We began to look at chapter 12 the last time when I suggested that — after the seven seals and the seven trumpets — we now have seven signs in chapters 12 to 15. So, first of all, here in chapter 12, there’s the conflict between the dragon and the woman and her offspring; that’s the first sign. Then in chapter 13 there are two signs: there’s the beast out of the sea and there’s the beast out of the earth. 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 song of victory. So, after the seven seals, and the seven trumpets, we have seven signs.
And we concentrated the last time on verses 1 to 6 of chapter 12 where we were introduced to the woman who gave birth to a son and to the dragon who wanted to devour the woman’s son. And I explained that most commentators are agreed that the woman in John’s vision represents the church; and the son she bore stands for the Lord Jesus Christ; and the dragon is the Devil. In that case, the birth pangs of the woman are all the ways the people of God suffered in Old Testament times because the Devil was trying to prevent the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world. And then, when we read how the dragon wanted to devour the child, we’re to think about how, when the Lord Jesus Christ was born, Herod wanted to kill him; and throughout his life on earth, the Devil attacked him with temptations and by stirring up hatred against him. And then, when we read in verse 5 that the child was snatched up to heaven, we’re to think about how, following the Lord’s death and burial, he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven where he now sits on a throne, from where he rules over all the nations.
And then, the woman fleeing into the desert in verse 6 represents the experience of the church in these, the last days. You see, in the days of Moses, the wilderness was both a place of protection and a place of trial. It was a place of protection, because the Lord protected his people and provided for them. But it was also a place of trial, because it was, after all, a wilderness and around every corner there were dangers. And so, the woman fleeing into the desert signifies the experience of the church in these, the last days: we’re under God’s protection, but we’re also under attack from the Devil. We’re protected, because our eternal salvation is secure; but still the Devil does all he can to hurt and harm the church.
That’s what we were thinking about the last time. The remaining verses of chapter 12 can be divided into two parts: 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. And we’ll study those two parts now.
Verses 7 to 12
In verses 7 to 12, John saw that there was war in heaven. On one side, there’s Michael and all his angels; on the other side, there’s the Dragon and his angels. We know that the Dragon is the Devil; but who is Michael? Well, he’s appears in Daniel 10 and in Daniel 12 where he’s described as one of the chief princes who protects God’s people. He’s also mentioned in Jude 9 where we’re told that he’s an archangel. So, he’s an angelic figure; a leader among God’s angels; who defends the Lord’s people against their enemies. And here, in John’s vision, he’s leading the Lord’s angels in a battle against the Devil and all the wicked angels. And in verse 8 we read that the Dragon was not strong enough to stand up to Michael; and so the Dragon and his wicked angels lost their place in heaven. So, the Dragon — who is here described as the ancient serpent and who is also called the devil and Satan — was hurled down from heaven to earth where he now leads the whole world astray.
The reference to the ancient serpent recalls the serpent in the Garden of Eden who deceived and led astray Adam and Eve. The name ‘Devil’ means slanderer; and that’s what he does: he slanders the Lord’s people and brings all kinds of charges against us. The name ‘Satan’ means deceiver; and that’s also what he does: he deceived Eve and he’s been doing the same ever since, tempting people in every generation to believe his word instead of believing the word of the Lord. Well, the Dragon — this ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan — was hurled down to the earth. And afterwards, John heard a loud voice in heaven, declaring how the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, because the accuser of our brothers — that’s the Devil — has been hurled down. And then the loud voice went on to declare that they — that’s the brothers, God’s people — overcame the Devil by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and all who live in them. Rejoice because of God’s salvation. But woe to the earth and the sea, because the Devil has gone down to you and he’s filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.
That’s John’s vision. What does it mean? Well, in verses 1 to 6, we read how the Dragon tried to destroy the son of the woman; in other words, the Devil tried to destroy the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Lord Jesus Christ, after his death and resurrection, ascended to heaven where he rules over all. And so, the Lord Jesus has overcome the Devil and defeated him. And verses 7 to 12 are telling us about the change that has taken place in heaven because of the Lord’s victory over the Devil.
Look with me again at the second half of verse 10 where it tells us that the accuser of our brothers — who accuses them before our God day and night — has been hurled down. To help us understand this verse, think of the story of Job from the Old Testament and how the Devil appeared before the presence of the Lord and began to criticise Job and to slander him and to accuse him. Do you remember? He accused Job of only loving the Lord because the Lord had been good to him and had made him so very rich. That’s one example of how the Devil stood before the Lord to accuse the brothers.
Of course, while he was wrong about Job, the Devil’s accusations can — on other occasions — be spot on. In Zechariah 3, for instance, we read of how the Devil was accusing the high priest at that time. And we read how the high priest was clothed in filthy clothes; and the filthy clothes represented the man’s guilt and shame. On that occasion, the Devil’s accusations were spot on; the high priest was a sinner who had sinned against the Lord in many ways. So, while he was wrong about Job, he was right about the sins of the high priest. And we can imagine him — can’t we? — pointing the finger at all of God’s people in Old Testament times and being able to accuse them of having sinned against the Lord. Just think of all the great heroes of the Old Testament: all of them did terrible things. The Devil’s accusations are so often spot on, because we’re all sinners who sin against the Lord continually.
However, his power to accuse us has been broken by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Devil can no longer accuse us, because our sins have been paid for in full by Christ; our guilt has been covered over completely with the blood of Christ; and God’s justice — which demanded payment for our sins — has been satisfied in full by the death of Christ. The Devil’s power to accuse us has been broken. And that’s what these verses are conveying to us: the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. In other words, his power to accuse us before God has been broken, because Christ has paid for our sins in full.
Some of the commentators see a link here to Romans 8. Do you remember that magnificent chapter? It begins with no condemnation; and it ends with no separation. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ; and nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. And in verse 33 of Romans 8 Paul asks:
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
In the past, before the Lord Jesus died, the Devil could bring charges against God’s people. He could say that it wasn’t right for God to pardon them, because they were sinners who had broken God’s laws. Why was God being so kind to them? Why was he pardoning them? Why did he leave their sins unpunished? It wasn’t right, he could say. It wasn’t just, he could say. He could say that the blood of bulls and goats wasn’t enough to pay for their sins. But what the Devil didn’t know at that time, during the days of the Old Testament, was that God had it all worked out: God was able to let their sin go unpunished because he knew that one day his one and only Son would lay down his life on the cross to pay for their sins in full. He let their sins go unpunished in the days of the Old Testament, because he knew his Son would one day take their punishment on himself.
But until the Lord Jesus died, the Devil was able to stand there, in the presence of the Lord God, accusing God’s people, day and night, saying:
Look what he’s done! Look what she’s done! You should condemn them and punish them! Why are you pardoning them? But his power to accuse them was broken the moment the Lord Jesus died on the cross and paid for our sins once and for all.
Verses 13 to 17
That’s what verses 7 to 12 are about: because of the Lord’s victory on earth, when he died to pay for our sins, Michael and the angels were able to hurl the Devil and his angels out of heaven. And believers have overcome his accusations, because of the blood of the Lamb which covers our guilt, and because of the word of our testimony, through which we believe and are saved.
Verses 13 to 17 expand on what we read in verse 6. So, we read how the Dragon pursued the woman, who represents the church. But the Lord gave the woman the wings of an eagle so that she could fly away from him into the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time. If a time is a year, and times is two years, then a time, times and half a time is three and a half years. Three and a half years is also 1,260 days or 42 months. In other words, we’ve come across this time period before: it refers to the time of these, the last days, when the church is both protected by God, but persecuted by the Devil and the unbelieving world. It also matches the period of time in the days of Elijah when it did not rain for three and a half years. And during that time, God protected and provided for Elijah, who was having to hide from Jezebel who was trying to kill all of the Lord’s prophets. So, in the days of Elijah, the church was both protected and persecuted. And John’s vision tells us that this is to be the experience of the church in these, the last days. And so, in John’s vision, not only is the woman cared for in the desert, but the Dragon continues to attack her. So, in verse 15, we read how — from his mouth — he spewed water like a river to overtake the woman and sweep her away. In the book of Revelation, whatever comes out of a person’s mouth represents their words. For instance, in chapter 1, a sharp, two-edged sword came from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, to indicate the power and authority of his word. And here, the river which comes from the mouth of the Dragon perhaps represents all the ways he tries to destroy the church with deception and false doctrine.
However, in John’s vision, the church is protected from the Devil’s deceit, because the earth opened and swallowed the river. So, there, once again, is the Lord’s protection of his people: our salvation is secure and he enables the church to withstand error and to hold on to the truth of his word.
But still the Dragon does not give up, and in verse 17 we read how the Dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, who obey God’s commandments and who hold to the testimony about the Lord Jesus. The rest of the woman’s offspring are probably the members of the church. And so, once again, while the church is protected by God, the church is also persecuted by the Devil. He’s enraged with us and will do all that he can to harm us.
In these, the last days, the church is both protected and persecuted. However, whenever the church is put under pressure from the Devil, we ought to remember that the only reason he’s attacking us is because he knows he’s been beaten; and he’s waiting for the day when his end will come. He’s like a frustrated child, who cannot get his own way; and so he lashes out in all directions at once. But one day, the Lord Jesus Christ will come and take hold of him and will bind him forever so that he cannot hurt us any longer. And so, in the meantime, while we wait for that day to come, we ought to remain faithful to the Lord, and withstand every temptation with which the Devil tempts us, and we ought to stand firm against every attack upon our bodies, because we know that while the Devil can hurt our bodies, he cannot take away our salvation which Jesus Christ has won for us.