Today we will continue in the book of Revelation as we consider the fourth vision cycle. This vision begins with a woman in heaven (or the sky) (12:1). This woman represents the people God. Here, she is the physical people of God, Israel, as evidenced by the twelve stars, sun, and moon (see Gen 37:9-10). Her birth pains represents the entire history of the nation of Israel (v. 2). Israel’s purpose was to bring forth Christ, the baby here being born. The dragon is Satan (v. 3). The third of the stars represents the partial amount (not a literal third) of angels that followed Satan in rebelling against God (v. 4). Satan and the stars being cast to earth represent his (and their) eviction from heaven because of sin (see Gen 3:14-15). Yet we know he and they still had access to heaven (as in Job 1:6-7). Satan’s desire since his eviction was to stop the plan of God, symbolized by the dragon’s desire to devour the baby. Christ is born, however, and completes His task, ending with His ascension (v. 5). The woman is now the spiritual people of God, who is preserved by God all the way through the three-and-a-half (v. 6).
The war in heaven is the spiritual reality behind Christ’s work on earth (v. 7). With Christ’s finished work, Satan was now completely expelled from heaven along with all the fallen angels (vv. 8-9). Satan’s ministry of darkness now changes. He is no longer allowed to accuse God’s people before God (v. 10) because in Christ we are made guiltless (v. 11). Not loving our lives even unto death is our calling in the time between Christ’s comings. Heaven and those who dwell it are the elect (v. 12). Even as we walk in this world, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). But earth and sea (a symbol of this world, as in 10:2 or with the two beasts), that is, the unsaved, have woe declared on them because Satan now works in this world, and knows his time is short.
In verse 13, we see that Satan changes from trying to thwart God’s plan in Christ to trying to thwart the church in our mission. But we are preserved by God, and will be unto the end (v. 14). The river coming from the mouth of the dragon is deceit (v. 15), from which God protects the elect in this world (v. 16). So Satan will try to deceive the woman’s offspring – that is – all those saved through the testimony of the church, beginning with the Apostles (v. 17).
And then we see how Satan will try to fight his war against the elect and deceive the whole world. The first beast from the sea represents secular, worldly power (13:1). Note its resemblance to the dragon. Notice also how it bears a similarity to Daniel’s vision of the coming world powers (v. 2 – see Dan 7:2-7). This beast works in the power of Satan. The seeming mortal wound from which the beast’s one head recovers (v. 3) represents Satan. His plan was thwarted at the cross, and his “head” was crushed (see Gen 3:15), but he changed his plan of action and now has power over all the world (the unsaved). That’s why worshiping the beast is really worshiping Satan (v. 4). Also in view here, however, is the anti-Christ who will be revealed in the three-and-a-half (v. 5). He will turn the world against the true church and even seem to win victory (vv. 6-8 – see 11:7). Verses 9 and 10 are directed at the elect. Our call to persevere will include enduring the unparalleled persecution that will take place right before Christ’s return – including captivity and death.
The second beast represents false religion, especially false Christianity. False Christianity resembles the Lamb on the surface, but really teaches the lies of Satan (v. 11). False religion teaches (sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly) its adherents to worship the first beast, that is, to live like the world (v. 12). False religion has the appearance of true heavenly power (v. 13), which helps it deceive the reprobate (v. 14). That they make an image of the beast speaks of the idolatry of the world. The idolatry of the world (really, worshiping Satan) is so strong that the world persecutes true believers (v. 15). The mark of the beast is the opposite of the mark of believers (v. 16 – see chapter 7). It is obvious who belongs to the world and who does not. And the world excludes those who do not (v. 17). The number 666 is complete imperfection (it falls short of seven, three times). But it is also the “number of man.” The number 6 was considered the number of man because man was created on the sixth day. The number is merely a representation of all those who remain in their sin – who remain in Adam instead of abiding in Christ. It is the number that represents the reprobate.
After seeing Satan, the other fallen angels, the two beasts, and the reprobate, John now sees the other side of the war. Mount Zion (the church) with Christ in her midst (14:1). It includes all those who – contrary to the reprobate who are marked with the name or number of the beast – bear the mark of God. These are those who are “of heaven” and worship God (vv. 2-3). The virginity of the elect of all time represents their ceremonial cleanness – which in the Old Testament was required for access to God (v. 4). We are those who follow Christ, and who are morally clean as well as ceremonially clean, both of which were achieved by Christ when He made us blameless (v. 5).
Now that John has seen both sides of the spiritual war that has raged on since the Fall, and especially since Christ’s First Coming, he now sees angels that represent the weapon of our warfare. Like Satan has the two beasts and their deceit, we have the Gospel. The first angel symbolizes the Gospel of salvation that the church brings to the ends of the earth (vv. 6-7). We call for the lost to worship Christ. The second angel is another aspect of the Gospel: judgment (v. 8). Babylon the great is a symbol of the world system. The third angel also warns about the final judgment for all those who worship the beast (vv. 9-11). John then calls the church to endurance. We must keep our faith and our testimony through obedience in order for the Gospel to affect the world and save souls (v. 12).
John then hears a conversation between Christ and the Holy Spirit (v. 13). In light of the spiritual war just described, Christ tells us that death is a blessing. The Spirit also encourages us to work for the kingdom. This symbolizes of the work of these Persons of the Trinity. Christ has given us eternal life, so that even physical death is not the end and is even preferred (see 2 Cor 5:8, Phil 1:23), and the Spirit is the One Who works in and through us until our days come to an end.
Then, to finish this vision cycle, John sees the Second Coming of Christ (v. 14). The first reaping is the resurrection and rapture when Christ descends from heaven and calls us up to meet Him (v. 15-16). The second reaping is the final judgment. The angel with the authority over the fire is likely the angel John saw in 8:3-5, where he was an agent of the final judgment. Here again, he is part of the final judgment. The grapes are the reprobate (v. 18). The winepress is used in the Old Testament to symbolize God’s judgment (v. 19 – see Isa 63:3). The utter destruction of the wicked is represented by flowing blood in unfathomable amounts (v. 20).