Introduction: In a recent edition of the Washington Post, columnist George Will warned that time is running out for the Middle East. Hamas has tens of thousands of rockets in Gaza, all aimed at Israel. Hezbollah has up to 60,000 missiles in southern Lebanon aimed at Israel. Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, and Iranian leaders claim they need only a solitary nuclear device because tiny Israel is a “one-bomb country.” And if Israel makes any moves to defend itself, it’s treated like a villian in the world press and by the United Nations. What we read in alarm in our headlines corresponds to what we read prophetically in our Bibles.
Review: Revelation 6 – 18 describes the Great Tribulation, and the material is linked by three visions: Seven seals (chapters 6-7), seven trumpets (8-11), and seven bowls of wrath (chapters 15-16). Between the trumpets and the bowls is an extended parenthesis of chapters 12, 13, and 14 that tell us about the antichrist and his campaign to exterminate Israel.
Verse 1: The woman here represents the nation of Israel. The sun and moon speak of her splendor as God’s chosen nation; the twelve stars point to the twelve tribes. The description of this woman is reminiscent of Joseph’s vision in Genesis 37.
Verse 2: The woman “Israel” produced the Messiah, the baby born in Bethlehem.
Verse 3: The red dragon represents Satan, “that ancient serpent, the devil” (v. 9). Satan has always sought to obliterate Christ by destroying His lineage before birth (such as the attempt to annihilate the Jews in the days of Esther), destroying Him at the time of His birth (as in Herod’s order to kill the boys of Bethlehem), and having Him crucified at the end of His ministry.
Verse 4: Three chapters in the Bible go a long way in helping us understand the devil: Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, and Revelation 12. By putting these chapters together we can reconstruct a reasonable profile of the person of Satan. He was a powerful angel who rebelled against God when “wickedness was found” in him. He led a rebellion among the hosts of heaven. He tried to destroy the Messiah the moment He was born.
Verse 5: Here in a single verse is the 33-year earthly life of Christ. He was born; He did the work necessary to fulfill prophecy; He ascended to heaven at the end of His work and was snatched back up to God and to the throne; and He will one day rule the nations with an iron scepter. (The Greek word for “snatched up” is the same for “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4, regarding the rapture of the church. This tells us that the ascension of Christ into heaven was a prototype for the rapture of the church.)
Verse 6a: When attacked during the Great Tribulation, a remnant of Israel will flee to the desert to a place prepared for her by God (some believe this will be the Jordanian city of Petra), where she will be taken care of for 1,260 days, or three and a half years.
Verse 6b: To understand this verse, remember that in the Old Testament the prophets skipped over the Age of the Church. They predicted the coming of Christ, but there was nothing about the church. They described the first and second coming of Christ as though it were one event with no gap for the Age of Grace. God didn’t reveal that information to them. Ephesians 3 says it was God’s secret, a mystery that He didn’t reveal to other generations. Reading Revelation 12 is like reading the Old Testament. The action here doesn’t concern the church, and the writer just skips over the church age. In verse 5, we have the ascension of Christ and in verse 6 we have the Great Tribulation. The 2000-year church age occurs between verses 6 and 7.
Verse 7-9: At this point, war will break out in the heavenly zones. As incredible as it sounds, right now Satan and his demons still have some access to heaven (1 Kings 22:19-22 and Job 1 and 2 and Zechariah 3:1). At this point in the Great Tribulation, Satan and his armies will make a direct frontal attack on heaven. But Michael and the armies of heaven will repel the attack, expelling Satan once and for all from heavenly access.
Verses 10-12: At that moment a great announcement will be made in heaven, proclaiming the defeat of the serpent and claiming victory, authority, and power for Christ.
Verses 13 – 16: Filled with fury, Satan will redouble his attack on Israel, but he cannot seem to find or destroy this core group of Jews who are hiding in the desert. God will protect them for these three and a half years. (Verse 14 might be a prophetic reference to airplanes, for somehow this Jewish remnant will be airlifted to safety).
Verse 17: In a rage, Satan will his attention on the remainder of the Jews and on the tribulation saints, on those who have been saved during the Great Tribulation.
Closing summary: The synopsis of Revelation 12 has to do with the nation of Israel during the Great Tribulation. Israel is the nation that gave birth to the Messiah. Satan tried to destroy the Messiah, not just as His birth but through His life and especially on the cross. When Jesus died, Satan thought He had won. But Jesus conquered death and ascended back to Heaven’s throne. After the age of the church (which isn’t referred to in this narration any more than it was in the Old Testament), Satan will launch a full-fledged war against heaven. He’ll be repelled and thrown out once and for all. Being hurled down to earth, he will again seek to annihilate the nation of Israel. But the people of Israel, or at least a remnant of them, will flee to a place of safety in the desert, and the devil will be unable to destroy them during the Great Tribulation. At that point, Satan will turn his attention to those who have been saved during the Tribulation and unleash the full force of his wrath against them.