Revelation chapter 12 is a cryptic history lesson. I happen to think understanding what we are going to see here in chapter 12 is easy, but most struggle with the terminology. I am going to give you some clues that might help you understand. While these clues are meant to help you, they may not make sense at first. However, if you adjust your thinking to include them you will begin to have a greater understanding of not only what is going on around you, but how these prophetic words, such as we find in Revelation, Daniel, and others mesh with life.
Clue number one: This book we are reading is an Eastern - oriented book. You cannot read it with your Western - centric mentality – you know, that attitude in which you think the world revolves around you.
Clue number two: This book was written to Jewish believers, so, every word has significance to the Jewish community – a community that is serious about their scriptures. Are you serious about your study of the Word?
We will do the usual; tear it apart and make sense of it.
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1 ESV)
“a great sign appeared in heaven:”
The word sign is sēmeion and means an indication. John does not tell us what that indicator was. We know that there was an indicator of Jesus birth, but we are not talking about that yet.
Israel is the woman. Remember that I told you that the Revelation was a Jewish book, written to Jewish converts who would have had an immediate recognition of the symbols being spoken of. The woman, a symbolic representation of Israel, is defined in the Old Testament as the wife of God. We can find references to this in Isaiah 54:5-6; Jeremiah 3:6-8; Jeremiah 31:32; Ezekiel 16:32; Hosea 2:16.
“clothed with the sun”
A look at several commentaries can sometimes fill in the blanks in your thinking.
Gill's commentary states: “which does not point at her future state in glory; see Matthew 13:47; but to her then present state on earth;”
Because we can follow the context as Revelation 12 progresses we know that Israel's glory state had much to do with the arrival of Jesus Christ. Was Israel really clothed with the sun at that time? Not really, for there had been 400 years of prophetic silence. Still, this was God's chosen people, and they were meant to put God on display as the righteous king. That did not happen. Nonetheless, God still speaks into and about our lives as though we are living fully in the kingdom He desires.
John MacArthur, in his commentary, describes the woman clothed with the sun, in this way.
“Being clothed with the sun speaks of the glory, dignity, and exalted status of Israel, the people of promise who will be saved and given a kingdom.”
“and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
The consensus is that this speaks of the twelve tribes of Israel. I am okay with that, not that it matters.
She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. (Revelation 12:2 ESV)
If this is Israel prior to the birth of Christ, and you did not know that, where would your mind go as you tried to find out who and what this verse was speaking of? I think almost all of us comprehend the idea of pain in childbirth, but what if it is highly significant?
Can you see that God was creating a pathway and allowing things to happen for the purpose of bringing His Son into the world? All this was a part of the mystery - from the fall in the garden; to the Son on the cross, and now, the culmination of all things and our life with Him in eternity. This is why the angel made this statement we find in Revelation 10:7 NASB
“but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets.”
How does one explain all this except to give you a cryptic history? It is only cryptic because it is described as God sees it, not man. Therefore, we must try to see through His eyes and heart.
Let me attempt to show the heart of God, just as Israel knew.
Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain. In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. (Isaiah 26:20-27:1 ESV)
Things to note in this:
- “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.”Sure, everybody's sins were done away with on the cross. However, that does not mean you accepted Christ, the Lord, as your ruler; without a decision from you are either operating in rogue mode or you choose to belong to Satan. It's kind of a default situation and requires an active decision on your part.If perchance you have chosen to live under the banner of Christ then you are one of His people. Consider what this says and note that He is offering you the opportunity to 'escape' the coming fury. This, in our understanding, is the wrath that we see in the Revelation.
- “For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.”Who is bringing the fury? The Lord.Who is this fury coming against? The nations/inhabitants of the earth.Why? For their iniquity; and, for the blood shed upon it. Don't be deceived, the so-called righteous have done more than their fair share of killing innocents and it has happened in so many ways.
- “In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”It seems we are taking some literary freedom here, but the beast is really the same as what we see in Revelation 12.
"And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it." (Revelation 12:3-4 ESV)
Do any of you know precisely when this took place? Neither do I, but the assumption is that it happened somewhere near the beginnings of the earth before man was here. Is it possible that there was some significant release of power, causing a bright light in the heavens as this battle raged on? We should not be surprised if there was.
Jesus told the disciples, "Yes, I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” (Luke 10:18 Moffatt NT)
It almost seems as if we have evidence of a sign based on this statement. The other thing we can consider solid and factual is that Satan took one-third of the angels with him.
Don't get lost in terminology here. What was Satan's name prior to the fall? Lucifer - originally the most beautiful of angels, an aspect of his name means light bringer. Perhaps all angels carried that role to some degree. So, if Satan is this great red dragon, and he is, then he dragged one-third of the angels with him when he fell. This is not the place where you should get all weepy eyed, these angels were deceived but they had a choice, and they chose to attempt an overthrow of the leadership in heaven. Therefore, they too were thrown out. So, in a sense, the dragon dragged them down with him.
If this is a cryptic history lesson, we just jumped way back in time. To a time, long before Israel was born. Now, within the same two verses, we seem to be jumping forward in time by changing the terminology,
“And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.”
Wait a minute, don't we see this dragon's impact in the garden. Satan seems to have some sort of clue that God has a plan. Since God, the creator of time and space, is a spirit, then He is not constrained by time. If that is true, and I believe it is, then references that prompt us to think in terms of time are relative to the action. What does that mean? It means that this dragon was there in the garden, anticipating that salvation and redemption might come through Eve as well. How is that shown? By having Abel killed. (Abel the only one that appropriately responded to guidelines for sacrifice - hence gaining a state of momentary righteousness.) So then, since deceiving the first couple into a mutiny attempt seems to have failed, Satan makes another attempt at stopping God by devouring a child, Abel.
The implications are that Satan has tried to kill anyone that closely resembled the promised seed.
As I write this I find myself thinking about Joseph and the several times he could have been killed; Daniel was thrown into the lion's den; David, as King Saul threw spears at him. There are of course innumerable people who Satan has tried to kill. Just look at the number of Christians that are being killed for their faith throughout the world.
Have you ever wondered why Satan seems to be so actively pursuing some people? First off, Satan has come to hate God. Ever trying to take over heaven and assert himself as king, he is relentless in his efforts to eliminate anything that acts like God. Since we are created in God's image, then we are prime targets. But take this idea one step further as we come into relationship and are then deemed to be 'in Christ'; now we even look like him. So for Satan's hatred to be turned against us in full force only seems natural from his point of view.
Ponder this: “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”
If 'she' is Israel, then is it possible that this idea of Israel being pregnant, crying out in birth pains, is, in reality, all the whining and struggling that Israel did, not only in the wilderness but includes the times of captivity where they turned their backs on God. You should be getting the general idea that this includes the entire time of Israel's existence. Was it Israel's job to bring the Messiah into the world? No, they were just the path and the chosen people.