “lovely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners” (Song 6:4); she

looks forth like the dawn,

Beautiful as the full moon,

Resplendent as the sun,

Terrible as an army with banners. (Song 6:1O)

This Woman, St. John says, is the Mother of Christ: She is seen to be with child (the same Greek expression used of the Virgin Mary in Matthew 1:18, 23), carrying in her womb the Messiah who is destined “to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (v. 5). The image of the Woman/Mother has its origins all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the protevangelium – the first proclamation of the Gospel, in which God revealed that through the Woman would come the Redeemer to crush the Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). The picture then becomes a regular motif in the historical outworking of God’s purposes with Israel. One familiar example occurs in the story of Jael and Sisera, which tells how the enemy of God’s people is destroyed, his head shattered, by a woman (Jud. 4:9, 17-22; 5:24-27; cr. the death of Abimelech in Jud. 9:53). This is also a major theme in the story of Esther and her deliverance of Israel. The definitive fulfillment of this prophecy took place in the Virgin Birth, as Mary clearly recognized:

He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his seed forever. (Luke 1:51-55)

Isaiah’s prophecy of the Virgin Mother is the specific Biblical background for St. John’s vision of the Woman, as Philip Carrington explains: “The actual words are drawn not from any heathen myth, but from the prophet Isaiah, Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a Sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the Depth, or in the Height above (7:10-11); or, to translate it into Johannine language, either in the Abyss or in Heaven. In Isaiah the language appears to be purely a rhetorical flourish; but it is obviously the origin of St. John’s Sign in Heaven.

“This is made perfectly clear by what follows in Isaiah. The king refuses to ask for the Sign, and Isaiah replies, The LORD himself shall give you a Sign; Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel [7:14]. The words of St. John are simply a quotation from the earlier prophet: There appeared a great Sign in the Sky, a Woman…. with child, and she cried in her pain and was in torment to be delivered. More than this, St. John has given us a much closer translation of the Hebrew than our Authorized Version, which is influenced by the Septuagint; the Greek translation does, indeed, say, A Virgin shall conceive, but the original Hebrew only says, A Woman is with Child, and St. John has given it to us exactly. And, what is more, the words Crying in her pain and was in torment come from Isaiah also (26:17).

“St. John is therefore announcing the birth of the male child, the warrior king, foretold by… Isaiah.”[6]

St. John thus brings together all the Woman-imagery of the Bible for this composite portrait of the covenant community, laboring to bring forth the Messiah: She is Eve, the Mother of all living, whose Seed will crush the Dragon’s head; she is also Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Jochebed, Hannah, and the other women of the covenant who gave birth to deliverers, forerunners of the Seed; she is the Virgin Mary, through whom the promises to the fathers met their fulfillment. But this great cosmic figure cannot simply be identified with anyone of these women; rather, each of them individually embodied and portrayed before the world a different facet of the Woman’s meaning, imaging the labors of the Church to give birth to the Messiah:

As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth,
She writhes and cries out in her labor pains,
Thus were we before Thee, O LORD. (Isa. 26:17)

As prophetic revelation progresses in Scripture, it becomes increasingly clear that the Old Covenant Church is laboring to bring forth the Christ (cf. Mic. 4:9-5:9): He was the basic promise of the Abrahamic covenant. This is what Israel was waiting for, being in labor and pain throughout her existence. This is the most essential meaning of Israel’s history, apart from which it has no significance: the bearing of the Manchild (cf. John 16:20-22), the Savior of the world. From the protevangelium to the Flood, from the Abrahamic Covenant through the slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the settling of Canaan, the Babylonian Captivity, the return from exile, and the suffering under the Greeks and the Romans, Israel was laboring to give birth to the Christ, to bring in the Messianic age.

In the midst of the Church’s struggles, therefore, she cried onto This verb (krazō) has special significance in Scripture, generally being used for an oath or the solemn proclamation of God’s revelation; it is often used of God’s servants speaking in the face of opposition.[7] Here it has reference to the Church’s official declaration of the Word of God, the prophecy that she uttered as she travailed in birth. This was the essence of all prophetic revelation, to bear witness to the Christ (John 5:39, 45-46; Luke 24:25-27; Acts 3:24; 13:27).

It is important to recognize the relationship of all this to the very obvious astronomical symbolism in the text. The word St. John uses for sign was the term used in the ancient world to describe the constellations of the Zodiac; St. John’s model for this vision of the Church is the constellation of Virgo, which does have a “crown” of twelve stars.[8] It seems likely that the twelve stars also represent the twelve signs of the Zodiac, from ancient times regarded as symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel; in Joseph’s famous dream his father, mother, and the twelve tribes were symbolized by the sun, the moon, and twelve stars or constellations (Gen. 37:9).[9] We have already seen how the divine arrangement of Israel’s tribes around the Tabernacle (Num. 2) corresponded to the zodiacal order of the constellations.[10] The Seventh Trumpet of 11:15 brought us to Rosh Hashanah: the Day of Trumpets, the first day of the seventh month, the first day of the new year, the Day of the enthronement of the King of kings in the New Creation. The statement that Virgo is “crowned” with the twelve constellations, therefore, “means that she is the one among the twelve who reigns at the time,” i.e. during the seventh month, just as “the Scorpion’s claws seem about to catch the Virgin.”[11] In terms of astral symbolism, therefore, the birth of the Messiah takes place on the Day of Trumpets.

It is interesting that by pursuing several lines of very convincing evidence, Prof. Ernest Martin carefully and painstakingly narrows down the probable date of Christ’s birth to sometime in September, 3 B.C.[12] Martin then adds the icing to the cake: “In the period of Christ’s birth, the Sun entered the head-position of the Woman about August 13, and exited from her feet about October 2. But the Apostle John saw the scene when the Sun ‘clothes’ or ‘adorns’ the Woman. This surely indicates that the position of the Sun in the vision was located somewhere mid-bodied of the Woman – between the neck and knees. (The Sun could hardly be said to ‘clothe’ the Woman if it were situated in her face or near her feet.)

“The only time in the year that the Sun could be in a position to ‘clothe’ this celestial Woman (to be mid-bodied) is when it was located between about 150 and 170 degrees along the ecliptic. This ‘clothing’ of the Woman by the Sun occurs for a 20-day period each year. This 20-degree spread could indicate the general time when Christ was born. In 3 B.C., the Sun would have entered this celestial region about August 27 and exited from it about September 15. If John in the Book of Revelation is associating the birth of Christ with the period when the Sun is mid-bodied to the Woman, then Christ would have had to be born within that 20-day period. From the point of view of the Magi (who were astrologers), this would have been the only logical sign under which the Jewish Messiah might be born – especially if he were to be born of a virgin. Even today, astrologers recognize that the sign of Virgo is the one which has reference to a messianic world ruler to be born of a virgin….

“But there is a way to arrive at a much closer time for Christ’s birth than a simple 20-day period. The position of the Moon in John’s vision could pinpoint the nativity to within a day – perhaps to an hour period or less. This may seem absurd, but it is entirely possible.

“The key is the Moon. The apostle said it was located ‘under her feet.’ What does the word ‘under’ signify in this case? Does it mean the Woman of the vision was standing on the Moon when John observed it or does it mean her feet were positioned slightly above the Moon? John does not tell us. This, however, is not of major consequence in using the Moon to answer our question because it would only involve the difference of a degree or two. Since the feet of Virgo the Virgin represent the last 7 degrees of the constellation (in the time of Christ this would have been between about 180 and 187 degrees along the ecliptic), the Moon has to be positioned somewhere under that 7-degree arc. But the Moon also has to be in that exact location when the Sun is mid-bodied to Virgo. In the year 3 B.C., these two factors came to precise agreement for less than two hours, as observed from Palestine or Patmos, on September 11. The relationship began about 6:15 P .M. (sunset), and lasted until around 7:45 P .M. (moonset). This is the only day in the whole year that this could have taken place.”[13]

An added bonus: Sundown on September 11, 3 B.C., was the beginning of Tishri 1 in the Jewish calendar – Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Trumpets![14] Martin summarizes: “The central theme of the Day of Trumpets is clearly that of enthronement of the great King of kings. This was the general understanding of the day in early Judaism – and it certainly is that of the New Testament. In Revelation 11:15 the seventh angel sounds his ‘last trump’ and the kingdoms of this world become those of Christ. This happens at a time when a woman is seen in heaven with twelve stars around her head and the Sun mid-bodied to her, with the Moon under her feet. This is clearly a New Moon scene for the Day of Trumpets.”[15]

3          St. John sees another sign… in heaven: a great red Dragon. As he explains in v. 9, the Dragon is none other than “the Serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan,” the enemy of God and His people. St. John reveals him as the power behind the imperial thrones of the ancient world that persecuted the Church; for, like the four Beast-empires of Daniel’s prophecy, the Dragon has seven heads and ten horns: Daniel’s beasts possessed seven heads among them (the third beast having four), and the fourth beast had ten horns (Dan. 7:3-7). Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome were all stages in the Dragon’s attempt to establish his illicit empire over the world. (The significance of the seven heads is thus not simply that the Dragon is hard to kill, but rather that he is identified with the terrible beasts of Daniel’s vision; cf. the “heads” of the Dragon in Ps. 74:13-15.) He was the great Beast, of which they had been only partial images. It was he who had been the agelong enemy of the people of God. In all Israel’s struggles against Beasts, through all the attempts by human empires to destroy the Seed of the Covenant, the Dragon had been their foe. He wore the diadems of the persecuting empires.

Why is the devil portrayed as a Dragon? In order to understand this, we must consider the Biblical theology of dinosaurs, which is surprisingly very detailed. While the Bible does speak of land dinosaurs (cf. behemoth in Job 40:15-24),[16] our focus here will be on dragons and sea serpents (cf. Job 7:12; 41:1-34).[17] Essentially, as part of God’s good creation (see Gen. 1:21: sea monsters), there is nothing “evil” about these creatures (Gen. 1:31; Ps. 148:7); but, because of the Fall, they are used in Scripture to symbolize rebellious man at the height of his power and glory.

Three kinds of dragons are spoken of in Scripture: Tannin (Dragon; Ps. 91:13), Leviathan (Ps. 104:26), and Rahab (Job 26:12-13).[18] The Bible relates each of these monsters to the Serpent, who stands for the subtle, deceitful enemy of God’s people (Gen. 3:1-5, 13-15). Thus, to demonstrate the divine victory and dominion over man’s rebellion, God turned Moses’ rod into a “serpent” (Ex. 4:1-4), and Aaron’s rod into a “dragon” (tannin; Ex. 7:8-12). The Dragon/Serpent, therefore, becomes in Scripture a symbol of Satanically inspired, rebellious pagan culture (cf. Jer. 51:34), especially exemplified by Egypt in its war against the Covenant people. This is particularly true with regard to the monster Rahab (meaning the proud one), which is often a synonym for Egypt (Ps. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 30:7). God’s Covenant-making deliverance of His people in the Exodus is described in terms of both the original creation and God’s triumph over the Dragon:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD;

Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.

Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces,

Who pierced the Dragon?

Was it not Thou who dried up the sea,

The waters of the great deep;

Who made the depths of the sea a pathway

For the redeemed to cross over? (Isa. 51:9-10)

The Bible also speaks of the Exodus as a salvation from Leviathan:

Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength;

Thou didst break the heads of the Dragons in the waters.

Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan;

Thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

(Ps. 74:13-14)

Thus, in provisional fulfillment of the promise in Eden, the Dragon’s head was crushed when God saved His people from Egypt. Of course, the head-wound became healed, and the Dragon (accompanied by the Dragon-State in his image) kept coming back to plague and persecute the Seed of the woman. This happens again and again throughout the Old Testament, which records numerous provisional head-crushings of the Dragon (Judg. 4:21; 5:26-27; 9:50-57; 1 Sam. 5:1-5; 17:49-51; 2 Sam. 18:9; 20:21-22; Ps. 68:21; Hab. 3:13). In terms of this, the prophets looked forward to the coming definitive defeat of the Dragon in the work of Christ. Isaiah saw Israel as a pregnant woman, writhing and crying out in her labor pains, waiting for the Deliverer to be born (Isa. 26:17-21); the next verse reads:

In that Day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing Serpent

With His fierce and great and mighty sword,

Even Leviathan the twisted Serpent;

And He will kill the Dragon who lives in the sea.

(Isa. 27:1)

Daniel repeats the same idea in what might be called his “commentary” on Moses’ account of creation in Genesis 1. Writing of the fifth and sixth days of creation, Moses had said that God created[19] the “sea monsters” (tannin) in the sea, and “cattle” (behemoth) on the earth (Gen. 1:20-25); but these were succeeded by Man, who, as the image of God, was created for dominion over the creatures (Gen. 1:26-28). Daniel 7 symbolically expands on this idea by showing us a series of Beasts – the mighty and terrible world powers that exercised ungodly dominion over the earth (v. 1-8). But Daniel sees that their reign is only “for an appointed period of time” (v. 12); and, as he keeps looking, the night visions end with the Ancient of Days giving over world dominion to the Son of Man, the Second Adam – “an everlasting dominion which will not pass away” (v. 13-14), for He is the last Work of God.

4          The Dragon’s tail sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven. St. John is capitalizing on the fact that the Scorpion, with which the Dragon/Serpent is associated,[20] “has a third of the (zodiacal) stars at his tail, for four out of the twelve signs come after him.”[21] What of the statement that he threw them to the Land? That, as Farrer justly remarks, “is theology, not astronomy.”[22] St. John has already associated stars with angels, a familiar Biblical connection (see comments on 1:20); now he symbolically describes the fall of Satan and the evil angels, an event related in more direct language in 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6, and St. John’s own commentary on his allegory in verse 9. The Dragon’s “stars” are the fallen angels, who joined him in rebellion.

Why does the Dragon sweep away a third of the angels? First, this is the form in which the Trumpet-judgments are cast (cf. 8:7-12; 9:15, 18). Christ is the Firstborn; the two-thirds portion (cf. Deut. 21:17) is reserved for Him and His Kingdom. Second, the Biblical principle of the two witnesses may also be involved (St. John uses some courtroom language in this chapter): For every false witness Satan can muster against the covenant, God has two angels on His side; the evil report is more than nullified by the testimony God and his angels can give.

The Dragon’s goal is to abort the work of Christ, to devour and kill Him. So the Dragon stood (cf. Gen. 3:14) before the woman in order to devour her Child, to kill Christ as soon as He was born. Again St. John is using astronomy for allegorical purposes; for, as we have seen, it is just as the sun is “clothing” Virgo that the Scorpion’s claws seem about to catch her;[23] indeed, he seems poised to pounce upon her Child as soon as He is born. This conflict between Christ and Satan was announced in Genesis 3:15, the war between the two seeds, the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent. From the first book of the Bible to the last, this is the basic warfare of history. The Dragon is at war with the Woman and her Seed, primarily Jesus Christ. All throughout history Satan was trying either to keep Christ from being born, or to kill Him as soon as He was born. This is why Cain killed Abel, under the inspiration of the Dragon: The attack on Abel was an attempt to destroy the Seed. It was unsuccessful, for Eve then gave birth to Seth, the Appointed One, “in place of Abel” (Gen. 4:25), and the Seed was preserved in him. Satan’s next tactic was to corrupt the line of Seth; thus, within ten generations from Adam, virtually all Seth’s descendants apostatized through intermarriage with the heathen (Gen. 6:1-12), and the whole earth was corrupted except for one righteous man and his family. Satan’s mad rage to attack the Seed was so great that the entire world was destroyed, yet still he failed. The Seed was preserved within a single family in the Ark.

The Dragon again tried to murder the Seed in his attacks on the family of Abraham. On two occasions Satan attempted to have Sarah raped by a heathen king (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-18); he tried again with Rebekah (Gen. 26:1-11). The Draconic enmity against the Seed is manifest also in the enmity of Esau against Jacob, a struggle between the two seeds that began in the womb (Gen. 25:22-23). We can also see Satan’s attempts to obstruct the Seed in Isaac’s sinful plan to cheat Jacob out of his divinely appointed inheritance (Gen. 27). Again, when the children of Israel were in Egypt, the Dragon tried to destroy the Seed by having all the male children killed (Ex. 1). Five hundred years later, the Seed was being carried in a shepherd-boy, and again the Dragon attacked, twice inspiring a demon-possessed king to throw javelins at him (1 Sam. 18:10-11). In fact, the whole machinery of Saul’s kingdom went into effect just to try to kill David (1 Sam. 18-27). Similarly, the wicked Queen Athaliah “destroyed all the seed royal of the House of Judah” (2 Chron. 22:10), yet the Seed was preserved in the infant Joash. Haman, the evil Prime Minister of Persia, would have succeeded in his attempt to launch a full-scale pogrom to destroy all the Jews, had it not been for the courage and wisdom of Queen Esther (Est. 3-9). The most striking example of this pattern on a large scale occurs throughout the history of Israel, from the Exodus to the Exile: the covenant people’s perennial, consistent temptation to murder their own children, to offer them up as sacrifices to demons (Lev. 18:21; 2 Ki. 16:3; 2 Chron. 28:3; Ps. 106:37-38; Ezek. 16:20). Why? It was the war of the two seeds. The Dragon was trying to destroy the Christ.

This pattern comes to a dramatic climax at the birth of Christ, when the Dragon possesses King Herod, the Edomite ruler of Judea, and inspires him to slaughter the children of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:13-18); indeed, St. John’s vision of the Woman, the Child, and the Dragon seems almost an allegory of that event. The Dragon tried again, of course: tempting the Lord (Luke 4:1-13), seeking to have Him murdered (Luke 4:28-29), subjecting Him to human and demonic oppression throughout His ministry, possessing one of the most trusted disciples to betray Him (John 13:2, 27), and finally orchestrating His crucifixion. Even then – rather, especially then – the Dragon was defeated, for the Cross was God’s way of tricking Satan into fulfilling His purposes, according to His wisdom – “the hidden wisdom,” St. Paul says, “which God predestined before the ages to our glory, the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). In wounding the Seed’s heel, the Serpent’s head was crushed.

5          And she gave birth to a Son, a male (cf. Isa. 66:7-8) who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. St. John returns to Psalm 2, one of his favorite texts, to explain his symbolism. The Son is, obviously, Jesus Christ, the Seed of the Woman, the Child of the Virgin, born of Israel to rule the nations. In this verse St. John telescopes the entire history of Christ’s earthly ministry, stating (as if it had happened all at once) that her Child was caught up to God and to His Throne. It is as if Christ’s Incarnation had led directly to His Ascension to the Throne of glory. St. John’s point is not to belittle the atonement and the resurrection, but to stress that the Lord’s Anointed completely escapes the power of the Dragon; and we should note that St. John’s order follows that of the Psalm. Telling of His exaltation to the heavenly Throne, the Christ says:

I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:

He said to Me, “Thou art My Son,

Today I have begotten Thee.[24]

Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance,

And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.

Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron,

Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware.” (Ps. 2:7-9)

“The Psalm makes Messiah’s heavenly birth all one with his enthronement; if he is fathered by God, he reigns.”[25] In spite of everything that the Dragon does, the Seed is caught up to the Throne and now rules the nations with a rod of iron, just as if He had gone straight from the Incarnation to the Throne; Satan had no power to stop Him. The Ascension was the goal of Christ’s Advent.

6          And the Woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God. As will become apparent below, the Woman’s flight into the wilderness is a picture of the flight of the Judean Christians from the destruction of Jerusalem, so that the Dragon’s wrath is expended upon apostate rather than faithful Israel. While she is in the wilderness, the Woman is nourished for twelve hundred and sixty days,[26] a period equivalent to the “time, times, and half a time” (3½  years) of verse 14, and symbolically related to the 42 months/l,260 days of 11:2-3 and 13:5. We saw on 11:2 that the Scriptures use this terminology to speak of a limited period of ascendant, triumphant wickedness, a period of wrath and judgment due to apostasy from the Covenant. During this time, therefore, when Satan seems to be dominant, the Church is protected. The Woman’s flight into the wilderness calls up associations with Elijah’s wilderness sojourn during the three and a half years of drought, when he was miraculously fed by ravens (l Kings 17:3-6); similarly, St. John says, the Woman’s flight does not signify God’s abandonment of her but rather His loving provision. The faithful Bride has a place prepared by God (cf. 2 Sam. 7:10; 1 Chron. 17:9; John 14:2-3). He gives His messengers charge concerning her (Ps. 91:11-13) and sends her into the wilderness so that there they may nourish her. St. John also means for us to think, as we will see below, of Israel’s flight into the wilderness from the face of the Egyptian Dragon; and of the flight of the Virgin Mary into Egypt from the murderous wrath of King Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

War in Heaven (12:7-12)

  1. And there was war in heaven, Michael and His angels waging war with the Dragon. And the Dragon and his angels waged war,
  2. and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.
  1. And the great Dragon was thrown down, the Serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the Land, and his angels were thrown down with him.
  2. And I heard a loud Voice in heaven, saying: Now have come the salvation, and the power, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ, for he has been thrown down-the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night.
  3. And they conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.
  4. For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who tabernacle in them. Woe to the Land and the Sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.

7-9      The scene changes abruptly: St. John now sees war in heaven, Michael and His angels waging war with the Dragon. This is not, as some suppose, a sequel to the preceding vision, as if Satan, frustrated in his attempt to devour the Messiah, now directs his assault toward heaven. On the contrary, St. John unveils this scene in order to explain the preceding verse – to show why the Woman had to flee into the wilderness. Once that is explained, in verses 7-12, he returns to the theme of the flight of the Woman. In addition, St. John uses the imagery in this passage to display another aspect of the Child’s conflict – with the Dragon. Chronologically, this explanatory section fits in between verses 5 and 6.

We should note to begin with that the Holy War is initiated, not by the Dragon, but by Michael and His angels. There should be little question that this Captain of the angelic host is a symbol for the Seed of the Woman, the Son of God – represented now not as a Child, but as Michael, the great Warrior-Protector who leads the armies of heaven in battle against the demons. St. John’s symbolism is not casual; it is intentional, and very precise. He carefully chose to reveal Christ in terms of the specific Biblical connotations associated with Michael.

The name Michael (meaning Who is like God?) occurs elsewhere in the Scriptures only in Daniel and Jude. Michael is portrayed in Daniel as “the great Prince” who stands as the special Protector of the people of God. War breaks out in heaven between the good and evil angels, and even Gabriel is unable to overcome the demons until Michael comes to do battle with the enemy (Dan. 10:12-13,20-20. In view of what is revealed about Michael in the latter part of Daniel 10, it is likely that the otherwise unexplained vision in the first part of the chapter refers to Him as well: Daniel saw a man

dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, His face like lightning, His eyes were like flaming torches, His arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of His words like the sound of a tumult. (Dan. 10:5-6)

The closing passage of Daniel’s prophecy refers to Michael as the Guardian over God’s people, who will arise to fight on their behalf during a time of great tribulation, saving all whose names are written in the Book of Life (Dan. 12:1),[27] Michael’s name does not appear again in the Bible until an offhanded mention by Jude, who tells us that He “disputed with the devil and argued about the Body of Moses” (Jude 9).[28] Jude also calls Him The Archangel, a term which – contrary to some speculations that have developed about the various ranks of angels – does not necessarily mean “member of a superior class of angels,” but rather simply “the Chief of the angels,” an expression equivalent to “Captain of the LORD’S hosts” (Josh. 5:13-15). This would also tend to identify Michael with the Angel of the LORD (cf. Ex. 23:20-23), a figure who is, in most cases, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.[29] The only other Biblical occurrence of the word Archangel is in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where Christ descends in the Second Coming “with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel,” or, better, “with a shout, with Archangelic Voice.” The clear implication is that Christ Himself shouts with the Archangelic Voice.[30] (The fact that there are superior ranks of angels [cf. Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16] means that a more general use of the term archangel is theologically valid. But the Bible itself does not seem to use it in this way.) Carrington observes that the term Archangel “may even be compared with ‘Lord of hosts,’ and it may perhaps have meant that manifestation of God in which He appears as leader of the armies of Israel or of the heavens.”[31] Accordingly, in the Book of Revelation we find Him leading the armies of heaven in victorious conflict with Satan, actions clearly predicated of Christ throughout the New Testament (cf. Matt. 12:22-29; Luke 11:14-22; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8; Rev. 19:11-16).

Even at first glance, therefore, there is much to commend the view that Michael is a symbolic representation of Christ, a name that emphasizes His divine nature and power; and that the “angels” who accompany Him are His apostles, “together with all the angelic forces in sympathy and cooperation with them.”[32] This view both explains, and is reinforced by, the passage as a whole. As Philip Carrington argues, “It makes sense of the chapter. Of course if you want the book to be a Chinese puzzle, this will not weigh with you; but if you think that the author (or even the final editor) of the book intended this chapter to have a meaning, then you will think it reasonable to consider an interpretation of it which removes confusion. A Woman who is pictured as the Bride of the Lord bears a Son; she is the new Eve, and therefore her son is to crush the Serpent; she is the Virgin of Isaiah, and therefore he is a warrior-king. There follows a war with the Serpent, in which an opponent casts him out of heaven; the Serpent then went off to make war with the rest of the seed of the woman. Clearly, then, the person he had first fought with was also the seed of the woman. Why drag in anyone else?

“The battle royal is followed by a choric song out of heaven, and, as we have seen, the function of these choric songs is to make clear the main action which is depicted in symbols. It says, Now is come Salvation and Power and the Kingdom of our God and the Authority of His Messiah, and then (going on to think of the followers of Christ rather than Christ himself), They conquered him through the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of His Witness. Now this admittedly means that it is the Christ whose power has come, and that it is through his blood that victory has been obtained. It tells us who conquered Satan and how; it was Jesus on the cross.”[33]

We have already noted that the Holy War was initiated by the attack of Michael and the army of heaven. In response, the Dragon and his angels waged war. But this defensive action by the forces of evil proved an utter failure: They were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great Dragon was thrown down, in abject defeat. For the forces of evil, the battle is lost. This is exactly what Jesus prophesied about the prospects for His Church Militant: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus pictures the Church, not as a city under siege by the forces of evil, but rather as a great army, besieging the capital city and headquarters of the enemy; and it is the forces of evil that succumb to the onslaught of the Church. The people of God are the aggressors: They take the initiative in the warfare, and are successful in their assault on the gates of hell. Satan and all his forces are not strong enough, while the Christian can say with St. Paul, I am strong enough for everything, in Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

St. John interjects detailed information about the Dragon’s identity: He is the Serpent of old, the ancient Tempter who seduced Eve in the beginning (Gen. 3:1-15). The Dragon is known as the devil, a term meaning The Slanderer, for he is, as the Lord said, “a liar, and the father of the lie” (John 8:44). A related term for the Dragon is Satan (or, more properly, the satan), the Hebrew word for an adversary, especially in legal matters. The being whom we call Satan is the attorney for the prosecution, the Accuser who brings up legal charges against men in God’s court, the evil one who tirelessly accuses the brethren “day and night” (v. 10). Satan was the accuser of Job (Job 1:6-11; 2:1-5) and of Joshua the high priest (Zech. 3:1-1O) – and, as can be seen from both of those cases, his supposedly legal accusations are mere lies. The Accuser of God’s people is a slanderer, the Father of the Lie.[34] Because he is the Liar par excellence, he deceives the whole world. It was Satan who was behind the slanderous accusations against the early Christians, the scurrilous rumors and criminal charges alleging that they were apostates, atheists, ritual murderers, cannibals, social revolutionaries, and haters of mankind.[35]

But, St. John says, the great Dragon was thrown down to the Land, and his angels were thrown down with him. Three times the expression thrown down is used in verse 9, emphasizing the significance and finality of this event. The principle of lex talionis (an eye for an eye) is put into force here: In 12:4 the Dragon’s tail swept a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the Land; now the Dragon himself is thrown down to the Land with his evil angels. In the following verses, St. John explains the vision, telling us clearly when this great ejection of the demons took place.

10-11 The explanation comes, as it often does with St. John, in a call to worship from a loud Voice in heaven, exhorting the assembly to praise the Lord for His marvelous works. The result of Michael’s victory over the Dragon is fourfold, covering the earth: Now have come the salvation – the victorious deliverance into a “wide, open space” – and the power, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. The outcome of the Holy War is this: The Kingdom has arrived! The power of God and the authority of Christ have come, have been made manifest in history, because the Accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, the one who accused them before our God day and night.

This great apocalyptic battle, the greatest fight in all history, has already been fought and won by the Lord Christ, St. John says, and the Dragon has been overthrown. Moreover, the martyrs who spent their lives in Christ’s service did not die in vain; they are partakers in the victory: They conquered the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb – by means of[36] His definitive, once-for-all victory – and by the word of their testimony. The martyrs’ faithfulness to Christ is demonstrated in that they did not love their life even to death, knowing that “he who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal” (John 12:25).

The Holy War between Michael and the Dragon therefore cannot possibly be a portrayal of the final battle of history at the end of the world. It cannot be future at all. It is not a battle to take place at the Second Coming. The victory over the Dragon, according to St. John, does not take place by means of a cataclysmic event at the end of history, but by means of the cataclysmic event that took place in the middle of history: the sacrifice of the Lamb. The language used to describe the basis of Michael’s conquest has nothing to do with the Second Coming, but it has everything to do with the First Coming. The martyrs overcome by means of the shed blood of Christ, and by means of the fearless proclamation of the Gospel. The cosmic victory over the Dragon takes place through the Gospel, and the Gospel alone – the Gospel in its objective aspect (the work of Christ), and the Gospel in its subjective aspect (the proclamation of the work of Christ).

When, therefore, did Satan fall from heaven? He fell, definitively, during the ministry of Christ, culminating in the atonement, the resurrection, and the ascension of the Lord to His heavenly throne. We can see the stages of the Holy War throughout the message of the Gospels. Whereas the activity of demons seems relatively rare in the Old Testament, the New Testament records numerous outbreaks of demonism. Open the pages of the New Testament, and demons are almost inescapable. Why? What made the difference? It was the presence of Christ. He went on the offensive, entering history to do battle with the Dragon, and immediately the Dragon counterattacked, fighting back with all his might, wreaking as much havoc as possible. And when we see the Lord warring against the devil, we also see Him being given angelic assistance (cf. Matt. 4:11; 26:53; Luke 22:43). As Michael leading the angels, Christ led His apostles against the Dragon, driving him out of his position. The message of the Gospels is that in the earthly ministry of Christ and His disciples, Satan lost his place of power and fell down to the earth:

And the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

(Luke 10:17-20)

What Revelation 12 portrays is just that: not only the subjection of the demons to the saints, but the recording of the saints’ names in heaven – their sentence of justification, of right standing in heaven’s hall of justice, for their accuser has been thrown out of court, his false testimony invalidated. The word for conquer in this verse (nikaō) carries the connotation, not only of a military victory, but of a legal victory as well; the winning of a favorable verdict (cf. Rom. 3:4). The definitive accomplishment of this, of course, was Christ’s atonement for the sins of His people; thus, just before He offered up Himself as the sacrifice, our Lord said: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be thrown out” (John 12:31). In Christ’s victory, salvation and the Kingdom came to earth. Satan was defeated.

The very language of the Gospels bears this out. The standard term for Christ’s “casting out” of the demons throughout His ministry (ekballō; cf. Matt. 8:16, 31; 9:33-34; 10:1, 8; 12:24, 26-28) is simply an intensive form of the word used repeatedly in Revelation 12 for the “throwing down” of the Dragon (ballō). And Jesus announced: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). The message of Revelation is consistent with that of the New Testament as a whole: Christ has arrived, Satan has been thrown down, and the Kingdom has come. By His death and resurrection, Christ “disarmed” the demons, triumphing over them (Col. 2:15). Satan has been rendered powerless (Heb. 2:14-15), and so St. Paul was able to assure the believers in Rome that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). The Cross was the mark, Jesus said, of the judgment of the world (John 12:31) – or, as John Calvin rendered it, the reformation and restoration of the world.[37] The illegitimate ruler of the world was cast out by the coming of Christ. As He announced at His Ascension, ”All authority (exousia) in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matt.

28:18). St. John’s vision declares the same thing: The Kingdom of our God and the authority (exousia) of His Christ have come!

12       The Voice from heaven exhorts the congregation to exultant worship: For this reason, rejoice, O heavens, and you who tabernacle in them. Who are these who tabernacle (not just dwell) in heaven? St. John has made it plain by this time that the Church’s worship takes place, really and truly, before the heavenly throne of God (4:4-11; 5:8-14; 7:9-17). The New Testament clearly reflects this understanding on the part of the apostles and the early Church, declaring that God has raised us up with Christ to the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), where we have our citizenship (Phil. 3:20). Our worship is beheld by the angelic multitude (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 3:10), for we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, where innumerable angels are gathered in festal assembly with the Church (Heb. 12:22-23). Those who are called to joyful praise for the coming of the Kingdom and the defeat of the Dragon, therefore, are the Church. We have followed the Child in His victorious Ascension (Eph. 1:20-22; 2:6), and have become His Tabernacle (cf. 7:15; 13:6).

But Christ’s definitive conquest of the Dragon does not mean the end of his activity altogether. Indeed, like a cornered rat he becomes even more frantically vicious, his snarling rage increasing with his frustration and impotence. The Voice from heaven thus declares: Woe to the Land and the Sea, because the Dragon has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time. The Seventh Trumpet has sounded (11:15), and the Third Woe has arrived (see 8:13; 11:14). The domain of the Dragon, following his defeat at the Ascension of Christ, has now become the Land and the Sea; he has lost forever the Edenic sanctuary, which had been surrendered to him by Adam. Thus, in Chapter 13, St. John sees two great Beasts in the Dragon’s image, arising from the Sea and the Land. The Sea, in St. John’s imagery, will turn out to be the heathen nations (see below, on 13:1-2), raging and foaming in their hatred against the Lord and His Christ (cf. Ps. 2:1). And, as we have seen repeatedly, Israel is represented by the Land. The Voice is warning that both Israel and the Empire will become demonized in Satan’s mad frenzy to hold on to the decayed, withering remnants of his illicit rule. The Dragon has only a brief period left in which to bring about the ruin of the Church, while she is still connected to old Israel; he will seek to stir up Land and Sea, first in a demonic partnership against the Church, and then in a war against each other, in order to crush the Church between them. Like a deposed gangster on the run, the Dragon tries to consolidate his power for a last, desperate stand. But he knows he is doomed; time has almost run out.

The Dragon Attacks the Church (12:13-17)

  1. And when the Dragon saw that he was thrown down to the Land, he persecuted the Woman who gave birth to the male Child.
  2. And two wings of the great Eagle were given to the Woman, in order that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, so that she might be nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the face of the Serpent.
  3. And the Serpent threw water like a river out of his mouth after the Woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood.
  4. And the Land helped the Woman, and the Land opened its mouth and drank up the river which the Dragon threw out of his mouth.
  5. And the Dragon was enraged with the Woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

13       St. John returns to the theme mentioned in verse 6: the Woman’s flight from the Dragon. This happens as a direct result of the Dragon’s defeat at the hands of Michael, for when the Dragon saw that he was thrown down to the Land, he persecuted the Woman who had given birth to the male Child. It cannot be emphasized too greatly that for St. John and his audience this is one of the most crucial points of the entire chapter. The Dragon persecutes the Church precisely because Christ defeated him. We must remember this as we read of the Dragon’s hatching of conspiracies, his crafty backstage machinations to bring about the Church’s destruction; all of his attacks on the Church are rooted in the fact that he has already been conquered!

It is important for our interpretation to note also that the persecution of the Woman arises in connection with the Dragon’s fall to the Land of Israel. It is there, first of all, that he seeks to destroy the Church.

14       But the Woman is delivered, flying into the wilderness on two wings of the great Eagle. St. John again uses imagery from the Exodus, in which the angel-filled pillars of the Glory-Cloud were described as “eagles’ wings,” by which God had brought Israel to Himself in the wilderness, to be a people for His Own possession, a Kingdom of priests to God, a holy nation (Ex. 19:4-6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). The picture is developed further when Moses, surveying the history of the Covenant people at the end of his life, speaks of how God saved Israel in the wilderness:

He found him in a desert land,

And in the howling waste of a wilderness;

He encircled him, He cared for him,

He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,

That hovers over its young,

He spread His wings and caught them,

He carried them on His pinions. (Deut. 32:10-11)

Moses uses two key words in this passage: waste and hover. Both of these words occur only one other time in the entire Pentateuch, and again they occur together, in Genesis 1:2. Waste is used to describe the uninhabitable condition of the earth at its creation (“without form”); and hover is Moses’ term for the Spirit’s activity of “moving” in creative power over the face of the deep. God is not careless with language. His prophet Moses had a specific reason for repeating those key words in his farewell address. He was underscoring the message that the salvation of Israel was a creation event. The Covenant on Sinai was a re-creation, a reorganization of the world.[38] Similarly, St. John borrows terminology from the same passage in Moses to present that message to the Church: God has brought to fulfillment the provisional re-creations of the old order. The coming of Christ has brought about the definitive re-creation, the New Covenant. And, as in the days of old when God miraculously preserved Israel in all her afflictions, providing her a Paradise in the midst of a wilderness, so He will now nourish and cherish the Church, His Bride and the Mother of His only begotten Son. His Covenant people dwell in the shade of the Glory-Cloud, in the shadow of His wings (Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4, 11). The wings of the Eagle, which signify death and destruction to the enemies of the covenant (Deut. 28:49; Job 39:27-30; Jer. 48:40; Hos. 8:1; Hab. 1:8; Matt. 24:28), are an emblem of peace, security, and blessing to the heirs of Covenant grace.

Again (cf. v. 6), St. John makes the point that the Woman’s flight into the wilderness is not evidence of her abandonment by God; it is not a sign that she has lost the battle, or that events are out of control. Rather, she flies on eagle’s wings above the waters (v. 15) to her place, so that she might be nourished during the period of tribulation (cf. Luke 4:25-26), the standard three and a half years of judgment mentioned in the prophets – or, as St. John gives it here in the language of Daniel 7:25 and 12:7, a time and times and half a time.

Preterist commentators have traditionally seen this passage in terms of the escape of the Judean Church from the Edomite and Roman invasions during the Jewish War, when, in obedience to Christ’s commands (Matt. 24:15-28), the Christians escaped to shelter in the caves of the desert.[39] There is nothing wrong with this view, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. For St. John’s allegory of the Woman is the story of the Church, not only a particular branch of it. The deliverance of the Judean Church must be seen as the primary historical referent of this text, but with the realization that her experience is representative and illustrative of the deliverance of the Church as a whole in this difficult period, when the Lord prepared a table for her in the face of her enemies (Ps. 23:5).

15-16 St. John continues his Exodus imagery, reminding us of when the children of Israel had been trapped “between the devil and the deep Red Sea”: And the Serpent threw water like a river out of his mouth after the Woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. Farrer says: “The woman is treated as the congregation of Israel, saved from Egypt, lifted by the Lord on eagle’s pinions and brought to Sinai. The dragon’s pursuit of her by throwing a waterflood after her is a generalized image for the action of Pharaoh, who (1) commands Israelite children and especially Moses to be washed down the Nile, (2) comes out after escaping Israel with a host, and (3) counts on the Red Sea to shut Israel in.”[40] The Biblical imagery was familiar: a menacing river seeking to overwhelm God’s people, flowing from the mouth of her enemies (Ps. 18:4, 16; 124:3-6; Isa. 8:5-8; 59:19; Jer. 46:7-8; 47:2; Hos. 5:10).

But again, as in the Exodus, the Dragon’s plan is foiled: The Land helped the Woman, and the Land opened its mouth and drank up the river which the Dragon threw out of his mouth.[41] The picture is partially based on the incident recorded in Numbers 16:28-33, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the instigators of a rebellion against Moses. Milton Terry summarizes the point of St. John’s Old Testament allusions in this passage: “The great thought in all these images is that divine power is put forth to deliver and sustain the New Testament Church of God in the day of her persecution – the same power that of old wrought the miracles of Egypt, and of the Red Sea, and of the wilderness.”[42] That is indeed St. John’s emphasis here. The Church is divinely protected and preserved through all her tribulations. No matter what the Dragon does in his attempts to destroy the Church – even bringing about the Jewish Revolt, causing the Edomites and the Romans to slaughter the inhabitants of Israel – the Church escapes his power. By the time Rome attacks, the Woman is long gone; the Land of Israel swallows up the river of wrath, absorbing the blow in her place. The destruction of Jerusalem left the true City and Temple unharmed, for they were safe with the Woman under the shadow of the Almighty.

17       The Dragon had only “a short time” (v. 12) to destroy the Church, and he failed again. Frustrated in his attempt to destroy the Mother Church, he was enraged with the Woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her seed, the Christians who were unharmed by the Dragon’s war with the Woman. How is the Church symbolized by both the Woman and her children? ”These distinctions are easily made and maintained. The Church, considered as an institution and an organic body, is distinguishable from her children, as Isaiah 66:7-8 and Galatians 4:22-26 clearly show…. We accordingly observe that the Church is in one point of view the totality of all her members of children; in other ways, familiar to the Scripture, her individual members are thought of as related to her as children to a mother.”[43]

Having been thwarted in his designs to destroy both the Mother and her Seed, the Dragon turns in rage against the rest of her seed, the (predominantly Gentile) Christian Church throughout the Empire. Let us note well St. John’s description of these brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ: They keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. The definition of the Christian, from one perspective, is that he is a member of the organized assembly of the people of God; just as importantly, he is defined in terms of his ethical conformity to the law of God.

And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3-4)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

As St. John has already informed us, the saints overcome the Dragon through the word of their testimony and their faithful obedience, even unto death (v. 11). The following chapters will detail several crucial stages in the continuing war between the seed of the Serpent and the seed of the Woman. The passage is not meant to be chronologically accurate, as if the Dragon turns against the rest of the Church only after the failure of the Jewish War. Rather, the flight of the Judean Church is only the culmination of a series of deliverances throughout the Last Days, symbolized by the flight of the Woman. St. John is describing in images the various stratagems devised by Satan for destroying the Church, and he shows them all to be complete failures. The Dragon is fighting a losing battle, for he has already been defeated at the Cross and at the Tomb. There is not a square inch of ground in heaven or on earth or under the earth where there is peace between the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman, and Christ has already won overwhelmingly, on every front. Ever since Christ’s ascension, world history has been a mopping-up operation. The Church Militant, so long as she is the Church Obedient, will be the Church Triumphant as well.

[1] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1896), p. 381.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The word sign is used seven times in chapters 12-19; three are in heaven (21:1, 3; 15:1), four are on earth (13:13, 14; 16:14; 19:20).

[4] Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1983), p. 213.

[5] The word woman (or women) is used 19 times in Revelation, prompting Ford to suggest that “the woman symbol is almost as important as the Lamb” (Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary [Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1975]), p. 188.

[6] Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), pp. 204f.

[7] See, e.g., Matt. 27:50; Mark 3:11; 5:7; 9:24; 10:48; 15:13; John 1:15; 7:28; 12:13, 44; Acts 19:28, 32, 34; Rom. 9:27; Gal. 4:6; James 5:4; and see its use especially in Revelation: 6:10; 7:2, 10; 10:3; 14:15; 18:2,18-19; 19:17.

[8] The twelve stars are: “(I) Pi, (2) Nu, (3) Beta (near the ecliptic), (4) Sigma, (5) Chi, (6) Iota – these six stars form the southern hemisphere around the head of Virgo. Then there are (7) Theta, (8) Star 60, (9) Delta, (10) Star 93, (11) Beta (the second magnitude star), (12) Omicron – these last six form the northern hemisphere around the head of Virgo. All these stars are visible ones that could have been seen by observers.” Ernest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena, CA: Foundation for Biblical Research, 2nd ed., 1980), p. 159.

[9] See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, iii.vii.7, where he explains the twelve stones in the high priest’s breastplate, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex. 28:17-21), in terms of the Zodiac.

[10] See comments on Revelation 4:7; cf. Ernest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated, pp. 168f.

[11] Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 141.

[12] It is generally held that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., and therefore that Christ was born in 6 or 7 B.C. Martin, however, presents a detailed and persuasive case for Herod’s death occurring in 1 B.C. See his Birth of Christ Recalculated, pp. 26-131.

[13] Ibid., pp. 146f. What about December 25, the traditional date of the Nativity? As Martin demonstrates, there were numerous startling astronomical phenomena taking place during the years 3-2 B.C. Chief among these celestial events was the fact that Jupiter, recognized by Jews and Gentiles alike as the “Planet of the Messiah,” was located in Virgo’s womb and standing still, directly over Bethlehem, on December 25, 2 B.C., when the Child was a little over a year old. (Matthew states that the holy family was settled in a house, not in a stable, by the time the Magi visited [Matt. 2:11]. Moreover, Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents “from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Magi” [Matt. 2:16], indicating that the Child was no longer a newborn.) For a full account of the astronomical events of 3-2 B.C., see Martin, pp. 4-25, 144-77.

[14] Ibid., pp. I52ff.

[15] Ibid., p. I58.

[16] Some mistakenly suppose this to be a hippopotamus. Its description in the Biblical text indicates that it was much closer to a brontosaurus.

[17] The creature mentioned in the latter reference, a huge, fire-breathing dragon called Leviathan, is actually thought by some to be a crocodile! It is clear from the statements in Job, however, that at least some great dinosaurs were contemporaries of this early patriarch. For a sober-minded examination of supposed sightings of sea monsters in more recent times, see Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968). Duane T. Gish has proposed a possible explanation for the biology of “breathing fire” in his Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1977), pp. 50ff.

[18] In Hebrew, this is a completely different word from the name of Rahab, the Canaanite harlot who saved the Hebrew spies in Joshua 2.

[19] The Hebrew word here is bara, used otherwise only of the creation of the heavens and the earth, v. 1, and of man, v. 27.

[20] Cf. Deut. 8:15; Luke 10:19; 11:11-12; Rev. 9:3-11.

[21] Farrer, p. 143.

[22] Ibid.

[23] The constellation Libra (the Scales) was also regarded in the ancient world as the Claws of Scorpio; see Richard Hinckley Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning (New York: Dover Publications, 1963), pp. 269ff.

[24] Some will argue that this phrase refers not to the incarnation or physical birth of Christ, but to His eternal generation instead; for John’s purposes of Biblical allusion, however, that question is beside the point. His emphasis is, with the Psalmist, that the Child goes from birth to reign.

[25] Farrer, p. 141.

[26] For the relationship of the 1,260 days to the number of the Beast (666), see comments on 13:18.

[27] Calvin recognized that this description of Michael must be a reference to Jesus Christ; see his Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), Vol. 2, pp. 369ff.

[28] By “Body of Moses” Jude probably means the Old Testament Covenant community, the equivalent of the “Body of Christ”: cf. the “houses” of Moses and Christ in Heb. 3:2-6.

[29] See the discussion of this point in Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, translated by William Hendriksen (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951), pp. 256ff.

[30] A most helpful discussion of this whole issue is in Carrington, pp. 218-24. See also E. W. Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St. John (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., [185I] 1972), Vol. 1, pp. 464-72.

[31] Carrington, p. 222.

[32] Terry, p. 386.

[33] Carrington, p. 219.

[34] On the essential character of Satan as a slanderous “accuser of the brethren,” see Greg Bahnsen, “The Person, Work, and Present Status of Satan,” in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. t, No.2 (Winter, 1974).

[35] Cf. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 17ff., 117ff.

[36] Blood and word are both in the accusative case, but the preposition should be read in the sense of means as well as grounds here (cf. Matt. 15:6; John 6:57; 15:3; Eph. 5:18; Rev. 13:14); see Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John: Studies in Introduction with a Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1919] 1979), p. 627.

[37] John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), Vol. 2, p. 36; cf. Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, [I959] 1982), p. 110.

[38] David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), p. 59; Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 13ff.

[39] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, iii.v.

[40] Farrer, p. 148. Farrer also points out the astronomical imagery involved here: “There is the great Eagle of the starry heaven, with his two wings, and the Lady of the Zodiac may well receive their help in fleeing from the pursuing Scorpion; for we all hope to escape the baleful omen of his name by accepting the Eagle in his place, when we reckon the four faces of the sky…. It is after the woman has received the Eagle’s wings that the Dragon shoots a river at her. This is astrological, too; the great river of the sky, the Milky Way, goes up from the Scorpion and sweeps over the Eagle” (ibid.).

[41] Interestingly, both Christ and the Dragon are pictured in Revelation as spitting people out of their mouths: Christ vomits out the apostates (3:16), and the Dragon throws out floods of armies (12:16-17) (just as he had thrown the stars to earth in 12:4). In a related figure, the Land vomits out Canaanites and apostate Israelites in Leviticus 18:28, but here it swallows the river spat out by the Dragon.

[42] Terry, p. 390.

[43] Ibid., p. 391. A related example is the Biblical use of the expressions Zion and Daughter of Zion (cf. Ps. 9:11, 14; Song 3:11) and children of Zion (cf. Ps. 149:2).