Great Red Dragon
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
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
Dragons are mythological creatures that appear in many human cultures. Our English word "dragon" derives from Greek δράκων, which means basically “giant water snake.” Like most mythological creatures, different cultures perceive their dragons in different ways. Dragons are sometimes said to breathe fire or spit poison. They are commonly portrayed as reptilian, hatching from eggs, possessing scaly bodies, and sometimes having large yellow or red eyes. Oriental versions of the dragon resemble large snakes. In Western folklore, however, the dragon is typically depicted as a huge, fire-breathing, scaly, dinosaur-like creature, with wings, four legs and a long tail.
The medieval story of St. George and the Dragon is one of the most famous Western stories about dragons. A dragon made its nest next to a spring from which a nearby city got most of its water. In order to pacify the dragon and get water, the residents of the city offered sacrifices to the dragon. They offer a girl, of course. Why is it always a girl? The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, the chosen one was the princess. The king begged for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She was offered to the dragon, but then Saint George appeared. He just happened to be passing by. He killed the dragon, and rescued the princess.
Dragons haunt the culture of almost every civilization, from the Babylonians to the Chinese to the Europeans. Long ago, when much of the world was still undiscovered, mapmakers when they reached the edge of their knowledge, would insert the ominous lines—“here be dragons”—which was their way of saying, “I don’t know.”
By the way, one of my favorite books is the 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The bad guy in the novel is a dragon named Smaug. Smaug hoards a great treasure and breathes fire in a futile attempt to kill the hero, Bilbo Baggins.
Now all that is, you might say, just a fairytale. However, the dragon I would like to talk about today is no fairytale, or, put it this way, in the Bible, the dragon symbolizes an ancient evil power that is, and always has been, the deadly enemy of our species. This is the monster behind all other monsters, the bogeyman who really is there, the ultimate horror of the universe. And this monster wages war right now against the church of Jesus Christ and against you and me.
The symbol of the serpent as the evil one appears in the first book of the Bible and the last book of the Bible. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Eve. Genesis does not actually say that the serpent was Satan or a manifestation of Satan. The Genesis serpent is however certainly the tempter who led astray our first parents, and that is what Satan always is, the tempter. He tries to lead us away from God. More than that, Ha-Satan is actually a Hebrew word, which translates as “the accuser.” Satan accuses and tempts the people of God. He tempts us to sin against God and then accuses us because of our sins and ungodliness.
As we turn to the last book of the Bible, we find in chapter 12 a war between the dragon and the woman. John, the author of Revelation, identifies the dragon as that “old serpent”—which might be a reference to the serpent of Genesis. He might be saying that this is the same power that Eve met in the garden.
In any case, John goes on to make sure that we understand which power he is talking about. John is using symbols, but he wants us to be absolutely certain about what this great red dragon is. He is the devil, and if we do not get that, John adds, he is Satan.
But let us back up to v1 of chapter 12. John describes “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars”---all of which remind us of Joseph’s dream back in Genesis.
In Genesis 37:9, Joseph said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” It is interesting to note how often Revelation refers to Genesis. In Joseph’s dream, the sun, moon, and 11 stars referred to his mother and father and brothers—in other words to the sacred family that became the nation of Israel. We surmise therefore that the woman of Revelation 12 is Israel.
The woman was pregnant and was, in fact, in the very act of delivering her baby. Then v3 tells us that “a great red dragon,” appeared, “having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” A dragon symbolizes fierceness and cruelty. The 7 heads and 7 crowns probably represent the Roman Empire. You may remember that Rome was built on 7 hills. Certainly every one of John’s readers in the late first century and early second century would have known that “the city of seven hills” was imperial Rome.” Moreover they would have known that the Roman Empire had been divided into 10 provinces by Augustus Caesar. So the dragon is empire and power. It operates by fear and terror. It represents intimidation and coercion. It is all the power of this world.
And we read in v4 “his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.” Earlier in Revelation, in chapter 1, John has used stars to symbolize churches, or the leadership of churches. Perhaps then he is saying in chapter 12 that persecution of the Empire has already destroyed many churches and Christian leaders.
In any case, v4 tells us that the dragon stood before the woman, who was in labor, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born. The child is Jesus. The whole history of Israel is represented by the woman in labor. The purpose of that history was to bring forth the messiah. That history, the history of Israel, was opposed at every point by Satan. Satan used every device to prevent the birth of Christ, but Satan failed. Israel succeeded. That is, Israel succeeded in doing what God intended for it to do.
We read this symbolically in RV12:5, “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.” This is a quick summary of the whole earthly life of Jesus. John is not trying to tell us about the earthly life of Jesus. His point is that the dragon hates Jesus so much that the dragon tried to kill Jesus as soon as he was born.
Every Christmas, when we talk about the birth of Jesus, we generally leave out the incident in Gospel of Matthew where Herod slaughtered the children of Bethlehem in an attempt to murder the divine infant. Revelation is telling us that Herod acted under the influence of the dragon. We probably already figured that out.
Rev 12 is an interesting chapter, but it has some loose ends. For example, we wonder what is the significance is in v6 of the woman fleeing into the desert for 1260 days. There is much speculation about this.
But John’s main point in this chapter is not in doubt. The dragon is at war with the child. Satan is at war with Christ. Satan tried to kill the new-born babe through Herod. That was just the beginning. The gospels tell us that before Jesus began his public ministry, he went into the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted of the devil. Just as the devil tempted Eve, he tempted Jesus, but Jesus did not turn away from God. Some years later, when Jesus began to speak bluntly to his disciples about going to Jerusalem and being murdered, Peter took him aside and said, “Lord, this does not have to happen. You don’t need to do this.” Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Luke 16:23). Jesus recognized that Satan was tempting him again—this time through one of his favorite disciples.
Satan used every weapon at his disposal to defeat the Lord. That is the main point of this vision. That is the point you and I must grasp---the dragon is still at war with the child. The dragon uses people outside the church, like Herod; He uses people inside the church, like Peter—in an attempt to destroy Jesus. Rev 12:7, “War arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back.”
Now we know a secret that the devil apparently does not know. God is almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing; therefore, God cannot lose this war. There is not the slimmest, faintest possibility that God can lose. We know that at one level, we know that as an article of faith, but that fact is hidden from us in this world. As we look around us, at the way things actually are, it seems to us that Christ and the devil are locked in a life and death struggle, and evil sometimes even seems to triumph.
Why do so many people find even the mention of Jesus’ Name offensive? Why do they want to remove Christ from Christmas or Easter? Is all of this just a “freedom of religion” issue---or is there something more? Is it possible that the dragon is still trying to devour this child---to silence his name, to remove his influence, to be sure that as many people as possible never hear the name of Jesus?
Revelation assures us that the dragon is at war against heaven, but it also assures us that heaven wins. Michael and good guys win. Rev 12:10 is a shout of victory: “"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.”
That is the victory at the end, but we are not there yet. It gives us confidence to know that we are on the winning side. God is going to win, but right now, we are in the midst of battle, and to us the outcome is unclear.
I sometimes read accounts of battles and I find an interesting contrast. If you read a historical account of an old battle, say a WWII battle, the writer can often give you a fairly clear picture of what happen. She can tell you about the strategy involved, the strength of the units employed, what weapons they used, the terrain, she puts all that together to give you a good idea of that event. But if you read an account of a soldier who was actually in that battle, to him it is all confusion, and he often does not have a clue as to what is going on.
Well, we are in a spiritual battle, and we are not the generals, we are the foot soldiers. So often we are surrounded by confusion and chaos, and we cannot tell who is winning. The devil is accusing us and tempting us. It seems to us that we are in a bitter struggle that could go either way. Satan is always challenging our faith. Then he accuses us for failing to keep God’s law. How can we overcome these demonic accusations and temptations? Vs. 11 tells us. We read, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
God’s people overcome the dragon by their faith—by their faith in “the blood of the Lamb.” They have no defense against the devil’s accusations except Christ’s death on the Cross, through which they are forgiven and cleansed.
They have overcome the dragon also the verses says, “By the word of their testimony” They are not afraid to talk about their faith in Christ. They do not have much to say about themselves, but they cannot stop talking about their Savior. They do not trust themselves at all to defeat the dragon, they trust entirely in the Lord.
The dragon is at war with Christ, and that means in this world the dragon is at war with the church of Christ. Maybe the woman who flees into the wilderness for a time is the church. In this world we are in a wilderness, hounded by an evil dragon.
Satan hates the church because Jesus loves the church. In the early centuries of the church, Satan tried to destroy by persecution. The empire had Christians imprisoned and killed, but that persecution failed.
Today the dragon has moved on to other methods---deceit, heresy, compromise—to destroy the church Christ founded. That is Satan’s goal. Thus, Satan loves church divisions. Satan loves a good preacher scandal. He loves it when the church fights about money and property.
On the other hand, Satan is defeated when the church unites in love, when the church focuses on worshipping Jesus and winning the world for Christ. The dragon is at war with the church, but the church can and will triumph through the power of its Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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