Verse 3 introduces another character, a “great red dragon” possessed of both worldly power (all those heads and crowns!) and deep, unrelenting hatred and hostility towards the woman and her child. If it wasn’t already clear, verse 9 removes all doubt: the dragon is “the ancient serpent” the devil himself, “Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” This not only identifies him with the serpent in Genesis 3, but also shows his antagonism towards God’s people, and especially towards the child of the woman, whom he seeks to devour.

And who might this child be? Read verse 5 again:“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, of course, is Jesus the Messiah.

So what’s going on here? This passage uses heavily symbolic language to describe Satan’s attempts to destroy the Christ. Remember the massacre in Bethlehem? Remember the forty days in the wilderness? Remember the crucifixion?

But John is sounding another note as well. He says that this child rules the nations with a rod of iron (quoting Psalm 2) and is snatched up to God and his throne. Far from being destroyed by the dragon, this child shares the throne of God! This child is none other than Jesus the Christ (v. 10), the crucified Lamb (v. 11), the resurrected, exalted, and enthroned King.

But what does it all mean? Revelation is notoriously difficult to understand – so weird, in fact, that most of us just avoid it altogether. And yet, it is still God’s word for the church. And though interpreters may disagree on some of the details, the main point is clear and contains three very important lessons for us.

1. First, this passage points us to the defeat of evil in the incarnation, suffering, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though the passage begins with a war in heaven (v. 4a, expanded in vv. 7-9), the dragon is defeated and thrown down! The details of the passage hint first at the primordial defeat of Satan, when he was first thrown out of heaven (vv. 7-9). Then verses 10-11 proclaim his decisive defeat, as a loud voice proclaims:

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, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 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.

Satan is conquered, vanquished, defeated! How? By the blood of the Lamb! This points us to the cross. That’s where the decisive victory was won, and because Christ conquered Satan there, the “devil knows his time is short” (v. 12). He’s like a feisty snake pinned to the ground by a huge boulder, waiting for the sharp blade of a hoe to finally take his head off once and for all. Yes, his bite is still poisonous – but his power is limited and will soon come to an end.

And that means that evil can be defeated right here and right now, in your heart and mine, today. Wesley understood this well, writing,

Come, Desire of nations, come,

Fix in us Thy humble home;

Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,

Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

2. This passage also shows us how God preserves the church through suffering. This story, written to the suffering church (remember, Christians were still being fed to the lions in those days), is all about the suffering church at the hands of Satan. In keeping with his war against heaven, and his hostility towards Jesus at his birth, Satan is depicted as the serpentine dragon who continues to pursue and persecute the people of God. You can see this as he chases her into the wilderness in verse 14, tries to carry her away with a flood in verse 15, and unleashes his fury against the woman and her offspring in verse 17.