We are continuing to work through the Book of Revelation with a focus on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John. You may read the commentary to date by clicking here.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together, we have captured the commentary into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the links below to capture notes on chapter 12. If you missed the link to notes on chapters 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10, or 11, links are provided as well.
Rev. 12:12 – Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time. (HCSB)
Rejoice, O heavens … woe to the earth and the sea
As a result of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and the victory won by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the saints’ testimony, the voice in heaven declares, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time” (v. 11).
There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents, being transported by faith out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light (Luke 15:7). There is rejoicing on earth when Jesus casts out demons; when He rides triumphantly into Jerusalem; and when He rises from the dead, being declared the Son of God with power and defeating the Devil and his works. And there is rejoicing in “the heavens” – the sky, the stellar heavens, the unseen spiritual realm – when Satan is banished and his span of influence is severely restricted. The angels, the redeemed – even creation itself – exults in this epic event with everlasting benefits. There is rejoicing everywhere the glory of God dispels the darkness of Satan.
But in this passage there also is woe, because Satan has not yet been banished to the abyss for a time, or to hell for eternity. For a short time, Satan and his demons are confined to earth, and knowing his time is short, he rules his fleeting kingdom with great fury. It’s interesting to look ahead one verse, where the dragon sees that he has been thrown to earth. It’s as if he cannot believe his lot. Once an anointed cherub, once a mighty, beautiful, intelligent servant of God, with the universe at his disposal, he now finds himself confined to the “earth and the sea,” and he is not happy about it.
The woman is depicted as “pregnant” in verse 2. She cries out in labor and agony to give birth. Perhaps this is a summary description of Israel’s tortuous path to the virgin birth. God’s people have experienced slavery in Egypt, captivity in Assyria and Babylon, the destruction of their great city and temple, and a legacy of wicked leaders and false prophets. That the nation of Israel exists at all by the time of Roman rule is a miracle unto itself. But now the agonies of childbirth are about to give way to the joy of experiencing a most unique miracle as God becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
Despite his most sinister efforts, Satan is unable to destroy God’s people or prevent the birth of their Messiah. John describes it simply: “But she gave birth to a Son – a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5). This reference is taken from the Greek translation of Ps. 2:9 – “you will shepherd [rule] them with a rod of iron.” The Hebrew text renders it, “[Y]ou will smash them with a rod of iron.” Either way, the emphasis is on the reign of a king.
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.
Rev. 12:1 – A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. 2She was pregnant and cried out in labor and agony to give birth. 3Then 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. 5But she gave birth to a Son – a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter – and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days. (HCSB)
Between the seventh trumpet and the first bowl judgment there is an interlude of four chapters featuring remarkable imagery and stunning characters – from the Lamb to a fiery red dragon. It begins with John describing “a great sign in heaven” and the appearance of three larger-than-life beings.