Revelation 12:3-4 - A Great Fiery Red Dragon
Prepare to meet the great enemy of your soul.
In the Old Testament he is called Satan. How fitting is his name: it means "adversary," "accuser." Satan is an adversary; he is as an adversary to God and His people. He is an accuser, even accusing the Lord God Himself. You may remember his accusation against God in the trial of Job, where he contended with God and pompously stated that the only reason Job served God was because God had put a hedge about him (Job 1-2). If he was so bold as to accuse God, then he certainly does not shy away from accusing the children of God. You may remember how he accused Joshua, the post-exilic high priest, pointing out his filthy garments (Zechariah 3). Satan is an adversary, an accuser.
In the New Testament he is called the devil, tempter, Beelzebul, the enemy, the god of this world, the power of darkness, the prince of the power of the air, adversary, deceiver, the ancient serpent, the father of lies, murderer, and the evil one. In Revelation 12 yet another description is given to him. Here we meet the enemy of our souls as a great fiery red dragon.
And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.Revelation 12:3
As this sign appears in heaven, John writes, "Behold!" The command is given here to look at this sign – the great fiery red dragon. Look at this hideous and grotesque creature. Indeed, Satan may masquerade as an angel of light, but here the masquerade is torn away. Here we see him for what he is: a great fiery red dragon!
You may not wish to look at him; you may wish, rather, to ignore him. But to ignore him is to fall prey to him. You will never withstand the wiles of the devil by ignoring him. You will never escape the mouth of the lion by turning a deaf ear to his roaring. You may not wish to look at him, but you must. If you are going to fight your enemy, you better know your enemy. Your eyes must be opened to see the great enemy of your soul for what he is. If you refuse to look, you can be sure you will go down in defeat. Heed the command and look at the sign; it is intended for your benefit.
The devil is described here as a great, fiery red dragon. He is "great"; he is immense in size; he is enormous; with his tail alone, he is able to draw one-third of the stars out of heaven. To be sure, the picture is not to be taken literally, but you get the point: he is great in size.
His color is fiery red. We saw earlier in the book of Revelation that fiery red is the color of warfare (6:4). Where there is warfare, there is blood. Satan has conquered many; his slain are a mighty throng. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-tung, Hitler, Milosevic, Saddam, bin Laden, what are these men, but mere infants in evil and bloodshed in comparison with the great fiery red dragon!
A dragon is an overgrown serpent. In view here is his cunning, his craftiness, his deception. Appearing as a serpent he succeeded in alluring our first parents into sin. If such was his success when Adam and his wife stood in righteousness, then how much easier is his success with the fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve?
The great, fiery red dragon appears here with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. What are we to make of this? The number seven represents completeness and perfection; likewise the number ten represents fullness. Satan is pictured to us here, albeit in symbolic fashion, as the completeness, the fullness, the perfection of wickedness and evil. In verse 3 we see Satan as evil incarnate.
In verse 4, John turns our attention to Satan's activity. The fall of Satan is described in terms of his tail drawing one third of the stars of heaven and throwing them to the earth. In his prideful arrogance, Satan once challenged Christ Himself in heaven. When God completed the creation of the heavens and the earth, He said that it was very good. This includes the angels. But some of the angels did not retain that original position: we are told that there are fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). The fallen angels had a leader, and that leader was Satan. While we are not told the exact nature of Satan's sin in heaven, it would appear that he sought to take Christ's throne. In Isaiah 14, the fall of the king of Babylon is likened to the fall of Satan. There we read:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High: Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.'Isaiah 14:12-15
Satan does not prevail in his challenge to Christ's throne; he is cast out of heaven and a third of the angels with him. Satan has his followers. Satan has his angels. Satan has his minions. And notice where they are cast: they are cast to the earth!
In 2 Peter 2:4 and in Jude 6, we read of the fallen angels being cast down to hell, where they are held in chains of darkness. In Revelation 12:4, they are cast to the earth. You put the imagery together and you begin to understand: Satan and his angels have as their provenance hell itself, but they drag their chains with them to earth, where they seek to undo God's great plan of redemption.
Look again at verse 4,
And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
Here, in one sentence, we are given a description of Satan's activity in the world from the fall into sin to the birth of Christ. In other words, here is a description of his activity in the world throughout the history of the Old Testament.
When we read the story of Herod's attempt to kill the Christ-Child, we are to see in that story the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. When we read the story of the Jews in exile, especially the people of Judah in the land of Babylon who were almost stamped out of existence by wicked king Nebuchadnezzar, we are to see in that story the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. When we read the story of Esther, and the attempt of Haman to exterminate the Jews, we are to see in that story the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. When we read the story of Queen Athaliah, who sought to destroy the royal seed of David, and who would have succeeded were it not for the hiding of little Joash, we are to see in that story the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. When we read the stories of Saul's attempts to kill David, we are to see in those stories the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. When we read the story of Esau's threat to kill Jacob, we are to see in that story the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. When we read the story of Cain and Abel, we are to see in that story the picture of the dragon standing before the woman who was about to give birth to devour her Child as soon as it was born. All the activity of Satan in the world, from the time of the fall to the birth of Christ, is communicated in Revelation 12:4 under the imagery of the dragon standing before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her child as soon as it was born.
This enmity between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent began, of course, in Genesis 3 with the first proclamation of the Gospel, ironically embedded in the Lord God's curse upon the serpent:
Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.Genesis 3:14, 15
The serpent is cursed to crawl about on his belly, cursed to eat dust all the days of his life. God puts enmity there between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That enmity is played out on the stage of human history throughout the pages of the Old Testament. But as that enmity is played out on the stage of human history throughout the pages of the Old Testament, you will notice one theme that is constant in all of Satan's attacks upon the purposes of God: Satan always fails! God's wisdom always prevails.
How powerfully the failure of Satan and wisdom of God is communicated to us here under the imagery of the dragon and the Child. Look again at the picture. On the one hand you have the great, fiery red dragon, with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns – a dragon so enormous, so great, so mighty, so powerful, his tail alone draws a third of the stars out of heaven! On the other hand you have a Child, a small, tiny, weak, and powerless Child. A dragon and a Child: the contrast could not be greater. The picture of might and power in a dragon is set over against the picture of humility and weakness in a Child. The contrast could not be more profound. Yet the Child, who should be easily devoured by the dragon, raises His bruised heel to crush the serpent's head. Here is the profound and unsearchable wisdom of God: in the weakness and humility of a Child the dragon is confounded and defeated!
Christ comes in the weakness and humility of a Child. A Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger, is none other than Christ the Lord. Such is the wisdom of God: in the humility of a Child He defeats the great enemy of our souls. Indeed, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). Has such foolishness conquered your wisdom? Has such humility conquered your pride? Would you stake your eternity on a Child? Would you stake your very soul on a weak and humble Child? Would you cling to Him as the guardian of your soul?
Such wisdom confounded the dragon; do not let it confound you.