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  • Chad Werkhoven

Revelation 12 - Literary Tools for Literal Truth

Recognizing genre helps you benefit from even the most difficult chapters in the Bible.


Revelation 12 (NIV)

CONTEXT: This fantastic (in every sense of the word) chapter begins the second half of the book of Revelation. We're reading it today to see how it combines an aspect of every part of Biblical genre: historical-narrative, poetry, & apocalyptic.

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—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.

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.

11 They triumphed over him

by the blood of the Lamb

and by the word of their testimony;

they did not love their lives so much

as to shrink from death.

12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens

and you who dwell in them!

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.”

13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 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.

15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 4: The Canonical Books

This week we'll be focusing on some of the different literary genres included in the Bible: Narrative, poetry/wisdom, the epistles, and apocalyptic. Today we'll notice that in many passages, these genres have significant overlap.

We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes

of the Old and New Testaments.

They are canonical books

with which there can be no quarrel at all.

In the church of God the list is as follows:

In the Old Testament,

the five books of Moses—

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy;

the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth;

the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings;

the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon;

the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job;

the Psalms of David;

the three books of Solomon—

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song;

the four major prophets—

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel;

and then the other twelve minor prophets—

Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah,

Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,

Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

In the New Testament,

the four gospels—

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John;

the Acts of the Apostles;

the fourteen letters of Paul—

to the Romans;

the two letters to the Corinthians;

to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians;

the two letters to the Thessalonians;

the two letters to Timothy;

to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews;

the seven letters of the other apostles—

one of James;

two of Peter;

three of John;

one of Jude;

and the Revelation of the apostle John.



As the second half of Revelation begins here in chapter 12, the language & symbolism gets more and more fantastic and hard to even imagine. As the complications and details add up, it is critically important for you to keep the overall theme of Revelation in mind: The Victory of the Christ & His Church over the Dragon & his Helpers.

This amazing account centers around three primary characters: The radiant woman who represents the Church; The child representing Christ; And the dragon symbolizing Satan. Things appear hopeless for the woman just as she is giving birth, as the dragon stands ready to devour her child, the Savior of the world, immediately after His birth. But before he can, the child is miraculously caught up to God (v5).

In a way that fulfills God's promise to Eve in Genesis 3, God rescues the child, the seed of the woman. Satan is cast out of heaven, and since God's elect are fully righteous in the blood of Christ, Satan can no longer accuse you before God (the name satan = the accuser), so all he can do is persecute the woman (Church).

Keep this in mind the next time things look utterly hopeless for you. It may seem like the devil is crouching at your doorstep ready to crush you, but know that your Father in heaven is constantly watching over you so that not even a hair can fall from your head without His will.

Dig Deeper

One of the toughest questions to answer about the Bible is determining whether a passage is literally or figuratively true. In other words, was there actually a seven headed dragon that swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to earth, or was this just a vision that John had?

Normally, questions like this are determined by first determining the passage's genre, or literary style. It seems amazing that the sky was filled with an angel army as the shepherds watched that first Christmas morning, but the historical narrative style Luke uses helps us know it actually happened. When David asks God to "smash the teeth" of the wicked in Psalm 58, we give it some latitude because of its poetic setting.

Our chapter today contains some straight up narrative - "Then war broke out in heaven... (v7)." That's historical fact; it happened. But it also uses some poetic license - "woe to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you (v12)." This doesn't mean it's not safe to venture out on the ocean! It also contains apocalyptic language in which spiritual realities are portrayed using symbolic word pictures (a dragon sweeping massive stars to the relatively tiny earth).

But knowing for sure which is which can be very hard to nail down, and good Christians will come to different literary conclusions, and therefore different interpretations of difficult chapters like this, so hold on to your opinions loosely.

Praise God that most of His Word is so plain that even our youngest children can easily see the unfading truth that we so firmly stand on!

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father God, who will win the war and crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20);

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God His Word is mostly plain and straightforward, but pray for the strength and desire to dig into the difficult chapters as well;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Acts 8


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