When it comes to exciting chapters in the Bible (or in any book), few match the anticipation, events, and drama of Revelation 12. The images are startling: a fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns (verse 3); a war in heaven, of all places! (verse 7); the “whole world” deceived (verse 9); people who did not “love their lives to the death” (verse 11); a woman “given two wings” of an eagle (verse 14); and the dragon cast down to the earth (verse 13). It is a lot of excitement, a lot of action, a lot of drama. Yes, but what does it all mean?
This chapter presents, in symbols, a panoramic view of what has been called the “great controversy”—the overarching biblical theme of the battle between Christ and Satan, between good and evil—a battle in which the whole world is involved. “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (verse 12*). Revelation 12 covers everything from the fall of Lucifer in heaven to the end of history. It tells of Satan’s attempt to kill the baby Jesus (see also Matthew 2:13–18) and his incessant persecution of the church.
The chapter ends with a depiction of a people—an end-time people who face a daunting challenge. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17, KJV).
What is this verse about? Who are these people, this “remnant of her seed”? Why does the dragon, Satan (verse 9), war against them? And, ultimately, with such a foe, what hope of survival do they have?
the first gospel promise
To identify the remnant people, we must start at the very beginning—the Garden of Eden—where a serpent appears, who is, really, Satan in disguise “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (verse 9; emphasis added). The Genesis account tells us the serpent deceived Eve into sin, and she then led Adam into sin as well (Genesis 3:1–6). This is the fall that unleashed suffering, evil, and death upon our world. The Bible expresses it this way: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
However, the story in Genesis tells us that even before God pronounced judgment upon Adam and Eve, He gave them—and us—hope. That hope is expressed in a single cryptic verse known in Latin as the protoevangelium. It comes from two words, proto, meaning “first,” and evangelium, meaning “good news”—another expression for the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ’s atoning death for the world. Don’t miss this point: as soon as there was sin, God offered the world the hope of salvation, which would come through Jesus, the Messiah.
In this one verse, the first promise of the Gospel appears. In the narrative, God is not speaking to Adam and Eve but to the serpent, Satan (see Genesis 3:1–15). God says to him:
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel (Genesis 3:15).
Note carefully that the Lord puts enmity, or hostility, between the serpent, Satan, and the woman, Eve (in the Bible, a woman is also a symbol of God’s church), and between their respective seed, or offspring. That is, hostility—enmity—will arise between those on the side of the serpent and those on the side of the woman—God’s church. But what happens next alludes to the victory of the church, through Christ, over Satan. The church’s heel is bruised, while Satan’s head is bruised. The seed of the woman—Christ, and those who are in Him—will bruise (the New International Version reads “will crush”) the serpent’s head, in contrast to only the heel of Christ and His church being bruised. Which is worse, a bruised heel or a crushed head? The answer is obvious. In the New Testament, the Bible helps us interpret this text regarding the seed of the woman. It says: “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20), pointing directly back to the promise of Genesis 3:15.
the remnant of Revelation 12
This protoevangelium, this first presentation of the gospel, or “good news,” occurred back in Eden, near the beginning of human history. What’s fascinating is that, near the end of human history, in Revelation 12:17, the same elements of the protoevangelium reappear, but now in the context of the world’s closing scenes. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (KJV).
Look at the common elements. Satan, the dragon (in Genesis 3:15, the serpent), is wroth with (has enmity against) the woman, God’s church. And he goes to make war with “the remnant of her seed,” the same seed that first appeared in Genesis 3:15. But now, in the context of the last days, the Bible refers to the remnant of that seed, to those who remain after what has been a battle lasting almost six thousand years. (Remember, the enmity began in Eden.) So then, who makes up this remnant, this last fragment of the woman’s seed?
in your Seed
Now let’s bring in another chapter of history to help us clarify the picture. One of the most amazing stories in the Old Testament—and also one of the most “troubling”—is of Abraham on Mount Moriah, where, following the command of God, Abraham went to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1–12). Now this was, really, only a test to see whether Abraham, who had shown a lack of faith earlier, would obey the Lord, no matter what. After he had passed the test (verses 11, 12), the Lord spoke to him, saying: “I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (verses 17, 18).
God did, indeed, fulfill His promise to Abraham, who became the physical and “spiritual” father of the ancient Hebrew nation, the one people who, despite myriad failures, worshiped and followed the one true God, Yahweh, while the pagan nations around them worshiped false gods.
Those false gods were actually demons. Moses, talking to God’s people (the woman), said of the pagans:
They sacrificed to demons, not to God,
To gods they did not know,
To new gods, new arrivals
That your fathers did not fear (Deuteronomy 32:17).
Millennia later, also addressing God’s people (the woman), the Bible added: “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20).
Much of the Old Testament is the story of the Hebrew people, the seed of the woman, who, amid this great controversy between Christ and Satan, sought to keep the knowledge of the true God alive in a world that didn’t know Him. No question, the bulk of biblical history shows the failure of the Hebrew nation to follow the Lord as they were supposed to. But their failure didn’t take away from two crucial points.
First, the Hebrew nation, this seed of the woman, had more light, more truth, than any of the nations around them because they worshiped the true God, the Creator. The pagan gods were nothing but idols. As one of Israel’s prophets wrote:
Are there any among the idols of the nations that can cause rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Are You not He, O LORD our God?
Therefore we will wait for You,
Since You have made all these (Jeremiah 14:22).
Second, and most importantly, out of the Hebrew people came Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In fact, the Bible explains what is meant by “the seed” like this: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
Christ is the true Seed, and everyone in Christ, Jew or Gentile, is the seed, or descendant, of Abraham as well. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29).
the remnant of her seed
Revelation, in the context of the last days, again depicts this seed—those who are Christ’s. But now they are th “remnant of her seed,” that is, the end-time people who, faithful to Jesus, face the wrath of Satan, as God’s faithful people have since Eden, where the protoevangelium first revealed the enmity that would exist between them and Satan.
And how is this “remnant of her seed” identified? “The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17, KJV; emphasis added).
The commandments of God are, of course, the Ten Commandments, which, according to the Bible, define sin “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV).
Identifying the remnant as those who keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus might seem like a very broad depiction. After all, what Christian wants to sin? This identification, though, becomes greatly narrowed because most of Christianity, unfortunately, does not keep the fourth commandment, the seventh-day Sabbath. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8–10; emphasis added).
Christians who even bother to keep “sabbath” usually keep Sunday, a day not presented in the Ten Commandments. Hence, one identifying mark of the “remnant of her seed” would be those who keep all the “commandments of God,” including the fourth.
Furthermore, the meaning of “the testimony of Jesus Christ” is amplified later in Revelation: “Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
The “spirit of prophecy” points to the manifestation of the prophetic gift in the church. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 12 lists the gift of prophecy as one of the spiritual gifts (see verse 10). According to Revelation 12:17, then, a manifestation of this gift, depicted a “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” is one of the identifying marks of this end-time “remnant of her seed.”
Though God has faithful people in all churches, Revelation 12:17 depicts a specific group who keep all the commandments and have the gift of prophecy manifest among them. This group will be the special target of the devil’s wrath at the end of time. However, these people are secure in Christ and will be instrumental in crushing the serpent’s head while living “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2).
Clifford Goldstein writes from Tennessee and is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
* Unless otherwise noted, Bible verses in this article are from the New King James Version.