Rev. 12:3 – Then another sign appeared in heaven: There was a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4His tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. And the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she did give birth he might devour her child. (HCSB)
A fiery red dragon
In verse 3 John records another sign appearing in heaven: “a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns.” On his heads are seven diadems. There is widespread agreement among Bible scholars that John is gazing at Satan. Any reasonable doubt is erased in verse 9, where the dragon is called “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world.” More than merely identify the dragon, John gives us important clues as to his character and purpose. Let’s look more closely.
First, we must ask why he is depicted as a fiery red dragon. The Jewish reader in John’s day would be quite familiar with this beast. In the Old Testament world, the dragon or sea monster is one of several closely related symbols representing the chaos and evil threatening God’s creation. Specifically, Old Testament writers speak of Leviathan, Rahab, and the dragon or sea monster, with an emphasis on God’s power to conquer him.
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which this prophecy is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
Isa. 27:9 – Therefore Jacob’s iniquity will be purged in this way, and the result of the removal of his sin will be this: when he makes all the altar stones like crushed bits of chalk, no Asherah poles or incense altars will remain standing.
Isaiah looks ahead to the destiny of God’s ancient people. The Lord again will tend to His vineyard (see Isa. 5:1-5; 27:2-4), purge the people’s sins and return them to their land. Isaiah’s use of the ancestral name “Jacob” is a reference to all Jewish people.
Isaiah refers to “leviathan” in verse 1 and calls him the “fleeing serpent … the twisting serpent … the monster that is in the sea.” The name means “twisting one” and is a mythological sea serpent or dragon associated with the chaos at creation. Sometimes the name is used of an animal such as the crocodile. “Leviathan” is referenced in other Old Testament passages – Job 3:8, 41:1; Ps. 74:14, 104:26 – and the context must help determine its meaning.
But why would Isaiah tell us God will “bring judgment” on this creature if he is only a mythological figure or an animal? In Ezek. 29:3, 32:2, Rev. 12:3 and elsewhere, wicked human leaders hostile to Israel are similarly described; “antitypically and ultimately Satan is intended (Rev 20:10)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 27:1). If these earthly leaders personify Satan and his evil intent toward mankind in general and Israel in particular, then both the human leaders and Satan ultimately will experience the wrath of God.
John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck provide deeper insight into Isaiah’s use of this word:
In Ugaritic literature (of Ugarit, a city-state in North Syria) reference is made to a similar seven-headed creature. Isaiah, though not believing this ancient Semitic myth, simply referred to Leviathan to convey his point (cf. Job 3:8). Leviathan, the twisting monster of the sea, was viewed in Ugaritic literature as an enemy of order in Creation. But the Lord can stop this chaotic state and establish order on the earth and in people’s hearts. When God’s judgment comes in that day, when He slays the wicked at the end of the Tribulation, it will be like His slaying the chaotic dragon Leviathan. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1075).
The Song of the Vineyard (Isa. 27:2-6)
Isaiah employs the phrase “on that day” four times in this chapter to highlight the Lord’s future dealings with Israel and her enemies. Yahweh will “bring judgment on Leviathan” (v. 1; cf. Rev. 20:1-3, 10); cause Israel to “blossom and bloom” (v. 6); gather His people (v. 12); and enable them to worship Him in Jerusalem (v. 13).
The vineyard in verses 2-6 symbolizes Israel, and there is an interesting contrast between the songs of the vineyard in Isa. 5:1-7 and Isa. 27:2-6. In the first song, Isaiah laments the destruction of the vineyard for its unfruitfulness. The second song, however, rejoices over the prospect of God’s protection and the vineyard’s ultimate abundance. Isaiah makes the point that the covenant-keeping Lord will do whatever is necessary to make Israel the nation through which He will bless the world (see Gen. 12:3). If the nation produces “thorns and briers” He will “burn it to the ground” (v. 4); surely His judgments against the northern kingdom at the hands of Assyria and the southern kingdom at the hands of Babylon are clear examples of the vineyard owner’s pruning capabilities. On the other hand, if His people “take hold of My strength” and “make peace with Me” (v. 5), He will cause Israel to “fill the whole world with fruit” (v. 6).
Warren Wiersbe offers this insight: “In Isaiah’s day, the vineyard was producing wild grapes; but in the future kingdom, Israel will be fruitful and flourishing…. The Bible speaks of three vines: the people of Israel (Isa. 5; 27), Christ and His church (John 15), and godless Gentile society, “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18). The vineyard of Israel is not bearing fruit, the “vine of the earth” is filling the world with poisonous fruit, and God’s people must be faithful branches in the Vine and produce fruit that glorifies God’s name” (Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).
Looking at this passage from a New Testament perspective, we can see how Jesus the Messiah blessed the whole world through His work on the cross (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), and how, in His second coming, He will judge His enemies and gather before Him redeemed people of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
The Coming Judgment (Isa. 27:7-11)
Because the Lord loves His people He will punish them and purify them so they are fruitful. While judgment is about to fall on Judah, the Lord promises not to deal as harshly with her as he does with her enemies. He will use warfare and exile (Isa. 27:8) – certainly warfare with Assyria, and later warfare with and exile to Babylon. But if the result is that Judah relinquishes her idolatry, her hardship is not in vain. The terms “His severe storm” and “the east wind” (Isa. 27:8) may refer figuratively to Babylon, which lay to the east and would destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. “The Exile would help purify Judah so that she would not worship foreign gods and goddesses” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1076).
Israel would be driven out of her land because of her disobedience to the Law (Deut. 28:15-16, 25, 49-52). Evidence of her repentance would be the pulverizing of altar stones dedicated to false gods, and the removal of Asherah poles, wooden symbols of the Canaanite goddess of fertility. None of these pagan gods would be able to spare God’s people from seeing their nation defeated, their capital city ruined, and their land left desolate. Hungry calves would graze among Jerusalem’s rubble, stripping bark off trees for food. Women would cut off tree branches and use them to build fires. All of these are to be signs that the Lord is judging His people by temporarily withdrawing His compassion (v. 11).
The Regathering of Israel (Isa. 27:12-13)
But God’s anger will not burn forever against His people. He promises “on that day” to regather the Jews in their homeland. He will “thresh grain from the Euphrates River as far as the Wadi of Egypt” (v. 12). This probably means he will bring judgment upon these far-flung regions – Assyria, Babylon and Egypt – and draw His people back to Jerusalem and its surroundings. Verse 13 also may include Gentiles among the “lost” and “dispersed.” Certainly within a few generations of this prophecy, the Jews are released from captivity in Babylon. And in our generation we have witnessed the birth of the modern state of Israel. But the ultimate promise is that when Messiah returns to sit on the throne of David, Israel’s borders will be widened and all believers will dwell in the land God promised Abraham.
Gary V. Smith comments: “This prophecy describes how God can make something beautiful and productive (the vineyard in 27:2-6) out of something that was quite hopeless (the vineyard in 5:1-7). The credit goes to God who cares and protects his vineyard, but the choice to produce good or sour grapes was the choice of the vines, the people of Israel. This second song reminds the reader that God has the ability to transform people into beautiful blossoming plants in spits of their former rebellion. He does not give up on rebellious people but loves them and by his grace gathers them to worship together at his temple (27:12-13). His wonderful grace is still available to those who remain in rebellion against him” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 465-66).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips