Two significant events define world history, and they’re described with a heavy dose of imagery:
- A woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head gives birth to a boy, who is taken up to heaven
- A dragon, identified as Satan, who sweeps stars from heaven, fails in his attempt to destroy the baby and his mother and his mother’s other children, then launches a bitter fight to the end.
Who is this woman?
She is Israel. Joseph’s dream uses the same imagery to describe his parents and brothers. Israel gives birth to the Messiah, Jesus, who was snatched to safety when the Satan tried to destroy Him: it was initially by fleeing to Egypt with His parents, and later when He was resurrected. The resurrection gave Jesus the title firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18), making Him the firstborn of new believers.
When did all this happen?
The few verses in this chapter cover a very long time of world history. The thousands of years from the call of Abraham to the birth of Christ are covered in the first verse, which focuses on the favour God has for Israel and her role in bringing the Messiah. The thousands of years since the resurrection are covered in parts of the rest of this chapter, for example:
Revelation 12:17 And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.
And that’s just the world part of the world history.
But what about the battle in the heavens?
This also happened over thousands of years, and it hasn’t finished yet. Satan’s efforts to destroy Israel and then Jesus (as Messiah) are obviously in the past. Satan’s efforts to destroy the church and what’s left of Israel are obviously ongoing.
This leaves this battle:
Revelation 12:7-8 Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven.
There’s some debate about when this happened (or will happen, depending on your beliefs). Revelation is a book of prophecy, and prophecy often tells an event as if it has already happened, even though it might be thousands of years away. It’s a bit like asking a powerful man for a favour, which he agrees to and tells you ‘consider it done‘.
It is clear that:
- Satan could travel between heaven and earth in early history, as shown in his accusations against Job.
- Jesus watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:17-18). We aren’t told when He watched this or how permanent that fall was.
That Satan took a third of the angels with him doesn’t help with the timing issue since there’s nothing about any travel restrictions (vs 4), and demons are mentioned in various places through the Bible. But there was a definite travel ban eventually, and it would have been in time for Satan to start his efforts to destroy the church from its earliest days (see vs 17 above), and continue his hatred of Israel:
Revelations 12:13 When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
The book of Hebrews suggests that this battle was won when Jesus ascended to heaven:
Hebrews 2:14-15 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
Only one mediator now
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Finally, there are also times and days and parts of times mentioned in various places, and that’s a whole area of interpretation in itself.