John's vision of a woman in heaven is described in Revelation 12. Verse 1 says:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
This woman in heaven is a great wonder, or sign, and she is a symbol of the Church, which is called the bride of Christ, and identified with New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2. The relationship between Christ and the Church, Paul wrote, is like that between a man and his wife (Ephesians 5:32).
The seed of the woman in heaven are those who keep God's commandments, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17). John's prophecy combines imagery from the Old Testament with themes found in the writings of Paul, and this chapter tells the story of the Church, and the Jews, and how Satan, the great dragon in the prophecy, will be judged.
Why is the woman clothed with the sun? The sun is the main light that lightens up the earth. Without the sun, the earth would be very dark. Spiritually, without the light of the true gospel, the world is in darkness. John 1:4 says, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men." Also Jesus called himself the "light of the world" (John 9:4).
The woman's clothing is the sun, which symbolizes the light of the world, which is the truth of the gospel. Jesus said [John 8:12]:
I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
And in Matthew 5:14 he said to his disciples, "Ye are the light of the world." If "light" represents knowledge, and understanding, and believing the truth, then "darkness" represents ignorance. The woman's clothing contrasts with that of the harlot woman of chapter 17, who is "arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls".
Heaven is symbolic in the prophecy, and earth is too. Heaven is the abode of God, and figuratively, because Christ ascended into heaven, those who are "in Christ" are there too. The saints are called the "citizens of heaven".
Paul wrote (Philippians 3:20 ASV):
For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter speaks of the saints having an "incorruptible inheritance" reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4).
Believers of every race are represented by the heavenly woman. She represents the people of God, who are also identified with Jerusalem, the holy city, which is called "the mother of us all." (Galatians 4:26).
As the sun illuminates the world each day with its light, the heavenly woman's role is to illuminate the world spiritually. Jesus said, "A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." [Matthew 5:14] But the Church's light has sometimes become dark. The scripture says there would come a time when the sun turns "black as sackcloth", and the moon would became "as blood." Revelation 6:2
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.
The prophecy of the heavenly woman refers to the sun as the woman's
clothing in a figurative way. The sun becoming black as sackcloth
suggests the Church's light does not always shine; it can become
darkness. Has the glorious truth of the gospel been hidden? Has the
Church's light been darkened?
The moon becoming "as blood" suggests bloodshed, and murder. The sun is identified with Israel, heir to the promises of Abraham, and the moon is identified with Jacob's wife, Rachel, in the interpretation of Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:9-11:
And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.
Here the moon is Rachel, and in the New Testament, Rachel is
identified with the Jewish people whose children were killed by Herod,
after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18):
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
The association of Rachel with the moon, in Genesis, and with the Jews in Matthew, leads to the identification of the moon in Revelation 12:1 with the Jews. The history of the Jews in the Old Testament is a type or figure for the Church. The moon becoming blood points to bloodshed that has affected the Jews at various times throughout their history.
The metaphors of the sun becoming "black as sackcloth of hair," and the heavenly woman being clothed with the sun, suggest that the Church has lost some of its light. The gospel speaks of God's love for mankind, but believers have often been in darkness, so men have not understood this. [See Christianity and War for a discussion of the Church's role in warfare, by Fr James Scully.] The moon at the woman's feet, turning to blood, suggests the bloodshed suffered by Jews.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
As childbirth is painful for a woman, the God's Church experiences sorrow, and pain. In Genesis 3:15, God says to Eve:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.
Jesus taught Nicodemus the pharisee about being "born again." This refers to a spiritual birth (John 3:5-6):
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
The mother who gives birth to the saints is the Church. Within the church, in her womb, are her yet unborn children. In John's prophecy she is "travailing in birth." The impending event is explained further in Isaiah 66:7-9:
Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God.
The name Zion, which is a hill in Jerusalem, was used by Old Testament writers to refer to Israel, and to Jerusalem, but there is a continuity between the New Testament Church and Old Testament Israel, pictured by the woman having the moon at her feet. The moon represents Rachel and the Jews, as Matthew's statement shows. Isaiah's prophecy about Zion applies to the Church. The earth "bringing forth" refers to the resurrection. It was foretold by the prophet Daniel, who associated the resurrection of the saints with a time of trouble.
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Daniel mentions Michael, who is described as the "great prince."
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
Stars are symbols of the saints, and Paul alludes to this in I Corinthians 15:40-42:
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Stars represent the children of Israel in prophecy. God promised Abraham that his seed would become as numerous "as the stars of heaven," which is the essence of the metaphor of stars representing the saints who are Abraham's children or seed (Galatians 3:29, Genesis 22:15-18).
The woman wears a wreath or crown of 12 stars, the 12 apostles of the Lord. One third of the stars, drawn by the tail of the dragon, and cast down to the earth, pictures those Christians who abandon their faith, and return to the world, represented by the earth. "The inhabiters of the earth" represents the worldly society; "those who dwell in heaven" represents those who are "in Christ".
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
The woman's male child is Christ, the son of God, who has ascended to heaven. Some have supposed the heavenly woman is Mary because she gave birth to Jesus in the flesh. But the prophecy refers not only to Jesus's birth as a human baby; it also speaks of his being born to immortality, when he was raised up from the dead. Jesus was "the firstborn of many brethren," Romans 8:29:
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Christ is the "firstborn from the dead," Colossians 1:18:
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
The Church is the spiritual mother of all, and saints are the embryonic seed within her womb. Compare Genesis 3:20:
And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
When Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her, God said to the serpent: [Genesis 3:15]
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
The serpent's head is bruised, when he is overcome by the saints, by
their faith in Christ's blood that was shed for us.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
The woman flees to the wilderness, a symbol of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness. After the Exodus from Egypt, the ancient Israelites escaped into the wilderness of Sinai, where they dwelt until they entered the promised land. The heavenly woman's escape to the wilderness pictures God's people who, like the Israelites who escaped from their bondage in the land of Egypt, have "escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." [2 Peter 1:4]
Her sojourn in the wilderness is for 1,260 days. This symbolic time period of three years and a half can be interpreted from the prophecies of Daniel. It is an alternative way for expressing the "time, times, and a half" that is featured in Daniel's prophecies. A "time" is symbolic, an undefined period. John refers to a similar symbolic period of one year, plus two years, plus half a year, as 1,260 days.
And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swore by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.
The above indicates the symbolic period of 1,260 days or "a time, times, and a half", and their equivalents, represent the period of time the church has left in the world.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
This depicts a war between spiritual forces. The great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, is Satan the devil, who deceives the whole world. The ones involved in the fighting are Michael and the holy angels of God on one side, and the devil and his angels on the other. (Some have suggested Michael could be an alias for Christ. In Jude 1:9 he is referred to as an archangel.) The enemy of the saints is Satan. In this war, their enemy is not human!
Although the woman is not doing the fighting, in Ephesians 6 Paul encourages the saints to put on the whole armor of God, to equip themselves for spiritual warfare. Their enemies are not flesh and blood, but "the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare." [Ephesians 6:12, Weymouth trans.] The Church's mission is to bring good news and hope to the world [2 Corinthians 5:19]:
God has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.
Jesus Christ taught us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who do evil.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
The presence of the dragon in heaven is no doubt a reason for divisions and confusion amongst Christians. Some think their particular denomination is the only true church, but they will probably have trouble understanding this concept of Satan being in heaven, where he seems out of place. There is a similar concept in 2 Thessalonians 2 where the Wicked One sits in the "temple of God", "whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." The temple is another figure or type of the Church, as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:18-22:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Satan's place is no longer found amongst the saints in heaven. His deceptions are overcome, and he is cast out, along with his angels, to the earth, and human society. When he no longer deceives the saints, Satan is angry with the woman and initiates persecution.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
The dragon accuses the saints before God day and night. One writer has suggested the reason the devil is pictured in heaven, accusing the saints, may be to symbolize the criticism of Christians against their fellow brethren! Why would the devil need to accuse the saints, when he has Christians doing it for him?
The saints are eventually victorious over the dragon. They overcome him "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony." It is the blood of the Lamb which takes away our sin, and the sin of others, so believers are clean in God's sight. John the Baptist said of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." [John 1:29]
In the heavenly war, no military weapons are involved. There are no guns, no bombs, no missiles. It is a spiritual war, not one of flesh and blood. Being a spiritual war, this is not something that involves powerful beings hurling projectiles around the universe, in a spectacular fiery show, as some interpreters have speculated. Missiles, explosions, and swords have no effect upon angels.
The war occurs in heaven, between spiritual powers, and, of course, in the minds of men. It has to do with the discovery of truth, including truth about the Church and its role in the world. The proper understanding of biblical subjects is at issue in this heavenly war. When truth dawns, errors and flawed interpretations or theories are exposed. Darkness and ignorance are dispelled.
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
The victory of the saints is reason for rejoicing, but as a result of the victory, the devil is cast out of heaven, to the earth. Then he no longer has the saints under his spell. His place in heaven is "no longer found."
The heavenly woman represents the church, the heavenly city, which scripture calls "the mother of us all". Paul wrote: "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." [Galatians 4:26] What makes the woman free? Truth makes us free. Jesus said, [John 8:32]
If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
As a result of the heavenly war, Satan is cast down to the earth, along with his angels. His power to deceive the saints ends. For this reason, and because he knows his remaining time is short, he is full of wrath, and creates havoc in the earth.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
Renewed persecution of the saints occurs when the dragon is cast to the earth.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
Once again the woman escapes to the wilderness. The reference to the wings of an eagle and the woman's escape to the wilderness allude to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. They rode "on eagle's wings." Exodus 19:4 says:
Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.
What were these wings? What could they represent?
Revelation 4:7 has a description of four beasts that John saw around about God's throne. One was like a lion, one like a calf, the third with a face like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle.
These same creatures are also mentioned in a vision of God that was described in Ezekiel 1:10, and in Ezekiel 10:14.
Andrew Jukes, in his book "Four Views of Christ", discussed the symbolism of these four faces. He relates them to the different views of Christ presented by the four gospels. Christ is pictured as a ruler, represented by the lion, in Matthew; in Mark he is presented as a servant, represented by the ox; in Luke he is presented as a man, and in John's gospel, the spiritual or prophetic aspect of Christ is presented, which is represented by the eagle.
The powerful wings of the eagle enable it to soar to a great height, thus it views things from above, and so, scripture uses the eagle to represent the divine perspective on things, as opposed to the human viewpoint.
Now, can there be a connection between these concepts, and the "wings of a great eagle" that empower the Church to escape from Satan, and the flood of misinformation that he spews forth from his mouth? Perhaps the wings mentioned here have something to do with the Church being given an understanding of Bible prophecy. This gives God's perspective on things.
In the Exodus, Israel was brought out of captivity with a great deliverance, through Moses. For the Church to be delivered from the serpent's flood, an understanding of Bible prophecy is crucial.
So the two wings of the eagle that enable the Church to fly to the wilderness and escape from the dragon may represent new understanding of the message of prophecy, that comes from God, and which was previously hidden from us.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
What are the waters which the serpent casts out of his mouth, like a flood, to carry away the woman? I suggest it is an information flood, such as the one which threatens the Church today, and which has been so devastating to faith. It is a flood of knowledge, and, as natural floods carry along a lot of silt and debris, consisting of murky turbulent water, this flood consists of a great deal of information along with false philosophical interpretations.
This flood from the mouth of the serpent, which threatens to engulf the heavenly woman, is swallowed up when "the earth opens her mouth," and the earth helps the woman. Perhaps it refers to discoveries about the earth, for example from geology, that dramatically confirm events mentioned in the Bible, such as the flood described in Genesis, or the Exodus. Or, perhaps, discoveries of archaeology, that support the scriptural account. Either of these, or both, might "help the woman" by supporting the truth of the Bible, and by illuminating the history recorded in scripture.
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Copyright © 2001 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.