Then, when the dragon saw that he had been cast out onto the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male.
And the women was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she could fly into the wilderness, into her place where she is being nourished for a time and a time and half of a time, from the presence of the serpent.
So the serpent spewed out of his mouth water like a torrent after the woman, so that she be carried away by the torrent.
But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed the torrent which the dragon had cast out of its mouth, so the dragon was provoked to anger over the woman, and departed to make war with the rest of her offspring, the ones keeping the Law of God and having the witness of Jesus.
And he stood upon the sand of the sea.Revelation 12:13-18
The narrative from beginning to end certainly reads as a mystical vision.
Sign of the Birthing Woman
Imagine John’s gaze arrested by a vision forming in the sky. As he watches, he realizes he is seeing the form of a pregnant woman in the early stages of labor. She is radiant, wrapped in the rays of the sun for her raiment, twelve brilliantly luminous stars surround her head in a celestial diadem, and though he cannot see her birthing stool in the glowing sky, he can see that the moon has been placed to brace her feet as she pushes in her extreme travail.
But lo! What is this?
Sign of the Fiery Dragon
Movement catches John’s attention and he sees a swiftly approaching figure, a fiery dragon, a burst of flames, and as it flies toward the woman, its snaking tail flashes through the sky like a writhing serpent, sweeping a vast cascade of stars to the earth—a full third, their sudden absence leaving great gaping gaps in the heavenlies.
The serpent comes to a sudden and heart-stopping halt before the women. Its giant maw opens, exposing row upon row of sharp, glistening teeth. Its red tongue quivers in ravenous anticipation, for John knows it is preparing to rend the tiny infant from limb to limb the moment it is born, and to feast upon its tender flesh.
The baby crowns, the inflamed dragon draws closer, but just as the woman cries out with one final push and the dragon shoves its head past the moon to snatch her newborn son, a lightning flash blinds them all. Immense power has forcibly taken the child up to God.
John shakes his head in in wonder. The heavens have somehow filled in the gaps of the missing stars, and it seems the starry resplendence of the night sky has been restored. While John, and the dragon, and the woman had all focused intently on the birthing of her child, the remaining stars had rallied to the little one’s salvation, for he has a glorious destiny.
And now, as John watches, the woman flees to a wilderness place, a beautiful oasis only just now appearing in the desert, yet fully grown and beautifully appointed, a shelter, living water, trees filled with fruit, a place long-since made ready for this moment. It is a harbor prepared by God for the woman, where she will be nurtured and nourished by God’s ministering ones.
Even as John watches the woman run breathless and wind-whipped through the wasteland, the deafening sounds of swords hammering shields, chariots thundering, horses pounding, throaty cries of combat and the heat of the battle in heaven hit John with resounding force. The celebrated archangel Michael and the seraphim with scimitars ablaze, God’s flaming charioteers and their horses of fire, the whole heavenly host arrayed in splendor, their armor gleaming, are contending with the red dragon and his fallen horde.
John stands transfixed as the sky fills with war. God’s army advances steadily and relentlessly. Soon enough it becomes apparent the dragon does not have the might to defeat Almighty God. And now that serpent of old, the Accuser and the Opposer of the Lord, has lost his place in the heavenlies. Just as the gaps left by the fallen stars had soon vanished without trace, so now Satan’s place among the heavenly host also ceased to be.
With a volcanic roar of rage, the dragon now finds himself forcefully expelled from heaven, and he too is plummeting to earth where his cast-out stars await him.
An exultant hymn rises up from the voices of the victors, for the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God, and the authority of Christ are proven. It is done! It is finished!
Yet, as the triumphant look upon the earth, John feels their compassion as well as their pride. God’s own are saved, theirs is the kingdom and the glory. But theirs also is the intense persecution to come, the unspeakable suffering and the grisly deaths the serpent has in store.
For even as paeons of praise peal through the heavenlies, the outraged fury of the dragon bucks and heaves across the earth. All its passionate malevolence now concentrates with vindictive hatred on the figure of the fleeing woman. Suddenly, it throws back its head and vomits a prodigious spume of water, a vast polluted cataract hurtling like a tidal wave across the desert, threatening to drown its prey.
John watches in horror.
Without warning and perhaps completely unexpectedly, the earth itself opens its own mouth and swallows up the serpent’s vile river and the sky brings down colossal eagle’s wings so that the woman now flies with celestial speed to her sanctuary.
Later, John’s readers surely thought of God’s conquest of Egypt. Then, the gods of the earth, and the sky, and the water worked together with Pharaoh. But God had defeated them. Now the earth and the sky worked together with God. Vanquishing the serpent was bring restoration to the cosmos.
Undoubtedly, John is wrung out by now, soaked in the sweat of dread, adrenalin, startlement, awe, and heartache. Yet, the woman’s narrow escape, the infant son’s salvation, and the dragon’s complete defeat are not the final scene in the oracle God gives his prophet.
The Dragon’s Wrath
Instead, John watches as the dragon’s thwarted wrath now becomes fixated on the annihilation of the woman’s offspring, those who keep to the word of God and are rooted and built up in the Word of God, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Certainly, John’s audience understood this meant them. Salvation was won in heaven, in eternity, for them. What the dragon would do to them, that serpent of old, would hurt in ways they could not even yet fathom for how truly depraved it would be. But they would welcome their deaths to come, for Death could no longer hold its captives. Even though each one would go to meet Death in its own domain, in the grimmest possible circumstances, God’s own would pass through Death to Life, for Life had the victory.
In the final, fading scene, the dragon stands resolute upon the sands of the sea. Long, long before, God had likened the numerousness of Abraham’s offspring to the countless grains of sand by the seashore. Perhaps the dragon gloated as its feet trampled upon those tiny tumbled rocklets. Perhaps it gloated as it contemplated what it was about to drag out of the ocean’s depths. And perhaps John trembled as he sensed what next would come.
But the sand, and the sea, and the sky, and the earth would outlast Satan’s worst. So would the people of God.