12:1–14:20 This third cycle of visions consists primarily of histories of key symbolic characters: the dragon, the woman, the beast, the false prophet, the 144,000, angelic announcers, and the Son of Man (Introduction: Outline). Unlike the cycles of seven seals (5:1–8:1) and seven trumpets (8:2–11:19), these visions have no explicit numbering. But, like the preceding cycles, they lead to a vision of the Second Coming (14:14–20). The two preceding cycles focused on the judgments issuing from God’s throne. This cycle depicts in depth the nature of the spiritual conflict. Characters appear in symbolic form to represent the forces on the two sides of a cosmic spiritual war.
God Himself has already been revealed in chs. 4; 5. Opposing God are Satan (the dragon) and his agents, the beast (13:1–10) and the false prophet (13:11–18; 16:13). On God’s side are His people, portrayed as a light-bearing woman (12:1–6, 13–17) and as a chaste, numbered, and protected multitude (14:1–5). These two complementary pictures show the saints in their capacity as witnesses of God’s light and as separated from the corruptions of the world. Thus the saints are exhorted to remain faithful to Christ in response to the persecution by the beast, and to remain pure by resisting the seduction by the harlot (Introduction: Characteristics and Themes: Content). The symbolic pictures show the two sides stripped of all inconsistency and confusion to clearly express the nature of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10–20). The present conflicts will be followed by the peace of 21:1–22:5 when the fulfillment of God’s plans takes effect.