The Glorious Church of God (vv. 1-6)
A Great Wonder in Heaven (v. 1)
No matter what the world thinks of us, we are the beautiful bride of our Savior, the queen at his right hand (Ps. 45:9). The Father loves us, raised us up from the gutter of sin, clothed us with heavenly righteousness, and espoused us to himself forever. In his eyes, we are clothed with the sun. Because we are bound in a living union with Jesus Christ, we are the light of the world. He is light in us. Under our feet is the moon, for we have dominion in our Husband over all. The stars crown us – light, splendor, honor. The most wonderful thing in all created existence is the church of Jesus Christ. She is a great wonder. You, child of God, are a great wonder – lovely in Christ’s righteousness, cleansed by his blood, exalted in his glory, and seated with him, reigning (Eph. 2:5-6). We must believe that we are in Christ the beautiful and beloved bride of our Savior. Then, the world’s pleasures will not be as attractive to us, the world’s criticisms not as upsetting. Crosses will not be as heavy, this life not as consuming. The opinions of men matter very little in comparison to God’s opinion of us. In his eyes, we are his lovely, glorious woman.
This vision of the church serves as a backward looking explanation for the conflict of the church from the birth of Jesus Christ to his ascension and victory over the prince of darkness. Satan did all he could to destroy the woman’s child, Jesus Christ. This vision also looks forward, after Satan’s overthrow to his war on the church. Unable to kill the woman’s son, he is determined to kill the woman. Thus, this chapter is an important explanation and anticipation. Jesus Christ has triumphed and cast Satan out of heaven. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me” (John 12:31-32). Our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension were the end of Satan’s tyranny. He is now cast upon the earth, filled with malice to harass the church as she moves forward to fulfill the great commission and proclaim that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The Queen of Heaven Gives Birth…the Dragon Prepares to Devour the Child (vv. 1-4)
From Eden through Isaiah, the seed of the woman was promised. Although Genesis 3:15 is never directly quoted as a Messianic promise, Revelation 12 seems to have been reserved for that honor. Here, we see the hope of Eden realized, the seed of the woman brought forth, the seed of Abraham and David born, and Isaiah’s “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” fulfilled. The woman cried out – with longing, millennia of faith, hope, and suffering compressed into a moment, under attack, greatly reduced in number, and in the pains of childbirth. At the birth of our Lord, Satan’s attacks were constant, violent, and unrelenting. He is here pictured as a second wonder, a great red dragon, with crowns and horns indicating his power, as well as his pretense to power. He drew down a third of the stars from heaven with his tail. He is enormous, malicious, and prepared to devour the child as soon as it is born. Our Lord was born not only in the middle of the human drama of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, and Herod’s infanticide. He was born as the promised seed of the woman, and all hell was unleashed to destroy him as soon as he was born.
The Messiah Born and Exalted; the Woman Protected (vv. 5-6)
Satan hates God; he hates the Son of God. He has lied about God from the beginning, trying to hide the Father’s love and wisdom, portraying him as unmerciful and stingy. We see his truest colors here – to destroy the seed of the woman and plunge our entire race into everlasting ruin. Satan wants no love of God to be sung, his goodness to be buried under pride and lies. He is a hater, a liar, and a killer. He would have gladly killed God’s holy Son, the gift of the Father’s love. But this was no ordinary child. He was the child with 4,000 years of promise and faith behind him, the Word made flesh. He was destined “to rule all nations with a rod of iron.” His full history is not reviewed here, for we know it. He was born of the virgin in Bethlehem and survived the dragon’s attempts to swallow him. After he suffered and died for our sins, he was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. He ascended, “caught up to heaven,” to his throne. What about his mother, the woman, the church that believes in his name? She fled into the wilderness – a place of protection and of purification. The Jewish church was preserved – again, for three and one-half years, interestingly enough, the length of the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Let the world be consumed with war and judgment, still, the Lord will preserve his church.
Jesus Christ Cast Out Satan (vv. 7-11)
His Victory over the Dragon (vv. 7-9)
What alteration did our Lord’s resurrection bring into the realm of the principalities and powers? There are spiritual forces and creatures in the heavens that are also divided between the elect and fallen angels (1 Tim. 5:21). Satan himself seems to be of the latter, their leader. As a result of Jesus Christ’s victory at the cross and enthronement in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. Michael is revealed to Daniel as “one of the chief princes” (10:13). In Daniel 12:1 it is prophesied that in a time of unparalleled trouble for God’s people, he will stand up for them. I think that prophesy is likely fulfilled in this battle that occurred at Christ’s ascension and enthronement. Satan made one last attempt to mount up to heaven, the very rebellion that first led to his expulsion. So great is Christ’s victory, that Michael and his angels are able to cast Satan out of heaven, perhaps the upper regions of the heavens. They can do this because Christ has triumphed and is seated on his throne.
The dragon once deceived the whole world, but he is now cast down so that the gospel can move forward and Jesus Christ rule the nations in his kingdom of grace and salvation. We would never have known about this battle had not the Lord Jesus revealed it to his servant John. Satan’s miserable regime has been broken, as is proven by the glorious Gospel now going out into the world. The old dragon and deceiver “works in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), but he can no longer accuse us or deceive the nations en masse. He can resist us and try to hinder the gospel (1 Thess. 2:18), but we can resist and overcome him. The weapons of our warfare are powerful to overcome him, for he has suffered a decisive blow, the promised head-crushing of Genesis 3:15.
The Kingdom of God and Power of Christ Have Come (v. 10)
And heaven again breaks out in praise at the recollection of this recent victory, told symbolically in a way that we can sufficiently understand and adore that the long-promised kingdom of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ, has come. God now rules in his Son. He has already ruled as Governor of the nations (Ps. 22:27), but this is different, for he will now rule through his exalted Son, through the lowliness of the cross, the foolishness of gospel preaching, and humble human instruments to bring everything under Christ’s headship. It is in the power of Jesus Christ that the kingdom comes in our lives: the personal, present power of Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Spirit of truth and holiness.
The coming of God’s kingdom and Christ’s power means that Satan can no longer accuse us. The nature of this accusing is hinted at in Job 1. I do not think that the filthy devil was ever permitted to parade himself before the throne of God, but he could from the heavens hurl insults against God’s people. Why? He is malicious. “Does God serve Job for nothing?” “Will Daniel pray if the lions are set on him?” Will Jeremiah prophesy from the pit?” Constantly he accused the saints before God, which likely harasses our own souls also. The dragon cannot imagine anyone serving God simply for the love of him, and if so, he hates them all the more. Will the first century church proclaim God’s truth in the face of the beast? God’s saints are grossly inconsistent, but Satan can no longer bring a charge against us. “Who will lay a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yes, rather, is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:31-32)? These things are revealed to us to encourage our faith and boldness. It matters not that we are still sinners and often stumble. Jesus Christ has died for us. God has justified us. Christ Jesus has silenced Satan, defeated him, and driven him out of heaven by his mighty angels. Satan is not the greatest angel. We must never forget this. The other angels, with Michael their prince, in the power of Christ, defeated Satan.
Victory by the Blood of the Lamb and Faithful Testimony (v. 11)
There is a sense, then, in which we have also participated in overcoming and silence the devil. We overcome by the blood of the Lamb. How is the accusing voice of conscience silenced? The blood of Jesus Christ applied. How was Satan silenced? The blood of Jesus Christ. Blood is at the heart of this world – the blood of the sinner required for his rebellion. Many have tried human sacrifice, beginning with Cain, the worshippers of Baal and Molech, Abimelech, but conscience would not accept this substitute. Only one blood will overcome the accusations of Satan and the conscience’s trembling – the precious blood of the spotless Lamb of God, “who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). The word of our testimony is added, not because our testimony is justifying, but because it is confirmatory.
The saints give this testimony to the end, even when it requires their blood. By God’s grace, we stay on the way of the cross to the end. Thus persevering, the reality of God’s grace in our life is confirmed. We are truly partakers of Christ’s precious blood, for we would lose our own lives to be found in him. Let this be true of us. Do not overestimate your strength to walk this path or underestimate its difficulty. The way of the cross is glorious, but the way of the cross is self-denial, humility, and utterly Christ-dependent. We will love our lives and try to hold on to them, even at the peril of our immortal souls, unless Jesus Christ is formed in us. Let us seek him that we obtain the victory through Jesus Christ alone. The Father offers his precious Son to us in love, for this purpose, that we might not live in guilt and be dominated by our sinful desires. He offers us deliverance, everlasting life, and victory over the world of sin and self. Praise him for his love!
Satan Wars against the Church (vv. 12-17)
Satan’s Wrath on Earth…for a Short Time (vv. 12-13)
Coming to Christ in self-denial and dependence, casting ourselves upon him, we declare war upon the devil. The contest is hard, and I think we grossly underestimate it. We think grace and faith and salvation in Jesus Christ should mean the end of conflict, or at least some lessening of its intensity. The opposite is the case. Because Satan has been cast out – WOE! The battle now rages on earth, for the devil is among us – as a fallen creature, not omnipresent or omnipotent, but still potent, still a deceiver, still an insinuator and murderer. His wrath is so much greater because he has been cast out of heaven. He has lost his former position. He thought to triumph over the Lord’s Christ, but he was miserably deluded – the cross of his suffering was our Savior’s chariot of victory. And now, the devil knows that he has but a short time. The time between Christ’s ascension and his coming at the end of history may seem long to us, but that is only because our lives are like morning flowers and afternoon clouds – quickly faded and dispersed.
“Short time” must inform our understanding of the time between Christ’s ascension and return. It should also impact our thinking about our own lives. We have only a short time, relatively speaking. Even our most intense battles, for example, for personal purity, or more broadly against the murder of the unborn, are short. They will not last forever. This should encourage our full-bore participation in our particular corner of the battlefield and areas of responsibility. It should also help us overcome a complaining spirit and a “retirement” spirit. We do not stop fighting in this life, for we are at war. Satan is defeated and our consciences quieted by the blood of Jesus Christ, but we can expect opposition even from a defeated foe. His doom is certain. The city of man cannot prevail. The sins in our lives and families cannot win. Our battle is short, so let us give our utmost for Christ, committing all to him, never joining with the enemy’s mindset and pleasures but following the Lamb wherever he leads.
Christ’s Church Wondrously Protected (vv. 14-16)
What of the woman? Her child was safe, enthroned in heaven? But the devil came to get her. This was the woman’s great tribulation, when Satan did all he could to destroy the apostolic church before the gospel could move from Jerusalem to the end of the earth. But the Lord provided a place of protection for her. She was able to flee Jerusalem during the Roman siege. Some of that horror is to be attributed to Satan’s rage. Symbolically, he tried to drown the woman by casting the floods of persecution out of his mouth, but the earth opened and swallowed the flood – like the earth swallowed up Korah. The earth, being God’s creation, “helped the woman.” All the resources of nature and time and history are on the side of Christ’s woman, his church. We must not forget this. Satan tries to deceive that the weather is against us. It is nothing of the kind. This is blind, guilty men spewing their flood of guilt and trying to drown us with despair.
The War Continues…(v. 17)
The woman overcame Satan’s wrath in the first century. This further enraged Satan. Succeeding centuries brought ten waves of imperial persecution, doctrinal heresies, and societal breakdown – all undoubtedly, at least on Satan’s side, to crush the woman by error, poverty, and death. Satan no longer has any hope of victory – do not forget this. He has been cast out of heaven. All his efforts now are motivated by the “end” that is soon coming. His war “with the remnant of her seed,” her children, continues to the present day. Sometimes, this war seems less intense, but at other times the fires regain their old intensity. I think we are seeing this in our day, although the historical perspective of vapors and grasshoppers is limited and should not be absolutely trusted! What we do know is that Satan continues to hate and harass those who keep God’s commandments. Obedient believers will stand out in our day, even in the church. Try to find broad support for a Sabbath initiative such as “all Christians will band together and politely decline to participate in organized sports on the Lord’s Day.” You cannot even get agreement on this from a majority of Christians, so the obedient are marginalized. This is not martyr’s talk but an encouragement to stand fast. The more you “hunger and thirst after righteousness” and love the Lord Jesus Christ so that you want to obey his commands (John 14:15), the more you will provoke the devil’s ire. In our personal, family, and corporate lives, the more we want to do what God says in his word, the more the flesh will fight back. The more other professing believers may fight back, for we accept confrontation only if our hearts are humble and hungry to know Jesus Christ and to grow in him.
And somehow in this war, you must keep the love of God our Father before you. For we are also marked out and hated for “having the testimony of Jesus Christ.” What is that testimony? It is that the Son of God was “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those that are under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Our testimony is not to a particular political philosophy, although, sadly, the Christian gospel has often been confused with a particular form of nationalism and radically altered by very earthly philosophies. Ours is a testimony of God’s love and grace through his Son. Our testimony is not salvation by works or ceremonies. It is not the wealth, health, and prosperity gospels that are Satan’s vomit upon the woman, mocking her true faith and deceiving the unwary. Our testimony is that we are followers of the Lamb, and, therefore, we are ambassadors of God’s reconciliation, of God’s love. In his love, we love one another, and we love the lost. If the whole world were divided and dropping bombs on each other, we are students of the cross, lovers of our fellowman, givers of love and kindness. By this, all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). God’s love in Christ and the wisdom of his Word must continue to transform us so that we look more like this heavenly wonder – the woman, Jesus’ Queen, his church, the light of the world, hated and persecuted, but nonetheless beloved by God and his mouthpiece of salvation to the nations.
It is a great mercy that our Savior speaks to us in this fashion – about Satan’s downfall and yet his continued attacks. Unless he had told us, we could not understand what is happening around us. We would think in terms of what men are doing to us rather than “spiritual forces of wickedness.” With such an outlook, it is very difficult to love your enemies. Worse, we would not seek to use the protection he has provided for in this particular kind of war. I trust this can be said about none of us today. The Lord our Captain has fitted us with spiritual armor because we are in a spiritual war. He tells us to put it on, especially hope, righteousness, faith, readiness, in the power of the Spirit’s word, quickened by prayer at all times and in all things. This is the way we do our part for our Savior’s glory and kingdom and gospel. He has, in the words of his parable, gone on a long journey, to a far country, but he has entrusted us with gifts, graces, and his Spirit. He says, “Occupy until I come” (Luke 19:13). Use your talents. Consecrate yourself to me. Keep my commandments and give a witness to me.
As we fight, we must remember the war is already decisively won, for Satan has been cast out of heaven. If we resist the devil – decidedly, intentionally, tenaciously – he must flee (1 Pet. 5:7; James 4:7). He does not flee when we spout a verse or two at him, as if saying “BOO!” will win the battle, but when our lives are committed to living by God’s word. Part of our commitment is an unswerving testimony that we are Christians, trust in his grace alone, boast in his cross alone, and rejoice in our Father’s love. Another part if that we are committed to obey the Lord even when it means denying ourselves and losing our lives in this world for Christ – or losing friends that we really want to keep. This is the reason for the picture the Lord gives us of our heavenly beauty and glory, the immeasurable worth and love he has for us. It is hard to keep God’s commandments when most in the church could hardly care less about obedience. Does the church care at all about the second commandment, worshipping the Lord as he commands? I am often unsure if some branches care about the first, and hardly any branches care about the fourth. Obedience has fallen upon hard times, and therefore the witness most often given to Jesus is the warm fuzzy feelings, the “liver shiver” of emotionalism.
Where is the strength found to be faithful to walk in humble obedience to the Lord? To give a good and faithful and winsome testimony to Christ crucified, raised, and reigning? That there is salvation is no other name under heaven? In the Father’s love for us. In his amazing grace to us. We were filthy, but he has made us beautiful. We were wicked and as deserving of his wrath as anyone else, but instead he set his love upon us and crowned us with the Son. It is in fellowship with the loving Father, his loving Son, by the fellowshipping Spirit that we are upheld in this battle. It is in fellowship with the Lord that we are able to fight without losing heart, give testimony to the world in love, and obey the Lord, alone if necessary, without becoming proud. He loved us. Jesus has raised us from the dust. We are the queen of heaven. All that passes for important today is worthless in comparison to our Father’s love and grace. The more we grow in wonder and actual communion with the Father in his love, the less hold this world will have on us, the less we shall be afraid of men, and the more thankful, joyful, and patient we shall be in our warfare.