A couple days ago a friend pointed out that our study on Revelation 12 was missing commentary on verses 4-5 from a fulfilled (preterist) perspective. Whatever my reason for skipping those verses at the time (November 2009), it was a good reminder to add them now. The following study of Revelation 12:4-5 has been edited into our study of Revelation 12:1-17.
As a quick review the context, Revelation 12:1-5 is unique from most of the book of Revelation in that John is not speaking about the future (from his perspective), but rather the past. John’s vision here concerns the time of Jesus’ birth and His ascension. This is a glossary of terms we included in our original study of Revelation 12:
Woman =  Old Testament Israel (i.e. the faithful remnant among the Israelites); and  later God’s people, the remnant among the nations, after Christ’s death and resurrection
Dragon = Satan, influencing Rome
Male Child = Jesus Christ
In verses 1-3 John was shown a vision of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” She was in painful labor. In that vision, John also saw “a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.” We noted that this represented the first seven Roman emperors (Nero being the sixth) and the 10 senatorial provinces of Rome (this is developed in more detail in our Revelation 13 and Revelation 17 studies).
A Study of Revelation 12:4-5
Verse 4: In the first half of verse 4, speaking of the dragon with seven heads and 10 horns, we read:
“His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.”
There is reason to believe that these “stars” are angels. In Revelation 1:20, stars are seen as angels: “…The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…” Here in verse 4, the dragon is able to throw stars (angels) to the earth, but in verses 9-12 we see that “the great dragon…that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” would himself later be cast out of heaven to the earth, along with his angels.
Some believe that verse 4a is parallel to Jude 6:
“And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”
Others see a parallel to Daniel 8:10, which speaks of “a little horn” (believed to be Antiochus Ephiphanes, a Greek king of the Seleucid Empire from 175 – 164 BC):
“And out of one of [the four horns] came a little horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land. And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them…” (Daniel 8:10-11).
Albert Barnes, in his 1834 commentary on Revelation 12, took note of this parallel and wrote the following:
“The main idea here undoubtedly is that of power, and the object of John is to show that the power of the dragon was as if it extended to the stars, and as if it dragged down a third part of them to the earth, or swept them away with its tail, leaving two-thirds unaffected. A power that would sweep them all away would be universal; a power that would sweep away one-third only would represent a dominion of that extent only… Suppose, then, that the dragon here was designed to represent the Roman pagan power; suppose that it referred to that power about to engage in the work of persecution, and at a time when the church was about to be greatly enlarged, and to fill the world; …the conditions here referred to would be fulfilled…
The second half of verse 4 may be a reference to Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus by enforcing the death of all Hebrew children below age 2:
“And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.”
In Matthew 2:1-18 we read about the wise men from the east who came to Jerusalem asking about the birth of the King of the Jews (verses 1-2). This troubled Herod, who quizzed the chief priests and scribes and found out that, according to Micah 5:2, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (verses 3-6). He instructed the wise men to find the Child, Jesus, and to let him know where he was (verses 7-8). However, the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod (verse 12), and Herod, when he discovered that they had deceived him, put to death all children below the age of two throughout Bethlehem and its districts (verses 16-18). Joseph and Mary had already been warned in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt (verses 13-15).
Duncan McKenzie, on the other hand, believes this is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead:
In Revelation 12 we are being shown this “birthing” of the Messiah. The male Child, after being born, is caught up to God’s throne. Once again what is being shown here is not Jesus being born on earth, but His being “born” when God the Father raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:33).* Thus, as soon as the male Child is delivered He is caught up to God’s throne. Jesus referred to the birthing analogy in talking about His death and resurrection in John 16:20-22. Notice how the dragon (Satan, Rev. 12:9) was expecting to devour the male Child. Satan thought he would be destroying Jesus at the cross. Instead the Child is caught up to the throne of God. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God the Father at the resurrection (Acts 2:31-36). Satan, instead of devouring the Child as he had planned, ends up being cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:9).
*Acts 13:33 reads this way: “God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’”
Verse 5: The first half of verse 5 refers to the birth of Jesus, either by Mary (specifically) or through the seed of Abraham (generally). The second understanding is to be preferred when we note the progression of what happens to this woman –  giving birth to Jesus and  later being protected in the wilderness for 3.5 years (verses 6, 13-17). The first part of verse 5 is also parallel to Psalm 2:9 and Revelation 19:15.
“She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…”
Psalm 2 is a Messianic prophecy about the coming reign of Jesus, of whom the Father would say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You” (verse 7). Jesus would be set on God’s “holy hill of Zion” as King (verse 6), would receive the nations as His inheritance (verse 8), and would “break them with a rod of iron” and “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (verse 9).
This prophecy is repeated in John’s vision of Christ sitting on a white horse, judging and making war (Revelation 19:11). The armies in heaven would also follow Him riding on white horses (verse 14), and a sharp sword would come out of His mouth, which He would use to “strike the nations” and “rule them with a rod of iron” (verse 15).
The second half of verse 5 refers to Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11).
“And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.”
Acts 1:9 records Jesus being “taken up” and received by a cloud out of the disciples’ sight. Two angels confirm that He was taken “into heaven” (verse 11). Daniel 7:13-14 reveals that He then appeared before the throne of His Father and was given the everlasting kingdom:
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”
As Daniel reveals, this kingdom was then promised to “the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:18). The “time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” when the horn and the fourth beast was making war against them and prevailing “until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints” (verses 21-22; see also Revelation 13:5-7 and Matthew 21:43). The fourth beast and the persecuting horn would prevail over the saints for 3.5 years (“a time and times and half a time”) before his dominion would be taken away and the saints would receive the kingdom (Daniel 7:25-27). This was fulfilled when Nero persecuted the saints from November 64 AD until his death in June 68 AD.
Revelation 12:6-17 goes on to record a Satanic battle leveled against God’s people, which would precede the giving of the kingdom into the hands of the saints (Daniel 7; Revelation 11:15).
The rest of our study on Revelation 12 can be found here, including a comparison of the preterist (fulfilled) view, the futurist view, and the historicist view.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.