“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet,…”(Rev. 12: 1-5)
Chapter 12 is another beautiful interlude, and this will run from 12:1 to 14:20. It is an interlude, but another series of seven based on the word ‘sign’, and that may be true because there are going to be seven mentions of ‘signs’ through here. Three are going to be in earth (sky), and four are going to be on the earth (i.e., Rev. 13:13; 13:14; 16:14; and 19:20). Some see another series of seven; we just can’t be sure if it’s another series or simply an important interlude describing about why the people of God are suffering so much. It’s obvious to me though, the historical allusion is taken from 2 places: Genesis chapter 3 about the woman and man-child, and the serpent, and beautifully from Isaiah 26:17-18.
Let’s get into the text itself, “A great sign…” – this word is used quite often in John for miracles, but has many other meanings, and a different one here in the Book of Revelation. “…appeared in heaven,” – sky in the highest heaven might be a better translation, so all could see. “…a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” There has been a terrible debate over who this is. But obviously she is a symbol in contrast to the great horror of 17:1 (great harlot) which is going to be this anti-God world system personified particularly as Rome, here called Babylon. It’s an obvious contrast from these 2 women. Now, who is this woman? “…clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;” – it symbolizes someone who is very important. I believe what it is is the true Israel of God or really the Old Testament people of God, because she’s going to change identity over here a bit later in verses 13 and following. She’s not going in heaven but back on the earth. I think she represents the people of God both of the Old Testament and the New Testament in the sense that out of her will come the Messiah. In the New Testament, the church can be seen as her children, but later in the chapter she is the church who is persecuted for her faith. This is somewhat confusing, but it’s quite common motif in the Old Testament to slip from the corporate to the individual. Some say this is Mary, but that didn’t rise until the 5th century and came with some undue emphasis put upon her by the Roman Catholic church. I think Mary is a wonderful woman, but her being a mediatrix is not Biblical; Jesus is the only Mediator.
Now notice as it mentions, “Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.” – now this dragon if you look down in verse 9, is going to be described as the devil, Satan the ancient serpent, the dragon. This is one reason why i think that Genesis 3 is the backdrop of this, for there a woman is going to bring forth a seed that’s going to crush the serpent. The serpent in Genesis 3 is not necessarily Satan, but seems to be a tool of Satan, yet the New Testament seems to identify Satan’s presence in the Garden of Eden. There are many titles for this supernatural force of evil. Many believe he’s a fallen angel, and we get some idea where he came from and why from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 which is primarily the king of Babylon, the king of Tyre. But the description goes beyond that; by the time we get to the New Testament, there is a radical intensification of evil (read The Theology of The Old Testament by A. B. Davidson). There is an intensification of evil from Job chapters 1 & 2, through the inter-Biblical period to the great war between Satan and God in the New Testament. Satan has many titles in the New Testament: he’s called Satan 33 times, and the devil 32 times, he’s known as the tempter, he’s called the evil one, the enemy, the prince of demons, the ruler of this world, the Prince of the power of the air, the god of this world, Belial, Beelzebub, here in this passage he’s called the dragon, the serpent, and the accuser. Now from these titles we understand that he’s out to destroy God. I really think that this chapter is more symbolic than historical. You can read the commentaries, and many try to say this applies to this part of history, and this applies to this part of history. I really think it’s a symbolic struggle between good and evil that shows the church why they’re going through persecution. And we shouldn’t try to lock it down into history too much, although it’s an obvious allusion to the birth of the Messiah that will ultimately crush the head of the serpent.
Notice as it mentions “…and behold, a great red dragon…” – you might want to see 17:3-4, another red dragon (beast) connected with the whore of Babylon. Now. “…having seven heads and ten horns…” – this is also described of the beast of chapter 13 and of chapter 17; this is symbolism of course. This is the idea of seven as the perfect number, seven heads. The ancients wouldn’t have meant head as wisdom like we would, but maybe the heads were to hold the crowns (royal diadem). The idea of the ten horns goes back to Daniel 7:7, as the idea of power, and strength alluding to Satan as a beast with many horns and all that goes back to the book of Daniel. Now, when it says, “…his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” – i think, in context, and because much allusion is being drawn from Daniel where the ‘stars’ seem to refer to angels, this seems to be that Satan took some angels of God with him when he fell. “…And the dragon stood before the woman…” – that’s an unusual stance for a dragon. The idea of a dragon here goes back to the Old Testament; 2 words, ‘Rahab’ the monster and ‘Leviathan’ the sea-monster. This is a personification of evil as this is wild sea-dragon as it is used here. “…who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child,…” – a ‘male’ that’s emphasized in the original Greek, and the fact that it was a son, “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron;…” – this goes back to Psalms 2:9. Isaiah 26, Psalms 2, Genesis 3, and Daniel all employed here imagery here which is all mixed up from the Old Testament and the meaning changes; now it’s going to be Christ. Christ’s rule is destined for world dominion, and “with a rod of iron” speaks of firmness and not tyranny as others might suggest.
We see that the “…child was caught up to God and to His throne.” – this is not a picture of the literal birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and a skip to the Ascension. It’s more symbolic than trying to find acts within history. “Then the woman fled into the wilderness…” – notice the ‘wilderness’ (desert) is a place of safety. Some see an allusion here to the Exodus motif about how Israel’s wilderness wandering depicts God’s unique relationship with Israel as ‘husband to wife courtship period’ where God provided all her needs, a period of closeness and fellowship. That seems to be the idea here. Notice, “…so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” – it’s a variant of “a time and times, and half a time” where a time corresponds to a year, hence 3 and a half years seems to be a number that describes a definite period of persecution. It’s half the number of seven, so it’s not a complete time because God has cut it short as we see from Matthew 24. But it’s that symbolic period of persecution, or problems, or pain that fits in right here.
(TO BE CONTINUED)