What does Revelation chapter 12 mean?Starting in chapter 12, Revelation takes a detour from the step-by-step narrative of the end times. The events described occur over a wide variety of eras, including past, present, and future. In the course of these visions, seven main figures are described. Five of those appear in this chapter. The next two chapters will continue to fill in the details. Chapter 15 adds another vision of heaven, and chapter 16 will return to a more chronological depiction of the last days.
This passage typifies the grand symbolism found in much of the book of Revelation. John sees a woman, clothed with the sun, crying out in pain as she gives birth. Waiting to kill her child is a red dragon. The woman symbolizes Israel, the dragon is Satan, and the male child is Jesus. The male child is "caught up to God," a reference to Jesus' ascension after His resurrection, and the woman is able to flee into the wilderness (Revelation 12:1–6).
Next, John observes a war in heaven, where Michael the archangel fully casts Satan out of heaven. This is not a depiction of the initial fall of Satan; according to Old Testament books such as Job, the Devil was still able to access heaven and accuse humanity before God. At this point, however, he will be entirely evicted and thrown down to earth. This results in rejoicing in heaven, but also a dire warning. Now that Satan is running out of time, and confined to the earth, his rage will be taken out on mankind, especially Israel (Revelation 12:7–12).
Jesus predicted an "abomination of desolation" in Matthew 24:15–16. There, He most likely referred to a defilement of the temple by the Antichrist. Jesus warned that people ought to respond to this act by fleeing to the mountains. Here, in Revelation, the people of Israel are given supernatural protection by God—symbolized by the reference to wings—and able to survive for a period of three and a half years. Echoing other prophetic messages about an invasion by a northern army (Ezekiel 38), John also sees the serpent attempt to wash the woman away with a flood of water from his mouth. This would symbolize an armed invasion. God, again, protects the woman with what Ezekiel says is a tremendous earthquake (Ezekiel 38:19–22). This enrages Satan, who commits to attacking the offspring of the woman (Revelation 12:13–17).
The five figures mentioned in this chapter are the woman who symbolizes Israel, the seven-headed dragon who represents Satan, the male child who is Jesus, Satan himself as the fourth figure, and the offspring of the woman, referring to the people of Israel. The following chapter will introduce the last two major characters, who are among the most infamous in all of Scripture: the Antichrist and the False Prophet.