They Conquered by the Blood of the Lamb
I’m excited about this passage—it’s not every week you get to talk about a dragon in church. I’m even more excited to tell you about a Lamb who conquered the Dragon. In chapter 12, John begins another cycle of seven. Seven signs this time. Together, they tell a story that stretches from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus’ return. And they help us make sense of our present struggle in tribulation. They also celebrate Christ’s triumph over evil.
But once again John does this by layering imagery from the Old Testament. Have you ever put together one of those puzzles, where each piece is its own picture? But as you put them together, the colors within those individual pieces then form an even greater portrait than you had first imagined. That’s what John does with the Old Testament; and the portrait he wants you to see in chapter 12 is Christ’s victory over Satan and his ongoing care for you in tribulation. Hear God’s word from verse 1…
1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. 7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him [because of] the blood of the Lamb and [because of] the word of their testimony, [and] they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 13 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. 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. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 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. 17 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.
Satan fails to destroy Christ and his people.
Let’s take this in three parts. Part one: Satan fails to destroy Christ and his people. In verse 1, John sees a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet. Song of Songs 6:10 also describes a woman this way: “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun.” The woman of chapter 12 is a woman of radiant, heavenly beauty. Her heavenly beauty differs from another woman John sees in chapter 17. That woman is a great prostitute. She’s clothed with only earthly treasures. The woman of chapter 12 is heavenly. She’s greater.
She also has on her head a crown of twelve stars. Some have suggested that Genesis 37 stands in the background. Joseph had a dream of the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him. Those heavenly bodies represented Jacob and his family, that is, Israel. Also, the number 12 in Revelation represents God’s people.[i] That’s really the first clue in understanding who this woman represents. She represents true Israel. She is daughter Zion. She is God’s elect people who long for the Messiah.
Notice how she’s pregnant and crying out in birth pains. The prophets portrayed Zion as a woman in labor. Micah 4:9-10 is a great example. God’s people were suffering in captivity. It says, “Why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you?…Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor.” The birth pains are the longings of God’s people for the Messiah. Micah 5:2-5 then promises that Messiah. God’s people would be saved “when she who is in labor has given birth.”
John borrows that imagery. In verse 5, her child is the Messiah. In verse 6 and 13, she experiences a wilderness like God’s people. In verse 17, the woman has children, those who keep the commandments of God. She represents God’s true people, who long for the Messiah and then follow the Messiah once he comes.
But this woman also faces a great enemy—a great red dragon. In 6:4, red was the color of war—this dragon wars against the woman. He also has seven heads and ten horns. The Beast of 13:1 also has seven heads and ten horns. 17:7 then explains those seven heads and ten horns as worldly powers who hate Christ. These parallels show that the Dragon is the power behind the earthly enemies of Christ.
Verse 4 also says his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven. That comes from Daniel 8:10. It describes Antiochus Epiphanes, an evil ruler. Him throwing stars to the ground was like him fighting God—God is Prince of heavenly hosts (Dan 8:11, 25). The Dragon does the same thing. He is a kingly figure who hates God.[ii] He seeks to exalt himself above God. Notice how he’s got seven diadems—these royal headbands. By having seven, he’s trying to imitate God’s authority.
We also learn the dragon’s identity in verse 9: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” But why a dragon? Because God’s enemies were portrayed as dragons. Isaiah 26:17 compares God’s people to a pregnant woman writhing in pain. But included in that pain is oppression from enemies who are then compared to Leviathan, a great and twisting serpent (Isa 27:1). In Ezekiel 32:2, Pharaoh is like a dragon. So is Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 51:34. He’s like a dragon who fills his belly with God’s people.[iii] As God’s enemy, this Dragon also seeks to devour Christ. He stands before the woman to devour her child. It’s a hideous picture: a vicious Dragon preying on the most vulnerable.
Now, there are layers to this image. It portrays a pattern that has roots all the way back to Genesis 3:15. To that ancient Serpent, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” In Exodus 1:16, Pharaoh—that dragon-like enemy—sought to drown the sons of Israel. In 1 Samuel 16, Goliath has armor like a serpent’s scales, and he tries to destroy God’s king. In Matthew 2, Mary finally gives birth to the Messiah and Herod tries to kill him. So, this story spans the Bible. The Dragon has a history of trying to stop the Christ.
But notice that the Dragon fails. Verse 5, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…” That comes from Psalm 2. God’s Son will rule the nations with a rod of iron. The whole messianic community has their hopes bound up with this child. He is the long-awaited King. If he’s devoured, there’s no hope.
“But,” it says, “her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” That summarizes Jesus’ life—from incarnation to ascension. Life, death, resurrection—that’s implied. Having finished his mission, he was caught up to God’s throne. Now, chapter 5 already told us what that means. The root of David has conquered. He conquered by giving his life as a Lamb. Jesus entered death to break the power of sin, death, and the devil. Now he rules at God’s right hand. He’s bringing all God’s purposes to pass. Satan failed to thwart God’s plan. How do we know? Because Jesus is on the throne.
Now, Jesus’ ascension also kickstarts the tribulation of 1,260 days. That’s what verse 6 is about. But let’s save verse 6 until we get to verse 14, since they talk about the same thing. For now, the focus is Christ’s enthronement and Satan’s failure.
Christ disbars Satan and enables his people to conquer Satan.
Part two gives us the results of Christ’s enthronement: Christ disbars Satan and enables his people to conquer Satan. John next sees a heavenly war. In verse 7, Michael and his angels fight the Dragon. When Michael shows up, he’s usually fighting evil powers on behalf of God’s people.[iv] In fact, in Daniel 10 and 12, the invisible war in heaven stands behind the visible wars on earth. What we’re getting here is a peak into the war in heaven while enemies warred against Jesus on earth at the cross.
But notice a decisive victory has been won. Michael throws the Dragon out of heaven (Rev 12:9). To this point, Satan was able to accuse people in heaven. We find him doing this with Job. Satan enters among the sons of God and questions Job’s faithfulness (Job 1:6-9). In Zechariah 3:1-3, Satan accuses Joshua for his uncleanness before the Lord. Colossians 2:14 describes a certificate of debt. We owe payment for our sins. Satan uses that certificate to blackmail people. Then here in verse 10, Satan is “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before God.” This is a pattern.
However, John reveals a decisive change. Satan is no longer allowed to accuse us in heaven. What led to this change? Verses 10-12 give the answer: “I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him [because of] the blood of the Lamb…”
What conquered the Dragon? What work silences his accusations? What act disbarred him from God’s court? Jesus’ death on the cross and Jesus’ enthronement in heaven (cf. John 12:31). The cross is where Jesus dies like a Lamb for our sins; and the enthronement is where Jesus applies the benefits of his death. Think about it! What sins can Satan accuse you for if Jesus’ blood washed them all away (Rev 1:5)? What certificate of debt can he hold over your head if God took that certificate and nailed it to the cross (Col 2:14)? None! His accusations fall flat.
Think about this, too. Pharaoh—who was like a dragon—oppressed God’s people. But because of the Lamb’s blood, God liberated his people from Pharaoh’s tyranny. Apart from grace, we’re enslaved to sin, death, and the devil. Satan oppresses us with accusations and guilt and hopelessness. But because of the Lamb’s blood, we escape Satan’s tyranny. “They have conquered him [because of] the blood of the Lamb. Let’s return to verse 11 in a moment because there’s more.
Christ protects and nourishes his people when Satan attacks.
For now, let’s move to part three: Christ protects and nourishes his people when Satan attacks. Satan no longer has a place in heaven. But that doesn’t mean he won’t wreak havoc on earth. Verse 12 says, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.” It’s like crushing the head of a snake. The decisive blow comes. But the tail rages for a while.
In verse 13, Satan pursues the woman just like Pharaoh pursued Israel. In verse 15, water pours like a river from Satan’s mouth. The goal is to drown the woman. The river comes from Satan’s mouth. Meaning his words/lies cause the torrent.[v] At the same time, waters, rivers, flood—these describe various threats. In Psalm 32:6, a “rush of great waters” refers to trouble in general. In Psalm 18:3-4, the torrent symbolizes death. In Psalm 69:1-4, the waters represent unjust suffering from enemies. In other words, Satan will try to overwhelm God’s people with a flood of temptations and trials.
Then in verse 17 we find Satan making war on the rest of the woman’s offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Satan wasn’t successful with the remnant. He wasn’t successful with Christ. He wasn’t successful with Jesus’ disciples. So now he tries to destroy the woman’s children. That’s you. If you follow Jesus’ commands, you belong to the woman’s children. Satan wars against you. In chapter 13, that war includes deception, persecution, hardships.
But notice too that we’re not left to ourselves in this war. We also find God’s ongoing care for his people. In verse 14, “the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness.” That’s from Exodus 19:4. God rescued his people from Pharaoh and says, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” They didn’t make it by their own strength. It was wholly God’s doing. He came through. He delivered them. Not just to drop them off in the wilderness—No, to bring them to himself in the wilderness.
Notice also how the wilderness is the place where God meets his people and nourishes them. Only, it’s a bit more intimate in verse 6: “where she has a place prepared by God.” The wilderness isn’t just a barren wasteland. It’s the place God specially prepared for his people to meet with him, to be with him, to learn to trust him. It’s the place where he nourishes her: making bitter water sweet; bringing water from a rock; sending manna from heaven; protecting from enemies. 2:17 alluded to this nourishment already, didn’t it? Jesus promises to nourish us with hidden manna. Manna we can’t see, but that he gives us from his throne of grace whenever we are in need.
Now, the 1,260 days—remember, that symbolizes the period from Jesus’ resurrection to Jesus’ return. We discussed this in chapter 11; and we got that from 12:6. Jesus’ enthronement begins the 1,260 days, or time, times, and half of time. In other words, God will provide the nourishment we need the whole age. There won’t be a moment in tribulation when God’s nourishment stops for his people.
Then finally, in verse 16, we see the earth open its mouth and swallow the Dragon’s river. That comes from Exodus 15:12. Pharaoh had Israel trapped at the Red Sea. God rescued them; and they sing, “You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them.” John borrows that image to say that God will not allow the Dragon’s threats to sweep away Christ’s people. He will protect us. He will nourish us.
How should this sign impact us?
That’s the first of seven signs. Now, how should a sign like this impact us? For starters, you need to view the world this way. As children of the woman, Revelation 12 is telling your story. So often our lives are shaped merely by the things we can see. But here God pulls back the curtain, so that we see more of reality. The heavenly reality determines what’s happening on earth. In his book All Things New, Brian Tabb says, “Revelation is not a riddle to be decoded by experts…It is a book…meant to decode our reality, capture our imaginations, and master our lives…”
Has chapter 12 captured your imagination? God means to sanctify your perception, so that you see things as they really are. That includes the reality of a Dragon standing behind world powers and seeking to overwhelm you. That also includes the reality of Jesus conquering the Dragon and aiding the church in tribulation. We live by the stories we tell ourselves. How will this picture inform the stories you tell yourself?
When you view the world this way, it will sober you in the fight against temptation. Suddenly, temptation and trial involve a seven-headed Dragon. Have you read books or seen movies with evil dragons? You don’t fight a Dragon without alertness, armor, and a sword. That’s why Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
When you’re alert to his schemes, you suddenly recognize their gravity. When Ephesians 4:27 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger; and give no opportunity to the devil”—a passage like Revelation 12 should make you want to reconcile quickly. A passage like Revelation 12 should make you quick to avoid sinful anger and bitterness. Give no opportunity to this Dragon in your relationships, your marriage, and this church!
When Paul calls false teaching the doctrine of demons, he sees this Dragon. Sound doctrine is a big deal, because there’s a Dragon trying to flood God’s people with lies. That’s why we need pastors who teach sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it. Or take something like pornography—and I mention it because a few of you are still looking at it. Those images you’re downloading—there’s a Dragon behind that screen seeking to devour you. There’s a Dragon enslaving you and twisting your brains into Beast-like imitations of himself. Get your sword and fight!
Or consider other temptations like persecution. Voice of the Martyrs isn’t just reporting how powerful regimes are persecuting Christians—behind those regimes is a Dragon warring against the woman’s children. We must see the world this way, or we’ll be lazy in the fight against sin and lazy in prayer. John’s vision sobers us.
At the same time, when you view the world this way, chapter 12 becomes a source of encouragement in the fight. This vision encourages our faithfulness. Do you recall the number of times that Jesus mentions Satan in his seven letters to the church? Satan moves people to slander the Christians in 2:9. He leads authorities to imprison Christians in 2:10. He leads others to kill Antipas in 2:13. The devil stands behind those tempting the church toward idolatry and sexual immorality in 2:24. In 3:9 he’s behind the church’s economic hardship for preaching the gospel.
Talk about a flood of temptations and trials! The Christians first hearing this know what that flood feels like. And you can imagine the doubts that might creep in: “Are we going down? Is the river of lies going to consume us? Should we just quit? Should we fear this Devil who might soon kill us?” Consider how this vision would’ve answered their doubts and encouraged them to keep going and not give in.
What about you? Do you ever feel like there’s a torrent of trials about to drown you? Do you ever feel like a flood of evil is about to sweep you away? Are their threats facing you right now, making you afraid, making you want to give up? Dear child of the woman, this vision doesn’t stop with a ruthless Dragon; it also tells us of the one who conquered him. The Lamb has overcome! The story you tell yourself shouldn’t end with hopelessness and despair. The Dragon is a threat; but he’s a defeated threat. If you belong to Jesus, he will not allow the Dragon to sweep you away. Even if it means suffering and death, you’re still in his hands. The seed of the woman has crushed the head of the Serpent. Jesus is on the throne; and he will soon end all evil.
Chapter 12 also informs how we conquer Satan. We conquer by Christ and by preaching Christ even unto death. Go back to verse 11: “They have conquered him [because of] the blood of the Lamb…” That’s the first thing it says. You will not conquer evil by your own doing. You will not conquer by trusting in your own works to get by. You will not conquer by your perfect church attendance and ministry position. You conquer by holding fast to Christ and what he achieved for you on the cross.
You also conquer by preaching Christ even unto death. The rest of verse 11: “[They have conquered] because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives even unto death.” The word of their testimony—that doesn’t mean your personal testimony. It is you bearing witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.[vi] It’s a life comparable to the martyrs in 6:9—they were slain for the word of God and testimony they had born. They preached Christ even when it cost their lives.
When we love our lives in this world more than we love Christ, we do not conquer. As Jesus said elsewhere, we lose our souls. But if we lose our lives for his sake and the gospel, then we save it. We conquer. From the world’s perspective, dying for the gospel looks like you’re on the losing side. But from Jesus’ perspective you’re on the winning side. How did he conquer? By laying down his life. We follow in his footsteps; and when we do, then we become conquerors. We conquer not by taking the lives of others; we conquer by laying our lives down for the sake of others.
Choosing a life centered on Jesus will put you in the wilderness, just like the woman and her children. Sometimes you may even feel that wilderness very pointedly. But rest assured in this—in the wilderness God will nourish you. The Lord doesn’t bring you through the wilderness to starve. He brings you through the wilderness to satisfy you with himself. There are ways he wants to nourish you that only come in the wilderness. Where did God reveal that man does not live by bread alone? In the wilderness? Where did Jesus reveal that he was more than enough for his people? When he gave them bread in the wilderness. God will meet you there too.
We are in the wilderness because he has carried us out of slavery. He is taking us to the true Promised Land in the new heaven and new earth. And all along the way, he will nourish his people. When you are in the valley, his rod and his staff will comfort you. When you are lonely, his presence by the Spirit will sustain you. When your soul is parched, his word will feed you. When you’re not sure about the next week, his Supper reassures you of his love at the cross. When you come to the table today, remember that we serve a King who nourishes us in this wilderness of tribulation.
[i] Rev 7:4 (12 X 12,000); 7:5 (12 X 1,000); 14:1; 21:12, 14, 21.
[ii] We also learned in 2:13 that Satan has a throne on earth—that’s where kings sit. Other places in the New Testament call him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2).
[iii] See also Ps 74:13; Isa 27:1.
[iv] Dan 10:13; 12:1; Jude 9. Hebrews 1:14 also mentions Christ commissioning angels to serve those who are to inherit salvation.
[v] Cf. the sword from Jesus’ mouth (Rev 1:16); the fire comes from the mouth of two witnesses (Rev 11:5).
[vi] Rev 1:2, 9; 6:9.
other sermons in this series