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Revelation Chapter 12
Part 1 - The Great Controversy

Revelation chapter 12 presents a big-picture overview of what has often been called the great controversy between Christ and Satan. I found Revelation chapter 12 to be one of the more difficult to understand and, on a number of points, I give various possibilities as to the meaning of verses. Let's start our verse-by-verse examination of this interesting chapter.

"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:" (Rev 12:1)

The verse speaks of this woman being a wonder (most often translated as a sign) in heaven. Scripture uses "heaven" in three ways:

  1. the earths' atmosphere, where the birds fly (Gen 1:20)
  2. the visible heavens, the stars and planets (Gen 1:14)
  3. heaven where God dwells which Paul refers to as "the third heaven" and connects with paradise (2 Cor 12:2,4).

Since verse 1 speaks of something that is visible it must be in the first or second heaven (or both) where it can be seen. Some have investigated connections with the stars (the constellation of Virgo the virgin) and the moon. I will not go into that here but I would not want to rule out that there could be a connection. Verses 4 and 5 seem to be referring to the third heaven so all three meanings of heaven seem to be involved.

The Woman of Revelation Chapter 12

The following verses link the Biblical symbol of a woman to the daughter of Zion which is then linked to God's people:

"I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman." (Jer 6:2)
"And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people." (Isa 51:16)

If Zion is God's people, then the daughter of Zion is a group that came from God's people, perhaps a subset of them. The Bible represents the relationship between Christ and His faithful church as a marriage as seen in these verses:

"For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God." (Isa 54:5-6)
"Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:" (Jer 3:14)
"And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies." (Hosea 2:19)
"For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Cor 11:2)

Clothed with the Sun There is a similarity here with the dream that Joseph related to his father and brothers:

"And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me." (Gen 37:9)

God covers Himself with light:

"Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:" (Psa 104:2)
"Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." (1Tim 6:16)

The sun has also been understood as the glory of God with the moon representing the ceremonial law.

The crown (Greek: stephanos) suggests royalty or position; in some uses it may indicate overcoming or victory:

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness ..." (2 Tim 4:7-8)
"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." (Jam 1:12)

The 12 stars have been linked to the 12 patriarchs, the 12 apostles or the 12 tribes; it must be symbolizing something of which there are 12.

"And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered." (Rev 12:2)

If this is a literal woman giving birth, who would it be? Obviously, Mary is a possibility as "her child (Jesus) was caught up unto God" (verse 5). However, we have already seen that a woman can be a symbol. Could the woman represent something else rather than or in addition to Mary? Is giving birth ever used in a symbolic or metaphorical sense? People will speak of giving birth to a book they have written or an idea or special project. The Bible does also speak of giving birth in other ways:

"Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." (Isa 66:8)

This verse in Isaiah and others speak of a group of people or nation being born and other verses put that event in an end-time context. There is a special group, referred to as the 144,000 (mentioned by this name in Revelation chapters 7 and 14). Could it be that even in God's promise to Abram He was looking forward to this group, the 144,000? Here are some relevant verses:

"And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:" (Gen 12:2)
"And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel." (Exo 19:6)
"And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever." (Micah 4:7)
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:" (1 Pet 2:9)

These verses could be referring to the bringing forth of this group of people out of God's end-time church also referred to often as a woman. Could this be the point referred to by Jesus when He said "All these are the beginning of sorrows." (Matt 24:8) "Sorrows" is translated from the Greek word "odines" which can mean "birth pangs."

"For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (1 Thess 5:3)
"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads." (Rev 12:3)

The dragon, of course, is Satan himself as verse 9 clearly says. He is described as "red" because he has been involved in much persecution and bloodshed. We will consider the numbers of heads, horns and crowns in our discussion of chapter 13.

"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born." (Rev 12:4)

The words "tail" and "tale" seem to be related:

"He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips." (Pro 20:19)
"Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth." (Pro 26:20)
"The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail." (Isa 9:15)
"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." (John 8:44)

The most-mentioned event of Revelation chapter 12 is the casting down of the devil and his angels. There are six references to it in the chapter:

  1. "cast them (stars = angels, in this case, fallen angels) to the earth" (v4)
  2. "neither was their (the dragon and his angels) place found any more in heaven" (v8)
  3. "the great dragon was cast out into the earth and his angels" (v9)
  4. "the accuser of our brethren is cast down" (v10)
  5. "the devil is come down unto you" (v12)
  6. "the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth" (v13)

Most of the rest of the events mentioned in Revelation chapter 12 happen as a result of the devil being cast down. (Satan's fall will be studied in more detail on the page following this one.)

The woman, of course, was on earth when she gave birth and her child is subsequently caught up to heaven. God's people alive on earth at the Second Coming will be caught up from the earth:

"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess 4:17)
"And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne." (Rev 12:5)

The "rod of iron" is referred to in a passage in Psalms that records Jesus, the only-begotten Son, relating what His Father has said to Him:

"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." (Psa 2:7-9)

Later in Revelation, Jesus is also spoken of as ruling with a rod of iron:

"And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." (Rev 19:15)

Revelation mentions that the overcomers will also rule with a rod of iron:

"And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father." (Rev 2:26-27)

The promise to those alive at the Second Coming also involves being "caught up unto God:"

"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess 4:17)

Verse 5 seems to indicate that those caught up will have a position on that throne as well. Jesus had spoken earlier in Revelation about the overcomers sharing in His throne:

"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Rev 3:21)

It seems that the overcomers will have a share in Jesus' experience in several ways:

brought forth a man child (Rev 12:5) nation born at once (Isa 66:8)
rule with a rod of iron (Rev 12:5; Psa 2:9) rule with rod of iron (Rev 2:27)
caught up to God (Rev 12:5) caught up (1 Thess 4:17)
rule all nations (Rev 12:5, 19:15) power over nations (Rev 2:26)
"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)

This could be referring to:

  1. Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt until after the death of Herod.
  2. The church fleeing to the wilderness during the Dark Ages. This includes both the mountainous areas of the Alps (the Waldensians) and later the relative wilderness of North America.
  3. The church fleeing persecution in the last days.

A separate page looks at the wilderness experience as a time of divine protection.

For a continuation of this study of Revelation chapter 12 go to Revelation 12 part 2 - the Fall of Satan.  

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