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Daniel and Revelation
Revelation 12 – The Woman
About to Give Birth
Revelation 12 is one of the hardest chapters in Revelation to properly interpret. This chapter is packed with symbolism. It's an obvious allegory. So, the first task in understanding the vision is to identify and research all the major symbols in the chapter. Then, as it turns out, the woman in labor is a recurring symbol that originates in Isaiah. After that, the minor symbols will be studied during a verse-by-verse commentary. We must be careful to let Scripture interpret Scripture.
The major symbols in Revelation 12 are: 1) the woman; 2) the male child; 3) the dragon or serpent; 4) the desert or wilderness; 5) 1260 days; 6) time, times, and half a time; and 7) water or flood.
1) The woman is Israel. And Israel is the Church. Gentile believers are grafted into Israel. Israel is all who believe in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to overcome sin. The head of the woman has twelve stars. Twelve is symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel. Stars are angels. It's like the seven stars of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). The woman has children. One child is Jesus Christ himself, who was born to Israel of the virgin Mary. (See verse 5.) The other children are indicated in verse 17. They are the ones "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." Keeping the commandments of God is overcoming sin. In other words, the children of the woman are all who overcome sin and profess the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. Thus, the woman is Israel, and Israel is the Church.
2) The male child is Jesus Christ. (See verse 5). Jesus Christ will rule all the nations with an iron rod. (See Revelation 2:26-27, which quotes Psalm 2:8-9.)
3) The dragon or serpent is Satan or the Devil (verse 9). Also Revelation 20:2, states that the dragon or serpent is Satan or the Devil.
4) The Greek word used for desert or wilderness is G2048:
Of uncertain affinity; lonesome, that is, (by implication) waste (usually as a noun, G5561 being implied): — desert, desolate, solitary, wilderness.
The wilderness (desert) represents the journey of sanctification. It represents the sanctification process of overcoming sin. Also, strongly associated with the wilderness is the number forty. Moses was in the wilderness forty years before God appeared to him in the burning bush near Mount Sinai (Acts 7:30). Moses had to go through this sanctification process before God could do his mighty works through Moses. Moses was forty years old when he entered the desert (Acts 7:23).
Israel wandered in the wilderness forty years before they could enter the Promised Land. They had to do this because of sin. Forty is symbolic of cleansing, the process of sanctification. The rain of the great flood lasted forty days and forty nights because of sin. The Creation must be cleansed from sin. Forty is symbolic of the cleansing, sanctification, or purification that must take place in the believer. Just as the temple is sanctified, so must the believer, for the body of the believer is the temple of God. The believer must overcome sin to be eternally saved.
So, Israel wandered in the wilderness forty years before entering the Promised Land. But God said of that generation, "They shall never enter my rest." (Hebrews 3, Psalm 95:7-11) That generation remained sinful. But the end-time generation of Israel will overcome sin and enter God's rest. The real promised land is the millennial reign of Christ. But to enter that rest, we must go through the wilderness. We must individually overcome sin by going through the wilderness.
God's rest is the promised land. God's rest is the Sabbath. The seventh millennial day is God's Sabbath, where Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath. Israel has been going through the wilderness throughout the six millennia that lead up to God's rest on the Sabbath. Those who overcome sin, by faith in Jesus, will enter that Sabbath, God's rest.
Jesus fasted in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-17). Jesus shows that temptation can be overcome even in the desert. After that, Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was the same message that was preached by John the Baptist. So, the primary message of John, and the first message of Jesus, was to overcome sin. This is the journey through the wilderness. John lived in the wilderness until he began to preach (Luke 1:8), and then the people went in to the wilderness to hear him preach (Luke 7:24). John was the one spoken of by Isaiah, "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him" (Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:1-3). Again, the wilderness is about overcoming sin, to prepare the way for Jesus in our lives. Jesus cannot live in us if we continue to sin (1 John 3:9, 5:18).
Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed the people. This was done in the desert (Matthew 14:15). We can learn from this that Jesus feeds us in the desert. In verses 6 and 14 of Revelation 12, the woman is fed in the desert. It's like the manna that came from heaven (John 6:31-35, 6:49-51, Revelation 2:17). Jesus is the bread of life. The manna came down from heaven in the desert. Jesus can feed us in the desert as we are cleansed. Israel followed God in the desert. God led them through the desert as a fire by night, and as a cloud by the day (Exodus 13:21-22). If we eat the manna, the Bread of Life, following the footsteps of Jesus (1 John 1:7, 2:6), then we can walk through the desert and enter into eternal salvation, into the promised land.
5) 1260 days is symbolic of the first half of the seven-year period, and of the building of the temple. Refer back to my comments on Revelation 11 to see why the two witnesses prophesy during the days when the temple is rebuilt.
6) A time, times, and half a time is symbolic of the second half of the tribulation. In Daniel 7:25, a time, times and half a time refers to the second half of seven years.
7) Water or flood is a reference to the great flood. But in these verses, the great flood is used in an analogy.
As stated in point one above, the woman is Israel. This is understood from Old Testament Scripture. We always interpret the symbols of Revelation using previous Scripture. The head of the woman has a crown of twelve stars. Twelve is symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel. Stars are angels. It's like the seven stars of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). The woman is clothed with the sun, and the moon is under her feet. This comes from Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:9-10. In the dream the sun and the moon and eleven stars bow down to him. The dream was about his father, mother, and his eleven brothers bowing down to him, which was fulfilled years later after Joseph became a ruler in Egypt.
In Scripture, Egypt is symbolic of the world. Joseph ruled over Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. When Christ returns, Israel will rule over the nations, second only to Christ the King of Kings. But we must remember that Israel is the Church. Gentile believers are grafted into Israel. Israel is all who believe in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to overcome sin. Those who overcome sin, by faith in Jesus Christ, will rule over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27) with Christ.
The woman is in labor. She is about to give birth. Catholics believe the woman is Mary. It's true that Mary gave birth to Jesus. But Mary did not give birth to the "rest of her offspring" (Revelation 12:17). Of course the Catholics might argue we are all children of Mary. But this cannot be asserted based on other verses of Scripture. The imagery of the woman in labor occurs throughout Scripture, beginning in Isaiah. We must go to the earliest occurrence of the woman in labor in order to understand the true meaning of this symbol.
Isaiah 26:17-21 ESV Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth , so were we because of you, O LORD; (18) we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We [Israel] have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. (19) Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
(20) Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. (21) For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.
As we can see, the woman in labor is strongly associated with the resurrection. Verse 19 says, "The earth will give birth to the dead." When we are resurrected, we will be "born again" because we will have new bodies. Who is the firstfruits of the resurrection? Who was the first to get a spiritual body as a result of being resurrected? Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Likewise, we will be resurrected on the third millennial day since the time of Christ. The woman in labor is a symbol for the resurrection. After the resurrection, Israel will reign over the nations. The woman is Israel. The next occurrence of this symbol is towards the end of Isaiah.
Isaiah 66:7-9 "Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son . (8) Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. (9) Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?" says the LORD; "shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?" says your God.
This verse in Isaiah is not talking about the nation of Israel becoming a nation again. The re-gathering of the Jews in Israel today is simply a precursor to the time of the resurrection. That's because this verse in Isaiah 66 is a continuation of the symbolism of the woman in labor. The woman in labor is a symbol of the resurrection. "The earth will give birth to the dead." We will be "born again," with new bodies, at the time of the resurrection.
Notice the similarities between this verse in Isaiah 66 and the woman of Revelation 12. Before the woman was in labor she gave birth (verse 7). Before the labor pains came she delivered a son. This Son was Jesus Christ at his resurrection. Jesus' resurrection was the firstfruits of the harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). Verse 8 goes on to talk about the rest of her offspring, which is the holy nation of Israel at the time of the resurrection. The symbolic birth pains of the woman occurs during the time leading up to the resurrection.
The symbolism continues in the Old Testament with a discussion of Ephraim. This name, Ephraim, refers to the northern kingdom of Israel which was scattered to the nations but never returned. God is saying that for many of them, their sins are kept in store. They will not be ransomed. This means they will not be resurrected. Those who know the truth of God, but deliberately reject God, will not be resurrected.
Hosea 13:12-14 ESV The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. (13) The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb . (14) Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.
The symbolism of woman about to give birth continues in the New Testament. Jesus makes reference to the birth pains of the woman in the Olivetti discourse. This is a reference to the time leading up to the resurrection and the wrath of God which follows. (See the wrath, after the resurrection, discussed in the original verse in Isaiah 26:17-21, quoted above.)
Matthew 24:8 But all these things are the beginning of birth pains.
Mark 13:8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines and troubles. These things are the beginning of birth pains .
Paul refers to the symbol when talking about the rapture. The "peace and safety" occurs under the global reign of the antichrist. The sudden destruction is the wrath of God which occurs after the resurrection.
1 Thessalonians 5:3 For when they are saying, "Peace and safety," then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman; and they will in no way escape.
The biggest use of this symbol is without doubt Revelation 12. Now that we understand the origin and previous uses of this symbol, we can better understand the woman, about to give birth, in Revelation 12. We have also obtained the definitions of the major symbols in this chapter. So now we can proceed to look at the symbolism of Revelation 12 verse by verse.
12:1) The woman is Israel. And Israel is the Church. Gentile believers are grafted into Israel. Israel is all who believe on Jesus to overcome sin. The head of the woman has a crown of twelve stars. The woman is clothed with the sun, and the moon is under her feet. As we have already seen, this comes from Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:9-10. Thus, verse 1 of this chapter in Revelation helps us establish that the woman is Israel.
Revelation 12:1 A great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
12:2) The woman cries out in labor and in pain to give birth. As we shall see, the woman gives birth to Christ, and also to the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (verse 17). Christ is raised from the dead on the third day. The Church will also be raised from the dead on the third millennial day.
Revelation 12:2 She was with child. She cried out in pain, laboring to give birth.
12:3) The dragon is Satan. The seven heads and the ten horns represent the antichrist and his kingdom (Revelation 13:1). From our study of Daniel 7, we know the ten horns represent ten kingdoms, or regions of the world, during the reign of the antichrist. From our study of Revelation 17, we know the seven heads represents seven kingdoms, over the course of history, which have ruled over Israel and Jerusalem. The seven kingdoms are the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, Roman, and Islamic Caliphate empires. The seven crowns represent Satan’s rule over these seven kingdoms. Even through Michael protects these kings, we know that Jesus refers to Satan at the prince of this world (John 12:31, 16:11). The spirit of the antichrist has been with us all along (1 John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7).
Revelation 12:3 Another sign was seen in heaven. Behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns.
12:4) The stars are angels. A third of the stars are fallen angels. The tail throws them down to the earth because they followed Satan. Thus they followed his tail. Satan wanted to kill Jesus as soon as He was born. Satan can only attempt to do this by the spirit of antichrist. An antichrist is anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ. (See the verses about the antichrist in John’s letters, referenced above.) Herod the Great certainly fits the description of an antichrist. The beast is an antichrist that is ruler of the world. By this definition, Herod was not a beast, but he was an antichrist. Herod tried to have the baby Jesus killed.
Revelation 12:4 His tail drew one third of the stars of the sky, and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
12:5) The male child is Jesus Christ. He will rule all nations with an iron rod (Revelation 2:26-27). And as we saw in verse 12:1 above, Israel will rule with Him. These verses in Revelation 2:26-27 say that we who overcome sin will rule with Christ. These verses also say Christ will rule with a rod of iron. Likewise, in this verse of Revelation 12, the male child will rule with a rod of iron. Revelation 2:26-27 contains a quote from Psalm 2:6-10. Christ is the Son of God. Israel, with Christ, also becomes the son of God. So, all the offspring of the woman will rule the nations with Christ. After Jesus paid the price for Israel to rule, He was caught up to God and His throne. Christ is now ruling from His throne. But He will return to rule on earth with Israel, on King David's throne.
Revelation 12:5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Her child was caught up to God, and to his throne.
Psalms 2:6-10 "Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion." (7) I will tell of the decree. Yahweh said to me, "You are my son. Today I have become your father. (8) Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. (9) You shall break them with a rod of iron. You shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (10) Now therefore be wise, you kings. Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Revelation 2:26-27 He who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations. (27) He will rule them with a rod of iron , shattering them like clay pots; as I also have received of my Father:
Revelation 19:15 Out of his mouth proceeds a sharp, double-edged sword, that with it he should strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty.
12:6) The woman does not literally flee into a desert. The wilderness (desert) represents the journey to salvation. It represents the sanctification process of overcoming sin. The woman is fed by Jesus who is the manna from heaven. 1260 days is the first half of the seven years of tribulation. It's also symbolic of the building of the temple. As the woman is fed by Jesus, as Israel overcomes sin, the temple of God is built. The temples of God are the bodies of the believers. Israel is the temple of God.
Revelation 12:6 The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her one thousand two hundred sixty days.
12:7-9) Daniel 10 tells us about Michael fighting Satan. Michael's war with Satan has been throughout the six millennia. Michael protects the rulers of the world from Satan, so that Satan doesn't completely overtake them. But this changes when Michael "takes a stand" (Daniel 12:1). From Daniel 12:1-3 we see that Michael is the Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Michael takes a stand and throws Satan out of heaven. This war is in the middle of the seven-year covenant. This middle is between the 1260 days of verse 6 and the time, times, and half a time of verse 14. But woe to the people of the earth (verse 12), during the second half, because Satan has been thrown down to the earth. This is the third woe. Satan will be able to completely overcome the ruler, who is the beast, the final antichrist. Satan will give him power to move to the top and rule every nation, tribe, people, and language. And Satan will rule him. So, in the middle of the seven years, Satan is thrown down to the earth and rules through the antichrist. Thus, the second half of the seven years is the time of great tribulation against Christ's followers.
Revelation 12:7-9 There was war in the sky. Michael and his angels made war on the dragon. The dragon and his angels made war. (8) They didn't prevail, neither was a place found for him any more in heaven. (9) The great dragon was thrown down , the old serpent, he 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 .
Daniel 12:1 "At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who stands for the children of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who shall be found written in the book.
12:10-12) These verses amplify the whole vision of Revelation 12. The woman is Israel, and she must overcome sin. Satan is cast down to earth, and in the process Israel overcomes sin. Israel overcomes sin by the blood of the Lamb, and by the testimony of Jesus Christ. (See also verse 17) It's by faith in Jesus Christ that we can be victorious over sin and Satan. But the great tribulation has to come for many to wake up and know that we must overcome sin before we can reign with Christ over the nations. The Devil is cast down to earth, and the world is allowed to fall into complete evil. This becomes great tribulation for the Church, not the world. For the world, it's a time when people are eating, drinking, and giving in marriage (Matthew 24:38). For the Church, it's a time of persecution and great tribulation. For this to happen, Michael the Restrainer is removed from protecting the rulers of the world, and begins protecting God's people, who are to be the new rulers of the world. To overcome sin, you must be willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus. You can't love your own life more than the desire to overcome sin, and to share this testimony with others.
Revelation 12:10-12 I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now is come the salvation, the power, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ; for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night. (11) They overcame him because of the Lamb's blood, and because of the word of their testimony. They didn't love their life, even to death. (12) Therefore rejoice, heavens, and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time."
12:13-14) The dragon is mad, and pursues the woman. The woman is Israel, so the dragon is pursuing the people who have the testimony of Jesus Christ, to overcome sin. But the woman hides in the wilderness. She is protected by God. The wilderness (desert) represents the journey of sanctification unto salvation. It represents the sanctification process of overcoming sin. The woman is fed in the desert by Jesus, the manna from heaven. The time, times, and half a time are the 42 months (3 ½ years) which is the second half of the seven-year covenant that Christ has with the Church (Israel) to overcome sin.
Revelation 12:13-14 When the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. (14) Two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, so that she might be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
The wings of the eagle represent the care that God has for his people as they overcome sin in the desert.
Deuteronomy 32:10-12 He found him in a desert land, in the waste howling wilderness. He surrounded him. He cared for him. He kept him as the apple of his eye. (11) As an eagle that stirs up her nest , that flutters over her young, he spread abroad his wings, he took them, he bore them on his feathers. (12) Yahweh alone led him. There was no foreign god with him.
12:15) Water or flood is a reference to the great flood. But in these verses, the great flood is used in an analogy.
Revelation 12:15 The serpent spewed water out of his mouth after the woman like a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream.
The Greek word used in this verse is for being carried away by the flood.
From G4215 and a derivative of G5409; river borne, that is, overwhelmed by a stream: — carried away of the flood.
We must overcome sin, but Satan tries to overcome us. And Satan does this with temptation. The woman is in the desert, a necessary place to go for cleansing and to overcome sin. We must go through the desert before we can enter the promised land. But Satan wants to spew water on the woman in the desert. And water is very tempting in the desert. Satan tries to entice us with things we might desire. This is like the water of life (Jesus), but it's really the water of death (Satan). The water of the great flood brought death. Satan spews the water out of his mouth. This means that Satan uses words to tempt us. Satan can't directly harm us, but he can tempt us with words that come out of his mouth. The words are designed to bring death, just as the great flood brought death to sinners.
12:16) The earth helps the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the flood. With the great flood analogy, God blew a wind over the earth and the waters receded (Genesis 8:1). But how does this fit with the woman overcoming sin? What does the earth do for Israel? Let's read this verse and relate it back to the original source of the symbol, in Isaiah, of woman about to give birth.
Revelation 12:16 The earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon spewed out of his mouth.
Isaiah 26:17-19 ESV Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O LORD; (18) we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. (19) Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
The woman in Isaiah 26:17-19 is Israel. It's the same in this vision of Revelation 12. The woman cannot give birth to the believers. Israel has not brought salvation. They have not overcome sin. But the woman does give birth to Jesus Christ. And by faith in Him, we can overcome sin. The earth will give birth to her dead! Thus, the earth opens its mouth, like the woman who cries out in pain. The earth opens its mouth and swallows up the flood of temptations. The earth opens its mouth, like the woman in the pain of childbearing, and earth gives birth to her dead.
12:17) The woman gives birth to Jesus Christ. He lived a life without sin. He overcame the temptations from Satan in the desert. He did so while fasting in the desert for 40 days. We can follow His example and overcome sin, just as Jesus overcame the temptation to sin. We can have a new birth, be born again, and have eternal life. But we must obey the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. The commandments of God are the Ten Commandments, including the fourth commandment. Jesus emphasized obeying the commandments not only in action, but in our hearts as well. The cup must be clean on the inside, and then it will be clean on the outside. So, we must obey the Ten Commandments in our hearts as well as our actions. And we must also do all that we know Christ is leading us to do. We must have the testimony of Jesus. We must profess him as our Savior. Then we will be born again at the resurrection. We will be children of Israel.
Revelation 12:17 The dragon grew angry with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep God's commandments and hold Jesus' testimony.