Although we are beginning verse 3, we need to see the context of the preceding verses, too. Here's the plan: We will (a, this segment) discover where John saw the woman and the dragon, (b) take a look at the dragon, and (c) comment on the path from symbols to reality. Let's read our block of text:
Where do we see the woman and the dragon?
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born." (Rev. 12:1-4)
"And there appeared a great
wonder. . . . And there appeared another wonder. . . ." The parallel form
invites comparison. Two major characters in the chapter, the woman and
the dragon, will interact as the dragon tries to destroy the woman. The
first six verses comprise an introductory synopsis of the conflict. This
structure occurs elsewhere in Revelation: for example in 8:2-5 we see an
overview of the trumpet warnings down to the final woe when the fire (or
censer) is thrown down. Then, at verse 5, we begin to look at the succession
of warnings, ending again at the tragedy they foreshadowed.
Here in chapter 12, we will have opportunity to make many comparisons between these two opposing elements. One significant comparison gives perspective to the chapter. We look at the location of the wonders — where they appear. Some commentators see both the dragon and the woman in the sky. Although the word, ouranos, may be so translated, I believe it's instead, heaven, the dwelling place of God as in other instances in Revelation. The woman here is wearing the crown of victory. She has conquered the realm of darkness, she is clothed in the sun of righteousness. As we progress through the chapter, we will see what led to this final victory pictured here in the introductory synopsis.
We notice, however, that the dragon is also seen in heaven. Since this is not where we would expect him to be, we might be tempted to say that he appears in the sky. However, we can't switch interpretations of a word used twice like this without contextual justification. I believe it's the same heaven for him. He, as Lucifer, began there is1412 and surrounded himself with a third of the angels who fell to earth with him (vss. 4, 9; mt2541). So the victorious people of God will end up in the place Satan fell from! When he stood before the woman at Christ's birth, both he and the woman were on the earth. In this summary at the beginning, we see how the story will end. Satan, who began in heaven was cast down while the true people of God will be taken to heaven. Praise His holy name!
A (brief) look at the dragon
"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. . . ." (Rev. 12:3, 4)
What color is
We noted already that the dragon is identified in verse 9 as Satan. The word for red here is purrhos and literally means fire colored. Apparently the destructive nature of the dragon is emphasized by his color in this symbol. See ez2818, 0603b.
Why is he shown here as having seven heads with crowns and with ten horns? We might simply ask what is the purpose of an animal's head? Heads think. They create ideas. Crowns on them would mean political leadership. The Greek word translated "crown" here is diadema, the crown of royalty, different from the woman's crown re1201b. Seven is a number of completeness. The seven heads may represent deception in the full scope of human thought. The first Bible mention of head is in the promise that the woman's seed (Christ) would bruise the serpent's head.
"And I will put enmity between thee [the serpent] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Gen. 3:15)
And what is the function of an animal's horns? I'm sure you know. On the dragon, they would represent military power.
From verses 8 and 9 we see that the stars would be the angels who sided with Satan in the war in heaven. What would be the significance of the dragon's tail in throwing down the stars?
Seeing through the symbols to the real picture
First the verses, then what we see happening at three levels of interpretation, and then at the details of our specific focus in the question.
"And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. . . . and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. (Rev. 12:2-5) Tom Dunbebin, artist. Leo VanDolson, concept.
Levels of interpretation:
(a) In the text we see a woman in labor with a dragon ready to devour the baby. But the child (similar to Joash, 2 Kings 11) escapes and ascends to the throne in heaven. (b) In these symbols we see Mary preparing for the birth of Jesus. Then we see King Herod, who became angry when the wise men didn't come back to him. Not wanting any rivals to his throne, he ordered all the young children in the Bethlehem area to be killed mt0216. Herod and the forces of evil didn't succeed in destroying Christ at birth or thereafter. Christ ascended to Heaven to sit with the Father on His throne he0103. (c) But the woman is more than Mary because we saw her first clearly in symbols involving sun, moon, and stars. We concluded that she must be God's pure people. This will become clearer as we continue. And we see Herod as Satan's agent in working against the Redeemer.
In brief, many of the symbols in the prophecies of Revelation point to episodes in the history of God's dealing with His people. These Bible characters and situations, in turn, become symbols representing the deeper meaning.
Because we went from the woman, to Mary, to the purified church, we may also expect to find meaning at the third level in the details. The gospel writers do not, as I recall, mention Mary's birth pain. This detail must have been added for a reason. So we ask, What was painful in the birth of the new light that the Messiah came to establish, and what threatened the rise of God's special New Testament people?
The threat from the dragon: This is seen in Satan's intense harassment of Christ and finally Christ's execution which, I believe, would have meant eternal death had He not lived a perfect life ac2029, 2th0203.
I should add here that I see this same fall of truth and darkness at the second coming of Christ. In fact, Old Testament prophecies often relate more to the second coming than the first. Apostasy will be (or already is) even greater now than then. The text also mentions ruling with a rod of iron. We will discuss that in connection with chapter 19 re1915.
Praise God for the profound beauty of
His Word of truth!
Stars swept down
"And there appeared . . . a great red dragon. . . . And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness. . . ." (Rev. 12:3-6)
Notice that these are the "stars of heaven," different from the stars in the woman's crown. Let's get our bearings. First we saw woman and dragon in heaven and concluded that the origin of the dragon was the destination for the woman vs3co. We also realized that they were both on earth here in verse 4 when the dragon was in front of the woman. We realize that Satan, as the dragon, had been in heaven and was cast out. By comparison, we learn that a third of the heavenly host were cast out with him re1207a. Compare da0810.
Why with his tail?
"LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour." (Ps. 15:1-3)
Drawing with his tail may be seen to represent deceptive practices of one whose face is different from what is behind his back. This image is similar to what we saw with the scorpions under the fifth trumpet re0910.
Ready to devour the child !
The horrible scene in verse 4 describes events surrounding Jesus' birth. "and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born."
"When they [the wise men from
the East] saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when
they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother,
and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures,
they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being
warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed
into their own country another way.
"And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
"Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men." (Matt. 2:10-16) mt0209.
Here the dragon worked through Herod, the pagan king, in a vain attempt to destroy the new king.
At the time of Christ and Herod, Rome ruled the world. It was essentially pagan following occult worship taken over from the Greeks. Paganism is, in brief, devil worship. Satan's goal is to receive the worship due to Christ. This was the root of the conflict in heaven from which he was expelled re1209a. In paganism, Satan works more directly. In the church controlled by pagan practices, he is still the end object of the worship!
Taken to the throne to rule with an iron rod
The term "rod of iron" appears three times in the book of Revelation. In its first mention re0226f it is clearly in the hands of the righteous survivors under the church of Thyatira. The last time (19:15) it is wielded by the rider on the white horse who is Christ. Here we are, in chapter 12, between the two.
"And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne." (Rev. 12:5)
I shared why I believe the man-child (literally, "a son, a male") is Christ re1202b. Understanding the iron rod confirms the idea. The earlier verse in Revelation (2:27) is nearly a quotation of Psalm 2:9 where the heathen are given as an inheritance to the Messiah. Let's look at the psalm first.
"Ask of me, and I shall give thee [the Messiah] the heathen for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break
them [the rebellious heathen] with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them
in pieces like a potter's vessel [because it turned out defective]." (Psalm
In Revelation 2:27 Christ directed His message to the church of Thyatira.
Notice that He added something at the end which is not in Psalm 2.
"And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father." (Rev. 2:26, 27)
Another interesting fact is implied in the wording of our verse. The one born of the woman was "caught up unto God, and to his throne." From the story of Jesus after the resurrection we realize that He was accepted by the Father before He was accepted to sit with Him on His throne as judge. He wouldn't let Mary touch Him before ascending to His Father jn2017 but later invited Thomas to touch His wounds jn2027. Between these two times He would have ascended to the Father.
At Pentecost Jesus, from heaven, sent the Holy Spirit jn1607. This we may understand to be associated with His having been found worthy to unseal and read the book of judgment re0501. He did not begin to judge then but, as judge, was considered worthy to be our mediator in the holy place ministry. His qualification has developed through many stages as seen in the ceremonies of setting up the sanctuary in Leviticus 8, 9 re0509t.
The mention of two destinations shows similar detail to the two-part movement in Daniel 7 re0308c. Listen to Daniel:
"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they [the clouds or angels] brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom. . . ." (Dan. 7:13, 14)
And there's more similarity later in Daniel 7
"I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High. . . ." (Dan. 7:21, 22)
Our KJV translation is more
literal than others. "Judgment was given to the saints." They were given
the judgment responsibility. We could also read this to mean that the verdict
was in their favor, although such a translation seems unnatural to me.
I see the coming of the Ancient of days as the beginning of the preadvent
judgment. In that judgment, the saints are recognized as qualified to judge
during the thousand years. The horn power prevails against the saints until
the end of the preadvent judgment. It is then that the verdict is
handed down. (Rev. 19:1, 2)re1901.
That is also the time when the thousand years and the judgment of the [wicked]
dead begins (Rev. 11:18; 20:4, 5) re1118,
verses indicated in the link codes are often only the first of several
for the passage indicated.
The idea of the saints becoming judges is confirmed by the fact that the wording is picked up and used again in the book of Revelation for the same judgment. We see their judgment role more clearly in Revelation. In his vision about the thousand years, John saw the same granting of judgment. He saw "thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them . . . and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." (Rev. 20:4)
Let's tie this in with what we learned about the preadvent judgment which we studied earlier. The statement about Christ's sitting down with His Father is in the promise to Laodicea, the church of our time. Laodicea is the last of the seven churches so this would be the time of the preadvent judgment. As those claiming to be wise virgins, we are now the ones to be judged and found wise. Although Christ was with the Father after His ascension (Acts 7:55; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 5:6) ac0755, he0103, re0506, He is on the Father's throne for judgment during the cleansing of the sanctuary — this last period of time before His return. The actual promise to the Laodiceans is for the future (you can see both the present-tense throne and future-tense throne in the verse). In fact, the outcome of the preadvent judgment is their authority to sit with Christ on His throne. So they judge during the millennial judgment which comes after the advent. Let's read the verse again.
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Rev. 3:21)
We have not thoroughly discussed the sequence of events I have inferred here, so if your millennium is different, that's okay for now. We will see it more clearly as we study chapter 20 and the transition from chapter 19.
We have seen aspects of the same picture in an array of symbolic situations.
Christ received His authority from the Father. We get ours from Christ.
We join Christ on His throne after the time He, as the baby caught up to God's throne (in our verse), sits down with the Father. (Our verse does not show the saints using the rod of iron.)
The Son of Man is brought near the Ancient of Days by the clouds of heaven after He has arrived in heaven. At this later time He is granted a kingdom (His own throne). Then judgment is given to the saints.
The court of persecuted saints takes away the dominion of the horn power and destroys it.
The saints reign with Christ, in judgment, for a thousand years (the millennium).
We could add one more from Dan. 2:34, 35, but our study is long enough. And remember that, at the seventh trumpet, the time had come for the dead to be judged — the millennium begins. da0234, re1118.
We studied about how Christ gained authority by receiving a throne. This is not to say that He didn't always have divine authority but that His authority has been challenged jn0101, jn0858, lu0405. He voluntarily set it aside when He came to this earth as a helpless baby ph0205.
What a wonderful heavenly
Father who will trust His children to confirm His justice in the destruction
of the wicked! Someday we will understand a lot of things. I want to be
with each of you reigning with Christ during the judgment of the thousand
When did the woman flee?
". . . [The woman's child] was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days."(Rev. 12:5, 6)
"They should feed her there." We have no antecedent (no word that "they" stands in the place of). In the parallel account she is given two wings to fly to the wilderness. I explain there, that the wings enabling her to fly are responsible for her nourishment re1214a. A similar situation occurs in chapter 20 . There is no antecedent for the same pronoun re2004ju.
Because we will see
the woman's exile described in more detail later in the chapter, I'll refrain
from interpreting more of the text at this point. Instead we will look
at the structure of the whole chapter so it will make more sense as we
continue through it.
I suggested earlier that the first verses of the chapter, ending with what I just quoted, were a synopsis or summary. This idea is based on the fact that we see, in these beginning verses, the two opponents in the conflict plus sketches of what comes later.
If the synopsis idea is not correct, we may expect verse 7 to follow verse 6 chronologically. Let's examine the next topical section of text beginning with verse 7.
"And there was war [or "war broke out," NKJV] in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out . . . into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Rev. 12:7-9)
Earlier, in verse 4, we saw actions of the dragon clearly out of harmony with heaven. (1) He drew (in the sense of dragging) stars out of heaven. We may take these to be the angels mentioned in the later passage. If he drew them, he would have been coming down with or ahead of them. (2) He tried to devour the woman's child. This was on earth because the child was caught up to heaven. Could Satan still have been a loyal citizen of heaven at this time? Hardly. See ps2403, mt0508. This means that the loss of his place in heaven would have been earlier. So verses 7 to 9 in our chapter, which describe the rise of war in heaven and the loss of his place there, had to have happened earlier in time.
Also the woman fled into the wilderness in verse 6. Again in verse 14 we see what must be the same flight into the wilderness. Her stay in the wilderness was for the same length of time. 1260 days = 1 + 2 + ½ "times" or 3½ "times" or years of 360 days each. For another identification of this time see re1305a.
Following is an outline. The mention of having given birth to the man-child in verse 13 also associates the second account of flight with the first. Following is how I see the structure of the chapter:
Synopsis of conflict
Woman and dragon introduced 2, 3
Dragon drags stars from heaven 4
He wants the child but the child escapes. 5
Woman flees to wilderness 6
Expanded account of conflict
Conflict in heaven; Dragon cast out 7-9
Salvation through Christ (10, 11)
Woman persecuted and flees to wilderness (13, 14)
Dragon tries to drown her but the earth helps her (15, 16)
Dragon goes to fight remnant of her seed (17)
Many, if not all, of the visions
or logical segment of the book of Revelation apply this same synopsis-expansion
We saw it in chapter 8, for example where saw the trumpet angels then moved
to the throwing down of the fire from the censer in the first few verses.
After this we went through the trumpet calls which warned people to be
ready for the time when the fire would come down re0803a.
Looking closer we can see the chapter organized in the chiastic structure often found in Scripture. A chiasm is a series of matching blocks of text re0100. Matches are between the first and last blocks, the second and next-to last, and continuing to the center key element(s).
Dragon attacks the
woman's Seed and fails 1-5
Dragon persecutes the woman; she flees 6
Michael defeats dragon in heaven 7-9
Christ gives victory to the brethren on earth 10, 11
Dragon persecutes the woman; she flees; he attacks again and fails 13-16
Dragon makes war with the remnant of her seed 17
The dragon story is seen in a larger scale, too:
Dragon appears re12.
Sea-beast and earth beast act re13.
Babylon falls re1408.
Beast worshippers warned re1409-11.
Beast worshippers cursed re1602.
Babylon punished re1619-1820.
Sea beast and earth beast into the fire re1920.
Dragon chained and destroyed re2001-10.
These structures are helpful in understanding. In a way, we are getting ahead of the story here. The outlines will make more sense as we continue.
Looking at the chiastic structure we see that the dragon is really opposing Christ. We may praise Him for gaining the victory for us.
We will next take a closer look at Michael.