Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




Buist Fanning: The passage falls into three sections that symbolically and elliptically tell the story of Satan’s efforts to thwart God’s salvation through Israel and her Messiah.

  1. First the chief actors are introduced, and both the Messiah (in the past) and Israel (in the future) escape Satan’s attacks (12:1–6).
  2. Next the backstory of Satan’s future expulsion from heaven and enraged attacks on the earth in the final tribulation are portrayed (12:7–12).
  3. Then the story of his attacks on Israel and her national preservation in the end times is resumed, but it includes a preview of Satan’s continued warfare on parts of faithful Israel during that intense period (12:13–18).

This warfare on Israel and the wider world is portrayed in subsequent chapters.

James Hamilton: Can you imagine anything more vulnerable than a woman laboring to give birth? Women in labor are completely occupied with giving birth. They are not thinking about defending themselves. They cannot strategize about how to escape from danger. They are focused on one thing: giving birth. The process of giving birth is a colossal struggle for life. The whole of a woman’s mental energy, emotional strength, and bodily power are focused on what seems impossible and is nothing short of miraculous. A human being is about to come into the world out of her body, and the baby seems bigger than the birth canal. It looks impossible. It is a miracle of frantic human determination and astonishing divine design.

Can you imagine anything more frightening or threatening than a huge dragon? Let me suggest a way to make a dragon even more dreadful: give it seven heads. Now put a horn on each head, and three of the heads have two horns; so there are seven heads and ten horns.

Put the two images together and you have a powerful drama. A pregnant woman is in the process of giving birth, and she is threatened by a massive dragon who wants to eat her baby the moment he is born. She cannot run. She cannot hide. What hope does she have?

Do you want to heighten the desperation and urgency of the situation? The child about to be born, sure to be eaten by the dragon, is the world’s last hope. This is an epic pageant of intense, unprotected goodness confronted with a shocking evil that looks powerful, inevitable, devastating.

We need to know the danger we face. We need to know that it always looks like the odds are that Satan will win, but he always loses. And we need to know that victory has been secured, that no satanic accusation will stand against those who trust in Christ, and that God can and does protect his people.

John MacArthur: Now, the archenemy of God, obviously, is Satan. He’s been trying ever since his rebellion to destroy the purposes of God. Satan hates God and does everything he can possibly do to thwart God’s purposes. First, he attempted to destroy the paradise of heaven and led a mutiny against God among the angels. Then he attempted to destroy the paradise of earth and led a mutiny against God among men. And all of this will culminate in a great climactic effort in the time of the great tribulation to thwart the Kingdom that God has prepared and promised and even to destroy God’s plan for the eternal rule and reign of Jesus Christ. . .

We also are very much aware of the fact that God has made an inviolable promise to Israel to bring them a Kingdom, and that God through Zechariah said there would come a time when Israel would look on the one they had pierced and mourn for Him as an only son, and a fountain of cleansing would be opened and there would be salvation. And Paul, in Romans chapter 11, said there’s coming a day when all Israel will be saved. And the Kingdom is promised to Israel. And the prophets said they will enter into that Kingdom and they will reign and rule in that Kingdom with their Messiah from Jerusalem and they will be the attraction of the whole world so that hanging on the garment of every Jew will be ten gentiles.

So the Bible tells us clearly that Israel, as a nation, as a people, is a very main player in the scenario of the end drama. Salvation of Israel and her promised Kingdom is now very near. We’re already at the seventh trumpet. The seventh trumpet is the last trumpet. The events in the seventh trumpet are the seven bowl judgments which are poured out very rapidly. We’re in the last few weeks, the last few days of the time of tribulation just prior to Armageddon, the return of Christ, and the establishment of the Kingdom.

David Thompson: Since Israel is so critical to the Bible and the whole program of God, it is only logical to assume that Satan will hate the Jews, will wage war against the Jews and seek to destroy the Jews. Since part of the reason for the Great Tribulation is to “regather Israel” to establish a Kingdom on earth (Matt. 23:37-39), we may expect that at some point in the Tribulation Satan will unleash a destructive barrage against Israel in an attempt to destroy her.

That point is stressed and that does happen in Revelation 12. What we have here in this chapter is this thesis:


Grant Osborne: Chapters 12–13 are a unit, and it is not the number of elements but the remarkable structure of the narrative that matters. The organization is the same as that in 21:1–22:5, with a basic narrative of the whole story (21:1–8) followed by a series of expansions of details within the story (21:9–27; 22:1–5). Here 12:1–6 is the basic story of the conflict between the woman with her child and the dragon. This basic story is expanded via the war in heaven (12:7–12, expanding 12:4), the war on earth (12:13–17, expanding 12:6), and the activity of the two beasts in the war (13:1–10, 11–18, expanding both 12:6 and 12:17).


A.  (:1) Significance of the Woman = Israel

  1. Illuminating Great Sign

And a great sign appeared in heaven:

Buist Fanning: here “sign” means a visual or physical symbol pointing to something beyond itself, especially something with a spiritual significance (Rev 12:1, 3; 15:1; cf. Josh 4:6; Dan 5:9 LXX; similar to “signs” in John’s Gospel).

  1. Identifying Characteristics

a.  Glory / Brilliance

a woman clothed with the sun,

John MacArthur: That the woman was clothed with the sun reflects redeemed Israel’s unique glory, brilliance, and dignity because of her exalted status as God’s chosen nation (cf. Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 1 Kings 3:8; Pss. 33:12; 106:5; Isa. 43:20). It also links her with Jacob (the sun in Joseph’s dream), an heir in the Abrahamic covenant.

b.  Exaltation

and the moon under her feet,

John MacArthur: The moon under her feet – interesting to think about that. Could refer again to nothing more than exaltation, but it also could have the concept of covenant relationship there, since the moon was so central in the cycle of worship, they, you remember, worshiped in their yearly cycle through a series of new moons and feasts and festivals and Sabbaths associated with them.

c.  Legacy of the 12 Tribes

and on her head a crown of twelve stars;

Daniel Akin: Her marvelous description draws directly from the dream of the patriarch Joseph in Genesis 37:9-11. There the sun represents Jacob, the moon Rachel, and the stars the tribes of Israel. Perhaps it is best to see her representing the righteous remnant of Israel, the people of God. I believe Romans 11 would lend support to this understanding.

James Hamilton: These heavenly bodies are reminiscent of Joseph’s second dream in Genesis 37:9, where Joseph says, “Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Joseph’s father Jacob, aka Israel, interprets the dream in 37:10 saying, “Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” So in Joseph’s dream, Jacob/Israel is the sun, Joseph’s mother Rachel is the moon, and Joseph’s eleven brothers are the eleven stars, with Joseph evidently the twelfth.

B.  (:2) Significance of Israel’s Pregnancy

  1. Channel for the Birth of the Messiah

and she was with child;

  1. Characterized by Suffering and Pain

and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.

Buist Fanning: This evokes Old Testament pictures of Israel as an expectant mother who suffers in birth pangs during God’s judgment but anticipates God’s redemption and renewal as the joyful result of such suffering (Isa 26:16–21; 66:6–13; Mic 4:9–10; Jer 4:31).

James Hamilton: The birth of Jesus is interpreted here as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that point to the birth of the child who brings redemption for God’s people and rules over all the nations of the earth. This child is the hope of the world.

John MacArthur: Ever since the first promise of a Redeemer who would come to destroy him (Gen. 3:15), Satan has attacked Israel. For centuries, Israel agonized and suffered, longing for the Child who would come to destroy Satan, sin, and death, and establish the promised kingdom. No nation in history has suffered as long or as severely as Israel has—both from God’s chastening, and also from Satan’s furious efforts to destroy the nation through whom the Messiah would come.

Marvin Rosenthal: To Abraham God gave a series of unconditional promises in what has become known as the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12; 15; 17; 22).  Chief among them was the promise that “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).  Looking backward in time, this promise to Abraham identified him as the channel through which the seed of the woman was to come (Gen. 3:15).  Looking forward in time, this promise pointed toa a lowly people (the Jew), in an insignificant land (Israel), within an obscure village (Bethlehem).  There, in a stable for animals, a righteous Jewish maiden, a virgin named Miriam (her proper biblical name) gave birth to the Lamb of God.  Nine months earlier, the Holy Spirit had come upon her, and the power of the Highest had overshadowed her (Luke 1:35).

The entire Old Testament is a history of the nation Israel and her vicissitudes.  From Abrahm to the incarnation, her glory and her ignominy, her victories and her defeats alike are chronicled.  The mention of other nations and peoples of the world are only referred to in passing when, in one way or another, for good or bad, they impacted the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the land of Israel.

This entire period of time, from Abraham to the birth of Christ, is described in the Bible this way: “And she [Israel], being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered” (Rev. 12:2).

J. Hampton Keathley, III: Verse 2 describes the woman in travail, waiting to give birth to the Christ child. This undoubtedly refers to the sufferings of the nation and her troublesome and restless times at the first advent of Christ. She was even then suffering under not only the judgment of the deportations (see Matt. 1:11, 17) but the hatred of Satan. In fact, it was because of the Roman rule that Mary and Joseph had to make the trip to Bethlehem for the census during the winter when Christ was born.


A.  (:3) Significance of the Red Dragon = Satan

  1. Illuminating Great Sign

And another sign appeared in heaven:

David Thompson: The pronoun “another” means another of the same kind of sign appeared in the same place, the heaven. Again we believe these signs will be visible signs that those on earth will be able to look up and actually see.

  1. Identifying Characteristics

J. Hampton Keathley, III: That the red dragon is called “great” points to the magnitude of Satan’s power and activity in the world. “Red” emphasizes his murderous and blood thirsty character and behavior throughout history (cf. John 8:44). “Dragon” pictures his ferocious and intensely cruel nature. “Having seven heads and ten horns” relates him to the ten nation confederation of the revived Roman empire, the system of the beast (13:1). “Seven diadems” speaks of his ruling power, but also usurped power and authority which he has and will have especially in the last days. Satan is really a dragon, a hideous beast. Today he often appears as an angel of light; he masks his true identity, but in the Tribulation he will be seen for what he really is.

a.  Presenting as a Dragon of Fiery Destruction and Murderous Bloodshed

and behold, a great red dragon

John MacArthur: Red, the color of fiery destruction and bloodshed, further stresses Satan’s vicious, deadly, destructive nature. In the words of Jesus, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). The Hebrew word for “serpent” (nachash) used in Genesis 3:1 is used interchangeably in some texts with the Hebrew word for dragon (tannin) (cf. Ex. 7:9, 15). So the animal Satan used in the Garden of Eden was a reptile, but one not yet cast down to its belly (Gen. 3:14). Likely, it was more upright—a dragon standing upon two legs, cursed to walk on four legs close to the ground, or slither like a snake. Red is a fitting color for the dragon, since he attacks both the woman and her child.

William Barclay: In the Temple of Marduk – the creating god – in Babylon, there was a great image of a ‘red-gleaming serpent’ who stood for the defeated dragon of chaos. There can be little doubt that that is where John got his picture. This dragon appears in many forms in the Old Testament.

b.  Portraying Fearsome Intimidation

having seven heads and ten horns,

John MacArthur: Satan has been allowed by God to rule the world since the Fall and will continue to do so until the seventh trumpet sounds (11:15). The seven heads with their seven diadems (diadema; royal crowns symbolizing power and authority) represent seven consecutive world empires running their course under Satan’s dominion: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Antichrist’s future empire (17:9–10). The final kingdom, ruled by Antichrist, will be a ten-nation confederacy; the ten horns represent the kings who will rule under Antichrist (17:12; cf. 13:1; Dan. 7:23–25). The shifting of the diadems from the dragon’s heads to the beast’s horns (13:1) reveals the shift in power from the seven consecutive world empires to the ten kings under the final Antichrist.

c.  Possessing Earthly Power and Authority

and on his heads were seven diadems.

Buist Fanning: The figure of a “dragon” (δράκων) is also familiar in the Old Testament as a representation of cosmic opposition to God as well as more mundane enemies of God’s people like Egypt and Babylon (Ps 74:13–14; Isa 27:1; 51:9–10; Ezek 29:3; 32:2). In v. 9 John will identify the dragon specifically as the ultimate adversary of God (“the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who leads the whole world astray”), but as chapters 13–18 show, the devil uses earthly kingdoms in his efforts to oppose God’s people.

David Thompson: There is no question that when we read he has seven diadems on his head that he has royal power and authority over seven major powers of the world. These powers will be under his control during the Tribulation and he will used these reigning powers to try to completely destroy Israel.

There is no question Satan is a powerful angelic being and he does have authority and power. If we consider the fact there are seven continents in the world: Europe; Asia; Africa; North America; South America; Australia; and Antarctica, we suspect at this point in the Tribulation he will be the royal and dominant force of the whole world.

During the Tribulation [Day of the Lord], as part of a worldwide judgment, God will permit Satan to be the royal power for a short time. He will use that power to try to destroy Israel and anything connected to God.

B.  (:4a) Supported by Demonic Subordinates

And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth.

Daniel Akin: this refers to the primordial war in heaven when Satan rebelled against God and a third of the angelic host chose to follow him in his rebellion (Osborne, Revelation, 461). Isaiah 14:12-15 may typify this tragic event.

C.  (:4b) Salivating in Anticipation of Devouring the Seed of the Woman

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth,

 so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

Daniel Akin: The dragon takes his stand in front of the woman to devour, consume, eat up her child. This action, on the part of the dragon, is not new. Since God’s declaration in Genesis 3:15, Satan has sought to prevent this male child from coming. He moved Cain to kill Abel (1 John 3:12). He moved Pharaoh to kill Hebrew baby boys (Exod 1–2). He moved Saul to kill David (1 Sam 18:10-11). He moved wicked Athaliah to destroy all the royal heirs of the house of Judah (2 Chron 22:10). He moved Haman to plot genocide against the Jews (Esther). He moved Herod to kill Jesus (Matt 2). But in all of this, he failed! Verse 5 tells us, “But she gave birth to a Son—a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter.” David Platt says,

The birth of Christ on that day in Bethlehem inaugurated the death of this ancient serpent, just as it had been promised back in Genesis 3. The birth of Christ declared the death of the ancient serpent; the death of Christ defanged the adversary. (“Fighting,” 2012)

James Hamilton: The dragon being ready to devour the child about to be born to the woman reminds us that God cursed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, putting enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman and promising that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. These symbols depict the cosmic, epic battle between God and Satan. Satan looks like he has all the advantages—he’s a dragon with seven heads and ten horns against a pregnant woman! Who would you bet on in that conflict?

John Walvoord: The dragon is seen awaiting the birth of the child with the intent to destroy it as soon as it is born. The allusion here is unmistakably to the circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (the dragon referring to the Roman Empire at that time as dominated by Satan) and the attempts of Herod to destroy the baby Jesus (cf. Matt 2:13–15). It is significant that Herod as an Edomite was a descendant of Esau and of the people who were the traditional enemies of Jacob and his descendants. Whether motivated by his family antipathy to the Jews or by political consideration because he did not want competition in his office as king, Herod nevertheless fulfilled historically this reference to the destruction of children in Bethlehem.


A.  (:5) Divine Plan for the Messiah to Eventually Reign on Earth

  1. Miracle of the Incarnation

And she gave birth to a son, a male child,

John MacArthur: The incarnation of the male child, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3; cf. Rom. 9:5), was the fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Gen. 3:15; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Mic. 5:2). Israel brought forth the Messiah. The Bible emphasizes that Jesus was of Jewish lineage. He was a son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1), a member of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; Mic. 5:2; Rev. 5:5), and a descendant of David (Matt. 1:1; cf. 2 Sam. 7:12–16).

  1. Mission of Messianic Rule over the Nations

who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron;

Craig Koester: The description of the child is taken from Psalm 2, which speaks of the Lord’s anointed one or “messiah,” who is called the Son of God, the one who will be given the nations as his heritage. The Hebrew version of the psalm says that the anointed one will “break” the nations with a rod of iron, but the Greek version says that he will “rule” or literally “shepherd” the nations with his iron rod (Ps. 2:9). This image threatens the opponents of God, for it points to their demise (Rev. 2:27; 19:15); yet the same image is encouraging for the people of God, for Christ “shepherds” them by leading them to living water (7:17).

  1. Majesty Enthroned in Heaven until the Appointed Time for Earthly Dominion

and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

Buist Fanning: From the New Testament perspective this transfer of royal rule to Jesus as Messiah and son of David has already been accomplished in his cross, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to God’s right hand in heaven. He already has been vindicated as God’s son and has taken his seat in the position of greatest authority in heaven, as Psalm 110:1 anticipated. Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as messianic (Mark 12:35–37), and numerous writers all across the New Testament affirm its fulfillment in his present position in heaven (Acts 2:33–36; Rom 8:34; Heb 1:13; 1 Pet 3:22).  In contemporary Christian theology the cross and resurrection have a central place, and this is appropriate, but Christ’s ascension and heavenly exaltation are too often treated with relative neglect compared to their important place in biblical theology. This explains some of the unease interpreters have felt at the seemingly deficient summary of Jesus’s course of life that Revelation 12:5 provides: How can a Christian portrayal of Christ, even a fragmented visionary one, skip from his birth to his ascension without mentioning the cross and resurrection?  The explanation is that for John, especially in a context building toward the actualization of Christ’s reign on earth, to cite his ascension and exaltation includes within itself a reference to the victory already won by his cross and resurrection. The climactic step in the journey entails the intermediate steps along the way (as shown by Rev 12:11; see too 1:5–6; 5:9–10; 7:14; 19:13). In terms of the visionary portrayal, this ascension to heaven represents not merely a frantic escape from the clutches of the dragon but the decisive victory of this “child” over him (see further in 12:13). But the vision skips ahead: the ascension does not follow immediately after the birth.

Daniel Akin: the ascension is the unquestionable proof that Satan was defeated in that he could not prevent Christ from rising from the dead and ascending back to His Father, where He now is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, perhaps the place Satan coveted when he fell. Satan disgraced and dishonored himself with his idolatrous ambition. God exalted and honored His Son in His incarnation and humiliation. The way up really is found in a willingness to go down.

B.  (:6) Divine Witness Protection Program for Remnant of Israel

  1. Sanctuary of Refuge

And the woman fled into the wilderness

John MacArthur: Antichrist’s desecration of the temple will send the Jewish people fleeing into the wilderness. The exact location where God will hide them is not revealed, but it is probably somewhere east of the Jordan River and south of the Dead Sea, in the territory formerly occupied by Moab, Ammon, and Edom (cf. Dan. 11:40–41). Wherever their hiding place will be, they will be nourished and defended by God (cf. vv. 14–16), just as their ancestors were during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The length of Israel’s stay in hiding, one thousand two hundred and sixty days (three and a half years; cf. 11:2–3; 12:14; 13:5) corresponds to the last half of the Tribulation, the period Jesus called the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21). Those Jews who remain behind in Jerusalem will come under the influence of the two witnesses, and many in that city will be redeemed (11:13). Eventually, in spite of Satan’s efforts, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).

Robert Mounce: The intent of the verse, however, is not so much the flight of the church as the provision of God for her sustenance. To the Jewish people the wilderness spoke of divine provision and intimate fellowship. It was in the wilderness that God had rained down bread from heaven (Exod 16:4ff.) and nourished his people for forty years. Of Israel God said, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hos 2:14; cf. 1 Kgs 17:2–3; 19:3–4). For John’s readers the wilderness in this context would not suggest a desert waste inhabited by evil spirits and unclean beasts, but a place of spiritual refuge. The purpose of the vision is to assure those facing martyrdom that God has prepared for them a place of spiritual refuge and will enable them to stand fast against the devil. The duration of divine nourishment (1,260 days) corresponds to the period of persecution (cf. 11:2; 13:5). The place is one set in readiness by God himself.

  1. Sovereign Protection

where she had a place prepared by God,

Daniel Akin: Trust God to Care for His People

Here the wilderness symbolizes a place and promise of protection and provision, just as God cared for Israel following the exodus. God has specifically prepared a place for the woman, a place where He will feed her for 1,260 days, or 3½ years. The place will be one of spiritual refuge. She may be persecuted and suffer, but she will also be provided for and sustained. Everything the righteous remnant needs to honor her God and experience the victory provided by the male child, the babe of Bethlehem, she will have. God has preserved and taken care of His people in the past. He continues to meet our needs in the present. He will not fail us in the future. We have His word. You can trust Him.

  1. Sustenance and Nourishment

so that there she might be nourished

Sola Scriptura: Not only will the woman receive protection, but she will also receive nourishment (food and water) to sustain her life during the time of protective custody.

  1. Specific Time Duration

for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Charles Swindoll: Revelation 12:6 begins to describe what happens to the restored, elect remnant of Israel during the Tribulation. We’ve already seen that this future remnant will be composed of the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (7:1-8). They will be sealed for protection by God with a special calling. Through the symbol of the woman, we see that God will take special care of His people Israel during the final three and a half years of the Tribulation, providing a place for them in the “wilderness” to protect them during the most intense period of judgment and wrath on this earth (12:6).

Joe Anady: At this point I think it would be beneficial for you to know something of the basic structure of Revelation chapters twelve through twenty. Four figures will be introduced to us in these chapters. These four represent powers that oppose God and his people. And then these same four will be defeated by God and his Christ and judged in the reverse order that they were introduced. These chapters, therefore, reveal to us something of the spiritual battle that rages beyond our sense perception.

Notice that here in chapter twelve Satan himself is introduced. In 12:3 he is described as a “great red dragon”. In 12:9 he is identified by name: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9, ESV).

Notice that in chapter thirteen two of the powers that Satan uses to wage war against God and his people are introduced. First there is the beast that rises out of the sea (13:1). This beast, we will see, represents persecuting powers. Secondly, the beast that rises out of the earth is introduced (13:11). This beast will later be called the false prophet (16:3; 19:20). And then in chapter seventeen the great prostitute or harlot is introduced (17:1). She will represent the seductiveness of the world.

So by the time we come to the end of chapter 17 four key players in this ancient and cosmic battle will have been introduced to us. Satan is the person behind all of the opposition towards the kingdom of God and of Christ, but he uses these three powers primarily in his fight, the persecuting beast, the false prophet, and the harlot. These wage war against all that belongs to God and to his Christ.

But notice that beginning with chapter 18 each of these are defeated by God and judged in the reverse order that they were introduced. In chapter 18 the harlot is judged. In 19:19-20 the false prophet and the persecuting beast are judged. And in 20:7-10 we find a description of the defeat and judgment of Satan.

So chapters 12 through 20 have a chiastic structure. If you were to diagram this section of the book of Revelation it would form an “X”. Satan, the persecuting beast, the false prophet, and the harlot are introduced – 1, 2, 3, 4 – and then they are in reverse order quickly removed, being defeated by Christ at his second coming – 4, 3, 2, 1.