Tuesday, 23 February 2021
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
Note for Chapter 12: The events portrayed in this chapter have been, and continue to be, used in an attempt to predict the future, such as the dating of the rapture. This is an incorrect, arrogant, and twisted approach to Scripture, and should be rejected by the follower of Christ, not pursued or applauded.
Regardless as to whether the evaluation of these verses by me is correct or not, it is certain that attempting to predict the dating of such future events is, in fact, wrong. Jesus indicates this in Acts 1. We are to allow God to work out the timing of future events according to His wisdom, and we are to not attempt to usurp the Lord by ignoring His words concerning such matters –
“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:7, 8
Revelation 12:1 introduces a new interlude with beautiful symbolism of the workings of God through human history. During this display, in this and in the coming verses, there will be seven distinct characters and four different conflicts presented for contemplation.
In this verse, John begins with, “Now a great sign appeared in heaven.” The word “sign” is correct. It is from the Greek word sémeion, and it is something that represents something else. In other words, circumcision was given to Israel as a “sign.” It was to signify the coming of Christ who would “cut” the sin nature in man. Circumcision does not make a person righteous, but it rather anticipates righteousness. Thus, it is a “sign” of something to come.
Charles Ellicott rightly says of this word, “It is a sign which is seen: not a mere wonder, but something which has a meaning; it is not ‘a surprise ending with itself,’ but a signal to arrest attention, and possessing significance; there is ‘an idea concealed behind it.’”
Now, we first see “a great sign in heaven.” In Genesis 1:14, it says the heavenly lights were given “for signs and for seasons.” There, the Hebrew word oth is used, carrying the same general meaning as the Greek word used here. This is a clue that even the heavens declare the unfolding plan of God. The very order of the constellations carries His message and displays His wisdom. In Daniel 4:3, it is proclaimed, “How great are His signs!”
God has woven into the creation His workings in a way that reveals the message of redemption found in Jesus. Other types of signs we are given come from His word. They are symbolic messages which convey truths concerning reality. These are known as apocalyptic symbols.
In this verse, we begin to see one of them as John next describes the sign, saying, “a woman clothed with the sun.” To be “clothed” with something is to have that characteristic as one’s very nature. In the 104th Psalm, it says, “O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment…”
This woman then bears the radiance of the sun. In Malachi 4:2, the coming Messiah is called “the Sun of righteousness.” John next continues the description saying, “with the moon under her feet.” The moon is the lesser light which rules the night, as is indicated in Genesis 1:16. It is also the sign of coming judgment when it is eclipsed.
During an eclipse, it turns a blood-red color – a sign used several times in the Bible in this way (Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20, and Revelation 6:12). The full moon shines during the nighttime. But the night is also the time Jesus said holds the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). And so even during times of darkness, the reflection of the sun on the moon provides illumination.
John finishes the verse by saying, “and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” The stars were explained in Genesis when Joseph (whose life is used in the Bible as a picture of Christ) had a dream. They represent the twelve sons (and thus the twelve tribes) of Israel (Genesis 37:9).
With these things in mind, we can evaluate who this woman represents. Three main figures have been proposed by past scholars – Mary, the mother of Jesus; the church; or the Jewish nation.
It is certainly not Mary. She was the human mother of Jesus who came from one of the tribes of Israel. Further, the corresponding symbolism in the chapter surely negates it being her.
The woman is also not the church. As will be seen in the coming verses, the woman will bring forth a Son, who is Jesus. The church did not bring forth Jesus. Only a bias against the nation of Israel (the Jewish people) could come to such a conclusion.
What seems most likely is that the woman represents the nation of Israel who brought forth the Messiah. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah from the nation of Israel. He is the glory of Israel shining forth and clothing the nation with His splendor. He is the One adorned by the twelve tribes of Israel. He is the One who stands over the night in both rule and judgment. He was born from Israel. He lived as a Jew under the Law of Moses. He died in fulfillment of that law while, at the same time, establishing a New Covenant for the house of Israel and the house of Judah (See Jeremiah 31:31) in His blood. He was resurrected as a Jew. And He will return to His people Israel and rule among them from Jerusalem during the millennial reign.
Therefore, Israel is the most reasonable interpretation for who the woman is.
Life application: The apocalyptic literature in the Bible is interpreted in an almost unlimited number of ways in order to suit the preconceived notions of the interpreter. What is presented here is a “best guess” of the symbolism presented based on what the Bible has revealed already. As noted, Joseph’s dream in Genesis revealed that the twelve stars reflected the twelve sons of Israel.
The main thing to remember is that the book of Revelation is given to reveal Jesus. The symbolism, even if interpreted incorrectly in one point or another, is always given for this main purpose. As this is absolutely certain, and as Jesus has explicitly told us that we will not be made aware of the times and seasons for the fulfillment of future events, let us not insert ourselves into the narrative, except as the Bible has already done so.
As members of the church, and as we know there will be a rapture, we can rightly say, “I know I will be raptured someday.” But when someone says, “I know when the rapture will be,” he has inserted himself into the narrative in a manner that Jesus has said will not happen. Therefore, that person is to be ignored. In the end, let us be patient and do as the Lord says for us to do. Let us be witnesses to the wonderful workings of God in Christ. Let us be witnesses for our precious Lord JESUS.
Lord God, Your word shows us that You have a plan, and that plan is being worked out carefully and precisely in the stream of time. You have shown that You will bring Your people to Yourself some wonderful day. But You have also given us work to do while we are here. Help us to be faithful to that calling, just as You are faithful in working out your plans. You are the God who will fulfill every promise You have made, and at just the right time. Praise You for Your faithfulness. Amen.