The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 85

The Conflict of the Ages

(Revelation 12) 

     This chapter begins the second half of the Book of Revelation, just as it marks also the beginning of the second half of the tribulation period, the final three-and-a-half years before the coming of Christ to earth to reign in power and great glory.  The trumpet of the seventh presence-angel has sounded, and its echo will continue to resound throughout this last awful period, the great tribulation.

The Seed of the Woman 

     However, the remarkable vision seen by John in this chapter looks back first of all to the very beginning of earth history, then races forward to the time of Christ and finally to the events still to be consummated in this final period.  This review was necessary for John (and for us) to comprehend the full significance of the great sign about to be unveiled. 

Revelation 12:1.     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.

     The word “wonder” is the same as “sign” in the Greek, John thus informing us that the immediate vision is symbolic rather than literal.  No woman in the strict physical sense could be arrayed with the sun and standing on the moon.

     It is significant, however, that John feels it necessary to call this fact to our attention even when its very description makes this fact amply obvious.  Evidently he would imply that most of Revelation is to be taken literally.  This chapter is figurative and plainly so, but John nevertheless is at special pains to mention it.

     Furthermore, even when a passage in the Bible is intended to be understood figuratively, as in this case, there is always ample information, either in the immediate context or in the broader context of background Scripture, to enable us to discern its full meaning.  The complete message of this great chapter is of such grand scope that it can only be fully appropriated and appreciated through this use of symbol.

     In his vision, as John gazed toward the heavens, it seemed that the sun was the brilliant apparel of a beautiful woman.  On her head, above the shining sun, was a circle of twelve stars, forming as it were a diadem for the woman.  Low along the horizon appeared the moon, seeming to form a footstool for her feet.

     Since the meaning of this sign is not explained in the context, we must look elsewhere in Scripture for its interpretation.  There is, in fact, another “heavenly” woman mentioned in the New Testament – “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26).  The specific connection of the sun and moon and twelve stars, however, is found elsewhere only in Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9), where Joseph understood them as representing his father, mother, and eleven brothers, who would someday bow down to him.

     Also, the nation Israel is occasionally represented in the Old Testament as a woman, sometimes as the symbolic “wife” of Jehovah (Isaiah 54:5, 6; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 2:19-23), and even as a woman in travail (Isaiah 66:7-9; Micah 4:10 – 5:3).  Though none of these usages conform precisely to the symbology here in Revelation 12, they seem to suggest, when taken all together, that the woman seen by John may represent Israel, the true Israel, that is, the remnant in the nation that had believed God’s promises and sought to obey His Word throughout their generations.

     However, the subsequent emphasis on the seed of this woman would carry us back not just to the beginning of the nation of Israel (in Joseph’s dream, the woman seems to have represented his mother Rachel, although Rachel was already dead at the time; actually, Rachel’s sister Leah was the mother of Judah, from which tribe eventually came the Messiah), but back to the protevangelic promise in the garden of Eden itself.  There God had predicted an agelong conflict between the Serpent and the Woman, and between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), and it is that conflict which is in view in this chapter.

     The woman, therefore, includes Israel (the faithful remnant in Israel, that is) but must go beyond Israel, back to the beginning.  Eve (not Rachel, or Jerusalem) is the true “mother of us all” in the physical sense, and it was concerning her that the protevangelic promise (“the seed of the woman will someday crush the head of the serpent”) was given.  The woman thus represents the whole body of believers.  As the true Israel was symbolized as the wife of Jehovah and the true Church as the bride of Christ, so the great woman must represent all true believers, beginning with Eve herself.

     Her clothing is the sun, with the moon under her feet.  The glory of the sun is a picture of the glory of Christ, who is “the light of the world” (John 8:12).  Believers are all to “cast off the works of darkness” and to “put on the armour of light” – that is to say, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:12, 14).  Christ Himself is our glorious apparel, and this fact seems to be the primary meaning of the great symbol of the woman clothed with the sun.

     By the same token, the moon under her feet must represent the works of darkness which are cast off.  The moon is not a true light, as is the sun, since it only counterfeits that light, not shining of itself but merely reflecting the sun’s light.  Whenever objects are depicted as “under the feet” in Scripture, they are represented as subjugated, trodden down, held in bondage (Psalm 91:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25).

     Thus, the heaven-pictured woman in this verse seems most likely to picture the great body of the redeemed people of God through all ages.  They have conquered the false “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), bruising him under their feet (Romans 16:20), and have hidden themselves in Christ’s righteousness so that they “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

     The twelve-starred crown on the woman’s head seems to represent either the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12) or perhaps their respective angels (angels often are called “stars” in Scripture) or else the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14), or possibly both.  Just as Christ had said the righteous would shine forth as the sun, so the angel had told Daniel that “they that turn many to righteousness [shall shine] as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

     The common interpretation that the woman of Revelation 12:1 is Israel is, thus, clearly too constricted an interpretation for the magnificent context in which this scene is placed.  Israel is certainly included, but so are all the people of God throughout the ages, beginning with Eve herself.

Revelation 12:2.     And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

    The original evangelical promise was made by God in the garden of Eden: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  These words were directed to Satan, that old serpent, the very one who is central in this chapter of Revelation.  There was to be perpetual enmity between Satan and “the woman” (that is, all believing women), and between the serpent’s seed (that is, all those who, like Cain, would reject God and His Word) and the woman’s seed (that is, all those who, like Abel, would believe and therefore obey God and His Word, no matter the cost).

     But someday there would come the prototype “seed of the serpent,” one who would be the very incarnation of Satan, completely embodying the character of his father, the father of lies (John 8:44).  He will be “that man of sin, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), whose evil career is a major theme of the Book of Revelation.

     The one who will conquer this final and greatest seed of the serpent will be the prototype and only perfect “seed of the woman,” the Son of God, born not of the seed of man but born of the virgin.  Before He can crush the head of the serpent, however, the serpent must wound His heel, and this conflict requires that He enter the human family through the divinely ordained process of conception and birth (in His unique case, of course, it would be by miraculous conception and virgin birth).  It is this birth that is particularly in view in this great sign of the woman in the sky.

     But the woman is not only the virgin Mary.  This woman in the vision is womankind in general.  Mary was merely representative of all godly women through the ages, any one of whom could as well have been chosen by God to serve as the vehicle for the entrance of His Son into human life.  All such women have shared the curse of Eve, the sorrow and pain experienced in conception and childbirth (Genesis 3:16).  Nevertheless, in submitting, through faith in God’s promise, to this responsibility, believing women have been blessed abundantly “Notwithstanding [they] shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:15).

     In fact, in still another sense, this travailing woman pictures the whole creation, groaning under God’s curse because of sin, but still certain of the fulfillment of God’s promise of deliverance when the heaven-promised Deliverer would come: “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:20-22).  When she is delivered of the child, then she herself can ultimately be delivered.

     God’s gracious promise of the coming Savior, the seed of the woman, given to all mankind, had eventually to be fulfilled in a particular chosen nation, a chosen tribe, a chosen family, and finally a chosen woman.  Thus the promise to the world became the promise to Israel, then to the tribe of Judah, then to the family of David, and ultimately to the virgin Mary.  The same heavenly woman prefigures all of these.

     All of these, therefore, must travail in pain before the seed is born, and the promised deliverance eventually accomplished.  The nation Israel in particular will suffer: “Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the Lord shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies” (Micah 4:10).  “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth [note again the figure of birth in this promise to Judah and the city of David] unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.  Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.  And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2-4).

     There is much depending on the birth of this glorious Son.  Not only will He redeem and rule Israel, but He shall deliver the whole creation into glorious liberty.  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

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