EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
As is often the case with Revelation, the identity of the woman and her child in this next portion of Scripture has produced upwards of twenty different possibilities. The identity of the dragon, on the other hand, is essentially a slam-dunk, single answer across the board. We will continue in the same pattern we’ve been following thus far, looking first at what John saw, and then discussing the symbolism in his vision.
John writes that a great wonder appears in heaven (most folks imagine this to be the night sky, not the brightly lit place of worship that “heaven” can imply): A pregnant woman is clothed in the sun and a crown with twelve stars sits upon her head, while the moon is beneath her feet. She is in agony from birthing pangs, so she cries out in pain. Another great wonder appears: An enormous, red dragon emerges with ten horns. He has seven heads, and wears a crown upon each of them. With his tail, he sweeps away one-third of the stars and casts them to the earth. He then stands in front of the pregnant woman, waiting to devour her newborn as soon as it is delivered. The baby who is born from the woman is to rule all nations with an iron rod, and he is then caught up unto God and His throne. The woman flees to the wilderness, where God has prepared a safe place for her to stay for 1,260 days (Revelation 12:1–6).
Matrimonial language throughout the Old Testament that refers to God’s people in “married woman” terms leads many interpreters to believe the woman represents Israel. In some places, “she” (Israel) is also viewed as pregnant (Isaiah 26:7; 66:7; Micah 4:10; 5:3). A countless number believe this starry mother is the Church. We personally agree that she represents Israel, as that matches the symbolism well, while we don’t agree she is the Church universal (in part because the Church is supposed to be presented like a “virgin” in 2 Corinthians 11:2). In Joseph’s dream, the twelve first sons of Jacob (the fathers of the tribes of Israel) were “stars” (Genesis 37:9), and this woman is wearing a crown with twelve stars. Furthermore, the very first—ever—messianic prophecy in Genesis 3:15 says in strikingly similar language: “And I will put enmity between thee [the devil or “serpent”] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Jesus said, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7–8, NIV; cf. Mark 13:8). These “birth pains” Christ taught about were the signs of the end times, as illustrated in the very kinds of famine, earthquakes, etc., that have been occurring in Revelation up to this point.
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When the woman has given birth, she flees from the dragon to a safe haven God has prepared for her. Recall that Antichrist breaks his promises to Israel halfway through his reign (three and a half years into the Tribulation), turning on her and setting up the “abomination of desolation” in the Temple. Just after his note about birth pains, Jesus also said, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (Matthew 24:15–16). This is remarkable evidence in support of the idea that the woman is Israel (or “Judaea”), and that this moment when she flees from the dragon is an overview of a broken contract between Antichrist and the Jews at the midpoint of the Tribulation.
There’s an incredibly popular theory that when the nation of Israel does follow Christ’s advice to flee from Antichrist, they will hide in a rocky place in modern Jordan called Petra, which was called Sela in the Bible (meaning “rock”; Isaiah 16:1; 2 Kings 14:7). Today, Petra is uninhabited (though highly toured), but because many of the structures where people lived and worshipped are carved directly out of the side of mountainous rock, the ruins are still largely habitable. Daniel 11:41, says, “He [Antichrist] shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.” Though we’re not yet sure exactly why, Antichrist’s power will not be able to penetrate these three countries. Petra’s territory overlaps with the ancient city of Edom, and the only way to get there is to travel by horseback on a narrow access road called the Siq. The terrain is too rocky and restricting to invade with any grounded transportation, making it an ideal place to hide from enemies.
Psalm 2:7–9, in direct reference to the Son of God, says He will rule all nations with a “rod of iron.” Jesus is the Son of God, surely, but He is also a son of Israel (from the tribe of Judah). Jesus, too, was “caught up” (Revelation 12:5) to God like the woman’s baby in John’s vision. Reading about His Ascension event shows that He went to the throne of the Father in every literal way (Acts 1:9–11). One day, as the prophets envisioned, He will rule all the nations in the Millennial Reign. The dragon waited to devour the woman’s child, which scholars link to the event of Herod’s slaughter of all baby boys in the attempt to wipe the Messiah out (Matthew 2:16).
Therefore, we share the opinion of many that the woman is Israel (not Mary, in particular, as some say), and the baby—or Baby, now that we’ve identified Him—is Jesus. As far as the dragon, that will become clear in the context of the next part of John’s revelation; then we will briefly discuss the “stars” he “wiped out.”
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John then sees a war break out between the angels of God led by the archangel Michael on one side and the dragon and his angels (obviously evil or fallen angels) on the other. The dragon loses the battle and is forced out of heaven, he and his angels. This creature—“that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world”—is thrown to the earth (12:7–9).
In clear, unmistakable, self-interpreted terms, then, we can see that the “dragon” is Satan. It’s so clear that we don’t even need to address conflicting theories (and they’re not convincing, anyway).
The “stars” that he swept from the sky earlier on are believed to be angels as well. Dr. Michael Heiser notes that angels “are also called ‘stars’ (kokebim). Indeed, the very designation ‘host’ draws on descriptions of celestial bodies in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 2:1; Jer 8:2).”[i] (Recall also that in this very book, in Revelation 1:16, the “stars” in Christ’s hands are the “angels” of the churches.) As far as whether they are holy or wicked angels, that depends on the interpreter. Some are reminded of the wicked angels that left heaven as a result of Satan’s influence, and because the angels in the former scene are cast down at the same time is a possibility: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). There may be another explanation, though. We have yet to talk about Daniel’s visions about beasts and horns, as it is most relevant in Revelation 13, but as our soon-coming explanation will show, Antichrist is the “boastful little horn.” In Daniel 8:10, we read that this little horn “waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.” Though scholars sometimes interpret these “stars” to be holy saints of God, this verse feels too close to the scene of the dragon and the woman to disregard this link. As Antichrist is the dragon’s primary end-time servant, then it would still be through the dragon’s influence (symbolized by his tail) that these angels could have been knocked down. Since angels are spirits, we don’t believe they could be injured in a bodily way like we can, which complicates things further. And, in the second of these two woman/dragon scenes, a war breaks out between Satan and the angels of heaven, and he loses, without any mention of the death of—or even harm to—any of the celestial host. Therefore, Beale may be correct when he concludes that the angels the dragon sweeps away “refers to persecution of God’s people,” because stars represent churches on the earth earlier in Revelation.[ii] (Also note that Beale disagrees with the theory that the dragon scene has anything to do with the fallen angels of Jude 6.)
John hears a loud voice from heaven acknowledging that the Kingdom of Christ has come at last, along with salvation, power, and authority, for the enemy who accuses the saints has been thrown down. The voice continues, proclaiming that the testimony of the blood of the Lamb given by those who were willing to die for His Name have defeated him; therefore, there is reason to rejoice, but the devil knows he has little time left, so he is angry, and terror will come upon the earth and its waters. John then writes that the dragon pursues the woman who had given birth to the Child, but she is given the wings of an eagle to fly to her place of safety in the wilderness where she will live under protection for three and a half years. The dragon attempts to send a flood to drown her from the waters of his mouth, but the earth assists her and swallows the water, so the angry dragon declares war upon the rest of her children who keep God’s commandments and share the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:10–17).
Satan’s kingdom of evil is going down. When Israel flees, he is unable to catch up with the woman as she is given some kind of provision of swiftness (symbolized by wings). He tries again to kill her with a flood, which may or may not be literal water, as a “flood” is an Old Testament reference to devastating wickedness (Psalms 18:4; 32:6; 69:1–2; 124:2–5; Nahum 1:8), and the “sea” the Beast arises from is symbolized as wicked humanity, further suggesting that this particular “flood” may be a human army of Antichrist. However, she evades that attack as well (possibly with an earthquake). The “war” the dragon declares against her and her “children” will not be successful, as the following chapters show.
As to the identity of the woman’s other offspring, there is one question we can’t answer with certainty. It’s obvious that, if she is Israel, then her children would be Israelites. However, they are here depicted as not just Jews, but Jews who keep the testimony of Christ. That brings to mind the one hundred forty-four thousand with the mark of God, but it would not make sense that they are going into hiding. It’s possible that some messianic Israelites will hide, while the marked ones don’t, but it’s also possible that those with the mark of God have already completed what they’ve been called to do by the time they are made to flee. Though we don’t have the answer to this because these events have not happened yet, the overall picture is clear: God will protect His elect during the wars of the last days.
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Beasts from Sea and Earth (Revelation 13)
As we finally reach the moment when the Beast, Antichrist, is officially in the picture, we see another beast as well—one who comes from the earth. Before we address these matters, however, we should look at the prophecies of Daniel. Because we already partially covered what Daniel saw back in the section on the prophets, this will be a quick review.
In Daniel 7–8, the prophet sees four “beasts” rising up from out of the sea. Revelation 17:15 interprets the symbol of the sea for us: “The waters…are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” In other words, any rulers from this water arise by human systems—such as by inheritance (kings) and through elections (presidents). They’re not heavenly leaders by God’s appointment. Earlier in our study of the Major and Minor Prophets, we explained that the first beast was a lion with wings of an eagle who had its wings torn off, and it is afterward carried to land where it stands like a man, and it is given a man’s mind. The second is a bear with three rib bones in its mouth who is told to “Arise, devour much flesh.” The third is a leopard with four wings and four heads who is given “dominion.” The fourth is the worst, “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly,” who has ten horns and teeth of iron.
As Daniel considers the horns of the worst (fourth) beast, a “little” horn—with “eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things”—grows outward and knocks out three other horns (7:8). (Because he is called “little,” it has been suggested that he will have small beginnings—a no-name politician, perhaps, who doesn’t initially appear very impressive or intimidating. Clearly, that is a short-term descriptor of who he will eventually come to be.) The Ancient of Days (God) is on His throne and defeats the beast, silencing the boastful words of the little horn (7:9–11). Then, Daniel sees Jesus:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (7:13–14)
An angel then interprets Daniel’s vision about the beasts and horns, saying:
The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time [again, three and a half years]. (7:23–25)
In both visions of Daniel (the first being in chapter 2), God cuts off the power from the earthly kingdoms, ultimately to establish this one by the Son of Man. However, before that happens, the four beasts and ten horns (eleven, counting the boastful one with a mouth) will have their heyday on earth.
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Though Daniel saw the beasts rising from the sea (of humanity), in Daniel 2:17, the angel says the beasts will come forth from the earth—again, rulers among men. Because of world history, the beasts are easy to interpret.
The national emblem throughout Babylon at the time was a lion with the wings of an eagle, and at times, this “lion” appeared with a man’s face. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, and he literally lived like a “beast of the field” (4:25) after he went insane, allowing his nails to grow like “birds’ claws” and his hair to grow like “eagles’ feathers” (4:33). Seven years later, his mind was restored (4:36) like the first beast who was given the mind of a man. Clearly, if the beasts are kingdoms, like the angel said, the first one is the Babylonian Empire.
The Medo-Persian Empire is the bear (second beast), who is on his side (7:5) as a symbol that one side of this empire was stronger (Persia), which was true. It is eating (or chewing on) three rib bones, just like Persia eventually consumed Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt, and the command it is given to devour flesh reflects its wide expansion to the north and west.
The third beast is a leopard, one of the swiftest creatures in the animal kingdom (“wings” are a symbol of extra speed), just as Greece was swift in its many conquests of much of the ancient world. Alexander the Great completed his conquests through four generals who moved fast on the ground (four wings). After the death of Alexander the Great, the empire divided into four “heads of state” leaders, explaining why this beast has four heads.
The fourth and final beast, also described as the most dreadful and most powerful of all, is the Roman Empire. Daniel doesn’t describe this beast with as much detail, but he notes that it had “great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it,” which describes the rise of the Roman Empire that crushed any who opposed it.
The ten horns on the fourth, the angel said, was ten kingdoms. Premillennial scholars almost unanimously agree that this ten-nation coalition will, in the end times, look like Rome all over again, because Antichrist (the “little horn”) springs from the fourth beast (the Roman Empire). Ten kings (politicians) will unite with Antichrist’s agenda and make war against God. Interestingly, the governments of Europe have already been agreeing to unite in this way, voluntarily eliminating their own autonomy and regional boundaries and signing over their authority to a unification organization called the European Economic Community, which claims “economic integration” as its top goal. This started back in March of 1957 when Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany signed a treaty known as—of all things!—the “Treaty of Rome.” (Seriously, what Daniel saw was precise down to the letter! And all of his “beast” visions were foreshadows of literal future events, arguing for a literal interpretation of the rest of his visions that come to completion in Revelation.) Though the Treaty of Rome got its name from the place where it was signed Rome, Italy—the title alone is alarmingly prophetic. Not surprisingly, scholars believe this pattern will continue until there are ten powerful nations. Antichrist, the “little horn” very few people will see coming, will uproot three other “horns” (nations) and with his braggadocios mouth, establish himself as a world power…but not until after he has made a covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:24–27). (You may have noted that the beast of Daniel “uproots” three kingdoms, bringing the number to seven, while the Beast of Revelation still acknowledges ten full kingdoms in cooperation with Antichrist’s reign. This has caused some debate, but it is not without an answer. Most agree the ten kings remain in Daniel but are subdued by Antichrist and absorbed into the first ten. So these three that are “uprooted” remain independent kingdoms, but in name only, as they are brought under authority of Antichrist’s main ten kingdoms. Note that Russia has tried (at the writing of this work) to “absorb” the Ukraine in this way.
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To bring closure to our look back at Daniel’s prophecies, note the rock that was thrown seemingly out of nowhere to the nation-stack statue (that Daniel saw in the second chapter of his book) is the Kingdom of Christ. It will take down all nations and establish itself as the final authority forever. The mysterious fourth Figure that appeared in the furnace in the book of Daniel is a widely known Christophany—Jesus, Himself, was the one “like a son of the gods.”
As a final consideration before we move on to the arrival of the Beast, 2 Thessalonians 2:3–8 refers to an end-times figure that “restraineth” or “withholdeth” Antichrist from being revealed before, or outside of, his appointed time. Although theories abound as to who or what this force could be, a look at the function of the Holy Spirit shows that He is the only One who has this kind of limitless power as it relates to the subject of sin (Genesis 6:3; John 16:8–11). Most scholars whose works we have read agree. These Scriptures from 2 Thessalonians collectively make the statement that the Restrainer (the Holy Spirit) moves out of the way (leaves the earth), allowing the prophetic events of Revelation to transpire. In other words, the reason we haven’t already begun to see the fulfillment of Revelation is because the Holy Spirit has been preventing it. Therefore, since the Beast is here appearing in Revelation, the Holy Spirit and His restraining force that holds back the arrival and revealing of Antichrist has just left the earth in the narrative. (We know the Holy Spirit makes His current home in the hearts of believers, as a great volume of Scriptures in our Epistles studies have shown, but John 16:8–11 makes it clear that He is also present as a major convicting Presence upon the earth, and much of how He operates is through the people of God. His departure among the people of earth for the rise of Antichrist then argues for the timing of the Rapture to be before the introduction of Antichrist. Since Antichrist is a key character throughout the Tribulation, the timing of the Rapture and the removal of the Restrainer is pretribulational, according to many scholars. Though this is the interpretation that makes the most sense to us, we are not dogmatically insisting this is the only possible way to follow eschatology. We are providing one relevant argument in the mix that contributes to the chronology of Revelation’s events. But one crucially important note must be made about the Restrainer’s departure: Without the Holy Spirit, one cannot truly become saved [John 3:3, 5], so although He does leave, He will still meet sincere seekers where they are and confirm the testimony of Christ in the hearts of those who observe frightening events and wonder whether “this Jesus fellow of the Gospels” was truly who He said He was. Revelation 11 shows the two witnesses’ success in converting the masses to Christianity, so even pretrib interpreters keep some presence of the Spirit in view up to the Tribulation’s halfway mark, or shortly thereafter. As shown in the coming pages, an attitude shift takes place between the seals and trumpets and the later bowls, wherein men stop repenting and only curse God; that is the reaction on a global scale. This could indicate the entire ministry of the Restrainer is completed by then, but even that interpretation leaves out the entire nation that will believe in Jesus when He arrives to establish the Millennial Reign [Isaiah 66:8; Zechariah 12:8–12]. Only God knows for certain, but these are the characteristics of the ongoing debate. We personally believe that the “leaving” of the Spirit from earth represents a dramatic increase of evil that God allows for the purpose of consummating His ultimate end-times plan, not that the Spirit would ever be “unavailable” to respond to a sincere soul, ever, as that simply does not agree with His ministry as outlined in the Word of God. With the Restrainer gone, Antichrist will finally have the opportunity to arise and fool the world, but throughout the Tribulation and into the Millennium, people are coming to believe in Christ. So, although we believe the Bible to express that there will be a seismic diminishing of the presence of the Spirit in the way He is operating now, we maintain that God would never appoint any human soul on the earth to damnation if there was a chance of redemption, simply because God is “not willing that any should perish” [2 Peter 3:8–10].)
UP NEXT: Now, onto Revelation chapter 13…
[i] Heiser, Michael S., Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host (Kindle ed.; Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; 2018), Kindle location 399.
[ii] Beale, G. K., The Book of Revelation… 636–637
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