Sunday School Notes: Revelation 12:13-17

13 And when the dragon saw that it had been thrown to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male [child]. 14 Yet two wings of a great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place where she is nourished there a time, and times, and half a time, away from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent threw from his mouth water like a river before the woman in order that it might make her [be] swept away by a river. 16 But the earth gave help to the woman and the earth opened its mouth and it swallowed the river that the dragon threw from its mouth. 17 And the dragon was enraged by the woman and departed to make war with the rest of her seed, those keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus.

Last time we read about the dragon being “cast down” to the earth after its humiliating defeat against Michael. As we discussed, it’s interesting that John does not call this a victory for Michael. I think the wording is deliberate, not to detract from where the victory truly lies: at the cross and and the empty tomb. The dragon (Satan) could not defeat Michael because Jesus had conquered Satan on the cross and at his resurrection. With the heavenly battle lost, and the saints of God secure in their Savior, the dragon’s attention turns to the place he has been thrown: the earth. He goes after the woman who had given birth to the male child (i.e., the church, God’s people, from whom the Messiah, Jesus, had come). But Satan’s attempts to attack the people of God are thwarted by the Lord giving wings of an eagle to the woman to carry her to her safe place in the wilderness. I say the Lord gave her the wings because this seems like a clear use of a “divine passive”–the passive voice being used to imply God working in the situation. After all, who else could give eagle’s wings to the woman?

“Eagle’s wings” are used often in the Old Testament as a picture of God’s protection and deliverance. In Isaiah 40:31, for example, we read that “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Given what follows, however, I think the Lord is drawing John’s mind to the Exodus, and Exodus 19:4 in particular. Exodus 19:4 is part of a prelude to the Ten Commandments, where the Lord is recounting to Moses what He has done for him and Israel to that point. The Lord speaks of delivering Israel from Egypt, bearing them on “eagle’s wings” and bringing them “to Myself” there in the Sinai wilderness. This is the picture we have hear of the Lord bearing the woman, God’s people, out of the way of evil, to a place of safety in the wilderness.

All indications in verse 14 are that this is the same place described back in verse 6–a place prepared by God where she is nourished for 1,260 days. Which is the same as 3-and-a-half years (time, times, and half a time). This was also the same length of time that the witnesses prophesied at the beginning of chapter 11. It is a figurative number representing the duration of church history, from the resurrection to the End Times. Why this number? Because of it’s correlation to Daniel 7, and in this case, Daniel 7:15-28 especially. There are things about Daniel’s vision that make sense in Daniel’s time, things that are beyond the purview of this study. But there are aspects of Daniel’s vision that require the hindsight of the cross to appreciate. That perspective is what Revelation gives us. When Daniel sees a beast appearing to conquer the saints, and these saints being given into his hand for three and a half years, John is telling us that Daniel caught a glimpse of history far beyond his lifetime. Daniel’s vision also shows the Ancient of Days coming, and there being victory and vindication for God’s people, which John indicates is what is promised through Christ for all those who are his.

The serpent, Satan, is not happy at the woman’s flight, so it throws out water from its mouth intending to drown her. The Greek verb for “throw,” ballō, gives a sense of the violence of the serpent’s action and intention. It also brings back to mind the Exodus story, where the Lord parted the Red Sea for His people to cross on dry ground, but then when the Egyptians tried to cross, He brought the waters crashing down, throwing the Egyptians into the sea and covering them all (Exodus 14:26-29).

Why does this water come out of the serpent’s mouth? We’ve already seen in Revelation that the mouth is used to denote speech, and when combined with a sword, or fire, pictures spoken judgement. In Revelation 1:16, Jesus has a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth, and in 2:16, he threatens war against false teachers with this sword. In 11:5, the two witnesses breathe a consuming fire from their mouths upon those who try to harm them. These are all figurative of spoken judgment, whether a curse from the Lord (see the letters in chapters 2 and 3), or even the faithful proclamation of the gospel which, to those who do not receive it, is a word of condemnation for sin, not life.

Why does John say the water comes from the serpent‘s mouth, not the dragon’s? They are one and the same creature, but the change in reference is interesting. The serpent is, perhaps, the most infamous representation of Satan in Scripture, from its appearance in the Garden of Eden. There, the serpent deceived Eve into taking and eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan is the adversary of God and His people. He is the accuser, and he is the deceiver. The picture presented to John here is one of Satan coming against the church with deceptive and misleading words. In the seven letters, we read of false teaching in the church, and those who would try to lead God people astray. Satan’s intention is to drown the church with lies, so God’s people no longer know the truth and fall away from Him, just as Pharaoh’s armies were washed away by the Red Sea.

But the Lord has promised spiritual protection to His people (see chapter 11:1-2). So the earth swallows the serpent’s river, keeping the woman safe–that is, Satan’s attempt to draw God’s people away from Him fail. God protects His own from the Enemy’s deceit. Once again, the language here reflects the Exodus story, and Moses’s song in Exodus 15, where he recounts how God dealt with the Egyptians. Using poetic language, he speaks of God stretching out His hand and causing the earth to swallow up the Egyptian army (15:12). The Lord reminds John (and us) that though His church may be battered, beaten, and bruised for His sake, their security is in Him. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18).

Foiled a second time in its attempt to destroy the woman, the dragon, fuming with rage, goes after “the woman’s seed,” which John describes as being those who are faithful to the Lord. But if the woman is the church, who are her “seed”? Jesus, the Messiah, was the child of the woman, and we understood this to mean that the Messiah was born of God’s people (i.e., Israel). I think the idea the Lord is communicating through John is that of every Christian individually as a child of the church. If we think of the woman as the corporate church, the body of Christ as an entity, the seed of the church is us–every believer who has come to faith through the testimony of the church. Christians are not born Christian. Unlike Muslims or Jews, there is no such thing as being born Christian. You can be born into a Christian family, but we are all born children of Adam, rebel sinners who need to come to Christ to be forgiven of sin and become adopted children of God in Christ. That change takes place as a work of God’s Spirit in the lives of people who, having heard the gospel message, respond in faith, repent and turn to Jesus. That gospel message might come through a co-worker, a friend at school, a pastor, a parent–however it comes, that gospel message goes forth and as a result births new children into the Kingdom of God. So, the seed of the woman represents those who come to Christ as a result of the testimony of the Christ’s church, from the Apostles, through the early church, right up to today. If you are a Christian, that includes you, and me.

This means, however, that the serpent, Satan, is coming after us. And this has been true for the past 2,000 years, and will continue to be true until Christ returns. As we have said, God never promises His church physical protection. Christians will be harmed, and even killed, as a result of the serpent’s attack. However, we are secure in Christ. His promises are sure, and we will never be snatched out of his hand (John 10:28).

In most translations, verse 17 ends with a line that reads something like, “And he stood upon the sand of the sea.” However, there is uncertainty in the Greek manuscripts over whether this should read “And he stood…” or “And I stood…” If the former, it makes sense at the end of verse 17. If the latter, then it might be better placed at the beginning of chapter 13. Bearing in mind the chapter and verse divisions are later additions and are not part of the inspired text, whether it’s 12:17 or 13:1 is not important. Whether or not the dragon is on the shore, or John is on the shore makes a difference to our translation and perhaps, to a small degree, our interpretation. We’ll look closer at this verse as we begin chapter 13 next time, Lord willing.

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