A Great Sign in Heaven (Part 8)
A Woman Clothed with the Sun (12:1-2)
“1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth”.
The fourth parenthesis that John is shown is extremely important as it gives seven signs which provide great insight into the final stages of the on-going battle between the seed of the woman, Jesus, and the seed of the serpent (Satan), the Antichrist. The first sign which is revealed as the “great sign,” appears in heaven, is “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. It is common in Scripture for woman to be symbols of a religious system, which is very evident in the book of Revelation:
- Revelation 2:20 – The church in Thyatira has a Jezebel that is associated with a religious system promoting false teaching.
- Revelation 17:1-2 – The Mother of Harlots is a false religion.
- Revelation 19:7-8 – The Bride is the Church.
Also, the vision of the woman attains further clarity when she is interpreted symbolically, so, then what is the meaning of the celestial bodies she is associated with? The answer is found in the interpretation of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9-11, where the sun is the Patriarch Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, the moon is Joseph’s mother Rachel and the eleven stars are Joseph’s brothers. The woman therefore is clearly Israel, with Joseph joining his brothers as the twelfth star, who are the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Roman Catholic Church interprets the woman as representing Mary, standing on a crescent moon with twelve stars around her head as seen in the picture below. In many of these images of Mary, she is standing on the head of a snake, as it is she that defeats Satan.
Catholic (apostate) Mary
The reason the Catholic Church is so confident that the woman is Mary is revealed in the second verse, as the woman gives birth, which is interpreted by them as Mary giving birth to Jesus. This is not the case as the woman is Israel, and God formed Israel as the nation from whom the Messiah would come. Israel is often represented in Scripture as a woman:
“Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:20).
“19 And I will betroth you to me for ever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20).
The birth pains then, refer to the period before the birth of Jesus, during the difficult times when Israel was waiting for messianic redemption (Rom. 8:22-23). The last contractions would have been the oppressive Roman occupation that existed at the time of Jesus’ birth.
The Great Red Dragon (12:3-4)
3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it”.
The second wonder of Revelation 12 is the great red dragon. John reminds the reader that the dragon is a sign, therefore not literal, it is a very good representation of Satan the evil murderer and destroyer. Satan is either a serpent, the deceiver, casting doubt and lies, or he is the dragon, the murderer. The early Church experienced Satan as the dragon, who sought to wipe out Christianity through the hubris of a succession of Roman Emperors, who each claimed to be god. When the dragon did not succeed, and the fledgling Church continued to grow, Satan became the serpent, and through deception opened the door of the Church to paganism. The result was the formation of the Roman Catholic Church, which led the Church into the Dark Ages, a time dominated by man’s traditions, superstation, idolatry and greed.
The dragon has seven heads and ten horns which is a direct link to the introduction of the Antichrist in Revelation 13, where he is depicted as a beast with seven heads and ten horns. The message is clear that Satan is the driving power behind the Antichrist. The seven crowned heads implying the universal rule that will be brought about by the authority of the Antichrist, and the ten horns pointing to the world dominating power that the beast will hold during the Tribulation. Both the authority and power of the Antichrist will be supplied by Satan. The symbolism of the number ten indicates the nations of man in opposition to God. The Antichrist does not stand alone in opposing God, he will have the support of deceived mankind. This interpretation of the symbolism of the number ten is found in two examples in Scripture, where ten nations are listed that were designated opponents of Israel:
- In Genesis 15:19-21, God names ten nations that possess the promised land that the 12 tribes Israel will have to defeat before being able to settle there: “The land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites”.
- In Psalm 83:1-8, Asaph records the ten nations who seek the destruction of Israel: “They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!’ For they conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant— the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Asshur also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot”.
Also, Revelation 17:3 describes the Antichrist, represented as the beast, as having ten horns, and verse 12 explains that they are ten kings, ten nations that support the Antichrist in his rebellion against God. So, the dragon of Revelation 12 has ten horns, because it is through Satan’s deceptions that the nations of the world stand in opposition to God.
Before the creation of man, Satan rebelled against the authority of God, wanting the throne of God for himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). Satan was subsequently thrown out of heaven taking many of Gods angels with him. The Bible names three archangels, Gabriel, Michael and Lucifer, so it is logical to assume that they each shared command of one third of the angels, under the ruling authority of God. This is confirmed in Revelation 12, when John records that the dragon, on being cast down to earth, took one-third of the angels (symbolised by stars) with him. These angels became Satan’s demonic force that eventually took control of the kingdoms of the world.
The Jews are “God’s chosen people” because God chose Abraham and his descendants for a special purpose. As Paul describes it in Romans 9:4, “theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all”. God has used the Jews to be a revelation to all of mankind that He is the true God, “for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). As God’s chosen people, God has a bond with them that is unique and unmatched by any other nation. They have an unbroken covenant promise of God’s commitment to them. This is especially seen in the Genesis 12:3 of God’s promise to “bless those who bless [them], and whoever curses [them] [He] will curse”.
Because of God’s unique and special bond with Israel Satan hates the Jews. Satan’s war against the Jews has been extensive, starting from the time of Abraham and continuing to the present. For the very reasons that Christians should love the Jews, Satan hates them: They brought man back from pagan polytheism to worshipping the One True God. They saved the world from a moral deterioration by establishing God’s laws and commandments. They faithfully recorded God’s word for mankind and, most importantly, through the Jews God raised up Yeshua, the Messiah. Satan is still determined to destroy the Jews because the Jews are part of God’s End Times plan for the world culminating in the return of Jesus. If Satan can eliminate the Jews, if he can remove them as a people group, he saves himself from his own demise, his eternal judgement and eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). This certainly is motivation enough for him to throw everything he possibly can at the Jews! That is why God wants the Church to pray for the descendants of Abraham; to stand in the gap for them (Ezekiel 22:30).
The great hatred Satan has for the woman, is graphically seen in John’s description of the dragon waiting for the woman to give birth, so that he can devour the child. This revelation by John is a direct pointer to the fact that Satan was behind Herod’s despicable attack on the children of Bethlehem; attempting to illuminate any threat to his throne, Herod had all children under two years of age put to death (Matt.2:16-18). Satan next attempt was to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, which failed miserably. On his third attempt Satan succeeded in having Jesus crucified; Satan’s greatest victory became his greatest defeat with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus by taking the sins of mankind upon Himself, ripped control of the kingdoms of the earth from Satan. Jesus in the not-too-distant future is going to return to claim His Kingdom.
The Woman Fled into the Wilderness (12:5-6)
“5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days”.
Verse 5 is a summary of the life of Jesus in a nutshell – He is the son of God who is born as a “male child,” lives and dies for mankind and is raised to heaven. In the near future, He will one day return to earth to rule from the throne of David with a “rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 19:15). There is no statement pertaining to the great defeat of the dragon in these verses, but the fact that Satan completely fails to thwart God’s plans is very evident. The child escaped his gaping jaws, and will one day rule the nations – exactly what Satan tried to prevent.
Verse 6 is critical in interpreting the identity of the woman; the Roman Catholic Church claims that she is Mary, as she gave birth to the Messiah. However, Israel was the nation God formed so that His son could be born into the covenant people, therefore both Mary and Israel are acceptable possibilities for being the birth mother of the child in Revelation 12. However, the celestial symbols of the woman point to the nation of Israel, and now verse 6 describes the woman fleeing from the dragon into the wilderness – this is clearly the symbolising the nation of Israel, not Mary.
Satan has a special hatred for the Jews, as they were chosen by God to be the people who would bring forth the Messiah, and who diligently recorded the Word of God. Satan, through the Antichrist will once again attempt to destroy the Jews. When the Antichrist proclaims himself to be God and places a statue of himself in the Temple, then many Jews, not all, will know that he is not their messiah, and reject him. The Antichrist will then attempt to eradicate these Jews. In Matthew 24:16-18 Jesus warned: “If you are living in Judea at that time, run to the mountains. If you are on the roof of your house, don’t go inside to get anything. If you are out in the field, …”. The Jews who reject the claim of the Antichrist will be guided by God to a prepared place in the wilderness for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, which is the length of the Great Tribulation. A popular destination for these Jews among End Times theorists is Petra in Jordan, as it is in the desert (wilderness), and the ancient city remains reasonably intact with a consistent water supply. Wherever God leads these Jews, John is careful to explain that it is a place that has been prepared for them by God. The word “prepared” used by John, is the same word Jesus uses when He informs the disciples that as the Jewish Bridegroom, He will “prepare” a place for them in heaven (John 14:2-3). Therefore, John is emphasising the care that God is going to provide for these Jewish refugees. Ultimately this is one of the major goals that God has planned for the Tribulation, because these Jews will now know that Yeshua (Jesus) is their true Messiah. There will however be Jews, who for various reasons remain loyal to the deception of the Antichrist as god, and they will therefore experience the judgements of the Great Tribulation.
War in Heaven (12:7-9)
“7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him”.
Before dealing with the interpretation of verse seven, it is important to identify who “Michael” is, and his role in Scripture. Jude the brother of Jesus identifies Michael as an archangel (1:9), so he is at the apex of authority amongst the angels, equal with Lucifer, and as covered earlier in the verse 4, both Michael and Lucifer would each have authority over a third of God’s angels. Daniel 21:1 indicates that Michael “has charge over your people (Israel),” and this statement has caused some people to claim that Michael is the angel solely in charge of protecting Israel. This would be in error as Michael is the warrior angel, who is associated with spiritual battles as documented in: Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21, Jude 1:9, and Revelation 12:7.
The book of Daniel shows us the reality of spiritual warfare in the heavenlies. The archangel Michael engaged in combat with the “prince of Persia” in verse 13 of chapter 10, and in chapter 12 there is war on earth as well as in the heavenly places:
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered” (12:1).
The reason why the archangel Michael is prominent at the start of Daniel 12 is that the angel speaking to Daniel is describing “a time of trouble” for Israel, unmatched by any previous time. Spend a couple of minutes thinking of the trials Israel has endured in the past, and the full impact of that statement should hit you. The Scripture is referring to the Great Tribulation and the time that the Satanically empowered Antichrist will turn on the people of Israel, that is why Michael is required to come to their aid. Satan has continually throughout their history, tried to destroy the Jews, and during the Great Tribulation he is going to make one more attempt.
However, John’s description pertains to the battle between Satan and Michael, and is described as taking place in heaven. There is the mistaken belief among Christians that Satan is not allowed in heaven, the reason being because God will not allow the unholy in His presence. The book of Job makes it very clear that Satan continues to be allowed into the presence of God as the accuser of the brethren. Another example is found in 1 Kings, a demon is present in the throne room of God, and is sent to be a lying spirit in the mouths of King Ahab’s false prophets (1 Kings 22:20-23). However, at the time of the rapture, Michael will throw Satan out of heaven – the accuser is an unwanted presence at the wedding of the Lamb. Note the language John uses to describe the unwanted guest in verse 9:
- The devil – which means accuser.
- Satan – who is the Churches great adversary.
- The deceiver – the serpent who corrupted the Church.
From the time the Church arrives in heaven, Satan will be banished, and will no longer have access to the throne room of God, as there will no longer be any need to accuse the brethren.
Scripture records four times that Satan is cast down:
- Both Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:14-16 record Satan’s great fall from glory in heaven, to the profane on earth.
- Revelation 12 records Satan’s banishment from heaven.
- Revelation 20 records Satan being chained and cast into the Bottomless Pit.
- The final end of Satan is recorded in Revelation 20, when he is cast into the Lake of Fire.
Heaven Rejoices, but Woe to the Earth (12:10-12)
“10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
The mighty defender of God’s people, Michael, has defeated Satan and his demonic minions, and not only are they cast out of heaven, they are banished forever. The proclamation of the victory is made in a loud voice, echoing throughout heaven, and there must be great joy in heaven for a number of reasons:
- The dunamis (dynamite) power of Almighty God reigns supreme in heaven.
- That vile, evil, troublemaker will no longer be able to appear before God, and point an accusing finger at God’s children. The stench of his presence will no longer contaminate the throne room of God.
- The last phase of God’s plan, before the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, is about to commence.
- The righteousness and justice of God is about to be made known to all who live on earth.
The announcer then proceeds to inform all that Satan’s defeat by Michael, is not the only defeat he will have to endure. With Satan banished from heaven and cast down to earth, the conflict between good and evil is now terrestrial. With only seven years of the Tribulation left before his bondage in the Abyss, Satan will bring all that he has to the fight. Yet the announcer predicts Satan will not triumph over the saints of God for three reasons:
- The blood of the Lamb.
- The word of their testimony.
- Because they loved not their lives even unto death.
The three ways to defeat Satan that are used by the Tribulation saints define eternally minded Christians throughout the Church age. They recognise that their sins are forgiven by the costly sacrifice of Jesus. The precious blood that was shed was at a great price, and an understanding of this will motivate the believer to scrutinise their character and behaviour, to mould and shape their lives to be more like Jesus. The blood of the Lamb also enables every believer to be an overcomer, becoming triumphant over their circumstances, they recognise that they fight a holy warfare, and they will not allow Satan to attain victory over their lives. Then there is the important authority that the blood of the lamb gives believers – as children of the Most High we have a status above the forces of evil.
These faithful servants also understand the power of their testimonies to build faith in other people’s lives. As witnesses to God’s goodness in their lives, they recognise their testimony has great power to influence the lives of others. The truth of God’s work in their lives is a revelation to the power and reality of God to others, as the song goes “I once was lost but now I am found”.
The last reason believers are able to conquer Satan is that the true eternally minded believer recognises, that this life is a mere prelude to the next. What we do for the Lord in this life determines our status and relationship with God in eternity, that is why Paul could write, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). The early Church faced martyrdom at the hands of the Roman Empire in huge numbers, the route from Asia Minor, through Ephesus to Rome was even named “The Martyrs’ Way,” transporting thousands to the Colosseum. Satan through the persecution of the fledgling church by Rome, sought to extinguish Christianity. However, the reverse was true, the Romans saw that death did not hold a power over believers’ lives, they died worshipping God. This testimony, was a revelation that Christians had a Saviour worth dying for, and the promise of a glorious eternity.
The announcer finishes with a warning of the terrible wrath that will occur on earth with Satan’s expulsion from heaven. With Satan confined to earth, he will implement his final plan, and possess the body of the man chosen to be the Antichrist. The start of the Tribulation will commence, and mankind will not only have to face the consequences of Satan’s deceptions and destructive plan, but also the judgements of God.
Pause for thought
John has revealed that the judgements of God are in full flow, with the Trumpet Judgements having just been completed and the Bowl Judgements about to commence. Then there is Satan – the destroyer – who knows his end is near and is unleashing his “great wrath”. Satan the serpent has attempted to deceive mankind into worshipping him through the Antichrist, however, with the start of the Trumpet Judgements he knows that his time is almost up. He then comes out as the dragon seeking to destroy all mankind through war.
So, both God and Satan are pouring out their wrath on mankind. Through the malevolent force of the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation will see the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in full momentum! Then with the Great Tribulation nearing its end, the worst of all the judgements, the Bowl Judgements are about to be poured onto the earth.
There can only be one reaction to all of this:
Be afraid, be very afraid!
Unless, you have the covering of the BLOOD OF THE LAMB.
Manna From Heaven (12:13-15)
“13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood”.
The majority of Jews, are blind to the fact that Jesus is their Messiah, and do not understand that Ben Joseph, the suffering Messiah, had to come before Ben David, the King Messiah. The Jews therefore still look, longingly, for their Messiah, and will be easily duped by the Antichrist, especially when his political powers of persuasion bring about an era of peace which allows them to rebuild their Temple. So, it will be a massive blow to many Jews when after 3½ years of contentment under the rule of the Antichrist in Jerusalem, he suddenly unveils a statue – an idol – of himself on the Temple Mount, and proclaims himself to be god. The abomination on their sacred Temple Mount will be too much for most Jews, and they will reject the Antichrist’s claim of godhood. This is a crucial time for the Jews, a time when the scales drop from their eyes and they can recognise the spiritual truth that Yeshua is their Messiah. Satan recognises that these Jews will be the ones who will form the foundation for the new nation of Israel during the Millennial Kingdom, and using the Antichrist, will seek to destroy all who oppose the new god man.
John describes the woman (Israel) receiving two wings of a great eagle and escaping the wrath of the Antichrist by flying into the desert. The symbol of the eagle is often associated with Israel (Deut. 32:11-12; Isa. 40:31), in this case the reference is to the swift escape from persecution, in a similar manner as God leading the Jews out of Egypt:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:4).
During the last three and a half years (Great Tribulation), the Lord will guide and provide for the remnant of Israel as He did during the wilderness exodus from Egypt. The nation it seems will be not only provided for, but protected, both from Satan and from the effects of the Trumpet and Bowl Judgements. Satan in his attempt to destroy this remnant of Messianic Jews will use every possible means – his evil will know no bounds!
The description of the serpent in verse 15 pouring out water from his mouth has caused difficulties in interpretation, the question has been asked, “Is Satan able to cause a flood to attempt to sweep away the fleeing Jews?” This is very unlikely; the answer is that the context of the Scripture is a comparison with the Exodus out of Egypt:
- The Jews are led by God on eagles’ wings (Ex. 19:4).
- They are led by God into the wilderness.
- They are cared for and provided for, by God in the wilderness.
So, in continuing the comparison, just as Pharaoh chased after Moses leading the nation of Israel into the wilderness, so too will the Antichrist send his army after the fleeing Jews. Then just as Pharaoh and his army failed, so to will the Antichrist – no army of mankind will ever prevail against those protected by Yahweh Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts – a mighty army).
The Dragon makes War on the Woman’s Offspring (12:16-17)
“16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea”.
Verse 16 gives us a clue as to how God will deal with the army of the Antichrist, as it is in hot pursuit of the fleeing Jews. Just as Pharaoh and his army were swallowed up by the standing waves of the Red Sea, so too will the army of the Antichrist be swallowed up, not by turbulent waves, but by a massive sinkhole that will open up beneath them. It is very possible that the sinkhole will be opened up by an earthquake, sent by God at just the right moment. The passage brings to mind how God dealt with the rebellious Korah in the wilderness, when he stood in opposition to the leadership of Moses. God vindicated His support for Moses by opening up a cavern beneath Kora and all those associated with him, and they went down alive into sheol (Numbers 16:31-33). Whatever the explanation – the picture is clear – God protects those that are His.
Satan, frustrated in his efforts to destroy the remnant of Jews who fled into the wilderness, will turn on the rest of the believers, both Jewish and Gentile living in the other counties of the world. These people are described as, “the offspring of the woman”, they are those who would have been brought to salvation by the likes of the 144 000 Jewish witnesses. These people will be targeted by the False Prophet as they will refuse to take the mark of the beast, which indicates their refusal to submit to the authority of the Antichrist. They will also refuse to worship the image of the Antichrist, and having identified the believers, the False Prophet will then have them put to death. These saints are the martyrs seen under the alter in Revelation 6:9-11 and before the throne of God in Revelation 7:9-17.
In summary of Revelation 12, the chapter may be divided up into five “Great signs”.
- Verse 1: The woman, “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” represents the nation of Israel.
- Verse 3: The great red dragon, represents Satan.
- Verse 5: A male child, represents Jesus.
- Verse 7: The warrior archangel Michael, at the head of his angelic army.
- Verse 17: The offspring of the woman, who represent Jew and Gentiles who come to faith in other nations during the Tribulation.