12:1 great wonder in heaven. “Wonder” is the same as “sign.” By calling this miraculous scene in the heavens a sign John helps to confirm that the other events described in Revelation should be understood literally if they are not designated as signs. Since the meaning of the sign is not explained in the immediate context, it must be understood in terms of previous revelation. As a matter of fact, the sign is so comprehensive that it embraces the entire plan of redemption, beginning with the Edenic promise. Here, in the middle of the book of Revelation, the Lord has provided through John several parenthetical revelations, each extending from primeval history up to this climactic point, the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation, and then even on beyond to the end.
12:1 twelve stars. While this symbol might at first suggest a connection with Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9-10), in which he saw the sun, moon and eleven stars, representing his parents and brothers, bowing down to him, there are important differences, and the sign must go far beyond that. The key is in Revelation 12:17, the climactic verse of the chapter, referring to the enmity of the dragon against the woman and her seed. This recalls God’s Protevangelic promise in Eden. Speaking to the old serpent, He had said: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed, and her seed; [He] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). Thus the woman in the sign must represent Eve “the mother of all living” first of all, then Israel, the wife of Jehovah, and the church, the bride of Christ. Even beyond that, the phrase “the woman” must refer to all godly women and finally to Mary, the particular godly woman who was chosen to bring the promised Seed into the world.
The sign will have special application in this context to Israel; the church will have been taken out of the world, and God will be dealing with Israel in a special way once again. The sun may well symbolize Christ Himself, the light of the world (John 8:12), for the woman has “put on Christ.” The moon is a sort of counterfeit light, or false religion, which the woman has put under her feet; and the twelve stars in her crown possibly represent the tribes of Israel, soon to be revived and restored as the special nation of God’s election.
12:3 great red dragon. The sign of the great dragon is explained in Revelation 12:9. He is “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan,” who has tried to destroy the woman and her spiritual seed ever since Eden. Parenthetically, in order to be used as a sign, the dragon itself must have been a real animal, well known and feared by the ancient world but now extinct (see on Genesis 1:21; Job 40:15-24; Isaiah 27:1). Though evolutionists would disagree, dragons almost certainly were dinosaurs, universally known by the nations of antiquity to exist as real creatures.
12:3 ten horns. The “seven heads and ten horns” on this hydra-headed dragon evidently represent the great kingdoms of past history and the chief current kingdoms of this final period of history, all of which have been and will be imbued with the spirit of the old serpent (I John 5:19). See notes on Revelation 17:10-12 for more specific identification.
12:4 to the earth. These “stars of heaven” are identified as Satan’s angels in Revelation 12:9. In Satan’s primeval rebellion against God, he was able to persuade a third of God’s “innumerable company of angels” (Hebrews 12:22) to follow him. They were “cast out into the earth” (Revelation 12:9) as a result (see also Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:17; Luke 10:18). Some even went to the lowest hell (II Peter 2:4) and some were bound in the Euphrates (Revelation 9:14) as a result of further specific and very flagrant sins. There are still multitudes of demonic angels, however, freely roaming the world and serving “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), and these hosts will be more active and dangerous than ever in these final days.
12:4 devour her child. Ever since the Protevangelic promise of Genesis 3:15, Satan has been attempting to prevent the promised Seed from being born, beginning with his attack on Cain and Abel (I John 3:12), and even attempting to corrupt the entire human race in the days of Noah (Genesis 6:4-13). In spite of his efforts, once Christ was born, Satan tried to destroy Him with Herod’s slaughter of the babes at Bethlehem. When that failed, he then tried to corrupt Christ in the wilderness temptation, and finally tried several times to have Him slain before He could go to the cross.
12:5 rod of iron. Note Psalm 2:9 and Revelation 19:15. This clearly identifies the Lord Jesus Christ as the “man child,” and therefore as the promised Seed.
12:5 caught up. The primary reference here is certainly to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. However, the phrase “caught up” is also used in connection with the rapture of believers (I Thessalonians 4:17). Christ also promised the overcoming believers that they would also share in His rule of the nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 2:27), so this verse probably includes all those who were “in Christ” at the time of the rapture.
12:7 dragon. At this time of Jacob’s trouble, the archangel Michael will “stand up” for them (Daniel 12:1), and this will result in a great war in heaven—probably in the atmospheric heaven, which had been Satan’s domain, and where the Lord has met with His redeemed and raptured saints. There Satan and his angels then will be defeated and cast permanently down to the earth (Revelation 12:9). How this war will be fought has not been revealed, but both faithful and fallen angels have tremendous energies and powers, of which humans have little comprehension.
12:9 cast out. Appropriately, and providentially, this is the central verse in the book of Revelation. The dragon is here identified as the serpent of Eden (Genesis 3:1), as the Satan who tested Job (Job 1:6), and as the Devil who tested Jesus (Matthew 4:1). See also Revelation 20:2.
12:9 deceiveth the whole world. As the great deceiver, Satan has deceived the whole world with the great lie with which he evidently deceived himself in the beginning—namely, that God is not really the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of all things, and that, consequently, both men and angels can reject His Word, rebel against His rule and ultimately aspire to be “gods” themselves. This lie finds its only rationale in the false premise of evolution, the idea that the universe always existed or exists independently of a Creator and is able to evolve itself into higher and higher orders of being. This lie may take the form of either atheism or pantheism, but both deny God and His revealed truth of special creation. With it, Satan has deceived the whole world, in every age and culture since the creation. Note I John 5:19; II Corinthians 4:3-4.
12:9 into the earth. Satan had long ago been cast out of his heavenly authority as the anointed cherub (Ezekiel 28:14-17), though he still has access to God as “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). Even that access will end when he is defeated by Michael; from then on he and his angels will be limited to the earth alone, where he will still desperately try to overthrow God.
12:10 accuser of our brethren. A glimpse of the continual slandering activity of the devil (Greek diabolos, meaning “slanderer” or “false accuser”) is given us in the case of Job (Job 1:7, 11); Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3:1-2) and Peter (Luke 22:31), as well as his ongoing campaign against every believer (I Peter 5:8).
12:11 the blood of the Lamb. This is the last reference in the Bible to the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). There are at least forty-three such references, all testifying in one way or another to its great significance in our salvation. Here, very appropriately, the emphasis is on its power for overcoming Satan in his final attempt to destroy the work of God in salvation.
12:13 persecuted the woman. This intense persecution of Israel in the very last years of the present age is the subject of many passages in the writings of the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Leviticus 26:40-45; Deuteronomy 30:1-5; Isaiah 11:10-16; 27:6-13; Jeremiah 23:3-8; 30:3-11; 31:7-11; 32:37-41; Ezekiel 34:11-16; 36:22-28; Daniel 12:1).
12:14 great eagle. This indicates angelic, miraculous help to the fleeing Israelites, evidently intending to remind them of similar divine help when they fled Pharaoh in the days of the Exodus (note the reference to “eagles’ wings” in Exodus 19:4).
12:14 nourished. Same word as “fed.” Just as God miraculously fed the Israelites in the wilderness under Moses, so He will again nourish these last-day Israelites in the wilderness as they await the Messiah.
12:15 as a flood. This is a symbolic flood, for it is cast out of the mouth of the symbolic serpent. The devil-energized “beast” (Revelation 13:4), having disrupted the temple worship in Jerusalem, placing his own image there to be worshipped (Revelation 13:15; Matthew 24:15), then seeking to execute all who refuse to do so, will be enraged at the Jews in particular, and will send a “flood” after them, probably a flood of military might—armies, artillery, airplanes—but God will destroy them all, just as He did long ago with Pharaoh’s hosts. Note Psalm 124:1-6 and Isaiah 59:19.
12:17 remnant of her seed. This reference to the “seed of the woman” undoubtedly is reminiscent of God’s Protevangelic promise in Genesis 3:15. When the beast, who is in a very special sense, the “seed of the serpent,” is thwarted in his attempt to destroy the fleeing Israelites of Jerusalem, he will turn his wrath against those men and women all over the world, whether Jews or Gentiles, who “keep the commandments of God”—that is, especially those refusing to worship his image which has been installed in the temple at Jerusalem—and who bear testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ. All these are the true spiritual seed of the woman, and since the dragon cannot get at the heavenly Seed, he will seek to destroy the “remnant of her seed.” But they will “overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” and even by a victorious martyr’s death (Revelation 12:11).