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. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 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. 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. (NKJV)
We are immediately told that most of this chapter is dealing with symbols since John says he saw a great sign in heaven. What follows is used to explain the truth of history from a Heavenly perspective. If the Bible tells us that the passage is a parable or that signs appear, then we must not try to take them literally. The Left Behind series was so intent at making things literal that they had to take these signs and present them in a vision to one of the characters. In effect they were saying that these signs literally had to appear in the sky. However it is obvious that these signs were given to John. They don’t have to reappear to anyone any more than Daniel’s visions have to reappear.
We’ve seen a few glimpses of signs in Daniel’s visions that fit into this category. They appear very real to the person that is receiving the vision but they can’t make sense of them. In Daniel, an angel must tell him what these things mean because they are so obscure and deal with the future. Daniel’s visions deal with a long time span covering many centuries. The vision of the woman and the dragon is the same in that it refers to things that have taken place as well as the future. Because we should be able to figure out what these symbols mean, they aren’t explained in the context as were Daniel’s.
The most evident answer is that this woman is a symbol for the nation of Israel. This is based on the similarities between this vision and Joseph’s dream.
Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, "Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?" (Gen 37:9-10 NASU)
When Joseph related his dream to his father, Jacob immediately related the sun to the father of the family and the moon to the mother and the stars to the children. God later renamed Jacob Israel from whom came the nation of Israel and eventually, Jesus. The child is obviously Jesus, as we’ll discuss later.
Some say that the woman is a symbol of Mary because she gave birth to Jesus. But we need to remember that this is symbolic and the description of the child being caught up to heaven is not the way it happened but is symbolic of the whole life of Jesus on earth. Likewise, we wouldn’t therefore expect the woman to be the actual person who gave birth to Jesus.
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 . (Rev 12:6 KJV)
The woman is taken to a desert area to be protected for three and a half years. Mary went to Egypt but it was an unspecified time and it was before Jesus was “caught up to heaven.
Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. (Rev 12:17 RSV)
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants - not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, (Rom 4:16 RSV)
Revelation 12:17 enlightens us that the Savior is not her only child but all who are obedient to God. In the same way that all people who have faith are considered Abraham’s children, all people who hold to the testimony of Jesus (Christians) are the children of the woman.
There are more biblical references to eliminate Mary as the woman than there are to consider seriously that this is Mary.
Some would say that she is a symbol of the church because of the persecution in verse 17. This is most likely the view of some that hold that all the promises of Israel are fulfilled in the Church. The reasoning is that the Church was Israel before Jesus was born. Therefore all the discussion about the woman being Israel would apply to the Church before Christ.
This approach would mean that the Church gave birth to Jesus rather than Jesus giving birth to the Church. It would also mean that many of the physical promises given to Israel would have to be spiritualized to be fulfilled by the Church. This theory presents more problems than it solves when we try to understand the book of Revelation. It is too much to discuss here and could be a topic for another book.
The symbol of the pregnancy is a vivid description of the painful and violent events that led up to the time of Jesus. Israel’s history from the writing of the last book of the Old Testament is one of turmoil. They were conquered by Greece, then Rome. During the time of the Maccabees, there was constant war and persecution in which hundreds of thousands were killed. Israel was not exactly considered to be any Roman’s first choice for overseas duty and the soldiers took it out on the inhabitants of the land. Spiritually, they had been almost totally taken over by a religious system that kept the people in bondage to performance and their position in society.
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev 12:9 NASB)
Fortunately there isn’t any argument over the identity of the dragon. He is clearly identified as Satan. He is identified with the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the generic name of devil. The Bible states that the devil tempted Jesus and Jesus responded by calling him Satan. It also says that the devil put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus and later it says that Satan entered into Judas. If you missed the correlation between the devil and Satan because they weren’t in the same verse, there is now no doubt that all three are one and the same. This verse and Rev 20:2 are the only two verses in the Bible that tie together the serpent, the devil, and the name Satan.
After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast — terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully. (Dan 7:7-8 NIV)
He gave me this explanation: “The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.” (Dan 7:24-25 NIV)
The dragon is described using some of the same language that describes the fourth beast in Daniel. The final king will also oppress the saints for three and half years. The parallel is significant enough to presume that we can expect to see a unified nation that takes over the whole earth and then collapses into ten nations. Or, it could be a confederacy made up of ten kingdoms under the influence and power of Satan.
When the European common market was formed, many thought that this prophecy was fulfilled. History has proved this speculation wrong as more and more nations have been added.
Some have thought that the beast was the Roman Empire because it conquered what many believed to be the whole earth. These believe that from the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire until the fulfillment of the prophecy with the then kings, many centuries will have elapsed. Since the Roman Empire excluded a significant portion of the earth, it doesn’t seem to fit the vision and the elapsed time for the ten kings to become visible is not a good argument to support the fourth beast being the Roman Empire.
Since this dragon exists from before Christ’s birth and until the end described in the vision, it would be hard to say that the fourth beast represent any specific nation in history. It is most likely a nation that is in our future as well as John’s.
The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. (Rev 17:12 NASU)
Since John is looking into the future, the horns are ten future kingdoms that will form an alliance and support the Antichrist. Since they receive authority for only an hour, it appears that their reign will be very short in comparison with the rest of history and most likely at the very end. It gets confusing, but the heads and horns represent different kingdoms, not different views of the same kingdoms.
This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. (Rev 17:9-11 ESV)
Again the Bible gives us some more information about the symbols we see. The first description is seven hills. This is not a big help! Speculation runs wild about the meaning of the hills. Some have said that they represent the city of Rome, which was built on seven hills. From this they have deduced that the woman in chapter 17 is the Catholic Church since it is headquartered in Rome. I’ll go into that in more detail when we get to chapter 17, but I don’t agree with this simply because there are other cities that have been built on seven hills. The hills could easily represent individual cities or nations.
The description of seven kings is much clearer. At the time John wrote this, five had already passed and one was currently reigning. One will appear in John’s future and then an eighth is introduced as being from the same line of kings. This eighth is the dragon. Above, we looked at Dan 7:20, which identified the horns as ten kingdoms. The description is similar to the seven heads; however, John is looking at his history and his future, but from Daniel’s perspective it was all in the future. It is possible that the seventh head is the fourth beast from Daniel’s vision. Revelation 17:12 would appear to confirm this.
The desire of Satan has always been to subvert the authority of God and establish himself in His place. Dan 7:7, quoted above, says that he will try to change the set times.
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: (Isa 14:13 KJV)
And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them. (Dan 8:10 NKJV)
Satan had so much greed in himself that he used his power to reach heaven, and throw some of the starry host to the earth, and trampled on them. This is similar to the description in Revelation 12: 4. It is very possible that this is a description of a rebellion of a third of the angels who have followed Satan. While Jude 6 says that these have been securely bound until judgment, it appears that not all have been bound, but some have been allowed to operate on earth as demons. Whatever the situation may be; they have lost their position in heaven as a result.
Satan continued to try to thwart God’s authority in the Garden of Eden when he led Adam and Eve astray. Since that time he has been trying to annihilate the Jews because he knew that the Savior would come from the Jews. By eliminating the Jews, he would therefore also prevent the birth of Jesus before He came. He turned Israel to idol worship and because of that, they were scattered. I’m sure Satan though he had accomplished his purpose at that time. However, God brought the nation back afterwards.
Since this failed, he turns his attention to trying to change any of God’s prophecies. I believe his hope is to prove God wrong at some point and to thereby justify himself and escape his eternal punishment. If he can somehow show that there is any flaw in God, then he will be able to stand before God and say, “You aren’t perfect so what right do You have to judge me?”
In a way we are doing the same thing as Satan when we try to make God out to be the same as us. One way we do that is to say that we would never believe God would send people to hell because that is not love. In other ways, we also try to find fault with God in the hope that somehow that will keep Him from judging us.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30 KJV)
The bad news for anyone who uses this kind of logic to keep from surrendering himself to Christ is that Jesus is going to be the Judge and He will be judging based on the facts and not what we think they are. He will be pleasing God and not us or our desires. Since God is perfect and no flaw can or ever will be found in Him, any who don’t submit to Jesus will end up the same as Satan.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, (Matt 2:3-5 KJV)
The Magi unwittingly helped Herod find out that Jesus had been born. We aren’t told why they went to Herod instead of following the star to Bethlehem. It is as if they stopped looking to the Lord for guidance (the star) and using worldly wisdom, went to Jerusalem and the king as that is where we would logically find the next king to be born. We do the same when we look to our own wisdom to solve our problems instead of letting the Word guide us. When we do that, we can inadvertently fall into Satan’s traps and aid the enemy.
There are many who would deny that Jesus would physically conquer nations. They quote verses like Matt 11:28-29 where He says that we can come to Him with our burdens because He is humble and gentle. They quote 1 John 4:16 and say that God is love. He would never do the things described in Revelation. When they come to the book of Revelation, they must spiritualize the interpretation of these verses because it doesn’t fit with their theology.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t look at the whole picture of who God is. They ignore the passages where Jesus revealed that there will be physical punishment for those who reject Him as Savior. Matt 25:41-46 speaks of the eternal punishment that will come upon those who thought they were doing His will but failed. Jesus’ teaching in the parable of tenants who refused to acknowledge the king’s son but killed him (Jesus) revealed that the king (God) would put the tenants to a miserable death (Matt 21:33-44).
There are also some who believe that the 1,000-year reign of Christ described in Revelation 20:1-6 is the symbolic time that Christ will reign with a symbolic rod of iron. They believe that through the Church’s influence in the world, that sin and Satan will be subdued. The rod of iron is then a symbol of the power of the Holy Spirit working and eventually bringing about Christ’s righteous rule. At that time, He will physically return. I’m sure there are variations of this but this is just a quick overview of this theory.
The problem with this theory is that for nearly 2,000 years, the Church has not been able to subdue the nations. There are many verses that indicate that evil will prevail in the world until Christ returns (2 Thess 2:1-3 and 2 Tim 3:1-5).
The king proclaims the Lord's decree: "The Lord said to me, 'You are my son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.'" (Ps 2:7-9 NLT)
To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, To them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. (Rev 2:26-28 RSV)
Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. (Rev 20:6 NLT)
The symbol of ruling with a rod of iron has been around since Psalm 2. It is first used to describe Jesus conquering the nations. As we look through the book of Revelation, we see that it is not a pretty sight. However, it goes beyond the physical subjection of the nations to describe Jesus’ rule during the millennium. It means that Jesus will be in firm control of all the nations. He will use His people who have been victorious to the end, but it will be after the first resurrection. I’m looking forward to that world where righteousness will reign, subdue evil, and prevent the evils that we see in the world today. Even as good as this will be, it isn’t the ultimate home of righteousness that will be eternity in heaven.
Submit to God's royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him! (Ps 2:12 NLT)
Psalm 2 also tells the only way that we will be able to enjoy that 1,000 years and beyond. We must submit to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.