In Revelation 12 we have what could be considered one of the easiest to understand of the word-pictures in John’s Revelation. Although possibly a simple picture to understand, it contains a message that all Christians would do well to remember.
“Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was screaming in labour pains, struggling to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 day” (Revelation 12:1-6 NET).
So, what is this word-picture depicting? The key would be who the male child is. This child would “rule over all the nations with an iron rod.” This phrase is found three other times in the Bible (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27; 19:15). In all three places this is a reference to the Messiah, the Son of God – Jesus himself. The dragon throughout this book refers to Satan. What we have illustrated here is what happened when the Messiah came into the world. Satan wanted to destroy Jesus at his birth. We see that happening in Matthew 2, with the visit of the magi and their being warned by God to not return with their information to Herod. As a result Herod tried to kill this child by slaughtering the children two years old and under in the area around Bethlehem. Jesus was spared because an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt, which he did immediately.
In the rest of Revelation 12 we find a war occurring in heaven in which the dragon is defeated and thrown to the earth. When thrown to the earth, the dragon pursued the woman who had given birth, but she was rescued from everything that the dragon tried. Of significance to our thought is verse 17: “So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.”
Although the woman seems to have originally been Mary, probably it would be more accurate to think of her as God’s faithful people. It was through the Israelites that the Messiah came. The dragon continued to pursue those faithful to God and, although defeated and thwarted, Satan does not give up. He now makes war “on the rest of her children” – on all Christians, “those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.”
There is much more involved in the word-pictures in this prophecy, which scholars debate and disagree on. What we can learn from this is just as Satan tried to defeat Jesus when he came to the earth, he still tries to defeat those following Jesus today. The only way we can withstand Satan is to keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus – in other words, through accurately using God’s word. May we continue reading and learning from what God has given to us.
Readings for next week:
8 December – 1 John 1-2
9 December – 1 John 3-4
10 December – 1 John 5
11 December – 2 & 3 John
12 December – John 1