SYNOPSIS – War breaks out in “heaven” with the “Dragon” poised to destroy the “son” as soon as he is “born” – Revelation 12:1-6.
Next. John saw a new “sign” in the heavens – A woman “clothed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet,” and upon here head a “crown of twelve stars.” She was pregnant and ready to give birth to a “son.” The birth of this child was in fulfillment of the messianic promise recorded in the second Psalm – The prophesied descendant of David who was destined to “rule the nations.”
Satan, symbolized by a “great red Dragon,” was poised to devour the child as soon as he was born. However, the sonly figure was “caught up to the Throne of God” before the “Dragon” could strike. This marked the commencement of a new stage in the age-old war between God and Satan.
(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 is crying out, being in pangs and in anguish to bring forth.”
The noun sémeion or “sign” is related to the verb sémainō, which is rendered “signify” in the first verse of the book – (“And he signified”). The “sign” of a woman in the sky is symbolic, not literal.
The description of the “sun and the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars” alludes to the dream of Joseph when he saw the sun, the moon, and eleven stars rendering homage to him. The twelve stars represented the twelve tribes of Israel, with Joseph being the twelfth star – (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 peoples of God were intended. In the vision of “New Jerusalem,” the “names of the twelve tribes of Israel” and those of “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” together were incorporated in the city’s gates, walls and foundations – (Revelation7:4-8, 21:12-14).
The “crown of twelve stars” is a victor’s “wreath,” or stephanos. This is in contrast to the seven “crowns” or diadems worn by the “Dragon.” Elsewhere, victory “wreaths” are associated with the victory of saints over the Devil – (Revelation2:10, 3:11).
The labor pains of the “woman” symbolizes the tribulations and persecutions of the covenant community by the “Dragon,” sufferings that culminated in the birth of the “son.” The image draws on language from the fall of Adam and Eve caused by the efforts of the “serpent”:
(Genesis 3:15-16) – “And enmity will I put between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, but you will crush his heel. To the woman he said, I will increase your pain of pregnancy, In pain you will bear children.”
A messianic prophecy from the book 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, in the present vision, “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 on his heads seven diadems; and his tail is drawing the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to deliver, that as soon as she brought forth he might devour her child.”
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 the Old Testament character of 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).
Yahweh would “punish Leviathan, the swift Serpent, and Leviathan, the crooked serpent.” The association of the “Dragon” with Pharaoh is appropriate in the vision – imagery from the exodus of Israel 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.” It also had “ten horns” and “devoured,” and represented an imperial power that persecuted the “saints.”
(Daniel 7:7-8) – “After that, I was looking in the visions of the night when lo! a fourth beast, terrible and well-hipped and exceeding strong, and it had large teeth of iron, IT DEVOURED and broke in pieces, and the residue with its feet it trampled down; and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it, and it had TEN HORNS. I was considering the horns when lo! A little horn 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 downfall of a “third of the stars” alludes to another vision of Daniel when he saw the “little horn grow 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 “little horn” that appeared on the head of the “fourth beast” – (Daniel 7:8, 8:10).
The “seven heads” of the “Dragon” symbolize its control over the political realm. Its “seven diadems” symbolize its claim of universal sovereignty.
The red color of the “Dragon” stresses its violent character, just as the “red horse” from the second seal 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” cast down by the “Dragon” represent angels, righteous humans, or both. Elsewhere in Revelation, “stars” represent “messengers” or “angels.” The passage ends with the “Dragon” poised to “devour” the child at its birth.
(Revelation 12:5) – “And she brought forth a son, a male, who was to shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron; and her child was caught away to God and to his throne.”
She “brought forth a son, a male” – (eteken huion arsen). The clause echoes Isaiah 66:5-8 where “Zion,” represented as a female figure, “brought forth a male” – (Greek – eteken arsen). Here, Revelation now “son” or huios to the clause to make his identity clear. Her son was 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 said to me, You are My son; I, today, have begotten you. Ask of me and let me give nations as your inheritance, and as your possession the ends of the earth. YOU WILL SHEPHERD THEM WITH A SCEPTER OF IRON, as a potter’s vessel you will dash them in pieces.”
The second Psalm is messianic and applied frequently to Jesus by the New Testament. The “son” is the Messiah who was born from the messianic community. The identification is made explicit later in the twelfth chapter – (“Now has come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” – Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, Revelation 19:15).
The attempt by the “Dragon” to destroy the child failed when God “seized him toward His throne.” Previously, his installment on the Throne was linked to his sacrificial death. The image portrays his installment on the Throne after his death and resurrection – (Revelation 1:5, 3:21, 5:5-10).
(Revelation 12:6) – “And the woman fled into the desert where she has a place prepared of God, that there they should nourish her a thousand, two hundred and sixty days.”
Her flight evokes Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the wilderness. She still symbolizes the covenant community, only now, it is formed around the “son.” Following his exaltation, the church began a new exodus into the “wilderness” pursued by the “Dragon” and his earthly minions.
Now, the Woman was on the earth – no longer “in heaven.” The victory of the “son” over the “Dragon” did not remove the covenant community from his potential grasp. However, God protected and “nourished” her in the Wilderness.
The “Wilderness” is not “heaven” or a place devoid of evil. Babylon, the “Great Harlot,” was also found in it. Moreover, despite her removal to the “wilderness,” the “Dragon” was able to pursue her and attempt to overwhelm her. The “place prepared for her” points to a reality like the “sealing” of God’s servants – A “place” where God enabled her to endure the onslaughts of the “Dragon” – (Revelation 7:1-8,11:1-2, 17:3).
She was nourished for a “thousand, two hundred, and sixty days.” This is equivalent to the “time, times, and half a time.” The figure is a link 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.” It also is a link to the persecution of the “saints” by the “beast from the sea” for “forty-two months” – the equivalent to the “time, times, and half a time” – (Daniel 7:25, 12:7, Revelation 13:4-7).
Numbers in Revelation are figurative. Elsewhere, this same period is described as “forty-two months” – functional equivalents. Revelation uses two different figures to refer to the same period, along with the description “time, times, and half a time” – (Revelation 11:2,13:5).
The repeated chronological reference links the flight of the “woman” to the “trampling of the holy city by the nations,” the ministry of the “two witnesses,” and the “war against the saints” by the “beast” – Her flight occurs in the same period – Revelation11:1-4, 13:4-7).
The “nourishing in the Wilderness” is a further link to the “two witnesses” whose ministry resembled that of Elijah, who was provided for when God dispatched “ravens to feed him by the brook Cherith” in the wilderness – (1 Kings 17:3-6, Revelation 11:5-6).
The start of the “twelve hundred and sixty days” coincided with the exaltation of the “son to the Throne,” the expulsion of Satan from heaven, and his being “cast to the earth.” Thus, in view, is not any yet-future event, but a reality that began with the death, resurrection, and enthronement of Jesus.
Whether the “twelve hundred and sixty days” terminated at some point in the past -or is still underway – remains to be seen. It points to a period of intense “warfare” waged by the “Dragon” on the covenant community. Its “nourishment” takes place in the “wilderness,” the same location where John will later see “Babylon, the Great Whore.” However, as the rest of the chapter will demonstrate, though protected, the “woman” is not yet completely removed from the attempts by the “Dragon” to destroy her or the “rest of her seed.”
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