How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)
I. The Problem with Dragons
Dragons have been, and continue to be, wildly popular in art and fantasy writing, as well as movies and TV offerings. From the story of St. George and the Dragon (popular about 1000 years ago) and Tolkein's “Smaug” in 1937's The Hobbit, to the just released television series, House of the Dragon, and even the well-known children's book (and films), How to Train Your Dragon, these creatures have captured the imaginations of millions down through the centuries.
Unlike that last example, Cressida Cowell's How to Train Your Dragon, these fantastical serpents are usually depicted as ferocious and terrifying and definitely untamable. The fact that they can fly, the fact that they can breath fire, the fact that they have armor-like scales, the fact that they are bigger than a school bus... all of these would convince even the bravest among us that going head-to-head with a dragon is almost always going to end very, very badly.
But this morning God, through his word, wants to teach or remind us how each one of us can actually conquer a dragon. Look with me at Revelation 12.
II. The Passage: “They Have Conquered Him” (12:1-17)
Our main verse is right in the middle of this chapter, in verse 11. Listen to what the Apostle John tells us there, as he recounts this divinely-given vision:
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Okay, there's the word “conquered”. But who's being conquered here? And who's conquering? Well, that first question is easy to answer. The one being conquered here is a dragon; it's the dragon introduced in verse 3 of this chapter. We read there, “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems (i.e. crowns).” A dragon? In the Bible? What's next, a unicorn in the Psalms? No. The fact we're reading about a dragon in the Bible simply reminds us about the kind of literature we find in Revelation 12 (in fact, throughout most of this book).
As John mentioned in verse 3, this dragon wasn't real. It was simply “a sign”; that is, this dragon was a symbolic image given in a supernatural vision. And thankfully, we don't need to speculate about the meaning of this symbol. John explains it for us in verse 9:
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
So what John is seeing here may not be real (i.e., a real dragon), but the being or entity represented by the dragon is most certainly real... and ferocious... and terrifying. Just think about how the Apostle Peter describes him in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (cf. 12:4)
But when we go back to that other question, “Who are the 'they' described as conquering in verse 11?”, we are presented with an excellent opportunity to learn more about how to understand the symbolic imagery of this visionary language used in the book we call Revelation. So let's do two things with the remainder of our time in the word. First, let's consider how to decipher what we find here regarding the efforts of this dragon. Second, let's then consider how we can actually defeat this dragon and frustrate his efforts. Sound good? So...
1. Deciphering the Dragon's Efforts
Having recognized the symbolic imagery here, and being told about the dragon's true identity in verse 9, our next task should be to identify the first “sign” revealed in this chapter: the image of (v. 1) “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Hmm. Since no explanation is given by John here, what should we do with this sign? Well, like so much of Revelation, the key to making sense of this comes from... the Old Testament. This imagery, in fact, comes right out of Joseph's dream in Genesis 37. Combine this with the Old Testament's language about God's people as God's wife, and we are clearly being pointed here to Israel.
But I think we can get more specific. Notice how, in verse 5, the woman gives birth (or brings forth) a child. It's safe to say that In light of Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, both alluded to in verse 5, this child is Jesus. So this is a vision of Israel, from whom the Messiah came, right?
Yes, but I think we can get even more specific. Notice how the dragon's frustrated attempt to devour her child in verse 4, leads to his pursuit of the woman in verse 13. But she is divinely protected, as we see in verse 16. It's in the very next verse that we find the best clue to correctly identifying the woman. We read in verse 17:
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.
Think about that phrase, “the rest of her offspring”. She has brought forth Jesus. But others have also been brought forth through her. Okay. When we remember to whom and for whom this book was written (seven churches from western Asia Minor), and the specific challenges they were facing (as detailed in the mini-letters of chapters 2-3), and the encouragements we find throughout this book (encouragements not to give in or give up), the identity of the woman's other children is clear; and thus, her identity becomes clear.
The woman depicted in Revelation 12 is the believing Jewish remnant who brought forth Jesus, not only to “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria,” but also, “to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) John himself is part of that remnant! And though Satan attempted to kill Jesus through Herod (Matthew 2:13-15), Joseph and Mary were faithful, weren't they? Though Satan entered Judas and sifted Peter (Luke 22), though he inspired corruption in the Jerusalem church (Acts 5:3), the apostles were faithful. And through their faithfulness, these Jewish men and women brought the message of the Messiah to Gentiles all across the Roman Empire.
So when John talks about the fury of the dragon and his “war on the rest of her offspring”, he's simply providing for his original readers a spiritual explanation of the persecution they were facing, and (according to this book) would continue to face, to an even greater degree. This is exactly what Paul did for one of these seven churches in his personal letter to them:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
The Revelation will continue to unfold from here and reveal the ways in which the dragon was indeed attacking and would attack these believers: through the Roman government (the beast of chapter 13), through the Roman Emperor cult (the second beast in chapter 13), and through seductive enticements of Roman materialism and sensuality, on display daily in the city of Rome itself (the prostitute introduced in chapter 17). That brings us to a second consideration, that is...
2. Defeating the Dragon's Efforts
Wonderfully, Revelation 12 reveals how the dragon's efforts to snuff out the light are frustrated over and over again. And its with this fuller understanding that we go back to verse 11...
And they [these accused, persecuted believers] have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
What did Jesus provide here for those first readers of the Revelation? As they faced Satan's fury, He provided them with a powerful reminder of the two dragon-slaying weapons at their disposal: 1) “the blood of the Lamb”, and 2) “the word of their testimony”.
The first weapon mentioned here is by far the most important. It alone makes the second weapon possible. And if we think about what we've read so far, this reference to the Lamb and his blood should drive us back to chapter 5. That's where we read...
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain... And... the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb... And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and [not, “they might”] they shall reign on the earth.”
That amazing scene, in turn, points us back to the opening verses of the Revelation, where Jesus is referred to in 1:5 as, “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”. In fact, this ransoming act, this emancipating, but very costly sacrifice, is also described here in verses 7-10. It's no coincidence that the angelic war in heaven depicted in those verses is bracketed by references to the exaltation of Jesus. How has the devil been dealt such a decisive blow? By the cross of Jesus Christ! Jesus himself revealed this not long before his crucifixion. John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” Jesus did indeed “bind the strong man” (Matthew 12:29), or as we read in Hebrews 2:14–15,
...[Jesus] himself likewise partook of [flesh and blood], that through death [i.e., the cross] he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver [i.e., set free] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
But the victory of Jesus would do these professed believers no good if they counted their lives as more precious than his death. Do you see how, in verse 11, John explains “the word of their testimony” with the follow-up phrase, “for they loved not their lives even unto death”? If, as Christians were being ridiculed or pressured or threatened, they were not willing to speak up and identify with Jesus, but bowed instead to the supposed lordship of a divine Emperor (?!), the dragon would be victorious... not over Jesus, but over them. Satan would expose the hollow-ness of their profession of faith and, by his own estimation, and in the eyes of many, he would expose the futility of faith in Christ.
But for those who (v. 17) “hold to the testimony of Jesus”, come what may, there is an amazing assurance of absolute victory. How? Because Jesus Christ has been absolutely victorious.
III. You in the Crosshairs
Brothers and sisters, when 12:12 says “the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”, that's not simply describing an ancient time of persecution. It's describing today as well. Satan and his “cosmic powers over this present darkness”, those “spiritual forces of evil” are continuing to “make war”, aren't they?
Take a moment to think about the ways you have been and are presently in the devil's 'cross- hairs'. Our prayer should be that, like Paul, “we are not ignorant of his designs” (II Corinthians 2:11). Yes, there are larger movements in our nation, and in nations around the world, that the dragon is using to advance his purposes. But those cultural battle lines often distract believers from the very personal ways in which our Enemy has already established a beachhead or is working covertly to poison an individual's heart and mind.
Whatever the specifics of these attacks, please remember the dragon's most common strategy in weakening your grip on that second weapon, is tempting you to doubt the power of the first. What is the “word of [your] testimony” if not the outward expression of that inward focus on the Lamb and faith in the power of his blood? But if that Enemy can make your past regrets ring louder in your mind than Christ's past sacrifice, if he can make what others say about you more important than what the gospel says about you, if he can lead you to believe that you need to do more, in spite of the fact Jesus did it all, if he can get you to believe that real change is accomp-lished through worldly techniques, political action, or circumstantial modification, rather than the eternity-transforming power of Christ's death and resurrection, than he will weaken your witness.
But if Jesus and his gospel (that Good News) are more precious to you than even your own existence on this planet, then no threat of loss or enticement to gain will be effective against you. Remember, brothers and sisters, the dragon's time “is short”, but as we heard in the previous chapter, Christ.. “shall reign forever and ever.” (11:15)
If you're here this morning and don't personally have this confidence through Jesus Christ, then God wants to change that, today. You don't have to live a life of fear and compromise. Admit that you, in spite of the fact that God is above everything else, that you have loved your life here and now above everything else, and receive in faith the forgiveness made possible by Jesus' blood.
May all of us remember why this Revelation, why this book was given: that we would be prepared for hardship, and that we would honor Jesus in the midst of it. How? By remembering that the Lamb remains worthy, and God remains firmly seated on his throne. Amen?
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
October 2, 2022Visions of Jesus (Revelation 19:9-10)
September 25, 2022Why Justice is Worth Singing About (Revelation 15)
September 11, 2022The Heart Where Jesus is Knocking (Revelation 3:20)