(3) And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.
John now sees “another” sign. It is not a “great sign” like he saw in the glorious woman, but a sign nonetheless. It was a dragon; great in size, red (like a bloody murderer) in color. This dragon is undoubtedly the devil, as John interprets for us in 12:9, “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan.”
By the term dragon, the picture we could form in our heads is that of a monstrous serpent with seven heads. Check the Greek lexicons, you should see drakōn defined as a kind of great serpent. John even points this out in 12:9 and reminds us that this dragon/serpent is “ancient;” referring to the serpent in the garden of Eden who deceived Eve. Great serpents were called dragons in the bible (now they are called dinosaurs): “In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” (Isaiah 27:1; see Job 41 for a full description of Leviathan). So, the devil is signified as a great and terrible serpent.
“With seven heads and ten horns.” The seven heads and ten horns will also be the description of the Roman beast (13:1, 17:7), illustrating the fact that the dragon and the Roman beast are connected to each other in purpose and spirit. In fact, later we will hear of the Roman beast that “the dragon gave his power, and his throne, and great authority.” (13:2); so, it is natural that they would like alike.
“Seven diadems.” These are crowns of rule. The devil is shown to be a serious ruler (for that time being), as the bible indicates elsewhere (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 13:2).
(4) His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.
One-third, a common fraction in the figures of the book, it is a sad number but does not represent the majority.
“The stars of heaven.” So far in the book, stars have been a figure of angels (see comments on 1:20, 8:2 and 9:1). I see no reason for the book to change gears here, these stars must be angels which are cast down by the sway of the great serpent. John seems to interpret it this way as well, for in verse nine, he says of the devil, “and his angels were thrown down with him.” It is not like this is a wild concept that stands apart from the biblical record; to the contrary, this is the natural interpretation of these fallen stars by the harmony of the scriptures (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).
“And cast them to the earth.” The earth (ge), may be in reference to the land of the Jews, as the word is often applied in the book (depending on context). The idea that the fallen angels are brought up amid the context of the birth of Jesus is interesting; but I cannot offer any clear idea as to why. I do know that possession by evil spirits was rampant (at least in the land of Judea) during the life of Jesus. Jesus cast out many evil spirits, and so did his disciples: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.’” This could be an explanation to the text; however, are the disobedient angels the demons of the first century? I cannot say.
“That when she bore her child he might devour it.” The serpent stood before the woman, awaiting the delivery of the child. His plan was to devour the child as soon as he was born. I cannot help but see the parallel here to the actions of King Herod, slaying “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16). It is evident that this was not just the scheme of Herod, but the cause of Satan.