I. The seven great personages of the end times (chaps. 12–15)
Though the seventh trumpet was recorded in 11:15 as sounding, the details of what will come out of the seventh trumpet are not revealed until chapter 16.
Accordingly chapters 12–15 view the prophecies of the end time from another perspective and introduce the great personages who are involved in the second half of the seven-year period.
Many have pointed out that seven personages appear in chapters 12–13:
(1) a woman clothed with the sun, representing Israel (12:1–2);
(2) the red dragon with seven heads and 10 horns, representing Satan (12:3–4);
(3) the male Child, representing Christ (12:5–6);
(4) the archangel Michael, casting Satan out of heaven (12:7–12);
(5) the offspring of the woman, persecuted by the dragon (12:13–17);
(6) the beast out of the sea, the future world dictator (13:2–10);
(7) the beast out of the earth, the false prophet (13:11–18).
These chapters do not advance the narrative chronologically, but present events and situations that are concurrent with the soundings of the trumpets.
Chronological progress of events resumes in chapter 16.
1. the first personage: a woman clothed with the sun (12:1–2)
Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.
12:1–2. The first great personage to appear was a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head.
She was called a great and wondrous sign (sēmeion mega, lit., “a great sign”; cf. 13:13).
Undoubtedly the sign provoked wonder, as indicated in the KJV and NIV, but the translation “a great sign” (nasb) is more accurate, since John did not use the Greek word for wonder (teras).
This was the first of a series of events called “signs” or “miracles” (12:3; 13:13–14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20).
As signs they were symbols of something that God was about to reveal and usually contained an element of prophetic warning. Though this sign was seen in heaven, the events which followed obviously occurred on earth.
The woman symbolized Israel, as indicated by Genesis 37:9–11,
where the sun and the moon referred to Jacob and Rachel, Joseph’s parents.
The stars in the woman’s crown clearly related to the 12 sons of Jacob and identified the woman as Israel fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant.
J.B. Smith cites Isaiah 60:1–3, 20 as proof that the sun refers to Israel’s future glory (A Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 182).
Many commentaries are so intent on attempting to identify Israel as the church that they ignore these plain indications that the woman is Israel.
Robert H. Mounce, for instance, makes the woman “the messianic community, the ideal Israel … the church (Rev. 12:17). The people of God are one throughout all redemptive history” (The Book of Revelation, p. 236).
While there is a unity of the people of God, this does not wipe out dispensational and racial distinctions.
The symbolism, while not referring specifically to Mary, the mother of Christ, points to Israel as the source of Jesus Christ. Thus it does not refer to the church.
Wicked women are sometimes used to represent false religions, as in the case of Jezebel (2:20), the apostate church of the end time as a prostitute (17:1–7, 15, 18), and Israel as the unfaithful wife of Yahweh (Hosea 2:2–13).
The church by contrast is pictured as the virgin bride (2 Cor. 11:2), the Lamb’s wife (Rev. 19:7).
The woman was said to be pregnant and about to give birth (12:2). While in some sense this may be fulfilled in the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary, the context seems to refer to the emerging nation of Israel in its suffering prior to the second coming of Christ.
This is further supported by the verses which follow.
2. the second personage: the red dragon with the 7 heads and 10 horns (12:3–4)
Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.
12:3–4. The second wonder (semeion, “sign”; cf. v. 1) appeared in heaven, though it actually related to scenes on earth.
It was a great red dragon, having 7 heads and 10 horns, and 7 crowns on his heads.
From similar descriptions in Daniel 7:7–8, 24 and Revelation 13:1, this beast represented Satan’s control over world empires in the Great Tribulation.
Revelation 12:9 identifies the dragon as Satan.
The color red might indicate the bloodshed related to this period.
The 10 horns presented symbolically the 10 kings (see Dan. 7:24) who reigned simultaneously with the coming world ruler and who were mentioned both in Daniel 7:7 and Revelation 13:1.
The casting down of a third of the stars out of the sky seemed to imply satanic power which extended to the heavens and the earth.
Satan was seen here to extend his power over those who opposed him spiritually or politically.
The dragon’s attempt to devour the newborn Child (12:4) seemed to point to Satan’s attempts to destroy the Infant Jesus. Satanic opposition to Israel and especially to the messianic line is clear in both Testaments.
3. the third personage: the male-child, christ (12:5–6)
She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.
12:5–6. When the Child—described as a Son, a male Child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter—was born, He was snatched up to God and to His throne.
The Child obviously is Jesus Christ (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15).
Alford states that “the Man-Child is the Lord Jesus Christ, and none other” (The Greek Testament, 4: 668).
The catching up of the Child referred to the Ascension, not to the later Rapture of the church though the same word for “snatched up” is used of the Rapture (1 Thes. 4:17; cf. Acts 8:39; 2 Cor. 12:2–4).
The Rapture of the church would not constitute a deliverance of the Man-Child from Satan.
The deliverance itself took place when the woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, and she was preserved for 1,260 days, which was three and one-half years or 42 months of 30 days each.
Matthew (24:16) referred to the flight of Israel at the beginning of the Great Tribulation (cf. Mark 13:14).
References to both desert and mountains are not a contradiction as both were wilderness areas. In her desert hideout Israel was cared for perhaps as miraculously as Israel was in her wilderness journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
The time period was 1,260 days, later described as “a time, times, and half a time” (cf. comments on Rev. 12:14).
This action (vv. 5–6) followed what is described in verse 7 as a “war in heaven.”
4. the fourth personage: satan cast out of heaven (12:7–12)
Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”
12:7. Michael the archangel (cf. Jude 9) and his angels fought Satan and his angels, that is, demons.
The time of this war in heaven was not indicated but the context refers to the end time.
The efforts of some expositors to make this coincidental with the first coming of Christ, linking it with Luke 10:18, are not justified by the context in Revelation 12.
Also Satan is most obviously active throughout the period of the Church Age (cf. Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Peter 5:8).
The concept that Satan is inactive in the present Age is a false conclusion based on an attempt to place the binding of Satan at the first coming of Christ (Rev. 20:1–3). Kingdom Now etc
However, the binding of Satan is still a future event that relates to the millennial kingdom.
12:8–9. The outcome of the war was that Satan was hurled to the earth, and his character was clearly revealed in the various titles ascribed to him: the great dragon … that ancient serpent … the devil or Satan. With him went the fallen angels of the demon world.
While the concept of Satan in heaven is difficult to comprehend, it is clear that he is now the accuser of saints (cf. Job 1:6; Rev. 12:10).
Though Satan was defeated at the first coming of Christ (John 16:11), his execution was delayed and is in stages.
Here (Rev. 12:8–9) he will be cast out of heaven in the middle of the Tribulation.
Later he will be bound for the duration of the millennial kingdom (20:1–3).
The devil will finally be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur (20:10) where the world ruler (Antichrist) and the false prophet will have been cast a thousand years earlier.
Satan and his activities in heaven and earth opposed Christ as Priest in heaven, as King in Satan’s world rule in the Great Tribulation, and as the true Prophet by advancing the beast out of the earth (13:11), who was the false prophet (20:10).
Satan was identified as that ancient serpent, alias the devil or Satan, and was declared to be the one who led the whole world astray. When he will be cast into the earth, all the fallen angels or demons will be cast down with him.
12:10–12. John then heard a hymn of praise uttered by a loud voice in heaven.
Announcement was made of the coming demonstration of divine salvation and power with the advent of the millennial kingdom.
Satan was characterized as the one who accuses believers before our God day and night.
The principle by which he was overcome and cast out of heaven was the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.
Not only did Christ provide the victory, but also those who were martyred took part in that victory.
Those in the heavens were called on to rejoice because of Satan’s defeat, but the earth was warned that the devil was filled with fury, because he knew that his time was short.
The devil knew that his time was limited to 1,260 days, the period of the Great Tribulation.
By no stretch of the imagination can these prophecies be spread to cover the whole Interadvent Age as some attempt to do.
5. the fifth personage: the offspring of the woman persecuted by the dragon (12:13–17)
When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time. Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.
12:13–14. The woman introduced in verse 1 became the special object of Satan’s persecution.
She was given supernatural help symbolized by the two wings of a great eagle which enabled her to fly to the place prepared for her in the desert.
This hiding place was not clearly identified.
Some suggest that it might be Petra, fortress capital of the Nabateans in Edom, south of the Dead Sea.
This city has a narrow access which could easily be blocked but which opens up into a large canyon capable of caring for many thousands of people.
Though Scripture is not specific, some believe the 144,000 of chapter 7 are to be preserved here. The Scriptures themselves speak of God’s seal of protection on them.
The two wings probably do not refer to modern airplanes but rather to God’s delivering power, and are a figure of speech taken from such Old Testament passages as Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11–12.
The flight of Israel to a place of safety was also indicated in Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14; and Luke 21:21.
Though Revelation 12:6, 14 referred to the refuge as a desert and the Synoptic passages referred to mountains, this is no contradiction as both desert and mountains are in a wilderness area.
The length of time of her preservation was said to be
a time, times, and half a time.
This refers to the three and one-half years of the Great Tribulation with “a time” equaling one year, “times” equaling two years, and “half a time” indicating 6 months (cf. Dan. 7:25; 12:7 with the 42 months referred to in Rev. 11:2; 13:5).
References to these specific time periods show that the Great Tribulation is not the entire present Age but the three and one-half years preceding the second coming of Christ.
12:15–17. Pursuing the woman, the devil as the serpent originated a flood to sweep her away with the torrent, but the earth swallowed up the water.
Some have taken this as a literal flood, but since Israel could flee in every direction the contour of the Holy Land does not lend itself to such a flood.
Probably the flood represents Satan’s effort to exterminate Israel.
This is thwarted by the rough terrain which provides hiding places. In some way God assists the Israelites so that they are not completely destroyed, though Zechariah 13:8 indicates that “two-thirds will be struck down and perish.”
Though only one-third of Israel in the land is thus preserved (of which the 144,000 of Rev. 7 are a portion),
Satan the dragon continues to war against the rest.
Revelation 12 introduces four important persons and one group of people living at the end time: Israel, Satan, Christ, the archangel, and the remnant of Israel.
In Revelation 13 two important persons complete the scene.
6. the sixth personage: the beast out of the sea (13:1–10)