The Woman in Revelation 12

Dr. Thomas Ice

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And a great sign appeared inheaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on herhead a crown of twelve stars; she was with child; and she cried out, being inlabor and in pain to give birth.

—Revelation12:1–2

Down throughchurch history virtually all Christian interpreters of Revelation 12 haveunderstood the symbol of the woman in labor as the church. This began to change about 200 yearsago when literal hermeneutics were more rigorously applied to the Book ofRevelation and Bible Prophecy in general. It took this long for some within the church to begin to overcome thestranglehold that replacement theology or supersessionism had on thechurch. For most of her history,when Christians read biblical passages, they automatically assumed that it wasreferring to them and the church. Most have thought that the church has forever replaced Israel and thatIsrael, as a nation, has no future. This is why a correct understanding of who the woman in Revelation 12represents is a watershed issue for understanding Revelation as a whole.

How to Interpret Symbols

Revelation 12 issaid by some to be the most symbolic chapter in the most symbolic book in theNew Testament. That may very wellbe true! Even though symbols areused to tell the prophetic story of Israel, the symbols are clear wheninterpreted by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Arnold Fruchtenbaum rightly tells us "that every symbol inthe Revelation is explained either elsewhere in the Revelation itself orsomewhere else in the Bible."[1] In this passage, as well as throughoutthe Book of Revelation, symbols represent literal, historical persons, placesor things. John MacArthur says,"The literal approach to interpreting Scripture allows for normal use ofsymbolic language, but understands that it points to a literal reality."[2] We use symbols for athletic teams. The Bears beat the Lions,35–21. It is understood thatboth teams had humans playing for their squads, but their team mascots arebears and lions. The same approachis used in many prophetic sections of both the Old and New Testaments wheresymbols are used of people and kingdoms.[3] "The symbols used in this book aretaken from the Scriptures themselves and thus do not allow arbitraryinterpretations to be imposed upon them."[4]

Why The Woman Refers to Israel

Who does thewoman of Revelation 12 symbolize? While Catholics and most replacement theologians believe that the womanin this passage is the Church, even preterists like Gary DeMar are able torealize that the biblical symbolism of Genesis 37:9–11 demands thatRevelation 12 uses it to refer to Israel.[5] However, preterist err in seeing it asa reference to Israel in the past and not including the future. How can we be sure that the womanrepresents Israel?

First, thecontext immediately preceding chapter 12 sets the stage for our view, as wellas the larger context of the entire Book of Revelation. "And the temple of God which is inheaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, andthere were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and anearthquake and a great hailstorm" (Rev. 11:19). The ark of the covenant is never associated with the churchbut always with the nation of Israel. This gives a Jewish flavor to the context and prepares the way for God'sdisclosure about Israel in chapter 12.

Second, Israel isoften represented throughout the Old Testament as a woman (Isa. 26:18;47:7–9; 54:1–6; 66:7–8; Jer. 4:31; 31:32; Lam. 1:1; Ezek.16:32; Hosea 2:16; Micah 4:9–10; 5:1–3). John Walvoord says, "In the Old Testament, Israel frequentlyis presented as the wife of Jehovah, often in her character as being unfaithfulto her husband. Here the godlyremnant of Israel is standing true to God in the time of the greattribulation."[6] This fits into the overall motif sincethis woman gives birth to a son.

Third, John'sreference to the sun, moon, and stars in his description of the woman relatesto similar descriptions of Israel in the Old Testament (see Gen. 37: 9–11). In Genesis 37 the sun refers to Jacob,"who stood in the lineage to inherit the blessings of the "Abrahamic covenant."[7] The moon represents Rachel, Jacob'swife and the matriarch of the 12 tribes of Israel. The 11 stars in Genesis 37 refer to the sons of Jacob (the12th star to whom the 11 bow is Joseph, thus 12 stars) and the 12tribes of Israel or Jacob. This is"a clear reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, not only in Joseph's dream(cf. Gen. 37:9–10), but also by comparison with the twelve tribes in Rev.7:5–8 and 21:12."[8] J. Dwight Pentecost also points outother Old Testament passages "where heavenly bodies are associated withIsrael's history" (see Josh. 10:12–14; Jud. 10:12–14; Ps.89:35–37; Jer. 31:35–36).[9]

Fourth, it isIsrael and not the church that gives birth to the male child (verse 5) withinbiblical imagery. Paul confirmsthis when writing concerning the Israelites, "from whom is the Christ accordingto the flesh" (Rom. 9:5). It isobvious the male child refers to Christ since Revelation 12:5 says He will rulethe nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9). Jesus is also said to rule with a rod of iron in Revelation 2:27 and19:15. John 4:22 also tells usthat "salvation is from the Jews," which means that redemption came through thenation of Israel in the form of their Messiah—the male child.

Fifth, since weare dealing with the male child of 12:5, then we should note a parallelismbetween Revelation 12 and Micah 5 that supports the notion that the woman inRevelation refers to Israel.

The parallelism between Revelation 12 and Micah 5 helps toidentify the woman as Israel. InMicah 5:2 is recorded the birth of the ruler. The rejection of this ruler results in the setting aside ofthe nation ("therefore will he give them up," Mic. 5:3). The nation will be in travail "untilthe time that she which travaileth hath brought forth" (Mic. 5:3), that is,until the accomplishment of God's purpose. The same program is outlined in Revelation 12.[10]

Sixth, acomparison of Revelation 12:7–9 with Daniel 12:1–7 confirms theidentification of the woman as Israel. Gary Cohen notes:

In Revelation 12, we see a woman being persecuted by Satan, andMichael the archangel at this time fights against Satan (vv. 7–9). Likewise, in Daniel 12:1 when Daniel'speople are said to be in their "time of trouble such as never was since therewas a nation," a time lasting 3 ½ years (3 ½ times—Dan12:7), Michael "shall . . . stand up" and contend for Israel, Daniel'speople. Thus both Revelation 12and Daniel 12 show Michael contending against Satan concerning the 3 ½year Great Tribulation of Israel.[11]

Seventh, John'sreference to the woman's flight into the wilderness (verse 14) is reminiscentof Israel's past wilderness experiences. As in the Exodus Israel was carried on "eagles' wings" and protectedfrom the Egyptians (Exod. 19:4) so also the woman will be carried to a place ofprotection—the "wilderness" (verse 14). Just as the nation was sustained by the manna during thewilderness wandering, so the woman is "nourished" in the wilderness. As the wilderness in Israel's past hasbeen a place of God's protection and provision, so it will be in Israel's future. God will preserve a remnant. It should be noted that the flight ofthe woman to the wilderness is the same flight indicated by Jesus in Matthew24:16 where those in Judea are warned to flee into the mountains. Those heeding Christ's warning will findprotection, but the rest will perish. Of Israel God said, "I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness,and speak kindly to her" (Hos. 2:14). Revelation 12 illustrates God's faithfulness in caring for Israel evenin the most difficult of times known as the great tribulation.

Eighth, when thewoman is taken to refer to Israel, it harmonizes all of the imagery throughoutthe rest of Revelation 12. However, if the woman refers to Mary, then when did she flee into thewilderness for 3 ½ years? If it is a reference to the church or the people of God (includingGentiles) then when did the church give birth to Jesus or flee into thewilderness so that the Dragon made war with the rest of her offspring?

"All this is seenin connexion with Israel; for God intends, as far as this world is concerned,all power and glory to circle round Israel," notes William Kelly. "As for the church, she will have allin perfection with Christ, and in Christ; but as far as the earth is concerned,Israel will be the centre. Thewoman is the symbol of God's purpose as bound up with Israel."[12] Maranatha!

ENDNOTES



[1] Arnold G.Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of PropheticEvents. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Press, 2003), p. 267.

[2] JohnMacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 12—22 (Chicago: Moody, 2000), p. 3.

[3] For examplea great deal of symbols are used in Daniel 2 and 7. In Daniel 7 a lion represents Babylon (verse 4), a bearrepresents Medo-Persia (verse 5), a leopard represents Greece (verse 6), and anunidentified beast represents Rome (verses7–8).

[4] James Allen,What The Bible Teaches: Revelation(Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, LTD, 1997), p. 303.

[5] Gary DeMar, LastDays Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church(Powder Springs, GA: AmericanVision, 1999), pp. 146–47.

[6] John F.Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ(Chicago: Moody, 1966), p. 188.

[7] Robert L.Thomas, Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), p. 120.

[8] Thomas, Revelation8—22, pp. 120–21.

[9] J. DwightPentecost, Things To Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 288.

[10] Pentecost, ThingsTo Come, p. 289. For a more extensive development of this point see WilliamKelly, Lectures on The Book of Revelation (London: G. Morrish, 1868), pp. 255–56.

[11] Gary G.Cohen, Understanding Revelation: An Investigation of the KeyInterpretational and Chronological Questions Which Surround the Book ofRevelation (Chicago: Moody Press, [1968]1978), pp. 136–37.

[12] Kelly, Revelation, p. 253.