Revelation 12

Chapter 12

The Great Confrontation: Pagan Rome and the Church[a]

Two Signs in Heaven: the Woman and the Dragon.[b] A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was with child and about to give birth, crying aloud in the anguish of her labor.

3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems crowning his heads. 4 His tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them to the earth.

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child who is destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. And her child was taken up directly to God and to his throne. 6 The woman herself fled into the wilderness where she would be looked after for twelve hundred and sixty days[c] in a place prepared for her by God.

7 Next, war broke out in heaven, with Michael[d] and his angels in combat against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon—the ancient serpent who is called the devil, or Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—was hurled down to earth, and his angels were cast down with him.

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser[e] of our brethren has been cast out,
the one who accused them day and night before our God.
11 They have conquered him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
even in the face of death
they did not cling to life.
12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to you, earth and sea,
because the devil has come down to you.
He is filled with rage,
for he knows that his time is short.”

13 When the dragon realized that he had been hurled down to 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 could fly away from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she was to be looked after for a year, two years, and a half year.[f]

15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed out water like a river after the woman to sweep her away with the flood. 16 However, the earth came to the rescue of the woman: it opened its mouth and swallowed the river spewed from the dragon’s mouth.

17 Then the dragon became enraged at the woman and went off to wage war on the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.

18 A Beast Rises from the Sea.[g] Meanwhile, I took my position[h] on the seashore.


  1. Revelation 12:1 The animosity exhibited by the public authorities against Christian communities has become persecution. Now the grand declarations of loyalty toward the power are ended (see Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-17). The time has come, not to organize some armed defense or subversion but to resist every pressure and to stand fast in fidelity to Christ even to the shedding of blood. At this point, the Roman empire comes on the scene as the instrument used by all the forces hostile to Christ, his Kingdom, and his faithful. The Roman empire is a symbol of all earthly empires with their claim to impose their own ideas and purposes as a religion. The struggle will end with the victory of the risen Christ and those who have put their trust in him.

    Here then is the time of the nations or the pagans. In the previous chapters, which envisaged the last times from the viewpoint of Israel’s destiny, its place had already been marked out in anticipation (Rev 10:1—11:13). This is the scene itself. The structure of the chapters that follow is less clear; however, we find once again the same procedure as in the seven visions and the seven bowls.

  2. Revelation 12:1 Two types play a role in this inaugural vision. The ancient prophecy of Genesis (3:15) is fulfilled: a struggle in which there is no truce opposes the posterity of the chosen people and the forces of evil. The woman who gives birth personifies first of all the chosen people, from which the Messiah is to be born; there is certainly a reference to him in v. 5, which cites some classic Messianic texts: Isa 66:7 and Ps 2:9.
    A long-standing Christian tradition also identifies the woman with the Virgin Mary, an exemplar of the chosen people. Modern exegetes rarely support so explicit an interpretation, but do not deny that the role of the one called “woman” in the fourth Gospel (Jn 2:4; 19:26) may have indirectly inspired, at least partially, this description in the Book of Revelation.
    The dragon (see Dan 7; 8:10) has all the characteristics of the power that rises up against God: seven heads, ten horns, behavior capable of destroying the order of the universe (v. 4, citing Dan 8:10). The dragon is Satan, the eternal accuser of human beings before God (see Job 1:6-11; 2:1-10). After this “the rest of her [the woman’s] offspring” (v. 17)—i.e., the faithful followers of Christ—suffer a period of struggles and trials in “the wilderness” (v. 6), i.e., on the earthly journey of the Church. In these trials the Church will not lack the strength given by the manna (see v. 6), an evident reference to the Eucharist.
    Hell can launch against the Church all the forces unleashed by the Roman political authorities. In this scene there is also a struggle between Michael and the dragon (v. 7), which illustrates the victory of Christ; the description draws its inspiration from the Book of Daniel.
  3. Revelation 12:6 Twelve hundred and sixty days: see note on Rev 11:2-3, 11.
  4. Revelation 12:7 Michael: i.e., God’s champion according to Jewish tradition (see Dan 10:12-21; 12:1); his name means “Who can compare with God?”
  5. Revelation 12:10 Accuser: the translation for the Hebrew word “Satan” (see 1 Chr 21:1; Job 1–2; Zec 3:1). In Hebrew scripture, Satan is a type of district attorney who accuses people of their sins at the Last Judgment.
  6. Revelation 12:14 A year, two years, and a half year: see note on Rev 11:2.
  7. Revelation 12:18 This beast that is possessed of extraordinary power (seven heads and ten horns) personifies the Roman empire. Its historical success is a blasphemous parody of the Christian mystery; the emperors have themselves acclaimed with divine titles, while for Christians only God and the Lamb have a right to the title “Lord” (Kyrios). The head that was wounded and then healed probably refers to Nero who was forced to commit suicide (by pushing a sword into his head) and was said to have risen from the dead (again, a blasphemous parody of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection).
  8. Revelation 12:18 I took my position . . .: another translation is: “he took his position . . .”—which would join v. 18 to the preceding paragraph.

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