Read Revelation 12
As the vision continues to unfold before John, He sees a “great sign” that appears. When Scripture says this, it is an indicator of something that is pointing to a much deeper meaning. The woman that John sees has consistently been identified as representing the people of Israel with the twelve stars around her head being one of the chief indicators of that. Her pregnancy most likely represents the time in which God was working through Israel to bring about the coming of the Messiah, her male child.
The next thing John sees, which is equally as spectacular, is a seven headed dragon which he identifies as Satan, the devil himself. Whereas the beast of chapter 11 represents the antichrist, the major opponent to God’s people, the dragon much greater and scarier in appearance. Seven is, as we have said before, the number of the divine, and ten the number of completion and strength. The dragon comes forth with divine strength and the power to rule as is signified by the crowns.
Satan has always been opposed to the plans of God, attempting to thwart God’s redemptive work at every possible change. Here we see him seeking to destroy the male child, the Messiah, right as he is born. However, God protects Him, taking Him into heaven, an act which infuriates the devil. At the same time, the woman also finds divine protection from the dragon for a period of time which is the same as that of the oppression and persecution mentioned in chapter 11. Whether or not these are the same times or things that happen sequentially is not necessarily specified. It is important to keep in mind, as we look at the symbolism of this, that John is experiencing a vision of God’s work on a cosmic scale. Whereas we tend to think in a linear fashion, as is our way in this life, God stands outside of time and therefore what John is seeing does not necessarily indicate a timeline of events. This, in particular, is why those who look at the founding of the modern day nation of Israel as being a focal point for end-times interpretation have little credibility (that and the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one knows when He will return except for God).
After this, a war breaks out in heaven. This is a rather peculiar happening as we often view Satan as not being in heaven. John’s vision here draws on a great deal of Old Testament understanding of the spiritual realm as well as New Testament language of Satan as “the accuser.” Heaven, for us, has often been considered to be the place that we go to when we die. However, Scripturally speaking, heaven is the dwelling place of God. In heaven are the angels, all that is described throughout the book of Revelation, and, if you read the book of Job, Satan is sometimes there as well, accusing the people of God before God. I can’t necessarily explain this (nor would I dare try), but what it does do is give us a picture of a much more active place than just cherubs playing harps on clouds.
Whatever the explanation, there is a point at which Satan is permanently expelled from heaven, thrown down by the Archangel Michael, in what was (or is) probably one of the most epic fights of all time.
Satan’s expulsion from heaven, though, seems to bring a much greater anger that is then taken out first on Israel, though God protects here, and then on the rest of God’s people. How and what this looks like as it unfolds in history is rather unclear. It begins to unfold over the next couple of chapters as being a systematic persecution of the church and deceiving of the nations of the earth both through physical and spiritual means. The devil will seek to draw as many away from God as possible and will “wage war” on the people of God through the work of the beast of chapter 11 and those in the coming chapter as well.
Once again we can find ourselves looking for dates and events that coincide loosely with what we are reading here. Certainly, Israel has been a persecuted nation throughout history as has the church from time to time. Different religions have and continue to rise up to challenge the people of God and lead the people of the world astray. Persecution continues to this day in many parts of the world as it has for the past 2000 years against the people of God. What is important to read out of this too, however, is the announcement once again that salvation and power and the kingdom of God have come to and through the Messiah. Scripture is clear that the people of God will face persecution; it is equally clear that none of that can hold a candle to the strength and power of God and the hope that we have for eternal salvation in Jesus Christ