Next, war breaks out in “heaven” and the “Dragon” is poised to destroy the messianic son as soon as he is born – Revelation 12:1-6.
In chapter 12, John sees a new “sign” in the heavens – the woman “clothed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet.” And she is wearing a “crown of twelve stars.” She is pregnant and about to give birth to one identified as a “son.” He appears in fulfillment of the messianic promise in the second Psalm – Yahweh’s king and son who is destined to “rule the nations.”
Satan is symbolized by the “great red Dragon.” He is about to devour this child as soon as he is born from the “woman.” However, he is “caught up to the throne of God” before the “Dragon” can strike. This event marks the commencement of the final stage in the age-old war between God and Satan.
- (Revelation 12:1-2) – “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet, and upon her head, a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child and is crying out, being in pangs and in anguish to bring forth.”
The noun rendered “sign” or sémeion is related to the verb sémainō, which is rendered “signify” in the first verse of the book (“and he signified”). Thus, the “woman” in the sky is symbolic, not real or literal – (Revelation 1:1).
The description of the “sun and moon beneath her feet, and her crown of twelve stars” alludes to the dream of Joseph when he saw the sun, moon, and eleven stars rendering homage to him. The twelve stars represented the tribes of Israel, with Joseph symbolized by the twelfth star – (Genesis 37:9).
The Genesis background means this “woman” represents the covenant community, the people of God. Possibly, both the Old and New Testament communities are intended.
In the vision of “New Jerusalem” at the end of the book, both the “names of the twelve tribes of Israel” and the names of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” are found on the city’s gates, walls, and foundations – (Revelation 7:4-8, 21:12-14).
The “crown of twelve stars” is a victor’s “wreath” (stephanos) in distinction from the seven “crowns” or diadems worn by the “Dragon.” Elsewhere in Revelation, victory “wreaths” are associated with the victory of the saints over the Devil, those “who overcome” – (Revelation 2:10, 3:11).
The woman’s labor pains symbolize the tribulations of the covenant community caused by the attacks of the “Dragon.” But they culminate in the birth of the “son.” The image echoes language from the fall of Adam after his wife was deceived by the “serpent”:
- (Genesis 3:15-16) – “And enmity will I put between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, but you will crush his heel. To the woman he said, I will increase your pain of pregnancy. In pain, you will bear children.”
In chapter 12, the messianic prophecy recorded in the book of Isaiah is utilized – “A Sign…in the height above…a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son.
So, also, in the present vision – “A Great sign in the heaven, a woman…with child…and she brought forth a son” – (Isaiah 7:10-14).
Thus, the “son” in John’s vision is none other than the Messiah of Israel as promised in the Hebrew scriptures.
- (Revelation 12:3-4) – “And there appeared another sign in heaven, and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads, seven diadems; and his tail is drawing the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to deliver, that as soon as she brought forth, he might devour her child.”
In the book of Ezekiel, Pharaoh is compared to the “Great Dragon that lies in his rivers,” and to “the Dragon in the seas.” The image of “seven heads” brings into view the Old Testament character of Leviathan. God “broke the heads of the dragons on the waters” and “crushed the heads of Leviathan” – (Ezekiel 29:1-3, 32:2, Psalm 74:13-14).
Yahweh promised to “punish Leviathan, the swift Serpent, and Leviathan, the crooked serpent.” Now, in Revelation, the association of the “Dragon” with Pharaoh is appropriate since imagery from the exodus of Israel and her sojourn in the wilderness is used in the present vision when the “woman” is pursued into the wilderness by the “Dragon.”
And the association of “Leviathan” with the “sea” will become apparent in chapter 13 when the “Dragon” summons the “Beast from the sea” – (Isaiah 27:1, Revelation 12:6-17).
Here, the “ten horns” of the “Dragon” link it to the “fourth beast” in the book of Daniel that also was connected to the “sea” from which it “ascended.” It also had “ten horns” and “devoured,” and represented an imperial power that persecuted the people of God – (Daniel 7:7).
The downfall of the “third of the stars” alludes to another vision in Daniel when he saw the figure of the “little horn… cast down some of the host of the stars to the ground and trampled upon them.” That was the same “little horn” that appeared on the head of the “fourth beast” that “ascended from the sea”- (Daniel 7:8, 8:10).
Satan’s “seven heads” symbolize its control over the political powers of the earth. Its “seven diadems” represent its claim to universal sovereignty over the nations. Its red color stresses its violent nature, just as the “red horse” from the “second seal” is authorized to “take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other.” It wages constant war against God and His people – (Revelation 6:1-8).
THE SON’S ENTHRONEMENT
It is not clear whether the “stars” in John’s vision represent angels, righteous humans, or both. Elsewhere in the book, “stars” represent “messengers” or “angels.” Regardless, the verse ends with the “Dragon” poised to “devour” the child.
- (Revelation 12:5) – “And she brought forth a son, a male, who was to shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron; and her child was caught away to God and to his throne.”
She “brought forth a son, a male” (eteken huion arsen). This Greek clause echoes Isaiah 66:5-8 in the Septuagint version when “Zion,” represented as a female figure, “brought forth a male” (Greek – eteken arsen). In Revelation, the term “son” or huios has been added to the original clause from Isaiah to make his identity clear – He is the messianic “son” born from the “woman” and destined to “shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron,” a clear allusion to the second Psalm:
- (Psalm 2:6-9) – “Yet I have installed my king on Zion my holy mountain. Let me tell of a decree; Yahweh said to me: You are My son; I, today, have begotten you. Ask of me and let me give nations as your inheritance and as your possession the ends of the earth. YOU WILL shepherd them with a sceptER of iron, as a potter’s vessel you will dash them in pieces.”
The second Psalm is messianic and applied to Jesus multiple times in the New Testament. And here, the “son” is the Messiah who is born from the messianic community.
And his identity is made explicit later in the chapter (“Now has come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” – Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, Revelation 19:15).
Satan’s attempt to destroy the child fails when God “seizes him toward His throne.” Previously, the Lamb’s installment on the throne was linked to his sacrificial death. Now, the vision portrays his enthronement following his death and resurrection – (Revelation 1:5, 3:21, 5:5-10).
FLIGHT TO THE WILDERNESS
- (Revelation 12:6) – “And the woman fled into the desert where she has a place prepared of God, that there they should nourish her a thousand, two hundred and sixty days.”
Her flight echoes Israel’s flight from Egypt into the wilderness. She still symbolizes the covenant community, only now, it is formed around the “son.” Following his exaltation, the church begins the new and greater exodus into the “wilderness,” only now, it is pursued by the “Great Red Dragon” rather than the Pharaoh of Egypt.
At this point, she is on the earth and no longer “in heaven.” The victory of the “son” over the “Dragon” does not remove the covenant community from his attacks. However, God protects and “nourishes” her in the wilderness.
The “wilderness” is not devoid of evil. Babylon, the “Great Harlot.” The “place prepared for her” points to the same reality as the “sealing” of God’s servants. Thus, divine nourishment means that God is enabling her to endure the Devil’s onslaughts – (Revelation 7:1-8, 11:1-2, 17:3).
The “woman” is nourished for the “twelve-hundred and sixty days.” This is the equivalent of the period elsewhere described as a “time, times, and half a time,” and “forty-two months.” In Revelation, numbers are symbolic, and it uses three different figures to refer to the same period – (Daniel 7:25, 12:7, Revelation 11:2, 13:5-7).
The chronological reference links the flight of the “woman” to the “trampling of the holy city by the nations,” the ministry of the “Two Witnesses,” and the “war against the saints” by the “Beast from the sea.” Her wilderness sojourn occurs over the same period – Revelation 11:1-4, 13:4-7).
And her “nourishment in the wilderness” is a further link to the “Two Witnesses” whose ministry resembles that of Elijah. The latter was provided for in the “wilderness” when God dispatched “ravens to feed him by the brook Cherith” – (1 Kings 17:3-6, Revelation 11:5-6).
The start of the “twelve-hundred and sixty days” coincides with the exaltation of the “son to the throne” and the expulsion of Satan from heaven “to the earth.” Thus, in view is the reality that began with the death, resurrection, and enthronement of the messianic “son.”
Whether the period of “twelve hundred and sixty days” terminated at some point in the past or is still underway remains to be seen. It points to a period of intense “warfare” waged by the “Dragon” against the covenant community. Its “nourishment” takes place in the “wilderness,” the same location where John will see “Babylon, the Great Whore.”
As the rest of the chapter will demonstrate, though protected, the “woman” is not yet removed from the attempts by the “Dragon” to destroy her. But when she is removed from his grasp, he will set out to make war on the “rest of her seed.”