Revelation 12: The Woman & The Dragon

"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."Revelation 12:1

Opening prayer: Father, we are amazed at the precision with which you paint prophecy concerning people You love. And we're amazed at how You faithfully make Your promises come true. Open our hearts to understand these visions, we pray.

This is a continuation of our series on the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:

Our previous lessons have given us a general outline of the seven-year period known as the 70th Week of Daniel. This period could also be called "Payback Time." During these seven years, God will be settling up accounts with the inhabitants of the earth: rewards to some and punishment to others. Less obvious to us, He will also be settling up accounts with certain inhabitants of heaven: the devil and his evil followers.

Today's lesson will shed more light on "Payback Time," and God's dealings with the nation Israel. The subject matter is even more symbolic than normal, so we'll need to be especially alert to clues in other Scriptures and sensitive to the Lord's guidance.

Let's begin with Revelation 12, verses 1-2:

And there appeared a great sign in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

Remember: this chapter is dealing with symbols. The woman is a symbol, the child is a symbol and other creatures (soon to be introduced) are also symbols of persons or groups.

The woman is a relatively easy symbol to interpret. She is a picture of the nation Israel. Similar symbolism appears throughout the Scripture, as far back as Joseph's dreams in the book of Genesis. This woman is apparently greatly favored by God: you'll notice the glory of the sun as her clothing, and the moon under her feet. The crown on her head speaks of the 12 tribes of Israel, each destined to benefit from the timeless promises of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Please notice that there are not 24 stars in her crown; the woman is NOT a symbol of all believers of both the Old and New Testaments, like the 24 elders are. This is Israel, greatly beloved and uniquely favored by God.

However, even though the woman is greatly favored by God, she is in great distress. She is "travailing in birth" -- suffering labor pains -- and will soon give birth to another symbol.

In the next two verses, we see a different source of distress for the woman:

And there appeared another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 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, to devour her child as soon as it was born.

The dragon is another easy one: it's Satan, our adversary, the serpent in the Garden of Eden. And "his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and did cast them to the earth." This tells us something about the spirit world: that a full one-third of the angels went along with Satan in his rebellion. The faithful two-thirds are still doing God's will, being faithful messengers and intervening (as God directs) in the affairs of humans. But the lawless one-third have time on their hands, evil in their hearts and varying amounts of supernatural power. Ever wonder about UFOs and crop circles and the spirit guides that are in fashion these days? The forces of spiritual deception are at work in this world, trying to steal your joy, kill your friends and family, and destroy what little remains of this country's moral foundation.

What about all those heads and horns and crowns on the dragon?

Good question. Fortunately, we have other Scriptures to guide us here. The heads are just what you'd expect -- the brains of the outfit. Each head represents a high-level demonic personage that empowers a worldly kingdom. Ever wonder why some guys, like Alexander the Great or Julius Ceasar or Napoleon or Hitler, seem to be able to mobilize power and rule entire continents? How can they do that while most of us have trouble just getting through staff meetings at work?

What's the difference?

It's not a matter of physical strength or IQ or good looks. Neither is it moral character (or lack of). There are powers behind the thrones. There is a hierarchy of demonic creatures with geographic assignments, serving their king, the dragon. Certain individuals become especially empowered by these monsters, and get their own chapters in history books.

The apostle Paul alluded to this in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 12:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Note that Paul uses four different terms to describe these creatures -- and he could have used more.

That sounds pretty spooky to me.

I agree. It sounds really "out there" -- but the principle appears repeatedly in Scripture. The most-famous example is in Daniel chapter 10. Daniel had been praying and fasting to get an answer from God concerning a vision he had seen. Earlier, he had received answers immediately. This time, however, he had been praying and mourning three solid weeks.

When the angel finally arrived, he had this explanation (verses 12-13):

Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days. But, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me.

You can be very sure the angel wasn't talking about fighting the earthly prince of Persia. In fact, Daniel was a trusted advisor to THAT king, and THAT king would have fallen down instantly at the very sight of the good angel.

Just to be sure the readers would understand, God has the angel give more insight later, in verse 20:

Then said he... and now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia. And when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Greece shall come.

The Scripture is very clear: whatever type of creature the "prince of Persia" was, he was powerful enough to fight one of God's strongest angels to a standoff until Michael came to help. Worse yet, the "prince of Persia" wasn't the only such beast around. There was another nasty demon called the "prince of Greece" lurking somewhere out there, awaiting his turn.

Two Heads of the Seven

To summarize, the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece are two demonic personages with geographic responsibilities. They represent two of the seven heads of the red dragon we saw earlier, in Revelation 12:3-4. In the past, these two heads have energized mighty kingdoms that conquered and oppressed Israel, God's chosen people. Other kingdoms in history have conquered and oppressed Israel, as will a future confederacy. Here is a list of the seven kingdoms, in chronological sequence:

Worldly historians see these kingdoms as geographically and politically and culturally diverse from each other. By contrast, God sees them as different heads of the same nasty dragon.

Thus far in world history, we earth dwellers have only had to contend with one or two of these terrible heads at a time. That could change very soon.

What about the ten horns and the crowns?

As we'll see in a later lesson, the horns represent visible, earthly kingdoms. At the time of the end, there will be ten kingdoms banding together in support of the last-days dictator. The number ten appears in virtually every account of last-days prophecy. The last-days dictator will "conquer" three of the ten kingdoms as part of his rise to power.

The crowns are a different matter. By careful reading of the text, you'll notice that the crowns are either on the heads or on the horns of the respective beasts. When the focus is on the realm of the devil and his henchmen, the crowns are on the heads. When the focus is on the visible kingdoms ruled by the last-days dictator, the crowns are on the horns.

The red dragon has crowns on the seven heads, so the emphasis is on the invisible world of spirits. In later chapters, when we see the beast that represents the last-days dictator, the crowns will be on the horns, emphasizing observable political, military and "religious" activities.

Back to Revelation 12, verses 5-6 and the pregnant woman representing Israel:

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. 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.

For reasons that we examined in an earlier lesson, this man child is a symbol representing the 144,000 Israelites anointed for special ministry in the first half of the seven-year period. Most people think the child must be Jesus because of the phrase, "...who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron." Don't forget that ALL of us who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord will return to earth to rule and reign with Him.

Notice that the child is caught up to God (raptured) before the woman flees to the wilderness. This places their "birth" somewhere in the first half of the 70th week of Daniel, and their rapture right at the midpoint.

Notice, too, that the woman flees to the wilderness for 3 1/2 years. The clear indication is that a faithful remnant of Israelites will flee Israel when the last-days dictator breaks the seven-year covenant and seizes power in Jerusalem. But WHERE will they go? Israel is surrounded by Islamic nations on three sides and by the ocean on the fourth. Remember this question, because we'll return to this subject in a few minutes.

Now for an awe-inspiring battle in heaven, verses 7-12:

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. 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.

Even in this quaint King James Version text, we can see some key points:

Now let's finish chapter 12:

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. 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.

As we said earlier, the devil will be very grumpy about losing his place in heaven. The first victim of his wrath will be the nation of Israel. But God has other plans, bringing the woman (the faithful remnant we discussed earlier in this lesson) to a place of safety -- "the wilderness" -- for 3 1/2 years.

The wilderness? What wilderness?

The location generally favored by Bible commentators is the city of Petra, in Jordan. Petra is literally carved out of the cliffs of an incredibly narrow canyon. It was an easily defended fortress in Roman days, and these days is mostly a tourist center.

Some commentators point out that the woman was given wings to fly away. Some Israelites won't be able to go to Petra, and will need to flee to the nearest border that isn't controlled by the dragon. Maybe these folk will board airplanes and fly somewhere safer, like Miami. I don't know.

Notice that "the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman." The water symbolizes people (soldiers), but God intervenes supernaturally to protect the woman. Does that mean he'll literally open up the ground to swallow up the troops trying to follow the Israelites into the area of Petra? Maybe. In any case, the woman is greatly beloved by God, and will be supernaturally protected and nourished through the Great Tribulation period.

Time out, teacher! Can you give us an overall timeline for all the tribulation events? I'm getting confused about what happens before what.

Welcome to the club: nobody (including you and me) can know the exact chronology, but we can develop some guidelines by comparing these Scriptures to other prophetic passages. The problem arises because the book of Revelation is arranged by subject, not by strict chronology. Within each chapter or major division, the events are arranged in sequence. But these events might happen before, after, or concurrently with events revealed in later chapters. For example, both the sixth seal of Chapter 6 and the seventh trumpet in Chapter 11 announce the beginning of the Day of the Lord, at the very end of the Great Tribulation.

Having said all that, we can make some cautious generalizations about chronology. Since many of you appreciated the timeline given in previous lessons, I've extended it a bit to include the material in Chapter 12. Click here to jump down to the extended timeline.

Hey, teacher! I'm not sure I agree with any of your explanations and conclusions.

Good! Click here to see what you should do about that.

The most important thing you can do is to prepare your heart for the return of the Lord. If you do, you will be the recipient of some amazing promises, as explained in our lesson on Raptures and Resurrections.

If you aren't sure if you're ready, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can.

Closing Prayer: Lord, help me to prepare my heart so I "may be counted worthy to escape all these things," as Your Son Jesus promised. Amen.

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A Guide to Last-Days Events

Here are some general guidelines based on material we've already covered:

In upcoming lessons, we will add more significant events to the above outline. Click here to return to the lesson.

Hey, teacher! I don't agree with your conclusions!

Good! Please don't be satisfied with ANYBODY's explanation, especially mine. My goal is to spur you on to do further study on your own. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear that you were so outraged by my lessons that you spent days studying these Scriptures trying to prove me wrong.

All I ask is one thing: Spend your time studying the Bible. Don't waste your time reading books ABOUT the Bible, except for fun. (Hint: You will save yourself a lot of grief (and money) if you avoid commentaries.) Instead, pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. Then make up your own lists and charts based on your own personal study of the Bible.

A few study helps are worth purchasing. Look up key words and phrases in your Strong's Concordance and in your Vines' Dictionary of New Testament Words. Get the Greek/English Interlinear text by George Ricker Berry, so you can get a flavor for the word-by-word literal translation of the Greek. Spend the majority of your time studying in the New King James translation, which is generally the most accurate version. (Note: Although the paraphrase versions (Living Bible, NIV) are very readable for the Old Testament and helpful for devotional studies, they are less accurate in the New Testament.) Follow up on the margin notes in your Bible, looking for related passages and concepts. Take everybody's explanations (including mine) with a grain of salt. Click here to return to the conclusion of the lesson.