Who is this Woman, and who is this Child? And who is the Dragon who wars against them both?
As always, we should start with what’s certain, and that’s the Child, or the Son, and the Dragon. The Child is a male Child, and therefore a Son, who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2). This Son is obviously Jesus Christ: it can be no one else. So far, so good. Already we’ve established that John’s vision has to do with Christ, including His birth, which makes this vision a first-century one in the first place.
The Dragon who seeks to kill the Son, is the serpent (Genesis 3), called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world and accuses the brethren. So we see that the most important meaning is the spiritual warfare between Jesus Christ and Satan, and if we stay focused on this, we’ll be able to draw some spiritual fruit for the day.
What about the Woman? Obviously, she is the Mother of the Son, and so Mary would be a logical candidate. But this battle seems to be much larger than against Mary only herself. It would seem that the twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The Woman seems to be Israel, and also the Church at the same time. Those twelve stars could also be the twelve apostles.
As we’ve seen before, John’s revelations are largely concerned with the cataclysmic transition between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. There is discontinuity between the covenants, but there is also continuity. Israel and the Church are often portrayed as being a woman. In the Old Testament, ultimately the Woman Israel proved an adulterous wife. But the Woman was promised, in the same chapter in which the serpent first appears (Genesis 3), that she would crush the head of the serpent, even as he bit her heel.
The idea of the godly Seed, in combat with the seed of Satan, occurs all throughout the Bible and is continued here. Throughout the ages, Satan has attempted to eradicate or abort the Seed of Eve that would one day destroy Him. Throughout the centuries, he’s used many henchman and arch-villains to do his dirty work. And so Cain murdered Abel, only to have Seth be born and preserve the godly line. Jacob and Esau contend, and the godly one prevails over the profane one. Pharaoh tries to kill the males of Israel, only to be outwitted by the Hebrew midwives. This attempt is replicated by Herod, who, of course, misses his mark: the Messiah Himself.
There is, therefore, a titanic battle in heaven that takes place. The question remains: When will this battle take place? The New Testament is clear: Christ has already won the victory: He has already triumphed over the world, the flesh, the devil, sin, and death. Is there any of us who doesn’t believe this? And yet we often live as if what Christ did was only make a down payment on a future victory. That’s one of the prices for reading Revelation in an exclusively futuristic way.
The war in heaven was fought when Christ came to earth, died, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. From that exalted position, He rules the heavens and the earth. Satan has already been cast out of heaven: does any of us think he’s still there? Do we believe that the demons dwell in heaven?
Jesus Himself has told us that He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. When He said this, He wasn’t making a prediction but was responding to something that had just happened. What had just happened? Jesus sent out the 70, who returned with joy because even the demons were subject to the name of Christ. It was the person and work of Christ that cast down Satan from heaven, and Christ has already done this.
Therefore, Christians can sing, with the heavenly host, that they have overcome Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (verse 11). By the blood of Jesus, by the name of Christ, and by the word of the testimony of the martyrs (which means witness), Satan is cast down from heaven and defeated.
Just as we should not think of the book of Revelation and chapter 11 as primarily futuristic, we also must not let it stay bottled up in the past. If Jesus Christ is in heaven, having been exalted to the right hand of the Father (and He is), and if Jesus Christ is now ruling heaven and earth as King of kings (and He is), and if He has defeated Satan (and He has), then this has the most amazing consequences for our lives today. This means that we have been privileged to be a part of God’s Holy War on Satan and His enemies. This means that every day we are part of the largest, most important war in the world: the War for the World.
It’s true that Christ has won the victory, but in keeping with the hermeneutic we’ve been employing in the book of Revelation, that Christ’s work of salvation is effected initially, progressively, and finally, we should not be surprised that Christ is both in heaven reigning and also on earth, fighting through His Body. He has recruited each of you to be faithful witnesses to Him, and thereby destroy Satan, his myrmidons, and his works.
This means that each day is surfeited with opportunities to take up the banner of Christ and make war on His enemies in His name. You don’t have to look very far to find these enemies: we don’t have to journey to a strange and foreign land, except for that most strange and foreign land of self. There is glory waiting for you each and every day that you live, because you are always in the middle of a spiritual battle. You may not notice it, you may not remember it: but that’s part of the deception of the Enemy.
Did you notice verse 17? “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” You and I are “the rest of her offspring” who Satan is coming after. Don’t think that you’re immune just because you live in America or because you’re a Christian.
Open your eyes. There’s increasing evidence that many American Christians, especially the younger generation, has accepted the terms of the world and see little or nothing wrong with abortion (even partial-birth abortion, which is a fancy way of saying infanticide) or homosexuality. These aren’t “gray areas” in Scripture: they’re absolutely clear, and yet many have had their minds clouded or darkened by Satan.
I can’t exactly rejoice in seeing America become increasingly anti-Christian, but God, in His providence, delights to work good from evil. I think that at some point in the next 20 years being a Christian in America will carry a much higher price tag and that the spiritual nature of our warfare will be more evident than it has been for centuries.
And here’s where the heavenly and eternal perspective of Revelation helps us. We know the end of history, we know the good and loving God who reigns in heaven above, and we know there is a very real spiritual battle that we’ve been called to fight. The devil is indeed in the details if we allow any of those details to distract us from the big things that we know with certainty.
Therefore, let us arise today in the name of Christ. Let us make war on the enemies of God. Let us rejoice for the overcoming of Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of the saints!
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- How have you experienced spiritual warfare in your life? In what way might there be a spiritual battle in your life that you have been ignoring?
- Take time today, in the midst of your troubles, to remember that Christ has won the victory over Satan.
Resolution: I resolve to remember that there is a spiritual war going on and to take part in it today in the way that God desires me to. Some good ways of fighting this battle are by battling sin, through good works, and through prayer.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson