Evidently there are those who have difficulty in identifying “the woman clothed with the sun.” The Roman Catholic Church says it is the Virgin Mary. Christian Scientists make the woman out to be Mary Baker Eddy, founder of this false cult. There are conservative expositors who identify the sun-clothed woman as the church, the Mother of us all. But the woman, we hold, is Israel. It is true that both Israel and the church stand closely related to Christ &--;Israel as the mother, the church as the wife. It was Israel, however, who became the mother of the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; Romans 9:5, etc.). A passage like Isaiah 54:1 is very expressive, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.”
Here Israel is represented as the bearer of divine, supernatural light. She has supreme authority. Or the Sun can stand for Christ whom Israel will yet recognize as the Sun of Righteousness and who will surround her with glory.
As the moon is subordinate to the sun and derives its light from the sun, all Israel’s glory and influence are derived from the One who brought her into being. The moon shines at night and Israel is to give a light, a bright witness, amid the world’s gathering darkness.
By the twelve stars we understand the twelve tribes of Israel. In Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9) the future glory of these tribes is symbolized in the same way. Israel’s future glory and rule, therefore, are here portrayed. She is yet to be invested with the splendor and fullness of governmental authority on earth. Twelve, as we know, is the governmental number.
The metaphor of childbirth is common enough in Scripture (John 16:21; Galatians 4:19). With a passage like Isaiah 66:7 before us, we have difficulty in reconciling maternal anguish as applicable to Israel. “The travailing and pain refer to Israel’s coming hour of trial,” says Walter Scott. “But before the Great Tribulation the Messiah, the Man-Child, is born. The prophet Micah confirms this in a clear and unmistakable passage. After referring to the birth of the Messiah (5:2) he adds, ‘Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth; then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel’ (verse 3). The travail of the woman is at least 2,000 years subsequent to the birth of the Messiah and refers to her sorrow in the coming Tribulation. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a Man-Child.”
It only remains to inquire: Why then is the travail of the woman put in juxtaposition to the birth of the Messiah?
First, notice that the present lengthened period of Israel’s rejection, coming in as it does between the birth and the travail, is passed over in silence in the chapter before us; it is a parenthesis, the history of which is not given in prophecy but found elsewhere, of course.
Second, it shows the deep interest the Messiah takes in His people. He thought of the tribulation, and made certain a conditional provision as to lightening it many centuries ago (Matthew 24:15-28).
Third, at the time in which our chapter has its place, the nation is about to pass into its awful sorrow, and the object of going back in this history to the birth of Christ is to connect Him with them in it.
The travail, then, indicates Israel’s sufferings during the Tribulation. At present the Jews are being persecuted, but still darker days are ahead for God’s chosen people. The last half of the Tribulation is referred to as “the time of Jacob’s trouble.”
Another tableau follows upon the first and is inseparable from it. We now witness the remarkable sign of “a great, red dragon.” Without doubt this is a presentation of Satan in his worst character. John expressly identified the devil as the dragon in 20:2. Both Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar are spoken of as great dragons because of their cruelty and haughty independence (Ezekiel 29:3, 6; Jeremiah 51:34). It may be that the Old Testament crocodile or leviathan is the reptile depicted. The term is used of Satan only, in the Revelation, and suggests the hideousness and horror of his rule (verse 9).
Red, being a blood color, indicates the devil’s murderous nature, who has been a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Once the most beautiful of angelic beings, Satan is now and always will be the object of abhorrence.
As the ape of Christ, who, as the Conqueror, will wear many diadems, Satan is adorned with his crown of diadems. The seven crowned heads signify the cruel and despotic exercise of earthly power and authority, while the ten uncrowned horns stand for the future limits of the empire as distributed into ten kingdoms, and the rule of Satan is a ten-kingdom form. Satan delegates power and authority to the first beast who is similarly described in Revelation 13:1.
The tail, representing the most dangerous part of a dragon, is like a great comet in this monster (Daniel 8:10). As a lying prophet is likened unto a tail by Isaiah (Isaiah 9:15), Satan’s malignant influence as a liar and deceiver is herewith described.
The terrible spectacle of the dragon standing before the woman waiting to devour her newborn child is easily interpreted. It was not the woman but her seed the monster wanted to destroy, just as Pharaoh tried to devour all the male children of Israel (Exodus 1:15-22).
The man child or “male child,” a son, a male, as the original expresses it, surely represents Christ who was born to rule (Genesis 3:15; Psalm 2:9 with Revelation 12:5; Psalm 110:1, 5; Daniel 4:26). Yet there are teachers who see in the man child a group out of Israel. The 144,000, for example, are identified with Christ in a special way and because of their relation to persecution, may well be treated as the child here. But the following prophecy of universal rule nullifies such an interpretation.
It was the Virgin Mary who brought forth the promised man child (Galatians 4:4, 5), and whom Herod tried to kill while He was under two years of age. Born as a king, Christ came into the world having universal dominion which He will yet exercise (Psalm 8).
The iron rule of the nations will be broken by Him who comes to shepherd them with an iron rod. Here the world “rule” means to “tend as a shepherd,” and in this role Christ will break up the consolidated powers of the earth gathered against Himself and His people. With irresistible might He will mete out judgment to guilty kings and peoples in the West (Revelation 19), and then deal with those of the North and East (Isaiah 10). Further, this ruling with a rod for long-continued obstinacy until submission results in obedience, reveals the nature of His reign. The revolt at the end of the Millennium reveals what forced submission characterized the peoples of the earth.
The Ascension of Christ is before us in “her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:9; 7:56). Nothing is here said of the death of the man child, seeing that He is connected with Israel and the rule of all nations, both of which are dependent upon His birth and Ascension to His throne. And yet, in that shepherd-hand grasping the rod will be the marks of the nails. In passing, we discredit altogether the interpretation that we here have the rapture of those who are sufficiently holy when Jesus comes. Those who hold the “partial rapture” theory sometimes employ the last part of this fifth verse to enforce the erroneous doctrine of a selected rapture. All who are Christ’s, irrespective of their state, will be caught up to meet the Lord. If unfit, they will suffer in respect to their reward.
By the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, a place of safety and sustenance is provided for the remnant. The rapid flight and journey of the persecuted woman is likewise aided by God. Between the interrupted statement of verse 6 and the resumption of it in verse 14 we have the episode of the war in heaven and the rejoicing consequent upon its success. The careful numbering of days, 1,260 in all, testifies to the Lord’s tender interest in His afflicted people. This last half of Israel’s week of prophetic sorrow will elicit constant care and provision on the Lord’s part.
The wilderness, of course, is sometimes used as a condition destitute of natural resources, a place of isolation. In Ezekiel 20:35, 36, we find the wilderness used, not literally and locally, but spiritually, as a state of discipline and trial among the Gentile peoples.
After the complete picture of the first six verses given under the two “signs,” we come to the climax of age-long antagonisms. The Book of Revelation is a book of wars, and here in the war in heaven we have one of the most dramatic battles. At last the prophetic word of Isaiah is about to be fulfilled. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth” (Isaiah 24:21). The most significant of battles in all history is now to be staged. What a spectacle! Forces heavenly and hellish are to clash. In World War II we had the Allies and the Axis. Opposing ideologies are grouped together in this twofold way. Well, John represents the Allies—Michael and his angels; the foes—Satan and his angels! Of the issue there is no doubt. The declaration of final victory against Satan was given by Christ in Luke 10:18 and John 12:31. Surely such a hope should nerve us to soul-saving activity.
Fiercely persecuted, the woman is forced to flee (verses 6 and 14), and is wonderfully assisted in her flight. She receives “the two wings of the great eagle.” We cannot agree with those who interpret these eagle wings as world powers of Babylon and Egypt (Ezekiel 17:3, 7). The eagle symbolizes God’s protection of His own. His past care and deliverance from impending danger are indicated in this way in Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11, 12: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.” “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.”
Fleeing from “the face of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14) offers a strong contrast to earth and heaven fleeing from the face of Him sitting on the Great White Throne (20:11). The crafty nature of Satan is emphasized in the effort of the serpent to destroy the woman by a flood. Earth swallowing the flood may represent those friendly nations willing to befriend the Jew, neutralizing and circumventing Satan’s wily method to energize other nations against the Jew. Such overruling providential frustrations will raise the ire of the dragon, causing him in his baffled rage to make war with the godly remnant in Palestine. Keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus Christ always “excites the wrath” of the devil. “To make war” can imply every form of attack upon the saints, whether by persecution or war. Physical harm and evil of every kind of which the devil is capable is referred to under this technical expression (11:7; 16:14; 17:14; 19:19). But both the man child and God-fearing Jews are delivered from the murderous hate of the devil. What a chapter! No wonder Walter Scott concludes with these words: “In it are grouped perhaps the greatest events in this marvellous book. It is a chapter second to none in its range of subjects, and goes further back in its historical grasp than any other portion of the book. Who but God could have furnished such a connected grouping of events?”
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