THE ENEMIES OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH – [1] Revelation 12: The Dragon

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

This composite vision spans the history of the people of God from Genesis 3 to the present age.

A. THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON – 12:1-4

We are introduced to ‘the woman’ first. She is, after all, more important than ‘the dragon’.  Note that both the woman and the dragon are called ‘signs’ – they symbolize, or point to, a reality other than themselves.

If all we were told about ‘the woman’ is what is reported in 12:1-5 we might conclude that ‘the woman’ is Mary, the mother of Jesus, simply because she gives birth to a ‘male child’ who is targeted by the dragon. But other elements in this vision make that conclusion impossible.  The woman in this vision represents the people of God. Here we are given important insight into the continuity between the Old and New Testaments – between believers then, and believers now – for as we progress through this vision it becomes obvious that ‘the woman’ is both of them, the Old Testament people of God, out of whom the Messiah was born, and the New Testament believers, both Jew and Gentile. We are also given insight into strong and unassailable position of the redeemed, the Church, from all generations.

A.1 The Church is invincible – verse 1
We are given three facts about ‘the woman’, each of which is significant in her encounters with the dragon.

[1] She is ‘clothed with the sun …’ This immediately tells us that she has some close association with Jesus Christ – because he is elsewhere described as being radiant like the sun, and because he is, indeed, the light of the world:

Matthew 17:2
John 1:4-9; 8:12
Acts 26:13
Revelation 1:16

In addition, Jesus is referred to as the ‘sun of righteousness’ who rises ‘with healing in his wings’ for those who revere God’s name [Malachi 4:2]. Both Old and New Testaments teach that those who believe are credited with ‘righteousness’, clothed with garments of righteousness:

Genesis 15:6
Psalm 132:9
Isaiah 54:17 [where the NIV ‘vindication’ is ‘righteousness’ in the KJV]
Isaiah 61:10
Isaiah 62:1-3
Jeremiah 23:5,6
Romans 1:17; 3:21-24; 4:1-8
Galatians 3:8-9
Philippians 3:9
Hebrews 11:7

We learn here that ‘the woman’ represents all from both the Old and New Testaments who are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. This is not a personal righteousness, as his is, but an imputed, given righteousness, a gift, a grace. It is this clothing, this gift of righteousness, of acquittal, that makes it impossible for the dragon’s accusations against ‘the woman’ to succeed. Because she is clothed in the righteousness of Christ those accusations cannot touch her. God has acquitted her on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, there is therefore no one who has any right to accuse and condemn. Read Romans 8:31-34. The redeemed are beyond the legal reach of the accusations of Satan which would otherwise disqualify them from life with God.

Paul has this invincible position of the redeemed in mind when he says ‘… giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’ [Colossians 1:12-14]. In Christ, clothed with his righteousness, God presents us ‘holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’ [Colossians 1:22]. Anything ‘the dragon’ might say, any accusation he might hurl against us, is both impotent and illegal. It has all been nailed to the cross of Christ and its penalty thereby cancelled [Colossians 2:14].

But there is another aspect to this being ‘clothed with the sun’.  Both Israel and the Church are referred to as being ‘light’. Because they belong to God who is Light, and to Jesus who is Light, believers bear that light of God into and in the world.

Genesis 12:3
1Chronicles 16:24
Matthew 5:14-16
Acts 14:37
1Peter 2:9

Again, clothed in the sun, clothed in light, clothed with Christ, ‘the woman’ is secure against the prince of darkness. The darkness cannot put out the light.

[2] ‘… with the moon under her feet …’  There are many different interpretations of this phrase, and it is important, but difficult, to determine what interpretation best reflects the message of this vision, of Revelation as a whole, and of the entire Scripture.  My personal conclusion is that this phrase serves as a reinforcement of the first phrase – that to be clothed with the sun and to have the moon under her feet, are both speaking of the secure position of ‘the woman’, the redeemed.

In the Scripture the sun and the moon are referred to together as a guarantee of God’s covenant faithfulness [Jeremiah 31:30-37]. The permanence of the moon is used to guarantee God’s covenant with David and his line [Psalm 89:35-37]. An exceptional brightness of the sun and the moon depict the ultimate salvation brought by the Lord [Isaiah 30:26]. Indeed, the Lord himself is both the sun and the moon of the redeemed, a sun that never sets, a moon that never wanes, the everlasting light of his people [Isaiah 60:19,20; compare Revelation 21:22-25].

The redeemed stand on this secure and permanent foundation: the Lord is faithful. The Lord is their light and their salvation, no one, nothing, can sever them from God [Psalm 27:1-3; Romans 8:35-39].

[3] ‘… and a crown of twelve stars on her head.’  The reference to ‘stars’ completes this trilogy of assurance – sun, moon and stars together bear witness to the covenant faithfulness of God [Jeremiah 31:35]. Together they also encompass and characterize the woman with light.

The saints, the redeemed, the people belonging to God, are ‘the children of light’ [Luke 16:8; John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8; 1Thessalonians 5:5]. Although this makes their position with God absolutely secure it also attracts the hatred of all who hate the light [John 3:19,20]. However, this attack of the darkness against the redeemed is pointless. It can and does hurt, but it can never succeed in extinguishing the light, or in severing the redeemed from God and from salvation.

The crown of twelve stars worn by the woman is a ‘crown’ of victory – not a crown of royalty or authority, but the victor’s wreath [the Greek word is stephanos]. The Church is already victorious, she already wears a crown of victory. Christ has already conquered, and the Church is already clothed with the light of his righteousness, stands on the light of his promise, and crowned with the light of his victory.

[Note: There is an interesting inference here: Repeatedly the Scripture teaches that a physical warning that the final judgment about to fall is the darkening or removal of the sun, moon and stars [Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:25]. We have just seen that the Church, under the symbol of the ‘two witnesses’, is removed prior to the final judgment. Here, in a different vision, the Church is portrayed in terms of sun, moon and stars. This raises the possibility that the physical darkening of the sun, moon and stars is symbolic of the ‘rapture’ of the Church – God’s removal of his witnesses.]

A.2 She was pregnant … verse 2
Ever since the first promise of the Saviour the people of God were ‘expecting’ his birth. Such a long ‘pregnancy’! Such a long time waiting.

The Letter to the Hebrews mentions some of them, and says of them ‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance …’ [11:13]

Jesus said of Abraham: ‘Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad’ [John 8:56].

Jesus said ‘Many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear’ [Luke 10:24].

The Old Testament people of God carried the promised Saviour within their bodies, right through their history [see Romans 9:1-5]. Not only is he ‘the seed of the woman’ through Seth [Genesis 3:15; 4:25], he is also the ‘seed’ of Noah [Genesis 9:9], ‘seed’ of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14], the descendent of Judah [Genesis 49:9,10], and the son of David [Matthew 1:1]. He is the child who was ‘born’ to them [Isaiah 9:6].

The woman cries [the Greek is Present Tense]. She is suffering intense pain. She is being tormented. The agony is continuous. The birth could occur at any moment.  

We are not told here in this vision, but we have only to look at the history recorded between Genesis 3 and the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke to realise how frequently the enemy attempted to destroy ‘the woman’, the Old Testament faithful, prior to the birth of the promised Saviour.

He inspired the murder of Abel, the man of faith, but God replaced him with Seth.

He corrupted the ‘sons of God’ through their intermarriage with the idolatrous ‘daughters of men’, but God preserved Noah from this corruption.

He attempted to destroy Jacob through Esau’s anger, but God protected Jacob.

He tried to wipe out the whole family of Jacob through famine, but God prepared Joseph to ensure their survival.

He sought to kill David through Saul’s demonic tantrums, but God preserved him.

He corrupted the nation through idolatry, but God preserved a faithful remnant.

How ardently the faithful longed for his birth. How greatly the true believers of the Old Testament suffered as the enemy sought to deceive and destroy the nation and so to eliminate the child. The agony of centuries of promise without fulfilment, the struggles of the faithful amid the faithless, the heart cries of God’s people, are here condensed to these few brief but potent words in verse 2.

Important further reading
Micah 5:3-5
Isaiah 26:17-18

A.3 The dragon – 12:3-4
We have had preliminary descriptions of the enemy in 9:11 and 11:7. Now in this ‘sign’ of the dragon we are given a fuller symbolic description.

[1] He is enormous - he is not an insignificant or weak enemy.

[2] He is red – indicative of his power and passion for destruction. Note that Jesus described him as ‘a murderer from the beginning’ [John 8:44], and 9:11 twice named him ‘the destroyer’.

[3] He is a dragon – a reference to his great and feared destructive power. See Isaiah 27:1 where God promises to destroy the dragon, and Ezekiel 29:3 where Egypt, the ancient evil enemy, is called a dragon [same Greek word].

[4] He has seven heads and ten horns. We have seen elsewhere in Revelation that the numbers 7 and 10 symbolize perfection and completion, so it is at first puzzling to find them here in this description of the enemy. But when we remember the nature of this enemy it is not so surprising. If we were able to create a formula for an ultimate enemy, a most clever enemy, surely we would come up with no other description than what we know of Satan. He is the ultimate deceiver – so subtle that he can make a lie sound like the truth, he can make evil appear good, he can disguise himself as an angel of light. He is amazingly powerful. He is motivated by an absolute and aggressive hatred. There is no enemy like this enemy. He is the ‘perfect’, ‘complete’ enemy, if one can speak of an enemy with these words. As such he is a terrible, the most terrible, enemy.

‘Heads’ and ‘horns’ represent authority and power, which appear to be perfect and complete. His dominion and his power extend over all the earth, or so it appears.
His ‘crowns’ however, are not the crowns of victory, but diadema – crowns of a king. But his kingdom is a usurped kingdom, his authority is a stolen authority. These crowns are not his by right.

[5] His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky … Some teachers understand this to mean the fallen angels who sided with Satan in his rebellion [see Jude 6, 2Peter 2:4]. Others think that it refers to Satan’s historic interference by which men are drawn into apostasy. The former interpretation is preferred.

[6] His intention to devour the child. He stands in front of the woman so that he can devour the child the moment it is born. This attempt on the life of the infant Jesus is reported by Matthew [2:13-18].


B. THE MALE CHILD AND THE DRAGON – 12:5-12

B.1 The child – verse 5
Verse 5 is probably the shortest description of the life of Christ in the Bible – he was born of a woman, he was snatched up to God and to his throne: his birth, his ascension, his enthronement. But we will learn more about this child in a little while.

Notice that even here there are two references to the rule of Christ – a rule that is his by right and his by victory, in contrast to the usurped authority of the enemy:

He ‘will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre’ [see Psalm 2:9]. This reign of the ‘child’ is anticipated in Isaiah 9:7; 11:1-4,10; Daniel 7:14.

He was snatched up ‘to his throne’. This is his rightful throne, the throne that has been his from eternity [see Hebrews 1:8,9]. This is where he now sits with the Father, as we have already seen. [Revelation 3:21; see also 22:1,3].

This is the important thing: that it is Christ, not Satan, who owns the throne. It is God, not Satan, whose purpose prevails. Satan is foiled here at the very moment at which he anticipated victory. How little does he understand the absolute power and the absolute sovereignty of God – that very power and sovereignty that he is seeking to imitate! How little does he understand that he cannot prevail against, he cannot conquer, this child!

B.2 The protection of the woman – verse 6
The ‘woman’ in the vision now metamorphoses from the faithful in Israel out of whom the child was born, to the Church, revealing an intrinsic unity and continuity between the two, a unity we have already seen in previous studies.

Her story will be resumed in verses 13-17. For the moment, the symbols of this vision tell us that she is taken care of by God for 1,260 days – the same symbolic time during which the two witnesses of Chapter 11 witness and are persecuted.

And here is a message to the suffering Church: not through all the generations of waiting was Satan able to destroy the faithful in Israel; never in all of those centuries was he able to abort the holy child of promise and so dissolve the purpose of God; and even though he waited vigilantly, poised in aggressive readiness, he was not able to destroy the child when he was born. The same God who in faithfulness to his purpose and to his promise preserved the faithful and preserved the child is well able to preserve his people today. The Church, ‘the woman’, lives under his sovereign protection. God is working his purpose out and no one, not even the ‘perfect’ enemy, can prevent him. For the same period of time in which the Church is persecuted, for that same period of time in which the Church witnesses, for that same period of time God preserves the Church.

B.3 The war in heaven – verses 7 – 9
Here we have a vision filled apocalyptic symbols. It is very easy to forget this and to conclude that there actually was a real battle between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. The fact that the devil is still referred to by this symbol of the dragon, reminds us that this is a vision, not the real thing. The point of this vision is that the dragon lost the battle. He was not strong enough.

We are here given the explanation of the ‘dragon’ symbol: he is ‘that ancient serpent’ [this connects him to Genesis 3], he is ‘the devil’, he is Satan [this name means the Accuser], and he ‘leads the whole world astray’ [this has been his historic action since Genesis 3].

As a result of this symbolic battle he ‘was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him’. That this is a symbolic hurling to the earth is evident when we remember that in verse 4 we were told that his tail had swept a third of the stars from the sky and flung them to the earth. Satan and his angels were already ‘on earth’ prior to this battle. He had already led ‘the whole world astray’ before this hurling down to the earth.

So, at this point we are left somewhat uncertain, not quite understanding what is symbolised by this battle other than the fact that Satan lost it. But that uncertainty is about to be changed.

B.4 The impact of the child – verses 10 - 12
Now we are told something that was omitted before; now we understand the real ‘battle’ in which Satan and his minions were defeated. It is quite clear in the rest of the Scripture that the things we read of in these verses are not the result of a battle between Michael and the dragon, but the result of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he triumphed over Satan.

[1] God’s salvation has now come. This is the salvation that God promised would come through his Messiah. This is that salvation anticipated in all of the symbolic rituals and objects of Israel – the sacrifices, the priesthood, the mercy seat, the altar of sacrifice, the Passover, the Day of Atonement, the Year of Jubilee. This is the salvation described in Isaiah, in which a suffering substitute obtains the remission of sin and guilt, a salvation that is seen by all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 52:7 -  53:12].

[2] God’s power has now come. God’s almighty power to rescue us from the evil one, God’s mighty power to save, has come. This is the power, the dunamis, of the gospel – for in the gospel the power of God is exerted and made known [Romans 1:15-17]. This is the power of God revealed in Jesus Christ, to which the Church bears witness [2Peter 1:16]. This is the power of God which has made available to us everything necessary for our salvation [2Peter 1:3]. This is the power of God by which those who believe in him are kept safe until his return [1Peter 1:5]. This is his mighty power by which he raised Jesus from death to life and seated him at his right hand, the same power by which he also raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life and seated us in Christ in the heavenly realms [Ephesians 1:118 – 2:6; 3:20; 2Corinthians 13:4].

[3] God’s kingdom has now come. This was the key content of Jesus’ teaching: ‘the kingdom of God is near’ [Matthew 4:17]; he preached ‘the good news of the kingdom’ [Matthew 4:23]; he taught about how to enter the kingdom, the importance and worth of the kingdom, the principles and values of the kingdom; he taught that the kingdom of God came when he cast out demons [Matthew 12:28]; he taught that the kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21]. When the apostles preached the gospel they referred to this action as preaching ‘the kingdom’ [Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:31]. This coming of God’s kingdom was initiated with the public ministry of Jesus Christ: he the King had come, therefore his kingdom had come; he the King was present, therefore his kingdom was present.

We might think at first that this contradicts the voices in heaven [11:15], but they are speaking of the final dimension of the Kingdom. Here in 12:10-12 the enemy is still present and active. He has been disempowered. He has been hurled down. He has lost the definitive and decisive battle, but he is still active. There in 11:15-18 the time of the enemy’s final destruction had come. Here the Kingdom is inaugurated. There the Kingdom is consummated.

[4] Christ’s authority has come. The male child was born: Jesus Christ came and exerted his rightful authority [exousia], as opposed to Satan’s usurped power. We read of this rightful authority of Christ in the New Testament gospels and letters:

He taught as one who had authority [Mark 1:22].
He commanded the evil spirits with authority [Mark 1:27].
He had authority to forgive sins [Mark 2:10].
The Father gave him authority to judge [John 5:27].
He had authority to both lay down his life and take it up again [John 10:18].
He possesses all authority in heaven and on earth [Matthew 28:18].
The Father granted him authority over all people [John 17:2].

God has seated Christ ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion ...’ [Ephesians 1:21].
All other authorities were created by him [Colossians 1:16].
He is ‘the head over every power and authority’ [Colossians 2:10].
He ‘disarmed the powers and authorities … triumphing over them by the cross’ [Colossians 2:15].
He is ‘at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him [1Peter 3:22].

The rightful authority of Jesus Christ exposed the assumed authority of the enemy. The rightful authority of Christ routed the usurped authority of the enemy.

When he taught the true truth, he exposed the deceptions of the enemy.
When he cast out demons, he revealed that he, not the devil, is their real master.
When he forgave sins, he over-ruled the accusations of the adversary.

And when he died for our sins and rose again – this was the ultimate expression of his authority. This was his ultimate triumph over all supposed and assumed authorities.

The authority of Christ came with the birth of the male child. It was expressed during his public ministry. And in the place where it seemed most hidden, most vulnerable, most absent, there it was engaging in its most significant and powerful expression: there, in the darkness and aloneness of death, all the deceptive, destructive and accusatory evil deeds of the evil one, were being undone. There Genesis 3 was being reversed. There the sin that Satan brought to the earth was disempowered. There the just penalty for human sin was fully borne, in the body of the male child, on the cross. There the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. There, by his blood, the Lamb purchased men for God.

This is the battle symbolised by the battle between Michael and the dragon. This is the massive reality left unsaid in that one-verse summary about the male child. That this battle was won by the child, and was effective, is stated in that summary in the words ‘he was snatched up to God and to his throne’ and in the result of the symbolic battle ‘the great dragon was hurled down’.

[5] For the accuser … has been hurled down – verse 10. [Note that this hurling down of Satan is mentioned four times in this chapter.]
That little word ‘for’ alerts us to an important perspective in this chapter. As already noted the ‘woman’ is the focus of the chapter, not the male child, not the dragon. This ‘for’ explains how and why all that has just been mentioned ‘have come’, and teaches us that, here in this chapter, these four realities established by the incarnation and death of Christ – the salvation, power and kingdom of God and the authority of Christ – are mentioned because of their impact for the Church, not merely as objective truths. They are mentioned as part of the strong message of assurance and security given in Revelation to the suffering Church. This salvation, power, kingdom and authority, which are intrinsic to God and to his Christ, are here active and effective for the Church.

Because there is ‘the accuser of our brothers’. The name Satan means ‘the accuser’ – the one who stands as an adversary and publicly harangues his victims by bringing charges against them.  

We can see him in action in Job 1:6 – 2:10, where he accused Job of non-genuine faith.
We read of him in 1Peter 5:8, prowling around looking for someone to destroy.
We are warned about him in Ephesians 6:10-17.

But Romans 8 exposes the impotence, the injustice and the illegality of his accusations and charges:

Who does he think he is, bringing a charge against those whom God has acquitted? [verse 33]

Who does he think he is, condemning those for whom Christ has already paid the penalty by his death, and proved its validity by his resurrection and ascension? [verse 34].

What kind of adversary is he, when we have Christ as our advocate at the right hand of God? [verse 34]

All the salvation, the power, the kingdom and the authority of God and his Christ are active for the Church. The death of Jesus Christ has annulled all the allegations of the Accuser. Christ is at the right hand of God – on his throne [Revelation 12:5] as our Mediator, our Advocate, our Intercessor, our great High Priest.

Suggested reading:
Isaiah 53:12
1Timothy 2:5
Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25; 10:19-22
1John 2:1,2

It is his power, salvation, kingdom and authority that now rule, and that now protect the Church against all the accusations of the enemy. The Accuser has been hurled down. He may rant and rave against the redeemed all he likes … day and night, day and night … but his accusations no longer hold. The death of Christ has already fully dealt with our sins and our guilt. Nothing the Accuser can say or do can ever sever the redeemed from God. Not ever.

About the symbolic battle between Michael and the dragon: Vincent’s Word Studies points out that in rabbinic tradition Michael was known as the sunegor – the Advocate, the one who speaks on behalf of. This is the opposite of the word translated Accuser – kategoros – the one who speaks against. Thus the symbolic Michael/Dragon battle represents the real Advocate/Accuser battle: Christ versus Satan.

[6] They overcame him … We have just learned of Christ’s defeat of the accuser, and now we are told that the Church – ‘our brothers’ – overcame him. The word is nikao. It is the word used in all of the promises of Christ to the churches – ‘to him who overcomes’. It is the word used to refer to Christ’s victory over Satan – ‘just as I overcame’ [3:21’, ‘the Lion of Judah … has triumphed’ [5:5]. This established triumph of the redeemed over the accuser has two sources. It is by, that is through or because of:

The blood of the Lamb – It was not their personal integrity or personal righteousness that overcame the enemy: it was the blood of Christ. Because of his death, they know that those accusations, though accurate, are no longer legally valid because Christ in his death has paid the full penalty, taken the full condemnation, borne the complete judgment. Their sins are no longer held to their account.

The word of their testimony – that is, the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ and what he achieved, elsewhere in Revelation referred to as ‘the testimony of Jesus’. About this testimony the scripture states:

‘… it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ [1John 5:9-12].

It is interesting that every part of the ‘full armour of God’ which we are commanded to put on as protection against the evil one equates with the gospel truth established by Jesus Christ:

The belt of truth – God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ.
The breastplate of righteousness – that gift of imputed righteousness [legal acquittal] which is the power of the gospel.
The gospel of peace shoes – the stability of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ [note that the Roman soldiers’ sandals had spiked soles].
The shield of (the) faith – where the Greek has the definite article, indicating the whole content of the Christian faith.
The helmet of salvation – the total truth about salvation in Christ.
The sword (a defensive dagger) of the Spirit – the word of God.

Jesus Christ, the Son, and his sin-bearing, saving death – these are the basis and the means by which the redeemed overcame the accuser.

Then another thing is mentioned, not as the means by which they overcame, but as the ruling perspective of their lives. They love Jesus most. Although there are sometimes hiccoughs, moments of weakness, as with Simon Peter [John 15-18], and although even the strongest have these moments of fear and weakness [1Corinthians 2:3; Ephesians 6:19], yet the overwhelming characteristic of the redeemed is that they love Jesus Christ most, not themselves. Not everyone who follows Jesus dies because of him; but everyone who follows Jesus loves him most.

Suggested reading:
Luke 9:57-62; 14:26
John 12:25,26

This allegiance to Jesus, this belief in the Son of God, which itself is the work and the gift of God [John 3:3-8; 6:44,65], is the personal, subjective reason why the redeemed overcome the accuser through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, which is the testimony of Jesus [see verse 17].

But there is something further we must look at here – a deep and powerful truth that transcends our observable human weakness and failure, and that puts peace in the hearts of the redeemed who honestly cannot say that they would not cave in under pressure: the verb ‘overcame’ is in the Aorist Tense – it is a decisive, one-off action that has already occurred in the past. We must not change this Aorist into a Future. We must not ask ourselves ‘Will I overcome when the accuser pressures me?’ Rather we must ask: when did this decisive overcoming occur? When did this personal victory over the accuser happen?

It happened at the very moment each of the redeemed acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord.

It happened at the very moment each of them received salvation – wrought by his blood.

It happened at the very moment each of them gave up their own life – their own importance, significance, religious merit, religious heritage – and, like Paul in Philippians 3:4-9, took on board Jesus Christ.

It happened at the moment their real personal faith in Christ began, and faith in self ended.

By this faith the accuser was overcome. At this point of personal acknowledgment of Jesus Christ, the accuser lost the battle for this person.

Thus John wrote in his first letter:

‘I write to you young men, because you have overcome [Perfect Tense] the evil one …because the word of God lives in you and you have overcome [Perfect Tense] the evil one’ [1John 2:13,14].

‘You, dear children, are from God and have overcome [Perfect Tense] them (the spirit of the antichrist), because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’ [1John 4:4].

‘… everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome [Aorist Tense] the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God’ [1John 5:4,5].

Here we see the victory, the overcoming, of the redeemed: it is grounded in the word of God, it is grounded in the greatness of the indwelling Christ, and it is grounded in their acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We also see here that this victory, this overcoming the evil one, is something that happened completely in the past and the effects of it are still in place: the verbs in the first and second quotes are Perfect Tense. The redeemed overcame the evil one completely by their acknowledgement and reception of Jesus Christ, and that victory is still in place and always will be in place. It is a done deal.

[7] Therefore rejoice, you heavens and all you who dwell in them! We have already seen this joy in heaven. We saw it in 5:11-14, where heaven and earth rejoiced because of the victorious saving work of the Lamb. We saw it in 7:11-17 and 11:15-19, where heaven rejoices at the final victory of Christ and the final consummation of the Kingdom.  But here in 12:12, heaven and its inhabitants are commanded to rejoice because of the victory of the redeemed – this victory grounded in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his death. And here we are reminded of those words of Jesus:

‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’ [Luke 15:6,7].

‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin. In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’ [Luke 15:11,13].

‘… we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’ [Luke 15:31,32].

Satan has been overcome. His hold on this life has ended. His right to accuse this person has been annulled. This one he held captive has been liberated forever from his evil and dark kingdom [Romans 8:1,2; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 2:14,15].

This woman has been saved through her faith in Jesus. She goes in peace [Luke 7:50].
This man is acquitted of all accusations because he trusted in the mercy of God [Luke 18:14].
This man is now a son of Abraham; because he has acknowledged the Lord Jesus [Luke 19:9].

All heaven must rejoice! The captive is set free. The sinner is acquitted. The lost is found. By the blood of the Lamb, and by the testimony of Jesus.

[8] But woe to the earth and the sea … The decisive battle has been won by Christ on the cross. There remains the final ‘battle’, which is insignificant compared to the battle already won, as we will see later. Satan has already been disempowered. Although he continues to accuse God’s people these accusations have no authority because a greater authority has already acquitted those whom he accuses. He cannot accuse them before God, he cannot disqualify them before God, so he has gone down to earth and there he continues his illegal attack. He is ‘filled with fury, because he knows his time is short’.

Leon Morris makes an interesting comment on this statement: ‘The troubles of the persecuted righteous arise not because Satan is too strong, but because he is beaten’ [p 158, Revelation, IVP, 1987].

This ‘short’ time in which Satan is permitted to work ‘woe’ on the inhabitants of the earth is by no means a concession to Satan. Rather, it is the gracious gift of God to the inhabitants of the earth, during which the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed throughout the earth so that the people from every tribe and nation, language and people will be added to the redeemed. This age of suffering at the hands of the furious Satan is the age of proclamation, the age of grace. As long as that final battle is postponed there is opportunity for repentance and salvation [see 2Peter 3].

Note: The previous two points alert us to another important reality that has already been encountered in Revelation: that the redeemed have a ‘dual citizenship’ – they are already citizens of heaven, and therefore rejoice with the heavens because of their redemption, but they are still on the earth, and therefore suffer the vicious fury of the evil one. John referred to this when he introduced himself in 1:9: ‘your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’. The suffering – we are still on earth; the kingdom – we are already seated in the heavenlies in Christ; the endurance – living, overcoming, in the tension between the two. Jesus anticipated this tension when he prayed to his Father on our behalf [John 17:6-26].


C. THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON – 12:13-17

John now returns to the apocalyptic symbols of ‘the woman’ and ‘the dragon’, and speaks of the Church and the devil under these symbols.

C.1 About the devil
He realises that he has been cast out of heaven and can no longer justly accuse before God those who are now redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. He can no longer separate them from God because their sin has been taken out of the way by the death of Jesus. His destructive activities are limited to ‘earth’ [verse 13]. To understand something of what this means we need to remember the actions of the devil that are mentioned in the Scripture:

In Genesis 3 we can identify -  

He deliberately deceived human beings into believing error about God.
He deliberately deceived human beings into disobeying God’s one prohibitive command.
He deliberately deceived human beings into questioning and disbelieving the word of God.
He tempted human beings to act on their own desire rather than on God’s word.
He tempted human beings to seek their own glory rather than God’s
He accused God of wrong motives.

Three things are obvious from all of this –

The devil hates God with a violent hatred.
The devil so hates God that he cannot tolerate anyone or anything loved by God.
The devil so hates God that he cannot tolerate anyone who loves God.

This is obvious in Eden, it is obvious in the story of Abel, it is obvious in the story of Job, it is obvious at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.

His intention in Genesis 3 is to do violence to God by severing from God this precious jewel of God’s creation – human beings. He knows that if he can coerce Adam and Eve into sinning he will have succeeded. He will, in the terms of God’s own decreed justice [Genesis 2:17], have succeeded in severing them from God and from eternal life with God. If he can get them to sin, death must come.

And succeed he did. The humans, having sinned and being sinners, are now cut off from God, banned forever from God’s presence by God’s own law. They live, but they are dead.

But there was something of which the devil at this point was unaware, that deep reality of the eternal purpose of God set in place before he created anything – a reality that CS Lewis refers to allegorically as the ‘deeper magic from before the dawn of time’ [p 142ff The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Puffin Books, 1959].

In the death of the Lamb that word of God in Genesis 2:17, that prohibitive ban put in place in Genesis 3:24, that just separation between God and sinful man defined repeatedly in his Word and symbolised by the temple curtain, are over-ridden by the eternal purpose that God set in place before the beginning of time. [See Study Four: Revelation in the Big Picture - The Eschatological Connection – New Testament, point C.4.]

Too late the devil realised his error. How avidly he sought to destroy the Old Testament people of God, those who would bring to birth the Son of God, the Saviour of the world! How desperately he waited to destroy the male child when he was born. How persistently he tried to divert Jesus from the God-ordained way of redemption through his substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death.

How great now his fury! By the atoning death of the Lamb he is robbed of his prey. His triumph of Genesis 3 is undone. The age-long legal separation he had engineered between God and humans has been overturned by a deeper justice, by an incredible, immeasurable, incomparable work of grace. The very thing by which he determined to hurt and diminish God most has ended up bringing even more glory and praise to God than he received before.

In this fury, this seething hate-filled fury, he turns against the one thing on all the earth that God loves most, that God loves with a love beyond all imagining: the Church. True to his historic form he attacks he object of God’s love. He knows the time is short … he knows his end is near. But he has no remorse. He has no intention to change his ways. He has no intention of submitting to God or acknowledging God as God. He will continue his aggressive opposition to God right up to the very end, so great, so unchangeable, is his hatred of God.

Out of this hatred he pursues the woman [verse 13], he tries to get rid of the woman [verse 15], he is enraged at the woman [verse17], and makes war against ‘her offspring’ [verse 17].

C.2 About the woman
What we are shown in this vision reveals God’s protection of the Church.

[1] She is given the wings of a great eagle – verse 14. This speaks of a God-given endurance grounded in knowledge of God and trust in God [Isaiah 40:27-31]. This whole chapter of Isaiah teaches us of the coming of Jesus Christ, and his incomparable power that renders insignificant all who might dare to compete with him and oppose him. Yes, there is the enemy, but Christ is far, far greater, far, far more powerful.

[2] There is a safe place prepared for her – verses 6 and 14. The wings of faith in a powerful God enable her to live in ‘the place prepared for her in the desert’. This symbol of safety in the desert is reminiscent of the sojourn of the Israelites in the desert where God journeyed with them in the pillar of cloud and fire, and where he provided them with physical food for forty years. It is also reminiscent of Elijah’s sojourn in the desert during the period of physical drought and spiritual opposition, and during which God provided for his physical needs. The ‘desert’ is eremos - a lonely place, a solitary place. In the experience of the Israelites it was neither the land from which they had been redeemed, nor the land which God had promised them. It was an in-between place.

And this is the truth about the Church – she has been rescued from the world, she no longer belongs to the world, she belongs to the Kingdom of heaven, but she is not yet physically in heaven.

Suggested reading:
John 15:19; 17:6,14,16
Ephesians 5:8
Hebrews 11:13
1Peter 1:1; 2:11

And there in her isolation from the world the Church is taken care of by God. Just as the Israelites and Elijah were nourished physically by God in their ‘deserts’, so the Church is nourished spiritually in the ‘desert’ or ‘wilderness’ of this world: she has Jesus Christ, the bread of life, the true bread from heaven, the well of living water, so she is never spiritually hungry or thirsty ever again [John 4:14; 6:32-35]; she has the Spirit of Jesus – life-giving streams of water flowing from within [John 7:38,39]; she has Jesus – the Light and the Truth, so she recognizes the enemy’s dark deceptions [John 8:12, 14:6]; she has Jesus, the good shepherd, who has already laid down his life to secure her life [John 10:9,10]; she is permanently connected to Jesus – the resurrection and the life, and the vine, and so she is has permanent spiritual life [John 11:25,23; 15:1]. She is nourished, strengthened, sustained by the Word of God, by which she is protected from the evil one [Ephesians 6:10-17].

Here in this world of danger from the dragon, the Church lives in her own quiet place of rest: close to the heart of her Shepherd, safe in his powerful arms [Isaiah 40:11], safe in the hands of the Son and the Father [John 10:28,29]. This quietness, this trust, is her strength [Isaiah 30:17]. This quietness, this confidence, this peace is the result of her acquittal by the blood of the Lamb [Isaiah 32:17; Romans 5:1], which puts her beyond the reach of the dragon’s accusations. The dragon can attack, the dragon can even kill her physically, but he can never separate her from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, her Lord.

[3] The time of her sojourn, and of the dragon’s opposition, is limited – verses 6,14. This interim between the ascension and enthronement of the male child and the end of the woman’s sojourn in ‘the desert’ is the same as the period during which the two witnesses proclaim the message of Christ and are persecuted: 1,260 days, that is ‘a time, times and half a time’ – three and a half years. This is the symbol of the pen-ultimate era, this era in which the Church lives, suffers and witnesses before ‘end of the world’, the era before that perfect, eternal state.

[4] The earth itself comes to her aid – verse 16. When the river poured out by the dragon threatened to overwhelm the woman the earth helped the woman by swallowing up the flood. That is the vision, but what is the reality depicted by these symbols? It is not difficult to define the ‘river’ emanating from Satan – a flood of evil, a flood of temptation, a flood of accusations, a flood of false teaching, a flood of indifference or coldness to the things of God – all of these and more at times threaten to overwhelm the Church, to sidetrack, to corrupt, to weaken her. But what are we to make of ‘the earth’ coming to her assistance? The earth swallowing up the threat? Whatever it is, it is a tool in the hand of God as he protects, preserves and purifies his Church.

Are there any biblical precedents? Are there any clues in Revelation?

The following are examples of God using the physical earth, including human beings, to protect, preserve or purify his people:

The same water by which he destroyed the whole world was used by him to bear those in the ark to safety [Genesis 6 – 9].

The wickedness of men, by which Joseph ended up in an Egyptian prison, was used by God to save his own from starvation [Genesis 37, 39ff].

The Red Sea parted to allow the passage of the Israelites, then returned to its place, destroying the Egyptians [Exodus 14].

The sun stood still to enable Joshua’s victory over the Amorites [Joshua 10].

Cyrus the Persian was designated by God to release the Israelites to return to Jerusalem [Isaiah 45:1].

An earthquake broke the chains binding Paul and Silas [Acts 16].

We can see from these examples that not only the physical earth, but also unbelieving human beings, are used by God for the well-being of his people.

In Revelation, the prayers of the redeemed, as we have already seen, evoke the preliminary judgments of God upon the unbelieving world.

As we have also seen, there is something of a sympathetic and symbiotic relationship between the physical universe and the human response to God. It is not at all surprising if the earth itself rises up at God’s command on the side of those loved so dearly by God.