1] Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. 2] Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4] His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. 5] She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. 6] Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
In early days of map-making, when an area was unknown, sometimes dragons or other monsters were drawn in, with the phrase, “here be dragons,” or “here be monsters,” perhaps to signify the dangers of the unknown. Truly, the chapter before us enters the unknown, because it talks about the spiritual world, and talks about forces and events far beyond our ability to discern. In fact, with our eyes and ears and tactile senses, we’re able to “see” only a tiny, tiny part of what goes on around us. Furthermore, unbelief and skepticism tells us there is no “spiritual” world, that the material universe is all there is. There is no “spirit,” no “God.”
God says otherwise. That, in fact, without Him, there would be no material world.
This chapter tells us something of the unseen happenings of this material world.
Chs. 12 and 13 introduce the first of a series of “7s” in the rest of the book. There are: seven beings, chs. 12, 13; seven visions, ch. 14; seven bowls, chs. 15, 16; seven dooms, chs. 17-20; and seven new things, chs. 21-22.
Chapter 12 introduces us to five of the seven beings. We’ll look at the first two in this post. They are:
1. The woman, v. 1.
Many attempts have been made to identify this woman: the church, the Virgin Mary, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White, a host of others. It seems to me that Scripture identifies her in a description which reminds us of another, similar description in Genesis 37:9, 10: And [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”
“The sun, the moon, and the eleven stars.”
It seems to me that these two descriptions identify the woman in Revelation as Israel, but Israel from a particular standpoint: in labor, that is, in childbirth. A few verses later, more detail is given.
2. The dragon, vs. 3-6.
This being is identified as Satan in v. 9. Here again, though, there is a particular context. The seven heads and ten horns identify a particular time, which we believe is yet future, as we’ll see, and the rest of these verses identify a particular theme: opposition to and attempts to destroy her Child, that is, the Lord Jesus. Reference to His birth doesn’t change our view of Satan and that what Revelation tells us is still future; it simply tells us that it wasn’t just Herod trying to kill the infant Jesus, but Satan himself as well. He has consistently opposed God’s revealed redemptive purpose. It’s beyond the purpose of this post to pursue this study, but from the Garden of Eden onward, Satan has tried (unsuccessfully) to thwart God’s working. All he’s managed to do is to further its accomplishment.
Two things only are said of her Child: that He was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and that He was caught up to God’s throne. It’s important to understand that Scripture never says that He was caught up to His own throne, or that this is just a reference to His headship over the church. Cf. Revelation 3:21. We’ve mentioned this before and will visit it again later in these studies.
Perhaps there is one thing: how can we say the woman is Israel, and yet it was not “the nation” who gave birth to the Lord, but the virgin Mary? For most, if not all of her history, Israel has yearned for the coming of the Messiah. It was simply through this young woman, this virgin, that God brought the Messiah into Israel. The fact that Israel rejected Him because He didn’t fit their notions of what the Messiah would do doesn’t alter the fact that God has a redemptive purpose for Israel, and that she’s not permanently put aside. That purpose will one day be completed.
Between vs. 5 and 6 lies the whole church age.
In v. 6, the woman flees into the wilderness to a special place prepared by God, where she will be preserved, protected and provided for during a time identified as 1260 days, or three-and-a-half years. More details are given later in this portion of Scripture.