Revelation 12: The Dragon

Revelation 12  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In the previous division of the Revelation 6 to 11:18, we have had a prophetic unfolding of a series of judgments that will take place on earth between the rapture of the church and the appearing of Christ to claim His kingdom.
In the division that follows, from chapter 11:19 to chapter 19:10, we are given details concerning leaders, and great events in heaven and earth during this solemn time. Then, this parenthetical division being completed, we have in the division that follows, from chapter 19:11 to chapter 21:8, the unfolding of the future again continued from the appearing of Christ on to the eternal state.
In the opening section of this fresh division, chapter 11:19 to the end of chapter 13, there pass before us the prime movers in opposition to God, to Christ, and to His people, during the period of the three woes, or last three trumpet judgments, a period, as we have learned, of three and a half years that will immediately precede the appearing of Christ. During this terrible time, when all wickedness comes to a head, there will be a trinity of evil in the forefront—the Dragon, or Satan (Rev. 12); the first beast, or head of the revived Roman Empire (Rev. 13:1-101And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. 2And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. 3And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. 4And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? 5And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. 6And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. 7And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. 8And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. 9If any man have an ear, let him hear. 10He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:1‑10)); and the second beast, or Antichrist (Rev. 13:11-1811And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. 12And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, 14And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. 15And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. 16And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: 17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 18Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:11‑18)).
This division of the Revelation would seem more properly to commence with the last verse of chapter 11, as being introductory to the scenes that follow. In this verse we have a symbolic intimation that God is about to resume His public dealings with the nation of Israel, for we see the temple of God opened in heaven and discover the ark of the covenant. We know from the Old Testament that the temple speaks of God's dwelling, and the ark of the presence of God, in the midst of His earthly people. Does not this vision tell us that, in spite of Israel's long history of failure, God remains true to His covenant with His ancient people? Time was when the ark was in the temple on earth, the witness of God's covenant with Israel, and the token of His presence in their midst. Because of the idolatry of the nation the temple was destroyed and the ark of the covenant removed; and though after the captivity the temple was rebuilt, yet the ark, that spoke of God's immediate presence, was never restored. Now we learn that the ark abode, as it were, in heaven, and hence the covenant with Israel remains; though, on account of their low state, there has been no public witness to this on earth during long centuries. It was a secret cherished in heaven to be disclosed for the comfort of a godly remnant in Israel in the time when God is once more about to bring the nation into blessing.
In accord with the vision of the temple and the ark, Israel at once comes before us under the figure of a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars upon her head. This vision is symbolic, not of the nation of Israel in its failure, as seen in history, but Israel according to the purpose of God, as seen by heaven. Thus, the woman is spoken of as a great wonder in heaven. It is heaven's view of Israel. Being clothed with the sun would surely set forth the supremacy of Israel over the nations. The moon under her feet would imply that all other authority among the nations will be derived from, and subordinate to, Israel. The crown of twelve stars may speak of the administration of the twelve tribes.
There follows a view of Israel historically, as the nation from whom Christ came into the world, and the circumstances in which He came. The woman in travail with child would recall the sufferings the nation passed through before Christ was born. All had failed—people, priests, and kings—Israel had gone into captivity amid every circumstance of humiliation, suffering, and sorrow. A remnant had been restored, only to lapse into dead formality; and when at last the time had come for the birth of Christ there was only a sorrowing remnant, in the midst of a subject and downtrodden nation, who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Amidst all these humiliations the cry at last goes forth, “To us a child is born.”
This great event at once brings to light the great enemy of Christ. If there was a godly remnant, anxiously looking for the coming of Christ and their redemption, there was also the great enemy awaiting His coming to seek His destruction. It is with this great enemy of Christ, and man, that the chapter is mainly occupied.
We are left in no doubt as to who the Dragon is. He is described in verse 9 as “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan.” Thus, behind all the wickedness of man, which, in the days that precede the coming of Christ, will rise to its fearful height, we are permitted to see that Satan will be the prime mover. Wicked men will come before us, but they are the instruments of Satan who will be the instigator of their evil.
The dragon is seen in the vision as having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads. These are almost the identical terms used to describe the beast, or head of the Roman Empire, in chapter 13:1. The symbols thus present Satan as identified with the empire and seeking by means of its head to obtain universal power on earth. The seven heads suggest the idea of complete directing power, while the ten horns point to the instruments through which his power is exercised. The Roman Empire, we know, will be revived in a ten kingdom form (Rev. 17:1212And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. (Revelation 17:12)). Here the crowns are on the heads; in chapter 13 they are on the horns. If it is a question of the source of the royal authority of the empire, it is found in Satan; but, in the sight of men, the royal authority is seen in the ten kings; for this reason, it may be, the horns are crowned in chapter 13:1.
His tail that drew a third part of heaven, may be a symbolic allusion to the false prophet, or second beast of Revelation 13, even as the seven heads and ten horns point to the first beast. This we may gather from a striking passage in Isaiah 9:1515The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail. (Isaiah 9:15), in which we read, “the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” We may thus learn that the tail represents the deadly spiritual influence that follows from authority falling into the devil's power. If the influence of the first beast is to bring men into bondage to the tyranny of a devilish dictator, the influence of the second beast will end in separating men from all fear, or knowledge, of God.
The Man child is described as the One who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. None can question that this language could only apply to Christ. At once we hear of the opposition of the devil who is exposed as the one who through the ages, from the day he appeared as the serpent in the Garden of Eden until he appears as the Dragon in Revelation, is in deadly opposition to the claims of Christ. He would fain usurp the power that belongs to Christ, and which Christ is destined to wield as the ruler of all nations. Aspiring to this universal authority, he sought, at the birth of Christ, to devour the child. The great contest that has marked the ages, and that has been behind all the conflicts of men, is, Who is to have universal sway on the earth; Christ or the Devil? The answer is never in doubt for a moment, though it may often look as if the devil is triumphant.
The life and death of the Lord Jesus are here passed over in silence, and we are told that the child was caught up to heaven. Here, the subject is not the righteous basis of the blessing for men which is found in the cross, but rather the covenant of God with Israel and His ways in bringing that covenant to pass.
At this point we pass from history to prophecy yet to be fulfilled. From the ascension of Christ to the glory we are carried in thought to the flight of the woman into the wilderness. There is no mention of the nineteen centuries that have intervened during which the church has been gathered out from the world. The number of days that are mentioned again point on to the last half week of Daniel's seventy weeks. Here then we see the nation of Israel represented by a godly remnant that will flee into the wilderness during the three and a half years of the great tribulation. Their flight is immediately connected with the ascension of Christ, for all their sufferings will be owing to the absence of Christ, even as they will be ended by the appearing of Christ. The reign of the beast will, for this godly remnant, turn the world into a wilderness. They will find their refuge and blessing in taking a place outside and apart from the political and religious world of their day with its awful violence and corruption. To stand apart from the world system may indeed involve suffering, but it will secure spiritual blessing, for, in the outside place that God has prepared, this remnant will be nourished a thousand two hundred and threescore days, even as the Lord can say by the prophet Hosea, “I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart” (Hos. 2:1414Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. (Hosea 2:14) JND).
As in the day to come the blessing of the godly will be found outside of, and in separation from, the political and religious world, so in this day when all is heading up to apostasy and rebellion against God, the only true place of blessing for the believer is outside the camp gathered to Christ. This will indeed be a place of reproach, but will lead to rich spiritual blessing.
We are now permitted to look behind the scenes on earth to learn what will take place in heaven. It may seem remarkable that Satan has access to heaven, but that in some way it is so is evident from the Book of Job and other Old Testament scriptures. Further we learn that the time is coming when his power will be contested and overthrown in heaven; if in the highest place his power is broken, he knows that his time is short in the lower sphere on earth. In heaven, all through the ages, he has been the accuser of the brethren; but Christ has been their advocate. The sins of God's people that call forth the devil's accusations, bring into activity Christ's advocacy. To all the devil's accusations they have a perfect answer. They can own with sorrow and humiliation the truth of his accusations, but they plead the precious blood which cleanseth from all sin. Thus free in conscience by the blood they can maintain “the word of their testimony,” even unto death.
The heavens are called to rejoice that Satan is cast out, for in this event it is seen that God is about to intervene for the salvation of His earthly people and establish the kingdom of God under the mighty power of Christ. But if the casting out of Satan will bring joy to those who dwell in heaven, it will be woe to those who dwell on earth, for the devil, knowing that his time is short, will be filled with wrath.
The wrath of the devil will have its greatest expression against the nation of Israel. Against this terrible persecution, during the time of the great tribulation, the providence of God will open a way of escape for the godly. Their safety will be found in keeping themselves apart from the world, according to the Lord's own words to His disciples, when, looking on to this time, He can say, “Let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains” (Matt. 24:16-2116Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: 17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. (Matthew 24:16‑21)).
The form of Satan's persecution is symbolized by a flood of water from the mouth of the serpent, setting forth, probably, the nations in a fearful state of commotion seeking to sweep the Jews from the face of the earth, as it is said “that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.” “The earth helped the woman,” may set forth that, in the providential ways of God, there will be some mitigation of this ruthless persecution by the more ordered and civilized parts of the world. As ever, what stirs up the opposition of Satan will be that the remnant obey God and have the testimony of Jesus.