Red Dragon & A Male Child

THE RED DRAGONThen another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:3-6)

Identity of the Dragon – Later, in Revelation 12:9, the dragon is unmistakably identified as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan.”(1) This arch adversary and accuser of the Church is depicted as an enormous (denoting strength), red (denoting terror), dragon (denoting fierceness and cruelty). It is described as having seven heads, a possible veiled reference to pagan Rome (Rome was situated on seven hills). It also has ten horns, perhaps a reference to
the ten provinces that the Roman Empire was divided into by Augustus Caesar. Finally, it has seven crowns upon its heads, which is afterwards explained to be seven kings, Revelation 17:10.(2) From similar descriptions of the “fourth beast” in Daniel 7:7–8, 24 and Revelation 13:1, this likely represents Satan’s control over a confederation of world empires during the Great Tribulation. The ten horns could also symbolize ten kings (see Daniel 7:24) who reign simultaneously with the coming world ruler and who are also mentioned in Revelation 13:1 (stay tuned).(3)

In the Old Testament, the word Satan is sometimes used as a verb and sometimes as a noun. When used as a verb, it means to oppose as an adversary (Psalm 38:20; 71:13; 109:4, 20, 29; Zechariah 3:1). When used as a noun it is usually referring to a human adversary (1 Samuel 29:4; 2 Samuel 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25). But in four books of the Old Testament, the term is attached to a supernatural being (Numbers 22:22, 32; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6-8; Zechariah 3:1;). While somewhat of a mysterious figure in the Old Testament, the New Testament develops Satan’s character as the archenemy of God. Extra-biblical works, written prior to and contemporary with the New Testament documents, parallel the New Testament development. In the New Testament, he is referred to as the devil 32 times, Satan 33 times, Belial once (2 Corinthians 6:15), and Beelzebulb seven times.(4)

His power in our world is very great. After all, man abdicated their sovereignty to him when they submitted to his cunning in Eden. He has been described as a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Men are said to be “taken captive by him” (2 Timothy 2:26). Christians are warned against his “devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11), and called to “resist” him (James 4:7). Christ redeems his people from “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

But his power is limited, as Christ has overcome death.(5) No matter how powerful Satan may appear to be, his final overthrow by the power of God is certain (Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:1–10).(6) See Figure 17.1 for additional information concerning Satan.(7) (8) Even today, as we are constantly engaged in Spiritual warfare, it is important to have some knowledge of who our enemy is and how he operates.

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Third of the Stars – The image of stars battling in heaven was used in the Old Testament (Judges 5:20, “the stars fought”), the Sibylline (a legendary Greek prophetess) Oracles (a collection of prophecies in which Jewish or Christian doctrines were recorded by various Jewish and Christian writers from about 150 BC to about 180 AD),(9) and some Greek sources. Old Testament texts and later Jewish texts portrayed both Israel or the Godly (Daniel 12:3) and angels (1 Enoch; probably also Isaiah 24:21 and 2 Baruch) as stars. Jewish traditions usually assigned the fall of angels to either the Adam’s or to Noah’s time.(10) Satan’s fall was clearly pre-Adam as he was present in the Garden of Eden in the guise of the serpent plotting to bring down God’s creation.

Birth of Male Child – The Greek term that is translated “will rule” in the NIV means to shepherd, a clear Messianic symbol. The “iron scepter” could be an allusion to the “rod of iron” prophecy of Christ in Psalms 2:9. Originally applicable to Israel’s king, this Psalm developed strong messianic connections during the Second Temple period. An iron rod in the hands of the Messiah would be symbolic of a just and unyielding reign. He will not deviate from His righteous standards nor will He tolerate wickedness or sedition.(11)

Dragon’s Attempt to Devour Child – Here we see the earliest Messianic prophecy in the Bible fulfilled where God said he would “put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15).(12) It has been, and is being, and will be played out in three major acts.

Israel – Satanic opposition to Israel and especially to the messianic line is clear in both Testaments.(13) There has always been a “dragon” (or serpent) standing by, waiting to destroy Israel or the ancestors of the Messiah. Pharaoh was also called a “dragon” (Ezekiel 29:3), as was Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 51:34). Both of these men and their kingdoms were used by Satan to oppress Israel (although Babylon was also God’s vehicle to discipline His people). At one critical point in history, the royal line may have even dwindled to one little boy (2 Kings 11:1–3), who later became King Joash.(14)

Christ – As soon as Jesus was born, and on many occasions thereafter, Satan tried to destroy Him. Just as throughout Old Testament history, Satan tried to prevent the birth of the Redeemer in the first place. When Jesus Christ was born, Satan used King Herod to try to destroy Him (Matthew 2). Satan thought that he had succeeded when he used Judas to betray the Lord and hand Him over to be crucified. But Satan, incapable of comprehending God’s abundant grace, did not realize that his seeming victory at the Cross was actually his defeat and mankind’s redemption from the fall in Eden!(15)

Church – Since the resurrection, Satan has been intent on devouring the Church, through direct persecutions by the Roman emperors, as well as indirect assaults through various false doctrines and heresies throughout the ages.

Child Snatched Up to God – Here again, we see possible references to Israel, Christ and the Church.  “Snatched up to God and to his throne” indicates seizing.(16) The same word for “snatched up” is also used of the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Acts 8:39; 2 Corinthians 12:2–4),(17) making this a possible but perhaps strained reference to the Rapture of the Church.

The most straightforward interpretation would take this as a reference to the ascension of Christ (although the flight to Egypt could also be in view). The text omits the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ because the vision is simply showing that the Dragon’s efforts were futile. The Messiah was not defeated. His “heel” was merely bruised, while Satan will ultimately be crushed, and the child was caught up to share in God’s throne.(18)

Finally, the woman fleeing into the desert is seen by many as a reference to Israel during the Tribulation after the Church is raptured (see below).

Woman Flees into Desert – Once again Satan is thwarted in his pursuit of the woman, and the dragon is unable to destroy her completely. The phrases used here seem to be reminiscent of the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2), Elijah’s flight (1 Kings 17:2 and 19:3), the Jews fleeing from Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 2:29), Joseph and Mary’s escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and the flight of Christians at the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:14).(19) These, especially Mary’s flight with Jesus into Egypt, may be types of what is being described here in Revelation.(20) With Jesus ascended, and assuming that the Church has been Raptured, this could be a reference to Israel, although it could also be Tribulation saints in general (Jews and gentiles).

Throughout the Bible, the wilderness was viewed a place of obscurity where the oppressed could escape to and as a safe-haven where the afflicted could hide (see 1 Samuel 23:14; Matthew 24:16). God often provided safety and sustenance in these circumstances. The concept of fleeing into the wilderness to a place prepared by God (spiritual protection or divine intervention) is similar in concept to the measuring of the sanctuary in Revelation 11 and the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7.(21)

1,260 Days – The image conveyed here is reminiscent of God leading the Hebrew children from captivity, and their subsequent wandering in the wilderness, before gaining their inheritance in the Promised Land.

Symbolic Interpretation: The Church Age View – Some have likened the interim between Jesus’ first coming and second coming to the interval that Israel spent in the wilderness. Since it has obviously been more than a literal 1,260 days since Jesus’ ascension, these would have to be viewed as symbolic numbers, which is not uncommon for apocalyptic texts. Under this view, this would be a general symbol for tribulation covering the whole course of the Church age, with the 1,260 days characterizing a non-specific period rather than a literal 1,260 days.(22) This period also symbolically refers to the dispersion of the Jews from 70 AD to 1948.

Literal Interpretation: The Great Tribulation – Others see the 1,260 days as a “a time, times, and half a time” or a literal three and one-half years of 42 months with 30 days each. In this case, it is not measured from Jesus’ time but rather to a flight of Israel at the mid-point of the tribulation that marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:16 and Mark 13:14). References to both desert and mountains are not a contradiction as both were wilderness areas. In her desert hideout Israel is cared for perhaps as miraculously as Israel was in her wilderness journey from Egypt to the Promised Land (manna, quail, water from a rock, clothes that did not wear out).(23)

Up Next – War in Heaven.

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References

  1. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 958). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  2. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2477). Peabody: Hendrickson.
  3. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 958). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  4. Seal, D. (2012, 2013, 2014). Satan. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  5. Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.
  6. Efird, J. M., & Powell, M. A. (2011). Satan. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition., p. 922). New York: HarperCollins.
  7. Willmington, H. L. (1987). Willmington’s book of Bible lists (pp. 300–301). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
  8. Willmington, H. L. (1987). Willmington’s book of Bible lists (pp. 301–302). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
  9. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sibylline-Oracles
  10. Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 12:4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  11. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 12:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  12. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2477). Peabody: Hendrickson.
  13. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 958). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  14. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 602). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  15. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 602). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  16. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 12:5). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  17. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 958). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  18. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 12:5). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  19. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 12:6). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  20. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 579). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  21. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 12:6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  22. Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 12:6). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  23. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 958). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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