SYNOPSIS: War breaks out in “heaven.” After the Dragon fails to destroy the “son,” he persecutes the followers of the Lamb, the “seed of the woman” – Revelation 12:1-6.
John next sees a new “sign” in the heavens, a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon beneath her feet. She is pregnant and gives birth to a “son.” This is in fulfillment of the messianic promise recorded in the second Psalm, the promised descendant of David destined to rule over the nations.
Satan, symbolized by a great red Dragon, is then seen poised to devour the child as soon as he is born; however, the sonly figure is caught up to the Throne of God before the Dragon can strike. A new stage now commences in the age-old war between God and Satan.
The Woman Clothed with The Sun
(Revelation 12:1-2) – “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet, and upon her head, a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child and crieth out, being in pangs and in anguish to bring forth?” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The noun sémeion or “sign” is related to the verb sémainō rendered “signify” in the first verse of the book (Revelation 1:1 – “and he signified”). The “sign” of a Woman in the sky is symbolic, not literal. “Heaven” the same locale where John just saw the sanctuary of God opened and the Ark of his Covenant within it (Revelation 11:15-19).
The description of the “sun and the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars” is a verbal allusion to the dream of Joseph in which he saw the sun, the moon, and eleven stars rendering homage to him, with the twelve stars representing the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph being the twelfth one (Genesis 37:9).
The background from Genesis indicates the Woman represents the covenant community, the people of God. Possibly both the Old and New Testament people of God are intended. Note well, in the vision of New Jerusalem the “names of the twelve tribes of Israel” and those of “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” are incorporated in the city gates, walls and foundations (Revelation 7:4-8, 21:12-14).
The “crown” is a victor’s “wreath” or stephanos. This is contrasted with the seven “crowns” or diadems worn by the Dragon. Elsewhere, victory “wreaths” are associated with the victory of saints who overcome the Devil (Revelation 2:10, 3:11).
The labor pain of this the pregnant woman symbolizes the persecution of the covenant community by the Dragon, whether in the Old Testament or the intertestamental period, sufferings that culminated in the birth of the messianic figure. This image also draws on language from the account in the book of Genesis of the fall of Adam and Eve that resulted from the efforts of the “Serpent”:
(Genesis 3:15-16) – “And enmity will I put between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed — He shall crush thy head, but thou shalt crush his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will increase thy pain of pregnancy, In pain shalt thou year children — Yet unto thy husband shall be thy hinging, Though he rule over thee” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Messianic prophecy from the seventh chapter of Isaiah is also utilized, which spoke of a “sign…in the height above…a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son.” Likewise, this latest vision of John portrays a “great sign in the heaven, a woman…with child…and she brought forth a son” (Isaiah 7:10-14).
(Revelation 12:3-4) – “And there appeared another sign in heaven; and lo! a great red dragon — having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems; and his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bring forth, that as soon as she should bring forth he might devour her child” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The book of Ezekiel compared Pharaoh to the “Great Dragon that lies in his rivers” and to “a dragon in the seas.” The image of “seven heads” brings into view Leviathan. God “broke the heads of the dragons on the waters” and “crushed the heads of Leviathan” (Ezekiel 29:1-3, 32:2, Psalm 74:13-14).
In a distant future, Yahweh will “punish Leviathan, the swift Serpent, and Leviathan, the crooked serpent.” The association of the Dragon with Pharaoh is appropriate; imagery from the exodus of Israel from Egypt and her sojourn in the wilderness is used in the twelfth chapter of Revelation (Isaiah 27:1, Revelation 12:6-17).
The “ten horns” link the Dragon to the “fourth beast” from the vision Daniel received of four “beasts ascending from the sea.” The “fourth beast” had “ten horns” and “devoured.” It represented an imperial power that persecuted the “saints” of God.
(Daniel 7:7-8) – “After that, I was looking in the visions of the night when lo! a fourth wild beast, terrible and well-hipped and exceeding strong, and it had large teeth of iron, it devoured and brake in pieces, and the residue — with its feet, it trampled down — and it was diverse from all the wild beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns when lo! another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the former horns were uprooted from before it — and lo! eyes like the eyes of a man in this horn, and a mouth speaking great things” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The downfall of a third of the stars draws on another vision of Daniel in which the “little horn grew great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host of the stars it cast down to the ground and trampled upon them.” This was the same horn Daniel saw rise among the ten horns of the fourth beast (Daniel 7:8, 8:10).
Originally, the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision referred to one of the four Macedonian kingdoms that sprang up after the death of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid kingdom. The “little horn” was one of its more infamous rulers, Antiochus IV, who attempted to annihilate the religion of Israel.
The “seven heads” with the seven diadems symbolizes the Dragon’s control of the political realm. The number seven points to completeness. The diadems symbolize the Dragon’s (false) claim of universal sovereignty. In contrast, the true “Lord of lords and King of kings” has “many diadems” (Revelation 17:12-14, 19:11-21).
The red color of the Dragon stresses its violent character, just as the red horse from the first four seal openings was authorized to “take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other” (Revelation 6:1-8).
It is not clear whether the “stars” that were cast down represent angels, righteous humans, or both. Elsewhere, “stars” represent “messengers” or “angels” assigned to each church. The passage ends at this point with the Dragon poised to “devour” the Woman’s child at its birth (Revelation 1:19-20).
The Woman Gives Birth
(Revelation 12:5) – “And she brought forth a son, a manchild, who was about to shepherd all the nations with a sceptre of iron; and her child was caught away unto God and unto his throne” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Woman “brought forth a son, a male” (eteken huion arsen). The clause is derived from Isaiah 66:5-8; “Zion,” represented as a female figure, “brought forth a male” (Greek – eteken arsen). The book of Revelation now adds “son” or huios to the clause to make his identity clear.
The Woman’s son is destined to “shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron,” a clear allusion to the second Psalm:
(Psalm 2:6-9) – “Yet I have installed my king — on Zion my holy mountain. Let me tell of a decree — Yahweh hath said unto me, My son, thou art, I, to-day, have begotten thee: Ask of me and let me give nations as thine inheritance, and as thy possession the ends of the earth: Thou shalt shepherd them with a sceptre of iron — as a potter’s vessel shalt thou dash them in pieces” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The second Psalm is messianic and applied frequently by the New Testament to Jesus. The “son” is the Messiah who was born from the messianic community. The identification is made explicit in Verse 10 (“Now has come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” – Compare, Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, Revelation 19:15).
The Dragon’s attempt to destroy the child fails. This occurred when Satan attempted to have Jesus killed on the cross. However, by resurrecting him, God achieved victory over the Dragon by the death of His son.
Upon his “birth,” the “son” is “seized toward God and His throne.” His installment on the Throne is linked elsewhere to his sacrificial death. The present passage does not describe an enthronement of the Son that lies in the future; instead, it looks back to his installment after his death and resurrection (compare – Revelation 3:21, 5:5-10).
By his resurrection, Jesus became the “Firstborn of the Dead” and was exalted to rule from God’s Throne (Acts 2:33, Romans 1:4, Colossians 1:18, Hebrews 1:3, Revelation 1:5).
The Woman’s Flight and the 1,260 Days
(Revelation 12:6) – “And the woman fled into the desert where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they should nourish her a thousand, two hundred and sixty days” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Woman’s flight evokes images from the exodus of Israel from Egypt to the wilderness. She continues to symbolize the covenant community; however, now, the messianic community is formed around the “son.” Following his exaltation, the church began a new exodus into the “wilderness.”
The Woman is on the earth, no longer seen “in heaven.” The victory of the “son” over the Dragon does not remove the covenant community from the earth. Instead, God protects and “nourishes” her in the Wilderness.
The “Wilderness” is not “heaven” or a place devoid of evil. Babylon, the “Great Harlot” is also found in the “wilderness” (Revelation 17:3). Moreover, despite the Woman’s removal to the “wilderness,” the Dragon pursues her in an attempt to overwhelm her.
The “place prepared for her” points to a reality like the “sealing” of God’s servants and the “measuring of the Sanctuary,” a “place” where she is enabled to endure the onslaughts of the Dragon (Revelation 7:1-8, 11:1-2).
The Woman is nourished for a “thousand, two hundred, and sixty days.” This period is equivalent to a “time, times, and half a time.” This links the period to Daniel’s prediction that the “little horn” would “speak words against the Most-High and wear out the saints of the Most-High…and they shall be given into his hand” (Daniel 7:25, 12:7).
The three-and-one-half year period is referenced here, not to identify a “literal” forty-two month period that is to occur prior to the end of the age, but to link this vision to the prophecy of Daniel concerning a tribulation of the saints of God.
Numbers in the book of Revelation are figurative. This period is described elsewhere as “forty-two months.” Forty-two months and twelve hundred and sixty days both equal the length of a 360-day lunar year. That Revelation uses two different figures to define the same period indicates the numbers are figurative (Revelation 11:2, 13:5).
The three-and-and-half years of the wilderness sojourn link it to the “measuring of the Sanctuary” and the “two witnesses.” Her flight occurs in the same period when the Sanctuary is “measured” and the “two witnesses prophesy.” The reference to twelve hundred and sixty days links especially to the prophetic “ministry” of the “two witnesses” (“they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days” – Revelation 11:1-3).
God “nourishing her in the Wilderness” links the woman to the “two witnesses” whose ministry resembles that of Elijah. Elijah was provided for by God Who sent “ravens to feed him by the brook Cherith” in the wilderness of Israel (1 Kings 17:3-6, Revelation 11:5-6).
Likewise, the “forty-two months” during which the Sanctuary is “measured” but its outer courts are trampled by the nations parallels the “forty-two months” during which the Beast is authorized to slander God and those who “tabernacle in heaven” (Revelation 13:5-6).
The start of this period coincides with the exaltation of the Son to the Throne. The period ends when the two witnesses have “completed their testimony” and the Beast “slays them.”
Similarly, unable to destroy the Woman during the twelve hundred and sixty days, the enraged Dragon makes war with the “rest of her seed.” After the “forty-two months,” the Beast “makes war with the saints and overcomes them” (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7-10).