3. As A Result Of Christ’s Victory Over The Devil, God Protects The Messianic Community Against The Devil’s Wrathful And Continual Harm. 12:13-17
In verse 13 we read: “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.” In this sentence we see that verses 13-17 are connected into the preceding context in two ways. First, they show what the dragon does as a result of knowing he is defeated, and so they flow out of the middle section (12:7-12). Second, they also pick back up on the storyline of the first section (1-6). What this demonstrates is Revelation 12 is about God’s protection of his people (“the woman”) from the ultimate enemy who is enraged. Both the rage of the enemy and the protection of the church emerge from the conquering of sin, death, and Satan by Christ through his substitutionary atoning death. This suggests that the church is persecuted ultimately because of its relationship to Jesus Christ.
This paragraph will display that even though God is protecting his people in the ultimate way from ultimate destruction, the persecution continues throughout this age. It also bears out what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12 (“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”) and what Jesus said as recorded in John 15:18-20 (“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.’”).
Though the church is persecuted through this age, God protects her in the ultimate sense, as we see in verse 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 vision of this verse finds its background in several Old Testament texts. To start, we see it in Exodus 19:4 and Dt. 32:10-12, where God speaks of carrying Israel as an eagle in the wilderness. The New Testament church is once again in Revelation viewed as the end-times true Israel taking over the role of the old Israel (see also Rev. 7; 11:1-14; 14:1-5; 15:1-4 ), with the spiritual wilderness representing God’s protective presence substituted for the physical wilderness of Sinai. We also see this image in Psalm 55:1-8, where David speaks of being given the wings of a dove to flee into the wilderness and await God’s protection from his enemies. The most powerful Old Testament background to this image is found in Isaiah 40:27-31, where Isaiah prophesies that God will deliver his people in the last days and utilizes this same image.
So God will protect and nourish the church in its exodus-like wanderings through the wilderness of the world.
There are three more truths communicated in verse 14 that we should touch upon before continuing. To start, the woman is enabled to fly to “the place,” which we saw in verse 6, has connotations of taking her to a sanctuary-type situation. When we put together all that is said in Revelation 12, it appears that united to Christ by faith and with his saving work applied, the church lives in the full presence of God, as his temple (see also 1:4, 12; 4:4; 11:1-13; 14:1; 21:1-22:5), and so wherever the church is in the world and whatever is going on, she is protected in the ultimate sense in and by the triune God, who is present with her.
Additionally, we read that the church “is to be nourished,” a verb which carries with it a very intimate and familial sense of providing for or taking care of another. In this wilderness, dwelling with God, the church will be provided for in all she needs to persevere so that she enters into her eternal Promised Land. The use of this verb may also call to mind God’s giving of manna to Israel in the wilderness. See John 6:31-58 where Christ is depicted as the latter-day manna.
Finally, we want to note that the church will be persecuted and protected ultimately for “a time, and times, and half a time,” which is equivalent to the three and a half years or forty-two months of 11:2-3 and 13:5 or the one thousand two hundred and sixty days of 12:6. In other words, it is throughout this age until the second coming of Christ.
Though this protection and nourishment of the church is promised, Satan nevertheless still pursues and seeks to destroy her. Verse 15 puts it this way: “The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.” There are at least five different sources of Old Testament background to this image of the water seeking to hinder or destroy God’s people:
· “Flood” can speak of a conquering army (Dan. 11:10, 22, 26, 40) and of persecution of God’s people from which he saves them (2 Sam. 22:5; Pss. 18:4, 16; 66:12; 69:1-2, 14-15; 124:4-5; 144; 7-8; Is. 43:2).
· The Red Sea, which was a barrier to the people of God getting to the wilderness and safety (Exodus 14).
· The Jordan which was a barrier into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).
· The waters standing in the way of the return of God’s post-exilic people to Zion which Isaiah prophesies in the last days God will again dry up or cause to be blocked (Is. 42:15; 43:2; 44:27).
· The flood associated with the end time attack on God’s people in Dan. 9:26. John’s allusion to both the exodus and to Dan. 9:26 would be in line with his preceding allusions, which have combined the same two backgrounds (see on 11:2, 6, esp. on the forty-two months and its background in the exodus and Daniel).
So, it appears that in this pouring out of water what is depicted is the enemy attempting to keep believers from entering their eternal rest, that is, into their Promised Land. Yet, more specifically how does he do this? The way verse 15 pictures the enemy is instructive (“the serpent”), along with where the water comes from (“out of his mouth”). Whenever things or weapons come out of the mouth in Revelation the figurative picture signifies words on the part of Christ and his agents to judge sinners (1:16; 2:16; 11:5; 19:15, 21; cf. 3:16), or to words of deception coming from the devil and his agents (9:17-8; 16:13). Here, the point is that the enemy, working through his evil spirits, as well as those who serve him in this world, speak falsehoods about Christianity (including what it means to be a Christian and what the gospel is), Christians, and the world that, if believed, turn people away from the gospel and the only way of salvation. The idea that the waters represent deception also is highlighted by the reality that the devil here is referred to as the serpent, which takes readers back to Genesis 3 and his deception of Eve. Greg Beale adds:
[Revelation] 2-3 reveal[s] that the churches to which John was writing had already begun to experience the devil’s flood of deception (2:2, 14, 20), false accusations (2:9; 3:9), temptations, and persecution (2:10, 13). It is beyond coincidence that wherever chs. 2-3 mention these problems, the devil’s “synagogue” (2:9; 3:9), “throne” (2:13), or “deep things” (2:24) is mentioned.
In verse 16 we read that God continually saves the church from the devil’s destruction: “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.” In a reference to several Old Testament events and texts where God delivered his people from enemies, the point is made that God will protect and preserve his genuine believers, his church, from ultimate destruction at the hands of the enemy.
This first history of this section ends with a statement that heightens and emphasizes the ongoing persecution of the church because of the ultimate and ongoing causation that comes from the dragon. Though we will discover in Revelation 13 and subsequent chapters this persecution most often comes at the more direct hands of religious groups, governments, government officials, and other societal gate keepers, it is ultimately fueled by the dragon and his demons. Verse 17 affirms: “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.”
Though some interpreters have tried to make “the rest of her offspring” a distinct group from “the woman,” the most likely understanding is that the woman throughout this chapter refers to the people of God with different emphases as the chapter unfolds. The focus in verses 1-5 was on the Old Covenant people of God, especially just before and during the birth of Jesus. In verse 6 and then in verses 13-16 the focus is on the post-resurrection New Covenant people of God (the New Testament church), with primary focus upon the church in the early era shortly after the resurrection. If this is what John has meant, then “the rest of her offspring” is intended to capture the idea that those who will come to Christ and be part of the woman (i.e. another way to put it is her offspring) will also be pursued continually by the dragon and persecuted throughout this age. They will be persecuted for all the reasons the early believers were and will also enjoy the same promises of protection made to the early believers.
With knowledge of the essence of what 12:17 says, we can now focus on three final truths that emerge from this last sentence of this first history. To begin, we read that the dragon “went off to make war” on the church through this age (note that in verse 7 war took place in heaven between Michael, his angels, and the dragon [probably intended, along with his demons]). This reminds us that the goal of the enemy is to defeat the church, the elect of God, and to do it in a manner that is militant, dangerous, and painful. Yet, the church must constantly remember that the dragon cannot conquer them, for Jesus Christ has already conquered him and in Christ we can continually trust in the application of this victory to us.
Additionally, this verse identifies genuine believers throughout this age as “those who keep the commandments of God.” Herein is a deep, rich, powerful, and convicting truth for many in the church today. Our very identity includes the reality that we desire to obey God and can obey God (see also Rev. 14:4, 5; 19:4, 14; 20:4; 21:7). If that desire and moral ability are not present, then a person should examine self to see if he is in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
Finally, this verse identifies genuine believers throughout this age as “those who…hold to the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, they continue to believe in the testimony Jesus gave about who he is (as well as the testimony the Father has given about him)—and so they persevere in that trust—and they continue to give testimony to the truths of Christ and the gospel themselves (see 12:11, as well as 1:5, 9; 10:2; 11:7; 19:10, et. al.).
Now that we have looked at all of Revelation 12, we can see that it is a little Revelation within the larger Revelation. In the middle of this complex book we find this rather clear summary of the main message of the entire book: Enraged by his own defeat at the hands of Jesus Christ, the devil seeks to destroy the church through his evil spirits and human emissaries who persecute and accuse the church. Yet, the church can take great comfort in the reality that not only are both Father and Son sovereign over, in, and through all that happens, the enemy has been conquered, the war won, and so we can rest in that victory to overcome and to persevere in the face of the hostility and brokenness in this world! God will preserve and protect us in the ultimate sense, so take courage, continue to trust him, joyfully follow him, and give testimony to the gospel of his glorious grace!
Nourished And Protected With You As Joyful Followers And Witnesses,
 We must remember that elsewhere Revelation depicts the people of God (both Old Covenant and New Covenant) as a woman or bride (19:7-8; 21:2, 12, 14).
 For this Old Testament background, I am partially dependent upon Greg Beale (with David Campbell) in his shorter commentary on Revelation, 260-62. The quote at the end of the final point is from them.
 Beale (with Campbell), 262, suggests this is a further allusion to the deliverance out of Egypt and the Red Sea, as well as life in the wilderness: “The flood swallowed Pharaoh and his armies (Ex. 15:12; the Aramaic Bible [Palestinian Targum] expands on the Hebrew of this verse and repeats that ‘the earth opened her mouth and consumed them’). And later the earth swallowed the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who were in rebellion against Moses (Num. 16:31-32). In both OT instances, God caused the earth to open and swallow that which opposed the establishment and welfare of His people.” Additionally, “both Isaiah and the Psalms say that God defeated the evil dragon when He divided the Red Sea to allow Israel through, but closed it again over Egypt (Ps. 74:13-14; where Leviathan represents Pharaoh]; Is. 51:9-10), and Ezek. 29:3 and 32:2-3 identify Pharaoh with the sea-dragon. And so here, the allusion to the exodus deliverance once again connotes God’s preservation and deliverance of His people and defeat of the serpent.”