Sermon: The Dragon, The Woman, And Her Child: Revelation 12:1-6

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 3

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’ To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—‘ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3, ESV).

Sermon Text: Revelation 12:1-6

“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. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:1–6, ESV).

Introduction

If we were to step back from the book of Revelation for a moment to ponder all that it has revealed to us so far, here is one question we might ask: why is the world as it is?

Why are there two kingdoms in the world today, one that belongs to God, wherein he is worshipped and served by his people as Lord, while those in the other remain diametrically opposed to his rule? Why is the world this way?

And why does there exist such hostility between these two kingdoms? The church of God, as we have seen, is under continual assault as she sojourns in this world. The assault that comes against her is far from monotone. No, the church is besieged in a diversity of ways. Her members are often tempted by the world. False teaching is also a threat. And persecution threatens the church too.

But why is the world this way? Why the conflict? Why the suffering? Why the persecution? Why the evil, and thus the judgments of God poured out? Indeed, this is the picture that the book of Revelation has painted for us so far. We can see it with our eyes as we observe the world today, and Revelation has revealed it authoritatively – the world is not well. The world is not right with God. Indeed, God has his people in the world. They are known by him. They are spiritually protected and preserved. But they will be trampled by the nations, being given over to trials, tribulations, suffering and even death for a time. Why is the world this way?

We have come now to the heart of the book of Revelation. In chapter twelve verse one we find the major transition. The book up to this point has mainly described to us how things will be in heaven and on earth in the time between Christ’s first and second comings. God and his Christ are enthroned in heaven, but on earth God’s people will live in the midst of crocked and rebellious people where they will have tribulation. But God is not blind to it. He knows who belongs to him. They are numbered for battle and sealed as his possession. And he also knows the wicked and their deeds. He is able to judge the wicked even now, pouring out partial and perpetual judgments with precision, and he will judge fully and finally in the end.

Friends, in this age there will trials and tribulations, “wars and rumors of wars… nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9–14, ESV). This is what the book of Revelation has portrayed for us so far.

But now the book will provide a more piercing answer to the question, why? Why is the world as it is? The book of Revelation will now answer that question by revealing that behind it all – behind all that has been revealed so far, and behind all that we perceive with our natural senses – rages an ancient spiritual battle that is invisible to your eyes and mine. We see the effects of it in this world! But the battle is first of all spiritual and invisible to us. Revelation is going to reveal something of this ancient cosmic conflict so that we might see it with eye of faith.

At this point I think it would be beneficial for you to know something of the basic structure of Revelation chapters twelve through twenty. Four figures will be introduced to us in these chapters. These four represent powers that oppose God and his people. And then these same four will be defeated by God and his Christ and judged in the reverse order that they were introduced. These chapters, therefore, reveal to us something of the spiritual battle that rages beyond our sense perception.

Notice that here in chapter twelve Satan himself is introduced. In 12:3 he is described as a “great red dragon”. In 12:9 he is identified by name: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9, ESV).

Notice that in chapter thirteen two of the powers that Satan uses to wage war against God and his people are introduced. First there is the beast that rises out of the sea (13:1). This beast, we will see, represents persecuting powers. Secondly, the beast that rises out of the earth is introduced (13:11). This beast will later be called the false prophet (16:3; 19:20). And then in chapter seventeen the great prostitute or harlot is introduced (17:1). She will represent the seductiveness of the world.

So by the time we come to the end of chapter 17 four key players in this ancient and cosmic battle will have been introduced to us. Satan is the person behind all of the opposition towards the kingdom of God and of Christ, but he uses these three powers primarily in his fight, the persecuting beast, the false prophet, and the harlot. These wage war against all that belongs to God and to his Christ.

But notice that beginning with chapter 18 each of these are defeated by God and judged in the reverse order that they were introduced. In chapter 18 the harlot is judged. In 19:19-20 the false prophet and the persecuting beast are judged. And in 20:7-10 we find a description of the defeat and judgment of Satan.

So chapters 12 through 20 have a chiastic structure. If you were to diagram this section of the book of Revelation is would form an “X”. Satan, the persecuting beast, the false prophet, and the harlot are introduced – 1, 2, 3, 4 – and then they are in reverse order quickly removed, being defeated by Christ at his second coming – 4, 3, 2, 1.

What is the point of it all? Revelation chapters 12 through 20 peal back the curtain a bit more to reveal something of the ancient and spiritual battle that rages beyond our sense perception which produces the hostility to God’s rule that we observe in the world today.

Friends, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:12–13, ESV).

All of chapter 12 goes together. It is divided nicely into there parts – verses 1-6, 7-12, and 13-17. We will consider only verses 1-6 today given our time constraints. And as we consider verses 1-6 three things need to be recognized concerning this ancient and invisible battle. One, notice that in this cosmic conflict Satan is identified as the primary opponent of God. Two, notice that Satan is also identified as the primary opponent of God’s people. And three, notice that Satan is identified as the primary opponent of God’s Messiah.

Satan Is The Primary Opponent of God

Let us first consider that in this cosmic conflict Satan is the primary opponent of God.

He is explicitly mentioned for the time in Revelation 12:3 where we read, “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” (Revelation 12:3, ESV).

We are not left to wonder who this image represents for in 12:9 we are told that this great dragon is “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…” (Revelation 12:9, ESV).

Notice that “his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth” (Revelation 12:4, ESV). Here is symbolize the fall, not only of Satan, but of other angels too. It is likely that included in this reference to the fall of angels is also a reference to the effect that these fallen angels have had upon the people of the earth (heaven and earth correspond to one another in Revelation. The churches have angelic representation, remember. So too, fallen angels correspond to fallen sinful world powers.)

In 12:3 the dragon is described as having “seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems”. Quoting from Dennis Johnson’s commentary on Revelation, “The dragon… is shown in symbols signaling his cunning wisdom (seven heads), great power (ten horns), and authority to influence others (seven diadems)” (Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 181).

All of the symbolism is, of course, drawn from the Old Testament. What I have come to love about the symbolism of the book of Revelation is that the symbols are complex. They are a composite of variety of symbols found within the Old Testament. It is not as if we can point to one passage, or to one image in the Old Testament and say, look! John has taken this straight from there! Instead, it’s as if the Lord has passed through through the entire Old Testament, picking up this symbol and that along the way, and then having joined them together into one image, has shown them to John, who has in turn given them to us. G.K. Beale refers to this sign of the dragon as a “mosaic of OT imagery”.

When the dragon is described to us here in 12:3 if should remind us of the serpent of Genesis 3. It should also cause us to remember the Old Testaments repeated reference to God’s defeat of an evil sea monster which symbolized the evil kingdoms who oppressed Old Covenant Israel (see Psalm 74:13-14, Job 26:12-13, Psalm 89:10, and Ezekiel 29:3, for example). The imagery of ten horns is drawn from the description of the fourth beast of Daniel 7.

What we have, then, is a symbolic description of Satan. He does not really look like this. You do understand that, I hope. We are studying a book that communicates truth via symbol. Satan is, in fact, a fallen angel. He is a spiritual being. But he is described to us in this symbolic way so that we might know something of his character. He is that ancient serpent who opposed God in the beginning (Genesis 3). He is ferocious. He is bloodthirsty (think of the color red especially in connection with Revelation 17:3-6 where the harlot is described as riding upon “a scarlet beast”, “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6, ESV). He is cunning, having seven heads. He is powerful, having ten horns, and has authority upon the earth, wearing ten diadems, or crowns.

The simple truth to observe is that Satan is here set forth as the primary opponent of God in this cosmic battle.

You would also do well to notice that when the other three characters are introduced in chapters 13 and 17 – the beast, the false prophet, and the harlot – they are described in such a way so as to make it clear that they are motived and empowered by this dragon and that they serve him. Notice that the beast that raises from the sea in 13:1, also has “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns” (Revelation 13:1, ESV). He shares this in common with the dragon. And notice that the beast (who is later called the false prophet) that rises from the earth in 13:11 is said to “speak like a dragon”. And as for the harlot of chapter 17, she serves the dragon through her connection with beast the beast of 13:1, with “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns”, that has already been mentioned.

The point is this: Satan is the primary opponent of God in this cosmic battle. He wages war against God’s kingdom using the powers of persecution, false teaching, and seduction, but he is the source of all opposition.

As I was considering these things an image came to mind of allied soldiers fighting a battle somewhere in Europe during WWII. What did they see with their eyes except German soldiers with machine guns and tanks and such. But what did they imagine in their minds except Hitler and his officers hidden away somewhere in Germany. Those allied soldiers were well aware of the fact that there was more to the battle that they were currently fighting than what they could see with their eyes. There was a person and a power that stood behind it all, motivating the conflict. Though they could not see him, they knew he was there, for they could see the effects of his power before their very eyes.

Revelation reveals even more to us. It reveals that standing behind the earthy powers and the earthly conflicts, there are spiritual powers there is a spiritual battle that rages. Satan is the primary opponent of God in this cosmic conflict.

Before we move on I would like to read for you the description of Satan’s demise from Revelation 20:10. And I would like for you to notice the brevity, terseness, and simplicity of the description. In Revelation 20:10 the final judgment of Satan is described and here is what we read: “and the devil who had deceived them [the wicked] was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10, ESV).

Notice how brief the description of Satan’s destruction is especially when compared to the extensive, vivid, and, quite frankly, terrifying description of the dragon and his servants found in Revelation chapters 12 through 17. It’s almost as if the book of Revelation builds things up leading the reader to expect that God will have a great and difficult battle to win at the end of time if this mighty dragon will ever be overcome, but then when we come to the end we find that God snaps his fingers, if you will, and it is over. Christ speaks a word, and it is finished.

In this cosmic conflict Satan is the primary opponent of God, but before God Almighty he is nothing. He will be destroyed in an instant.

Satan Is The Primary Opponent Of God’s People

Secondly, notice that in this cosmic conflict Satan is the primary opponent of God’s people. If Satan is opposed to God, then it is no wonder that he is also opposed to all who have God as Lord and King.

In verse 1 we read, “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. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth” (Revelation 12:1–2, ESV). Look now at the second part of verse 4 where we read, “And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:4–6, ESV).

Who does this woman symbolize?

The Roman Catholics tend to say that this woman symbolizes Mary the mother of Jesus only. The Dispensationalists will usually say that the woman symbolizes ethnic Israel who will be particularly persecuted for three and a half years during a great tribulation yet in our future. Both of these interpretations are too narrow. The second, I would argue, is just plain wrong, being based upon faulty presuppositions and a flawed method of interpretation.

It is far better to see that this woman symbolizes God’s people – the elect of God under both the Old Covenant and the New. The Roman Catholics are actually not wrong to say that Mary the mother of Jesus is symbolized here. But they are wrong to think that the symbolism points only to her. Something more profound is being communicated here – something broader Mary as an individual, though clearly she is in view.

I read from Genesis 3 at the introduction to this sermon mainly to orient your minds to the promise delivered to Adam and Eve shortly after the fall by way of the curse pronounced upon the serpent who deceived them.

God spoke to the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). And do not forget the curse announced to the woman: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16, ESV).

It is here in Genesis 3:15 that the gospel is first announced. Man had fallen. Man was now alienated from God, being now at enmity with him. But God, in his grace, would provide a Savior who would stomp the head of the deceiver and thus bring salvation to man. Who is this Savior? Who is this Redeemer? Who is the one who has defeated the serpent and will destroy him fully and finally in the end? It is Jesus the Christ! And would he come to save us according to Genesis 3:15? Through the woman, Eve. He would be one of her offspring.

Remember, the dragon heard this, for the gospel was announced to him and in the hearing of Adam and Eve! And what do the scriptures describe to us from that point forward except the story of the hostility between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

It becomes exceeding clear, by the way, that this story was not about the hostility that exists between human beings and snakes. Instead, the story is about the hostility that exists between God and Satan, the people who belong to God and the people who belong to the Devil, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom go the World. The whole of the bible describes this conflict that exists, first of all, in the spiritual realm, but manifests itself, secondarily, in the physical and earthy realm.

The dragon, from the beginning, has been opposed to God’s people. That fact is illustrated in Genesis 4, when wicked Cain raises up and kills righteous Able. Both were the offspring of Eve according to the flesh. But spiritually, Able was of Eve and of God, and Cain was the offspring of the serpent. So do you see that from the beginning the dragon has been opposed to the people of God? His objective from the beginning has been snuff them out. He is opposed is to God primarily, but he is also against all who belong to God. Think of the lives Noah and Abraham, Moses and David, the prophets and all of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel. Think of the opposition they faced in the world!

The woman of Revelation 12 symbolizes more than just Mary the mother of Jesus. She also symbolizes mother Israel – the elect of God under the Old Covenant. She is described as being “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1, ESV).

You should read Genesis 37 sometime. There you will find a description of Joseph’s dream where his father Jacob is symbolized by the sun, his mother Rachael by the moon, and his eleven brothers as eleven stars, Joseph himself being implied as the twelfth. The sun, moon and twelve stars symbolizes Israel. Also, you should read Isaiah 54 sometime. There Israel is described as a barren women but God promises her that she will have children.

This woman in Revelation 12 clearly symbolizes Mary the mother of Jesus for she would be the highly favored individual who would have the privilege of giving birth to the Savior promised to Adam and Eve long ago, but the people of God prior to the birth of Christ are also symbolized here. Indeed, their whole history can rightly be described as a time of “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth”, as they awaited the arrival of the Messiah who was to come from them.

Notice also that the New Covenant people of God are also represented by this woman. In 12:17 her offspring are said to be, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17, ESV).

The woman symbolizes the people of God in every age. The dragon is opposed to her and seeks to devour her. This true, not only before she gives birth to her child, but also afterwards. After she gives birth the dragon pursues her into the wilderness “where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:6, ESV). In 12:14 we read, “But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time” (Revelation 12:14, ESV). What does this period of three and a half years represent? It stand for the time in-between the first and second coming of Christ; an aged marked by tribulation for the people of God, in fulfillment to the prophesy of Daniel 7.

In this cosmic conflict Satan is the primary opponent of God’s people. But do you see that the emphasis of the text is, and will continue to be, upon God’s provision and protection. The woman “has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days”. The text reveals something of the cosmic conflict, but it is also reveals that is able to keep his people. This is the truth that must not be overlooked.

Satan Is The Primary Opponent Of God’s Messiah

Lastly, and very briefly, notice that in this cosmic conflict Satan is the primary opponent of God’s Messiah.

Who is the dragon most concerned with in this passage? His objective is to devour the child of the woman.

Who is this child? Cleary he is Jesus the Christ. He is the one born to the virgin Mary. Go back and read Matthew 1 and be reminded of his birth. He was of the seed of Abraham and David. And then read Matthew 2 and be reminded of how the dragon sought to destroy the Christ child from the moment of his birth, through that beast named Herod. Then read Matthew 4 and be reminded of how the dragon sough to derail the Christ from his mission as he tempted him, where? In the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that God sustained him, for “it is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’”(Matthew 4:4, ESV). And then continue on reading of all the hostility endured by the Christ in his life by those whom he at on point called, children of the devil (John 8:44). Soon you will come to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Surly the dragon thought that had finally succeeded. The Christ was born from Israel in general, and from Mary in particular, and he had finally gobbled him up. He breathed his last and he was put into the grave. Certainly Satan rejoiced! But then he rose again and ascended to God’s right hand.

To use the language of Revelation 12:5, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5, ESV).

Now the serpent knows he has been defeated. He could not stop God’s Messiah from delivering that fatal blow to his head. And now, having been mortally wounded, the Christ child having been caught up to heaven where he rules and reigns in victory, what is left for the dragon to do except to pursue the woman and her offspring in the wilderness for these “three and a half years” of tribulation. But just as God was able to keep the Christ child, so too will he keep his people. They will be nourished for these 1,260 days.

Application

I have one point of application that I would like to emphasize with you before we close.

If as you read Revelation and the description of the dragon, the two beasts and the harlot you come away thinking, the world is such a scary and dangerous place, I must run and hide, then I’m afraid you have missed the point of the book entirely.

The book is honest. It tells how things really are. Indeed, the battle is real. The opponents of God and his people are powerful and fierce. But the book is given to produce confidence and boldness in the people of God. Confidence, not in ourselves, but in Christ who has won the victory, and in our God who is willing and able to nourish us as we wonder in this wildness place.

If you are arrogant, thinking yourself to be self-sufficient in this wold, my prayer is that you would sober up and come to realize that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV). May you sober up concerning the treat and run to Christ, the shepherd of the sheep, for shelter.

But if you are a timid Christian I would urge you to remember who you are in Christ Jesus.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39, ESV).

Bothers and sisters, let us not live timid, isolated, and fearful lives in this world. Let us not be like the those timid and faithless spies of Israel who returned back from spying out the land that God had promised to them, saying, the people there are too large and too strong. Let us not go up (Numbers 13:25ff.) But let us have the boldness and the faith of Caleb and Joshua instead who said, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:7–8, ESV). Let us sojourn in this wilderness with the faith and the boldness of Caleb and Joshua. Let us run to engage in the battle, and not flee from it in fear.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore [do not run in fear, but] take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10–13, ESV).

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