Any attempt to understand the Book of Revelation must start with the fact that it is not a book of history, but a book of prophecy. Read especially Revelation 4:1.
After Jesus had given John specific messages in chapters 1-3 to deliver to seven churches in Asia Minor, we see a change in perspective in chapter 4:1. John is told to “come up” to heaven, where he was given revelations of many things that were to “take place after this.” And John recorded these revelations and visions of the future from chapter 4 right through to the end of the “prophecy of this book” (22:7,10,18).
Chapter 12, our topic today, is part of this future revelation. It is not history. It is not Mary the mother of Jesus. It is not the child Jesus. Their earthly lives were already history at the writing of the Revelation. Nor does chapter 12 speak of Old Testament Israel, which likewise was history, not future prophecy, when John recorded the Revelation. To understand Revelation 12 correctly, we must see it in the proper context—that is, something yet in the future (4:1), not the past, from the time of John’s writing. With that vitally important perspective in mind, let’s examine this great chapter of the Bible on the glorious Bride of Christ in the end times.
[One important disclaimer:] When dealing with future prophecy, the wise Christian will not take inflexible, dogmatic stands on his or her interpretation. I simply offer these thoughts as my best understanding of these verses after 45 years of Scripture study. I encourage you to read this commentary on Revelation 12 with an open mind to see if God bears witness to your spirit. I urge you, like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11), to search the Scriptures for yourselves to see whether these things are accurate. I am personally comfortable with the interpretations I will present. I submit them for your biblical judgment. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotes are from the New International Version (NIV).
Let me state at the outset that I believe this “woman” to be the holy, radiant, glorious end-time Bride of Christ. The apostle Paul spoke of the Lord’s call of His people (plural) into a Bridegroom-Bride relationship with Him: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 corinthians 11:2). It is significant to note that a group of people (“you,” here the Corinthian believers) were said to be promised as a pure virgin (singular) to Christ.
This woman was a “great sign” (vs. 1). So let’s look at some of the symbols describing her. She was “clothed with the sun,” a symbol found in Scripture referring to God the Father. This woman walked in the light of God Almighty.
The sun-clothed woman is seen with “the moon under her feet.” Who is the Chief Cornerstone upon whom the Church is supported (Ephesians 2:20)? Jesus Christ. A few thoughts in support of the moon as the symbol of Christ:
The sun-clothed, moon-grounded woman wore a “crown of 12 stars.” Some scholars suggest this is the Holy Spirit in His multifaceted ministries. A second interpretation, which does not preclude the first, is that the “stars” are spiritual leaders at the time that Revelation 12 describes.
This “woman,” in deep, personal relationship with the triune God, is “pregnant ... about to give birth” (vs. 2). Her espoused Bridegroom is Jesus, as we saw in 2 Corinthians 11:2. See also:
Some may be confused here, wondering how this glorious “woman”-church of Revelation 12 could properly be pregnant before her marriage (Rev. 19:7). But remember, this will not be a natural conception, but a spiritual one, reminiscent of the virgin Mary, who also was supernaturally pregnant (by the Holy Spirit) prior to her actual wedding day.
To summarize vss. 1-2, the woman is the glorious, perfected church, the end-time Bride of Christ. This radiant bridal church will be clothed with the fullness of God and will be under Holy-Spirit-led, apostolic leadership.
Who is the dragon? Remember, (vs. 3), this too is a “sign,” a symbol. Verse 9 interprets the sign clearly: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan.” The dragon/Satan will later (Revelation 13:2b) give power to the “beast,” that is, the antichrist, who inflicts great tribulation upon the earth. And that is a fascinating study for another day.
This dragon, Satan, is seen in vs. 4 to sweep a third of the stars out of the sky and fling them to the earth. We can discount these as being literal stars, since even a relatively modest-sized star like our sun would quickly vaporize the earth. Some Bible commentators have taken this verse to refer to a prehistoric fall, along with Lucifer, of one third of the angels. However, neither the Old nor the New Testament specifically speaks of one third of the original angels falling. And remember, from Revelation 4:1 on, these events are yet future from when John received the revelations. So this cannot refer to the original fallen angels.
I will suggest for your consideration that these fallen stars could be fallen end-time church leaders (remember the “star”-leaders of the churches in Rev. 1:20). Some have wondered what could induce the believers in the end times to participate in the “falling away” from the Lord that Paul wrote of (2 Thessalonians 2:3, KJV). I suggest that the devil knows very well the principle of “smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). If he can lead 1/3 of the end-time Christian leaders away from their faith or into letting their love grow cold (Matt. 24:12), the scattering effect upon the people, the Lord’s “sheep,” could be widespread and devastating.
Satan the dragon will try to devour the pregnant woman’s child “the moment it [is] born.” Satan has consistently tried to thwart God’s great plans by devouring godly offspring. Remember in Egypt how Pharaoh decreed that the male Israelite babies should all be killed (Exodus 1:15-16). But God mercifully preserved the baby boys’ lives (vs. 17). Centuries later King Herod tried to have the infant Jesus killed (Matthew 2:16). But God had warned Joseph and Mary beforehand to flee with the child (vss. 13-14). It is consistent with Satan’s historically malicious motives that he would try to kill the offspring of the end-time bridal church. But again (Rev. 12:5) God will intervene with a divine deliverance.
The bridal-Church woman gives birth to a manchild. The identity of this “manchild” is widely debated among Bible scholars. I am not likely to resolve that issue to your satisfaction. However, it appears that this “male child” is the product, the offspring, of Jesus Christ and His perfected bride. A significant number of commentators sees this manchild as a company of believers, rather than just one single individual. I lean to that plural-company interpretation.
Keep in mind that this “male child” is not Jesus Christ, on at least two counts. First, from chapter 4:1 on to chapter 22, as we have already seen, the Revelation is a “book of prophecy,” not history. It was written long after Jesus’ earthly life, and it was looking to the future, not the past. And second, at his birth Jesus was not “snatched up to God and to his throne.” Rather, He lived on the earth for 33 more years before He was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended back to heaven. This “male child” is not Jesus.
The manchild will be caught up to God, precipitating war in heaven between God’s angels and Satan and his angels (vs. 7).
After her manchild—who, as already noted, is believed by many to be a manchild company—is caught up to heaven, the bride-Church flees to “the wilderness.” This is not some desolate, forbidding location. To the contrary, it is a “place prepared for her by God” (6). We will discuss this “wilderness” place more fully when we look at verse 14 below.
The bridal church will be “taken care of” there (also vs. 14) for 1,260 days, vs. 6 tells us. This is the very same 3-1/2 years of the antichrist’s reign of terror on earth described in chapter 13. (Note 13:5, where antichrist is said to reign for 42 months). It is a significant blessing that the Lord will spare His bride-Church from the terrors of the antichrist’s reign.
The writer John sees the outbreak of war in heaven. The archangel Michael leads his angelic army into battle against Satan and his fallen angels. Michael’s army is victorious, and the devil is cast down and has no more access to heaven.
It appears that—surely under God’s direction—Michael and his angels initiated this momentous battle, because it says “the dragon and his angels fought back.” Satan and his angels were clearly on the defensive, but were “not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” This should strengthen us with the faith-building truth that, in all situations, God’s power is greater than Satan’s. It should also gladden our hearts, as we see God’s angels victorious over Satan, to remember that “all angels [are] ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). That’s us! God graciously assigns powerful angels to come to us and serve us as needed on God’s behalf. My late wife once saw a comforting vision of a guardian angel taking up his place behind our bed as we retired for the night.
Verse 9 in this, the Bible’s last book, makes a reference back to Genesis, the Bible’s first book. It speaks of Satan, the devil, as “that ancient serpent…who leads the whole world astray.” He is certainly busy attempting to do that in our day. But this allusion is to the Garden of Eden (Genesis, chapter 3), where the “serpent”—whom we now see clearly was Satan—led Adam and Eve into their fall into sin.
There is much revealed in these verses that is of great consequence. First of all (vs. 10), we see the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of God. Of course, there has never been any doubt of that. But its full realization on earth is reserved for the end times. And here we see the kingdom’s triumph on earth beginning to unfold: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.”
Now expelled (“hurled down”) from the heavens, Satan loses his ability to “accuse [believers] before our God day and night” (vs. 10). Now (12) we see a major change taking place in the end times: “…woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” The times spoken of here are clearly the latter days. Satan’s “time is short,” and he knows it. So his fury is increased, and the warning is “woe to the earth.” Thankfully, believers can take heart and courage from what we have just read. That is, heaven’s power—the power of God and his angels—is infinitely greater than Satan’s.
A major key to the believer’s victory is revealed in verse 11. The devil was overcome by:
Point 3) suggests to many commentators that the reference is to martyrs. Yes, it would certainly apply to them. But surely this threefold, victorious spiritual weaponry is available to all believers, be they martyrs or not. That is, (1) Jesus’ blood, (2) the word of our testimony, and (3) devotion to Christ even unto the loss of our lives in His service.
Remember vs. 1. We are reading in this chapter about “a great sign” of marvelous end-time truths. In that context (a 'sign'), we should not be surprised to see these major events described in rich, often symbolic, imagery.
Satan “pursues” Christ’s Bride company (13) with evil intent. But God intervenes supernaturally, and the Bride is enabled to escape to the wilderness (14), to a “place prepared for her by God” (6). There she will be “taken care of for a time, times, and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach” (14). This period of divine care and preservation of Christ’s Bride in the wilderness is for 3-1/2 years. It is described in three different ways adding up to the same time period: “1,260 days” (vs. 6); “a time, times and half a time[1/2]” = 3-1/2 (vs. 14); and “forty-two months” (13:5) of preservation from the Satan-empowered antichrist “out of the serpent’s reach” (12:14). This 3-1/2 year time of the Bride’s preservation in the wilderness shelters her from the “serpent’s reach” during the 42-month reign of the antichrist. Note carefully that this was not a rapture of the church to heaven, but was a divinely-enabled removal of the Bride-Church to a place prepared by God (vss. 6, 14) called "the wilderness."
Some intriguing imagery is used in vs. 14: “The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness.” This clearly speaks not of getting there by natural means, but by divinely-empowered supernatural means. We have a clear example of this in Israel’s miraculous deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Let’s read Exodus 19:4—[God said] “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Through such divine interventions as the ten plagues and the Red Sea crossing, God supernaturally brought Israel to Himself in the Sinai wilderness. Likewise, with the “two wings of a great eagle,” Christ’s Bride will be supernaturally brought to the wilderness place prepared for her(them) by God, where she will be cared for during the 3-1/2 year reign of the antichrist, which reign is terminated by the glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, esp. vs. 8).
In vivid imagery in vss. 15-16 we see Satan’s futile efforts to stop the Bride’s escape, but to no avail. The enraged devil “went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” The radiant, spotless, sun-clothed Bridal church has escaped, with God’s supernatural help, to the wilderness for the duration of the antichrist’s reign. Yet we see some who are clearly Christians left behind. They do “obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
This left-behind portion of believers will face the devil’s wrath in the antichrist’s 42-month reign of terror and murder of believers. Who are these Christians, who “hold to the testimony of Jesus” but are left behind in those final years? My firm conviction is that they are the foolish virgins of the parable in Matthew 25:1-13. In that parable Jesus speaks of ten virgins, all ten of whom are likened to “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 25:1). They are not unbelievers. All ten have lamps (God’s word - Psalm 119:105, 130). All ten are looking “to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). But unlike the wise virgins, the foolish ones have only a minimum supply of oil, which is a consistent symbol in Scripture of the Holy Spirit. They fail to heed Jesus’ command to “keep your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35). They are the "foolish virgin" believers who are left behind to face the antichrist's reign when the radiant, spotless, full-of-the-Spirit, bridal church is taken to God's prepared place in the wilderness. A more detailed study, with further explanation of these things, can be found at my article on “The Bride of Christ | Walking the Aisle with Jesus.”
Thank you for your interest in this fascinating chapter of the Bible and in my commentary on it. I hope you have found additional insights and will continue to search the Scriptures for yourself for the Holy Spirit’s further guidance. God bless you as you seek the Lord and study His Word.
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©2016, 2018 James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.