As we prepare for this Sunday's message (April 25) here are some notes on Revelation 12 from the Faithlife Bible Study. SUGGESTION: It is best to read the chapter (out loud) before going over these notes.
12:1–18 After the cycle of trumpet judgments (8:2–11:19) and before the bowl judgments (15:1–16:21), John sees a series of visions that involve the powers of evil attacking the Church (12:1–14:20). Revelation 12 explicitly casts the dragon as the great accuser of God’s people. The kingdom of God was inaugurated by Jesus’ ministry, bringing the body of Christ, the Church, into existence (vv. 1–6). The dragon’s role as the accuser is completely undermined because there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Rom 8:1). The dragon thus seeks vengeance against the Church (Rev 12:17).
12:1 great sign The Greek word sēmeion (meaning “sign, miracle, portent”) describes the foreshadowing of a coming event (compare v. 3): the banishment of Satan (v. 9) and the coming of the kingdom of God and His righteous rule (v. 10).
heaven The place where God dwells. The Greek word ouranos can mean sky or heaven and refers to the abode of God or an otherworldly dimension. Although the terms can be used interchangeably, the connection with 11:19 and 12:3–4, 7–9 suggests that this sign occurred in heaven (compare 15:1).
a woman The woman is unnamed and unidentified. Her association with the sun, moon, and 12 stars recalls Joseph’s dream in Gen 37:9.
12:2 crying out This, along with “birth pains” and “torment,” may suggest the persecution of the people of God.
12:3 another sign The first sign is the woman, the second is the dragon.
dragon, having seven heads and ten horns Identified in v. 9 as Satan, the archenemy of God. The horns recall the imagery of Dan 7:7 (where they referred to 10 kings). Like the dragon figures in the combat myth motif (see note on Rev 12:1–18), this dragon elevated himself and used his power to influence the kings of the world for the oppression of God’s people.
royal headbands Each of the seven heads had a diadem or crown. John sets up a deliberate contrast between the beast’s diadēmata (“crowns”) and the woman’s stephanos (“crown, wreath”). Royalty and kingly pretenders wore diadēmata, whereas victors wore a stephanos.
12:4 a third of the stars from heaven Since Graeco-Roman people in John’s day often equated stars with gods, and Jews thought of them as angels, this may be a reference to the dragon defeating some of the angelic host (compare the Jewish literature 2 Enoch 4:1; 2 Baruch 51:10). John is probably drawing a parallel between the activities of this dragon-like kingly pretender and Antiochus in Daniel 8:10. Both usurpers harmed the stars.
12:5 to shepherd The Greek verb poimainō, meaning “to shepherd,” is often translated as “to rule.” While the sense is certainly one of leadership, the shepherd imagery should be maintained (see Rev 7:17 and note).
with an iron rod Originally applied to Israel’s king, Psalm 2 developed strong messianic connections in the Second Temple period (516 bc–ad 70). An iron rod in the hands of the Messiah connotes an unyieldingly just reign; He will not deviate from His righteous standards or tolerate wickedness or sedition. See Psalm 2:9; compare Revelation 2:27; 19:15.
her child was snatched away to God This phrase, coupled with the birth described earlier in the verse, likely represents Christ’s ministry from His birth to His death, resurrection, and ascension in summary fashion. Such abbreviated overviews are common in the New Testament (e.g., John 16:28; 1 Timothy 3:16).
12:6 wilderness Throughout the Bible, the wilderness is viewed as a safe haven where the afflicted hide (e.g., 1 Sam 23:14; 1 Kgs 19:1–4). God often provides safety and sustenance in these circumstances (e.g., Deut 29:5; 1 Kgs 17:1–6). The concept of fleeing into the wilderness to a place prepared by God (spiritual protection or divine intervention) is similar to the measuring of the sanctuary in ch. 11 and the sealing of the 144,000 in ch. 7.
12:7 Michael An archangel; the protector of God’s people (see Dan 10:13 and note; 12:1 and note; compare Jude 9).
12:8 any longer in heaven Refers to the concept of the divine council. See Psalm 82.
12:9 was thrown down Like the stars that he cast to earth in Rev 12:4. Satan is banished from the divine council in heaven to earth, then to the abyss (20:1–3), then finally to the lake of fire (20:10).
ancient serpent See Gen 3; Isa 27:1.
the devil and Satan The Greek terminology used here—diablos (meaning “slanderer”) and satan (meaning “accuser”)—appropriately coincide with the description of the dragon’s activities in Rev 12:10.
12:10 accuses them before our God day and night Satan’s role in the divine council was to accuse continually (see v. 8 and note), but he rebelled from this proper role and became evil. Here, he carries on his original work, but outside of God’s jurisdiction.
12:11 conquered The knowledge that Satan could be defeated by faith, witness, and perseverance would have been a tremendous encouragement to the members of the seven churches and others being pressured to compromise spiritually.
they did not love their lives until death They were willing to be martyred for the sake of remaining faithful to Christ.
12:12 rejoice, you heavens The heavens should rejoice because Satan has been expelled from their midst.
Woe to the earth and to the sea Refers to the residents of the earth and sea (human and nonhuman life). Satan will exact his revenge upon them.
he knows that he has little time Satan has been banished from the heavenly assembly (vv. 9–10). Satan knows about the arrival of God’s kingdom and seeks to disrupt it.
12:13 he pursued The Greek word for “pursue” can also mean “persecute.” Since the woman is given two wings (v. 14), “pursue” fits the context better. However, v. 17 indicates that he will soon persecute her offspring.
12:14 the two wings of a great eagle John again alludes to the imagery of the exodus event to describe the deliverance and protection of God’s people (see Exodus 19:4).
12:15–16 These verses describe the futile efforts of Satan to destroy the woman. These two verses should probably be understood as a metaphor for an attempted destruction of God’s people (compare note on Rev 12:1).
12:17 the rest of her children John’s concern for the persecuted church suggests this is a reference to the Church. They will be attacked by the enemy, but they will be spiritually protected (see v. 6).
the testimony about Jesus The gospel (see Revelation 1:2).
12:18 stood on the sand of the sea Connects the dragon’s activities to what follows in chapter 13. Since the loud voice pronounced a woe on the land and sea in v. 12, this verse ominously foreshadows what is about to come.
Credit: Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 12:1–18). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.