One of the GREATEST TRUTHS in the Bible Made Easy: Revelation 12 Explained
Revelation 12 is one of the most important chapters in the entire Bible. Not only does it contain a vital part of the climax of the book of Revelation (a book that we’re told was conveyed to John of Patmos by Jesus Christ Himself), but it also conveys one of the most essential doctrinal truths in the Bible. This truth concerns the conquering of Satan — that great dragon and deceiver of the world — and its message has massive implications for the life of every single follower of Jesus living today.
But what is Revelation 12 trying to tell us? What message is it conveying to the church? What story is it narrating? And who is the woman featured in Revelation 12? Is it Mary? Is it Israel? Is it the church? In this blog post, we will explore what John was narrating when he wrote Revelation 12. We will also describe how the message of Revelation 12 directly speaks and applies to us today.
Revelation 12 in Context
Let us begin by placing this critical chapter in its proper context. Thus far in the book of Revelation, we’ve witnessed several devastating events: plagues, judgments, natural disasters, and the coming of an antichrist who is set on deceiving the people of the world into thinking that they can create sustainable peace themselves. We’ve also seen that throughout this period of great trouble, the church has been called to follow its Lord as a faithful witness amid a world running in a million different directions.
The chapter begins with a sudden shift in scenery. We’re told that a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. We’re told the woman was pregnant and already crying out in birth pains. Suddenly, another sign appeared in heaven: a great red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns on its heads. We’re told that the dragon's tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth, and that the dragon stood before the woman, ready to devour the child of which she was about to give birth.
The first thing one must remember when interpreting Revelation 12 is that these characters are symbols. How do we know this? Because John states it explicitly in verse 1: “And a great sign appeared in heaven.” We’re also told in verse 9 exactly who the dragon represents: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” In this story, the dragon symbolizes Satan, that ancient serpent, and the deceiver of the whole world.
But what do we make of the male child? Who exactly is this child? There should be no doubt that the child in this story represents Jesus. After all, we are told in verse 5 that this child will “rule the nations with a rod of iron” and that the child was “caught up to God and to His throne” before the dragon could devour him. There is simply no one else whom this symbol could represent.
Understanding the Identity and Importance of the Woman in Revelation 12
This brings us to an exciting point in our discussion. Knowing that the woman in this story is pregnant with the Messiah Jesus and that the dragon in this story is waiting to devour the child, Revelation 12 seems to be illustrating the story of Christ’s birth, right? While this may appear to be the case at first glance, there is more going on that we need to address. The first is the identity of the woman in this story.
There are two reasons why an interpretation that states that the woman in this story is Mary falls short. The first is that the woman remains on the earth throughout the 1,260 days following the child’s birth. In this chapter, the 1,260 days represent a literal, future time of great tribulation that will take place on the earth as well as the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ. There is nothing in the Bible which states that Mary would live on until the second coming of Christ, and church history teaches us that Mary likely accompanied John the Apostle, the author of Revelation, to Asia Minor, where she lived out her years as a faithful member of the local churches in that region. The second reason why the woman in this story couldn’t be Mary is that we are told in verse 17 that the woman has more offspring. And who are her offspring? “Those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
Understanding the woman's identity is crucial to understanding the message of Revelation 12, and her identity is revealed plainly when one reads the entire chapter the way it was designed to be read, as a singular, flowing narrative. Since the woman in this story appears as the mother of those who keep the commandments of Jesus, does that mean that the woman represents the church? Or does she represent the nation of Israel, as some modern commentators have stated?
She actually represents both: the faithful remnant of believers from the Old and New Covenants. This fits precisely with one of the major themes we see throughout the Book of Revelation: the coming together of Jews and Gentiles to form one new man in Christ Jesus. Is Mary included in this group? Absolutely. As is every single person from the beginning of time who has faithfully walked with God and kept His commandments. After all, it was the faithful remnant of saints within the nation of Israel that God worked in and through to bring forth His Son.
But the woman does not only represent faithful Israelites from the Old Covenant. She also represents the remnant today (the Church), those who follow the Lamb and hold fast to His testimony despite the mounting pressure on us from the world to renounce Him. You see, in Revelation 12, the woman not only brings forth the child, but she also remains on the earth after he is caught up to God and His throne. While the dragon continues to pursue her, he is unsuccessful at destroying her and chooses instead to make war on her offspring — those who keep the commandments of Jesus.
In other words, even though the dragon is making war on the church, he will never be successful in snuffing it out entirely. While the devil would love to destroy God’s church, there will never be a time on earth before Christ’s return when a faithful remnant will not exist. While the dragon may be permitted to successfully persecute some of her offspring (meaning individual Christians), he will never succeed in eliminating the remnant altogether.
The Message to the Church
This leads us to our last and most important point. Is the story of Revelation 12 indeed a story about the birth of Jesus Christ, as some have posited? Or is it only about something that’s going to happen in the future? As one scholar puts it, while Revelation 12 masquerades as a birth narrative, it is not mainly the story of Christ’s birth, but rather of his exaltation to the right hand of God Almighty. In other words, this story is mainly about Christ’s victory on the cross, his exaltation to the right hand of God, and his conquering of the great red dragon.
All through the Old Testament, Satan is seen as the great accuser of the brethren. His name, Satan, means accuser or adversary. In books like Job, Ezekiel, and Kings, we read that it is the role of the accuser to go before God and accuse God’s people of sin and wrongdoing night and day. This is what the devil had been doing since the beginning of time, since the moment he tricked Adam into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But when Christ entered heaven a victorious conqueror, something about the devil’s authority and function drastically changed. Our Savior, the advocate (1 John 2:1), entered heaven's court and threw the accuser out. How was he able to do this? By offering his own blood as the full payment for your sins and mine. Now that the penalty has been paid, the accuser no longer has the legal standing to enter heaven's court and accuse you and me of sin before our Father. All he can (and does) do is try to deceive believers into thinking that we are not who God says we are, that we have not been truly and completely redeemed by the blood of the lamb.
To elucidate this point, allow me to take you back to a time before Jesus died. He was teaching in Jerusalem and preparing his heart for what he was about to endure. He spoke to God and said: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name”. After saying these things, a voice responded from heaven – the very voice of God – which said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” As the crowd looked on, amazed and wondering what had just happened, Jesus looked at them and spoke these words: “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Here is a record, one of several in the gospels, where Jesus can be seen telling his disciples, as well as anyone else who cared to listen, exactly what would happen at the moment he entered heaven as the slain and resurrected lamb of God. When Jesus placed his own blood on the mercy seat of heaven to make atonement for our sins, at that very moment, Michael the archangel was given authority over the dragon, and the great accuser of the brethren was thrown out of heaven (Revelation 12:7-9).
Since the great deceiver has already been defeated and no longer has the ability to argue against your place amongst God’s chosen and beloved remnant, his entire scheme is now built around deception. He wants you to fold and eliminate yourself, to live in condemnation and shame instead of in the glory of God’s amazing grace. But take heart, Christian, especially those of you who are still struggling to overcome sin. Because of what Christ did on the cross for you, by throwing your accuser out of heaven’s court, you cannot lose your personal battle with the great accuser, so long as you don’t fold.
This is what Revelation 12 is all about. This is the story that John intended to tell when he wrote down this amazing chapter, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It’s the story of our conquering Savior and our great advocate entering heaven’s court after having overcome every temptation and snare of the devil and stripping him of his position and power as the great accuser of the brethren.
Now we get the privilege of following the lamb without fear of having our sins recommitted to our record. As long as we hold fast to Jesus, our victory is guaranteed. We get the awesome privilege of conquering the dragon in the same way our Lord did — by trusting steadfastly in the Father’s goodness and not loving our lives unto death (Revelation 12:11). After all, knowing that the victory has been secured and our future in God’s New Kingdom is guaranteed — provided we hold fast to Jesus — what have we to fear any longer?
Who Is the Woman Clothed With the Sun in Revelation 12?
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