Revelation 12:1-17 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. In verses 1-2 (printed below), what does John report that he sees? What do you think is the significance of this?

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (2) She was pregnant; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain as she was about to give birth. (Revelation 12:1-2)

John now sees “a woman.” This woman is “clothed with the sun,” indicating her position of honor and glory as the beloved of God, sharing in His glory (cp. Genesis 1:27). John further observes that “the moon was under her feet,” indicating the exercise of dominion over the creation, the role God ordained for His people (cp. Genesis 1:28). The woman is seen wearing “a crown of twelve stars;” the stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel and identify the woman specifically with the Old Testament people of God. In verse 2 we learn that this woman was pregnant, and she cries out in pain for the delivery of her child. The woman whom John sees represents the people of God extending back beyond the nation of Israel all the way back to Adam, but especially focusing upon the Old Testament nation of Israel from whom the Messiah would come into the world.

2. What is the next sign that appeared in heaven (see verses 3-4 printed below?) How would you interpret this sign?

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. (4) His tail swept a third of the stars out of heaven, and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she delivered her child he might devour him. (Revelation 12:3-4)

John now sees “an enormous red dragon.” Verse 9 identifies this dragon as the devil, possessing awful power and potential for evil and terrible destructiveness (cp. John 8:44). The dragon is seen to have “seven heads and ten horns,” and there were “seven crowns upon his heads.” Note: Revelation 13 introduces us to a beast of a similar description (Revelation 13:1) and Revelation 17:9-12 identifies the beast as a world empire with its allied satellite nations. Revelation 13 will focus on the earthly kingdom, or, empire, that is under the control of the devil, whereas Revelation 12 focuses on the devil himself as the power behind the throne of that earthly kingdom. The dragon’s tail “swept a third of the stars out of heaven, and flung them to the earth;” in his rebellion, the devil drew after him a great host of the angels of God and he now rules over them as the prince of the demons (cp. 2 Peter 2:4a). The enormous red dragon is seen standing before the pregnant woman, desiring to devour her child. The devil, using king Herod—a ruler under the authority of the Roman empire, that itself was a first century form of the demonically-controlled and inspired empire of man in opposition to God—sought to destroy the Messiah at the time of His birth (cp. Matthew 2:13-16).

3. According to verse 5 (printed below), what happens to the woman’s child?

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is destined to rule all the nations with an iron scepter. Her child was carried away to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:5)

According to verse 5 the woman safely delivered her child; the child is identified as the One “who is destined to rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” Here is an allusion to Psalm 2; a Psalm that describes the nations joined together against the Lord (verses 1-3), but the Lord and His Messiah shall triumph and rule (verses 4-9). We learn further that the woman’s child “was carried away to God and to his throne.” Here is a reference to our Lord’s ascension and His place of pre-eminent authority at the right hand of God the Father, after having successfully accomplished the work of redemption.

4. What scene is now described in verses 7-9 (printed below?) What would you say is the meaning and significance of this?

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels waged war against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. (8) But they could not prevail, and so they lost their place in heaven. (9) The enormous dragon was flung down—the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was flung down to the earth, and his angels were flung down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

Verse 7 informs us that a mighty spiritual battle was waged in heaven, before the very presence of God and His throne. The angel Michael, as the defender of God’s people and the conqueror of their enemies, is an angelic representation of Christ Himself. Verse 8 reports the outcome of this spiritual warfare: the dragon did not prevail; neither did he and his hosts have any place in heaven any more. In Zecharaiah 3:1 we read of Satan standing in the presence of God, serving as a spiritual “district attorney” bringing charges against God’s people. But now Revelation 12:8 tells us that Satan no longer has a place to stand; that is to say, he can no longer bring charges against God’s people that demand the Lord to execute His righteous judgment against us, the reason being the victory won by Christ at Calvary (cp. Colossians 2:13-15). From verse 9 we learn that the great dragon was violently thrown out of heaven and “flung down to the earth.” Although he has once for all lost his position of authority in heaven (that is to say, his ability to bring charges against God’s people that require God to enact judgment against them, that judgment being once and for all enacted against Christ upon the cross of Calvary), the devil has not yet been thrown into the lake of fire.

5. According to verses 13-14 (printed below), what happens to “the woman?” How would you interpret these things?

When the dragon saw that he had been flung down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the male child. (14) But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she is protected from the face of the serpent for a time, and times, and half a time. (Revelation 12:13-14)

In verse 13 we read that when the devil saw that he had been “flung down to the earth” (i.e.; when he recognized his spiritual defeat), “he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the male child.” The devil unleashed his vengeance against the nation of Israel, exhibited in the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) and the dispersion of the Jews. But, according to verse 14, “the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness.” The woman’s escape into the wilderness is an act of God’s covenant mercy, designed to preserve the woman (i.e.; the people of Israel) from complete annihilation by the dragon. Verse 14 is speaking of the people of Israel being dispersed into “the wilderness” of the Gentiles; that is to say, being scattered throughout the Gentile world. In the wilderness the woman “is protected from the face of the serpent for a time, and times, and half a time.” Throughout this present New Testament era the people of Israel are dispersed among the Gentile nations as a means of preserving them from total annihilation and extinction by the devil.