Revelation 12 is one of the most revealing and fascinating chapters in the entire Bible. It reveals the spiritual struggle occurring behind the scenes of this world. And in the last days that spiritual struggle will be more intense than ever. There are three principle characters who have been involved in this spiritual warfare. These characters are the subject of Revelation 12:1-5 they include a woman with child (Revelation 12:1-2), the great red dragon—Satan (Revelation 12:3-4), and the child, Jesus (Revelation 12:5).
Revelation 12:1-2 The first character in the great tribulation is a woman who is in heaven and said to be a great “wonder” or a great sign in heaven. Who is the woman? She is clothed with the sun, and the moon is under her feet, and has on her head a crown of stars. This refers back to the Old Testament to a dream that Joseph had: (Genesis 37:9-11).
Jacob understood exactly what Joseph meant: the sun represented the father Jacob, the moon the mother, and the twelve stars the brothers. The dream was a picture of Israel; Joseph was dreaming that Israel would be saved from destruction through him.
She is pregnant and the child is pictured as being born (Revelation 12:2, 5). Note what is said about the child in v 5. This clearly refers to Jesus. He was born to rule all nations (Psalm 2:9), and He alone was exalted to the throne of God.
There are three main positions about who the woman is. Some say she is Mary, the mother of Jesus. But there are just too many supernatural things said about this woman for her to be an earthly being. Some say she is the church. But the church did not give birth to Messiah. On the contrary, Messiah gave birth to the church.
Some say she is the ideal Israel, the chosen people, the community of God from which Messiah came. These say the mother represents all the true people of God, those before Jesus came and those after He came. Paul actually speaks of the Jerusalem which is above, who is the mother of the people of God on earth (Galatians 4:26). This position is a possible identification of the woman. But again, this position does not fill all the things said about the woman, not as well as Israel itself does.
Some say that the woman represents Israel, the people who gave birth to Jesus. This seems to be the clearest identification of the woman. As we progress through the passage, we will see that everything said about this woman fits Israel. Paul said that Yeshua came out of Israel (Romans 9:5).
Isaiah prophesied that Israel would travail in pain and bring forth a man-child (Isaiah 66:7-8). The Old Testament also pictures Israel as a woman, the adulterous wife of the Lord (Jeremiah 3:1, 20; Ezekiel 16:32-35; Hosea 2:2) whom God will ultimately restore to Himself (Isaiah 50:1).
Satan has persecuted the Jewish people throughout their history. He knows that to destroy Israel would make it impossible for God to fulfill His promises to the Jewish people and through them to the world. God will not allow him to do that, but will use Satan to chasten Israel. It should then come as no surprise that the devil will intensify his persecution of Israel as the establishment of the millennial kingdom draws near.
Revelation 12:3-4 The second character in the great tribulation is the great red dragon, the devil. The dragon is also said to be a wonder or a sign in heaven. The description of the red dragon is different from what most people think. When people think of the devil, they picture a fiery red serpent-like creature with two horns and a long pointed tail that holds a pitchfork in his hand. But when Scripture speaks of Satan as a dragon, it is referring to the evil work he does, not to his looks or appearance.
The Hebrew word for “serpent” (nachash) used in Genesis 3:1 is used in some texts with the Hebrew word for dragon (tannin). For example the tannin is used in Exodus 7:9, and translated serpent, while in Exodus 7:15, nachash is used and is translated serpent. So the animal Satan used in the Garden of Eden was a reptile, but one not yet cast down to its belly (Genesis 3:14). Likely, it was more upright—a dragon (likely a dinosaur) standing on two legs, cursed to walk on four legs close to the ground, or slither like a snake.
The dragon is further described as having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. He is depicted as a seven-headed monster that rules the world. Satan has been allowed by God to rule the world since the Fall and will continue to do so until the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:15). The seven heads with their seven diadems (from the Greek diadema; royal crowns symbolizing power and authority) represent seven consecutive world empires that ruled the world under Satan’s dominion: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Antichrist’s future empire (Revelation 17:9-10).
The final kingdom, ruled by Antichrist, will be a ten-nation confederacy; the ten horns represent the kings who will rule under Antichrist (Revelation 17:12; 13:1; Daniel 7:23-25). Satan’s influence is first in the angelic realm. In John’s vision, the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth, in verses 7 and 9 the stars of heaven are angels. Angels are depicted symbolically as stars elsewhere in Revelation 9:1 and Job 38:7.
Satan’s aim is to devour the woman and to destroy Israel to retaliate against God for judging him. And the way he has chosen to do this is to turn the hearts of people away from God and lead them to sin and to follow the way of evil. When God promised to send the Savior to the world Satan was listening. He was the serpent who had tempted Adam and Eve and led them to sin and undermine God’s creation.
God loved Adam and Eve and wanted to save them from sin and death and God would accomplish this through the the seed of the woman, the Messiah, who would crush the head and power of Satan (Genesis 3:15). Since Satan knew his ultimate judgment would come through the woman has done all that he can to delay the coming of the Seed, the Savior. He knew that he could not thwart God’s plan and will.
But Satan wanted to get as many people as he could to sin and to turn away from God so that God’s heart would be cut and hurt. He wanted to delay his own defeat and the crushing of his head as long as he could. This is what is meant by Revelation 12:4. Satan has tried from the very beginning to destroy the seed of the woman. He has been waging war against the Seed of God, ever since (Romans 16:20).
There was the line of Abel, Adam’s Son. Satan led Cain to kill Abel, but God gave Adam another son, Seth (Genesis 4:1f). -There was the early line of the godly seed when Satan led the godly line to mix with the ungodly and led them into such vile wickedness that God had to destroy the earth. But God raised up Noah (Genesis 6:5f).
-There was the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob where Satan led Esau to threaten to kill his brother, Jacob. But God protected Jacob (Genesis 27:41f). There was the line of the children of Israel when Satan led Pharoah to attempt to kill all the male babies of Israel. But God saved Moses (Exodus 1:8f). There was the line of David when Satan led son after son of David into sin and to murder and disqualify themselves. But God always kept at least one son of David alive (2 Samuel 13f).
There was the line of the chosen people when Satan led King Ahasuerus to exterminate all of God’s people. But God gave him a most restless and frightening night of sleep. The king, therefore, spared the chosen line. There was the line of the Promised Seed, Jesus Himself, at His birth when Satan led King Herod to slay all the babies in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the promised child. But God warned Joseph and told Joseph to flee with the child (Matthew 2:1f).
The temptation when Satan tempted Jesus to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, to secure the loyalty and worship of the people by the spectacular instead of the cross. But Jesus chose God’s way, the way of the cross, instead of Satan’s way (Matthew 4:1f). Still again when Satan led the citizens of Nazareth to try to cast Jesus off the cliff of a hill, but Jesus escaped (Luke 4:29).
Satan led the religious to hate Jesus and to plot His death time and time an again.
-Now that Christ has come, Satan is doing all he can to turn people away from avoiding the judgment to come. Even when people do repent and turn to follow Jesus, Satan continues to do all he can to turn the followers of the Lord away from Him. This is the battle that is going on behind the scenes in the spiritual world.
The point of this passage in Revelation is to show how the struggle will intensify in the great tribulation. Satan will use all the resources he has to destroy the “seed of the woman,” the followers of the Lord Jesus. Though the present passage is dealing primarily with the great tribulation, the same spiritual struggle is waged in every generation.