As the trumpet series ended, John was looking into the very temple of God in heaven (11:19). Now his vision continues with a panorama of events starting in heaven but running their full course on earth. He describes two great "signs" in heaven: first, the pregnant woman (vv. 1-2) and second, an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns (vv. 3-4). The two meet in a brief confrontation (vv. 4-6), but its outcome is inconclusive and its meaning unclear until an interpretation is given (vv. 7-18).
The geography of the conflict is uncertain. Heaven refers to the place where God dwells in a holy temple (11:19) and also to the sky, as John perceived it from Patmos (vv. 1, 3). The woman in the first sign dominates the sky. It is both day and night, somehow, for the sun, moon and stars are all visible at once. The woman is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head (v. 1). The dragon too is in the sky at the beginning, for his tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth (v. 4). But does the birth of the child take place in the sky or on the earth? The statement that the child was snatched up to God and to his throne (v. 5) while the woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God (v. 6) allows us to infer that both the child's birth and the woman's confrontation with the dragon took place on earth. Even though John's vision is a panorama spread across the sky, it deals with events both in heaven and on earth.
The child in the vision is Jesus, for John identifies it as a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (v. 5 NRSV). Earlier the risen Jesus had promised the church at Thyatira "authority over the nations—`He will rule them with an iron scepter . . . . just as I have received authority from my Father" (2:26-27). But when he is snatched up to God and to his throne (v. 5), Jesus disappears from the vision, and interest shifts to the woman and her fate. At the end of verse 6 the outcome of her encounter with the dragon remains uncertain.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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