Advertisements

Woman, cradling a child, steps on the head of the Red Dragon - Unknown Artist

A great sign appeared in heaven – a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in labor. Then another sign appeared in heaven – an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to earth.

A Woman Clothed with the Sun - Rodney MatthewsThe dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that it might devour the child the moment it was born. The woman gave birth to a son, one who will rule over all the nations with an iron scepter. Her child was snatched up to God and to the throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – the serpent who leads the world astray that we call the devil. He was hurled to earth and his angels with him.

Then John heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given two wings of a great eagle so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness where she would be taken care of, out of the serpent’s reach, for a time, times, and half a time.

Then from the serpent’s mouth spewed water like a river to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.

Advertisements

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring – those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

What the story means to us today

Satan’s attempt to destroy the followers of Jesus

The events in this chapter surround three different entities – the woman, the male child, and the dragon. We witness the birth of the child, the expulsion of the dragon from heaven, and finally, the dragon’s attack on the woman and her child. It’s a common scenario societies since the beginning of time – a child is born, he is perceived to be a threat, and someone who is seeking power attempts to kill him. In the biblical narrative, the woman likely represents the land of Israel and the dragon represents Satan, who is intent on destroying the people who follow Jesus.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Who was the woman clothed with the sun?

The Woman Clothed with the Sun - Unknown ArtistIn the opening scene, we are introduced to a woman “clothed with the sun” who gives birth to a child that a dragon sets out to destroy. One likely interpretation is that the child represents Jesus and his followers, and the dragon portrays Satan, bent on destroying God’s creations. The woman however, it not as easy to ascertain.

Some believe the woman could be Mary but the reference to the persecution of “the rest of her offspring” calls this interpretation into question. The “offspring” more likely represent the descendants of the nation of Israel or Christians in general (read more about the inclusion of Gentiles in the discussion of her flight to the wilderness below).

What we can discern for certain is that the woman is symbolic. John calls the woman a “great sign” – she is likely not a physical being but rather, a symbolism representing another entity.

The stars, the moon, and the sun

The woman was clothed with the sun, a moon under her feet, and wore a crown of twelve stars. Most believe the sun represents importance or glory while the moon represents her stability or permanence. The twelve stars likely represent the twelve tribes of Israel – a symbolism that derived from one of Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37:9).

The red dragon

The red dragon is clearly called out as the devil. The description, seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads, is the same description used for the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1) and the beast associated with the adulteress (Revelation 17:1). However, the visual representation is difficult to ascertain from the description.

Does the beast have seven heads, each head with ten horns and seven crowns on each head? Or seven heads with some heads having one horn and others having more than one (adding up to “ten horns” as John describes)? There is simply no way of knowing and thus it is best to retain a general recall of what John describes without forcing a concrete visual in our minds. This section of Revelation is considered one of the most difficult to interpret and much of the symbolisms should be left open-ended questions.

Stars, horns, and crowns

Careful study will reveal a difference in crowns arranged on the heads of the woman and the dragon. The dragon has seven heads and seven crowns on its heads. The original Greek (diademata) indicates the dragon wore a diadem, a crown representing high ruling authority, like an appointed king would wear. But the woman wears a crown of twelve stars, translated from a different Greek word (stephanos) that indicates a crown or wreath like headgear that victors wore after a victory (imagine a circular garland of twelve stars floating above her head). This is an important difference. Although kings wear diademata to represent their authority, whether their authority is valid or not, only true victors wear stephanos.

Satan flings stars from the sky

Revelation 12:4 tells us that the red dragon’s tail “swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to earth”. Although this may reference Satan’s tremendous power, it should not be taken as a sign of victory. This could be a minor victory over a small subset of participants but is not a key victory as we will see after the story plays out in entirety.

The birth of a child who will rule over all nations with an iron scepter

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun - William Blake (1805-1810)The child described as one who will “rule all nations with an iron scepter” (i.e. unbending and just) and who was “snatched up to God and to his throne” undoubtedly looks to be messianic. However, in other ways, the child seems symbolic of the church. Some propose the child may refer to both Jesus and his Christian followers, a more likely and clear interpretation given John’s later description of the events.

Also note that the translation of the word “nations” (“he will rule over all that nations”) derives from the same Greek work that translates to “Gentiles”. This lends further credence to the child representing Christian followers.

Finally, the child is “snatched up to God” and to his throne. Some believe this is a reference to the “rapture” of the church.

The woman flees to the wilderness

The verses say that after the male child was “snatched up to God”, the woman fled into the wilderness (or desert). The place she fled to was prepared by God indicating a divine protection over her wellbeing. She was kept safe there for 1,260 days, the same number of days the two witnesses were protected.

There are several potential interpretations of her flight to the wilderness. Some propose this denotes a portion of the Jewish population will be allowed to live through the period of tribulation, awaiting Christ’s return. Others propose it represents the protection of Christians until the war between Satan and the angels concludes. Still others believe the woman alludes to converts, those who accepted Christ after the two witnesses were resurrected.

Regardless, it’s clear that the wilderness represents a place of both safety and danger, perhaps even a literal escape to a remote geographical area. The verses that follow will explain why Satan pursues her. Later verses show that her escape to the wilderness is in anticipation of the devil’s pursuit.

Interestingly, this verse is another instance where God is referred to in plural forms as “they” (“where she was there a place prepared by God so they can take care of her for 1,260 days).

The war in heaven

A war breaks out between Satan and Michael and the angels of heaven. Michael is the guardian of God’s people, one of only two archangels mentioned in the Bible, the other being Gabriel. Ultimately, the devil is defeated and hurled down to earth along with his angels.

In this instance, the verses do not necessarily indicate Satan has angels on his side. Instead, as in the prior verse that references God in plural form, this verse could also refer to Satan in a plural form (“the dragon was not strong enough and there was no longer any place in heaven for them”) although as made clear in previous statements, it is indeed likely that Satan has his own band of followers.

Satan in heaven

Some may be surprised to see Satan present in heaven. Satan is a fallen angel and in spirit – the opposite of God. But there are multiple instances in the Bible where Satan appears in heaven and/or in the presence of God (e.g. Job 1:9, Zechariah 3:1). As seen with humans who spoke with God, presence with God does not equate to equal power or authority. In all instances, it is clear that God has power over Satan and that the Devil recognizes God’s authority over all – even though he works tirelessly to undermine God’s plan.

At first glance, is seems puzzling – why would Satan continue a fight we presume he knows he will ultimately lose? The answer comes next, in the form of a hymn.

A voice from heaven delivers a hymn

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun - William Blake (1803-1805)Following the war in heaven after which Satan is hurled down to earth, a voice from heaven issues a hymn. The hymn interjects vital interpretive clues. First, the verses reveal the battle for mankind begins in heaven, not on earth. It is clear that Satan and his angels have some sort of access to the “heavens”.

The hymn discloses Jesus’ critical role in the defeat of Satan and notes that even though martyrs die in service of God, they are truly victorious in the end because of their allegiance to Jesus.

Advertisements

Finally, the hymn reveals that Satan is defeated but does not accept his defeat. The devil knows his efforts are fruitless, but Satan’s goal is not necessarily to overcome God. Sure, he may hold some semblance of hope that in the end, events don’t play out as God has foreseen, but more likely, he understands his defeat is imminent. Still the devil does not give up. Instead, he doubles down his efforts to convince mankind to turn against God and does so with fury and vengeance “because he knows that his time is short”.

Satan the “accuser”

The hymn describes Satan as the “accuser of our brothers and sisters who accuses them before our God day and night”. What does this reference as an “accuser” mean?

Some may envision the Devil standing by God in heaven pointing out man’s atrocious behavior and belittling mankind (God’s creation) night and day. Maybe God tolerates his presence as a counter-point to God’s positive outlook on mankind.

Another possibility refers to a concept known as “the divine council”. This concept envisions a heavenly assembly of God and angels, including Satan and his angels, that act as a governing body. It is proposed that this council may debate mankind’s fate – with Satan acting as a sort of prosecuting attorney – the accuser. And once Satan is expelled from heaven, he turns from accuser to one who encourages mankind to “break the rules” in order to fulfill his accusations.

The dragon’s pursuit of the woman in the wilderness

Once cast from heaven, Satan pursues the woman with enormous tenacity. He has been kicked out of heaven, can no longer attack the “male child”, and can no longer accuse the martyrs in heaven because the “blood of the lamb” has provided their salvation. He may not be able to foil God’s grand plan – but he can and will try to disrupt it through any means available to him.

The dragon’s war against the rest of the woman’s offspring

In an attempt to capture the woman (whom God has provided the means to escape), Satan spews water from his mouth. Although this could be taken literally, there are several other possible interpretations. “Water” could be a metaphor for lies or deceit. In other words, the Devil spews lies about the woman in order to undermine her, and the earth simply swallows up those lies. If so, the earth’s active role in this section would be a reversal of its role in Genesis and could introduce a new earth where mankind’s course is altered and returned to a more Eden-like experience.

Regardless of the interpretation, the intent is clear – the Devil tries to overtake the woman and sweep her away, but the earth swallows up the water and Satan’s attempt is again in vain.

At this point, we can imagine Satan’s fury from defeat after defeat against a foe he is simply incapable of beating. With an ungodly anger boiling inside, he turns his fury against God’s people – “those who keep God’s commandments and hold fast to their testimony about Jesus.” In other verses, we will see more attacks by Satan against God’s people (e.g. against the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7 and against the saints in Revelation 13:7).

Note that the verses say Satan’s war is against “the rest of her offspring”. This could refer to people who have not yet been martyred. Or it could refer to Gentiles as a group distinguished from the Jewish church, or as Jesus refers to them in John 10:16, the “other sheep that are not of this fold”.

While we cannot at this time clearly discern who the woman and her offspring are, it’s important to recognize what we can discern – that the woman (and whoever she represents) is protected and invulnerable to Satan’s attack while her offspring (and whoever they represent) are now vulnerable and primary targets of Satan’s wrath.

Notes on Biblical translation

The “great sign”

John says “a great sign appeared in heaven” and goes on to describe a pregnant woman clothed with the sun and crying out in pain during childbirth. The original Greek word that translates to “great sign” (meaning sign or miracle) typically relates to astronomical objects in the sky such as constellations.

Satan’s pursuit of the woman in the wilderness

Oddly, the original Greek word for pursue can also mean “persecute”. Although this is not likely the case given the context of the sentence, it could indicate that once Satan was hurled to earth, he began to persecute the woman with a vengeance.

Bible Text

The Woman Clothed with the Sun Mosaic - Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - Joseph L. Young (1967)NIV

12 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power

and the kingdom of our God,

and the authority of his Messiah.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,

who accuses them before our God day and night,

has been hurled down.

11 They triumphed over him

by the blood of the Lamb

and by the word of their testimony;

they did not love their lives so much

as to shrink from death.

12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens

and you who dwell in them!

But woe to the earth and the sea,

because the devil has gone down to you!

He is filled with fury,

because he knows that his time is short.”

13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

1–2 12 A great Sign appeared in Heaven: a Woman dressed all in sunlight, standing on the moon, and crowned with Twelve Stars. She was giving birth to a Child and cried out in the pain of childbirth.

3–4 And then another Sign alongside the first: a huge and fiery Dragon! It had seven heads and ten horns, a crown on each of the seven heads. With one flick of its tail it knocked a third of the Stars from the sky and dumped them on earth. The Dragon crouched before the Woman in childbirth, poised to eat up the Child when it came.

5–6 The Woman gave birth to a Son who will shepherd all nations with an iron rod. Her Son was seized and placed safely before God on his Throne. The Woman herself escaped to the desert to a place of safety prepared by God, all comforts provided her for 1,260 days.

7–12 War broke out in Heaven. Michael and his Angels fought the Dragon. The Dragon and his Angels fought back, but were no match for Michael. They were cleared out of Heaven, not a sign of them left. The great Dragon—ancient Serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, the one who led the whole earth astray—thrown out, and all his Angels thrown out with him, thrown down to earth. Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying,

Salvation and power are established!

Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah!

The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out,

who accused them day and night before God.

They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb

and the bold word of their witness.

They weren’t in love with themselves;

they were willing to die for Christ.

So rejoice, O Heavens, and all who live there,

but doom to earth and sea,

For the Devil’s come down on you with both feet;

he’s had a great fall;

He’s wild and raging with anger;

he hasn’t much time and he knows it.

13–17 When the Dragon saw he’d been thrown to earth, he went after the Woman who had given birth to the Man-Child. The Woman was given wings of a great eagle to fly to a place in the desert to be kept in safety and comfort for a time and times and half a time, safe and sound from the Serpent. The Serpent vomited a river of water to swamp and drown her, but earth came to her help, swallowing the water the Dragon spewed from its mouth. Helpless with rage, the Dragon raged at the Woman, then went off to make war with the rest of her children, the children who keep God’s commands and hold firm to the witness of Jesus.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

12:1 Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. 12:2 She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth. 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. 12:4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 12:5 So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 12:6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.

12:7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 12:8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 12:9 So that huge dragon—the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world—was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him. 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying,

“The salvation and the power

and the kingdom of our God,

and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come,

because the accuser of our brothers and sisters,

the one who accuses them day and night before our God,

has been thrown down.

12:11 But they overcame him

by the blood of the Lamb

and by the word of their testimony,

and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.

12:12 Therefore you heavens rejoice, and all who reside in them!

But woe to the earth and the sea

because the devil has come down to you!

He is filled with terrible anger,

for he knows that he only has a little time!”

12:13 Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 12:14 But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of—away from the presence of the serpent—for a time, times, and half a time. 12:15 Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood, 12:16 but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth. 12:17 So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus. 12:18 And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

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. 2 Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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.

7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

13 Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. 14 But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15 So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

King James Version

12 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: 2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. 3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and jten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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.

7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, awhich deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 10 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. 11 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. 12 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.

13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database, Paintings courtesy of Rodney Matthews (http://www.rodneymatthews.com/)
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Advertisements
Advertisements