The International Space Station orbits the earth about 200 miles away in space. Always traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, it takes ISS one-and-a-half hours to travel one full orbit around Earth. There are always astronauts living in ISS, performing experiments and doing things to increase human knowledge about space. NASA and other national space agencies are involved with ISS, which they almost scrapped some time back. Nowadays, NASA contracts with various American, commercial enterprises rather than do all of its space activity itself, as it used to do. One of these enterprises is SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk of Tesla electric vehicle fame. SpaceX has a lucrative contract with NASA to transport cargo and astronauts back and forth between Earth and ISS.
Yesterday, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft flew its Crew-1 of four men–three American astronauts and one of Japan’s astronauts–from ISS to Earth. After the spacecraft separated from ISS, traveling at 17,500 miles per hour in ISS’s usual orbit around the Earth, Dragon soon fired its engines to slow down the spacecraft. That automatically caused Dragon to descend into Earth’s atmosphere due Earth’s gravitational pull on the spacecraft. As planned, SpaceX Dragon then splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico early this morning at 2:57 ET. It was one more of its very successful trips between ISS and Earth. Such space flights are getting so frequent it seems they are hardly newsworthy anymore.
SpaceX Dragon being so named reminds me of an important prophecy in the Bible’s most apocalyptic and last book–the book of Revelation in the New Testament. It is a vision recorded in Revelation 12 that the book’s author, John (Rev 1.4), had. It is full of revelation about the great conflict that occurs not only in the universe but also in heaven between God and Satan, good and evil, and God’s angels and Satan’s angels. But I believe that some of it, especially about the dragon, has not been well understood.
John the Revelator begins this prophecy by stating, “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12.1 NRSV). All of this, of course, is symbolism that tells what is true about life, the universe, and heaven. The woman represents the people of God in general or perhaps Israel in particular. If Israel, the twelve stars likely refer to the twelve sons/tribes of Israel.
Then we read further about the woman, “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12.2-5).
Enter the dragon, as Bruce Lee might say. We are informed later, in Revelation 12.9, “The great dragon” is “that ancient serpent.” This obviously refers to the serpent depicted in the Garden of Eden who deceived Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit that caused the so-called “fall of man” (cf. Genesis 3). John says further that this great dragon, this ancient serpent “is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12.9). Thus, just as the dragon, this serpent who is Satan, deceived Adam and Even, he later deceived the whole world and continues to do so today.
The male child born to the woman refers to Jesus of Nazareth. The dragon’s tail sweeping a third of the stars of heaven and throwing them to Earth is very mysterious. The stars may refer to some of Satan’s angels since stars in apocalyptic literature often have a connection to angels. Plus, these stars seem to involve the dragon’s effort to devour the woman’s male child. This surely refers to King Herod’s scheme to kill the baby Jesus that we read about in Matthew 2 in the New Testament.
The Old Testament reveals that Israel’s promised Messiah will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2.8-9; 110.5; Isaiah 11.4; 30). This is confirmed three times in the New Testament about Messiah Jesus, all in Revelation (Rev 2.27; 12. 5; 19.15).
But just as the dragon was about to devour the child born to the woman, “her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne” (Rev 12.5). This refers to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven forty days later (Acts 1.9-11). It also comports with the most quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament: “The LORD says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool'” (Psalm 110.1). This happened when Jesus ascended to heaven and sat down on God’s throne at God’s right hand.
Then John tells us “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God” to be nourished there for 1,260 days (Rev 12.6). This seems skip a large portion of time by referring to the people of God or a Jewish remnant being divinely protected during the very end of the age, when Satan will release his fury and forces upon God’s people as never before.
For we read next of that time, “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Rev 12.7-8). I believe this text has been widely misunderstood by Christians throughout church history. It generally has been taken to mean Jesus defeating Satan at the cross and with his resurrection from the dead.
On the contrary, this interpretation ignores the context of the passage. I said above, “For we read next of THAT TIME.” It is the time of the end of the age. It is the great tribulation that Jesus tells about in his Olivet Discourse that God’s people must endure at that time (e.g., Matthew 24.20). It is the 42 months or 1,260 days that are about to expire after this war in heaven. Michael is the great archangel who commands God’s “hosts” (e.g., Daniel 10.21; 12.1). God is called often in the Old Testament “the LORD of hosts.” The “hosts” refer to God’s angelic armies (cf. Matt. 16.27; Rev 19.11-14).
Thus, a war will break out in heaven during the so-called “end time” on Earth. It will be a war between God’s army of angels, that is, his heavenly host, and Satan’s angels. Yes, Satan has angels and Satan has a kingdom of angels, and this kingdom of Satan seems to be located somewhere in heaven. There may be levels of heaven in which God’s angelic kingdom is located in the highest level. God is often described in the Bible as “the Most High” or “the Most High God.” Even demons mentioned in the Bible refer to God as “the Most High.” Apocalyptic lore often surmises different levels of heaven.
Then John relates, “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Rev 12.9). SpaceX Dragon splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico this morning reminds me of this text. I believe this red dragon, Satan, will be thrown down to earth about three-and-a-half years before the end of the age. John indicates this when he relates a great rejoicing of God’s angels in heaven about Satan being removed and thrown down, saying, “he knows that his time is short” (v. 12).
John ends his revelation of this great portent in heaven by saying, “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12.17). This refers to the great tribulation. But it will end when Jesus returns from heaven to defeat his enemies on earth, the dragon will be imprisoned and later cast into a lake of fire (Rev 20), and Jesus will establish his worldwide kingdom of peace forever more. Then there will no longer be a dragon to splash down on Earth to disrupt God’s creation.