Teaching series from Revelation

War with the Dragon

Revelation 12:1-17

Teaching t09179


Last week, we overviewed Rev. 6-16, a series of visions describing the end of the age, which the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. This is a period of unparalleled evil and suffering caused by that evil—a period cut short by the return of Jesus. In the middle of this section, John receives two visions that amplify one of the great evils of the Great Tribulation—the persecution of God's people (6:9-11; 11:7-10). They introduce the three persons responsible for this persecution—the “dragon” in chapter 12, and the “beast” and his “false prophet” in chapter 13. This morning we will cover chapter 12, which portrays war with the dragon. Let's see if we can understand what's going on in this chapter and how it fits into the rest of Revelation . . . 

Interpretation of the passage

This chapter contains 5 key symbols, most of which are easy to identify.

The “dragon” is clearly Satan, because he is identified in 12:9.

The “woman” is probably believing Israel.

The woman's “child” is definitely Jesus, because he is identified in 12:5.

The period of “1260 days” or “time, times and half a time” refers to the Great Tribulation. This is made especially clear in Daniel, and we will look at it more carefully next week when we study the “beast.”

The woman's “other children” evidently refers to the many non-Jewish followers of Jesus during the Great Tribulation, which we met last week (cf. 7:9-10).

The chapter consists of three sections that proceed in chronological order.

The first section (12:1-6) describes Satan's attempt to kill Jesus.

Read 12:1-2. The crown with 12 stars is probably a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel. See also other Old Testament passages which speak of Israel (or Zion or Jerusalem) as a woman (Isaiah 54:1-6; Ezekiel 16:8-14). The “child” she bears is Jesus through the believing Israelite, Mary.

Read 12:3-4. The “stars” Satan sweeps away may refer to the many angels he led in his primeval rebellion against God, but more probably refer to human rulers he deposes (see Daniel 8:10, 24). 12:4b clearly refers to Satan's attempt to kill Jesus through Herod (see Matthew 2).

Read 12:5. Satan's attempt to kill Jesus fails. Instead, he completes his mission and ascends to a position of authority with God the Father (remind of the vision of Revelation 4-5).

Read 12:6. The vision now skips to the period of the Great Tribulation—the focus of this section of Revelation. This verse describes God's preservation of believing Israel during the Great Tribulation—on which John elaborates in 12:13-17. But before this, we get another picture of the Great Tribulation from a different perspective . . . 

The second section (12:7-12) describes Satan's expulsion from heaven during the Great Tribulation.

Read 12:7-9, 12. This war between Michael and Satan (and their angels) describes the inauguration of the Great Tribulation—the time when Satan and his demons are especially active on earth (See 9:1-11; 16:13-14). The reference to Michael is an allusion to Daniel 12:1 (read), which calls this period a time of unique distress. Like Hitler at the end of WWII, Satan knows that his demise is imminent, so he takes out his fury on the people of earth—especially those who follow Jesus.

Read 12:10-11. In spite of how perilous this time is, this shout announces that the coming of God's kingdom is imminent, and pays tribute to God's people who overcome Satan during this time. (This is a key passage for us today, and we will study it carefully in a few minutes.)

The third section (12:13-17) describes Satan's persecution of Jesus' followers during the Great Tribulation.

Read 12:13-16. During this period, Satan tries to exterminate believing Israel. See Jesus' warning to these same people in Matthew 24:15-22. But just as God supernaturally preserved Israel from Pharaoh “on eagle's wings” during the Exodus (12:4 as an allusion to Ex. 19:4), so he will supernaturally preserve (much of) believing Israel from Satan during this period.

Read 12:17. Having failed to exterminate believing Israel, Satan goes off to “make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” This probably refers to the non-Jewish followers of Jesus (converts of the 144,000 in 7:9-10?), many of whom die as martyrs under the rule of the Antichrist. The vision in chapter 13 describes this in more detail.


Although these verses focus primarily on the battle between Satan and God's people during the Great Tribulation, it contains a passage that is practically important to every Christian today. If you have come to Christ, you have a mortal spiritual enemy who (even though he cannot get you back into his kingdom) will do all he can to neutralize your spiritual effectiveness so you can't influence others for Jesus. Most of his tactics are extremely subtle (GEURILLA WARFARE vs. HOLLYWOOD DRAMATICS)—but 12:9-11 exposes his three favorites and explains how to defeat them.

Re-read 12:9-11. Notice first the three specific terms used to describe Satan, because they expose three of his most common ways of attacking God's people. He is the “dragon” who devours, the “serpent” who deceives, and the “accuser of the brethren.” Now notice how the “brethren” (followers of Jesus) overcome these three forms of attack. They are in reverse order. They overcome the accuser by “the blood of the Lamb,” they overcome the serpent by “the word of their testimony,” and they overcome the dragon by “not loving their lives even to death.” Let's take a closer look at each of these . . . 

ACCUSER: Re-read 12:10b. He attacks, like a merciless prosecuting attorney, by accusing you whenever he can get your attention (“day and night”). Do you recognize the accuser's voice? He will not identify himself. In fact, he loves to masquerade as your own conscience, or even the voice of God—accusing you of your many sins to convince you that you are not welcome to draw near to God and enjoy his love. Satan knows that our service and our witness for Christ will be effective only when it flows out of a secure, vital love relationship with God—and accusation is the best way to trash it.

If you are a new/young Christian, he loves to first tempt you into some sin (especially one that you have vowed never to repeat now that you are a Christian) and then whisper, “And you call yourself a Christian! After what you just did, do you really believe God will still accept you?” or “God will reject you if you keep on doing that!”

If you are an older Christian and know about God's unconditional acceptance, he loves to rivet your attention on your moral and spiritual shortcomings.1 He will try to convince you that because of these things, although God may still accept you, he doesn't really want to be close to you and cleanse you and restore hope to your heart, or empower you to serve him with joy.

How do you overcome the accuser? Not by trying to deny your sins (via MINIMIZING or BLAME-SHIFTING) or by trying to do something to make up for them (via SELF-RECRIMINATION; RESOLUTIONS TO NEVER DO IT AGAIN; COMPENSATORY SERVICE TO GOD). This plays right into his hands because it reinforces the lie that God's acceptance of us and his delight in relating to us is based on what we do for him.

You overcome his accusations “by the blood of the Lamb.” This phrase refers (as we have seen) to Jesus' death on the cross, which pays for the guilt of all of your sins and makes you welcome in God's presence in spite of your continued sinfulness. How do you apply the “blood of the Lamb?” Initially, by admitting your guilt to God and asking him to forgive you through Jesus' death on the cross (review 7:14 >> GOSPEL).

What about after you have received Christ? Should you keep asking God to forgive you each time you sin? No—read Hebrews 10:19, 22. Because Jesus has already paid for all of your sins through his death, you can simply draw near to God with humble honesty (“sincere heart”) and be confident of that he forgives you, delights to relate to you, and is ready to cleanse your conscience and restore you to intimacy and service.

SERPENT: Satan is the “Serpent of old . . . who deceives the whole world.” If he can't defeat you through accusation, he will try to defeat you by telling you the same lies he has been telling since the Garden of Eden—that following the God of the Bible is a drag, and that the path to security and significance and fulfillment is independently gratifying your physical, intellectual, aesthetic and psychological desires. He deceives the whole world through false religions, educational systems (both Christian and non-Christian), and through the media (especially advertisements—EXAMPLES).

How do you overcome the Serpent? “By the word of your testimony.” “The word” here refers to God's Word, which is the truth. The way to defeat deception is to expose it with the truth. But notice that John does say simply, “by the word.” He says “by the word of their testimony.” This refers to Christians who share the truth of God's Word that has changed their own lives. When you learn a truth from the Bible and put it into practice, then you experience its truth and you can share that truth to others in a way that Satan cannot defeat. Satan doesn't like Bible-distribution campaigns or apologetics conferences, but he doesn't fear them like he fears Christians who share “the word of their testimony” with others.

This is obviously true in reaching others for Christ. How many of you came to Christ primarily by reading a Bible alone? By hearing a philosophical or historical proof of Christianity? By relating to people who shared with you how Jesus changed their lives? This is our most powerful weapon—let's use it!

But it is equally true in helping one another grow in Christ. This is why we need to be involved with other Christians. They can share what God has taught them from his Word in personal ways that will dispel your deceptions and help you grow. And God will teach you his Word in personal ways so you can do the same for others. Are you involved enough with other Christians that both of these are happening on a regular basis? (HOME GROUPS)

DRAGON: If Satan cannot defeat you as the Accuser or the Serpent, he will attack you as the Dragon who devours. Then comes the nameless dread in the middle of the night. Then come the threats: “I will take your children.” “I will break up your marriage.” “I will ruin your life through this circumstance or that person.” “I will take your life, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Like a dragon, he towers over you and bellows his fiery threats so that you will forget God's infinite power and utter faithfulness, and be intimidated by him into backing off on your commitment to Jesus.

Most of the time, there is no bite to his bark. If you just keep doing what Jesus has called you to do, you find it was all a bluff. But I would not be faithful to you if I told you that the fears never come true. It wouldn't be a real battle if you never got hurt. So Christian workers sometimes get maimed, lose their jobs, get rejected and even betrayed by their families, etc.—and (in many places today and all through the ages) they get killed for their faith in Jesus.

How do we overcome this Dragon? “They did not love their life even to death.” The key to overcoming the Dragon is to utterly entrust yourself to the sovereign and faithful God (1 Peter 5:6-7). Satan can do nothing to you except what God permits. And the worst he can do is kill you—in which case you get to go to heaven, get an extra reward which you don't deserve (2:10), and be able to watch the marvelous fruits of what your death! When you believe this, and determine to follow God no matter what, Satan cannot defeat you through fear.

TSON: “You only have the power to kill me if God grants it to you, but I have the power to die. And if you kill me, you will sprinkle my tapes with blood—and people will listen to them because they know I gave my life for what I teach.”

NEXT: The Beast & the False Prophet


1 “God is disgusted with your continued selfishness, your pathetic lack of spiritual progress, etc.” “Why bother to draw near to God? You don't really love him—and you'll just wander away again, anyway.” “How can you expect God to empower you when you haven't even talked to him for the last several days?” “You're so messed up that you'll never be able anything but a liability to God.”

Copyright 2002 Gary DeLashmutt