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Stuart Chase - 26 December 2021

All’s Not Calm (Revelation 12:13–17)

We have considered the opening two visions of Revelation 12 under the broad theme of “A Cosmic Christmas.” In vv. 1–6, we considered the violent night in which the dragon tried to end the promise of Messiah’s birth. In vv. 7–12, we saw the holy war in which Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. In the third vision (vv. 13–17), we see that all’s not calm as the dragon, having failed to defeat Messiah, turns his fury against Messiah’s people.

Scripture References: Revelation 12:13-17

From Series: "A Cosmic Christmas"

A Christmas-themed mini-series from Revelation 12.

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The first Sunday of November is the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. On this day every year, it is estimated that more than 100,000 Christian churches across the globe dedicate their Lord’s Day to learning about and praying for persecuted Christians. This is a pressing need in our day.

In October 2019, Christina Maza reported for Newsweek magazine on findings that persecution is more intense today than at any other time in history. According to a study by Aid to the Church in Need, “not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.” The Newsweek article summarised:

The report examined the plight of Christians in China, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkey over the period lasting from 2015 until 2017. The research showed that in that time, Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was.

None of this should surprise us. The third vision in Revelation 12 explains the reason behind such vicious attacks against the church.

We have spent our time in Revelation 12 considering the theme of a cosmic Christmas. We began by observing the dragon’s centuries-long attempt to thwart the promised birth of Messiah (vv. 1–6) and then considered the fact that, his plan having failed, he turned his attack against the resurrected and ascended Christ, which also took the form of accusatory attack against Christ’s people (vv. 7–12). He failed miserably on both counts and, having been cast out of heaven, we see in vv. 13–17 that he turned his wrath against God’s people in a more direct and open way.

The section before us in this study breaks down into three basic sections. It begins, first, describing the dragon viciously opposing the faithful Jewish remnant (v. 13). It shows, second, God’s commitment to protecting his remnant (vv. 14–16). Third, and finally, it highlights the dragon turning his fury against the Gentile remnant (v. 17).

As before, we will not spend a great deal of time examining the particular, first-century fulfilment of this prophecy but will, instead, look to learn principles from it for Christian living today.

The Persecuted Remnant

In our study of vv. 1–6, we identified the woman as the Jewish remnant of God’s people, through whom Messiah was born. When the dragon failed to destroy Messiah prior to his ascension, he turned his fury against the Jewish remnant, which was protected by God in the wilderness for 1,260 days. Verse 13 picks up on the persecution of this faithful remnant: “And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.”

There appears to be a shift in focus on the dragon’s part as we move from vv. 7–12 to vv. 13–17. His primary mode of attack in vv. 7–12, as we saw, was accusation. By strategic use of words, he sought to accuse and tempt God’s people to see them fail in the spiritual warfare. In vv. 13–17, the focus appears to be far more violent. In utter desperation, knowing “that his time is short” (v. 12), he turns his full attention to utterly silencing God’s people. The general feel here, as we will see in a moment by his mode of attack, is one of open and violent oppression.

The Protected Remnant

God, however, was determined to protect his remnant. He had prepared “a place” for the woman in “the wilderness” where he planned to “nourish” her “for 1,260 days” (v. 6). This nourishment would include protection from the dragon’s violent attacks, which took on two specific forms.

Protected by Wings

In the Old Testament, God is said to have carried his people of eagles’ wings when he delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 19:4). This describes him delivering his people from pagan oppression and forming them as a new people. He does so again in the text before us: “But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time” (v. 14).

The important principle here, gleaned from reference to the wings, is that God direct care to protect his people. The Bible repeatedly using the imagery of God gathering his people under his wings, like a mother hen does for her chicks, to protect them from the storm. Similarly, God here takes direct action to protect his people from the wrath of the dragon.

Protected from Water

The second image of protection is found in vv. 15–16: “The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.” If the wings describe God’s direct protection of his people, the earth swallowing the water describes his indirect protection of his people.

In Revelation, water represents “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (17:15). As the crowns in vv. 1–6 represented political oppression, so, here, the water appears to represent the dragon’s political influence to try to end the church. Christians were suffering persecution under Roman influence when John wrote Revelation (ca. AD 68). In Acts, Rome was largely tolerant of Christianity and even at times protected Christians from Jewish persecution. But in AD 64, a great fire broke out in Rome, which burned for nine days and destroyed two thirds of the city. Rumours arose that Nero had started the fire himself to clear space for a new palace. To divert criticism from himself, he blamed the Christians in Rome and ordered Christians to be executed.

First-century Roman historian, Tacitus, writes,

To get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

While Nero’s persecution was largely confined to Rome, it emboldened mob violence against Christians throughout the empire. Christians were beheaded, crucified, burned, and thrown to wild beasts. For around two hundred years, people who confessed to being Christian, and who would not renounce their faith by sacrificing to Roman gods, faced the threat of execution. Works like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs bear testimony to the violent political oppression against the church. This is the sort of persecution envisaged by the river of water pouring from the dragon’s mouth in v. 15.

In v. 16, however, “the earth” is seen to come to the woman’s rescue by opening its mouth and swallowing the river. The “earth” in Revelation frequently represents the land of Israel. The idea here is that God used Israel as a cushion to protect his people. While Rome, as we have seen above, directed a degree of persecution against the church, first century Israel caused so much political turmoil for Rome that there were times when the empire’s focus on stopping Jewish uprisings inadvertently turned its attention away from the Christian church.

Without going into detail on specific fulfilments of this prophecy, the principle of this middle section is simply that God was determined—whether by direct (v. 14) or indirect (vv. 15–16) means—to protect his faithful Jewish remnant.

The Persecution Redirected

The dragon became increasingly infuriated as the Lord protected his remnant from its wrath: “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea” (v. 17).

Since he could no longer attack Messiah directly, and since God was protecting his Jewish remnant, the dragon turned his attention to “the rest of her offspring.” This offspring is defined as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” As he prepared to attack, “he stood on the sand of the sea.” If water in Revelation represents “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages,” and if the woman represents the Jewish remnant, “the rest of her offspring” seems to be the Gentile church, which was birthed, as the book of Acts testifies, through the witness of the Jewish church.

The picture here, in other words, is that, having failed to destroy Messiah, and having failed to destroy the Jewish remnant, the dragon turns his fury against the Gentile church. He continues to direct his fury against the church today.

The Present Reality

Having given that brief survey of the text, the question becomes, so what? What does this mean for us today? This question may be particularly relevant given the fact that, as South African Christians, we typically don’t face—at least not at present—the kind of open, violent, physical threat that the dragon unleashed against God’s people in the first century Roman Empire. What does this text, then, say to us in South Africa today?

Let me begin by saying that “persecution” is not always defined as open, violent threat against Christians. Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who were persecuted (Matthew 5:10–12) and defined persecution in terms of slander and insult and mocking for our faith. When people speak against you because of your commitment to Christ, the Bible defines that as persecution.

But the persecution in view here is of the violent sort. Here, the dragon was using the Roman Empire to viciously attack Christians. He continues to use his political influence to bring violent attack against the church today.

Our understanding of this text forces us to ask some questions. I suggest that, if we ask and answer the right questions, the text places before us a dual obligation. It places before us the dual responsibility to be aware of and to pray about violent Christian persecution today. Stated another way, the text leaves us with no excuse for ignorance about the persecuted church, and no excuse for prayerlessness for the persecuted church.

Inexcusable Ignorance

We live fairly comfortable lives as Christians in our South African context. Of course, even in a South African context, godliness will invite a degree of persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Nevertheless, in the present South African climate, godliness will rarely invite violent persecution. But there are many countries in the world that do not share our privilege. If we understand the text before us, there is no excuse for ignorance about that.

The vision here informs us that, having failed to destroy Messiah and the Jewish remnant, the dragon turned his wrath against Gentile Christians. It should come as no surprise to us, therefore, to find persecution against Christians across the world. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted his Jewish readers to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (13:3). The same charge is set before us.

It may be easier to relate to the sufferings of others when we experience the same sufferings but, even if we don’t, it is no excuse to not remember them in their sufferings. The writer roots his exhortation in the fact that we “also are in the body.” As enfleshed creatures, we know what it is to experience suffering. We can imagine what it is like to experience the beatings and affliction and deprivation that our persecuted brothers and sisters experience. We must not ignore their suffering, and we dare not spiritualise it as if, because they are Christian, they have the magical ability to transcend pain because their hope is beyond this world. John MacArthur captures the burden of the writer:

Our true home is in heaven, but we are still “in the body.” We still get hungry, we still get lonely, and we still hurt physically and psychologically. Our own hungers and hurts should make us more sensitive to those of others. Instead of seeing our own troubles as an excuse for not helping we should see them as an incentive for being more helpful. Our own troubles should make us more sensitive, hospitable, and loving, not less.

While we may not witness violent persecution around us on a daily basis, resources abound for us to inform ourselves of the violence that our brothers and sisters are facing in other parts of the world. If we are ignorant of violent Christian persecution, it is our own fault.

As a church, one of the things we do every Sunday is highlight one specific instance of persecution somewhere in the world that our church members can pray for. We do this as a way to hold before us the truth that, every day of every week, Christians around the world are facing violent opposition for their faith.

Inexcusable Prayerlessness

This leads us to our second point of application: As Christians who experience relative comfort, we have no excuse to not be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are entire websites and ministries devoted to sharing specific stories of persecution to help us remember and pray for our suffering brothers and sisters. Prayercast.com shows how to pray for specific countries. ICommitToPray.com highlights individual instances of persecution for which you can pray. Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs share specific stories on their websites of persecuted Christians with whom they are involved. HeartCry Missionary Society frequently shares updates on difficult places in the world in which they are involved. Frontline Missions International shares in various ways about advancing the gospel in the world’s most difficult places. The opportunities to learn about praying for persecuted Christians are endless.

Even if you never visit those websites or consult those resources, simply reading the Bible presents you with plentiful opportunity to pray for the persecuted church. Let me illustrate that by showing you six ways, from Scripture alone, that you can pray for persecuted Christians around the world.

First, pray that, whatever their circumstances, God will give persecuted Christians the right words. “[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19–20).

Second, pray that persecuted Christians will understand and find peace in the sufficiency of God’s grace, even in their weaknesses. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Third, pray that Christians facing hardship will draw from a source of power—God!—that is larger than themselves. “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:7–9).

Fourth, pray God will be present with persecuted Christians in their hardship, protecting them according to his will. “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:39). Pray that God will deliver Christians from chains but also that, if God does not see fit to do so, that he will strengthen these believers no matter the outcome.

Fifth, pray that those who are persecuting our brothers and sisters will come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit as they see the hope of the gospel in their lives. “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28).

Sixth, whether in imprisonment, death, or release, pray that these brothers and sisters will faithfully preach the gospel of Christ. It is, after all, by the blood of the Lamb that the dragon is defeated, even when Christians lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel (v. 11).

A Cosmic Christmas?

Perhaps at this point, you are wondering, what does all this have to do with Christmas? This series is, after all, about a cosmic Christmas. How does the persecution of God’s people point us to the message of Christmas?

The link is crucial, and it is simply this: In essence, Christmas is God’s answer to suffering. It is God’s answer to the problem of evil.

Our brothers and sisters who face persecution for their faith don’t always understand what God is doing in their pain. The apostle Paul admitted that, in his suffering, he despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:7–9). We sometimes find it difficult to understand why God allows such immense pain to be inflicted on his faithful disciples. When we struggle to understand why God allows evil and suffering and persecution, we do well to remember the message of Christmas.

Several years ago, Alisa Childers lost her nephew to a drug overdose just days after Thanksgiving. As she and her family were entering the Christmas season, it was one of great darkness for them. In her book, Another Gospel, she recalls standing next to a hospital bed, staring at the body of her dead nephew: “When I looked at him, I felt a level of darkness I’d never felt before. It was as if all hope, light, love, joy, and goodness had been sucked out of the universe, and there was nothing but a doom-filled void. I didn’t feel God’s presence. I didn’t feel his peace.” I suspect many a persecuted Christian can echo her words.

Her pain was not the result of persecution, but it is the same pain that many of our persecuted brothers and sisters feel this Christmas season. In their suffering, they feel unimaginable darkness, as if all hope, light, love, joy, and goodness have been sucked from the world, leaving only a doom-filled void. They may this Christmas not feel God’s presence and peace.

When she felt like that, Alisa knew where to look: “I had walked in the excruciating darkness of doubt before, and I had learned to cry out to Jesus. I had learned to not walk by what I feel but by what I know.” And what did she know? She continues:

I don’t have a pat answer to the problem of evil. But I know this: … “The truth” was true whether I felt it or not. God was there. God is sovereign. He is good and trustworthy. I’ve tasted and seen. My heart is resolute, echoing the sentiments of Peter, who answered Jesus after many had walked away from him, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).


When we are faced with immeasurable and unspeakable pain, we have a choice. We can open our hands to the Father and fall at his feet, or we can shake our fist at him and walk away. We can throw the raw magnitude of our doubts, questions, and piercing grief into his capable lap, or we can gather it all up into clenched hands and declare him incompetent … or nonexistent. We each have that choice….


Evil and suffering are ugly realities unleashed upon creation by sin, but our Savior stepped into our world, took on human flesh, suffered, and experienced death for us…. Jesus was well acquainted with grief and stood in our place. He felt our pain and died the death we deserve. But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus physically rose and defeated the power of sin and death forever. He didn’t just come to feel our pain—he came to end it. He didn’t just give us an answer to suffering—he became the answer.

At Christmas, Jesus didn’t only give the answer to suffering; he became the answer. That doesn’t make suffering any easier. It is not a pat answer to the problem of evil. But it does provide some hope. Alisa writes, “I cannot imagine walking through this ordeal without Jesus and the firm foundation of God’s word. I cannot imagine having any hope outside of the true gospel.” We do well to hold onto this truth when we witness the wrath of the great red dragon.

I recently stumbled across a song by Leanna Crawford, who sings of her own experience of doubt and fear. The chorus of the song reads like this:

This is the truth I’m standing on,

even when all my strength is gone:

You are faithful forever

and I know you’ll never let me fall.

Right now, I’m choosing to believe;

someday soon, I’ll look back and see

all the pain had a purpose,

your plan was perfect all along.

This is the truth I’m standing on.

When we hear of brothers and sisters across the world facing violent persecution for their faith, and when we face milder forms of persecution for our faith, we pray while we choose to believe. We choose to believe that Michael and his archangels have defeated the dragon and that the male child is ruling with a rod of iron. We choose to believe that the dragon has been defeated, and continues to be defeated, by the blood of the Lamb—by the gospel of Jesus Christ. We choose to believe the gospel of Christ and pray that the Christ of the gospel will continue to crush every enemy under his feet until that day when he returns to usher us into life everlasting and joy untold. Then, we will look back and see that the pain had a purpose and his plan was perfect all along. Now, we choose to believe and stand on the truth that we believe.