So far in the book of Revelation we had the opening chapter where John saw the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ, walking among seven golden lampstands; and since the seven golden lampstands represent the church, it was a picture of how the Lord Jesus is watching over his people at all times.
And then in chapters two and three, there were the seven messages addressed to the seven churches. And since the number ‘seven’ in the Bible signifies completeness and fullness, that means these seven messages to the seven churches are really addressed to the whole church in every generation. And in these seven messages the Lord warns his people in every generation about some of the trials and temptations we’ll face; and he writes to warn us and to encourage us and to re-assure us so that we will persevere through the trials and stand firm against every temptation.
And then, in chapters 4 and 5, John saw into heaven where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who was slain are enthroned over all. And we noted how important that was, because God’s people in every generation — who face trials and temptations and trouble and persecution — need to be reminded that the Lord our God is in control of all things.
And then we had the opening of the seven seals followed by the sounding of the seven trumpets. And, if you look forward a few chapters to chapter 16, you’ll see that still to come are the seven bowls of God’s wrath.
So, the number seven appears again and again in the book of Revelation. And some of the commentators believe that in chapters 12 to 15 we have seven signs which John was allowed to see. So, first of all, in chapter 12, there’s this conflict between the dragon and the woman and her offspring. Then, secondly, there’s the beast out of the sea; and, thirdly, there’s the beast out of the earth. They’re in chapter 13. Then, fourthly, at the beginning of chapter 14, we have the Lamb and the 144,000 who were with him on Mount Zion. Then fifthly, John saw three angels who proclaimed various messages. And then, sixthly, there’s the Lord’s harvest of the earth. And then, seventhly, in chapter 15, John saw the saints as they sang their victory song. So, seven seals; seven trumpets, then seven signs, followed by the seven bowls of God’s wrath.
And the series of seven signs begins in chapter 12 with the conflict between this dragon and the woman and her offspring. And we can divide this chapter into three parts. In verses 1 to 6, we’re introduced to the woman and the dragon. Then, in verses 7 to 12, we read about the expulsion of the dragon from heaven to earth. And in verses 13 to 17, we read how the dragon continued to attack the woman and the rest of her offspring. Today we’ll spend our time on the first part: verses 1 to 6.
In verse 1 John tells us how a great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: he saw a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. And this woman was pregnant; and she cried out because of her labour pains; and she was about to give birth. Then John saw an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its seven heads. With his tail, he swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. And the dragon stood in front of the woman so that he might devour her child whenever it was born. And look at verse 5, she gave birth to a son, a male child. And look how John describes her son: he’ll rule all of the nations with an iron sceptre. Not some of the nations, but over them all. And before the dragon could devour the child, the child was snatched up to heaven and to God and his throne. Meanwhile the woman fled into the desert and to a place prepared for her by God, where she was taken care of for 1,260 days.
That’s what John saw. What does it mean? Well, fortunately John himself tells us who the dragon is. Look at verse 9: the dragon is that ancient serpent who appeared in the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve; he’s the Devil; he’s Satan. The enormous red dragon is the Devil. The ten horns represent his destructive power; and the seven diadems, or crowns, on his seven heads represent his complete dominion over the world, which, for now, is in hands. The name ‘Devil’ means slanderer while the name ‘Satan’ means adversary. And this dragon is God’s adversary and he’s our adversary, because he’s constantly fighting against the Lord and his church. And if you think about the story of Job, you’ll see how he’s the slanderer, because the Devil slandered Job in front of the Lord and accused Job of only loving the Lord because of all the good things God had given him. That’s who the dragon is: he’s the Devil, our adversary, and he’s Satan, our accuser.
But who is the woman? Most commentators are agreed that the woman stands for the church. After all, the church is sometimes depicted in the Bible as a woman. Think of the Old Testament book of Hosea, where the Old Testament church was depicted as God’s wife: God’s unfaithful wife; but his wife nevertheless. And think of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the church is depicted as Christ’s bride, whom he loved and for whom he gave up his life. And so, here in Revelation 12, the woman in John’s vision is the church.
And she’s radiant, because she’s clothed with the sun; and the moon at her feet reflects her glory and splendour. And the crown of twelve stars probably represents the twelve tribes of Israel, who made up the church in Old Testament times.
And so, if the dragon is the Devil, and if the woman is the church, who is her son, this male child. Well again, most of the commentators are agreed that it’s the Lord Jesus. Though we don’t normally think of the church as giving birth to the Lord Jesus, we should remember that all through the Old Testament, the Lord made clear that the Saviour would come from the people of Israel, which was the church in Old Testament times. And so, John’s vision here in Revelation 12 is about the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world.
And the birth pains which the woman suffers perhaps speak of all the ways the Devil tried again and again to destroy the seed of the woman. You might remember from our studies in the book of Genesis a few years ago, that I mentioned how there are these two lines in the Bible: there’s the line of believers and there’s the line of unbelievers; the righteous and the wicked; the church and the world. And they’re opposed to one another, so that godly Abel was killed by his brother Cain; Isaac was hated by Ishmael; Jacob was hated by Esau; in the days of Moses, the people of Israel were oppressed by the Egyptians; in the days of Esther, Haman plotted to kill all the Jews. And so it went on, all through the Old Testament. It was the Devil, stirring up the line of unbelievers to try to destroy the church and to prevent the seed of the woman from coming into the world. And so, the church suffered through the generations; and even when the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he had to flee to Egypt because of King Herod, who wanted to kill him. The birth pains of the woman in labour in Revelation 12 represent all the ways the people of God suffered because the Devil wanted to destroy the seed of the woman.
But look at verse 5: the woman’s son will rule the nations with an iron sceptre. In other words, he will triumph over his enemies throughout the world and he will rule over them all. And, of course, the language John uses here reminds us of Psalm 2 which tells us about God’s King who will rule the nations with an iron sceptre. And since Psalm 2 has always been interpreted as a messianic psalm — a Psalm about the Saviour — it’s one of the reasons for concluding that the son who was born to the woman in Revelation 12 is the Lord Jesus Christ.
And look now at the end of verse 5 where John tells us that the woman’s son was snatched up to God and to his throne. What’s he referring to? Well, it’s the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, isn’t it? When the Lord Jesus died, it seemed that the Devil had won the victory, and he’d managed to destroy the seed of the woman; and the disciples were distraught, because it seemed that all their hopes had been dashed. It seemed that the dragon had managed to devour the Son. But then, the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead; and he ascended to his Father in heaven where he now sits enthroned over all; and from his Father’s side, he’s extending his kingdom throughout the world; and from his Father’s throne, he will one day come in order to defeat his enemies for good and to condemn them for ever.
So, the dragon is the Devil; the woman is the church; and her Son is the Lord Jesus Christ, who died, but who was raised, and who ascended to God and his throne in heaven. And, in verse 6, John tells us how the woman — who represents the church — fled into the desert and to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Let’s think about the desert for a moment. In the days of Moses, the desert was the place where God cared for his Israelites after they left Egypt. Do you remember how he provided them with food to eat and water to drink and he protected them from their enemies? The desert was a place of protection. And the phrase ‘a place prepared for her by God’ speaks to us of God’s protection of his church. So, the desert was a place of protection.
However, in the days of Moses, the desert was also a place of trial and trouble for the Israelites. For instance, in Deuteronomy 8 it’s described as a dreadful place filled with venomous snakes and scorpions. So, when we read in verse 6 that the woman fled into the desert, we know that, not only does it signify how God will care for her, but it also signifies that she’ll continue to face trouble and trials and persecution from the red dragon who is going to pursue her.
So, the imagery of the desert speaks to us of the twofold experience of the church which is both protected by God and under attacked from Satan. Since we’re protected by God, our eternal salvation is secure. But since we’re under attack from Satan, we’ll suffer while we remain on the earth.
And the reference to 1,260 days also suggests that this verse is about the church’s twofold experience of protection and persecution. You see, we came across the number 1,260 days in chapter 11, where it was the number of days that the two witnesses would prophesy. And do you remember? The two witnesses stood for the church who is called by God to proclaim his word. And so, according to chapter 11, for 1,260 days — which represents these, the last days — the church is to bear witness to Christ; and God will help her. But also in chapter 11, we saw a city which was trampled on for the same length of time. And we thought about how the city signifies the church; and how, in these, the last days, the church will be trampled upon and disregarded and despised and persecuted. So, in these, the last days, the church is to be like two witnesses, proclaiming the word of the Lord; and in these, the last days, the church is to be like a city which will be trampled on. That’s what we saw in chapter 11.
And verse 6 of chapter 12 uses the image of the desert to describe the same twofold experience of the church, which is both protected by God and persecuted by the Devil. So, just as the Israelites were helped by God in the desert, so in these, the last days, God will help his church. And just as the Israelites faced trials and troubles in the desert, so in these, the last days, the church will be pursued and attacked by the dragon. From the time of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the time when he comes again, the church will be under God’s care so that our everlasting salvation is secure. And from the time of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the time when he comes again, the church will be under attack from the Devil.
But here’s the thing: and with this we’ll finish and we’ll think about this more next time. In verses 7 to 12, we read how the Devil has been hurled down from heaven in defeat. He has been conquered. So, while it’s true that the Devil is against us, and we can expect him to attack the church, and to keep attacking the church until Christ comes again, nevertheless he knows he’s beaten. As verse 12 tells us, he knows his time is short. He knows he can’t succeed. And so, while we go on living on the earth, we needn’t worry that the Devil will ever succeed. Yes, he will attack the church, and hurt it, and cause it to suffer; and sometimes the church will seem very weak; nevertheless, the Devil will not succeed, because he’s already been defeated, and he knows that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again one day to destroy him forever; and we can trust in the Lord to keep us and our salvation secure for ever and for ever.