In the debate over the meaning of the Book of Revelation, futurists enjoy telling preterists that only their view takes the text literally. This is, of course, a misnomer since all literature is read literally. We read symbols to be literally symbols where the author clearly means for the text to be taken symbolically. There is no denying that the Book of Revelation is full of symbolism. The author literally states this as he interprets many of the symbols for the reader. For example in Revelation 12:8, John explains the obvious symbolism, “the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan.”
The confusion over Revelation has come because there are so many symbols that must be interpreted by the reader. Revelation 12 is a good example of this, but it follows a fairly simple scheme.
Revelation chapter 12 has four elements that are clearly symbolic.
- The woman clothed with the sun
- The child who is later caught up to heaven
- The dragon (which John identifies as Satan)
- The remnant of the woman’s seed
John clearly identifies the “great red dragon” as the devil. The main difficulty is identifying the woman here. If the child is Christ, we may say that the woman is either Mary or Israel. The remnant of the woman’s seed is most likely the entire Church or those in Israel who have received the Good News of Christ’s entrance into the world.
If we consider these interpretive symbols as the key, then there are basically three schemes from a preterist perspective by which to interpret Revelation 12. I have named these three schemes.
- Preterist BC
- Preterist AD
These are the three strongest possibilities from a preterist perspective. The terms, BC, AD and Idealist refer to when the prophecy was fulfilled.
Here I will briefly describe each view. Then I’ll examine Revelation 12 verse by verse. Finally, I will explain why the view that combines both BC and AD, which I call the Preterist-Idealist view is likely the intended meaning.
The Preterist BC View
The first possibility is straightforward. It has Mary and Joseph fleeing into the wilderness in 4 BC as told in Matthew 2, while Herod the Great, representing the satanic image of the dragon, pursues them. The story then leaps in time from Christ’s Incarnation to His Ascension to the throne of heaven. Then the Church (the remnant of the woman’s seed) does battle with the dragon throughout the New Testament era. The dragon here symbolizes Satan warring against the Church through both the Jewish religious/civil persecutions and Nero’s persecution in the first century.
If the remnant seed is the Church, then the woman can be seen as Old Covenant Israel who gave birth to the Christ. It does not do a great deal of harm to this scheme to see the woman as Mary because she was among the last of Old Covenant saints – along with Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Simeon and Anna (cf. Matthew 1,2; Luke 1,2) to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ prior to His public announcement around AD 27 that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 3:1).
The Preterist AD View
The second possibility centers around Jesus’ warning to His disciples to flee to the wilderness in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. In this scheme, the woman is indeed faithful Old Covenant Israel. The dragon is represented by the imperial armies of Rome under Nero. The dragon first appeared outside the holy city, Jerusalem, for a short, failed campaign in the summer of AD 66. The wording of Luke warns Jesus’ disciples to flee to the hill country of Judea once they see armies surrounding Jerusalem. Historically, this is known as the Flight to Pella, which was recorded by the second century Church historian Hegesippus and passed down to us through Eusebius of Caesarea and Epiphanius of Cyprus.
All the disciples had settled in Pella after their remove from Jerusalem — Christ having told them to abandon Jerusalem and withdraw from it because of the siege it was about to undergo. And they settled in Perea for this reason and, as I said, lived their lives there (Epiphanius, Panarion 7.7).
Eusebius describes it like this.
The whole body, however, of the Church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his Apostles finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evildoers from the earth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.5).
This Flight to Pella could have taken place on three separate occasions, AD 66, 67 or 70. Each time, Roman troops arrived on the scene to surround Jerusalem. The first, AD 66, is the date I favor for the Flight to Pella. At this time, the Roman general Cestius Gallus attacked the gates of the Temple at Jerusalem, but was forced to withdraw. Although it was an inexplicable retreat, this seems to have been a providential window – a lull in the onset of the Jewish War in the summer of AD 66. The fighting did not resume until Nero sent in Vespasian’s troops who arrived in the Spring of AD 67. This window of opportunity to flee Jerusalem would have been the fulfillment of Luke 21:21,22.
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
It also explains a time indicator in the text – “1260 days” – (Revelation 12:6). This time would be synonymous with other three-and-a-half year time periods mentioned in both Revelation and Daniel. In short, during the 1260 day period when God is punishing covenant-breaking Israel who are trapped in the city of Jerusalem, the Christians flee to the wilderness and are cared for by the Holy Spirit. This flight can be likened to numerous other instances throughout biblical history of God protecting and preparing a remnant seed often in the wilderness or in captivity. God has a dual purpose in this. As He purifies a remnant, He judges the wicked.
The only difficulty in this interpretation is identifying who are the remnant of the woman’s seed. If the woman is the mother church (the church in Jerusalem), it could be inferred that the remnant seed refers to the church who literally fled into the wilderness and then to Pella in AD 66. But it could also refer to the universal Church scattered throughout the nations that eventually prevailed against Roman paganism in later centuries. This presents us with the problem of having two symbols in the same passage both referring to the Church. I believe this conundrum is solved by the Preterist-Idealist View.
The Preterist-Idealist View
I call this view both preterist and idealist because Revelation 12 was fulfilled by first century events, but the symbols also allude to a broader theme throughout the whole Bible. Note that I place the term preterist first. Revelation 12’s fulfillment has a particular application to events in the first century, but the full scope of theme occurs throughout Scripture. For example, the epic story of the struggle between the serpent and the seed of the woman originates in Genesis 3:15.
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
This struggle then ensues through the sons of Seth who are contrasted with the sons of Cain in Genesis 4-6. It picks up with Abraham and Lot’s consternation with the men of Sodom. The seed of the woman, God’s chosen people Israel, clash with the seed of the serpent, represented by God’s pagan enemies – the Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians and so on – each nation bearing a beastly, or snake-like mark through some biblical symbol. An example of this is the young David, who slays the monster Philistine, Goliath, who is portrayed as wearing mail armor like a snake.
This culminates in the New Testament when Herod the Great persecutes the Christ child, resulting in Herod’s death. The Roman and Jewish authorities crucify Jesus, and later persecute the Church for preaching the risen, ascended Son of God. This resulted in the death in the grandson of Herod, King Agrippa, who was struck down by God for proclaiming his own divinity (Acts 12:23). The conflict is then seen in Nero’s persecution of the Church and the sifting of the remnant people of God from the city of Jerusalem at the onset of Roman-Jewish War, which resulted in Nero’s death.
Although the battle was already won by Jesus at the cross, the Church continues in its war against a defeated foe, Satan. In short, the Preterist-Idealist view is an “all-of-the-above” interpretation of a highly symbolic passage.
Revelation 12 Explained
In this section I will interpret Revelation 12 verse-by-verse in preterist perspective. Revelation 12 can be understood as having a parallel structure in three parts.
Revelation 12:1-6 – First, the symbols of the woman, the child and the dragon are presented. The war of the dragon against the Christ and Church and then the war on the land of Judea is described as taking place simultaneously in both heaven and on earth.
Revelation 12:7-12a – Second, the same war is presented from a heavenly perspective.
Revelation 12:12b-17 – Third, the events of the war are recapitulated once again from an earthly perspective.
The War Part 1
Revelation 12:1 – And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
A woman clothed with the sun … the moon … and … twelve stars – The woman here is Israel. She is depicted as Mary by Roman Catholics and as the Church by many Protestants. Both of these are at least partially correct since Mary was part of Israel. Israel is the Old Covenant “Church” (Acts 8:37). The New Covenant Church is called the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). The symbols of the sun, the moon and the stars refer back to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9.
“Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”
The eleven stars here, of course, are Joseph’s brothers. The sun and the moon could be interpreted to be his father and mother. The symbol of being clothed with the heavenly bodies represents Israel’s status as a nation of kings ruling in the earth taking dominion through Abraham’s descendants that are as numerous as the stars. There are numerous references in the Old Testament to the “stars” as God’s Covenant people (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; 37:9; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; Judges 5:20; 1 Chronicles 27:23; Nehemiah 9:23; Daniel 8:10; 12:3). In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets, we read frequent language about the sun being darkened, the moon turned to blood and the stars cast down. This speaks of God’s judgment and the loss of authority for Israel due to their incorrigible covenant breaking.
Revelation 12:2 – And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
In verse 1, the woman is radiant, that is, she is clothed with the light of heaven. She is faithful Israel. But in verse 2, she is crying out and suffering in travail. Out of that travail comes the birth of a child, whom we shall see is Christ the Lord.
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.
A great red dragon – This is Satan. He is red because he is full of fury and viciously desires the blood of the saints. This is straightforward. What is confusing are the seven heads and ten horns because this same image is seen in Revelation 13 and 17.
Having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads – This monster has seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. Another seven-headed, ten-horned monster – this time with ten crowns on his horns – is repeated in Revelation 13 and 17. The ten crowns show that this is a different monster, this time a sea beast, which appears at the beginning of the next chapter, Revelation 13. We see another recapitulation of this same image in Revelation 17, and John says the beast gets his power from the dragon (17:10). The dragon is Satan. The sea beast is Rome. The heads and horns symbolize the line of Roman Emperors who began to act as Satan’s proxy in persecuting the Church in the time of Nero. This sixth king who “is” (Revelation 13:10) at the time of John’s writing is Nero, who also began the war against Judea in AD 66 that resulted eventually in the destruction of the Temple after Nero’s death in AD 70.
In my book, In the Days of These Kings – The Book of Daniel in Preterist Perspective, I show that in Daniel 7, the four beasts that have seven heads among them symbolize Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. The ten horns of the fourth beast made of iron can be harmonized with the beast with seven heads and ten horns in Revelation 13 and 17. Although this is a composite image of the four beasts, this is for the purpose of allusion. This beast of Revelation 13 and 17 is Rome and the heads represent a line of seven kings, which marked the end of the three-and-half year tribulation at Nero’s death in AD 68 and the ascension of the short-lived Galba. The ten horns represent the line of ten kings that ended with Vespasian, who was at war with Judea in that same year as a general and oversaw the destruction of the Temple as the Roman emperor in AD 70.
Without digressing too much into the next chapter (Revelation 13), it is sufficient to know that the dragon uses the Roman civil powers to persecute the Church. However, in chapter 12 the dragon is Satan, not Rome.
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 third part of the stars of heaven – It is generally supposed that the stars of heaven are angels who fall to earth (cf. Revelation 12:9) and become demons, or Satan’s minions who do his bidding. From this one verse, a demonology has sprung up claiming that one-third of the angels of heaven fell from grace shortly after the Creation. I disagree with this interpretation. It is not in keeping with the scheme of chapter 12 or the rest of Revelation. Although Revelation 12 alludes to Genesis 3, it is not a description of what took place shortly after the Creation.
Just a few sentences earlier, we saw the woman was clothed in the sun, the moon and the stars, which symbolize the descendants of Abraham. It’s important to be consistent seeing that the same symbol is used twice in the same passage. Throughout Revelation 8 and 9, we read that during the plagues that befell the inhabitants of the “earth” (Greek: GE, which preterists take to mean the “land” of Judea) “the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up…. the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed…. the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter … the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and third part part of the stars; the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise” (Revelation 8:7-12, emphasis mine).
And finally, “the third part of men killed” (Revelation 9:15,17, emphasis mine).
So in keeping with this one-third pattern, the dragon’s tail – or Rome’s legions – killed the third part of the inhabitants in the land of Judea. Josephus records that the total number of Jews killed in the Roman-Jewish War amounted to 1.1 million. This is one-third of about 3.3 million. Although estimates of the Jewish population of first century Palestine vary, scholars have placed this number anywhere between 1 to 5 million (Anthony Byatt, “Josephus and Population Numbers in First Century Palestine” in Palestine Exploration Quarterly 105, 1973, pp. 51–60).
Further, we have to ask, “When was Satan cast down?” In verses 9 and 13, we will see a repetition of the idea that Satan himself was cast down and this resulted in the casting down of the stars of heaven. A popular idea is that this refers to Satan’s fall from grace either shortly after the Creation between Genesis 2 and 3; or in Genesis 3:14,15 when God curses the serpent condemning him to crawl on the ground and eat dust and making him the enemy of the woman’s seed. Certainly, there is an allusion to Genesis 3 in the Revelation 12. The seed of the woman is at war with the serpent. We can include this idea as part of a more comprehensive and thematic Preterist-Idealist approach.
In another sense, Satan fell when Christ came into the world. The New Testament records that Satan fell from heaven (Luke 10:18); he was cast out of heaven (John 12:31); he is being crushed under our feet (Romans 16:20); he was disarmed (Colossians 2:15); he was rendered powerless (Hebrews 2:14); his works were destroyed (1 John 3:8).
By the time Revelation was written, the idea that Satan was defeated and bound by the work of Christ was a strong theme of the teachings of the Apostles. Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father after His resurrection and ascension (Revelation 4:2). Christ is first presented as seated on a throne and is even now the ruler over the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5). Further, through the preaching of the Gospel by Christian apostles and evangelists in all parts of the known world, the reign of Christ was taking root and was having an impact through all strata of society (Book of Acts).
Satan “drew” or “cast down” one-third of the inhabitants of the land of Judea and the surrounding areas. This has an allusive parallel to Daniel 8:10 and the prophecy of the Little Horn, which in this case is Antiochus Epiphanes from 168 to 165 BC. I cover this passage in detail in my book, In the Days of These Kings: The Book of Daniel in Preterist Perspective.
Daniel 8:10 – And it [the Little Horn] waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.
It cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground – Antiochus removed the sacred furniture from the Temple and “went back to his own country, having shed blood and uttered words of extreme arrogance” (1 Maccabees 1:21-24 NJB). Antiochus also killed numerous Judeans in several campaigns. This was a temper tantrum of sorts after he had failed to conquer Egypt. Antiochus had been rebuffed by some Roman emissaries. On his way back to his home in Syria, he made war on the rebellious Judeans. Since Judea had tried to enter into an alliance with Egypt to wrest control of the country from Antiochus, this persecution was served up as a cruel punishment.
In Revelation 12:4, the antagonist is not Antiochus Epiphanes, but Satan. However, the parallel to Daniel 8:10 fits. John’s audience also understood that Satan was working among the civil powers to persecute the Church. This seems to point to the Roman emperor Nero (who is also depicted as a Little Horn in Daniel 7; and as the sixth head of the Beast who “is” in Revelation 13).
Generally, the casting down of the stars from heaven refers to both the persecution of the Church from AD 64 to 68 and the Roman-Jewish War from AD 67 to 70. Both of these attacks were due to Nero’s rage against the God of heaven and no doubt inspired by Satan. The purpose here is to try to destroy the remnant, who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, but also concentrated in Jerusalem and Judea. In killing the one-third inhabitants of the land, as we will see, Satan succeeded in eliminating apostate Israel, who were under God’s judgment, while the woman and the remnant of her seed were delivered to safety.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men (Matthew 2:16).
If we take the “Child” here to be Jesus Christ, this seems to be out of chronological order. It is not at all a predictive prophecy since from John’s perspective, it takes place in the past. Even if it is descriptive prophecy rather than predictive, it seems to be a clumsy interpretation to jump backwards in time to an event that occurred almost 70 years prior to John’s writing. However, John is not making a predictive prophecy here. He is making an analogy by way of an allusion to Matthew 2:16. Satan, working through the Roman emperor Nero, persecuted the Church and trampled on the holy city of Jerusalem killing one-third of the Jews in Judea over a three-and-a-half year period, just as Satan sought to use King Herod to kill the Christ child.
This is a providential parallel of history. When Herod heard that a king was to be born in Bethlehem, he sought to kill the infant Jesus. He managed to massacre a group of children under three-years-old in the region near Bethlehem, while Joseph and Mary fled into the desert for protection. In the same way, Nero was angered by prophecies that a Messiah-King would arise from Jerusalem. After numerous false Messiah’s began to appear, he sought to put down a Judean rebellion against Rome’s dominion. Nero desired to move his throne to Jerusalem and rule there as king of the world. However, the object of Satan’s wrath toward Jerusalem was the infant Church. In the same way that Joseph was warned in a dream to flee into the desert, a remnant of faithful believers in Jerusalem were able to escape to the wilderness after being warned by Jesus’ prophecy to “flee to the hill country of Judea.”
Nero’s obsession with Jewish prophecies about the Messiah who would arise in Jerusalem is a little known historical fact. His second wife, Poppaea, was a Jewish proselyte and Nero himself secured Jewish priests as “hostages” from Jerusalem to be her teachers. Nero was familiar with the Jewish prophecies about the Messiah just as he was assured by his own soothsayers that a king would arise in the east. Some of his pagan soothsayers even said it would be Jerusalem, which was at the time one of the largest cities of the empire. This is an obscure fact, but it is stated in the Roman histories of Suetonius and Tacitus. Josephus wrote that Vespasian, not Nero, was this prophesied Messiah-King who had come to punish the sins of the Jews.
This is important because people are often confused by this point of the preterist interpretation. How it can be said that the Beast (Nero or Rome) made war against the Lamb, when the Roman-Jewish War served to destroy the apostate Jews, who were also enemies of Christ and the Church? In the preterist view, Satan sought to destroy the Holy City because it was the seat of Jesus’ Apostles. But God used Satan’s sifting to punish the apostate Jews and rescue His people out of the city – as gold, silver and precious gems delivered out of the refiner’s fire.
Around AD 64, James the brother of Jesus, who was (in effect) the first Bishop of Jerusalem, was killed by a mob of rioting Jews. Many historians believe that these riots were due to the inept rule of the Roman governor Gessius Florus, whose seizure of money from the Temple as a gift to Nero was the primary cause the Great Jewish Revolt. The Roman general Cestius Gallus was called in to restore order, but was repelled from the city in the summer of AD 66. Later in the year, the remaining Christians, having seen the encroaching Roman armies as prophesied by Jesus, made a successful escape.
In summary, John is here alluding to Matthew 2 by way of comparison. In the same way that Herod was tricked by the magi and Satan’s plot to destroy the Christ child was thwarted, Satan’s plan to destroy the Jerusalem Church was thwarted when Cestius Gallus was inexplicably forced to retreat from the city. When Roman armies withdrew for several months, this likely gave the Jerusalem Church the chance to flee to Pella.
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.
A man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron – This is an allusion to Psalm 2:9.
“I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’” (Psalm 2:7-9 NKJV, emphasis mine).
In fact, portions of Psalm 2:8,9 are quoted two other times in Revelation.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations —
‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ —
as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:24-28).
Revelation 2 speaks of the reward of the faithful remnant Church. Jesus Christ presents the Church with the “Morning Star,” which here symbolizes the mandate to rule and reign with Him. Although Psalm 2 is a messianic prophecy about the Son of God, Revelation 2:24-28 appropriates the inheritance of Christ to the Church as well.
Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15).
Her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne – The implications of this rule of Christ from heaven over the nations cannot be overstated. The child here is Christ. The extent of His rule is over all the nations. The location of His rule is from heaven. The time of His rule is now. This dominion is not only to take place in a future dispensation, but Jesus Christ is the presently reigning king over all the nations of the earth.
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.
The woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God – This is where it becomes obvious that the woman is not the Virgin Mary specifically. Although Joseph and Mary fled into the wilderness, note that here the woman flees after the child is caught up to heaven. The context indicates that the woman must be the faithful Church. As described above, the Church did not go through the Great Tribulation, but fled to the wilderness and hid all during the time when Jerusalem was under siege by Vespasian and Titus.
They should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days – This 1260 days refers to the three-and-a-half year period when Jerusalem was under siege. A place was prepared by God ahead of time. “They” here is implied as part of the Greek verb, trephōsin, “they should feed.” This is meant as a reverse parallelism to the “wilderness,” which does not nourish. Some translations avoid the confusion over who “they” refers to by simply translating, “there she should be nourished 1260 days.”
The War Part 2
Revelation 12:7 – And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
There was a war in heaven – Here begins a recapitulation of the first part of this passage (vv. 1-6). The focus is again the war. This time the vantage point is not the “earth,” or the “land” of Judea, but the war from a heavenly vantage point.
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels – The Book of Daniel and the Epistle Jude are the only two other books of the Bible that mention Michael, whose name literally means, “Who is like God?” Some commentators have noticed that Michael can be understood as a Christophany, or an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament.
In Daniel, Michael is portrayed as the guardian angel of Israel (Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1).
In Jude, Michael is again portrayed as the defender of Israel who contends against the adversary Satan about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9).
Here in Revelation 12:7, Michael again fights for the people of God. The fact that Michael appears after the child is caught up to heaven and the woman escapes to the wilderness shows that this speaks the persecution of the Church under Nero and the Jewish War.
Revelation 12:8 – And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
Revelation 12:9 – And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him – Above I wrote that the “third part of the stars of heaven” that were cast down to earth by the dragon’s tail were the Jews who were killed in the Great Tribulation. Here the text clearly says that Satan’s angels were cast down to earth. Simply, the first is the earthly perspective and the now we are seeing a recapitulation from a heavenly perspective. We see that the plagues on the Land of Judea in Part 2 were an effect of the dragon being cast down to the earth in Part 1.
This cosmic war had a dual purpose. First, God used the dragon’s wrath with the Christian Church to separate out His elect faithful remnant from the nations and purify them through tribulation. Second, God used the dragon to give Rome power to make war on the Holy City as punishment for rejecting and crucifying the Son of God. Now that Christ is ruling from heaven, Satan and his angels are cast down to earth.
Revelation 12:10 – And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
Revelation 12:11 – And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death – John here uses a Trinitarian formula similar to that of 1 John 5:6-8.
This is He who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.
Although this is tangential to the discussion here, this is good internal evidence that the author of Revelation is the same person who wrote the Gospel of John and the three Epistles of John. Assuming Revelation was written first, we can use the symbolism of 12:11 to interpret 1 John 5:6-8. Revelation sheds light on what John may have expected his hearers, presumably also the churches of Asia Minor, to understand these symbols to mean.
The blood is Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
The water is the Word of God.
The Spirit is the power to overcome all adversity in the mission to preach the Gospel to the whole world and make disciples of the nations.
It is also important that this verse reveals when Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven (12:9). This was not rebellion of Satan after the Creation or the curse of Genesis 3. It is also not an eschatological event preceding a final tribulation period. No, Satan was cast out and overcome by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
The blood of the Lamb refers to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The word of their testimony relates to the witness of the early Church in persecution who bore witness to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
They loved not their lives unto the death is the identification with Christ’s suffering for sin through their own martyrdom.
Notice that 12:7-12a is from the vantage point of heaven. It pictures the Michael and the angels of heaven defeating the devil and his rebellious angels casting them out of heaven. The “overcomers” are the Church triumphant, the Church in heaven, those who have been martyred as witnesses for their faith in Jesus Christ.
The War Part 3
Revelation 12:12 – Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
Rejoice ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them – This sentence should be thought of as 12a. It is the turning point from a heavenly perspective to the vantage point of the people of the earth in 12b. For the rest of chapter 12, the same symbols and events are recapitulated from an earthly perspective.
Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! – This sentence begins 12b and the “War Cycle” begins for a third time focusing now on the earth.
For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time – Two things should be noted here that are different from preterist perspective than from other viewpoints.
First, the devil was cast down in the first century in the time of Christ. As described above, the devil was robbed of his power and his kingdom plundered by Christ’s death on the cross. St. Augustine called the cross the “Devil’s Mousetrap.”
The devil was conquered by his own trophy of victory. The devil jumped for joy, when he seduced the first man and cast him down to death. By seducing the first man, he slew him; by slaying the last man, he lost the first from his snare. The victory of our Lord Jesus Christ came when he rose, and ascended into heaven; then was fulfilled what you have heard when the Apocalypse was being read, “The Lion of the tribe of Judah has won the day” [Rev. 5:5]. . . . The devil jumped for joy when Christ died; and by the very death of Christ the devil was overcome: he took, as it were, the bait in the mousetrap. He rejoiced at the death, thinking himself death’s commander. But that which caused his joy dangled the bait before him. The Lord’s cross was the devil’s mousetrap: the bait which caught him was the death of the Lord (Augustine, Sermon 263).
If Augustine’s analogy is true and the devil experienced any momentary joy over the death of Christ, it was fleeting because he was immediately cast down to the earth. The second point follows from this.
Having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time – This is an awesome picture of a great red dragon, once proud of his ascent to usurp God’s throne. His seven heads are said to be crowned with seven crowns (Revelation 12:3). But now he is enraged because he has been cast down and he knows his doom is certain.
Second, John does not mean “a short time” in an eschatological sense. Rather, Satan’s stronghold against God’s people was both pagan Rome and apostate Jerusalem. Since Nero was the sixth king (Revelation 17:10), the power of Satan to wield persecution against the Church was limited in scope to the time of Nero. This great persecution ended with the seventh king, Galba.
Revelation 12:13 – And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
He was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman – The devil persecuted the woman precisely because he saw he was cast down. As in the devil’s mousetrap analogy above, Satan again made the same key mistake. He persecuted the woman thinking he could get rid of Christ and the Church. Jerusalem, the city where the Lord was crucified, was also the bait. Many preterists see Nero’s war against the saints and the war against the Jews as having the same diabolical purpose. Satan, working through the insane emperor, Nero, hoped that by destroying the Church and conquering Jerusalem, the original seat of Jesus’ Apostles, he could install his own throne there as a seat of the imperial cult. As a historical fact, Nero hoped to move his throne to Jerusalem where he would have been proclaimed the king of the world. However in the end, Nero’s Christian persecution and Jewish War turned him toward a deeper homicidal madness. This was “Nero’s mousetrap.” He committed suicide on June 9, AD 68, when he learned that he already had been tried in absentia and condemned to death as a public enemy. As Suetoius wrote, “The race of the Caesars ended with Nero.” This sparked a brief period of civil wars known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
Revelation 12:14 – And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
To the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness – Just as the infant Jesus escaped from Herod by fleeing into wilderness with his earthly parents, and the man Jesus was caught up to His heavenly throne after He defeated sin and death the cross, so the Church escaped the dragon’s wrath when Nero’s troops attacked Jerusalem.
Where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time – This corroborates with the exact time of the beginning of the Roman Jewish War in the spring of AD 67 to the final destruction of the Temple in September AD 70. A time, times and half a time is three-and-a-half years.
Revelation 12:15 – And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
This flood describes the bitter persecution of Christians throughout the Empire, but especially the Roman Jewish War. The Jerusalem Church, which had thrived in the great city “where our Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8), was Satan’s real target. The flood was projected to sweep away God’s Church, but instead only destroyed the apostate element among the Jews. The general persecution tested and refined the Church elsewhere (Revelation 2,3). Thus Satan acted merely as an instrument of God’s righteous judgment.
Revelation 12:16 – And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
The “War Cycle” repeats the third time with the vantage point being the “earth.” Here the earth means specifically the wilderness where the woman flees to. The irony here is that although the “earth” or wilderness is supposedly hostile territory, it becomes a refuge from the flood.
Revelation 12:17 – And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
This sentence is essentially a recapitulation of verse 12b, except it is from the perspective of the militant Church, the Church on earth. The remnant of the woman’s seed is God’s Church. She is faithful Israel who is contrasted with the apostate element of Israel in 12b, “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!”
Revelation 13:1 – Then I stood on the sand of the sea.
This “War Cycle” actually ends with the brief sentence that opens Revelation 13:1, “Then I stood on the sand of the sea.” This is the transitional verse that opens a recapitulation of the story of the war of the seed of the woman vs. the seed of the serpent.
In summary, Revelation 12 can be seen as the story of the deliverance of the Judean Church from the encroaching Roman armies in response to the Lord’s command for “those in Judea [to] flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:16). However, one of the most prominent preterist writers, David Chilton, offers this caveat, “There is nothing wrong with this view, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. For St. John’s allegory of the Woman is the story of the Church, not only a particular branch of it” (Days of Vengeance 321).
In essence, the Preterist-Idealist view maximizes the role of biblical allusion in telling the whole story of the victory of Christ and the Church over Satan. Chapter 12 as a whole can be seen as both the key to unlocking the symbolism of several of the prior chapters and the hinge that opens up the second half of the book. The first half, especially the “judgments portion” of chapters 4-11, focuses on the militant Church in tribulation and the beginning of the Roman Jewish War. The first half ends with a vision of the triumphant Church in heaven and is punctuated with the mighty climax of the saints singing, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever!” (11:15). The vision of Revelation 12 is the introduction to the judgments of chapters 13-19. These chapters recapitulate Nero’s war on the saints, the end of the Roman-Jewish War and the final destruction of the Temple.