Revelation 12:13-17 – The Persecution and Growth of the Church

(13)  And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

This verse brings us back to the beginning of verse six. Verses 7-12 were an interruption of what was taking place on the earth; it was a heavenly explanation of why the events of verse six were taking place. The interlude answers why the woman was fleeing in verse six. Her flight was due to the devil’s defeat by Christ which enraged Satan, who knows that his time is short, so he turns to pursue the woman, attempting to destroy the faithful.

 

(14)  But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

                   The pursuit of the woman causes her to flee. What is the reality of this vision? It is a picture of the first century Jewish believers in Jerusalem. After the victory of Christ, the church began in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In those early days, the church grew by the thousands in Jerusalem, but the book of Acts reveals Satan’s pursuit of the faithful (the woman), with the arrest of Peter and John in Acts 4, followed by the seizing of Stephen and his murder (Acts 7). This sparked a “great persecution against the church at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). Luke specifically records of the church, that “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1). This led to a further pursuit, led by Saul: “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). But the scattering of the church by the pursuit of Satan was actually a very good thing; it allowed the gospel to be spread in all other areas and the church grew more and more. “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4). “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31). The scattering started in the Jewish communities only (Acts 11:19), but the word soon spread to the gentiles too (Acts 10; 11:19-23).

                   With this scope from Luke’s account in Acts of the spread of the church, we can see the realities of this vision. We can see Satan pursuing the faithful believers (the woman); we can also see the believers fleeing and scattering out into the Jewish and gentile world (the wilderness). Satan must have expected the believers to dissolve after he scattered them, and their flight must have looked like their defeat, but it turned out to be their deliverance, where they received nourishment in the great wilderness of the world where they were scattered, and the church grew bigger and stronger.

                   A few more interpretive thoughts about this verse. The “two wings of the great eagle” relate to the first deliverance from persecution and oppression in the land of Egypt. So, the Jerusalem of the first century is a figure of old Egypt (see also 11:8). God used the illustration of the eagle when he spoke of the flight of Israel from Egypt and their protection in the wilderness (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11-12). The believers enter the “wilderness” of the Jew/Gentile world and finds nourishment for a time, and times, and half a time.” This symbolic numbering is a figure of hard times (see comments on 11:2). There is no suggestion here that the nourishment in the wilderness would be filled with rest and peace, the times would be hard, but they would be “nourished,” i.e. strengthened and enlarged.

(15)  The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.

                   After the flight of the saints from Jerusalem, Satan continued the persecution (Acts 9:1), like a flood to drown the woman (the believers).

(16)  But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.

                   The scattering of the saints, and therefore, absorbing them into all the world, caused the flood of persecution to be too little to drown the church. This picture of the earth opening its mouth, carries the same language as the account of the rebellion of Korah, which was literally swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:32). So here, the rebellious who are engaged in this persecution of the truth, are swallowed up by the world, for the geographical range of the church was too great for Satan’s persecution operated by the Jews. Satan’s time is short, and he must find another solution.

(17)  Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

                   Satan is seeing more defeat, but he hasn’t given up. He turns his attention to “make war on the rest of her offspring.” The woman, being the faithful people of God, will always give birth to more and more offspring, who will also become a part of this body of believers who are figuratively the glorious woman. As much offspring has been born throughout the world since the first persecution of the church (recorded in the early pages of Acts), Satan must change his approach to “make war.”

                   The “offspring” is identified for us as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Nothing has changed; God’s people are those who testify of Jesus and keep the commandments of God. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. Too many are fading away from the cry to keep the commandments; they attempt to make Christianity a more feelings-based religion. And those who know to keep the commandments are persecuted and called “legalists.” But Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). And the Holy Spirit repeated this truth, “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3), saying further, “whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar” (1 John 2:4). I am not concerned with what the liars say, or their true father, the devil; I believe in the word of God, and I know the legal demands of the law, that I must keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus in order to experience the grace of Christ’s sacrifice.

“And he stood on the sand of the sea.” Now that the church is a worldwide problem for Satan, the rebellious Jews are not enough to drown the church; he needs to raise up a worldwide power to solve his problem. His standing on the sand of the sea is a picture of him looking away from the Jews (in the land of Judea) and looking out across in the Mediterranean Sea to the land of the Romans. In the next chapter he will call on the help of the Romans to put away the people of God for good.

This chapter brought the servants of God up to speed on the situation, and now there will be a discussion of the present and near future for those first century brethren. Now that we are at the end of this chapter, I hope it has become evident that the purpose of this chapter was to show that Satan has already been defeated. Therefore, this chapter dealt with matters of the past, to show that Satan’s work has been destroyed. In the difficult days that “must soon take place” (1:1), the brethren may fear that the devil is winning. The book of Revelation tells them to endure; and reminds them that the devil has already lost, and therefore, can’t win. This chapter established the defeat of Satan by the work of Christ in redemption, the proceeding chapters will prophecy of the continued defeat of the devil.

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