In this two-part series we will look at the book of Revelation focusing in particular on chapters twelve (12) and seventeen (17). The first principle we need to realize as we study the book of Revelation is that the book is written primarily in symbolic language. In other words the book uses figures and symbols to represent real personalities or entities. A second important principle that will be helpful is that these signs and figures are explained either within the book of Revelation itself or in other parts of the Bible. So we do not need to go outside the Bible to get explanation for these symbols. The Lord encourages us to “search from the book of the LORD, and read: not one of these shall fail; not one shall lack her mate. For My mouth has commanded it, and His Spirit has gathered them” Isaiah 34:8. Finally, the book is called “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”, this means that everything we study in this book will help us to know and understand more about Jesus. Let’s begin our journey in chapter 12.
“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1. John beholds here a woman arrayed in dazzling apparel that is made up of the celestial bodies of the sun, moon and stars. Now you will immediately see that this is symbolic. In real life no person can practically wear the sun, it is simply not possible, so the scene must be representing something. He adds “then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” Revelation 12:2-6.
A number of symbols are used in this passage, notably the pregnant woman, the male Child, the dragon, and the stars of heaven. Sticking to principle, let’s find, from the Bible, passages that will help us to decode these symbols and understand their meaning. Some explanations we will find them directly in Revelation and for others we have to go to other books in the Bible. Verse 9 of the same chapter of Revelation tells us that “the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan”. Here we are told plainly that the dragon represents Satan or the Devil. For the male Child, we see that the “Child was caught up to God and His throne” Verse 5. Jesus says “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Revelation 3:21. It is only Jesus who ascended to heaven to share the throne with God the Father, so it leads us to the conclusion that the male Child represents Jesus Christ.
We now need find out what the ‘stars of heaven’ and the ‘woman’ represent. Going back to Revelation chapter 1, we are presented with a scene of Jesus holding seven stars in His right hand and it then explains that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” Revelation 1:20. In simple terms stars represent angels. This is also clear from chapter 12, the dragon draws a third of the stars of heaven (verse 2) and later in the same chapter we are told that the dragon, or Satan, was cast out with ‘his angels’ (verse 9). Finally, let us look at the woman. One thing we notice in this scene in Revelation 12 is that there is a war going on, and the dragon or Satan, wants to destroy the male Child and the woman. So after the Child is taken to Heaven, the woman flees into the wilderness for 1260 days.
The other place in the Bible where we find mention of this period of 1260 days is in the book of Daniel. Talking of a blasphemous power it says “he shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.” Daniel 7:25. The phrase ‘time, times and half a time’ is equivalent to three and a half (3,5) years or 1260 days in ancient Hebrew years. So here in Daniel, in place of the woman we have the ‘saints of the Most High’ being persecuted for the same period of 1260 days. This leads us to the conclusion that the woman is representing the ‘saints of the Most High’, in other words God’s people. And God’s people make up God’s church.
Throughout the Bible this symbol is used often of a virtuous woman representing God’s church. For example in the book of Jeremiah we are told “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.” Jeremiah 6:2. Paul writing to the church at Corinth says “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” 2 Corinthians 11:2. Employing the same figure, the apostle exhorts “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” Ephesians 5:25. Thus God has a church here on earth, true to Him, represented as a faithful bride and today we have the wonderful privilege to choose to be part of His church.So tender is God’s love for His church on earth that He uses the figure of marriage to represent the union between Him and His people.
However, there is another woman in Revelation chapter 17 and she has daughters. It is vital to know what this woman and her daughters symbolize. Part 2 will look at this woman.