Revelation 12 is the most comprehensive chapter in the entire Bible, taking us from the war in heaven to the last generation on earth. It reveals to us that the great controversy between good and evil is a controversy between Christ and Satan. In fact, the controversy is over Satan’s rejection of the authority of the Son of God. Within this chapter we have: (1) war beginning in heaven, (2) Satan’s attempt to kill Jesus when He was born, (3) Satan’s attacks against the church from her earliest days through the Middle Ages, and (4) Satan’s attack against the remnant church in these last days.
Revelation 12 serves also as the pivotal chapter separating the historical part of Revelation, chapters 1–11, from the end time or eschatological part, chapters 13–22. This comprehensive chapter not only serves as a summary of the historical section, but it sets the stage for the eschatological section.
Revelation 12 has a perfect structure that I call The Prophet’s Code. Consider the following diagram and see how the first half of the chapter is mirrored by the second half.
We begin the chapter with a threefold description of the early church (verses 1–3). On the exact opposite side of the chapter we end with a threefold description of God’s last day church (verse 17). While the symbols John uses to describe the early church are different than those used to de¬scribed God’s remnant or last day church, these symbols have the same meaning. Therefore, in the end of time, God will have a church that will look just like the original.
Then in verses 3–6 we have three attacks by Satan. On the exact opposite side of the chapter we have three attacks by Satan (verses 14–17a). The description of these attacks helps us understand that Satan uses both deception and force to fight against Christ and His church.
As we continue to follow this mirror effect in chapter twelve, we see that the war between good and evil actually began in heaven (verses 7, 8). Then on the exact opposite side of the center we find that the war between good and evil was transferred to planet Earth (verse 13b). As we continue our jour¬ney towards the middle of the chapter, we find on either side of the center that Satan was cast to the Earth (verses 9, 12, 13a).
Now we come to the very center of the chapter in verses ten and eleven. This would also be the very center of the entire book or the very center of the prophet’s code. These central verses point us to the central issue in the great controversy between good and evil.
Therefore, if we were to ask the question, “Why did God write Revelation in this perfect mirror-like structure?” I believe there are at least four answers.
First, God wanted us to be able to easily under¬stand the structure and therefore the meaning of each chapter. With this mirror-like structure, where the second half of the book mirrors the words and phrases of the first half of the book, we are able to divide the book up into some very logical sections.
Second, God made it easy for us to find the central issue in the great controversy between good and evil by placing it in the very center of the prophet’s code. How could God have made it any easier?
Third, if we have some difficulty understanding a certain section of the book, all we need to do is look to the opposite side for some guidance or help. For example, many have had a difficult time trying to understand the seven trumpets found in chapters eight and nine. So what can we do? We can go to the exact opposite side of the book. What do we find? We find the description of the seven last plagues in chapters fifteen and sixteen. Notice that the seven trumpets and the seven last plagues have the same key word in the exact same order.
The Seven Trumpets
Revelation 8, 9
First Cast upon the earth (8:7)
Second One-third of the sea became blood (8:8, 9)
Third One-third of rivers of fountains of waters (8:10, 11)
Fourth The sun smitten (8:12, 13)
Fifth Darkness (9:1-12)
Sixth The great river Euphrates. (9:13-21)
Seventh Lightning, voices, . . . earthquake, hail (11:14-19)
The Seven Last Plagues
Revelation 15, 16
First Poured out on the earth (16:2)
Second Sea became blood (16:3)
Third Rivers and fountains became blood (16:4-7)
Fourth Sun scourges the earth. (16:8, 9)
Fifth Darkness (16:10, 11)
Sixth The great river Euphrates dries up. (16:12-16)
Seventh Voices,. . . lightning, earthquake, hail (16:17-21)
Verses 1, 2: The Woman and Child
The church described as a woman: “And there appeared a great sign.” This indicates that signs and symbols are being used. This is not a description of the virgin Mary. This woman, the church, lives under persecution for 1260 years (12:6, 14), and receives Satan’s wrath in the end of time (12:17). All through the Scriptures the church is represented symbolically by a woman. See Jeremiah 6:2; Isaiah 54:5, 6; Hosea 2:19, 20; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2. Even the apostate church is symbolized by a woman. See Revelation 17.
The church in heaven: The question has been asked, “If this woman represents the church, then why is she seen in heaven? The church is of heavenly origin. All of her members that are converted are born from above. See John 3:1–8. By faith God’s people live “in heavenly places.” See Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:13. The church is part of the greater family of God, which includes all of the heavenly hosts. See Ephesians 3:14, 15; Hebrews 12:22, 23. In addition, the attack against God’s church actually began in heaven, not on earth.
Clothed with the Sun: The sun provides warmth and light. As such, the sun is a symbol of Christ as the “Sun of righteousness.” Malachi 4:2; John 8:12; 9:5. To be “clothed with the sun” is to be clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. His life becomes our own. As Christians we are to put on the armor of light, that we may shine for Him. See Romans 13:12, 14; Galatians 3:27.
The Word as the foundation of the church: In the Revelation, we find at least three powers: the Papacy, atheism, and Islam coming out of the “bottomless pit,” symbolizing that they are not built upon the foundation of God’s Word. In contrast, the true church has the moon under her feet, representing the Bible as the foundation of her faith. As the moon reflects the rays of the sun, so does the Bible reflect the radiant character of Christ. The moon also represents permanency. See Psalm 89:35–37. God’s true church stands on the rock solid foundation of His Word.
But it is not simply knowledge alone that has made the true church strong. As the moon reflects the sun, the true and faithful are doers of God’s Word and not merely hearers. It is their desire to reflect the image of Christ daily.
Crown of twelve stars: God has had His true and faithful in all ages. Therefore, the twelve stars symbolize both the twelve patriarchs in the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament. In the end, the work will be finished by the 144,000, twelve groups of 12,000. See Revelation 7.
They have crowns because they are victorious over sin through Christ. They are stars because it is their great desire to shine for Jesus.
The Child: This child is none other than Jesus Christ. Even after His resurrection, Jesus was known as “Thy holy child Jesus.” Acts 4:27, 30. Some have wondered if this verse refers to Mary in travail of giving birth. No doubt, Mary had birth pains like any other woman. But Mary is not the one being referred to in these verses. In comparing this verse with Isaiah 66:7, 8, we see that God’s people have long waited for the promised Messiah to come. It is Zion, God’s people, who were in travail, not Mary. The promise of the Messiah to come was given soon after Adam and Eve sinned. See Genesis 3:15.
Verses 3, 4: The Red Dragon
Red is often used symbolically to represent sin. See Isaiah 1:18. For example, the harlot church is dressed in red. See Revelation 17:4. Dragons symbolize desolating and persecuting powers. A great red dragon would therefore represent a power that not only leads others to sin, but exercises the power to destroy.
Seven heads: Seven is the symbol of completeness. For example, there are seven days in a complete week. As we have seen, the seven churches of Revelation chapters two and three represented the entire Christian era.
In Revelation 17:9–12, we are told that the heads and horns represent kings or kingdoms. Therefore, the seven-headed dragon represents those powers described in the books of Daniel and Revelation that Satan has used to carry forward his efforts to destroy the righteous. As we will see later, these seven heads represent: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, the Papacy, the United States (when she clasps hands with the Roman power), and the United Nations (when she serves the Papacy).
Ten horns: Horns also represent political powers in Bible prophecy, but they represent lesser powers than the seven heads. For example, the ten horns with ten crowns on the first beast of Revelation 13 represents the ten divisions of Rome. In Daniel 7, the ten horns on the fourth beast represented the ten divisions of Rome as well. The crowns on these ten horns indicate that we are speaking about ten separate nations, each having their own crown.
The dragon against Jesus: Like the church, Satan was waiting for Jesus, the Son of God, to become the Son of man. He had waited for four thousand years. And when Christ was born, Satan was ready to destroy Him. Since Satan used Rome as his agency to destroy the Christ child, the dragon secondarily represents Rome.
Verses 3, 4, 7–9: The Dragon in Heaven
Like the woman, the great red dragon was seen in heaven. Satan’s rebellion against God began in heaven. Even though the struggle has been relocated to our little world, our warfare is “in high places” or “heavenly places.” See Ephesians 6:11–13.
The crucifixion of Christ revealed Satan for who he really is: a murderer. For 4,000 years, from Adam to the crucifixion of Christ, Satan had cloaked his true feelings and motives. The cross unmasked his evil intentions. From that point, the unfallen worlds were no longer blinded to Satan’s deceptive ways.
A third of the stars: The lashing of the dragon’s tail represents his sweeping deception over one-third of the angels. We are told that many of the angels sinned and “kept not their first estate” and “left their own habitation.” See 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6.
How did the dragon deceive one third of the angels? In Isaiah 9:15, we read that “the prophet that speaketh lies, he is the tail.” The devil is said to be “a liar, and the father of it.” It was through lies and falsehoods that Satan deceived and drew one third of the angels.
Verses 7–9: Origin of Sin
Rebellion against God, His government, and His law began in heaven. The cause of sin is a mystery. How could a perfect being in a perfect environment become imperfect? It is a mystery. However, we do know that the foundation of Lucifer’s fall was covetousness and pride. See Isaiah 14:12–14; Ezekiel 28:11–17.
Verse 10: Christ’s Authority
The structure of Revelation was designed, in part, to help us find the center of the book, which would identify the main issue in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. We discover that the main issue between Christ and Satan is over the issue of authority or “power.” In my book, The War between Christ and Satan, this whole original controversy is explained. But in short, Satan refused to submit to the authority of Jesus.
Satan wanted to establish himself as equal with Christ in the heavenly courts. However, this could not be. Satan was a created being not fully capable of entering into the counsels of God. But Jesus is the Son of God, with all the same divine attributes as the Father. He alone could enter into those counsels with the Father. Satan became jealous and rebelled against God. And then there was war in heaven. Satan was able to bring his rebellion to our world by leading Adam and Eve to sin against God. Because of our fallen natures, rebellion against the Creator exists in every human heart, so we must choose whether we will submit to the authority of Jesus. Through His death and resurrection, Christ won for us the opportunity to make a choice. He wants us to be with Him for eternity. But for us to be safe to save, we must recognize the authority of Jesus in our life.
Christ’s death and resurrection also sealed the fate of Satan. When He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, there was a great celebration among the heavenly hosts. No longer would Satan have access to God to accuse us day and night.
Verse 11: Victorious Through Jesus
There is victory for fallen human beings through the shed and applied blood of Christ. In accepting His atoning death, we are justified. Through His applied blood, we overcome the temptations of Satan. The same self-sacrificing love that led Jesus to the cross must also be the guiding principle in our life. Our love for Christ must be so strong that we would rather die than disobey our Savior. By having a testimony and sharing our testimony, we remain strong in the Lord.
Verses 12, 13: Woe to the Inhabitants of the Earth
Though defeated, Satan will not give up the struggle. Satan knows that his time is short. He knows that he will one day be destroyed. He realizes the consequences of Christ’s victory on the cross. The thought of his own doom is what makes him so angry. Therefore, he comes down with great wrath to destroy as many of God’s people as possible.
Verses 6, 14: God’s True Church in the Wilderness
The Christian church fled from the fury of Satan and found refuge in the wilderness. Under pagan Rome, the church experienced tremendous persecution. But it was during the time of papal Rome that the church needed to flee into the wilderness for 1260 years. As mentioned before, the 1260 year period of time represents the Dark Ages of Papal supremacy from AD 538 to 1798.
The wilderness literally became the refuge for the saints, because they refused to accept the heresies and false teachings of Rome. The opposition was so great that God gave the church two wings like an eagle to find refuge in the wilderness. This expresses the great need the saints had for divine intervention. On their own, they could only expect annihilation. God was their nourishment. He kept them strong during the time of the “abomination that makes desolate.” Daniel 11:31.
12:15, 16 The Conflict Continues
“Water” in Bible prophecy represents masses of people. “Floods” represent armies or revolts. See Daniel 9:26; 11:22. A rushing flood would indicate an overwhelming, destructive force. See Psalm 90:5; 124:4, 5. When the Reformers began to proclaim the two doctrines of justification by faith, and that the Papacy was the antichrist of Bible prophecy, the Vatican thundered back with Papal bulls, armies, massacres, and inquisitors. Again, God opened up the earth to help the woman. There are three ways the earth helped the virtuous woman against the flood of Papal forces. First, there were the wilderness areas of Europe. Second, there were earthly powers that began to favor the Protestant Reformers. And third, there was the New World, America.
12:17 The Final Attack
Originally the devil was angry with the pure woman because he was defeated at the cross. As a result, the saints overcame his temptations by the blood of the Lamb, shared their personal testimony, and were willing to die for the truth. In this last verse, we are given two particular reasons why Satan hates God’s last day church, the remnant church. The Bible says, “the dragon was wroth with the woman [God’s true church], and went to make war with the remnant of her seed [those living in the last days], which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
Satan hates those who keep the commandments of God by the faith of Jesus. He is also angry at the remnant because they possess the testimony of Jesus. We are told that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. See Revelation 19:10. The spirit or gift of prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit that was placed in the church to bring about the “perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11, 12. To have the spirit of prophesy means more than having the Bible, for even apostate Christians have the Bible. It is a special gift that draws the saints to the Word of God with additional inspiration. Satan has always been angry with the prophets, for God inspires the prophets to inspire the people to search out the Word. Through the prophets God is able to aid His people in understanding the Scriptures better.
Satan also hates God’s last day church for the following reasons:
They proclaim God’s sealing message. Revelation 7.
They are themselves sealed by that message. Revelation 7.
They have eaten the little book of Daniel. Revelation 10.
They have measured the temple of God and understand the mediatorial work of Jesus in the heavenly Sanctuary. Revelation 11:1.
They are proclaiming the soon return of Christ. Revelation 10, 11.
They keep the commandments of God. Revelation 12:17.
They have the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12:17.
They refuse to worship the beast in the face of civil penalties. Revelation 13:17.
They refuse to worship the beast in the face of death. Revelation 13:15.
They proclaim the everlasting gospel. Revelation 14:6.
They fear God and give Him glory. Revelation 14:7.
They proclaim that judgment has begun. Revelation 14:7.
They worship the Creator in keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Revelation 14:7.
They proclaim that spiritual Babylon is fallen. Revelation 14:8.
They warn against the mark of the beast. Revelation 14:9.
They warn against worshiping the beast. Revelation 14:9.
They warn against worshiping the image of the beast. Revelation 14:9.
They have the faith of Jesus. Revelation 14:12.
They call God’s people to come out of Babylon. Revelation 18:1–5.
They would rather be beheaded than worship the beast. Revelation 20:4.
Satan hates the remnant. And this conflict between Christ and Satan, between truth and error, between the Law of God and the traditions of men, is far greater than we know. But we have nothing to fear, Jesus has already conquered Satan. Our responsibility is to walk with God and share “the word of our testimony.”
The great controversy between Christ and Satan is over the question of authority. Satan refused to recognize the authority of Jesus, how about us? Do we accept Christ’s authority over us? Or, do we chose to be in rebellion against His commands?
While we cannot obey Christ’s commands in my own strength due to our fallen nature, we can chose to obey. We do have the power of choice. When we chose to obey, God will supply the strength. Our part is to decide to be on the side of Jesus. We need to decide whether He is worthy to be the Sovereign over our lives.
As our Creator, is Jesus worthy of adoration and praise?
Will I surrender my life to Him, and abide by His word?
Will I ask God to remove the rebellion that is in my heart against His authority over my life?