The Woman, the Child and the Dragon
The Land of Israel
There are many chapters in the Book of Revelation that are hard to understand, and the twelfth is definitely not the easiest. In this chapter we meet “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars”.
There have been many attempts in history to identify her. Some say she is the Virgin Mary, others say she is the Church as the Church is compared to a virgin or a bride in other places of the Bible. However, in this context, it is my opinion that the woman represents the country of Israel. This we see more clearly when reading Genesis 37:9-10, where Joseph in a dream sees the first family of Israel represented by the Patriarch Jacob (the “sun”), Rachel (the “moon”), and Jacob’s twelve sons (the “twelve stars”).
The text says that “she cried out in labour and in pain to give birth”, and from verse 5 we understand that the child is a son who shall “rule all nations with a rod of iron”. This Child is Jesus Christ ruling all nations with his word. (Psalm 8)
Having identified the woman and the child, we also need to identify the dragon. This does not seem to be a big problem as we can read in verse 9 that the great dragon was cast out of heaven, and that it is the “serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world”.
As many other places in Revelation, an object is not necessarily “one thing”, but several “different” things, depending on the angle from where we are looking. Even a child knows that a dragon is not a serpent, and a serpent is not a dragon, but in this chapter, they are both the same individual. Also, the dragon with seven heads and ten horns is not specifically the same as Satan himself, but we discover the same reality as what we have formerly discussed, that the seven kingdoms (seven heads) are under strong influence of Satan (although the beast “is not” in the sixth, as explained below).
The woman gives birth to her son as she cries out in labor and pain. As we know, giving birth is not an easy “task”. It is often connected with pain and crying as stated in the text. However, in this case, it seems as if the birth is even more painful and full of suffering than what is normal. The words used in Greek say that she keeps on shouting and that she is being in travail. In other words, if some births are colored by joy and gladness, this is not one of them. The woman Israel is suffering before she gives birth to her child.
The time before Jesus was born was a very tough period for Israel. As mentioned earlier, the Jews had not heard anything from the Lord in the passed 400 years since Malachi had promised them that Messiah should come to his people. For centuries they had been persecuted under the Medio-Persian Empire and the Greek Empire, and now, just before Jesus was born, they were suffering under the Roman Empire. They were crying and shouting through a lot of pain to their God for help and deliverance. And finally, the Lord answers their prayers. Jesus Christ is born, by a young Jewish virgin, on Christmas night, into the land of Israel.
In the beginning everything was harmony with angels, shepherds and wise men, but only for a short while. Soon the dragon appears as King Herod plans to destroy Jesus as a young child by ordering the deaths of all male children from two years old and under who lived in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-18). An angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with his wife and Jesus to keep the Child from being killed, but since then, the agenda of the dragon has been one and the same: To finish the Child and persecute the woman who gave birth, just as described in the Christmas Gospel.
Where does this hate come from? The text does in fact give some information of what the background is:
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 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. (Rev. 12:7-9)
We don’t know much about this incident describing how Satan was cast out of heaven. However, we know the main reason why it happened. He wanted to be like God. This we can read in the Prophet Isaiah:
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
“I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.
The dragon was cast out of heaven because he wanted to have the same position as God himself. He was jealous on God getting all honor and praise. He also wanted to be in this position, and that is why he was cast down to earth.
Now the dragon is faced by the woman giving birth to a child, a child who actually is the King of Heaven, a ruler coming from the same place as the one he was cast out of. Satan wanted to be king himself. Now the King of Heaven, Jesus Christ, his competitor gets the honor, praise and the throne he wanted. You don’t need to be much of a psychologist to understand the character of the hatred the dragon has against this Child, and also the woman.
When describing the persecution of the woman, the focus of the text is neither on the serpent or Satan as such, but on the dragon and the seven kingdoms that the seven heads of the dragon represent. These seven kingdoms, also met in Revelation 17, are most likely Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greek, Roman and Antichrist’s Empire. They are, as mentioned, not satanic by definition, but they were, and are still, under influence by Satan, as this world is his dominion. As Satan hates the woman and the Child, he will use all his power and strategy to make the seven kingdoms do the same.
In reality, he has done some really good attempts to “shut down” the woman since the Patriarch Jacob came together with his family to Egypt almost 4000 years ago. They were not many at that time. And so it has remained all the way through history, a lot due to the fact that the dragon has been after the woman almost everywhere she has been living. The dragon has, however, been restricted from destroying the woman as she 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 (Rev. 12:14).
As far as I can see, the wilderness both in verse 6 and verse 14 is a reference to the Country of Israel. In many periods of Israel’s history the Jews have found refuge here, away from the dragon’s slavery, persecution, holocausts and many other attempts to destroy this people.
Now finally, the Child. He is a king, a ruler who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. How can this Child be ruling all the nations while the dragon with the seven heads is still around? We are facing the same reality as described in Daniel chapter 2 where the stone big as a mountain (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) crushed all the other kingdoms. Also in our time we have seen this miracle, how peace has prevailed in the areas where the Gospel of Jesus Christ was received.
The text says that He rules all nations with a rod of iron. What is this rod of iron? It is his Creating Word, generally, but the Gospel of Christ, specifically. By this word He has been able to rule the nations. There is not one example of nations in history that has not been ruled by this word. Everywhere the Gospel of Christ was met and received in faith (a few souls could open heaven), peace and blessings came along. Other places, where the same word was rejected, hatred and wars took over, as God is a Holy God – withdrawing when He and His word are not received. We have seen this in Ethiopia where the Gospel has changed a whole country, and also in Denmark, as the room for the Gospel in this country gave amazing circumstances for the inhabitants. This is a miracle, a miracle confirmed by history and also by the Word of God.
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
(Psalms 2:1-9, KJV)
Revelation chapter 12 can be split into three passages:
- Presentation of the woman, the Child, and the dragon, 1-6
- Satan thrown out of heaven, 7-12
- The woman persecuted, 13-17.
The incidents described in these passages are not all happening in sequence. The first six verses describe more what is happening, than telling at what time things are happening. We are, however, met by “time” in verse 5, as we meet the Child Jesus Christ who is born, and later, “caught up to God and His throne”. As mentioned already, this passage is dealing with the birth of Jesus Christ, and how this event made the dragon persecute the woman, Israel, forcing her to flee into the wilderness for 1260 days. This is a period probably referring to the very end of times.
The verses 7-12 are even more “timeless” than the first verses, as these verses describe something happening in the “beginning”, or before humanity, where the Devil was cast out of heaven. However, we are also met by the “end” in the same passage, as the voice says:
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. 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. 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. (Rev. 12:10-12)
It is like the final version of the Kingdom of God has been established, and as if the days of the dragon are over, as he has been overcome. How can this be understood in a different way, as the voice uses the following verbs in past tense: “accused”, “has been cast down”, “overcame”? However, in verse 12, the voice warns the inhabitants of the earth against something happening now, or in the future – “For the devil has come down to you.” Will the devil come down to the earth (verse 12) after he has been overcome (verse 11)?
There are at least two possibilities in this context. This “rejoice” might indicate a rapture where the Christians “leave the arena” before the end of this world’s history. This is a common way of thinking in many Christian Churches. They believe that the Christians will be taken away before things get “really tough” in the last tribulation. In these environments films and books like “Left Behind” are widely acknowledged.
In my opinion we are here met by a different reality, as verse 11 indicates the spiritual truth that all Christians, in Christ, already now are dwelling in the heavens even if they are physically on earth. This reality is also described in Colossians 3:3: For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When the devil comes down with great wrath, the Christians will still be there physically, but their souls are hidden in God in heaven. Also when leaning to other passages in Scripture, we see that the Christians still have to fight for their crown during the Last Tribulation:
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:13-14)
In verses 13-17, we are thrown back into time, as the dragon persecutes the woman. We now know why, but when is this happening? In the text it seems as if the dragon is persecuting the woman after her birth, but knowing that the seven heads of the dragon represent seven kingdoms from both before and after the birth of Jesus, we also have to look back in time to understand this passage.
The Apostle writes that the woman is “nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent in the wilderness” (Rev. 12:14). Many Bible readers think that these 3,5 periods are the same as the 1260 days (3,5 years) in verse 6, but the Apostle might also give us reasons to believe that these 3,5 periods might cover other periods in the history of Israel.
As we discussed when dealing with Daniel 9, it seems as if Israel has been given 490 years in two different ways. First, and most important, as a time where they are living near the Word of God, waiting for Malachi’s prophecy to be fulfilled, and also a short period before Jesus is coming back. The other period of 490 years might be from the time from where David established the “modern” Israel with Jerusalem as capital in 1006 BC until 586 BC (420 Years) in addition to the years Israel has been “nourished” in Israel since 1947/48. (In this way of thinking, 1 period is = 140 years (2×70).
Anyhow, we do not have “time” or “resources” to dig into these guesses as such, but focus on the main message of this text; that the Jews has been given Israel as a place of protection, and that the Child who was born, Jesus Christ, is ruling with His word, the rod of iron
Finally, in this chapter, we see how the dragon starts to persecute another group related to the Child, as the woman, Israel, is protected in the wilderness. These relatives of the woman are those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ”.