The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 87

That Old Serpent

Revelation 12:3.     And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

     Here is yet another sign in heaven.  This is another symbolic enactment which John must understand if he would comprehend fully the great cosmic drama which had been taking place in heaven and earth since the very foundation of the world.  In the protevangelic promise of Genesis 3:15 were two principal characters – the woman and the serpent.  Likewise the two great miraculous signs (the words “miracle” and “sign” are both semeieon in Greek, as is “wonder” in these verses) which John now observed in the heavens centered on, first the woman, then the serpent.

     The serpent is identical with the great red dragon, of course (see verse 9), and there is no question that he represents Satan.  The fabled dragon of antiquity appears in the New Testament only in the Book of Revelation, but is mentioned often in the Old Testament (Psalm 91:13; Isaiah 34:13) and was evidently considered a real animal.  There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence today that the great reptiles known as dinosaurs survived into fairly modern times (some marine dinosaurs may even survive today in the inaccessible depths of the oceans and deep lakes of the world), and it is likely that these provided the prototype animal to which to relate the great symbol of Satan seen by John in the sky.

     This dragon was fiery red in color, perhaps anticipating the flames of his ultimate destination.  However, this dragon, or dinosaur, was no ordinary dragon.  Like the Gorgon of Greek mythology, it was a hydra-headed serpent, and thus all the more fearsome.  Its seven heads all wore crowns, indicating kingly power.  These are later interpreted (Revelation 17:10) as seven kingdoms of the past.  The ten horns are interpreted (Revelation 17:12) as ten kings of the end times.  A somewhat similar vision was seen by Daniel, except that the beast of his vision had only one head with ten horns (Daniel 7:7, 20, 24).

     For the identification of these kings and kingdoms, see the exposition of chapter 17.  For the present, it is enough to say that they do represent the kingdoms of this world and that such kingdoms by and large are indeed under the domain of Satan.  Since the number seven throughout Revelation is used to symbolize completeness, it would seem that this vision confirms that all Gentile kingdoms of past and present have been largely under the control of Satan.  He is the one “which deceiveth the whole world” (verse 9).

     This, of course, was the very claim of Satan when he tempted Christ.  “And the devil taking him up onto an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil, said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Luke 4:5, 6).

     It is sobering to realize that all governments of men are ultimately controlled by the devil, even though God Himself ordained the powers that be (Romans 13:1) and commands Christians to submit to their ordinances (1 Peter 2:13).  There have been many godly men in positions of political power and these have had a restraining influence.  Furthermore, to the extent that a government is founded upon law rather than men, and to the extent that these laws are based on the laws of God as revealed in Scripture, to such an extent will the government be in conformity with God’s purposes rather than Satan’s.  There have been periods in the history of Israel, as well as in the history of England, the United States, and other nominally Christian nations, when this seems to have been largely the case.  Sad to say, however, Satan’s claim was so nearly the full truth that Christ Himself did not bother to refute it.  John also had said in his epistle: “We know that . . . the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19).  Practically all the past kingdoms of the world, symbolized by the seven heads, and the ten main final kingdoms of the world, represented by the ten horns, are organically united with the guiding spirit of the great fiery dragon.

Revelation 12:4.     And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered; for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

     The dragon has not only controlled the nations of the earth.  He has even dragged the stars of heaven down to the earth.

     As John observed this amazing phenomenon, he no doubt recalled his Lord’s words.  “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18).  With all his power, Satan was inevitably to be defeated, for God had already cast him out of heaven, and his fall was so rapid as to be compared to lightning.

     This is also the scene behind Isaiah 14:12-15 (“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!”) and Ezekiel 28:16, 17 (“I will destroy thee, O covering cherub . . . I will cast thee to the ground.”).  It had long been known that Satan had a host of angels under his control.  Christ Himself had spoken of “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).  Here, for the first time, we learn that these satanic angels constituted a third of all the angels.  That the stars in the sign correspond to the devil’s angels is evident from verses 7-9.  When Satan was cast to the earth out of his position at God’s throne, the great host of angels who followed him in his rebellion were also forced to follow him out of heaven, thereby all becoming “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12).  They are now “the principalities and powers” who were “spoiled” at the cross by the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:14, 15).

     When Satan was cast to the earth, he quickly gained victory over Eve but then God had pronounced his own coming destruction by the seed of the woman.  This initiated an agelong effort by Satan to thwart the fulfillment of the prophecy, either by destroying any who could possibly be the promised seed as soon after birth as possible or else by preventing the birth altogether.

     He implanted his own seed in Cain’s heart, and then led Cain to kill Abel.  “Cain . . . was of that wicked one, and slew his brother” (1 John 3:12).  When Lamech made what seemed to be a Messianic prophecy concerning his son Noah (Genesis 5:29), Satan made a bold attempt to poison the whole human race with his own deadly seed.  “The sons of God came in unto the daughters on men, and they bare children to them” (Genesis 6:4).  The context of this remarkable passage indicates that this was a tremendous outbreak of demonic possession.  Satan’s angels were able to indwell and control the minds and bodies of great numbers of the antediluvian men and women and then also their progeny.

     In Abraham’s time, Satan was apparently able to prevent even the conception of the son promised to Abraham until God intervened miraculously.  The events that almost destroyed Jacob and that caused the rejection of Jacob’s first three sons and the slaying of Judah’s first two sons are further examples.  At the time of Moses’ birth, Satan became bold enough to seek, through Pharaoh, to destroy all the make children in Israel.  The many attempts of Saul and others on the life of David, the repeated efforts either to corrupt or destroy the successive kings of Judah and their families, and finally the almost-successful campaign of Haman to destroy the entire Jewish nation when they were in captivity in the days of Queen Esther were the continuation of Satan’s efforts to destroy the line of the promised seed before He could come into the world.

     In the days of Isaiah, the primeval promise concerning the woman’s seed had been made crystal clear: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  Finally, at the promised time in the promised place through the promised family, the chosen virgin gave birth to the promised seed. As he had in the days of Moses, Satan once again undertook, this time through Herod, to find and slay the child by slaying all the male children in the region of Bethlehem, hoping thereby “to devour her child as soon as it was born.”  As always he failed, since God cannot fail.

     Many times, Satan attempted to destroy Christ before He could go to the cross. When he was unable to destroy His holiness at the temptation, he attempted again and again to slay Him, but always without success.  But when the proper hour had come, Jesus went to the cross, “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

     Through all the ages, Satan had attempted to prevent this promised mission of the seed from its fulfillment, continually standing before every woman in the line of promise from Eve to Mary, seeking to slay her man-child before he could accomplish God’s mission.  His failure has made him more bitterly angry than ever, and he continues in every way he can to persecute the symbolic woman and all her seed.

Revelation 12:5.     And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.

     That the primary fulfillment of this promise relates to Jesus Christ is clear from the reference here to Psalm 2:7-9: “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.  Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.  Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  Since the nations will not willingly submit themselves to God and His Anointed One (Psalm 2:2), He will have to subdue them forcibly, and then to reign over them with a scepter of iron.  He is again identified thus when He finally conquers them as the victorious King of kings.  “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15).

     As noted before, however, this promise applies also in a secondary sense to all who genuinely believe on Him and are therefore included among those who conquer with Him.  “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father” (Revelation 2:26, 27).  Even as the woman in the great sign-vision applies ultimately to all the people of God before the birth of Christ, especially the nation Israel, so the symbolic man-child is fulfilled not only in Christ Himself, but in all who would believe on His saving name and who, therefore, are “in Christ.”

     The child of the woman, instead of being devoured by the dragon, was caught up to the throne of God in heaven.  This, no doubt, refers mainly to the resurrection and ascension of Christ, who “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

     However, the words “caught up” are the same precisely as those used in connection with the rapture of believers at the return of Christ, when we “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).  It is thus very likely that, as the man-child includes both Christ and those who are redeemed by Him, so the catching away of the man-child refers not only to Christ’s ascension but also to the rapture and glorification of His saints.  It presumably also includes the rapture of His two witnesses (Revelation 11:12) and possibly other tribulation saints.

Revelation 12:6.     And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

     Following the ascension of Christ and the later destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Jewish remnant fled toward the Dead Sea wilderness and the storied mass suicide at Masada.  This could hardly represent the event described in this verse, however.  Furthermore this prophecy still awaited future fulfillment in John’s day.  Since it follows the catching up of the man-child, the latter must include the rapture of the Church and probably also that of the two witnesses, as noted above.  Thus the 1,260 days when the woman is in the wilderness must refer to the second half of the tribulation period.  This interpretation is also supported by the fact that the intense persecution of the woman by the dragon must correspond to the forty-two months of totalitarian despotism by the beast (Revelation 13:5, 7).

     The woman, representing as she does the people of God out of whom came Christ and His Church, must at this point in time symbolize Israel, since believers of earlier times, including the Church, are no longer in the world.  The 144,000 sealed Israelites are possibly in view.  There is also a great multitude from all nations who will be saved during the tribulation (Revelation 7:9, 14); most of these, however, will no doubt be martyred (Revelation 6:9-11; 13:15), and those who escape would hardly have been in Jerusalem.

     It will be recalled that Israel had been granted authority to rebuild their ancient temple and to reestablish their ancient worship, through a seven-year covenant made with the leader of the western and Mediterranean nations, after the miraculous defeat of Gog and Magog (Russia and her followers) in their attempted invasion of Israel (see discussion in Chapter 6).  However, this treaty was broken by that ruler after only half of the treaty period had expired.  The worship in the temple was stopped, and the holy city was to revert to absolute Gentile rule for forty-two months, the unfinished term of the treaty (Revelation 11:2).

     Even though the majority of Israelites had not yet accepted Christ as their Messiah, they had renounced their atheism and liberalism, returning to orthodox Judaism, believing in the Old Testament Scriptures and in the God of their fathers.  Many, no doubt, will be seriously examining the New Testament and the claims of Christ at this time, as a result of the testimony of the 144,000 witnesses, who had already become Christians.

     The sudden breaking of the covenant would surely generate intense anger against the beast, who had seemed like their friend and deliverer at first but had now become their opponent and persecutor.  Resenting the worship of any god but himself, he had demanded that both Christians and orthodox Jews renounce their faith and yield worship and obedience to him only.  This they will refuse to do, unleashing a bitter war of extermination against them.

     As Jesus had warned long ago: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place . . . Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: . . . For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24: 15-21).  The “mountains” spoken of by Christ must obviously be the “wilderness” spoken of in Revelation.  “The woman” is now the godly Jewish remnant in Jerusalem, probably including many new Jewish believers in Christ, and she must quickly flee to the wilderness to survive.

     The wilderness and the mountains may be either in the Sinai or in the mountains of Transjordan, or both.  The Transjordan area, south and east of the Dead Sea, embraces the area occupied in biblical times by the Moabites and Ammonites (descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot) and the Edomites (descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau).

     Some have suggested that the “wilderness” would be all the nations of the world in which the persecuted Jews could scatter and hide.  No doubt there will be many Jews in other nations who will also be subjected to persecution; but the immediate context clearly refers to the people in Jerusalem and Israel itself, who had been participating in the restored temple worship. The urgency of Christ’s command to flee as soon as the abomination of desolation stands in the holy place (that is, the idolatrous image set up in the temple for humanistic worship of the beast – see Chapter 13) indicates that they must flee immediately – no opportunity for plane reservations, packing belongings, or anything else.  The nearest desert area they can reach will be their only opportunity for survival.

     The most quickly attainable desert area would be across the Jordan and Dead Sea into the regions of ancient Moab, Ammon, and Edom; and there are some intimations in Scripture that this is where they will go.  Daniel, for example, in describing the end-time campaigns of the marauding prince, notes that only these three countries will escape his devastating armies (Daniel 11:36-45).  Isaiah indicates that the Israelite remnant will flee into Moab and Edom, mentioning Sela (same as modern Petra) as their headquarters (Isaiah 16:1-5).  Petra is the famous rock city, visited by countless Holy Land tours, which was at one time the almost impregnable Edomite capital.

     Wherever they will be, whether concentrated in one location such as Petra or scattered over these vast wilderness areas south and southeast of Jerusalem, these godly Israelites will be under God’s special protection and will receive His special provision.  Isaiah foresaw this time in these words: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.  For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:20, 21).

     In the “waste howling wilderness,” there is surely no food for a multitude of desolate Israelites to eat for three-and-a-half years.  Nevertheless the Lord had fed several million of His people for forty long years in the desert once before, and He can do it again.  The manna was called “angels’ food” (Psalm 78:25) and, no doubt, angels will again be the instruments God uses in meeting this need.

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