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And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Revelation 12:3–5


The Woman


A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun giving birth to a child. This sign is the first system of religion in the series of systems of religion of chapters 12–14. This woman symbolizes the church Jesus built as it came into existence on the Day of Pentecost. This event is significant for 2 reasons: (1) The church is clothed in the righteousness of Christ through New Testament salvation. With advent of the church the Holy Spirit for the first time since creation actually indwelt believers cleansing them from sin and enabling them to life holy lives. (2) The advent of the church completes the Old Testament dispensation and ushers in the gospel dispensation with the New Testament.

The woman is crowned with a garland of 12 stars that we recognize as the 12 Apostles of Jesus. From our previous lecture we learned that the Apostles died martyr deaths during persecutions faced by the early church. This leads us to the next system of religion that appears, which is a great, fiery red dragon.


Another Sign


Verse 3 says that another sign appeared in heaven. The coordinate conjunction “and” synchronizes what follows with what precedes giving both parts equal value. Verse 1 starts with the word “now” indicating that the woman immediately appears in the vision. Verse 2 starts with the word “then” indicating that after she appears she begins to be in labor. Understanding the child to be the great hosts of converts to the church, this could only happen after the church came into being. The church began with the 120 disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Then, after Peter preached the first sermon the church increased by 3000 and continued to grow.

The “and” in verse 3 places what follows at the same time as the woman appeared. So, at the very moment the woman appeared the red dragon appeared with the very purpose of destroying the child. This scene calls to mind the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 where God pronounced the judgment of enmity between the serpent and Eve.


And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.


While this judgment is a Messianic prophecy, it also evokes thoughts of the conflict between the church and the Christ-less religions she battled throughout history. In those battles Satan’s religions delivered many serious and hurtful blows to the visible aspect of the church, but in all cases, the church Jesus built always bruised his head—a death blow that spoiled his purpose.

This red dragon is a religious system that appeared as a consequence of the woman’s appearance. When the church Jesus built appeared a religious influence appeared opposing the church determined to destroy the very host of believers that were being born again into the kingdom of God, the church of God.


The Red Dragon


What is this red dragon? Some teachers of the church-historic interpretation of the Revelation reach back into the prophecies of Daniel to identify this dragon. The 7th chapter of Daniel speaks of four beasts that represent the histories of the world dominating empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Verse 7 pictures the Roman Empire: “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.”

Historically, the church came into existence during the time of the Roman Empire so we are sure that Daniel’s prophecy actually reaches into the Book of Revelation to this degree. However, there are differences between the fourth beast of Daniel and this red dragon. The dragon of the Revelation is fiery red in color whereas no color is ascribed to Daniel’s beast. Daniel’s beast is described as dreadful, terrible, and exceedingly strong but it is not called a dragon. Verse 9 of Revelation 12 also calls the dragon that serpent of old.

But there are some similarities. Daniel’s beast has 10 horns and so does the dragon of the Revelation. The little horn that came up later on Daniel’s beast made war with the saints and prevailed against them and the dragon of the Revelation stood before the woman to devour her child.

The dragon of Revelation 12 appears in the heaven of the vision therefore it cannot be the political Roman Empire. Since the woman is the system of religion built by Jesus this red dragon appearing in heaven is also a system of religion. Adam Clarke recognized this:


The dragon here is a symbol, not of the Roman empire in general, but of the HEATHEN Roman empire. This great pagan power must have, therefore, been thus represented from the religion which it supported.


Identifying it only as the heathen Roman Empire is not completely correct as the symbol covers more than just Rome. The religion of the Roman Empire was paganism, which we could call a religion without Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church He built and He is the king in the kingdom of God. Any other form of religion cannot have Jesus as its head or as part of its system. This red dragon represents all forms of religion without Christ or do not allow Him His rightful place in the church and oppose the church He built. As soon as the church of God was birthed into existence on the Day of Pentecost there was a host of religions with no Jesus that were moved to come against it with the fiercest of persecutions attempting to destroy it.


The Very First Persecution


The very first persecution began in the early dawn of the history of the church. Matthew chapter 2 records the visit of the wise men with Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the king over Judea appointed by Mark Antony. He was an Idumaean by birth and was only a nominally religious Jew. Unger’s Bible Dictionary says of Herod “he was a heathen in practice and a monster in character.”

When the wise men approached Herod and asked about the baby that was born king of the Jews, Herod was troubled. Who is this that is going to challenge my kingship? Having sent the wise men to Bethlehem Herod began to plot how to illuminate this new-born king. While Herod plotted, an angel appeared to Joseph telling him, “Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” (Matthew 2:13)

The wise men were supposed to come back to Herod but they were told by and angel not to return to him but to go home. This infuriated Herod.


Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)


This baby Jesus, Messiah, grew to become our Savior and the founder of His church, and as its founder He is the rightful and only head of His church. So from the very first moment of the possibility of God’s church, the head of that church was persecuted by this godless tyrant who looked upon himself as the head of the Jews, God’s people at this time in history. Without realizing it, his goal was to keep Jesus from being the head of the church.


The First Conflict With the New Church


The woman of Revelation appears in the spiritual heaven and gives birth to a host of converts. The church was established and began functioning on the Day of Pentecost and in its very first day received 3000 converts after which “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Several miracles happened during the early days of the church’s ministry that upset the leaders of the Jewish religion. Acts 4:4 describes the first conflict of the new church.


Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.


Peter and John were thrown in jail overnight. The Jewish religion was a religion without Jesus and felt threatened by the Jesus they had crucified. The Jewish leaders did not know what to do with Peter and John and were afraid of the growing size and influence of this new church. Hoping to crush this new church they decided in verses 17–18,


But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name. And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.


Acts chapter 5 tells that “believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Feeling more threatened by the Church, the Jewish religion was becoming more and more like a great fiery red dragon bent on devouring and putting an end to that church. The leaders of this Jesus-less religion once again retaliate in Acts 5:17–18,


Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.


God sent an angel in defense of His church. He opened the door of the jail and told the apostles to go out there and keep preaching the gospel.

Acts 6:7 reports the phenomenal growth of the church. “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” The example of the Christians and the power of the gospel were so effective that even some of the Jewish priests came to the faith. This was unacceptable to the leaders who wanted to do away with Jesus and His church.

By the end of chapter 6, this red dragon spirit was so agitated and filled with hate against the church of God that it lashed out against it and took out its wrath on a godly man by the name of Stephen, stoning him to death.

With the first taste of blood, the red dragon spirit launched a full scale persecution against the church. Acts 8:1, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem.” The red dragon chose its hero in a man by the name of Saul. Verse 3, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”

To this fiery red dragon, this serpent of old, it appeared it was being successful in bruising the heal of Jesus by persecution His church but in doing this he was only setting up the mortal blow that would bruise his own head.