Summary: The place of the church in the last days is: 1. They will be God’s witnesses. 2. They will be persecuted. 3. They will be victorious.
The book of Revelation is filled with strange and wonderful symbolism which is charged with emotion. Here, in chapter 12, a woman appears clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and a crown of twelves stars on her head. The woman represents the people of Israel (Genesis 37:9). The sun is Jacob (Israel), the moon is his wife Rachel, and the twelve stars are the twelve sons of Israel. The purpose of Israel was to bring forth the Messiah into the world.
The red dragon is the devil who once was a glorious angel, but who rebelled against God, and in an attempt to take his place, led a revolt, taking with him a third of the angels of heaven who then became demons. The prophet Isaiah describes the scene when he writes: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:12-15).
The devil, represented by the dragon, is said to attempt to kill the woman’s child. He hates God and God’s Son, as well as the people of God. Remember that shortly after Jesus’ birth, Herod, the Roman ruler, followed the devil’s will as he killed all the children in that region in an attempt to kill Jesus, the child-king. His parents escaped to Egypt. The devil also roused the people of Jesus’ own home town to kill him (Luke 4:29). Finally, the devil tried to kill him on the cross, but Jesus was “snatched up to the throne of God,” and Christ’s resurrection and ascension decisively defeated the devil’s plans to destroy the Messiah. God’s plan to save the world through Christ prevailed, and the devil was thrown down to the earth through the redemptive work of Christ.
Finding himself limited to the earth, he pursues the woman who now represents all the people of God in an attempt to harm God’s followers. As Austin Farrer says, “It is precisely when Satan has lost the battle for the souls of the saints in heaven that he begins the fruitless persecution of their bodies.” The persecution of the people of God is represented by the water that spews forth from the dragon’s mouth like a river. In other words, a flood of persecution comes against the church as the devil goes off to make war against the woman and the rest of her offspring — “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” It is interesting that it is water that comes from the dragon’s mouth. Normally, the imagery is fire coming from a dragon’s mouth, but this is symbolic of his lack of power to do real harm.
The basic message of Revelation 12 is that there is an vital role for the church to play during the world’s last days. There are three important messages that John is giving us in this chapter about the place of the church in the last days, and the first is: They will be God’s witnesses. As the world’s darkness deepens, it is never more important for us to be the light of the world. As the world travels further into error, it is never more important for us to announce the truth. As the world becomes more and more immersed in its own sin, it is never more important for us to be an example of moral and ethical integrity. As the world gives in to the pressures of conformity, it is never more important to be people of courage and strength.
The Bible describes the last meeting between Jesus and his disciples, prior to his ascension. It says, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8). This is our purpose as the church. Being God’s witnesses is the work we are to be involved in until the Lord returns. And it is not done in our own power, but only as the Holy Spirit comes upon us.