The Dragon and His Pursuit (Rev 12:13-18)

May 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Past Lessons

B. Text of Rev 12:13-18

“13But when the dragon realized he had been thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14So the woman was given two wings like a great eagle so that she could fly into the wilderness to the place for her. That’s where she was taken care of for a time, times, and half a time away from the presence of the serpent. 15The serpent threw water from his mouth after the woman like a river in order that she might be swept away by a river. 16But, the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth. It swallowed up the river which the dragon sent from his mouth. 17The dragon became angry at the woman and went to make war against the rest of her descendants who were keeping the commandments of God and witness of Jesus. 18Then he stood on the sand next to the sea.” (Rev 12:13-18) 1

You can get a PDF version of this blog post, a handout for small group study,   and access my translation notes by becoming a patron of my blog.

The Dragon and His Pursuit (Rev 12:13-18)

Photo Credit: Bamberg Apocalypse

C. General Remarks

“Taken as a whole, chapter 12 is a fitting introduction to the important revelations given in chapter 13. Here are the principal actors of the great tribulation with the historic background that provides so much essential information. Israel, Satan, Christ, the archangel, and the godly remnant figure largely in the closing scenes of the age. Next, the two principal human actors are introduced: the beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth, the human instruments that Satan will use to direct his program during the great tribulation.” (Walvoord, Revelation, 202).

“Don’t be surprised that the dragon is out to get you, with more of his foul but powerful accusations, spat out like a flood.” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 113)

“Revelation 12 describes the attempts by Satan to destroy Christ at His first coming, and his persecution of Isarel (the woman) in the final days before the second coming (cf. Gen 3:15). The point seems to be that Satan’s plan A was to destroy Christ so he couldn’t rule as king. When he failed in that, he embarked on plan B which was to destroy the people over whom Christ is to reign – the Jewish people. However, God supernaturally protects Israel from Satan during the final 3 ½ years of the tribulation.” (Mark Hitchock, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” class notes at Dallas Theological Seminary)

As we finish the study of Revelation 12 it becomes clear that this chapter is about the Dragon—Satan—and his fight against those who are loyal to God. The word “dragon” (in Greek) is used eight times in this chapter in only eighteen verses. Clearly, the focus of this chapter is Satan and his work to kill others.

II. THE CHASE (12:13-14)

A. The Dragon’s Pursuit (v. 13)

Καὶ ὅτε εἶδεν ὁ δράκων ὅτι ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν, ἐδίωξεν τὴν γυναῖκα ἥτις ἔτεκεν τὸν ἄρσενα.

“But when the dragon realized he had been thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the male child.” (Rev 12:13)

1. Pursued or Persecuted?

Translations are split on the verb used to describe what the dragon does to the woman. Some translations use “pursued” (NLT, LEB, ESV, NIV, NRSV) and some use “persecuted” (NASB95, KJV1900, NKJV, AV 1873). Either seems like a good option because both reflect the dragon’s desire to kill the woman.

QUESTION: WHO IS THE DRAGON? WHO IS THE WOMAN?

2. Satan’s Anger

While the passage in Revelation 12 seems to hint at Herod’s persecution of Christ and infants following Christ’s birth in Matt 2:16, the latter part of Rev 12 indicates that this is a future persecution after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:8-9).

Thomas says that this flight is a literal one in the future that corresponds to the flight from Egypt of the Israelites (Exod 14:5; Josh 24:6). With this it might be the future flight that Jesus predicted (Matt 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23).

With Satan being cast down to the earth he immediately turns his anger toward the nation of Israel. This is the beginning of the Great Tribulation which Christ warned about:

“’The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.’ (Reader, pay attention!) ‘Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.’” (Matt 24:15–22, NLT)

B. The Woman’s Flight (v. 14)

καὶ ἐδόθησαν τῇ γυναικὶ αἱ δύο πτέρυγες τοῦ ἀετοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου, ἵνα πέτηται εἰς τὴν ἔρημον εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς, ὅπου τρέφεται ἐκεῖ καιρὸν καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ ὄφεως.

“So the woman was given two wings like a great eagle so that she could fly into the wilderness to the place for her. That’s where she was taken care of for a time, times, and half a time away from the presence of the serpent.” (Rev 12:14)

1. Two Wings

The picture of “two wings like a great eagle” seems to be from derived from other Bible passages where God uses the strength of an eagle to illustrate His faithfulness in caring for Israel (Walvoord, Revelation, 200). Examples of eagle wings are used in Exod 19:4; Deut 32:11; Isa 40:31.

2. Who Prepares a Place for Her?

The New English Translation (NET) says that “God” is the one who prepares a place for her. God is not directly mentioned in the text, but the NET translators believe that God is implied here.

3. A Place Prepared for Her

QUESTION; WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN REV 12:6 AND REV 12:14?

There are parallel phrases between Rev 12:6 and 12:14:

  • “The woman fled into the wildernessa place which had been prepared by God—in order that she could be nourished for 1,260 days.” (Rev 12:6, emphasis added)
  • “So the woman was given two wings like a great eagle so that she could fly into the wilderness to the place for her. That’s where she was taken care of for a time, times, and half a time away from the presence of the serpent.” (Rev 12:14, emphasis added)

Some people have thought that this “place” is a place in southern Jordan at the rock of “Petra” that will be an end-time city of refuge for the Jewish people. This seems to be an unlikely conclusion because for this location to be Petra it has to take “hints” from Matt 24:16; Rev 12:6, 14; Isa 33:13-16; Micah 2:12; Dan 11:41.

3. Time, Times, and Half a Time

This phrase, “καιρὸν καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ / time, times, and half a time” is a connection back to the seventy weeks of Daniel 11 and 13. The book of Daniel describes seventy weeks and the last week is the time of Tribulation which is split in a half. This “time, times, and half a time” is the same time period that is designated with forty-two months in Rev 11:2; 13:5 as well as the number of days in Rev 11:3 (1260 days). The phrase is stated in the exact same way in Dan 7:25; 12:7. According to Thomas these was three different ways of describing the same time period (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 139).

Without any exegetical or biblical support, Mulholland rejects the phrase, “time, times, and half a time” referring to three and a half years. Instead, he says that the phrase means an “undefined period during which the people of God and God himself experience tribulation at the hands of the rebellious order” (Mulholland, “Revelation” [2011], 514).

4. No “Half”

The word “half” is left out in manuscript “C”, but the NET supports the inclusion of it because there is no good reason for a scribe to leave it out. Instead, the NET says it was an unintentional error that was made because of other phrases in the verse around it.

III. THE CHASE PART 2 (12:15-16)

A. The Dragon’s Spit (v. 15)

καὶ ἔβαλεν ὁ ὄφις ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ ὀπίσω τῆς γυναικὸς ὕδωρ ὡς ποταμόν, ἵνα αὐτὴν ποταμοφόρητον ποιήσῃ

“The serpent threw water from his mouth after the woman like a river in order that she might be swept away by a river.” (Rev 12:15)

1. Flood

The interpretation of this “flood” has been difficult for many Bible students. A literal understanding is difficult because of the different contours of the holy land as well as the idea that the Jewish people likely will not all flee in one direction. A symbolic interpretation is more likely because the flood can represent the total effort of Satan to exterminate Israel (Walvoord, Revelation, 201).

Literal or symbolic? Robert Thomas who has written a two-volume commentary on the book of Revelation totaling more than 1,200 pages admits that it is impossible to determine whether this is a literal flood of water or portrayal of the pursuit of the woman with an army (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 140).

While I disagree with Robert Mulholland on many of his interpretations of the book of Revelation, I believe his view on this flood from the mouth of the dragon is right on. Mulholland points out that in Pss 18:4, “the ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me.” In this verse the word for destruction is the Hebrew word, “beliya’al” which was a later Hebrew name for Satan. Yet, “You [God] quieted the raging oceans with the pounding waves and silenced the shouting of the nations” (Pss 65:7), in spite of the raging floods God is mightier than the seas (Pss 93:3-4), because God rules over the floodwaters (Pss 29:10). In this way Mulholland sees the flood of water as a movement of evil of Satan.

Osborne describes this as a “flood” of lies and deceit (as well as persecution) which Satan uses (Osborne, Revelation, 483). This is based on the description of Satan using lies and deceit in the last days to deceive people (Matt 24:24), he has asked people to sift as wheat (Luke 22:31); and he will oversee counterfeit miracles (2 Thess 2:9-10), as well as the signs of the false prophet (Rev 13:13-15; 16:14).

“In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea.” (Isaiah 27:1, NLT)

“John saw Satan, the dragon, the serpent, bringing the full power of his realm (the sea) against God in an attempt to flush God out of his realm” (Mulholland, “Revelation” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 18, 514).

2. Biblical Evidence of Satan’s Constant Battle

This appears to have started with the miraculous birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah. Countless other efforts to blot out the nation of Isarel were made. One was why the entire book of Esther is included in the Bible because Haman tried to eliminate all the Jews.

B. The Earth’s Swallow (v. 16)

καὶ ἐβοήθησεν ἡ γῆ τῇ γυναικὶ καὶ ἤνοιξεν ἡ γῆ τὸ στόμα αὐτῆς καὶ κατέπιεν τὸν ποταμὸν ὃν ἔβαλεν ὁ δράκων ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ.

“But, the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth. It swallowed up the river which the dragon sent from his mouth.” (Rev 12:16)

This vision of water has previous pictures. First, in the Old Testament the earth sometimes opened its mouth to swallow the Egyptians (Exod 15:12) and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num 16:28-33). Second, the Old Testament uses a flood as a metaphor to describe overwhelming evil (Pss 18:4; 124:2-4; Isa 43:2).

IV. THE DRAGON’S RESOLVE (12:17-18)

A. The Dragon’s War (v. 17)

καὶ ὠργίσθη ὁ δράκων ἐπὶ τῇ γυναικὶ καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ποιῆσαι πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν λοιπῶν τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτῆς τῶν τηρούντων τὰς ἐντολὰς τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐχόντων τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ.

“The dragon became angry at the woman and went to make war against the rest of her descendants who were keeping the commandments of God and witness of Jesus.” (Rev 12:17)

1. Satan’s Anger

Satan is becoming angrier and angrier throughout this chapter. He was ready to devour the baby (v. 4), but the child was snatched away from him (v. 5). When Satan did battle against Michael Satan lost and was thrown out of heaven down to earth (vv. 7-9). After losing the battle against Michael, not catching the child, and being thrown down to earth he perused the woman (v. 13). Yet, the woman was protected and Satan could not get to her (v. 14). Satan tried to drown here with water, but the earth helped her (v. 15). When the dragon could not get the woman, he decided to declare war against the rest of the children of the woman (v. 7).

2. War Against Eve’s Seed

The Bible has always described a “war” between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman all the way back into Gen 3:15. Ever since the fall and God’s original curse provided in Gen 3, the Devil has been at war. For evidence of this war in the book of Revelation see Rev 1:9; 6:9; 14:12; 19:10; 20:4.

Exactly whom Satan wages war against here in Revelation 12 is up for debate. Here are a few different views.

  • The 144,000. The seed of the woman and might be the 144,000 Israelites who are sealed in Rev 7 and described again in Rev 14. People who hold this view usually are dispensationalists that believe in the pretribulational rapture view as well as a premillennial view of Christ’s reign on the earth [LINK]. Therefore, they see the 144,000 of Rev 7 and Rev 14 as Jewish converts after the church has already ascended into heaven. This view is held by Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 142; Walvoord, Revelation, 201.
  • Old Covenant and New Covenant People. Mulholland sees this as two components of God’s people those from: the Old Covenant formed at Mount Sinai and the New Covenant formed from every tribe, language, people, and nation. (See “Revelation” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 514.)
  • Christians. Some see the woman’s offspring as the church in all ages as well as throughout the three and a half years of tribulation. Metzger sees this war being waged against Christians who obey God and bear testimony to Jesus. Therefore, persecution of Christians started with Satan in Genesis and ends with Satan in Revelation. This view is held by Metzger, Breaking the Code, 75; Osborne, Revelation, 485.

3. Subjective versus Objective Genitive

There are numerous examples of the subjective genitive versus the objective genitive in the New Testament. Here, there are two options to translate the last phrase, τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ as “Jesus’s testimony” (subjective genitive by Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 142) or “testimony about Jesus” (objective followed by NET).

According to Thomas these are “the commandments which God gave” and “the testimony which Jesus bore.” (Revelation 8-22, 142).

B. The Dragon’s Stand (v. 18)

Καὶ ἐστάθη ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον τῆς θαλάσσης.

“Then he stood on the sand next to the sea.” (Rev 12:18)

1. Background for Sea

“The dragon ends up standing on the sand beside the sea. And the sea, as all ancient Jews knew, was the dark place out of which monsters might emerge” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 113).

The place next to the sea derives from Dan 7:2, 3, 7, 8, 19-27 as the source of the “little horn” whose counterpart is about to be described in Revelation 13.

2. Revelation 12:18 included in Revelation 13:1

Some translations place the last verse of Revelation 12 into the paragraph of Revelation 13 (NIV, NASB). However, translations that keep Revelation 12:18 with the chapter of Revelation 12 better reflect the Greek text (ESV).

This is because of a textual variant of “I stood” versus “He stood” in Rev 12:18. See Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 673.

“Unable to reach the woman, he prepares to call his wicked cohorts into action” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 143).

V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A. I am ready for Satan’s battle against me.

The twelve chapter of Revelation provides the clearest description of Satan’s persecution of Christians. He is constantly at war with us. God has outwitted him time and time again. Yet, Satan still persists to wage war against God’s holy people. We as Christians need to be ready for it. After going through several rounds of the “Incident Command System (ICS)” training while I worked at United Way I learned all kinds of stuff about disaster preparedness and what to do if an large disaster occurs. As a result I had my wife and I stock up on canned food and water in order to prepare for the event that might happen in the future. The nice part of my preparation for a natural disaster is that it may or may not happen. However, when it comes to Satan’s battle against us we know that it will be a constant battle that occurs regularly. We can take it to the bank that Satan is going to persecute us just as he does the woman in Revelation 12.

You can get a PDF version of this blog post, a handout for small group study, and access my translation notes by becoming a patron of my blog.

Notes:

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own based on the NA28 Greek New Testament

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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