Pregnant and screaming
- 12:1 Then I saw a miraculous sign there in heaven. It was a woman.1 She wore the sun for clothing. The moon rested beneath her feet. On her head she wore a crown of 12 stars.2
- 12:2 The woman was pregnant, in labor, and ready to give birth. She cried out in pain.
A baby-hunting dragon
- 12:3 After that, I saw another miraculous sign in heaven. It was a massive red dragon. This thing had seven heads with seven crowns.4 It had 10 horns,5 too.
- 12:4 12:4. He swept his tail across the sky, batting a third of the stars to earth.6 And there he stood, right in front of the woman who was about to deliver her baby. He was going to eat that baby alive, fresh meat.
A child is born
- 12:5 The woman gave birth to a son. He is destined to rule the world. And he’ll do it with the strength of iron. This child was carried up to God, where his throne7 was waiting.
- 12:6 The woman ran away into the badlands. That’s where God had set up a safehouse for her—a place to stay for three and a half years.8
Angels go to war
- 12:7 War broke out in heaven, with angels turning on each other. Michael9 and his angels fought the dragon and his angels.
- 12:8 The dragon wasn’t strong enough. He and his angels lost the war and their place in heaven.
- 12:9 The powerful dragon got evicted—kicked right out of heaven. He’s that ancient snake10 known as the devil and Satan. He’s a liar who dupes people all over the world. He and his angels got themselves kicked out and tossed down to earth.
- 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven respond.
“We won! We’re saved! Right now!
The kingdom has come. The kingdom of our God.
It’s here by the power of God and by the authority of his Messiah.
Gone is that perpetual prosecutor.11
Day and night, he complained to God about our people.
Well, he got kicked out of heaven and tossed down to earth.
Our side won, thanks to the blood of the Lamb
and to the brave testimony our people.
They kept from talking because they weren’t afraid to die.
So everyone in heaven, go ahead and celebrate.
But pity those below, on land and sea.
The devil’s there, and coming for you,
livid, because his time is almost up.”
Dragon hunts the lady’s kids
- 12:13 After the dragon landed on earth, he started hunting the mother of the baby boy.
- 12:14 But the woman caught a flight on the wings of a big eagle. She flew to a safehouse in the badlands, where she found protection for a time. The snake couldn’t get her.12
- 12:15 So the snake spit up a raging river of water, hoping to flood the woman out of her safehouse.
- 12:16 It didn’t work. The ground came to the woman’s rescue. It opened its mouth and swallowed the river the dragon spit up.
- 12:17 The dragon got so furious with the woman that he stormed off to make war with the rest of her children—those who obey God and who hang on tight to what Jesus taught them.13
John doesn’t identify the woman. Scholars have offered many guesses, including: Mary the mother of Jesus, the church, the constellation Virgo (“virgin” in Greek), and the persecuted Jewish people. The description of sun, moon, and stars might suggest a link to Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:1-9) in which he seemed to see his family as sun and moon (Dad and Mom) and 11 stars (his 11 brothers). They all bowed before him, apparently the twelfth star and the star of the family. That dream irritated even his dad. To shut him up, his brothers kidnapped him and sold him to slave traders who took him to Egypt.
Many scholars say the 12 stars represent the zodiac, which shows up in synagogue mosaics from Roman times.
John later identifies the dragon as Satan (12:9). John seems to be wrapping this symbolic story into a legend that would have sounded familiar to many people at the time, some scholars say. One myth is a story about Hera, the wife of Zeus, sending Python to hunt down the goddess her husband got pregnant (Leto) and to stop her from having her twins, Artemis and Apollo. Why John seemed to build his imagery around myths like this one and others is unknown. Some speculate he was trying to widen his audience by helping people outside the faith see their legendary stories woven into the factual story of Jesus’ birth.
Sounds like seven rulers, many scholars say.
“Horns” symbolized military strength, the power to win wars. The “Lamb” of Revelation 5:6 has only seven horns, hinting that the dragon is muscling up and planning to pack a punch.
Possibly a reference to a conquering ruler mentioned in Daniel 8:10 who grew so strong that he caused “some of the stars to fall to the earth.” But some say that since “stars” can represent angels, this story reflects the fall of Satan and his evil angels as told in a traditional Jewish story (not in most Bibles) called Watchers. These Watchers are angels who keep an eye on humans but who fall in lust with human women (1 Enoch 6—11). Too close of an eye.
Possibly a reference to a song about God’s invitation, “Sit at My right hand” (Psalm 110:1 NASB).
Literally, 1,260 days. This isn’t necessarily 1,260 days. Instead, it may simply represent any stretch of time appointed by God, a bit like “40 days” can mean something like a few weeks or months. John expresses this stretch of time with a couple of other phrases, too: “42 months” (Revelation 13:5) and “a time, times, and half a time” (12:14 NASB). Surprisingly, this may have been about how long Joseph, Mary, and Jesus hid from King Herod, who wanted to kill Baby Jesus. A conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and the constellation Pisces may have been the Star of Bethlehem, some speculate. See the map in Matthew 2 and the footnotes about the Star.
Michael, a leader among angels, is the only angel whose name shows up in Revelation. He’s that important. Sorry Gabriel. The prophet Daniel said Michael was the angel assigned to the Jewish nation (Daniel 12:1); many Jews seemed to teach that God assigned one angel to each country or territory. Jude called Michael an “archangel” (Jude 1:9 NASB), a title built on two Greek words that mean “chief angel.” Jude says that Michael and Satan had a previous run-in, when Satan wanted to take the body of Moses (Jude 1:9). Michael essentially told Satan to take a long walk off a short cloud. Daniel says that the angel Gabriel fought a battle for 21 days before Michael arrived as backup (Daniel 10:13). Early Jewish and Christian writers didn’t portray Michael as simply a top angel in heaven. Michael was the go-to angel for taking on Satan and his demon followers.
This is the only place in the Bible that identifies the snake in the Garden of Eden as Satan (Genesis 3:1-7). In Genesis, it’s just a talking snake: “Of all the animals God made, the snake was the sneakiest” (Genesis 3:1).
Job seems to portray Satan as a spirit being who prosecutes people in God’s court. Satan, which is a Hebrew word meaning “accuser,” kept trying to find a spiritual flaw in Job. He convinced God to put Job to the test. Job loses his children, his livestock, and his health (Job 1—2). But he hangs onto his faith.
The run-for-your-life scene brings to mind the story of Joseph taking Mary and Baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the snake of the day: King Herod the Not So Great (Matthew 2:13-23). A vicious king, he ordered some of his sons executed because he considered them threats to his rule. Matthew’s Gospel says he did the same in Bethlehem, killing boys under the age of two in an effort to kill Jesus. Some sages told him a new star announced the birth of a new king.
The apparent code beneath the words is a call to trust in God and keep following the advice of Jesus all the way to martyrdom if necessary. By the time many scholars say John wrote Revelation, in the AD 90s, martyrdom was necessary. Emperor Domitian (ruled AD 81-96) heavily persecuted Christians.
Some Bible expert say Revelation 12 sounds like it got pulled from somewhere else and dropped right into the middle of the book of Revelation. It doesn’t seem to fit the flow at all, they say. Take a look at the story of the pregnant woman and the dragon that wants to eat her baby. What are some reasons you think some scholars say the story is about the birth and ministry of Jesus and his followers (12:1-6; 13-17)?
“War broke out in heaven, with angels turning on each other” (12:7). Should that make us worry about what we’re getting ourselves in for when we die?
The story of Satan falling from heaven is tough for some Christians to believe. In fact, some Christians have a hard time believing in the existence of Satan as a sentient, evil being. They think of evil as more of an inanimate spiritual power much, like gravity is in the physical world. What do you think makes some Christians believe Satan is a living being?
LIFE APPLICATION. Let’s make an assumption for a moment about John’s reference to the Dragon storming off “to make war with… Those who obey God and who hang on tight to what Jesus taught them” (12:17). Let’s assume there is either an evil being or a powerful force at war against our spiritual faith. What do you think Satan or the satanic power most effectively targets among Christians today?