The Three Main Characters (Revelation 12:1-6)
In every novel, the author takes great pains to develop his characters. He will discuss the characters’ physical qualities, spiritual qualities, emotional qualities, and mental qualities. This gives the characters depth and realness; it makes them come “alive.”
In this evening’s text, John, the author of Revelation, develops his three main characters—the woman, the Child, and the dragon. Let’s examine these three characters that we might learn some about this book.
The Woman in Travail, vv 1-6
A great sign appeared in heaven. The pictures we are about to see will symbolize what God intends for us to learn. The heaven here is the sky, for the woman is clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet.
What identity can we assign this woman? Many have wanted to identify this woman as Mary, but that doesn’t fit her being protected after the birth of the child. This woman seems to stand for the faithful remnant of Israel who were faithful to God and looked forward to the coming of the Christ. After the birth of the Child, she represents the Jewish Christians who were then God’s remnant.
This woman was clothed with the sun. Her being clothed with the sun would demonstrate this woman’s radiance; God viewed his bride—his faithful remnant—as radiant. So many men find their brides radiant on their wedding day—I broke down in tears when I saw Tammy on our wedding day; she was so beautiful and everything I ever wanted. In the same way, Jesus views his church as radiant—He died to present the church “to Himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such ting, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).
The woman had the moon under her feet. The moon’s being under her feet adds to her beauty.
On her head she had a garland of 12 stars. There are 12 stars for the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles. This garland of 12 stars adds to the woman’s beauty.
This woman was with child, and she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
Women experience great agony as they are about to give birth, and this woman experienced that agony as she was about to give birth. This woman’s agony stands for the expectation of the Messiah—when Jesus came into the world, there was great expectation that the Messiah was fixing to burst on the scene. When John began preaching, for example, the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to find out who he was; if perhaps he were the Christ (Jn 1:19-28). When Andrew discovered Jesus, he went and found his brother and said, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1:41).
Because the world anticipated the Messiah so much when Jesus came, the Gospel was able to spread easily.
After the ascension of her child, the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there 1,260 days.
After the birth of the child, as I have said, the imagery of this woman seems to change somewhat. No longer is she just the remnant of Israel; she is Jewish Christianity.
She fled to the wilderness. This flight into the wilderness may well depict the escape of the Palestinian church to Pella at the outbreak of the Jewish War in AD 66. Eusebius, the well-known church historian, writes that after the deaths of Stephen, James of Zebedee, and James the brother of the Lord, an oracle warned the Christians of Jerusalem and Judea to flee to Pella.
The wilderness stands for divine protection. It was in the wilderness that God cared for the children of Israel by sending them manna and quail. Likewise, God cares for his church here by protecting them.
The place in the wilderness had been prepared by God—again we see God active in this work in that he had prepared a place in the wilderness for the Jewish church.
They would feed her there for 1,260 days. The feeding of the woman refers to the protection God gave his people there. This exile lasted for the length of the preaching of the 2 witnesses in Revelation 11. As God protected the church from her earliest days, he will protect us from his wrath at the end of the age.
The Child, v 5
The woman bore a male child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.
The child born to this woman is obviously Jesus, for he was caught up to God and his throne. Psalm 2:9 prophecies, “You shall break them with a rod of iron. Here we see that prophecy coming to pass. Jesus’ ruling the nations with a rod of iron speaks of the authority—power—he has over the nations.
Jesus does indeed have great authority. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). God “has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man” (Jn 5:27). The question is this: “Will we submit to the authority of Jesus in this life, or will we meet that authority when he judges us in the next life?”
John moves directly from the birth of the Messiah to his ascension to the right hand of God. The point here is that Satan’s plan failed because Jesus was gloriously exalted to God’s right hand. Jesus was not caught up to heaven for protection, but he was caught up to heaven to begin his rule. After Jesus conquered Satan, he “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3).
The Dragon, vv 3-4
After John’s vision of the woman about to give birth, he beheld another sign in heaven: a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
John was probably quite frightened by the vision he saw here; that is the point of this vision—to paint Satan in a terrifying fashion. We know this dragon is Satan from verse 9: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.”
That Satan is portrayed here as a dragon shows his ferocious nature. Satan is ferocious—he doesn’t care whom he hurts; in fact, he wants to hurt—that is his work. “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
Listen, brethren, Satan will use whatever means he can to accomplish his purposes and lead you to an eternal hell. If forgetting to pray will lead you into sin, Satan will help you forget to pray. If you lose your temper easily, Satan will find ways to get your blood boiling. If you struggle with greed, Satan will find ways to get your eyes to dance when you see the things of this world. Since Satan is so ferocious and works so hard, we must be vigilant; we cannot take Satan lightly.
The red color depicts his murderous character; he has spilt so much blood that he has turned red.
His even heads depict the completeness of his power.
His diadems depict his authority. It may be quite puzzling for some to think about Satan’s having authority, but he does. He has authority over those who allow him to exercise authority in their lives. Those who follow Satan have voluntarily given him the authority over their lives. He has authority over the demons and his angels.
The tail of the dragon threw a third of the stars of heaven to the earth. That the dragon hurls 1/3 of the stars to the earth shows his fierce power.
The dragon stands ready to devour the child when he is born. This demonstrates the great antagonism some had toward Jesus in his earthly ministry. Herod tried to kill Jesus shortly after his birth and the Jews finally succeeded in crucifying him.
What will you do with Jesus? Will you be antagonistic as were Herod and the Jews, or will you accept him as Lord of your life?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.