PROVIDENTIAL PROTECTION SPARES PERSECUTED ISRAEL FROM HER ENRAGED ATTACKER
“From the river to the sea” – the chant of the goal of exterminating Israel still resonates today in the Middle East. But God continues to demonstrate His faithfulness to protect a remnant. Ultimately in the last days, all of Israel will be saved and the enraged attacks of Satan will finally be defeated.
Buist Fanning: Having now recounted the conflict in heaven leading to the dragon’s banishment to earth and the heavenly commentary on those events (vv. 7–12), John now returns to the story of the woman and the dragon from vv. 1–6. To resume that story the first step is to cite the key point from the intervening section (vv. 7–12), that is, the dragon “thrown to the earth” (v. 13a, which also picks up the thread of “woe to the earth” in v. 12b–d). Then John is ready to move the narrative along further.
Daniel Akin: Exodus imagery and typology dominate these final verses of chapter 12. The dragon seeks the destruction of the Son’s children, but God comes to the rescue.
David Thompson: WHEN SATAN AND HIS DEMONS ARE CAST OUT OF HEAVEN IT WILL SO ENRAGE SATAN THAT HE WILL TRY TO DESTROY EVERY JEW ON THE EARTH.
John MacArthur: One of the darkest stains on the history of mankind has been the persistent specter of anti-Semitism. Over the centuries the Jews have faced more hatred and persecution than any other people. Much of that suffering was chastisement from God to turn the nation away from their sin and unbelief and back to Him. God repeatedly warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience (cf. Deut. 28:15–68) and punished them when they failed to obey (cf. 2 Kings 17:7–23). Within the paradigm of God’s sovereign purpose for His people, Israel also has suffered constantly and severely at the hands of Satan, acting as God’s instrument. Unlike God, however, Satan’s purpose in causing the Jewish people to suffer is not remedial, but destructive. He seeks to bring them not to repentance and salvation, but to death and destruction.
The Tribulation will be the worst of times for Israel for two reasons. During that seven-year period God will pour out His final fury on the unrepentant and unbelieving world (including the unrepentant rebels of Israel). At the same time, Satan will make his last, desperate attempt to prevent the promised reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on Israel’s throne and thus negate the salvation and kingdom promised to Israel. He will savagely assault the Jewish people, seeking to destroy both those Jews who have already come to faith in Christ, and those who still might. The devil will also do everything in his power to hinder the ministries of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (7:4) and the two witnesses (11:3–14).
But Satan’s efforts will not succeed. His worst fears will be realized when the Jews “look on [the One] whom they have pierced; and … mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and … weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). The believing remnant of Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25–29), and their promised kingdom will be established (cf. Hos. 2:14–23).
I. (:13) PERSECUTION PURSUED BY ENRAGED DRAGON
A. Triggering Defeat
“And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth,”
B. Target of Persecution
“he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.”
Grant Osborne: It is the “pursuit” of the dragon that makes the woman “flee.” It is interesting that the dragon “saw” or realized that he had been cast down to earth. This hints that the expulsion was the instantaneous act of a vastly superior force (God and Michael in 12:9). One minute Satan was in heaven fighting against Michael, the next minute he found himself on earth. At that point, he turned his anger against the woman and ἐδίωξεν (ediōxen, pursued) her. There is a double meaning in this verb, as the dragon both “pursued” and “persecuted” her (so Swete 1911: 157). The picture of the woman fleeing before the pursuing dragon is another exodus motif, built on Israel fleeing before the pursuing chariots of Pharaoh (called the dragon “Rahab” in Isa. 51:9–10; cf. Ps. 74:13–14).
Thomas Constable: Satan will concentrate his vengeance on Israelites during the Great Tribulation, under the sovereign control of God, since He cannot antagonize Christ. The Israelites will flee from Satan in the future as they fled from Pharaoh in the past (cf. Exodus 14:5; Joshua 24:6). Jesus predicted this flight in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23). The reason Satan will oppose the Jews is that Christ, his archenemy, came from them and is one of them. They are also the special objects of His favor.
II. (:14) PROVIDENTIAL PROTECTION #1 – REFUGE IN THE WILDERNESS
A. Way of Escape Provided
“And the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman,”
Daniel Akin: The phrase “two wings of a great eagle” should not be taken literally. Neither should this be viewed as some type of Boeing 747! It is simply a picture of God’s providential protection of His people. Wings often appear in the Bible as a sign of God’s protection (see Exod 19:4; Deut 32:9-12; Pss 17:8; 18:10; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4; Isa 40:31).
John MacArthur: Eagle translates aetos, which can also refer to the griffon, or vulture (cf. Matt. 24:28; Luke 17:37). These large birds with enormous wing-spans serve as a fitting symbol for God’s protection and sheltering of Israel. This is not, of course, a reference to an actual eagle with literal wings; rather, it is picturesque language depicting God’s miraculous assistance of the woman, so that she could fly swiftly into the wilderness to her place of shelter and safety.
B. Wilderness Refuge
“in order that she might fly into the wilderness to her place,”
John MacArthur: Jesus’ warning to flee to the mountains (Matt. 24:15–16) suggests that the place of refuge will not be in the coastal plain to the west of Jerusalem, or the relatively flat Negev (desert region) to the south. More likely, it will be in the mountainous region east of Jerusalem. Daniel 11:41 provides further evidence for that view: “[Antichrist] will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many countries will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon.” Perhaps God will spare Edom, Moab, and Ammon, ancient countries to the east of Israel, to provide a refuge for His people.
S. Lewis Johnson: Perhaps with “the woman” is not only a small element of the nation in that day, but inclusive of the one hundred and forty four thousand that we read about in chapter 7, who were sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel. And further, perhaps the two witnesses of whom we have read in the 11th chapter may be accounted among them. But at any rate, the woman or Israel, that is the true believing ones in the tribulation period, that seven year period of time, now are persecuted by Satin and they are driven into the wilderness, the place prepared of God.
C. Witness Protection Program for Last Half of Seventieth Week of Daniel
“where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time,”
John MacArthur: In her place of safety and refuge, Israel will be supernaturally nourished (fed) by God. Cut off from the world system, and unable in any case to buy and sell (cf. 13:17), the Jews will need outside help to survive. God will supernaturally supply them with food, just as he did by providing their ancestors with manna and quail in the wilderness (Ex. 16:12ff.), and Elijah with food at the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:1–6). Certainly it is not incredible that, in a time of devastating miraculous judgments, God will miraculously provide provisions for His people.
D. Withdrawn from Serpent’s Presence
“from the presence of the serpent.”
Tony Garland: Presence is προσώπου [prosōpou], she is protected from the “face, countenance” of the serpent. This denotes his inability to access her. It is used “in all kinds of more or less symbolic expressions which, in large part, represent OT usage, and in which the face is often to be taken as the seat of the faculty of seeing.” She is hidden from his access, and possibly even from his knowledge.
III. (:15-16) PROVIDENTIAL PROTECTION #2 – ESCAPE FROM THE FLOOD
A. (:15) Destruction Attempted
“And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman,
so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood.”
John Walvoord: Though the exact meaning of these two verses cannot be determined with certainty, the implication is that Satan strives with all his power to persecute and exterminate the people of Israel. By divine intervention, both natural and supernatural means are used to thwart the enemy’s program and carry a remnant of Israel safely through their time of great tribulation.
Van Parunak: The “flood” that “the serpent cast out of his mouth” is most likely his seed, who share his antipathy for the woman and her believing offspring. Satan opposes the faithful not only with the centralized oppression of the Antichrist, but also with social pressure from multitudes of unbelievers who overwhelm the faithful with ostracism.
We have examples of this kind of Satanic flood in the Bible. Recall the history of Korah, when the ground opened. The Levite Korah and three Reubenites object to the prominence of Moses and Aaron, insisting that all the congregation are holy.
Num. 16:1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: 2 And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: 3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
Their strategy is one used by revolutionaries in every age: present themselves as the voice of the people, and try to arouse widespread popular opinion against those they oppose. To the degree they are successful, they will produce a “flood of ungodly men,” in the words of 2 Sam 22:5.
In 2 Sam 22:5, David may be recalling the history of 1 Samuel 23. He courageously delivers the people of Keilah from the Philistines. In spite of this, perhaps because of their fear of Saul, they are willing to deliver him into the hands of Saul:
1Sa 23:12 Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.
David Thompson: The prophet Daniel specifically predicted that this Satanic persecution would come against Israel like a flood (Daniel 9:26). By using the adverb “like”, we know that this is not a reference to a literal flood of water; but a fast flowing flood of persecution.
When a river floods, it rises quickly and flows swiftly and ferociously. When the prophet Jeremiah used this imagery, he used it in reference to Gentile powers that would quickly and swiftly rise against Israel (Jer. 46:7-8; 47:2-3).
More than likely what this means is that Satan’s first assault against Israel will be a rise of Gentile powers that will quickly and swiftly rise and turn against Israel in an attempt to completely destroy her.
B. (:16) Deliverance Successful
“And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth
and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.”
Buist Fanning: The saga does not end with her initial escape into the wilderness, as vv. 15–16 show (see also the note at v. 6 about the “wilderness” as both positive and negative for Israel). The serpent (or dragon, v. 16, who controls the rivers and seas; cf. Ezek 29:3; 32:2) intends to destroy the woman even in the wilderness with a flood of “water like a river” disgorged like a weapon “from his mouth” (v. 15a). But the earth itself comes to the woman’s aid by “swallow[ing] up” the dragon’s river of water (v. 16). This imagery seems to be based on the exodus pattern of deliverance also, but with a strategic twist. Instead of Israel going on dry land through a sea of water that sweeps away the Egyptians, the earth delivers Israel from the flood that the dragon unleashes against her (see Exod 14:13–29; 15:4–13; also Ps 74:12–15 that seems to adapt exodus imagery in a similar way). Similar symbolism about the Lord delivering his people through “floods” of adversity occurs more generally in the Old Testament (Pss 18:4; 32:6; 124:4; Isa 43:2) and sometimes refers to armies that attack like an overwhelming flood (e.g., Isa 8:7–8; Jer 46:7–8; 47:2–3). Again, it is unnecessary to speculate about how such a satanic attack and divine deliverance will take place in future earthly terms. The exodus typology communicates the broader truth without dictating the specific ways it will be replicated in the end times.
IV. (:17) PERSECUTION PURSUED BY ENRAGED DRAGON
A. Rage of the Dragon Intensified
“And the dragon was enraged with the woman,”
B. Redirection of Persecution Efforts
- Attacking the Seed of the Woman
“and went off to make war with the rest of her offspring,”
Buist Fanning: This distinction between the “woman” who will escape and “the rest of her offspring” who will still suffer attack is a conundrum that interpreters have solved in various ways. The explanation that makes the most sense is to understand the “woman” protected in her refuge (vv. 6, 14) as a representative body of ethnically Jewish followers of Jesus (who are described also as the sealed 144,000 from every tribe of Israel in 7:4–8; 14:1–5) and “the rest of her offspring” as other ethnically Jewish believers who will not escape satanic persecution in those terrible days to come. They along with believers in Christ from other ethnic origins will face great persecution, and many of them will be killed for their loyalty to Christ (6:9–11; 7:14–15; 12:10–12; 20:4).
Daniel Akin: Although the Devil will be unable to totally exterminate Israel, Zechariah 13:8 sorrowfully informs us that two-thirds of the Jewish population will be killed during the tribulation. Satan will not utterly succeed in wiping God’s people from the face of the earth, but he will succeed in plunging many to their death. Satan indeed hates the righteous remnant of God.
Thomas Constable: Enraged because of his lack of success in completely annihilating all fleeing Jews, Satan will proceed to concentrate his attack on those who do not flee. Jews who believe in Jesus Christ become his special target, those who hold fast to the truth that God and Christ revealed. Specifically this group seems to be, or perhaps includes, the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 14:1-5).
J. Hampton Keathley, III: Some see this verse as pointing to a geographic contrast between the persecution of Israel in the land (vss. 13-16) and Israel outside the land in other portions of the world (vs. 17). However, the contrast is more likely between the nation as a whole symbolized in the term “the woman” versus the godly and believing remnant, “the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (vs. 17). The godly remnant are believers in the Lord Jesus, those who during the Tribulation will turn to Christ. The word used here for the remnant translated by the NASB as “the rest” is not the same word used in Romans 9:27or in Romans 11:5(leimma). Here the word is loipon, but they all come from the same verb, leipw, and the context clearly shows that the believing and godly remnant are in view.
This verse serves to emphasize that the dragon will become totally frustrated and enraged over his inability to wipe out the woman, but he will become particularly angry with the believing remnant who will turned to Jesus Christ, believe the Word, and stand ready to die for their faith in the Savior.
- Allegiance of the Faithful Remnant
“who keep the commandments of God”
John MacArthur: They are further described as those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Entolas (commandments) is a word used frequently in John’s writings to refer to New Testament commands (e.g., 14:12; John 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12; 1 John 2:3–4; 3:22–24; 5:2–3). The testimony of Jesus is not testimony about Him, but the testimony He gave, the truths He taught that are revealed in the New Testament. These persecuted believers will give further evidence that their salvation is real by their obedience to the truth of Scripture.
“and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
S. Lewis Johnson: if you examine the other occurrences in the Book of Revelation in which that expression occurs, there are several of them, probably indicates that this is the testimony that he, himself bore rather than testimony to him; the testimony that he bore and that has now been committed to the apostles.
Van Parunak: Here are two characteristics that mark the people of God.
- Toward God, we owe unquestioning obedience, whatever the consequences.
- Toward unbelievers, we must bear witness to the Lord Jesus and his gospel.