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Slaying The Dragon

November 3, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Topic: Biblical Worldview Passage: Revelation 12:1–17


An Exposition of Revelation 12:1-17

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   November 3, 2019

Series: International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Here is the Word of God as it is written in Revelation 12:1-17 –

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 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. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And 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. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

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. 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. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 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. 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. (Revelation 12:1-17)


A woman decked out in celestial lights, a seven-headed dragon, stars falling from heaven, a great eagle, a Lamb slaughtered, and much more – welcome to the highly symbolic world of Revelation 12! For you fantasy or science fiction readers, you may be very much at home here. Through a variety of symbols, Saint John the Seer presents us with an overview of world history from the tragedy of Genesis 3 all the way through to the triumph of God’s kingdom. If you want to understand what is really going on in the world and why Jesus’ church is so often persecuted, and if you want to know how to slay the dragon, then immerse yourself in Revelation 12.

The Book of Revelation was written to churches that were facing a variety of internal and external challenges. Internally they had to deal with false teachers, moral compromise, and spiritual drift. Externally they had to deal with slander and persecution. This book was written to them and also to us – so that we would be renewed and strengthened in our walk with the Lord, and so that we would be faithful in the face of the world’s opposition. “Be faithful unto death,” our Lord says, “and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)   

In the 20th century Soviet Union, the Communists ruled with an iron fist. Dimitri lived in a village without a church, and decided to start teaching the Bible to his children. The family enjoyed its weekly Bible study, and eventually they began singing hymns and praying. In due course the villagers caught wind of this weekly service and wanted to participate. People started coming. When there were twenty-five worshipers gathered at his house, the authorities warned Dimitri to shut down this “illegal church” or there would be consequences. When the number of worshipers grew to fifty, Dimitri lost his factory job, “[his] wife lost her teaching job,” and their children “were expelled from school.” Dimitri pressed on: when the number of worshipers at his house grew to seventy-five, the authorities came and an officer slapped Dimitri back and forth, and Dimitri was told that this was his final warning. Before the officer left, however, an old lady stepped forward, pointed to the officer who had slapped Dimitri, and told the officer: “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will NOT survive!” Two days later a heart attack claimed that officer’s life, and godly fear spread through the village. The number of worshipers at Dimitri’s house grew to one-hundred-fifty! Then the authorities came and put Dimitri in prison for seventeen years.[1]

The Communist Party’s war on Dimitri was a tangible expression of the dragon’s fury and war against “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (v. 17) For this is just how The Book of Revelation depicts the conflict: the dragon invests his power in the political powers of the present world system, and these political powers do the dragon’s will and “make war” (v. 17) against God’s faithful people. This is the world that we live in. The Holy Spirit has inspired biblical passages like Revelation 12 in order to help us understand this world and how it is situated in a cosmic battle in which the dragon hates the woman and her offspring. Our passage presents us with three overlapping ‘short films’ that give us three ‘takes’ on the cosmic battle between God’s people and the devil.


In the first film (v. 1-6), we first meet the protagonist: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (v. 1) Who is this woman who was pregnant (v. 2), gave birth (v. 5), “fled into the wilderness” (v. 6), and has other “offspring” (v. 17)? While we rightly think of Eve, of whom it was said in Genesis 3 that her offspring would crush the serpent’s head – and while we rightly think of Mary, who gave birth to our Lord – the truth of the matter is that the woman of Revelation 12 is involved in too much activity to define her as Eve or as Mary. She is a symbolic woman who represents God’s people, true Israel, the holy church. We remember Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37, in which “the sun [representing Jacob], the moon [representing Rachel], and eleven stars [representing his brothers] were bowing down to [him].” (Genesis 37:9) Here in Revelation 12 the woman is clothed, as it were, with father Jacob, and is standing on mother Rachel, and the twelve tribes of Israel are on her head as a crown. The crown indicates that this woman has been appointed to reign – and throughout The Book of Revelation we learn that God’s redeemed people have been made into a priestly kingdom that will reign with Christ forever (Revelation 1:5-6, 2:26-27, 3:21, 5:9-10, 20:6, 22:5). The woman’s appearance also points us to the promise that through God’s covenant people a child would be born, a son would be given, and the government would be placed upon his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). Full of promise and expectation, “[she] was pregnant” (v. 2) and ready to give birth. The fulfillment of this promise would only come through suffering, “crying out,” and experiencing “the agony of giving birth” (v. 2).

Next we meet the antagonist: “a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” (v. 3) The ten horns, and the seven diadems (or crowns) on his seven heads, point to power and authority. The dragon’s desire is to rule the world. This dragon who “stood on the sand of the sea” (v. 17) at the end of our chapter, invests his power in the beast that rises out of the sea at the beginning of Chapter 13. The beast, representing earthly political powers, also has “ten horns and seven heads” (Revelation 13:1). The dragon invests his dark power into the power systems of our present world. Since the dragon’s goal is to rule the nations, he stands opposed to anyone else who would claim the right to rule.

Two terrifying images follow in verse 4. First, there is the image of “a great red dragon” soaring through the sky and swinging his huge tail and striking “a third of the stars” so that they fall to the earth. There is a passage in Daniel about a pagan king throwing down some of the stars to the ground, and the meaning there is that this pagan king persecuted Israel (see Daniel 8:9-12). Given this background and the connection to the woman wearing “a crown of twelve stars” in Revelation 12:1, it is likely that this image shows the dragon wreaking havoc on God’s people.   

The second terrifying image is of the “great red dragon” standing before the pregnant woman, ready to devour the newborn child. Here is the power behind the raging Herod, who sent agents of death into Bethlehem in order to murder the holy child. But he did not succeed. He could not succeed, because this baby boy is the promised Messiah who will rule the world: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” (v. 5) Here is a reference to Psalm 2, in which we are told that the Messiah will inherit the nations and will “break them with a rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9). The woman’s child is the true king and is therefore the ultimate threat to the dragon who craves earthly power. But the dragon is powerless before the child: “but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” Here the thirty-three years of Jesus’ time on earth is condensed into two definitive frames: His birth (Matthew 1, Luke 2) and His ascension to glory (Luke 24, Acts 1).

But whereas the child is safe and indeed triumphant at the right hand of God, His mother – that is, His people – are vulnerable on earth. So the plot thickens: “and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.” (v. 6)


The second film begins in verse 7: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back.” Have you ever wondered what inter-angelic warfare might look like? How do spirit beings fight? We are not told how they fight, only that they fight.

This inter-angelic war in heaven is not independent from the spiritual war on earth, but is related closely to it. In verses 1-6, there is great conflict on earth as the dragon opposes the woman and her male child.  In verses 13-17, there is continued conflict on earth as the dragon opposes the woman and her other offspring. Here in verses 7-9 we learn that this conflict on earth is reflected in parallel conflict in heaven. “Michael and his angels” represent God’s people, whereas “the dragon and his angels” represents the world system that is opposed to God, God’s Messiah, and God’s people. Just as the church is involved in a spiritual war on earth, so our friends the holy angels are involved in a spiritual war in heaven – and it is the same war, viewed from two different perspectives. If you can wrap your mind around it, so much the better. But if you can’t wrap your mind around it, you’re not alone. But trust God!

The war in heaven doesn’t end well for the dragon and his minions. Verse 8: “but he [the dragon] was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Verse 9: “And the great dragon was thrown down… – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” And, we may be sure, great was the disturbance on earth!

Verse 9 also gives us a detailed description of “the great dragon.” “[The] great dragon… is that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” “[Ancient] serpent” takes us back to the tempter of Genesis 3. Devil means slanderer or accuser, which summarizes his activity toward God’s people. Satan means adversary. His sway over the world is a function of lies: he is “the deceiver of the whole world.” This great, adversarial, accusatory, and lying dragon is a formidable foe. The only way to escape his beastly power is to be connected to the power of truth.

We will return to look at verses 10-12, but now let’s proceed to the third film.


In the third film (v. 13-17), we return to the dragon’s persecution of the woman on earth. The dragon “pursued the woman” (v. 13) and eventually “became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (v.17). Who is the woman’s other offspring? The woman’s other offspring are faithful followers of Jesus: “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (v. 17) If we keep God’s commandments and remain faithful to the truth of Jesus’ gospel, then we are acknowledging the authority of God and the authority of His Messiah, and we are not acknowledging the authority of the dragon, we are not acknowledging the authority of the beastly political power that the dragon has inspired, and we are not acknowledging the authority of the world system. Not surprisingly, our allegiance to God and our resistance to the dragon’s pseudo-authority gets us into trouble with the dragon.

Dr. David Mackereth has been an honorable medical doctor in Britain for three decades. Some time ago he applied for a new position in a government-run medical center, and he got into trouble with the progressive beast. As part of the interview process, Dr. Mackereth was asked if he would be willing to identify a transgender patient by whichever pronouns the transgender patient preferred. Dr. Mackereth, giving voice to the proper biblical perspective, said that he could not do that. On both biblical and scientific grounds, Dr. Mackereth would not lie. My hats off to this man for his unwillingness to participate in a web of lies that has been spun by “the deceiver of the whole world” (v. 9). Not surprisingly, of course, the Department of Work and Pensions had a different perspective, and told Dr. Mackereth that they would not be needing him to fill the position. Dr. Mackereth took the matter to the employment tribunal, but the judges, held captive by the dragon, recently issued this judgment: “belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism, and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity.” How terribly ironic! Genesis 1:27 is, in fact, the ground of human dignity. But the dragon has deceived the whole world into believing that Genesis 1:27 is “incompatible with human dignity.”[2]

Then just two days ago I read an article by Erwin Lutzer entitled “Coming Soon To A Church Near You.” What happened is that three Sundays ago the pastor of a 4,000 member church in Missouri preached from Genesis 1:27, maintained that God created two genders and two genders only, and gently questioned the gender lunacy of our times. This is a loving church that has been visibly engaged in good deeds in their community. Even so, the dragon-like backlash was huge. Lutzer writes: “The church had been a long-time sponsor of a local art gallery and a documentary film festival. Within days, an online petition emerged, and was quickly signed by 1,000 citizens urging the art community and film festival to cut their ties to the church. They obediently did so.”[3]  

Earlier we saw how Dimitri faced economic, social, and physical suffering because he stayed faithful to Jesus. Here we see Dr. Mackereth facing employment-related opposition because he is staying faithful to Jesus. And now a church in Missouri is slandered and sanctioned by a deceived world. Resisting the dragon gets us into trouble with the dragon. But, praise be to God, resisting the dragon gets us help from God.

In verse 13, the dragon is pursuing the woman. “But,” verse 14, “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.” According to verse 6, this place in the wilderness is “prepared by God.” What is going on here? Well, I take the great eagle, the wilderness, and the time period symbolically. If you take one or more of these details literally, I have no interest in being divisive about it. There are a number of different views on The Book of Revelation, and you might interpret certain symbols differently than I do. But if you love Jesus, if you are not ashamed of His words, and if you are willing to live and die for him, then you are my brother or sister, and you can have your view on Revelation and I can have mine, and we can work together with joy for the sake of the gospel.

In my view, “the two wings of the great eagle” represent God’s gracious deliverance, as when he “bore [Israel] on eagles’ wings” (Exodus 19:4) and brought them out of Egypt. “[The] wilderness” represents a God-arranged place of provision and care amid a dangerous world. And “a time, and times, and half a time” (3 ½ times or 3 ½ years), which correlates to the “1,260 days” of verse 6, represents the present age between Christ’s ascension and return. During this time, the church proclaims the gospel throughout the world, and the dragon beats hard against her. And here’s the point: against all odds from a fleshly point of view, God graciously sustains His people as they obey His commands. God strengthens His faithful witnesses as they “hold to the testimony of Jesus” (v. 17) in a hostile world. God upholds His people under oppressive regimes and under progressive regimes.

Sometimes, help comes from unexpected places. In verses 15-16, the dragon-serpent spews forth a river of water to sweep away the woman, “[but] the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river” (v. 16). When the devil’s rage backs us into a corner of destruction, God is able to and does ordain narrow escapes. Some do suffer martyrdom, of course, but the church as a whole keeps on witnessing and keeps on growing, until the end of the age.


Finally, we come to the climactic exclamation in verses 10-12: a word of celebration, interpretation, and joy. The throwing down of the dragon and his demon hosts to the earth indicates the victory of God! And it prompts “a loud voice in heaven” (v. 10) to declare the good news:

“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (v. 10)    

The devil is “the accuser” who continually issues accusation and slander about Christians in the presence of God. In fact, the devil’s accusatory work is an obstacle to the arrival of God’s kingdom. The accuser must be thrown down, and he has been thrown down – but how? The answer is closely related to “the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11). Verse 11 says that the “brothers” – that is, believers in Christ – “have conquered him [the dragon].” How? “[By] the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11). The woman’s male child – the child-king we met in verses 4-5 – He is the source of the victory. Revelation 5 tells us that the slain Lamb “ransomed people for God” “by [His] blood” (Revelation 5:9). Revelation 1 tells us that Jesus has “freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). Hebrews 2 tells us that through His own death, Jesus destroyed the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

Here’s the situation: the force of the devil’s accusations depends entirely on our sin, our guilt, and the corresponding death sentence that hangs over us. Those who continue to live outside of Christ have no answer to sin, guilt, and death – and unless you turn to the Lord, you will perish under God’s righteous judgment. But if you are in Christ, then you participate in the victory of the Lamb: He has atoned for your sins, taken away your guilt, and delivered you from the realm of spiritual death. You are forgiven, loved, purified, and secure in Him. As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you don’t just benefit from the Lamb’s victory, you actually participate in the overthrow of satanic rule. Do you see what verse 11 says?

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death.” (v. 11)

The faithful church conquers the devil by three powerful tactics. First, we conquer the devil “by the blood of the Lamb.” We do not trust in ourselves that we are righteous, but we trust the slaughtered Lamb who, with His blood, purchased us for God and purified us from the guilt and shame of sin.

Second, we conquer the serpent “by the word of [our] testimony.” In The Book of Revelation “testimony” does not refer to the sharing of your personal testimony. It is a great thing to share your personal testimony (Paul does so in The Book of Acts). But here “the word of their testimony” or the word of their witness refers to their bearing witness to the truth of the gospel, to their proclamation of the atoning death, victorious resurrection, and ascension to glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Your story doesn’t conquer the devil, but the gospel story conquers the devil, converts the lost, and builds up the church.

Third, we conquer the dragon by “[loving] not [our] lives unto death.” Christians face great opposition, persecution, and retribution for their commitment to Jesus. If we compromised when the enemy strikes, then we would thereby prove to be false disciples: we would be saying that we love our own life in this world more than we love Christ, that we love our own story in this world more than we love the gospel story, that we love the preservation of our own blood more than we love the salvation that comes from His blood. But when we stand firm under trial, when we are willing to seal our faith with our blood, then we show ourselves to be true disciples. We will keep God’s commands, not the world’s demands. We will hold onto and proclaim the gospel of the glory of Christ, and not anchor our lives in the grand delusions of our present world. We will boast in the triumph of the cross, and we will triumph in His name and in His power.

Fellow Christians, if we have “washed [our] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14), if we live in and for the gospel, and if we aren’t afraid to die for Jesus’ sake, then Satan has no power over us. In fact, we have power over him! Our faithful endurance on earth gets somehow linked up with the warfare of Michael’s army in heaven, and together in the power of the Lamb we slay the dragon. 

Like Dimitri and Dr. Mackereth in their time and place, so it is our privilege – in 2019 in the Oxford Hills – to stay faithful to Jesus. In Jesus, we already dwell in the heavens, the victory has already been won, and the woe upon earth will never be a woe upon us.

“Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (v. 12)

The devil’s time is short indeed. But those who follow the Lamb “will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

Let us be faithful.

Amen and amen.



[1] I originally recounted this story from the audio version of Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected, read by Joe Geoffrey (a ChristianAudio resource), but in this revised manuscript did some synthesizing with the written version. For the written account, see Nik Ripken (with Gregg Lewis), The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013: p. 151-154.   

[2] See Madeleine Kearns, “The Chilling Case of Dr. Mackereth.” Published online by National Review, October 8, 2019. Available online:

[3] See Erwin W. Lutzer, “Coming Soon To A Church Near You.” Published online by Moody Church Media, October 31, 2019. Available online:


Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

G. K. Beale (with David H. Campbell), Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.

Onesimus Ngundu, “Revelation.” In Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Thomas R. Schreiner, “Revelation.” In ESV Expository Commentary Vol. XII Hebrews–Revelation, eds. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.