The Red Dragon (Rev. 12)
Bible Passage:Read the prophecy in Revelation 12.
Theme:The great controversy between Christ and Satan reveals the powers behind earthly rulers and events.
Overview:The power behind the Roman realm is now fully exposed. Satan is portrayed as a dragon who accomplishes his work through ruling powers on earth. The dragon instigates a great war, played out across the span of this earth's history. It cleverly works, behind the scenes, launching its attacks through the ruling powers on earth. The object of its wrath is a woman and her offspring. Four major battles between them are outlined, revealing how victory is achieved by the woman's child. As the prophecy progresses, the dragon's demise unfolds: He starts with a perfect life, beautiful and wise, but then becomes proud and self-sufficient. Confident he can have his way on the earth, failure in a pivotal battle suddenly changes everything. He becomes frustrated and desperately violent, lashing out at the woman and her children.
Satan's character and purposes are clearly unmasked as he tries to destroy Jesus and His followers. The controversy between Jesus and Satan, though long and painful, will have an end. Jesus triumphs!
- The story in verses 1 to 6 is repeated and enlarged in verses 7 to 16.
- There are four major events to the story:
- (a) The battle in heaven between Christ and Satan prior to the creation of this earth,
- (b) the battle on earth while Jesus was here as a human,
- (c) the battle against God's people during the middle ages, and
- (d) the battle against God's remnant during the end-time.
- The reoccuring 1260 year time period is also included in this prophecy, helping us anchor that time period as parallel with other prophecies and better understand the surrounding events.
Revelation 12:1 "1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:"
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:23-32).
A lovely and pure woman represents a pure or true church. In contrast, an unfaithful woman, a harlot, represents an impure or apostate church. Notice that the woman in this prophecy is clothed with light. In contrast, the woman in a later prophecy is described as a whore wearing purple, scarlet, gold and pearls and is filthy and drunk (Rev. 17:1-6). She is no longer lovely (Is. 47:1) and is an unfaithful woman representing an unfaithful church that has not been true to God. She is called "Babylon" and is a mother of harlots, indicating that an unfaithful church has given rise to additional unfaithful churches that resemble their mother. In the same way, the pure woman of Revelation 12 has offspring (remnant of her seed) that resemble her (Rev. 12:17).
Sun = Christ's righteousness (Mal. 4:2, Ps. 84:11, Rev. 1:16, Mt. 13:43, 17:2, Dan. 12:3). The sun is linked to Jesus' righteousness and glory, and seen through His character and actions of healing and grace.
"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall" (Malachi 4:2).
"For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11).
"And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength" (Revelation 1:16).
Note: God's people will also shine like the sun when in the new earth. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43). "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3).
Clothed = Character. The Bible often uses clothing as a symbol for character (Zech. 3:4, Rev. 3:5,18, 7:14, 12:11, 19:8, Mt. 17:2, Is. 61:10-11, Job 29:14); filthy clothes (or nakedness) represent unrighteousness, and clean clothes represent righteousness. What you are wearing matters. By wearing Christ's righteousness (sun), the church rejects "salvation by works" and relies on Jesus' power to change them.
That there is only one source of clean clothes (righteousness / good character) is a major theme of the Bible. Clean clothes can only be obtained from Jesus.
"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Revelation 3:18).
"And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment" (Zechariah 3:4).
The clothes are given to those who overcome sin by trusting in what Jesus does for them.
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Revelation 3:5).
"And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14).
"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11).
"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Revelation 19:7-8).
"And was transfigured before them: and his [Jesus'] face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light" (Matthew 17:2).
Righteousness is from Christ, and His people are clothed with it, not only as a covering, but as an empowerment to act righteously. As conviction of sin comes, the believer repents, trusting in Christ's sacrifice on the cross to take away the penalty of eternal death, and then cooperates with Jesus to change his or her desires and habits so that the power of the sin is overcome.
The woman is clothed with and surrounded by the heavenly bodies that God created to give light to the earth (Genesis 1:14-17). God designs for His church to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14). Those who are clothed with the sun represents those who believe and teach that Christ's righteousness must take the place of their own rags. Thus, Christ's character shines out to others through them.
"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations" (Isaiah 61:10-11).
"I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem." Job 29:14
Moon = The Word of God. The moon and the Word are both a light and enduring witness to the world (Ps. 119:105, 72:7, 89:37, 119:89,160, 1 Pet. 1:23-25, Is. 40:8, Rev. 11). Scriptures are the lesser light of the moon that reflect Jesus, the greater light of the sun (Jn. 5:39, Gen. 1:16). By standing on the Word, the church is firmly planted on the unerring authority of the unchanging Bible.
Lighting her way: The woman is standing on the moon. It lights her path, just like the word of God lights the Christian's path. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalms 119:105).
An Enduring Witness: The moon is always there, a symbol of unending endurance, just as the word of God endures for ever. "His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah" (Psalms 89:36-37) (see also Psalms 72:7). "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:23-25). "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalms 119:89) (see also Isaiah 40:8, 119:160). In an earlier prophecy (Revelation 11), God's word is represented as two witnesses (olive trees/candle sticks). They are suppressed, killed and then resurrected, representing the Word of God (Zech. 4:3-6), the Old and New Testaments, being suppresed during the middle ages, outlawed during the French Revolution and then rising to great heights of distribution in the 1800s. Through it all, the word of God is an enduring and faithful witness to the world.
A Lesser Light: The moon is a lesser light (Gen. 1:16) that reflects the light of the greater light, the sun (Ps. 119:105, 2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible reflects and points us to the great light, Jesus (John 5:39).
A Solid Foundation: The woman is standing on the moon, which not only illuminates her path, but gives her stability. God's people will be firmly planted in the principles and instructions of God's word, understanding that it is all about Jesus and from Jesus. The Bible contains the inspiration of the chief cornerstone, Jesus, providing a solid foundation for God's people.
Those who stand on the moon represents those who establish their belief on the sure foundation of God's word.
Crown of 12 Stars = Victoriously building the church through organized messengers. Stars represent angels/messengers (Rev. 1:20). The word translated to crown means a prize won or symbol of honor. Multiples of 12 are used in conjunction with building the church and its leadership (see construction of New Jerusalem - Rev. 21). The 12 apostles were chosen to spread the gospel in the 1st century, and the 12 tribes of Israel in ancient times. The 12 tribes with 12,000 in each (144,000) are chosen to spread the gospel (3 angels' messages - Rev. 14:1-13) at the very end with great power (Rev. 18:1-5). By wearing this crown, the church is focused on spreading the gospel and equipped by God to be organized and effective.
Twelve: The number 12 is used in the Bible in conjunction with building the church and the leadership of the church. There are the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of 12,000 each (144,000) who are sealed (Rev. 7) and give the three angels' messages (Rev. 14). The church is built on the foundation of the teachings of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20, Mark 3:14). It is organized by God and empowered to effectively spread His message.
Stars: Stars represent those who give messages, such as apostles, pastors or a church (see symbol meaning below).
Crown: Crowns give the impression of an organized rule. The 12 stars are the woman's crown, which indicates something special has been given her as a symbol of honor, organization and leadership. God's people cherish and protect God's messages, not changing them (Gal. 1:8), but are honored to teach the enduring doctrines through their church organization. They have been honored by being entrusted with precious information.
The woman who wears a crown of 12 stars represents a church that is organized with leaders and evangelists to effectively share God's messages.
Revelation 12:2 "2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered."
Just like a woman in labor, God's followers were longing for the anticipated Messiah that was to come through the bloodline of Israel and deliver them (Isaiah 7:14, 26:17; 66:7-8). They were experiencing the pains involved in the process of sharing God's messages and preparing the world for the arrival of the Messiah.
Revelation 12:3 "3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads."
As discussed in previous studies, a beast represents a kingdom or realm, and heads and horns represent political powers within the realm. The dragon represents Satan, but it also represents the earthly power through whom Satan works, which is emphasized by the fact that the dragon has seven heads and ten horns. Satan works through earthly nations and rulers to launch his attacks. An example of this is in Ezekiel 28, where Satan is represented as the King of Tyrus and also in Isaiah 14 as the King of Babylon. Whenever Satan can control a government so fully that it carries out his plans, that nation is serving as Satan's representative.
Seven heads = 7 successive political powers within the Roman realm (detail about the heads will be studied in Rev. 17).
Crowns = Royalty. The dragon and the woman both wear crowns. However, the crowns that the dragon wears are from the Greek word "diadema": and the crown the woman wears is from the Greek word "stephanos". The diadema is typically used to indicate royalty, while the stephanos is typically used to indicate victory. Thus, the crown on the dragon's heads show that the divisions of power (7 Heads) within Rome are ruling or kingly powers.
10 Horns = The tribes that make up the divided Roman realm. The ten horns represent the tribes that make up the divided Roman realm (Dan. 7:7, 24, Rev. 17:16-17) in which the heads rule. The identity of the horns were outlined in the study on Daniel 7. See more information about the political complexities of the prophetic Realm of Rome.
Revelation 12:4-5 "4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne."
Here in Revelation 14:4 and 14:7-9, the stars are "of heaven" and refer to heavenly messengers, actual angelic beings. It brings our attention to a time prior to creation when Satan (Lucifer) lived in heaven and was a perfect, beautiful angel. Yet, he became selfish and proud, leading to an open rebellion against God (Ez. 28:15,17). A significant portion ("third") of the angels ("stars") joined in Satan's rebellion (12:4). They were all cast out of heaven together ("cast them to the earth") (12:4,7-9). Jesus said He had witnessed Satan's expulsion from heaven (Lk. 10:18).
The Man Child = Jesus. Later in Revelation, we see Jesus returning to earth with the armies of heaven and it says "he shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Rev. 19:15). The child born to this pure woman is Jesus who would eventually rule all nations.
Devour her child = Satan tries to kill Jesus. Satan attempted, through the Roman realm ("dragon"), to destroy Jesus at His birth, and later carried out Jesus' crucifixion ("devour her child" - v. 4). In the attempt to devour the woman's child, Satan is revealed as working through Pagan Rome. It was Herod who sought to kill Christ at his birth and the Roman ruler's implemented His crucifixion. Pagan Rome continued then to put apostles to death and destroy Jerusalem and the sanctuary. Roman emperors then persecuted Christians for centuries.
Child caught up to God = Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven. Satan was unsuccessful, and Jesus was victorious, completed His work, was resurrected and ascended to heaven ("child was caught up") (Acts 1:9, John 16:10; 20:17; Rev. 3:21).
Revelation 12:6 "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days."
Thousand two hundred and threescore days = 1260 years (538 AD to 1798 AD). When Satan failed to destroy Jesus, he turned on Jesus' people in anger ("he persecuted the woman" - v.13). God helped His people hide for 1260 years ("thousand two hundred and threescore days"). The same period is mentioned later as "a time, and times, and half a time" (v. 14). Thus, one "time" equals one year (360 days), "times" equals two years (720 days) and "half a time" equals a half a year (180 days), for a total of 1260 days. Study more details about the 1260 Days.
The period of time mentioned here coincides with the 1260 years of Papal oppression (538 AD to 1798 AD) foretold in a number of other prophecies. Just as Satan was revealed to be working through Rome during its Pagan phase, it is now revealed to be working through Rome during its Papal phase. In the next prophecy (Revelation 13), more detail of this transition and time period is given, showing the transfer of power from Pagan Rome to Papal Rome. Rome continues, but enters a new phase of its power, going from Pagan opposition to God, to a religious system that professed Christianity, but continued Pagan practices and set up a substitute mediatorial system.
The horn in Daniel 7, which we previously learned also represents Papal Rome, shows how this period of time was such a terrible trial for God's people (Dan. 7:21, 25). Millions of people were tortured and killed for their faith. We find now that some relief was provided for those who could flee into remote areas as symbolized by the wilderness. This ensured that God's message for the world would be preserved and continue to be preached in its pure form.
Revelation 12:7-9 "7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. "
Revelation 12:10-12 "10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. 12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time."
In these verses (10-12) we see another casting down of Satan. This one brings an end to Satan's ability to accuse the brethren. It occurs as a result of Jesus' victory while on earth as a human. His perfect success on earth broke the power of Satan to claim ownership of and power over human sinners who place their faith in Christ's sacrifice. This victory broke the power of Satan to accuse God that it was impossible for a human to deny self and follow the law of God. Christ silenced his charges by demonstrating the truth.
The heavenly beings have now seen the true nature of Satan's rebellion and no longer have any sympathy for him or doubts about his cause. Notice in verse 12 that those who dwell in the heavens are now rejoicing, but those who inhabit the earth have woe. We have woe because now all of Satan's efforts are concentrated on this earth and human souls. Satan and his angels can no longer harass or sway the opinion of heavenly beings.
Overcame: The verse refers to overcoming the accuser, who was stated to be Satan (v. 9). Overcoming means to subdue, conquer and gain the victory. This involves all the steps in character transformation, with the first and foremost step being to choose to change rulers, putting your faith in Jesus (the Lamb) and then continuing on to cooperate with Him to change your desires and habits so you are freed from the overpowering pull of sin (2 Tim. 2:26, Heb. 2:14-15, James 4:7, Rom. 6:14).
Testimony: Your testimony is the evidence or report you give of what you believe. During the fifth seal of Revelation, many were slain because of their testimony (Rev. 6:9). Jesus' testimony is revealed in His Word and especially through the words of prophecy (Rev. 19:10). It is the evidence of what you believe and have actually experienced, as revealed in word and action. This type of testimony has caused millions to be martyred since the time of Christ (v.13) and persecution will revive again at the end of time when the dragon makes war with the remnant church (v.17).
Loved not their lives unto the death: Those who have a personal experience with Christ, do not compromise truth and are willing to die for Him. God's people do not put anything ahead of God, being true to Him and telling the truth about what they believe, even if it comes to the point of giving up their lives. God's people will not compromise truth to accommodate popular opinion, peer pressure or even threats to their lives.
Revelation 12:13-16 "13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. 14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. 16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth."
Earth Swallowed the Flood = Sparsely inhabited areas that hid God's followers from Roman armies. Waters represent multitudes of people or nations (Rev. 17:15). In Rev. 13, the beast from the "sea" represents a power that rises among many nations (very populated area). In contrast, the beast from the "earth", which arises after the first beast, grows to power in a less-inhabited region. A flood represents invading armies (Jer. 47:2-3; 46:7-9). Thus, the earth (USA and other less-inhabited areas) helped the woman by absorbing/diverting ("swallowed") the Roman armies coming after God's people.
Waters represent multitudes of people or nations (Rev. 17:15). In Revelation 13, the beast from the sea represents a power that rises from among many people and nations; a very populated area. In contrast, a beast from the earth arises after the first beast, growing to power in a less inhabited region of the earth. This second beast, as we will study in the next prophecy, represents the United States of America, which helped provide a safe haven for God's people. Many fled to the new world to escape the persecution of kings and popes. A flood represents invading armies (Jer. 47:2-3; 46:7-9). Thus, the earth (USA and other less-inhabited areas) helped the woman by providing a safe haven away from the armies of Rome. It absorbed/diverted ("swallowed") the flood of armies coming after God's people.
Satan saw that God's true message was being preserved and he sent out a flood in an attempt to destroy the church. A flood of water represents many people or an army that seeks to conquer.
"Thus saith the LORD; Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing flood, and shall overflow the land, and all that is therein; the city, and them that dwell therein: then the men shall cry, and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl. At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands" (Jeremiah 47:2-3).
"Who is this that cometh up as a flood, whose waters are moved as the rivers? Egypt riseth up like a flood, and his waters are moved like the rivers; and he saith, I will go up, and will cover the earth; I will destroy the city and the inhabitants thereof. Come up, ye horses; and rage, ye chariots; and let the mighty men come forth; the Ethiopians and the Libyans, that handle the shield; and the Lydians, that handle and bend the bow" (Jeremiah 46:7-9).
Waters represent multitudes of people or nations (Rev. 17:15). When people (waters/nations) are organized to support or enforce the will of a political power, they become an army (river). When the army overwhelms their opponents they conquer them (the river floods/overflows its banks) (Dan. 9:26, 11:22, Is. 59:19, Nahum 1:8).
The Papacy convinced the political powers within the Roman Realm to carry out persecution for it and enforce its penalties for heretics. Armies were sent out to seek and destroy God's people in the remote areas of the countries. However, the earth "swallowed up the flood" as the new world absorbed/diverted the armies and Rome was not able to conquer God by vanquishing His people.
Revelation 12:17 "And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Remnant of her Seed = God's end-time church. The remnant is the end-time, the 7th and last church, given the responbility to preserve and share God's messages with God's people who are still in unfaithful churches (Babylon). See more details about "The Remnant".
Keep the commandments of God = The remnant church teaches obedience, through faith, to all 10 of God's commandments. This is also a characteristic of those who receive the seal of God (see Revelation 14). "[H]ere are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). The commandments are kept out of love, in response to Jesus' love, and made possible only through faith in Jesus' power. "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
Testimony of Jesus = Gift of prophecy. The angel later tells John that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (19:10). The remnant will manifest the gift of prophecy and thus be enabled to teach and uplift prophecy in a special way.
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Additional Resources:The Red Dragon (interactive presentation)
The Remnant of Her Seed
Continue to the next study: Mark of the Beast & Seal of God (Rev. 13-14)
Millennium (Rev. 20:1 - 20:15)
New Earth (Rev. 21:1 to 22:21)
Epilogue (Rev. 22:6 to 22:21)