Chapter 12 is Biblical storytelling at its finest. There is no need to overthink it or over embellish it. As we'll see, its meaning is quite simple. We are going to break it down into three parts, drawing several key points from each part, and then tie it all together. And we're going to do it all in 35 minutes or less.
Let's look at 12:1-6:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
Here are some key points to ponder.
First, the woman:
The fact that the woman is clothed with the sun speaks of glory and brilliance and dignity. This is nothing less than the Biblical truth and promise that salvation comes through God's chosen people…the nation of Israel. Remember, Jesus was born through the lineage of David, King of Israel.
The crown was really a garland, or a wreath. The Greek word is "stephanos," which is a crown of victory obtained through struggle and hard work. It is the prize won after a hard race.
So here is a woman, Israel, patiently waiting through pain and struggle for the child to be born who will deliver them from sin and death. It reminds me of that wonderful Christmas song, Mary, did
You Know? "This child that you delivered would soon deliver you."
Second, the dragon:
In the Bible, the number seven is associated with completeness or perfection. Applied to the dragon, it emphasizes the universality of his power.
The dragon's sole mission is to consume and devour all that is good and right and true about God's creation. He stands ready to destroy the child when he is born.
We have to be aware of the powers of sin and evil at work in the world. Satan operates through the systems, structures, and organizations of the world. The pain, suffering, and death he wants to inflict on the woman, he wants to inflict on the world.
I love this quote from J.C. Ryle: "Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true Church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of all the saints, but records of battles?"
As 1 John 3:12 reminds us: "We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder
him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous." As God warned Cain in Genesis, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Third, the male child:
This is the pivotal moment. It's that point where the dragon has already lost the war, but he just doesn't know it yet. He will embark on a last ditch effort to pull people away from God. But the war has already been lost.
Jesus has completed his messianic mission…crucified, risen, and ascended into heaven.
By the way, the Greek word for rule is "poimaino," which means to furnish pasture for food. Jesus is leading us…he's guiding us…he's guarding us…he is feeding us. He's doing this now because the dragon could not stop him.
So a child is born and we are saved. All Satan can do is try to wrestle people away from the cross.
Let's now look at 12:7-12:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Fourth, war in heaven:
One important thing to remember. As with much of Biblical imagery, things happening on earth are played out in heaven. This moment is the heavenly counterpart to the victory of Christ over sin and death in his crucifixion and resurrection. So, again, God has already won. The war is over, but the dragon continues to harass and harangue.
Anticipating his crucifixion and resurrection, in Luke 10:18, we hear Jesus' observation, "And he said to them, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'" The dragon is already defeated. That's why we say, no matter what you experience or go through in life, all is well, because Jesus Christ is Lord.
Side note, the Greek satanas, which is translated, "Satan," was not originally a proper name. It simply means "adversary."
Here he is, scheming in heaven against God's plan for salvation, whispering threats and slander against believers. Diabolos literally means "accuser," or "slanderer." So that is how he wages war on God's people. He wants to capture people for his dark domain. Worse, he wants to destroy salvation. To break God's plan.
In waging this war, he wants the world to worship him. And while we see signs of that all around us, those who remain in Christ know that his time is already up. The wicked will continue to rage. Yet hardhearted people cannot thwart the purposes of God.
Anticipating the victory over sin and death, in John 12:30-31, Jesus says, "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” What a wonderful promise that is. As 1 John 4:4 reminds us, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
1 John 4:4 leads us to two realities. First, Satan remains active in the world. He will dupe many in the world with his appeal to self-centeredness, rebelliousness, and narcissism. And second, God's grace and mercy are stronger than any craft of the devil. So we rejoice. As verse 12 proclaims, we rejoice over Satan's fall from heaven as well as Jesus' victory over sin and death. Satan's end draws near. And so we faithfully endure, living fearlessly, even in the face of death.
Finally, let's now look at 12:13-17:
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he
pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
Fifth, war on earth:
Again, we see the reappearance of the majestic eagle, protecting the woman. It reminds us of Isaiah 40:31, "But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
Some have argued that the stream from the serpent's mouth may
symbolize both destructive teaching and malicious accusation. I like that. What better way for Satan to lead people away from God than through unbiblical teaching? That seems to be running rampant today. There are preachers and churches that one would be hard-pressed to call Christian. What was problematic 2,000 years ago is still evident today. Powers and principalities are not just at work eroding culture, but they also undermine churches by eroding the sound preaching and teaching of God's Word.
But look at who is left. Who stands strong in the face a malicious accusation? Those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. They are the ones whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.
As we finish chapter 12, we're getting closer to worst things to come. But for believers, no matter what happens, the best is yet to come. Are you with me on that?
Make no mistake. When we study chapter 12, we are overwhelmed that God has saved us. As we persevere in good times and bad, it is amazing that it is because He has chosen us…He has called us to Himself…and He
has redeemed us. "Amazing love, how can it be/That You, my King, should die for me? Amazing love, I know it's true/And it's my joy to honor You/In all I do, to honor You." All of the horribleness to come is something we will not know, because God has planned eternal glory for us.
FATHER, WE READ THESE VERSES, AND ALL WE CAN DO IS THANK YOU. THANK YOU FOR CHOOSING US. THANK YOU FOR THE COMING REIGN OF JESUS CHRIST. WHILE WE ARE NOT WORTHY OF OUR SALVATION, WE ARE THANKFUL. WE THANK YOU FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF HOLDING FAST TO THE TESTIMONY THAT DELIVERANCE FROM SIN AND DEATH IS THROUGH CHRIST AND CHRIST ALONE. SOLI DEO GLORIA. AMEN.