Revelation 12

Chapter 12

The "great sign" grabs out attention and begins a new section of three (12v1,3, 15v1). They point to the great realities behind history. "In heaven" tennis is they pictorially doesn't earthly realities bound up with God's purposes.
     The woman represents Israel as Jacob's family (Gen 37v9). That could limit her reference as Christian believers are identified as her offspring and presented as attacked by the devil whilst she is kept safe (see notes on v17). However it could hardly be said that Israel has been kept safe since in a literal sense. Moreover, chapter 7 portrayed the church as included in Israel, and the woman seems to represent the entire righteous community which is the new Jerusalem as opposed to the prostitute who signifies the wicked and Babylon. Most likely the woman therefore represents the corporate people of God with the individuals as her offspring - just as the prophets spoke of Jerusalem as a woman and her people as her offspring (Jer 2).
     Clothed with the sun the woman is glorified (Is 60v1f). The moon "under her feet" may also present her as having dominion over darkness. Within the wider book the crown probably represents her conquering tribulation and reigning with Christ. The 12 stars imply the fullness of God's people - perhaps as represented by angels (cf. 1v20).
     v2: The child she gives birth to is obviously the messiah (v5, Ps 2). This makes her labour pains the trials faithful Israel faced in the inter-testamental age under Greece, the Selucids with Antiochus Ephiphanies, and then Rome. This reminds the persecuted believers of their heritage. She "cried out" like the Israelites in Egypt, continuing the Exodus allusions - and was sent her saviour.
     v3: John now sees a second sign. Verse 9 tells us the dragon is Satan (meaning "adversary") who deceived Adam and Eve. The OT also portrays evil kingdoms as dragons showing his influence. And that may be in mind in a secondary sense. He is "red" because of the bloody slaughter he works (6v4). His description is similar to the beast of Daniel 7v20, but for numbers of heads. And the beast of Revelation 13v14 bears his image. But this is the devil himself not his King and anti-Christ. His 7 heads show him a monster but also reflect the completeness of his rule - underlined by the diadem or crown-headband on each one. We're not told how the 10 horns are dispersed between the heads or whether even on them. But with 10 signifying many, they represent the immensity of his power mediated through 10 individuals who will arise out of the devil's kingdom. When on a beast (major king) horns are identified in Daniel 7v24 as kings, but because these are on the devil himself it's possible they could be demonic entities. Given the relation between heaven/angels and earth/humans, it's possible that they are demonic powers that lie behind the activity of the ten horns upon the beast.
     v4: To this point stars have denoted angels, so this may describe the angels that followed Satan. 9v1 would support that, and his angels are immediately mentioned as thrown down to earth (v7-10). They are now at work upon the earth with him. Daniel 8v10 shows the dragon lay behind the events Daniel recorded too.
     It's a horrifying picture - a dragon standing before a woman in labour waiting to eat her child. This was seen in the hostility and temptation Christ faced from the moment Herod sought his life. It's clear the child is Christ because of the reference to Psalm 2. No doubt Satan wanted to devour him because he was destined to rule the earth that was Satan's dominion and drive back his power (Jn 12v31). The vision bypasses Christ's life and death simply noting he is caught up to God's throne and so safe, yet also sovereign. This would encourage the believers of their own eternal security and Christ ruling over all they face. Their trials and sufferings are but a moment. Their destiny is to be caught up to heaven to reign with him.
     But what of the woman? The wilderness is the place Israel were sustained by God after escaping Pharaoh and where Elijah withdrew to and was fed by God to revive him. The sense may be that for the 3.5 years the witnesseses prophesy (cf. 11v3) God's people will be ultimately safe in being cared for and strengthened by him.
     Verse 7-12 seem now to tell the story of the dragon's heavenly defeat subsequent to Christ's ascension - or perhaps during his ministry (Lk 10v17-18). It comes via a battle between angelic powers. This cannot be merely figurative as Michael is specific. He is a powerful angel who acts for Israel and alongside the Son of Man, ensuring the nation's protection against kingdoms influenced by evil angels (Dan 10, 12v1). Here he acts for Christ as the Son of Man and true Israel. And it seems he initiates the war. With the victory of the cross the "accuser" has no place accusing God's people any more, and his power is now being usurped by the gospel. Moreover, acting against the Christ is the most serious act of rebellion.
     It's odd to think how the place of wicked angels in heaven is dependent on being overcome by good ones, but only perhaps because we see heaven as a place of God's direct rather than indirect action. Just as God works out his purposes through human agents so he does through angelic agents - even though able to act without them. And it seems that he uses his angels to contain the influence of Satan and his.
     To have no place in heaven and be thrown down to earth must be a way of describing a limiting of Satan's authority and power - especially as the deceiver of the whole world. This is therefore the clearest suggestion so far that the binding of Satan with a chain in the abyss so that he cannot deceive the world (20v1-3) took place when Christ ascended. The OT supports this. It presents the abyss as a place under the earth arrogant and tyrannical rulers are consigned to, with those powers presented in terms that allude to their Satanic influence (Is 14v15, Ezek 31v13, 16). Being cast down to earth is probably therefore shorthand for being cast into the abyss.
     The sense is that after their fall Satan and evil angels were still allowed in heaven, being used in God's purposes (Job 1v6). However those who rebelled in serious ways were consigned to hades/tartarus/the abyss in punishment (2 Pet 2v4), which explains the concern of the demons in Luke 8v31. Now finally conquered by Christ it was only fitting that Satan should be consigned there with angels who followed him. But Satan and his followers still have influence in the heavenly "realms," which must include the abyss (1 Pet 5v9, Eph 6v10ff).
     This all implies we should simply understand the abyss or bottomless pit as the dwelling place of demonic powers who have been cast from heaven and had their power limited - symbolised by them being chained (2 Pet 2v4, Rev 20v1) and needing to be let out to work (Rev 9v1ff). This emphasises that what they do they only do by Christ's permission.
     v10 declares what all this means. "Now" the accuser has been thrown down, salvation can come by God's power, and with it his kingdom and the authority of his king expressed in his subjects' hearts. And this rule is immediately evident for those Satan has been accusing day and night in heaven before God's throne (as Job) have been able to "conquer" Satan. Their means? Christ's blood and the gospel they testify to - by both they can no longer be accused, and by both others are rescued from Satan's influence. Christ's death means Satan can no longer destroy sinners before God's judgment nor enslave them because they receive his Spirit. And the victory of these believers is particularly seen in being prepared to side with Christ even to death, loving him more than their lives. This is ten great transfer of allegiance the Spirit of Christ works.
     So Satan's being cast to earth is not simply to restrain his deceiving power but also a consequences of Christ's victory meaning he no longer has a place from which he can accuse. The heavens and the souls and angels there are therefore called to rejoice at Christ's rule and Satan's downfall. But the "earth and sea" as the realm of Satan are given a "woe" as Satan has come down to them. They are now his realm. And he is angry in knowing his time is short because Christ now reigns. What follows shows what that results in.
     v13: Satan is now seen as persuing the people of God from whom the Christ was born. The sense is that this is to get back at Jesus by harming his communal mother. The dragon is provoked in anger at his authority being curtailed and the shortness of time he has remaining, showing his petulant and stubborn nature. But, as v6, the woman is given wings so she can fly to the wilderness for the 3.5 period denoting the time between Christ's comings that the church nears witness (11v2-3). Eagle's wings alludes to Ex 19v4 and Is 40v27f portraying God as protecting his people as he did Israel in the Exodus - and just as the plagues have an Exodus feel. As we journey through the desert of this world God nourishes us with Christ (Jn 6) and keeps us eternally safe in Christ (ch. 7).
     A chronology seems to follow. Most likely to my mibd it is this: (1) v16-17 describe v13-14. After Christ's ascension Satan sought to drown and wipe out the church as a flood would a whole community. And the emphasis here is is on his words by which is deceives and calls people into his allegiance (13v7f). But the community was protected. Just as God opened the earth to swallow people on judgment within the OT, so he caused the earth to somehow swallow and so extinguish Satan's deception, enabling the church to survive and continue. As the earth is the sphere of Satan's rule this shows that his rule is subject to God and the earth itself can be used against him. Here, this probably refers to how it's people weren't prepared to eradicate the church. (2)13v7 shows that v17 refers to the whole church age within which Satan maintains an authority to wage war against the saints. It reminds us we are in a spiritual battle and should not be surprised at hostility. In ages at the Church community's escape Satan makes war against the "rest" of her offspring - that is those from that point on contrasted with those in the years following the ascension. We should note however that the qualification "who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus" may suggest the previous verses refer to Satan's attempt to eradicate Israel, perhaps culminating in AD70. If so, v14 would refer to the Jewish nation being protected so that it continues until the time of the end when many will.come to Christ (Rom 11).

     v18: The chapter ends with Satan positioning himself to respond by calling his agents from "the sea" - representing evil and chaos.