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.
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!”
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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
What we see here are symbols. How do we know? John tells us. “And a great sign appeared in heaven.” This is not a literal woman. Nor a literal male child. They are signs that point to real events. John is seeing spiritual reality. They have physical manifestations. Trying to make these literal events ignore the genre of the book. The first rule of sound hermeneutics is asking the question, “What does it say?” It says these are signs or symbols.
The identification of the male child is easy. The male child is Jesus. Jesus is the one who rules all the nations. Christ is the one who rules with a rod of iron. (Revelation 19:15)
But who is the woman? Some claim the woman is Mary. This is trying to take the symbol too literally. Mary is only a partial fit. Mary was a woman. She gave birth to Christ. But then it falls apart. Herod tried to kill Christ, not Mary. Mary fled to Egypt. She did not hide in the wilderness. There is no mention of a flood. The earth does not rise up and protect Mary.
But the strongest reason to reject the idea of the woman as Mary is Christ’s own words. What is Revelation about? Again ask, “What does it say?” This is a book of things that were going to happen soon. (Revelation 1:1) In other words, this is a book of future prophecy. It is not a history book. Some history appears for context. But Mary being the woman in this passage makes it all history.
Sound hermeneutics requires we reject Mary being the woman.
Others say the woman as a reference to Eve. God promised Eve her seed would crush the head of the serpent. Again the symbolism does not fit well. God expelled Adam and Eve, not Satan. We can assume they ended up in a wilderness. But Eve had died by the time of the flood. Satan did not pursue Eve.
Another thought is the woman is the church. The woman is the queen of heaven. The church is the queen of heaven. But the church is the bride of Christ. The church is not the mother of Christ. It is Christ who births the church.
Isaiah 66 contains the key. This is the original source of these figures. Isaiah 66:8 tells us the woman is Zion. The offspring are the faithful in the land. So the woman is the Church in a very narrow sense. She is not the church at large. She is the church in Zion or the Jerusalem church.
Christ was born into the family of Israel. This reminds us that Jesus has both a human nature as well as a divine nature. Christ is a child of the covenant people. God promised His covenant people a Messiah. And He fulfilled that promise. He fulfilled it out of His chosen people.
The Jerusalem church suffered and fled as the Roman held siege on Jerusalem. The church birthed other churches. And Satan tried to stamp out the church in Jerusalem. Then he attempted to destroy the rest of the churches through Roman persecution.
The dragon is another symbol. John describes the dragon as red. The dragon has seven heads and ten horns. And on his head are seven crowns.
His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. This is a symbol of the power of the dragon. Who is the dragon? This is the simplest of all these symbols to understand. Why? Because John tells us. “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (v9).
The symbolism of the dragon lets us know a lot about Satan. First John tells us the dragon is red. Both Thayer’s and Strong’s Greek dictionary both say the word means fire in color. The woman is clothed in the sun. And Satan tries to impersonate her. There are several churches today that claim to be Christian yet are not. They clothe themselves in the clothing of the church. But they oppose Christ. I started to list several examples but there were too many. There many local churches as well as entire denominations who are excellent examples.
As we have seen in the past Horns symbolize power. The fact John said the dragon’s tail swept down a third of the stars was a demonstration of how powerful.
The persecution was never worse than the period of the Jewish revolt. Persecution can from the Jews. Then it came from the Roman army. Christ warned the church to abandoned Jerusalem. (Matthew 25:15-22, Mark 13:14-20, Luke 21:20-24). They fled as on eagle’s wings into the wilderness beyond the Jordan. Christ preserved the church by having it flee. Christ had warned His followers when specific signs appeared, they were to head to the hills. They did that.
This interpretation preserves the integrity of the book. While we see this as history. It has occurred. To John, it was a prophecy. And It was fulfilled soon.
There was a war in heaven Michael and His angels fought and defeated the dragon. When did this war occur? Some claim John is reporting history. This occurred millions of years ago. They teach Satan was a good angel who went bad. They believe this is only context. They say John did not see it occur because he did not say “And I saw…” as was his custom. Since John did not see it occur it was something that had occurred rather than would occur.
That view has trouble fitting into the rest of scripture and the rest of the Revelation of John. We read Satan was in God’s presence (Job 1:6). John wrote Satan was the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) He accused day and night. That is all the time. And he did it before God. Satan was in heaven at the time of John’s vision.
Before Jesus ascension, Satan was the god of this world. That is why Satan was able to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. He offered Jesus all the kingdoms of this world (Matthew 4:8–9). Jesus came to conquer Satan. He received authority over heaven and earth from the Father. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, He told His disciples that Satan was about to be defeated. Satan was not yet defeated he was about to be defeated.
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31)
After Satan and his angels were cast out, John 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.
Once the Dragon was thrown down to earth he pursued the woman. Satan came after the church. Who or what persecuted the church. Before the fall of Jerusalem, the Jews persecuted the church. After the fall of Jerusalem, Rome persecuted the church. Satan was the spiritual power behind Rome. That is not to say everything Roman did was demonic. But Satan manipulative Roman authorities to do his will.
During Nero’s reign (AD 54–68) he crucified thousands of Christians. They were sewn in the skins of wild animals and eaten by wild dogs. He had them tied to mad bulls and dragged to death. He had them dipped in tar and lit on fire.
These actions do not sound rational. They sound demonic. But it fits the Revelation 12:12 description. It fits a spiritual being with great rage.
Once we see Satan as the spiritual power behind the Roman Empire, the symbolism of the dragon makes sense. The correspondence between the dragon’s description and the leaders of Rome. The correspondence is amazing. The dragon’s seven heads and ten horns correspond well to the symbolism.
There were seven Caesars. Julius Caesar, Augustus and five members of Augustus’ family. They ruled until AD 68. These correspond to the seven heads of the dragon.
The Roman Empire was divided into ten regions. Each region had its own leader. This corresponds to the ten horns.
Futurists also associate the dragon with Rome. But, they envision Revelation 4 through 18 as a future. They see it as a future seven-year period of tribulation. They believe there will be a revived Roman Empire. It will emerge before the second coming of Jesus.