The Bible portrays the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan in terms of three characters: the Dragon, the Woman, and the Man Child. The drama unfolds like this:
Act 1a. The three characters are introduced in Eden, where the dragon won an initial engagement with the woman. Bitter conflict ensues between the serpent and the woman, his seed, and her seed. Ultimate victory comes through a single Seed of the woman, who crushes the serpent’s head, at the same time suffering a deadly bite to the heel (Gen. 3:15).
Chapter 12 of Revelation takes up the narration, portraying the whole sweep of the drama from its origin to time of the end.
Act 1. The Revelation account steps back in time from Eden to the conflict in heaven, where Lucifer aspired to usurp the throne of God and succeeded in leading one-third of the angels in his rebellion. The dragon’s tail “swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth” (Rev. 12:4). The woman, who gave the dragon entrance into this world, now has to suffer relentless persecution from him. But she has been honored to give birth to the Seed, the Child, who brings ultimate deliverance to her and her offspring.
Act 2. The drama continues with the approach of the “Seed of the woman” to earth. The dragon awaits his arrival with the deadly intent of devouring him (verse 4). His plot to assassinate him begins with his birth, plagues his ministry, and finally accomplishes its purpose as the serpent’s venomous bite on the heel results in his death on the cross.1
Act 3. Though the dragon kills the Child, he does not succeed in devouring him. The Child escapes from his jaws and is caught up to heaven (verse 5) out of his reach.
Act 4. The arrival of the Child in heaven provokes another war (verses 712). Though this encounter has overtones of the original conflict, it actually occurs at Jesus’ ascension, when Satan again challenges divine authority. It seems that he had been appearing in the heavenly councils to accuse the brethren like Job (Job 1 and 2), and Joshua the high priest (Zech. 3:13). He even claimed ownership of the body of Moses (Jude 9). He professed to be the rightful “ruler of this world.” But when the Man Child arrives, newly invested with all authority in heaven and on earth (Rev. 12:10; Matt. 28:18), he ejects the imposter from his position and propels him, fulminating, to earth (John 12:3132).
The event of the death, resurrection, and enthronement of Jesus constitutes the decisive battle of the Great Controversy. The proclamation goes forth: “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 brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev. 12:10). Now there is no longer a prosecuting attorney condemning God’s people in the court of heaven, but a lawyer for the defense“an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The crucifixion enables the saints to overcome the dragon “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). No accuser can impeach the souls that take refuge in Him. While they are under the blood, they stand justified before God.
All heaven rejoices over the great victory (v. 12).
Act 6. The dragon, furious at his second expulsion from heaven, now vents his wrath on his remaining earthly target, the woman. He pursues (persecutes) the woman for “a time, two times, and half a time” (vv. 13-14). Since the number seven indicates perfection, half of thatthree and a halfis a broken seven, the time of evil. During this period, the enemy would “wear out the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:25) and they would “fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder” (Dan. 11:33). Many follow their Master all the way to death (Rev. 12:11).
The woman flees into the wilderness, as Israel fled into the wilderness from Pharaoh’s pursuing armies in ancient times. But God has a tender care for this woman, his own beloved spouse. Once again, as with Israel of old, he gives her “the wings of a great eagle,” on which he bears her to himself (v. 14; Exod. 19:4). He covers her with his feathers, and under his wings she trusts (Ps. 91:4). In her wilderness hideout he nourishes her, as he nourished his ancient people with manna from heaven and water from the rock. It is the Scriptures, carefully concealed, laboriously copied by hand, and circulated surreptitiously, that constitute their food and drink during the period of persecution. God cares for them, though they often seal their testimony with their blood (Rev. 12:11).
Act 7. Toward the end of the great persecution, the dragon uses a different strategy to subvert the church. He pours water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood (v. 15). What is it that comes out of the serpent’s mouth? “The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words ; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling” (13:56). When armies fail to force compliance, the enemy uses deception to attack the woman. He deceived her in the garden; today he attempts to deceive by blaspheming God, denying his existence, creating doubts about his Word, and undermining his commandments. By these means, he currently destroys more souls than through the stake, the rack, and the tortures of the past and present ages.
Act 8. The dragon makes war on the last of the woman’s offspring (12:17). Though he has been defeated at the Cross, he continues the warfare to the bitter end. The woman has had much “seed”followers of Jesus through the centuries, Jesus himself being the primary Seed. Here “the remnant of her seed,” the last-day church, appears on the stage of history.
This body of believers has two characteristics (12:17). First, they keep the commandments of God in the face of deadly oppositionthe demand that they worship the dragon’s accomplices, the beasts from the sea and the land (chap. 13). The last-day conflict issues over the Ten Commandments, especially the first table of the law: the command to worship God rather than the beast, the command not make an image (as the image of the beast), the command not to misuse the name of God (as the beast blasphemes the name of God, 13:6), and the command to keep holy the Sabbath day, the seal that signifies God’s authority over all creation. The people of God are sealed with the law in their hearts, their foreheads, and hands (see Deut. 6:6, 8: “And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”) The mark of the beast on the forehead and hand (Rev. 13:16) is an obvious counterfeit of the seal of God on the foreheads of believers (Rev. 7:3; 14:1).2
The remnant of the woman’s seed not only keep the Commandments, they are also distinguished by holding to “the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). What does this mean? John explains it himself:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him ; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. (1:12)
This suggests that the contents of Revelation are Christ’s “testimony,” which he gave to his church through John the prophet.3 But John broadens his concept of “the testimony of Jesus” when he explains that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (19:10), “the power that allows certain individuals to have visionary experiences and gives them revelatory insights not available to ordinary people.”4 John’s angel mentions these special people“your brethren (and sistern!) the prophets” (22:9).
What John now clearly indicates in Revelation 12:17 is that as Jesus communicated his revelation to the church of his day through the medium of the prophetic ministry, so he will do in the very last days of this earth’s history. As Jesus will be with his end-time remnant until the very end, they are characterized by their obedience to him (cf. Rev. 14:12) and their faithfulness to his testimony revealed through the prophetic voice in their midst.5
God has given to his remnant people the inspirational writings of a remarkable woman, Ellen G. White. The writings function as “Testimonies to the Church,” in the pattern of Jesus’ testimonies to the seven churches, containing rebukes, commendations, and promises to the overcomer (Rev. 2 and 3). Her Conflict of the Ages series comprises the grandest description of the issues of the Great Controversy in all of Christian literature.
I invite Spectrum readers to peruse “again for the first time” Patriarchs and Prophets, chapters one and three, Desire of Ages on the sacrifice of Jesus, and the concluding chapters of Great Controversy. The most moving description of the incarnation, crucifixion, exaltation, and return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is found in these classic books produced under her supervision. Her writings consistently uphold “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12). At the same time, they expose the strategies and deceptions of the devil, designed to accomplish the ruin of souls. Millions have been reclaimed from his snares and won to Christ by this special gift to the last-day church.
Through the centuries the dragon has warred against the woman, her seed, and the Man Child. Is it any wonder that the dragon is relentless in his opposition to this other woman as well?
Notes and References
1. See Matt. 2:1316; John 5:18; 7:1; Mark 14:1; Matt. 26:4, 27:35.
2. Jon Paulien, What the Bible Says About the End Time (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1994), 12223.
3. Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2002), 393.
4. David Aune, “Revelation 1722,” Word Bible Commentary, 1039, quoted in ibid., 542.
5. Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ, 395.
Beatrice Neall has served as a missionary in Cambodia and Vietnam and taught Bible at Southeast Asia Union College and Union College. She has written several books and Bible courses.