The Dragon's Departure to the Sea (12:17)

The dragon has now been defeated and frustrated at every turn. First he was driven out of his place in heaven (vv. 4, 7-9). Next he failed in his attempt to devour the woman's child (vv. 4-5), and when he tried to destroy the woman herself in her own "place" of refuge prepared by God (vv. 6, 13-16), he failed again. Three strikes and out—almost! The dragon's last recourse is to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. To this end he leaves the desert and is seen standing on the shore of the sea (v. 17).

If the woman's child was Jesus (v. 5), who are the rest of her offspring, who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus? They can only be the Christian communities to which John was writing. The patient reader who has been asking, What has all this to do with me? finally has an answer. Here if anywhere we find ourselves in these confusing middle chapters of the book, for the war between the dragon and us will play itself out in the scenes shortly to follow. It now becomes evident that John's visions bring to realization a two-part interpretation of the ancient prophecy addressed to the serpent in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity [1] between you and the woman [fulfilled in Rev 12], and [2] between your offspring and hers" [fulfilled in Rev 13].

The woman's "offspring" in the first instance is Christ (12:5), but the focus of attention is not on the conflict between the dragon and Christ (which is in the past), but on the conflict between the dragon's "offspring" (not yet identified) and the followers of Christ, those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. That will be the subject of the next chapter.

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