A Place For Us – Revelation 12:1-6 02/21/21
Sometimes things simply do not turn out the way we expect. We, as Christians, face the very real possibility that life will not turn out the way we expected. Everyone faces uncertainty and, at some point, the likelihood of hardship, even suffering. Let’s face, aging and dying is no picnic. However… as Christians, we’re told suffering will certainly come. That is not necessarily what we planned for when we placed our faith in Jesus. Our text today addresses the very real possibility of intense persecution. It also explores the true source of that persecution. The passage is Revelation 12:1-6.
The passage opens with John seeing three “great signs” or “portents” in heaven. This word is (σημεῖον), and is used here for the first time in Revelation. It’s function is to introduce the start of a new series of visions. The term can be, and here is, used to refer to exceptional occurrences that provide forewarning of something that will happen in the future. The first two portents appear in heaven one right after the other, and they mark out the conflict that John will develop through the remainder of the vision.
The conflict is between Satan and the Church, and Satan works to distract us, to tempt us to compromise. If we don’t cooperate, he has resources to bring pressure on the Church. During His earthly ministry, Jesus warned His followers that they would be persecuted just as He was; John 15:20. So we have an adversary, and he plays on our own propensity to sin. This one has been cast out of heaven, and knowing that his time is short, he turns on those who follow Jesus. All persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ is demonically inspired and empowered; Ephesians 6:12.
Getting back to our text, John retells the story of the conflict, but in doing so he rewinds the clock, starting with Christ’s birth; Revelation 12:1-2. It’s obvious this is symbolic language, John tells us this is the case, “a great sign in heaven.” He’s also drawing on Old Testament imagery that saw the birth of the Messiah coming through the Jews, one example is Micah 5:2.
The primary focus of the text is not on an individual, the focus is on the community of faith yielded to the King. Remember, the context leading up to this has been dealing with the Church. So, initially we find emphasis on the Jewish nature of the woman, and then later we find her referred to in terms of the Church. There are a number of indicators that suggest that the woman is to be understood in terms of Israel. First we see that the woman has a crown of twelve stars, which is the traditional number for Israel. Because of this, we can expect that John is continuing to draw from the Old Testament. If we look at Genesis 37:9 we find some interesting parallels in imagery from a dream Joseph had. The reference to the sun, moon, and stars all come from Joseph’s dream.
However, it won’t take long before John begins referencing the woman in terms of the Church. The truth is, the people of God have always been a single people throughout redemptive history. The result is that this woman is actually a picture of the faithful community of God’s people which existed both prior to and after the coming of Christ. The criteria for acceptance by God has always been the same, salvation by faith, we see this with Abraham as probably the best example; Genesis 15:6.
And then, finally, her going into the wilderness draws heavily upon the story of the Exodus. In fact, the reference to her being brought on the wings of the eagle appears to be a direct reference to Exodus 19:4.
The vision quickly moves on to celestial conflict; Revelation 12:3-4. This is clearly not intended to be understood literally. In fact, in verse 9 John will tell us that the dragon represents Satan; Revelation 12:9. Here we find John drawing from a mosaic of Old Testament imagery to describe this man-eating monster; it is all imagery drawn from evil kingdoms who persecuted God’s people. The designation, “Dragon,” (δράκων) is also used to describe evil sea monsters used in Scripture to symbolizes evil kingdoms that oppressed Israel. Egypt was one such kingdom described using this emblem. One example of this is found in Ezekiel 29:3.
John gives us details about the dragon, first is that he has “seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads”.  The horns and heads simply cannot be understood in a literal sense. What the imagery does is give us a picture of the fullness of evil coupled with power. The diadem was universally understood to be a symbol of royalty. As used in Revelation, it’s initially used in connection with the dragon. The seven diadems correspond to the seven heads of the dragon. Again, the number seven is used to convey completeness, and its use here is probably intended to suggest the completeness of authority the dragon claims to possess.
We next find the Church under attack; Revelation 12:4. The reference to only “one-third” probably points to the constraints God has placed in the dragon’s activities. The dragon’s tail sweeping a third of the stars out of heaven and casting them to the earth is taken from Daniel 8:10. Now, honestly, I had always read this to say that the one-third of the stars was a reference to fallen angels who joined in Satan’s rebellion. But in light of the Old Testament background of Daniel that cannot be correct. Satan tramples them. Therefore, this is almost certainly a reference to the persecuted saints rather than to fallen angels or defeated angels. Remember, the context is still primarily with the Church. John’s focus is on the oppression of genuine saints explicitly called “the holy people” in Dan. 8:24.