Revelation 12: Satan is thrown to the earth, his war against Israel and the tribulation saints
The devil in the end times is somewhat like a man who loses his job because of his drunkenness, is thrown out the door by security, and afterward, in a fit of rage, takes out his demise on the boss’s wife and children.
Inebriated by his revulsion of God, Satan is forcefully tossed out of Heaven in an epoch battle with the archangel Michael and his angels. When Satan finds himself cast down to the earth, he directs his unjustified fury at Israel (the woman who birthed the Messiah) and “the rest of her children” (Revelation 12:17), the Tribulation Saints.
The remainder of Revelation 12 says the following:
“When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.
“Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” (Revelation 12:13-17).”
There has never been any race of people who have suffered so much discrimination, bigotry, hatred, and persecution as the Jews. Because God chooses these people for a leading role in his plan of redemption, the Evil One has specifically targeted them for destruction throughout history. When at the end he knows he’s rapidly running out of time, he directs his most intensified campaign to obliterate them.
We have already seen precursors of this final offensive and something of its ferocity. In Revelation Visualized, Dr. Gary G. Cohen (a messianic Jew) and Salem Kirban write:
“Sadly enough — for the Jews, their day of persecution is not over.
“Many will recall in recent years in the 1930s when Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany made antisemitism, or hatred of the Jews, an important part of their program.
“Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s many problems in the years after World War I. He repeated his falsehoods so often that most of the German people believed them.
“Before World War II ended in 1945, the Germans had slaughtered more than 6 million men, women, and children of the 10 million Jews in Europe. They also destroyed most of the synagogues.
“Six out of 10 killed! Perhaps such persecution will strike closer to home if you were to count 10 of your closest relatives (mother, father, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters) and imagine that of that closely knit group of 10 — six would die horrible deaths! Perhaps then you can come closer to this tragedy … and the wicked persecution, far greater, that still awaits God’s chosen people.”
It is hard to comprehend anything comparable to the Holocaust. Yet the Scriptures indicate the Holocaust was more like a dress rehearsal for the devil’s grand premiere during the Tribulation.
God has made many promises in His Word that Israel will be saved, not simply as a race of people, but He will save them from their sins and restore them to that blessed place of favor they once enjoyed with him.
He will make them chief among the nations and restore the throne of King David. At this point in Revelation, Satan’s primary purpose is to make God a liar and demonstrate he cannot keep His promises, and that He is unworthy of people’s trust.
Revelation 12 says the woman is “given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time” (vs. 14).
Dr. Chuck Missler says in his commentary handbook, The Book of Revelation, “Israel’s respite has always been linked to eagles and eagle’s wings.”
In Exodus 19:4, the Lord tells the Hebrews: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
Deuteronomy 32:11-12 says, “Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions. The Lord alone guided them…”
Isaiah 40:31 reads, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.”
The interpretation of the woman “given two wings like that of a great eagle” has been widely interpreted. For instance, M.R. De Haan, in Revelation, mentions:
“Some say the reference is to the fact that the woman, Israel, will escape by airplane. Others think the eagle typifies the United States of America and that this nation is destined to be the champion of Israel’s cause in the end-time.”
William Barclay, in his commentary on The Revelation of John, also shares: “We may note that, when men came to allegorize Scripture, Hippolytus saw in the eagles’ wings the symbol of the ‘the two holy arms of Christ outstretched upon the Cross.'”
In The Revelation Record, Henry Morris believes the “eagle” symbol is appropriate for the angels who provide Israel with miraculous help and deliverance from Satan’s attacks.
These are undoubtedly interesting interpretations, and the meaning of the text isn’t abundantly clear. However, what is clear is that the wings given to the woman are symbols of God’s protection bearing her upward.
She is flown, says the Scriptures, to a place of protection “prepared for her in the wilderness,” and “[t]here she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time” (vs. 14).
Where the woman lands is her refuge from the dragon and his evil forces. The Bible says it’s a place that God has prepared for her. O, how wonderfully and providentially God goes before his people to protect and provide for them in times of struggle and calamity.
Here are a few examples:
1. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers that God used for good what they intended for evil. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but through a series of events providentially orchestrated by God, Joseph ended up in a position of power in Egypt. When a famine strikes, his family comes to Egypt looking for food, and Joseph is able to provide for them and protect them from starvation. In God’s providence, they are given the land of Goshen to reside and thrive in numbers.
2. In Exodus 2, Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and sets him adrift on the Nile River to protect him from Pharaoh’s decree that all Hebrew baby boys should be killed. The basket floats down the river and is found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who takes Moses in and raises him as her own in the royal palace.
3. In 1 Samuel 18-19, King Saul becomes jealous of David’s popularity and attempts to kill him. However, David’s friend Jonathan warns him of Saul’s plans and helps him escape. Later, when David is on the run from Saul, God provides him with food, shelter, and protection in the wilderness.
4. In the book of Esther, God providentially arranges for Esther to become queen of Persia at just the right time to prevent a plot to annihilate the Jews. Through a series of events, Esther is able to reveal the plot to the king and save her people from destruction.
These examples show how God’s providence works through the worst circumstances to protect and provide for his people. This truth not only applies to the remnant of Jews who believe in Christ during the Tribulation period, but it applies to all of God’s people in every age as it serves his purposes.
Revelation 12 is unclear about where this prepared hiding place for Israel is located. Considering Old Testament passages such as Zechariah 14:5, Isaiah 63:1, and Daniel 11:41, some scholars contend that the site is most likely Petra.
Petra is an ancient rose-red city situated in the southwestern part of Jordan. It is renowned for its remarkable rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. It was part of the Old Testament land of Edom.
Charles F. Pfeiffer and Howard F. Voss in Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands say:
“The description of the Edomites building their nests like eagles in the clefts of the rocks (Obadiah 3-4) is in perfect accord with the geography of the region. Petra is an irregular valley of trapezoidal shape, surrounded on all sides by lofty hills, with only a few narrow gorges leading into the area.”
Petra was known for its strategic location and the natural defenses of its terrain, making it a challenging fortress to invade. Its downfall was primarily due to its geographic isolation and economic decline rather than a result of military conquest.
The great Bible expositor Dr. Louis Talbot so strongly believed this location would be where the Jews would be safely hidden away that he arranged to have Gospel pamphlets stashed there in anticipation of the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecy.
In a similar fashion and for the same reason, W.E. Blackstone hid thousands of copies of the New Testament in the caves of Petra. Dr. Harold Wilmington and some of his Thomas Road Bible Institute students in Lynchburg, Virginia (now Liberty University) placed a Bible there with their names and favorite Bible verses in it.
Nevertheless, it should be emphasized Petra is not the only place. As the late and renowned radio Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee has said, “Some say that it is the wilderness of the peoples of the world; that is, there will be another worldwide scattering of Israel.”
The Scripture also says how long Israel will be hidden away and shielded. It says, “a time, times, and half a time” (vs. 14). This phrase can be traced back to Daniel’s “70th week.”
I have not written much about Daniel’s “70th week” in these commentaries on the chapters of Revelation. Therefore, for those who might not know, Daniel’s “70th week,” also known as the final seven years of tribulation or the Great Tribulation, describes a period of intense suffering and challenges that will be faced by humanity in general and Israel in particular. The prophecy is based on the book of Daniel chapter 9, where the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that 70 weeks have been determined for his people and the holy city, Jerusalem. The first 69 weeks, or 483 years, have already occurred, and the final week, or seven years, is still to come.
This period is described in the previous chapters of Revelation when there will be a tremendous increase in war, natural disasters, and persecution of believers. The antichrist will rise to power and deceive many, and the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. The tribulation will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ to defeat the antichrist and establish his kingdom on earth.
What is portrayed in these last verses of Revelation 12 appears to be in the last half of the Tribulation period.
Finally, chapter 12 of Revelation tells us:
“Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children — all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus” (vv.15-17).
Although various interpretations have been given of these last verses, John F. Walvoord, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, seems to provide the most responsible handling of the passage. He writes:
“The flood cast after Israel is the total effort of Satan to exterminate the nation, and the resistance of the earth is the natural difficulty in executing such a massive program. The nature of the terrain in the Middle East, including many areas not heavily populated, provides countless places of refuge for fleeing people. Whether the exact meaning of these two verses can be determined with certainty, the implication is that Satan strives with all his power to persecute and exterminate the people of Israel. By divine intervention, both natural and supernatural means are used to circumvent this program and to carry a remnant of Israel safely through their time of great tribulation.”
When it becomes apparent to Satan that he has lost again and cannot destroy those from the Jewish nation who have believed, he then picks another target. He turns with all his wrath and anger on the “rest of her children — all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus” (v. 17).
In other words, when the devil sees believing Israel is protected, he turns on those who, for whatever reason, were not hidden in a place of safety. He determines to wipe every person from the earth who has trusted in Christ during the Tribulation period – the Tribulation Saints. For a while, he succeeds (Revelation 13:7), but his day of defeat is inevitable.
There is only one admonishment to be given here: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household” (Acts 16:31).
What are you going to do? This terrible day is coming? Tis better to face the wrath of the dragon for believing than to face the wrath of God for not believing. Moreover, if you repent of your sins and trust Christ now, you can escape this period and be “caught up” in the Rapture before any of it happens.
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.