Revelation 12 is the center and the key to the entire book of Revelation. Revelation has a chiastic structure format and chapter 12 is the center of the "X" of the chiastic shape. The chapter begins a new series of visions, which end at Revelation 15:4. We see seven sections or “signs”.
The conflict of the serpent with the woman and her seed (Chapter12)
The persecution by the beast from the sea (13:1–10)
The persecution by the beast from the land (13:11–18)
The Lamb and the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion (14:1–5)
The proclamation of the gospel and of judgment by three angels (14:6–13)
The Son of man’s harvest of the earth (14:14–20)
The saints’ victory over the sea beast and their victory song (15:2–4).
Many divide chapter 12 into different visions. But it should be seen as one vision with various parts and an interpretation of the vision in the middle (vv 10–12) because the whole chapter has only one introductory vision formula, v. 3 together with v 1 " sign appeared in heaven". Chapter 12 goes into the deeper dimension of the spiritual conflict between the church and the world, which has been developed progressively in chapters1–11.
In the seven letters to the churches the conflict as one in which Christians are tempted to compromise in various ways, primarily affecting them spiritually. These temptations arise from both outside and inside the church, just as they do today. In each subsequent visions John's Revelation depicts in increasing intensity the spiritual sources of the conflict. In the seven seals we see pronounced spiritual forces of evil are unleashed against believer and unbeliever alike
by the cherubim, in accordance with the command of the resurrected Christ. One would ask why believers? I say because the affects of tribulation serve to steel the believers where as they afflict and harden the unbeliever. Even so it seems as though God’s people will be protected spiritually through the woes, which for true Christians serve as or reflect the idea of a Refiner's Fire.
Chapters12–22 now tell the same story as chapters1–11 but explain in greater detail what chapters1–11 only introduce. Starting in chapter 12 we see the true depth of Satan's hand in the unfolding revelation. Satan in chapter 12 is the nefarious initiator of the trials and persecutions of the saints. Jerk. It is he unleashes the “beast” and the “false prophet.” The whore Babylon is also his servant. The devil is not autonomous. He and his agents can only persecute saints within divinely prescribed time periods. The devil is actually enraged and attacks Christians because
his decisive defeat has already been set in motion by Christ’s resurrection, and his time of his demonic activity is now to be severely curtailed and inevitably ended for good. The purpose of this chapter is that its Christian readers must release that behind their earthly persecutors stand extremely powerful forces of spiritual evil, led by the devil himself. We battle against powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is a defeated foe and the battle has already been won. We need only get to the end to attain what has already been won by Christ for us. Salvation. Satan will do all the damage he can, but he cannot ultimately prevail over the church. If people being persecuted now cave in they will be doing so directly to Satan.
Just as John retells the conflict of the earlier chapters from the deeper spiritual perspective, so he starts the story again from the perspective of time. He begins from the time immediately before Christ’s birth and narrates up through Christ’s birth and resurrection and to the destiny of Christ’s followers in the subsequent age (v 5–6, 11–17). Most of the portrait in chapter 12 depicts the destiny of believers during the church age.
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” Revelation 12:1-9
John then sees “a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This imagery like much in Revelation draws on the Old Testament, therefore, the imagery of Rev. 12:1 seems to emphasize the faithfulness of the woman Israel, which cannot be corrupted during her wilderness wandering in the last days, which is portrayed in verse 6, 13–17. The twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel and may connote Israel’s priestly character (cf. 1:6; 5:10). The crown the woman wears is best defined from within the Apocalypse itself. The brightness of her appearance reflects the powerful and pure sunlight arising from God’s and Christ’s glorious image (Revelation 10:1; 21:23; 22:5. The female image also seems related to the city of Zion and carries with it the imagery or the “the bride, the wife of the Lamb”
Many, many Catholic commentators have written a large body of work claiming or arguing that the heavenly woman symbolizes Mary, the mother of Jesus. This clearly cannot be because the primary focus here is not on an individual but on the community of faith within which the messianic line ultimately yielded a kingly offspring. Close…but no cigar. Furthermore, the woman’s time in the wilderness is the time of Israel’s tribulation prophesied by Daniel. To me this goes way beyond anything that could have been said about Mary and her children. The woman’s birth pangs represent the persecution of the covenant community and the messianic line during Old Testament times and the Inter-testamental period leading up to Christ’s birth, especially the period of Antiochus Epiphanes. The suffering alluded to is not primarily that of Christ, since it is the woman who suffers and not the Child. To me the woman’s labor also partly represents the imminent, agonizing expectation of the Messiah’s birth and assumption of kingship, which is about to take place within the OT community of faith.
“Another sign appeared in the heaven,” namely “a great red dragon.” The dragon had “seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” I believe what we are seeing Old Testament imagery used to describe this monster and it all appears to point to evil kingdoms who persecute God’s people. Often the wicked kingdom of Egypt is portrayed by this emblem. God is spoken of as defeating the Pharaoh as a sea dragon at the exodus deliverance and at later points in Egypt’s history. The dragon of Rev. 12:3 also has his home in the sea. This seems to link it with Daniel 7:7, 24, which also came from the sea. This seem to make more sense because in Old Testament identifications of the dragon, the dragon here is to be identified with an evil kingdom A later proper understanding of the “beast” in Revelation 13:1–7 also bears this out.
The “seven diadems” on the dragon’s seven heads point further to an earthly king or kings, yet the “dragon” is more than a mere metaphor for an evil kingdom. It appears to represent the devil himself as the representative head of evil kingdoms. Satan is clearly the force behind the wicked kingdoms who persecute God’s people. He always has been and always will be until he is put out of commission. As such, this identity shows that Satan performs his oppressive will against the church and world through his kingly representatives on earth. It will be an earthly tyrant pulling off all these demonic shenanigans.
The red color connotes the tyrannical, warlike or murderous character of the dragon as it is similar to the scarlet color of the whore and the beast which links it directly with “the woman drunk with the blood of the saints.” Additionally, the red horse of Revelation 6:4 is also an obvious figure of tyranny and is linked with the blood of saints in Revelation 6:9–10. The picture of the dragon’s tail sweeping away a third of the stars and casting them to the earth is taken from the end-time enemy of God and His people in Daniel 8:10, “It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.” Considering the churches are alluded to as seven stars in the Lord’s right hand it is probably referring to the church at large.