Chapter 12

Introduction

There are three periods of events described in Revelation: (1) seals, (2) trumpets, and (3) bowls. So far, we have finished the first two of these periods, with the trumpets concluding at the end of the previous chapter.

The Bowl Introduction

Having finished with the trumpets, we now move into the bowls. The seals began with an introductory section (in chapters 4-5), the trumpets began with an introductory section (Rev 8:2-5), and now we have come to the introductory section for the bowls. This bowl introduction is by far the lengthiest of all the introductory sections, as it spans the four chapters from 12 to 15. We will not see the bowl events themselves until chapter 16.

Granted, it may not be immediately obvious to the reader that the content of chapter 12 is part of the introduction to the bowls. However, Revelation will make much more sense if we do recognize that chapter 12-15 are given in preparation for the upcoming bowl judgments.

The bowls represent the severe wrath of God, but before we see the wrath, God wants us to understand the justification and the righteousness of His wrath. We shall see that this is the main point of the bowl introduction section in chapters 12-15 (as explained in The Introduction to the Bowls). Along the way, these chapters also provide some additional details about the wickedness that will occur during the trumpet period (preceding the bowls) as well as a preview of the bowls themselves.

Commentary

The Woman Representing Israel

1A 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; 2and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.

v1 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 – John sees a woman in his vision, the moon under her feet, clothed with the sun, wearing a crown of twelve stars. This imagery alludes back to the account in Genesis when Joseph’s was telling his family about some dreams he was having: Gen 37:9 Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.

When Joseph told this dream to his family, they all knew exactly what it meant (and they were all annoyed by it). The sun and moon represented his father Jacob and his mother Rachel, and the eleven stars were his eleven brothers (in this sense, Joseph himself is the twelfth star). Of course, this family is the root of the nation Israel and its twelve tribes. Since we now see this same imagery attached to the symbolic woman in verse 1, we have a strong reason to understand that she represents the nation Israel.

Israel is often symbolized by a woman in scripture (e.g. Jer 3:8, Jer 6:2, Hos 1:2), and even specifically by Rachel (Jer 31:15). The idea that this woman represents Israel also fits well with the content of the verses that follow.

Side note: As discussed in How to Interpret Revelation, our primary means of interpreting figurative language should be Old Testament scripture. Some commentators who don’t follow this rule believe that this figurative woman represents Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others believe she represents the church. However, these (and other) ideas lack scriptural basis, and they simply don’t fit very well with all of the things said about this woman.

v1 she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth – The woman symbolizing Israel is about to give birth. Her child represents Christ, as we shall soon see in verse 5.

The Summation of Satan’s Career

3Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

v3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems – The next character in the vision is a great dragon who represents Satan (see verse 9). In fact, the career of Satan is really the main subject of this chapter.

This is the first of three occurrences in Revelation where we see seven heads and ten horns mentioned. The meaning of these symbols are discussed in The Seven Heads and Ten Horns.

v4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth – One of the challenges of this chapter is to understand why the dragon (Satan) is described as being cast down to earth twice (once in verse 4 and again in verse 9). However, by viewing this chapter as a review of Satan’s entire career, the matter is resolved. This first instance of Satan being cast to earth happened long ago, and the second instance happens in the future.

Satan Cast Down to Earth (Past)

This event is described in Ezekiel 28. There, we see God pronouncing judgment against a prideful and wicked king of Tyre. However, that passage then makes a transition where God’s judgment goes past king of Tyre to Satan, who had been influential on that king. Below is the relevant text, and I’ve underlined the parts that make it clear that Satan is being addressed.

Ezek 28:12-19 – 12“Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared.

14You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15“You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. 16“By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire.

17“Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, That they may see you. 18“By the multitude of your iniquities, In the unrighteousness of your trade You profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; It has consumed you, And I have turned you to ashes on the earth In the eyes of all who see you. 19“All who know you among the peoples Are appalled at you; You have become terrified And you will cease to be forever.”’”

The angel (cherub) is quite clearly Satan, because he is described as being in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-15). In Genesis 3, Satan was described as a serpent, which seems to be equivalent to “dragon” (Rev 12:9, 12:14, 20:2). He was once an angel close to God, but he became prideful and sinned, and was cast out of heaven.

Satan was cast down to the earth, and he led the earth in rebellion against God, beginning in the Garden of Eden. Since then, he has been a kind of ruler, or usurper, on earth. He is called the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). However, he never lost access to God. We know this because in Job 1 and Zech 3, we see him going before God to make accusations against God’s people, and he is called the “accuser of our brethren” in verse Rev 12:10, indicating that he still had access to heaven.

The mention of one third of the stars of heaven being cast down with Satan is likely a reference to fallen angels who had joined in Satan’s original rebellion (stars are at times used to symbolize angels, e.g. Rev 1:16,20). Rebellious angels are called demons.

v4 And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child – The main point here is that Satan is positioned with the intention to devour the child (Christ) that is about to be born to the woman (Israel). We see what happens in the next verse.

5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

v5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron – This child is born, and is identified as one who will ultimately rule all nations with an iron scepter, clearly referring to Psalm 2:7-9. This messianic prophecy identifies Jesus, and verse 5 describes his birth 2000 years ago. When Jesus finished his life on earth, he was indeed caught up to God and to His throne — which is where he is today (Mark 16:19, Rom 8:34, 1 Tim 2:5).

Why should Satan be so intent on wanting to destroy Christ at his birth? The answer to this question is discussed in final section of The Seven Heads and Ten Horns article.

Satan in the End Times

6Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

v6 the woman fled into the wilderness … she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days – With this, Revelation quickly transitions into the future.

We were just talking about the woman being Israel, and giving birth to the Messiah, who was Jesus, and we can easily relate that to what we know happened 2000 years ago. But now we see the woman fleeing to a place where God will take care of her for 1260 days. Of course, nothing like that happened 2000 years ago, nor has it happened since. The reference to 1260 days connects this account with the 1260 days referenced in Rev 11:3, which informs us that it refers to the time of great tribulation which takes place in the end times (specifically, the trumpet period).

This sudden leap across time (from the birth of Christ 2000 years ago to some unknown point in the future) may seem startling, but it’s not at all unusual for the Bible to do this. Below are some examples:

  • In Jeremiah 25:12, it says that after the Israelites are freed from Babylonian captivity, God’s judgment will come against Babylon and some of the surrounding countries that oppressed Israel. But then it suddenly talks about wrath that comes upon the whole earth (Jer 25:30-33), and it’s clear that it’s prophecy concerning the end times.
  • In Zechariah 9:9, it speaks of the Messiah appearing as a king, humble and riding on a donkey.  This clearly refers to his first coming 2000 years ago (Matt 21:6-9).  But in the next verse, Zechariah goes on to talk about the Lord reigning over the earth, and appearing over Israel to defend them (e.g. Zech 9:10,14-16), and these things refer to the end times.
  • In Isaiah 13:1-5, the prophet begins to prophesy against the Old Testament kingdom of Babylon. But then in Isa 13:6-16 he begins speaking about the Day of the Lord and its associated apocalyptic events which take place in the end times. This is followed by Isa 13:17 which returns back to the discussion of Old Testament Babylon!

The idea that Israel would be protected by God during the great tribulation is supported by Old Testament prophecy. For example, Zechariah 14:1,2,3,4,5 describes the Day of the Lord, which refers to God’s wrath when Christ returns as king, but first he promises to fight Israel’s enemies and given the Jews a place to flee. This is discussed further in The Final Restoration of Israel.

Satan Cast Down to Earth (Future)

7And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon., 8and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9And 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 earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

v7 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon – Here we see a war in heaven. Again, this is a future event (I believe this occurs right about the midpoint of the seven-year end times period — see verse 12). The angels of heaven, led by the archangel Michael, wage war against Satan. Note that the holy angels of heaven instigate this war, and the implication is that this is happening at God’s command.

v8 and they were not strong enough and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven – On this occasion, Satan, by God’s decree, loses his place in heaven and he no longer has access to God. I believe Satan knows this day is coming, but he doesn’t know when it will be.

v9 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 earth, and his angels were thrown down with him – Satan and his angels (the same “third of the stars” mentioned in verse 3) are permanently expelled from the presence of God, and they are cast down to the earth in defeat. Jesus foretold this in John 12:31: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out”.

10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12“For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

v10 Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come – The casting down of Satan at the midpoint puts into motion the things listed in verse 10:

  1. The final salvation from the power of Satan,
  2. The coming of the kingdom of God to earth (which is the Great Promise),
  3. The authority of Christ as he will reign as king on earth.

These things will be accomplished at the end of the seven-year period, but we aren’t quite there yet since verses 12-14 make it clear that Satan will still cause grief on earth for the duration of the trumpet events (time, times, and half a time). The Greek word that is translated as “have come” doesn’t mean that these things have happened, but that a transition has happened. The point is that this casting down of Satan begins the transition that will bring about all of the objectives listed above.

v10 for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night – This confirms that Satan had access to God prior to this, which he used to accuse the saints. God will hear those accusations no longer.

v11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death – Even though the great tribulation is only beginning at this point, God speaks with certainty about those who will remain faithful and endure it despite the threat (and often the actuality) of death.

This stands as one of the greatest commendations that any human can attain, and it belongs to those who persevere under the threat of death. Never can a person be more Christ-like than to suffer and die for the sake of a friend (John 15:13). Just as Christ did that for the sake of his church, so shall his church do it in return for the sake of Christ. Just as Christ was victorious when He did it, so shall the church be victorious when they do it. That the church will, in a sense, suffer and die and yet be victorious adds meaning to why the church is called the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27).

v12 For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them – Heaven rejoices in the knowledge that Satan has been defeated in heaven, and that he will shortly be defeated on earth by the saints who persevere.

v12 Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time – The “short time” is the great tribulation (also called “a little while” in Rev 6:11). Satan is writhing in anguish, knowing that God’s schedule has allotted him only 3 1/2 years more. He will try to circumvent that schedule by setting up his final kingdom of Antichrist to oppose God, but his efforts will be in vain and he will be destroyed after 3 1/2 years as planned. This is what the prophet Daniel spoke of in Dan 7:25-26: 25‘He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26‘But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever.

Satan’s Wrath on Israel (Israel Protected)

13And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.

v13 And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child – This passage expands upon Satan’s future efforts to destroy Israel (represented by the woman), as summarized above in verse 6. This is indirectly an attack on God, because he knows that God has plans to redeem Israel (see the Final Restoration of Israel). The attack begins with Satan raising up a human ruler, Antichrist, to attack Israel. On earth, this will result in the Abomination of Desolation foretold by Daniel (Dan 9:27), by Christ (Matt 24:15), and by Paul (2 Thes 2:3-4). The raising of the Antichrist is described in Rev 13:1-8.

I believe it is at this point (the midpoint of the seven years) that Antichrist becomes possessed by a powerful demon (see Demonic Activity in the End Times).

v14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent – God frustrates Satan’s first attack by protecting Israel Himself. I believe that many Jews will be suffer and die at this time (Zech 14:2), but a faithful remnant will flee to the mountains as Zechariah (Zech 14:5) and Christ (Matt 24:16) had instructed. There, they will find divine protection for a time and times and half a time.

The use of this special title, time, times, and half a time in verse 14 informs us that this is the exact same period of time foretold by Daniel (Dan 7:25, Dan 12:7). It is interesting that this seems to be repeating the expression in verse 6 above, except that verse 6 said 1260 days instead. These two periods are not exactly the same. In verse 6, the 1260 days refers specifically to the great tribulation, i.e. the 42 months of Rev 11:2 and Rev 13:5. That verse 14 mentions time, times, and half a time shows that God’s protection of Israel will extend for 1290 days (Dan 12:11), which goes beyond the great tribulation to include the Day of the Lord, which concludes with Christ returning to defend Israel in the Battle of Armageddon (as described in chapter 19).

15And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. 16But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.

v15 And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood – Using figurative language, we are given an illustration of what Satan’s next attack on Israel will look like. The water most likely represents an army directed by Antichrist, with instructions to wipe out Israel.

v16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth – Here God’s divine protection is illustrated. The figurative language suggests that God will cause the earth will open up and swallow the army sent in by Antichrist.

Side note: In the end times, it appears that Israel will have an experience similar to their experience in Exodus when God saved them from the pursuing Egyptian army. God caused the Red Sea to open up, allowing Israel to pass through safely, but when Pharaoh’s army followed them, the sea closed over them. The Jews continued on into the wilderness where God nourished them for 40 years.

That account strongly parallels the events described in verses 15-16, except that: (1) It will be the earth opening to lead the Jews to safety, (2) it will close to destroy Antichrist’s pursuing army, and (3) the time of nourishment will be the period called a time, times, and half a time.

This is confirmed by Zechariah’s prophecy in Zech 14:4,5, where he says that when the Lord fights against the attacking nations, the mountains will part and create a valley into which the Jews will flee to safety.

In the end times, the surviving remnant of Israel will be:

  1. These Jews who fled toward the mount of Olives to safety.
  2. The 144,000 Jews sealed as God’s servants during the tribulation, most likely witnessing around the world (although Rev 14:1 suggests that they will be martyred during the great tribulation).
  3. The two witnesses mentioned in chapter 11, who are in Jerusalem pronouncing plagues against the earth, and they too are divinely protected (Rev 11:5). They will be (briefly) killed near the end of the great tribulation (Rev 11:7, 11).
  4. Jews elsewhere in the world who manage to survive the great tribulation and witness God’s divine protection of Israel, and come to faith in Christ (possibly due to the testimony of the two witnesses and the 144,000 sealed Jewish servants).

Satan’s Wrath on Christians (Great Tribulation)

17So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

v17 So the dragon was enraged with the woman – Satan, already in a rage because he knows his time is short (verse 12), will become even more so as his efforts to destroy Israel are frustrated. I expect that he (through Antichrist) will continually seek to destroy Israel for the remainder of the time, times and half a time, which will extend all the way to the Battle of Armageddon.

v17 went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus – Although he is unable to destroy Israel (the “woman”), Satan will not remain idle. He will turn his attack on her “children”.

Who are her children? Their identity is revealed by the added qualifier “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus”. That is, her children symbolically represent Christians. This symbolism also make sense because Christianity is indeed the faith that was borne from Israel. In fact, Christianity may be defined as true Judaism in that Christians recognize Jesus as the true Jewish Messiah.

However, it is still for now necessary to describe the nation Israel (the woman) as separate group from Christians (her children) because these two groups have different experiences during the great tribulation.

  1. Israel – The nation Israel stumbled when they rejected Jesus. However, as Romans 11 explains, they did not stumble as to fall. In their stumbling, salvation has come to Gentile Christians, and it will eventually come to Israel (Rom 11:11,26). God begins to fulfill this promise by saving Israel from destruction during the tribulation.
  2. Christians – Although Satan and his Antichrist are prevented from destroying Israel, they shall successfully wage war on true Christians, as Daniel foretold in Dan 7:25 “He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One …. they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time“. This agrees with what we see in the next chapter, where Rev 13:7 says “It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them“. This, of course, is the beginning of the great tribulation, and during this time many saints will be martyred as described in the fifth seal (Rev 6:11).

Why persecute Christians? It doesn’t say, but it’s not hard to at least see some potential reasons:

  • Politically, true Christians are generally supportive of Israel and acknowledge them as God’s people. If Antichrist wants to destroy Israel, he’ll want to destroy their supporters.
  • True Christians will recognize the Abomination of Desolation, and they will thus be identifying the ruler who did that as the Antichrist. Thus, they will speak out against him and seek to oppose everything he does.
  • True Christians will be in agreement with the two witnesses, who (as discussed in chapter 11), will be the most hated people among the unbelieving world.
  • Recall from the third and fourth seal events that the world will be facing severe problems by the time we reach the midpoint. Famine and pestilence will create an atmosphere of desperation, which will make it seem acceptable to reduce the population by getting rid of undesirables (i.e. true Christians).

Opinion: I don’t think that Antichrist will be seeking to kill everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian. Rather his attack will target primarily the true Christians. Many false professing Christians will side with Antichrist, and may even flourish during under Antichrist’s rule.

A similar thing also happened during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 B.C. (discussed in The Antichrist article). This king invaded Judea and mercilessly attacked the faithful Jews but he spared and even supported the Hellenistic Jews who were willing to appease him by adopting the Greek forms of worship. This selective persecution created a sharp division between faithful and apostate Jews. By God’s grace, the faithful Jews emerged victorious in the Maccabean Revolt.

Another division among Jews occurred as a result of Christ’s appearance 2000 years ago. In that case, it was the Jewish religious leaders who most opposed Christ and persecuted his Jewish followers (as described in the book of Acts).

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