Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 12
Chapter 20

Imagine if you will, sitting in a huge theater, being carried vicariously through time as the events of history are graphically displayed before you. Such is our experience in Revelation, 12 through 14, where John unfolds before our eyes in word picture, a panorama of events that are very important to understanding the Great Tribulation.

Because the Book of Revelation speaks clearly and often about judgment, it is in some sense the counter-balance to the rest of the New Testament, which focuses primarily on the Grace of God in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, permeating the pages of the New Testament is the call to trust Christ and be saved from the coming judgment of God. However, Revelation is mostly silent on the subject of grace, for this is not a book in which the primary focus is the call to salvation. Rather, it is an account of judgment and Chapters 12 through 14, explain the necessity of the judgment of God. The main actor is Satan and rightly so, for he is the "father of lies, the originator of sin" and the one ultimately responsible for the necessity of God's righteous judgment of the earth.

Also note that while John reports the accounts in the sequence he saw them, they are not chronological in order of actual occurrence. Each of the mini-operas in these three chapters must be individually related to its proper place in time. We begin with,

I. The Account of a Pregnant Woman

"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. And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered" (Revelation 12:1-2).
When one thinks of a great wonder, one normally thinks of a thing or event beyond the ordinary, something not seen in the normal course of life or events. So it is with this "great wonder in heaven." It must be something out of the ordinary, something unexpected in the hallowed halls of heaven.

This "great wonder" is more than just a miraculous event, it is in reality a sign. The Greek word, "semeion," used here, means "sign" not "wonder." The Greek word "teras," which means "wonder," is not used in Revelation.

So what is this great sign, this unexpected happening in heaven? In agreement with the context of the passage, it can only be the redemption of mankind brought by the birth of the child.

In Revelation 12:5, we see evidence the child can be none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice, the text says, "And she brought forth a male child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne."

So is the woman in this text, Mary, the mother of our Lord? At first it would seem so, but look again at the description of the woman in v:1. "A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

Fortunately, the Book of Genesis solves the riddle of this description for us. Genesis 37:9-10 says,

"And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?"
In this passage, the sun is Jacob, the moon represents Rachel, and the twelve stars are the twelve patriarches or sons of Jacob. Using these same definitions, we can see that the woman in Revelation 12:1, so closely identified with Jacob, Rachel, and the twelve patriarchs is not a single human. This woman is representative of Israel, the nation.

Listen to the Apostle Paul, in Romans 9:4-5 as he describes the relationship of Israel to God.

"Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."
The woman is Israel, in the sense that the human ancestry of Christ is traced through national Israel and the great wonder or sign is this: God, rather than judge sin and close the book on humanity, chose, by His Grace, through the nation and seed of Israel, to bring into the world a Savior to redeem fallen and sinful humanity.

Next there is,

II. Another Wonder Described

"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. 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 who was ready to be delivered, to devour her child as soon as it was born" (Revelation 12:3-4).
This wonder or sign in heaven is sin, something previously unknown in the abode of God and this passage is recognized by many as an account of the fall of Satan and his angels. In open rebellion against the Majesty on High, the great red dragon or Satan drew into his service a third of the angels in heaven and because these angels followed on Satan's tail they were cast to earth.

This occurred long before the birth of Christ but because the dragon is said to stand before the woman to devour her child, we know that Satan made it his mission to try to frustrate the Grace of God by attacking Israel and then, by trying to destroy the Christ.

The description of the red dragon with "seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads," is thought to be a description of the Roman Empire foretold in Daniel 7:7-8, 24.

Satan did use the Roman Empire as the mechanism to crucify Christ, in his attempt to destroy the Savior whom God sent. You may recall the charge against Jesus that was nailed to His cross said He was King of the Jews. Rome, at the insistence of the Pharisees, crucified Jesus, not because He was a malefactor, but because He was King of the Jews.

However, in crucifying our Lord Jesus Christ, Satan did not frustrate the grace and plan of God. For it was on that cross that Christ paid the penalty for the sins of the world and purchased forever with His own blood, the redemption of all who will believe He died for them and rose from the grave.

III. From the Ascension to the Tribulation

"And she brought forth a male child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Revelation 12:5-6).
Because Israel rejected the Messiah who was born unto them, we see that He went "unto God and to His throne." This speaks of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into the heavens where He is now seated on the right hand of His Father's Throne.

But what about the woman or Israel? Concerning her, we read, "And the woman fled into the wilderness." The wilderness signifies Israel being apart from the blessings of God.

We know this because for Israel to receive God's blessing it is required she be in the place of blessing, which is the promised land. Deuteronomy 30:16-18 says,

"...and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land to which thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them, I declare unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, to which thou passest over the Jordan to go to possess it."
The wilderness in Revelation 12:6, is the Great Tribulation when Israel will be persecuted by all the nations. However, the promise God makes to Israel is that He will preserve His remnant during the entire 1,260 days or 3 1/2 years of this Great Tribulation.

One of the difficulties in understanding this passage is that while John mentions the ascention of Messiah and the Great Tribulation, there is a tremendous amount of time not mentioned in this text, between the ascension of our Lord into the Heavens and the latter half of the Tribulation.

The period passed over by John is the period when God exercises His grace by calling all whoshould be saved. This period includes both the Church Age in which we now live, and the first half of the Tribulation during which innumerable people will be saved, according to Revelation 7:9.

Again, may I remind you the focus of this portion of Scripture is on judgment, not Grace and is therefore, the probable reason for the great gap in time between Revelation 12:5 and 12:6.

IV. War in Heaven

"And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven" (Revelation 12:7-9).
Here, our attention is directed to an event in heaven having a great bearing on the woman, Israel, who fled into the wilderness. The event is war in heaven. Again, there is an account of rebellion in heaven and again, Satan is at the center of the fracas. Because this war or rebellion occurs at the beginning of the last half of the Tribulation, this must be a second rebellion against God, led by Satan.

We know from Isaiah 14:12-14, that at some point in ages past, Satan said, "I will be like the Most High." The result of his pride was God cast him out of heaven and the common understanding of Satan being cast out of heaven is that he was removed from the abode of God. However, we know from Job 1:6-7, Satan has the run of the heavens and the earth, and on occasion is allowed into the presence of God.

This information may be understood this way: Satan can go where he wills within the created universe, but he is not allowed into the presence of God without special permission.

Satan's domain is the created universe, called heaven, but he does not have unlimited access to the abode of God, which is also called heaven. Therefore, it is most likely the war between Michael and Satan and their respective angels will take place in the created heavens, not in the abode of God.

The result of this conflict is clear:

V. Satan is Cast Down to the Earth

"And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 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, who accused them before our God day and night. 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. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them" (Revelation 12:9-12a).
No longer will Satan and his followers have the run of the created universe. They will be confined to the earth. But, more important, according to our text, Satan, "the accuser of our brethren" will be cast down or shall we say silenced. No longer will he be allowed to bring empty charges against the brethren. Not that his accusations ever have any weight against the Saints for John says, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb." Make no mistake, the blood of Christ is sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of those who trust Him as Savior.

Also, we know these accused by Satan trusted Christ. We know "by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." This means they expressed their faith with words and backed it with their actions.

Although Satan's words have no merit, surely, it will be a relief for the slanderous tongue of the accuser to be silenced. No longer will heaven be plagued with the railings of a created being who thinks he is above the Creator.

With the casting down of Satan the final moments of earth's history begin to tick off and so begins the countdown to the events described by these words. "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ." No need to wonder why our text says, "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them."

However, the outlook for the earth is not so good.

VI. Woe to the Earth

"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. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the male child, 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. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened he mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was angry with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:12b-17).
Now, I cannot think of many things worse than to be at the mercy of the devil, especially when he is angry. Do you remember the plagues of demons we studied in Revelation 9? The first group will have the power to sting men as scorpions for five months and the second wave will kill a third of mankind with their tails like serpents and mouths breathing fire and brimstone.

Revelation 9, describes the ferocity with which Satan, angered at having been confined to the earth and knowing he has a short time left will attack the inhabitants of the planet. Though Satan will lash out at all of humanity, the primary target of his rage will be Israel, for Israel is the woman who brought forth the Child that overcomes Satan. But God will protect His Remnant, Israel, by carrying her swiftly into the wilderness, where she will be protected "for a time, and times, and half a time." If a time is one year, and times are two years, then this tells us the woman will be protected for 3 1/2 years or throughout the Great Tribulation. This corresponds with our Lords words in Matthew 24:15-22.

"When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place... Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains; Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto those who are with child, and to those who nurse children in those days! But pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day; For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
When the Abomination of Desolation occurs at the midpoint of the seven year Tribulation, the believing remnant is instructed to flee to the mountains, because Satan will unleash a flood of persecutions designed to annihilate Israel. But Revelation 12:16 says, "And the earth helped the woman." Apparently, the mountainous terrain where the remnant is instructed to hide will prevent the persecutors ferreting out Israel . Even so, if God did not intervene to shorten those days, there would be none of the Elect (Israel) saved from Satan's persecution.

Revelation 12:17, identifies those in Israel with whom Satan is angry. "And the dragon was angry with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."

As always, Satan will attack those who believe God and reject the ways of the world. But for Believers during the Great Tribulation and for Believers today, there is comfort in the knowledge of Revelation 12:12. Satan "hath but a short time" until he and his followers are cast into the Lake of Fire, while we have eternity to enjoy our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006