Come on, Maylan. Let me take you up.”
Standing in a South Dakota farm field, I glanced thoughtfully at Joe, then at the narrow airstrip he’d mowed through the wheat stubble, then at the yellow fabric kit-airplane he had built. I’d never flown before. But I knew that even though Joe was barely 20, three years older than I, he was a steady, methodical guy who had jockeyed this plane dozens of times. And I knew that he probably didn’t want to die this afternoon any more than I did. So I took a careful breath and nodded.
After he’d buckled me in, he revved the unmuffled engine and bounced the plane along the field. And then, for the very first time in my life, I felt the stomach-dropping lift as the ground fell away.
Our part of South Dakota was absolutely flat in every direction. I gazed down at the tiny gravel roads that bordered mile-square wheat fields. I could see my hometown six miles to the west.
And then I saw something that took my breath away.
A couple of miles to the north, a tapered gravel dust cloud showed an approaching car. As I watched it crawl along, I thought, I don’t know where that car is going, but if it happens to be coming to Joe’s dad’s farm, nobody on the farm knows it. Even if the driver had phoned the farm and said he was coming, nobody knows where he is right now or exactly when he’ll get there. (This was in the days before cell phones.)
But I do, I thought. From my perch here, a couple of thousand feet up, I know the future.
the God’s-eye view
One of the most breathtaking facts about the Bible is that it was inspired by Someone who truly does know the future, in a far more comprehensive way than my view from Joe’s airplane.
From His lofty heavenly throne, God can spin the planet forward in time and see the future in incredible detail. In Isaiah 46:9, 10, He says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (emphasis added).
And if ever there was a time in earth’s history when we need Someone who knows the future—and can do something about it—that time is now. A pandemic and its variants repeatedly slosh around the globe, killing bodies and befuddling brains. Hurricanes pile fresh misery on already impoverished populations. Hordes of refugees flee their native lands in the hope of freedom and opportunity, and those left behind are often killed by war or famine. Christians and other religious peoples are savagely persecuted by those who disagree with them.
Revelation 12, the predictor chapter
Fortunately, God has never left His human family without a way of knowing how to survive perilous times. One of the Bible’s most concise “predictor chapters” is Revelation 12, a minihistory of the time between Jesus’ first coming and His second. Its 17 verses provide some key puzzle pieces to help us prepare for what’s ahead.
The book of Revelation was written around AD 90 by Jesus’ friend John, the last surviving disciple of the Twelve. As his pen scratched those words on the parchment, John was experiencing persecution, too, because he insisted on preaching about Jesus.
And it is chapter 12 that Christians have found so comforting for centuries. Did you know that the book of Revelation was designed to be read aloud to its hearers? Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.” Why not pause for a moment, find a Bible, and read chapter 12? (If you read it out loud, it’ll take you about three and a half minutes.)
OK. Did you read it? If so, you discovered that this chapter features three main characters: a pregnant woman (later a mother), a red dragon, and Michael (another name for Jesus). You also discovered that most of this chapter is about all-out conflict. You may have also picked up a few clues about what’s really going on. Let’s look at some details.
The woman represents God’s faithful people. Notice how visible she is—she appears “in heaven,” in the sky for all to see. And see how simply, yet beautifully, she is clothed with the sun. Her 12-star crown stands for the 12 tribes of Israel and probably also the 12 apostles.
Notice that she’s pregnant and is almost to term. But in this vulnerable condition, an enemy looms up before her.
The dragon is Satan. Verse 9 calls him “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Even though he appears “in heaven”—in full view, like the woman—the dragon is red in color and is grotesque in shape, multiheaded, and wearing not stars but what seem to be earthly crowns.
At some point, “its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth” (verse 4). This most likely refers to Satan’s successful tempting of other heavenly angels because verses 7 and 9 say that he has angels, and they obviously came from somewhere.
True to his ruthless cruelty, Satan crouches in front of the vulnerable woman (verse 4), hoping that as soon as her child is born, he can devour it. The child—as you probably picked up as you read—was Jesus, and King Herod’s brutal murder of the Bethlehem infants was inspired by Satan, desperate to destroy the days-old baby Messiah (Matthew 2:16). Finally, Jesus—after completing His work on earth—was indeed “snatched up to God and to his throne” (verse 5).
war in heaven
The scene now switches to what is evidently a flashback. The war in heaven happened much earlier, and here’s why we know this. Talking with His disciples in Luke 10:18, Jesus said cryptically, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” So Satan’s fall didn’t happen after Jesus’ ascension but at some point before, most likely even before Adam and Eve were placed in Eden’s garden.
“Then war broke out in heaven” (Revelation 12:7). The point had come when the powerful angel Lucifer had become not only unwelcome in heaven but toxic. But he didn’t bow like a gentleman and leave. He had to be defeated. This tells me several things: God wants a toxic-free heaven and is willing to fight for its cleansing if necessary. The devil isn’t simply an angel with a different viewpoint from God but is God’s implacable enemy, and he is willing to “return fire” in a battle with heaven.
“The great dragon was hurled down,” says verse 9, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
And now we need to listen carefully to the next few words. Because what we’ll hear sounds like complete victory over the devil and his angels. A bit later, we’ll see that the devil continues his warfare here on earth, but the loud proclamation from heaven asserts that he has been totally defeated.
Verse 10: “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.’ ”
So the battle’s over. Satan’s actions here on earth, while terrible, are merely his final death struggles. “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (verse 12).
woman in the wilderness
Even though the devil knows he’s doomed, he’s determined to do as much damage as he can before the end. So he turns his attention to God’s “remnant,” the remaining ones who are faithful to God. “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach” (verses 13, 14).
Those “times” are prophetic symbols for 1,260 years, which basically cover the centuries when papal Rome—and later certain Protestant movements—persecuted those who chose to stay true to the Bible when it contradicted church tradition.
the plane has landed!
After several minutes in the South Dakota sky, Joe circled the farm and went into a perfect glide path down toward his airstrip. I remember feeling relieved when the plane rolled to a stop on solid ground. But part of me wistfully remembered when I could see the wider “prophetic” view of the prairie.
In the same way, Revelation 12 has rolled to a stop right here—right now, right where you are. You’ve seen the panoramic view of the cosmic conflict, but now you have to figure out what to do from here. You know the devil is angry, yet you sense you’re safest if you’re one of those he’s angry at—because this means you’re on the side of the victorious Heavenly Warrior.
what to do from here
Revelation 12’s final verse sums it up, “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (verse 17).
How do you stay on the side of victory and in the devil’s crosshairs? Two ways:
Keep God’s commands. That means the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). If you blow them off, or even if you ignore just one or two, you’re back in the devil’s camp.
Hold fast your testimony about Jesus. In other words, put your full faith in the Savior and what He has done for you and what He has taught you. In Revelation 19:10, a heavenly angel gives another part of the answer: “Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” Jesus knows the future, and through such prophets as His friend John, He points the way through the crises we’re facing.
Take courage! Jesus is returning victorious!
Maylan Schurch is a pastor in Bellevue, Washington, and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.