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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 12

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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H. Supplementary revelation of Satan’s activity in the Great Tribulation chs. 12-13

God gave John knowledge of the forces and persons behind the climax of anti-God hostility so he could understand the bowl judgments, which the seventh trumpet judgment contained.

1. The activity of Satan himself ch. 12

God gave John revelation of Satan’s activity, especially during the Great Tribulation. He did so to enable his readers to understand better the reasons for and the forces behind the events of this strategic period of history.

"The method of narration beginning at this point differs from anything previous, because it focuses on the secret maneuvers that lie behind the visible conflict to be portrayed under the seven bowls . . . That future struggle is merely the outworking of a conflict between God and Satan that has lasted throughout history since Satan’s fall. This prepares the way for all that is anti-Christian to enter the world at Revelation 13:1." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 117.]

Many ancient civilizations had myths that resemble this story. [Note: See Beasley-Murray, pp. 192-97.]

Verse 1

John saw a "sign," something that signified or represented something else (cf. Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:13-14; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 16:14; 19:29). Usually John used the Greek word semeion ("sign") to describe something miraculous that points to some deeper spiritual significance connected with an event or object (cf. John 2:11; John 2:18, et al.). He called this one a "great sign" (Gr. mega semeion).

"In this section [chs. 12-14] there is what might be called a Book of Signs [cf. John 2-12]. While no signs (semeia; . . .) appear in chapters 1 to 11, at least seven signs are mentioned in chapters 12 to 19 (cf. the seven signs in John 1-11). Three are in heaven (Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:3; Revelation 15:1); four on earth (Revelation 13:13-14; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 19:20). Only one is a sign of good (Revelation 12:1); the others are omens of evil or judgment from God. These signs explain and amplify previous material (e.g., the beast in Revelation 11:7 is more fully described in ch. 13) and also advance the drama to its final acts. More specifically, chs. 12 to 14 contain seven further images though only two are directly identified as signs." [Note: Johnson, p. 510.]

This sign was "in heaven," not the sky but the heavenly scene John had been viewing in contrast with what he saw happening on earth. What this woman signifies puzzles interpreters. Some have felt that John was alluding to something that his original readers knew about, namely, the "mother of the gods" represented on Roman coins. [Note: See Tenney, p. 337; and Stauffer, pp. 151-52.] Others see her as standing for "the believing covenant-messianic community" including the church. [Note: E.g., Johnson, p. 514; Beale, p. 627; Swete, p. 148; Mounce, p. 237; and Ladd, p. 167.] Might this be a symbol of Mary, the mother of Jesus? [Note: Chilton, The Days . . ., pp. 298-99.] This seems unlikely since she will be the object of persecution during the Tribulation (Revelation 12:13; cf. Revelation 12:17). [Note: See Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 117-19, for further discussion of the most popular views.]

In view of Old Testament imagery (cf. Isaiah 54:1-6; Jeremiah 3:20; Ezekiel 16:8-14; Hosea 2:19-20) and the following reasons, the "woman" seems to symbolize the nation of Israel. [Note: Newell, pp. 170-71; Morris, p. 156.] She wears a crown (Gr. stephanos) with the sun, moon, and stars, as God pictured Israel in one of the nation’s early symbolic representations (Genesis 37:9-11; cf. Isaiah 26:17-18; Isaiah 60:1-3; Isaiah 60:20). There are many figurative references to Israel as a travailing woman in the Old Testament (Isaiah 26:17-18; Isaiah 66:7-9; Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 13:21; Micah 4:10; Micah 5:3). She eventually gave birth to Christ (Revelation 12:5). In Genesis 37:9-10, the sun corresponds to Jacob, the moon to Rachel, and the 12 stars to Israel’s 12 sons (cf. Revelation 7:5-8; Revelation 21:12).

Verses 1-6

The dragon’s hostility toward the male child 12:1-6

This pericope furnishes the plot for the drama that unfolds in the rest of the chapter.

Verse 2

In John’s vision the woman was about to give birth and cried out in labor pains. Evidently this represents Israel’s pain before Jesus Christ’s appearing at His first coming. [Note: Kiddle, p. 220; Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 188; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 121.]

Verse 3

The second "sign" John saw was the "dragon" whom God identified in Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2 as Satan. "Dragon" (Gr. drakon) occurs 12 times in the New Testament and only in the Book of Revelation. In every instance it refers to Satan (Revelation 12:3-4; Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 12:13; Revelation 12:16-17; Revelation 13:2; Revelation 13:4; Revelation 13:11; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 20:2). A dragon symbolizes a powerful, aggressive, deadly foe. His red color suggests bloodshed. [Note: Newell, p. 172; Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, p. 621; Lange, p. 246; Scott, p. 337.] His seven heads and ten horns probably represent seven nations and ten rulers (Revelation 17:12). Ten kings will rule under his authority, but when Antichrist rises to preeminence among them he will subdue three of them, leaving only seven (Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:24; Revelation 13:1). The seven royal crowns (Gr. diadema) picture the political authority of these seven rulers during the Great Tribulation.

A less literal interpretation regards the ten horns as simply symbolic of the dragon’s mighty strength.

Verse 4

The "stars" probably represent the angels Satan led in rebellion against God (cf. Revelation 12:8-9; Revelation 9:1; Daniel 8:10; Judges 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). [Note: Lenski, p. 356; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 124.] Satan has extensive authority, which this description reflects. God cast Satan and these angels out of heaven to earth. [Note: Govett, 2:21-23; William H. Simcox, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, p. 126; Charles, 1:320.] That is, they no longer had access to God’s presence, though they presently do. Satan proceeded to take out his vengeance by trying to prevent the appearance of Messiah (cf. Exodus 1:15-22; 1 Samuel 18:10-11; 2 Chronicles 22:10; Matthew 2:16). The birth referred to is evidently that of Jesus Christ at His first advent (Revelation 12:5; cf. Matthew 2:13).

"All Satanic activities are carried on under the double motive of ambition to rule and be worshipped, and, hatred toward the One whom God has chosen to take the kingdom Satan has usurped." [Note: Newell, p. 174.]

Verse 5

The birth of Jesus and His ascension are the events in view here. Satan failed to destroy Jesus at His birth, and because he also failed to destroy Him during His life and in His death, Jesus Christ ascended victoriously into heaven. Satan cannot persecute Him there. Christ will yet rule the world with an iron shepherd’s rod (Psalms 2). The emphases in this whole review of Satan’s opposition to Jesus are Jesus’ victory and Satan’s continuing antagonism.

Verse 6

Since Satan cannot destroy Jesus Christ he turns his attention to Israel. John saw Israel as having fled into the wilderness where God protected her for 1,260 days (three and a half years), the second half of the tribulation period (Revelation 12:14; Revelation 11:2-3; cf. Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14). Many non-dispensational interpreters take the 1,260 days as describing the entire inter-advent period. [Note: E.g., Beale, p. 646.] Throughout Scripture a wilderness often represents a place of desolation, safety, discipline, and testing. The passive "be nourished" suggests that others, perhaps Gentiles but definitely God and angels (cf. Daniel 12:1), will care for the Jews at this time. [Note: Alford, 4:669; Robertson, 6:391.] Swete believed the event immediately in view was the escape of the church of Jerusalem to Pella (cf. Mark 13:14). [Note: Swete, p. 152.] But we believe this reference is to an event still future.

Verse 7

Michael the archangel (Judges 1:9) is the leader of God’s angelic army. He is Israel’s special patron (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1). He evidently holds high rank among unfallen angels as Satan does among the fallen. John saw him engaged in battle with Satan and his angels, the demons. Michael battled with Satan in the past (Judges 1:9), but the conflict in view here evidently takes place just before the last part of the Tribulation.

Verses 7-12

The dragon’s expulsion from heaven 12:7-12

Verse 8

In John’s vision Satan’s forces proved weaker, and God threw them out of heaven. Consequently Satan no longer had access to heaven (cf. Revelation 20:11; Job 1-2; Daniel 2:35; Zechariah 10:10). God will no longer hear Satan’s accusations against believers.

Verse 9

Here God identified the dragon as Satan. He called him the "great dragon" because he is fierce and cruel in nature. The title "serpent of old" stresses his crafty and subtle character (cf. Revelation 20:2; Genesis 3:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:3). The name "Devil" means accuser or slanderer.

"This name for the evil one would have made a specially strong impact in the first century, for there was a well-known and well-hated figure called the delator, the paid informer. He made his living by accusing people before the authorities." [Note: Morris, p. 161. Cf. Barclay, 2:102.]

"Satan" means adversary. He is the one who deceives the whole world because he is consummately deceptive. [Note: See Gregory H. Harris, "Satan’s Work as a Deceiver," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:622 (April-June 1999):190-202.] God cast Satan’s angels out of His presence with him. The threefold repetition of "thrown down" in this verse stresses the ignominious fate of Satan and these angels.

Satan is in the heavens now; he has access to God (Job 1:6; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:10). His being thrown down to the earth with his angels will evidently take place toward the end of the Tribulation. This conclusion harmonizes with the evidence of unusual Satanic activity on earth, including heart hardening, described in the revelation of the Great Tribulation (chs. 6-11 and 13-18).

Verse 10

John then heard another outburst of praise in heaven. This one seems to have come from the Tribulation martyrs (Revelation 6:10; cf. Revelation 12:10). Their rejoicing is proleptic anticipating the imminent expulsion of Satan. God’s salvation (victory), the manifestation of His power, and His kingdom (both the millennial and eternal phases) will have come even closer when this happens. Likewise the manifestation of the authority of His Anointed One will be nearer (cf. Revelation 11:15; Psalms 2:8). The way will then be more open than it was previously for the establishment of God’s kingdom on the earth.

Satan’s malevolent work of accusing believers before God will cease (cf. Job 1:6). However, he will continue to persecute the living brethren of the martyrs still on earth even though he can no longer accuse them in heaven. Satan accused believers day and night (constantly), just as steadily as the four living beings praise God (Revelation 4:8).

Verse 11

This verse contains the second stanza of the song of praise begun in Revelation 12:10. "They" refers to believers whom Satan formerly accused before God. Jesus Christ’s death is the basis for believers’ ultimate victory over Satan even though he has accused us. Because of the proleptic nature of this song, the singers were probably referring to believers who would yet suffer martyrdom during the last half of the Tribulation. The word of God to which they bear testimony is another key to their success along with the Lamb’s blood (cf. Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4). They would consent to die rather than proving unfaithful to Christ.

"The blood of the martyrs, rather than signaling the triumph of Satan, shows instead that they have gained the victory over the dragon by their acceptance of Jesus’ Cross and their obedient suffering with him. This is one of John’s chief themes (Revelation 1:9; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 14:12; Revelation 20:4). [Note: Johnson, p. 517.]

Verse 12

Here we have the third and final stanza in the martyrs’ praise. Heaven-dwellers can rejoice in view of Satan’s punishment (cf. Psalms 96:11; Isaiah 49:13). He is no longer among them. However everyone living on the earth, especially believers, must beware because he now moves among them more antagonistically than ever. Furthermore he knows that his time is short.

Verse 13

Satan will concentrate his vengeance on Israelites during the Great Tribulation, under the sovereign control of God, since He cannot antagonize Christ. The Israelites will flee from Satan in the future as they fled from Pharaoh in the past (cf. Exodus 14:5; Joshua 24:6). Jesus predicted this flight in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23). The reason Satan will oppose the Jews is that Christ, his archenemy, came from them and is one of them. They are also the special objects of His favor.

Verses 13-17

The dragon’s vengeance on the woman 12:13-17

The revelation of Satan’s activity, which the song of the martyrs (Revelation 12:10-12) interrupted, now resumes.

Verse 14

The Israelites will receive divine assistance in fleeing from the dragon (passive "were given"). God bore the Israelites "on eagles wings" when He enabled them to escape from Pharaoh (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11; cf. Isaiah 40:31). Therefore we should probably understand the eagle to be metaphorical describing the way God will save them, namely, with strength and safety. Another possibility is that the eagle represents angelic assistance (cf. Revelation 8:13). The comparison between an eagle that can fly overhead and an earth-bound serpent implies the superior protection of God.

Evidently many Israelites will flee from Jerusalem into desolate places to escape Satan’s persecution (cf. Zechariah 14:1-8; Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14). Some commentators have felt that mountainous Petra in Edom (modern Jordan) is a place where all that God predicted here could take place (cf. Matthew 24:16). However the Jews could flee to any mountainous region for safety. God will nourish these Israelites in their place of refuge, possibly as He fed the Israelites in the wilderness and Elijah by the brook Cherith.

The reference to a time, times, and half a time identifies this activity as taking place during the Great Tribulation (Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; cf. Revelation 11:2; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 13:5). "Times" refers to years as is clear from the Hebrew of Daniel 11:13 that reads "at the end of times, even years." The various references in Revelation to a time, times, and half a time, three and one-half years, and 1,260 days all refer to the same period: the Great Tribulation. No one will be able to buy or sell during the Great Tribulation without the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:17), so perhaps God’s provisions will again be miraculous.

The "serpent" is another name for the dragon (Revelation 12:9). Even though this period will be a time of intense persecution of Jews, God will preserve many of them, as He explained here (cf. Revelation 7:3-8; Zechariah 13:8-9).

Verse 15

Perhaps Satan will use literal water to try to drown this group of Israelites. [Note: Düsterdieck, pp. 353-54; Bullinger, p. 416; Smith, A Revelation . . ., pp. 190-91.] If they take refuge in a place such as Petra this might seem to be a possibility. Another possibility is that he will pursue them with soldiers as a river (cf. Jeremiah 46:7-8; Jeremiah 47:2-3). [Note: Govett, 2:62-64.] A flood is also a biblical metaphor for overwhelming evil, persecution (Psalms 18:4; Psalms 124:2-4; Isaiah 43:2). Probably this is a picturesque way of describing Satan’s attempt to destroy the Jews who will have congregated in Palestine following the Antichrist’s covenant with them. He may seek to do it with deceptive false teaching, since the water comes out of his mouth. [Note: Beale, p. 673.] Both water and fire (cf. Revelation 9:17; Revelation 11:5) proceeding from the mouth picture punishment in Scripture.

Note the many parallels between Israel’s exodus from Egypt and her past preservation in the wilderness, including rescue from water (the Red Sea; cf. Revelation 12:15), and this future flight. The similarities have led some commentators to conclude that the 42 months refer to Israel’s 42 camping stations (Numbers 33) and that what John described was in the past. Yet it seems clear that John was describing a future exodus.

Verse 16

Evidently the earth (the physical ground, Gr. ge) will assist the Israelites in escaping from the serpent. In the past the ground (really the water) swallowed the Egyptians (Exodus 15:12), and later the ground swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:28-33; Numbers 26:10; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalms 106:17). Perhaps God will do similar miracles to preserve the fleeing Jews in the future.

Two-thirds of these Israelites will die and one-third will escape (Zechariah 13:8-9). Some of those who perish will probably be believers, the martyrs of Revelation 12:11.

Verse 17

Enraged because of his lack of success in completely annihilating all fleeing Jews, Satan will proceed to concentrate his attack on those who do not flee. Jews who believe in Jesus Christ become his special target, those who hold fast to the truth that God and Christ revealed. Specifically this group seems to be, or perhaps includes, the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 14:1-5). [Note: See Stephen L. Homcy, "’To Him Who Overcomes’: A Fresh Look at What ’Victory’ Means for the Believer According to the Book of Revelation," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:2 (June 1995):193-201.] Some less literal interpreters view these two groups of people as the heavenly church and the earthly church. [Note: E.g., Beckwith, pp. 619-20; and Beale, pp. 676-77.] Ladd believed "the rest of her offspring" are real Christians in contrast to the mass of professing Christians (i.e., Christendom). [Note: Ladd, p. 174.]

"Granting the continuity of Revelation 12:1 to Revelation 14:5, one must see the portrayal of the victorious 144,000 in Revelation 14:1-5 as a sequel to the battle of the dragon’s two emissaries with ’the rest of her seed’ in chapter 13. The extended section is a connected sequence from this point on with the mention of the dragon’s animosity toward that seed here, his stationing of himself on the sands of the sea in Rev 12:18 (Revelation 13:1), the appearance of the earthly agents he will use to inflict his damage in Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11, and the proleptic scene of the victorious victims of his persecution after the conflict is over in Revelation 14:1-5. This sequence says rather plainly that ’the rest of her seed’ is none other than the 144,000." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 142.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/revelation-12.html. 2012.
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