The drama continues. The scope widens to include the entire domain of evil. The ultimate victory of righteousness is complete.
Structurally, chapter 12 marks a new section. Attention shifts to a spiritual battle described as a dragon chasing a woman and her child. In chapter 13 we are introduced to two beasts”one out of the sea and one out of the earth. These are assistants of Satan. But in chapter 14, the people of God are found to be under the protection of God and the enemy of God's people is judged. The drama is not over yet, for chapters 15 and 16 describe the pouring out of God's wrath upon the works of the evil one. There is no question but that "Babylon will fail in her attempts to crush the saints (chapters 17-18). In fact, Satan himself is implicated and judged (chapter 19). As for the martyrs who asked about the avenging of their loss in chapter 5, they are given the gift of life (chapter 20). A whole new scene is presented that shows their future victory (chapters 20-21).
First, let's get the imagery. What is presented is a "sign, that is, what follows signifies something other than a literal scene. The woman is clothed "with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head and she is pregnant (12:1-2). The dragon is a second sign. It is large, red in color, "with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail throws a third of the stars to the earth. It stands in front of the woman to devour her expectant child. But when the woman gives birth to a son destined to rule the nations, her child is snatched to God and to his throne. The woman flees to a desert place, where she is cared for 1,260 days (12:3-6).
Then, there is a note that there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, until the dragon and attending angels were cast out of heaven to the earth. At this event, great celebration broke out as salvation, the power of the kingdom of God, and the authority of Christ are acknowledged (12:7-12).
In reaction to his casting out of heaven to the earth, the dragon pursues the woman. Unable to reach her, he turns his attention to others of her children”those who hold fast to the testimony of Jesus (12:13-13:1).
A beast rises from the sea (13:1b-10). It has ten horns and seven heads. The beast resembled a leopard, with other features like a bear and a lion. To the beast was given power by the dragon (Satan). Men followed the beast and worshiped both the dragon and the beast. The beast made war on the saints; the saints are told to be patient.
We next see a beast that comes out of the earth (13:11-18). He may have looked like a lamb, but he spoke as a dragon. The second beast functions with delegated authority from the first beast and directs the earth's inhabitants to worship the first beast. He is powerful and deceptive. He even sets up an image in honor of the first beast who, in some way, was rejuvenated after receiving a near fatal blow. The second beast had the power to force people to worship the image.
If in the letters to the seven churches, Christ promised victory to the faithful, here the idea is visualized. Those belonging to the kingdom of God are pictured as being with the Lamb on Mount Zion. This is not a literal standing on Zion, else Jesus would be a literal lamb. The symbolism should be obvious. Likewise, the 144,000 standing with him is not a literal number but is symbolic of those who have been redeemed and are faithful (vv. 4-5). They are the same 144,000 described in chapter 7.
In the next scene (14:6-13), three angels broadcast a message from heaven. The first proclaims the gospel to every nation, calls on people to give glory to God, and announces God's judgment upon those who refuse. The second angel declares that Babylon is fallen, as she had enticed other nations to spiritual adultery. The third angel announces judgment upon all those who had worshipped the beast and his image. Meanwhile, the saints can only endure and remain faithful to Jesus. The scene ends with a message of assurance for those who suffer martyrdom for the cause of Christ.
Attention now shifts to the One who will institute acts on heaven's behalf (14:14-20). Recalling Dan. 7:13 and identifying again the crowned Christ (Rev. 1:13), Jesus holds a sharp sickle in preparation for reaping the harvest (recalling Jesus' parable in Matt. 13:24-30). Two angels”one with a sickle and the other with fire”harvest the earth in an action that symbolizes harvesting the evil people.
The picture here is of seven angels who carry out heaven's final assault against those who have honored the beast. The victorious saints (cf. 6:9) are with God. They have not given in to Satan's attempt to force them to bow the knee to Roman idolatry. They hold harps and sing a song of victory. The song recalls the song directed by Moses upon Israel's physical deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 15) and aptly includes the deliverance from sin made possible by Christ. The remainder of the scene shows that the judgment upon evil issues from God, depicted as coming from his temple, engulfed with the glory of God (cf. Exod. 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11).
Now, let's revisit chapters 12-15. If you lived during the latter part of the first century, you would know something of the present persecution, but you would not know what was to come. Modern people have the history of Rome and therefore know that persecutions came sporadically until early in the fourth century. These persecutions were based primarily on the assumption that Christians were bad for the state. They would not participate in the Imperial Cult; they were considered atheists, because they did not call on the traditional gods. If you were superstitious and believed the worship of idols brought favor and that neglect of the idols brought natural disasters, would you not look at the Christians as subversive and the source of natural misfortune? Besides, Christians did not participate in the orgies that accompanied idolatrous worship. They did not appear as good citizens of the kingdom of this world.
The message of Revelation is that God knows those who are faithful to him. He will ultimately judge those who participate in the worldly order. He will indeed answer the prayer of the martyrs. So, does it not follow that, for the saints of the seven churches (and all others who read this book), Satan is not through with his disastrous work, but that God is sovereign and will reward the righteous?
The figures in chapter 12 appear to refer to the birth of Jesus through the people of God (the remnant of Israel). Satan is unable to take the child as God takes him to heaven. The people of God are forced into the wilderness where God protects them. However, Satan turns his attention to others who have held the testimony of Jesus.
The two beasts of chapter 13 represent Satan. Satan works through others. Here, he is working through the emperors who represent Rome and through the Imperial Cult that supports the Roman state. Hence, the source of the persecutions against the Christians is Satan; his instruments are the structure of disbelieving men.
Chapters 14 and 15 provide a view of the security of those who remain faithful. They stand with God and are not the subject of his wrath. His wrath is poured out upon those who align themselves with Satan.