Revelation 13:11-18 The Mark of the Beast

The first half of Revelation 13 showed that Satan is not alone in his dragon-like warfare against Christ’s church. Summoning a beast from the sea, Satan gave him power to rule on the earth. The first beast represents government tyranny working in history against Christ and His church. The second half of the chapter shows that this first beast is also not alone. He is joined by a second beast who rises “out of the earth” (v. 11). If the sea beast represented the tyrannical power of Rome that arrived in Asia out of the sea, the beast from the earth represents local forces that collaborated with Rome. If the sea beast stands for vicious tyranny, the land beast is the propagandist who encourages people to worship him. Revelation 16:13 identifies this second beast as “the false prophet.” Whereas the first beast relied mainly on power, the second beast supports him with lies. The beast from the sea is a secular political power, while the beast from the earth is a religious institution fostering worship of the first beast.

The false prophet is the satanically inspired counterfeit of the two witnesses who bear testimony to Christ in this age (Rev. 11:3-11). The false prophet combats the gospel with subtle philosophies and false religions that promote the cause of the beast and the dragon. The second beast “exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast” (v. 12). John would have known this beast in the form of local provincial elites, in city after city and province after province, who do their best not only to copy the beast at a local level but insist, in order to keep the beast’s favor, that everybody in their domain should worship the beast.

Not only do the two horns form a contrast with the image of the church as two witnesses, but there is a clear parody of Christ: “It had two horns like a lamb” (v. 11). Christ rules for the good of His people, with a spirit of grace. The false prophet comes across in this way, but its actual speech is “like a dragon” (v. 11). Here is the wolf in sheep’s clothing about which Jesus warned us (Matt. 7:15), who teaches the doctrines of the world rather than the truths of God’s Word. This reminds Christians not to be taken in by the outward impression of public figures, but to consider carefully what they say and do in light of the Bible.

John forewarns that false prophets will speak deceptively to lead people into serving the first beast and its tyranny. The second beast also employs sign and wonders in this same cause (vv. 13-14). There are ancient church sources that tell of moving statues, fireball explosions, and pagan magicians who could make idols appear to speak and other such phenomena were effectively used in temples of John’s time.  By these means, the second beast again parodies the witnessing church.

Today, instead of cheap magic tricks, the advances of science and the achievements of government are hailed as proof of the false gospel of secular humanism. Technology then, becomes the worker of miraculous sign. Worship the power of the beast, the power of technocratic state organizations, the power of the expert, because technology can work wonders like no one else. Man replaces God and Christ with himself and in doing so succumbs to the full deception of the beast.

The beast from the earth serves the beast from the sea by false teaching and deceptive signs and wonders. Yet it could hardly be said to exercise the beast’s authority if it didn’t also employ deadly compulsion and persecution. This is the third approach by which the second beast advances the worship of the first beast and the dragon. It persuades its followers to “cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (v. 15). Furthermore, it causes everyone “to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (vv. 16-17).

The point is not that all Christians are slain under the influence of the second beast, but that worshipers of false religions will often display their zeal with violence against true religion; an example today would be where fanatical Muslims show their zeal for Allah by bombing Christian churches and beheading converts to Christ. Along with deadly force, the beast also enforces false worship by requiring everyone to receive the mark of the beast. John states that all face this requirement: small and great, rich and poor, free and slave (v. 16). No class of person can evade the obligation of displaying allegiance and submission to the state tyranny of the first beast.

Ultimately the mark of the beast involves a choice between the world and Christ. There is an obvious contrast between this mark and the mark that Christ’s people received in chapter 7. There, suffering believers were “sealed … on their foreheads” as servants of God (Rev. 7:3). Having already sought to counterfeit Christ, Satan now parodies God’s sealed church with his own mark-bearing legions.

John concludes this dramatic chapter with the point of his teaching: “This calls for wisdom” (v. 18). Looking back to chapter 12, with the vision of the dragon at war with the church, and then in chapter 13 with the tyrannical beast aided by false and beguiling ideology, we see that Christians need to be very wise. We must be wise in discerning the difference between true and false prophets, by paying careful attention to God’s Word. We must be wise in expecting to pay a price for our faith. All through Revelation, Jesus has promised salvation blessings only to those who persevere in faith and overcome spiritual warfare through their witness to Him.

John has a final form of wisdom in mind in the final verse. This is the wisdom that enables Christians to see the enemy for what he is, so that we will not be beguiled by his deceits or intimidated by his threats. The entire Bible bears testimony to God’s faithfulness in saving His people from spiritual attacks. Our wisdom thus calls us not to shrink back in our witness out of temptation or fear. John makes this point with the most well-known and most widely contested verse in this chapter, verse 18.

The best approach to unpacking the number 666 is to understand the symbolism of six. We have often encountered seven in Revelation as a number of completion and perfection (Rev. 1:11, 12, 20; 3:1). Six falls short of this number and is therefore imperfect, incomplete, and defective. This describes fallen mankind, which is why John says that this is “the number of a man” (v. 18). The dragon and his two beasts set themselves forward as a fake divine trinity. God’s judgment and Christ’s victory will reveal them as a triple fakery and threefold failure.

John says that understanding that we are opposed by a deadly triad of Satan, together with the tyrants and false prophets who serve him, calls for wisdom among Christians. The wisdom is not how to strike back at the beast with his own weapons but how to boldly declare the gospel message of Christ. The wisdom is not how to evade the beast’s tyranny but how to persevere in Christian courage and commitment. Having the beast’s number, knowing his limitations and his certain defeat, we can live without fear of his assault.

Knowing Jesus, calculating the infinite value of His cross, and trusting His perfection in glory and salvation, we are made bold to tell others about Him. John’s intent is that what the angel said of the victorious believers in chapter 12 would be said of us as we triumph in faith: “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).

Revelation 13:11-18 Study Questions:

How does the second beast differ from the first one?

Why might John note the detail that this beast has “two horns like those of a lamb” (v. 11)?

In what ways are national and local governments sometimes responsible for perpetuating evil rather than helping to overcome it?

Why does the second beast require everyone to be “marked” (vv. 16-17)?

We can understand the dilemma faced by those Christians back then. We like to think that we would always choose the reality and reject the parody. How are we tempted to compromise our faith in order to make life easier?

What can we do now so that, when we face even more serious situations, we respond well?

Revelation 13:1-10 The Rising of the Beast

When studying Revelation, we constantly need to realize that we are not reading future history out of a newspaper but are learning the spiritual realities of our present age through a visionary-prophetic picture book. It is especially necessary to stress this approach today, when many Christians do not even try to understand Revelation because of the confusing teaching they have heard. Yet the visions provided to John in Revelation should be as familiar to believers as Jesus’ well-known parables, such as those of the prodigal son, and the Good Samaritan. An example is the vision of the dragon, the woman, and the child in Revelation 12. This dramatization of spiritual warfare in the church age should provide an easy-to-understand mental picture to all Bible believers. This vision shows how Satan failed to destroy Jesus in His first coming and that now Satan vainly rages against the church in anger over his inevitable failure.

Another principle to remember is that Revelation’s symbols must be interpreted not from speculations about current events but from parallels in the Old Testament. An example is seen in the final statement of chapter 12, “And he [the dragon] stood on the sand of the sea” (Rev 12:17). The reader familiar with Old Testament imagery expects some dreadful evil to appear, since the sea is the realm of chaos and rebellion, a virtual synonym for the Abyss of hell. The vision of chapter 11 earlier spoke of “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit,” who makes war on the witnessing church (11:7). Now that same warfare will be depicted from the enemy perspective, as John watches. He records, “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea” (13:1).

The prophet Daniel received a vision showing four beasts who represented evil imperial powers on earth. Daniel’s beasts represented the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome that would successively rise in history (Dan. 7:1-8). Each of these kingdoms would harm God’s people, but be ultimately supplanted by Christ. Daniel was told that “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (Dan. 7:18).

As John presents a beast like Daniel’s, he sees him rising out of the dark water, describing each part as it breaks the surface (Rev. 13:1). Like Daniel’s fourth beast, which represented imperial Rome, this beast has ten horns (Dan. 7:7). Like the dragon of Revelation 12, this beast has seven heads, ten horns, and royal diadems (Rev. 12:3). These parallels connect this beast with the Roman Empire and identify him as a servant who wields Satan’s might.

John described this beast as having “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” (v. 1). These give the general impression of the beast as coming with powers, rulers, and thrones under his control. In Daniel’s vision, the fourth beast’s ten horns represented kings who would rise (Dan 7:24). The fact that these horns each wear diadems confirms that they are royal persons. The beast has crowns on his horns, whereas the dragon of Revelation 12 had crowns on his head, which suggests that this indicates that while the dragon is the king of the evil empire, the beast is the military arm of the king. The “blasphemous names on its head” points to false claims to deity made by earthly rulers. The Roman emperors gave themselves the titles of lord, savior, son of God, and lord and god.

As the beast rises further, John describes it more fully in verse 2. This description combines the different beasts of Daniel’s vision, each of which emphasized separate kingdoms. This beast, therefore, is a composite of all the beasts that Daniel saw. This suggests that John’s beast is greater than any of the individual empires, even that of Rome. The beast from the sea represents all the empires throughout human history that have stood against God and His people. The fact that this beast exercises authority for forty-two months (v. 5), that is, for the entirety of the church age, shows that this beast represents more than the ancient Rome that persecuted the churches of John’s time – it represents the entirety of violent earthly empires that oppose Christ’s kingdom and people.

The question may be raised whether this beast from the sea should be equated with the Antichrist. The answer is yes, if the Antichrist is biblically understood. The term is used only in the epistles of John, where the apostle spoke of those who opposed the revelation of Jesus (1 John 2:18). This verse states that the Antichrist is a figure who will appear in the end, but who is represented throughout church history by many who are like him. John added that “every spirit that does not confess Jesus, is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:3; see also 2 John 7). This spirit is exemplified in the beast from the sea, which “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words (v. 5). Paul’s teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 indicated that there would be an ultimate Antichrist before Christ returned, whom he named as the “man of lawlessness.” Yet he is represented throughout the church age by blasphemous powers in opposition to Christ.

One of the most significant features of the beast in Revelation 13 is the way he parodies the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Revelation, Christ wears “many diadems” (Rev. 19:12), so the beast has his many crowns; Christ has a worthy name written on Him (19:12), so the beast bears blasphemous names; Christ has people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9), so the beast assumes power “over every tribe and people and language and nation (13:7); Christ is worshiped together with God (7:10), so the beast demands false worship together with Satan (13:4). In keeping with these counterfeits, John says of the beast: “One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast” (Rev. 13:3).

John informs us that the beast has two main agendas. The first is the gathering of false worship to himself and through himself to Satan (13:4). Christians can identify the false worship of Satan and his beast when it derives from raw power and earthly glory, acting contrary to God’s Word and drawing people away from faith in Jesus. Whenever we are called to give unquestioned allegiance and worship to a human ruler, we should see him as the beast behind which stands Satan in his desperate bid to usurp God’s throne. This is not to say that all government is evil. Paul used his Roman citizenship and was often helped by honest Roman officials. The beast is seen when government takes the place of God in our lives. When the government is set forth as “the remedy for all ills – economic, social, medical, moral, and even spiritual” – then the idolatry of the state usurps the place reserved for God alone.

John records his vision of the beast to warn believers of what to expect, starting with the churches of Asia that faced the bestial Roman emperor Domitian. John concludes with three applications: first, our source of hope; second, our calling in persecution; and third, the victory we win through perseverance in faith.

Where can Christians find hope for salvation against so dreadful a beast, who exercises worldwide dominion and authority? The answer is in the sovereign God who has ultimate dominion and authority over this world, over Satan and his beast, and over our lives. With God’s sovereign will providing hope to suffering Christians, John next directs us to our humble calling (v. 10). Christ’s people are told that we can expect persecution. This calling does not preclude us from taking prudent steps to avoid persecution, but it does mean that when persecution comes, Christians must embrace it with faith and a resolve to do God’s will.

John concludes this passage with one of Revelation’s many stirring appeals to perseverance in faith despite all affliction: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (v. 10). Satan and his beast, together with their followers, think us defeated when we are put down in persecution, yet through perseverance in faith Christians have victory through Jesus Christ. Christ comes to His faithful suffering people with blessing and power. When we possess Christ by faith, despite all persecution, we gain eternal life, justification by grace, adoption as God’s children, and an inheritance in glory. With these eternal blessings we also have His daily help, when we refuse to yield to the beast but persevere in faith.

Revelation 13:1-10 Study Questions:

What does John see rising out of the sea next to the dragon and how does he describe it (vv. 1-2)?

This passage draws heavily on a section from the Old Testament that was hugely popular in the first century. Read Daniel 7:2-8. What similarities and differences do you see between Daniel 7 and Revelation 13?

In verses 3-4, how do the inhabitants of the earth respond to the beast? Why does the beast make life miserable for the people of God (vv. 5-8)?

The last verse of this section may reflect John’s sober realism when contemplating the scene he has now drawn. Some people are going to be taken captive, while others are going to be killed with the sword. John says in verse 10 that our proper response to this harsh reality is to be patient and have faith. What does it look like to live this way in such circumstances?

Revelation 12:7-17 By the Blood of the Lamb

Verses 1-6 introduced the players in this holy war, showing how God overcame the devil through the birth and the saving ministry of Christ. Starting in verse 7, the vision continues by showing the devil’s ongoing warfare against believers. Satan suffered a terrible defeat in the coming of Christ so that his activities are curtailed. Nonetheless, he continues to rage with the resources he has left in the spiritual warfare that marks this age between the first and second comings of Christ.

According to verse 7, not only does spiritual warfare take place on the earth between Christ and His people and Satan and his servants, but there is also warfare in the spiritual realm of angels. Verses 7-8 describe this long-foretold holy war. To understand this passage, we must realize that this battle took place during the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, culminating with His ascension into heaven. Verse 13 reports that after the dragon “had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.” This means that the dragon was cast down just before the church age. Jesus’ victory on the cross, crowned with His ascension to heaven’s throne, defeated Satan and his army, after which “there was no longer any place for them in heaven… and Satan…was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (vv. 8-9).

What does it mean for Satan to be “thrown down” put out of heaven? Verse 10 answers that “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before God.” Christ has silenced Satan’s attempts to accuse Christians before God. When Jesus completed His redemptive work for sinners and took His place on God’s throne, Satan no longer could come before God to criticize the saints. Jesus is there now, where Satan at one time could walk in and out before God. Jesus is there now as our advocate rather than Satan as our accuser (see Job 1:6-12).

Given the emphasis of this passage, it is important for Christians to understand how Christ defeated our accuser and how we overthrow him today. Verse 11 tells us not only that Christ defeated Satan but that His people routed the dragon: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Satan’s warfare of accusation against believers has been defeated by the blood of Christ and by our gospel witness.

First it is by Christ’s blood that believers overthrow the accusations of the devil. The reason that Satan appeared in heaven to accuse us was that he was seeking our eternal condemnation under God’s law. Before Jesus’ death, Satan had a good case against God’s people. If you have believed in Jesus Christ, Satan has likewise lost the ability to accuse you in the court of God’s justice. It isn’t that you haven’t sinned, for you have. But as 1 John 1:7 puts it, “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Second, Christians conquer by “the word of their testimony (v. 11). Satan wants news of his defeat kept as quiet as possible! But when Christians spread the good news of forgiveness in Christ, Satan’s power is diminished. Satan has a hold over our family members and friends by the accusation in their consciences that they can never be accepted by God. Christians conquer this diabolical warfare by telling the truth of Christ’s saving blood. After Jesus sent out His evangelists, they came back rejoicing that they had cast out demons (Luke 10:17). We, too, wield power against Satan’s kingdom whenever we testify to the good news of Christ’s saving work.

Third, Christians conquer because “they loved not their lives even unto death” (v. 11). Since Christ has saved us by His blood, we not only proclaim the gospel but hold onto it for our salvation even to the point of death. We embrace all manner of suffering for Christ’s sake, including the daily battle with sin to which we are called in our sanctification. It’s not easy to suffer for Christ in this present evil age, but a true believer will endure anything rather than give up his or her faith in Jesus. Without the gospel, when you stand before God, all Satan’s accusations will ring true, and you will be damned with Satan. This points out how important it is that each of us should confess our sin, trust in Jesus, and be cleansed at His cross. Satan wants to accuse you before God, and he has all the evidence he could possibly need. The only way for you to be delivered from the eternal wrath of God is to turn to Jesus, receive in faith His death on the cross for your sins, and then live forever by trusting in His gospel.

The final verses of Revelation 12 explain the situation of Christians and the church after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, showing two results in our present age from Christ’s victory. The first is the eternal rejoicing of heaven and its inhabitants, and the second is the temporary suffering of the church. Christ’s victory causes praise and rejoicing in heaven (vv. 10-12), but Satan’s fall to the earth causes us temporary suffering in this present age (v. 12). The final section of chapter 12 depicts Satan’s attempt to afflict the church on earth, since he can no longer accuse Christians in heaven (v. 13). Satan seeks to harm believers in time because he cannot touch eternity; he seeks to thwart our earthly solicitude because he cannot thwart Christ’s saving of our souls. Satan is livid about his defeat and hates nothing more than believers in Christ who obey God’s Word and witness to the gospel (v. 17).

Satan persecutes the church here on earth not because he thinks he can take away our salvation but because he knows that he cannot. The devil is driven by pure malice in the face of certain defeat. However disturbing it is to contemplate his malice; its futility is still encouraging to suffering Christians when friends or governments unrighteously turn against us, when false accusations hurt us, or when we are treated unfairly because of our faith! Through Christ’s blood and the word of our testimony, we have the victory above, and for this reason we suffer Satan’s attack here on earth. Persecution for Christ’s sake thus shows that we belong to the Savior whom the world crucified so long ago, but who has already conquered.

Finally, John was shown visions drawing from Old Testament imagery that show God’s protection and provision for the woman during the dragon’s persecution (v. 14). The Old Testament often spoke of God’s carrying His people to safety on wings of eagles (Ex. 19:4-6; Deut. 32:10-11). This symbolizes God’s supernatural intervention to deliver the church from danger. As we have seen many times in our studies, “a time, times, and half a time” equals three and half years, which symbolizes the tribulation of the church throughout this present age. God not only brings His people to safety, but causes our faith to be nourished, primarily through the heavenly manna of His Word.

Yet Satan still attempts to rage (v. 16). Satan’s deceits are like a flood that would drown us, just as Pharaoh sought to drown Israel in the Red Sea waters, but God intervenes to save us. Revelation 1:16 spoke of a “sharp two-edged sword” that came from Jesus’ mouth, speaking of His gospel message; in contrast, the flood coming from Satan’s mouth highlights the false teaching by which he wants to sweep away the unsettled and unwary. However, if we will daily embrace the cross-bearing death of Jesus, giving our testimony to His salvation, we will conquer “by the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11).

Revelation 12:7-17 Study Questions:

Who was involved in the war that breaks out in heaven (v. 7)?

What happens to the dragon and his angels after the war (vv. 8-9)?

If the war has taken place in heaven, why are the Lamb’s people on earth given credit for the victory instead of Michael or God himself (v. 11)?

What does the dragon do once he is thrown down to earth (vv. 13, 15)?

What spiritual accusations beset you, your community or God’s people as a whole today?

What hope and strength does this chapter give as we face those challenges?

Revelation 12:1-6 The Woman and the Dragon

Chapter 12 begins the second half of Revelation. The first half provided general overviews of history. We saw the world’s opposition to the gospel, Christ’s judgments on the wicked nations, and our calling to persevere in faith. The second half of Revelation homes in on the chief characters in the spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes. The primary enemy is Satan, the dragon. He is aided by two beasts, the harlot Babylon, and the people who bear the mark of the beast. One by one, these figures are introduces in chapters 12-15, and one by one their defeat and judgment is shown in chapters 16-20.

Located as it is in the center of the book, Revelation 12 is considered by many scholars as the central and key vision. It depicts the decisive conflict between the church, the devil, and the royal child, Jesus Christ. Here is provided the background of spiritual conflict behind Jesus’ words of great assurance, given on the night before His victory on the cross: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The first half of the book of Revelation concludes with the vision of the opening of God’s temple to reveal the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing the believers’ access into God’s presence, accompanied with lightning, thunder, and hail. As the book was being read aloud to its first recipients, there would likely have been a pause. So with the previous vision still lingering in the air, John continues: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (v. 1). The previous vision’s having concluded with heaven opened, the new vision begins with a depiction of the glorious church.

John makes it clear that this is not an actual woman but rather a symbol, referring to her as a “sign” that he saw in heaven. John says in verse 17 that this woman’s children include all “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” The woman, therefore, is the covenant community of God’s faithful people, through whom God brought His Son, the long-promised Savior, into the world. She includes both Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, the people of God living both before and after Christ’s coming. Thus, this glorious woman not only gives birth to the Messiah but continues having children after His ascension.

In a world scarred by mankind’s fall into sin, childbearing always involves painful travail. So it is for the covenant mother: “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth” (v. 2). This statement summarizes the entire history of Israel, with all the travails, until finally the long-promised Messiah was born.

This vision of the heavenly woman also reminds us of the mission of the church. She is clothed in light, and we are to shine forth with the light of God’s Word. She is holy, and we are to be conformed not to the world but to the character of our Lord. Her mission is to deliver Christ, and our mission is to proclaim Him as Lord and Savior. The church does not exist to provide a variety of human services to the world but to cause Christ to be born in sinners’ hearts so that they may be saved. The church is the mother to God’s covenant children, and we are to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. There were travails for Israel before Christ was born, and there are afflictions for the church in this present age. But we are precious to God, radiant in His redemptive purpose, and He is the strong, loving, and faithful Father who will keep the mother of all His children safe.

Chapter 12 presents what may be regarded as history’s primary explanation, a great spiritual conflict raging behind the scenes. Verse 3 presents a mighty and terrible monster at war with Christ. Beneath all the action on the surface of history is a great spiritual enemy seeking to destroy the church. John identifies him in verse 9 as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan.” John sees Satan as a great red dragon, the color evidently standing for bloodshed and murder. Jesus said, “He was a murder from the beginning” (John 8:44).

The dragon is further seen “with seven heads and ten horns and on his head seven diadems” (v. 3). In ancient mythology, the many headed dragon seemed impossible to defeat. Likewise, Satan has heads and fangs in many places of worldly influence, and he acts with shocking dexterity. To thwart him in one arena is to find him attacking in another. Along with the seven heads are “ten horns.” In the Bible, horns symbolize strength, and the ten horns speak of the strength of evil in this world under the devil’s power. The “seven diadems” on his heads are not like the laurel crown of victory worn by the woman but are crowns on his usurped earthly dominion. Paul thus described Satan as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Satan does not serve but only rules. His crowns are the iron crowns of tyranny.

John is told that the dragon’s “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth” (v. 4). This vision symbolizes the arrogant aims of his warfare on earth against the church. This same language was used in Daniel 8:10 of Antiochus Epiphanes, the great persecutor of the Jews. The point seems to be that Satan intends for his malicious actions on earth to do damage in heaven. The dragon attacks God’s order and rule. He assaults heaven itself, symbolized by the effect on the heavenly bodies.

The third figure introduced in the vision is this all-important Savior (v. 5). In describing Christ, John alludes to Psalm 2, which says that though the nations rage against God’s anointed One; God enthrones His Son and grants Him possession of the nations. “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9), God declares. Echoing this language, the woman bears a male child who “is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5). The nations belong to Christ as the field of His gospel harvest. We either submit adoringly to Him as Lord and Savior or fall under His rod of judgment; moreover, His rod protects the church as a shepherd defends his flock against the wild beasts.

In John’s vision, the woman’s “child was caught up to God and to his throne” (v. 5). At the very cusp of Satan’s apparent triumph, with Jesus lying dead in the grave, God raised His Son from Satan’s clutches and exalted Him in power, causing the devil’s strategy to collapse in defeat. John will elaborate further details of the holy war as the chapter continues, but the opening vision connects with us now by telling what happens to the woman after her child was born and taken up safely to God’s throne (v. 6).

Verse 6 makes three vital applications for us today. The first is that Christians must not think of this present world as home, for now is the time of our wilderness journey. This life is a time of testing in preparation for our true home when Christ returns. The world under the devil’s power is hostile to faithful Christians. Christians must therefore be spiritually strong and biblically wary, for behind earthly opposition and moral perversity stand spiritual forces of evil, led by Satan himself. Our spiritual warfare relies on the spiritual resources of prayer, God’s Word, and holy lives. Our calling from God is not to overthrow the spiritual powers of darkness, for we are not slayers of the dragon. Rather we are simply to stand against him.

Second, verse 6 emphasizes God’s care for the woman who fled into the desert. We have seen that 1,260 days, or forty-two months symbolizes a period of trial and tribulation. This duration depicts the church age, the limited period prescribed by God during which believers suffer affliction. But notice as well that the wilderness is designed by God as a place of safety for the woman. By stepping away from the ungodliness of the world, Christians are preserved from ravages of sin.

Finally, we are to remember that our enemy is a defeated foe. This knowledge makes a difference in our fight. The child of the woman has come. He has conquered sin and Satan on the cross and risen to heaven with the Father. He has promised to return and end the war in total victory. There are still battles, some of them bloody and painful, that God’s people must fight. You and I must take hard stands that may prove costly. But we stand for Jesus, not only grateful for His love but certain of His victory in the end.

How inspiring it is in the trials, failures, and sorrows of this life to be shown the glorious vision of how God sees the church, clothed in glory and crowned with stars! How wondrous it is to realize that history consists of the struggle of the child to be born and His victory over the terrible dragon; and how solemn it is to realize that we have a place in this titanic struggle. Christ, the Lamb, has conquered by His blood. What significance we find for our lives if we stand firm in faith and bear our testimony to the glory of His kingdom!

Revelation 12:1-6 Study Questions:

What two signs appear in heaven (vv. 1, 3)?

What clue does John give us in verse 5 about the identity of the woman’s child (see also Psalm 2:9)?

The dragon is a figure of considerable power. Why does he seek to devour the child?

How are the mother and child protected?

How are God’s people under attack from dark spiritual forces today?

How does this vision help us to better understand where God is in the midst of the chaos and suffering that so often afflict His people?