The twelfth chapter of Revelation portrays the history and experience of the church from the birth of Christ (Rev. 12:5) to the final crisis of earth’s history (12:17). As such it sets the stage for Revelation’s primary focus on end-time events from chapter thirteen on (see next week’s lesson for details on Rev. 13). The backdrop for these earthly events is the cosmic conflict in heaven (12:7-10).
There is an important literary pattern in the book of Revelation. Whenever a new character appears in the story, the author pauses the narrative and offers a visual description of that character and a bit of its previous history. This “freeze frame” often helps the reader identify the character. After this introduction, the character plays a role in the larger story.
In Revelation chapter one, Jesus appears as a character in the book for the first time (Rev. 1:12-18—He is named earlier: 1:5,9, but is not described as a character there). There is a visual description (1:12-16) and a bit of His previous history (1:17-18) followed by His actions in the subsequent vision (Rev. 2 and 3). In chapter eleven, the two witnesses are introduced similarly with a physical description and a glimpse of their past history (11:3-6) followed by their actions in the context of the vision (11:7-13).
Two new characters appear at the beginning of chapter twelve (Rev. 12:1-4). First, there is a visual description of a woman (12:1) and a bit of her previous history (12:2). Then a dragon appears and is similarly introduced (12:3-4). Only then do both characters begin to act in the context of the vision itself (Rev. 12:5ff.). The male child of verse five, on the other hand, is not introduced with a visual description, probably because He has already been introduced earlier in a different form (1:12-18).
We will see the same literary pattern in Revelation 13. Both the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth are introduced with a freeze frame (Rev. 13:1-7 and 13:11) that prepares the way for their actions in the context of the final crisis of earth’s history (Rev. 12:17).