Ch. 12 begins the second half of Revelation. It is the first of seven visions in 12:1-15:4 and underscores the theme of persecution that appeared throughout chs. 1-11 and anticipates the intensified persecutions of ch. 13. It recalls the conquering promises of chs. 2-3 as well as the Lamb's conquest in 5:5. It anticipates victory for the faithful saints in Rev 20-22.
Scholars debate whether the woman represents Mary, the church, Israel, or Jerusalem (Beasley-Murray, 191-97; Mounce, 235). Regarding the woman, Collins correctly concludes, “Her importance for the Apocalypse lies not so much in her identity as her destiny” (Collins, Apocalypse, 88). The pregnant woman prepares to give birth to a messianic child. However, a cosmic antagonist depicted by the four names of “dragon,” “serpent,” “devil,” and “Satan” attempts to kill the child. But God protects and nourishes the mother and child. Again, the Dragon pursues the woman. When salvific eagle's wings, reminiscent of Ex 19:4, preserve the woman, the frustrated, enraged Dragon makes war with the woman's faithful offspring. The offspring overcome the antagonist through the blood of the Lamb, their testimony, and their fidelity (v. 11).
Although the identity of the woman is unclear, four names identify the antagonist as the one who leads the whole world astray (v. 9). John knew the church was engaged in a conflict between truth and falsehood, a contest between faithful Christian conquerors and faltering compromisers, and, ultimately, a contest between Satan and the Lamb. The antagonist was and is a clever deceiver who tried, and tries, to get Christians to accommodate their standards to those of pagan society. John designated the enemy's mission as spiritual deception. Ch. 12 inspires resistance to moral compromise, even if resistance to the morality of pagan society results in martyrdom. Also, ch. 12 depicts a pouting Dragon/Satan going off to make war against the faithful. While John envisions the angry dragon stomping off to wage war, faithful saints conquer the cosmic deceiver by their consistent moral lives and by clinging to the testimony of Jesus. The world's greatest battles are won behind the closed doors of human hearts. God enables saints to withstand the pressures of Satan, even when Satan is allied with the state as in ch. 13.