Rev. 12 describes a woman clothed in the sun, the moon at her feet and with a crown of 12 stars. Who is this enigmatic figure; the woman of Rev. 12? What does this strange description mean?
Another prophecy teacher requested I tackle this subject because of the great disagreement on the internet about this “woman.” Many believe she is Mary. Some believe she is Israel. Other’s believe she is the Bride of Christ. All of Rev. 12 discusses this woman and her interaction with the Dragon. Scripture will not leave us without an answer, however. The search begins in the very first verses of Rev. 12.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth . . . And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne(Rev. 12: 1-2, 5)
The woman appears as a “great sign” in heaven. This tells us she is symbolic of other things, not a literal woman. Second it tells us the sign was in heaven. Now is this “heaven” the abode of God or is it the “heavens,” i.e.. the sky? The inclusion of the sun, moon, and stars should answer that. It is the literal night sky where this sign is found. So we are to look for a sign in the night sky that is symbolic of other things. At the end of this article we will tackle what that literal sky sign was.
The First Clue
The passage in Rev. 12 provides us great insight into the identity of the woman. We see immediately that she gives birth to the Messiah who rules the nations with a rod of iron. This is obviously Jesus. The Church did not give birth to Jesus; rather Jesus started the church! This eliminates the Church from contention. Israel symbolically gave birth to the Messiah and Mary literally did, so they are both still possible.
The Second Clue
The second clue is the woman’s odd wardrobe of a sun, moon, and stars. These symbols are emblematic and found in Joseph’s dream about his family:
Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me (Joseph is the twelfth star). So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” (Gen. 37:9-10)
Jacob interprets the dream for Joseph. The sun, moon, and stars are Jacob’s family. This clearly identifies the woman as Israel. She is not just the Jews because they are the tribe of Judah, only one tribe. She is all of Israel, all twelve tribes.
Some have tried to stretch the symbolism of the sun, moon, and stars to mean Mary, but none of these are biblically based. John uses direct Old Testament and New Testament references in Revelation to telegraph his meaning; it is a “Revelation key.” Mary is not the woman of Rev. 12. She fulfilled some of these roles in a prophetic way (giving birth to Jesus, fleeing to Egypt), but she is not the focus of this portion of scripture.
The Third Clue
Let’s continue to examine the passage for more clues:
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. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. (Rev. 12: 3-6)
This passage also clearly shows that the woman is not Mary. Notice her child is caught up (Gk: HARPAZO, meaning “caught up or raptured”) into heaven and then the woman flees into the wilderness. This cannot be Mary. Mary fled into Egypt long before Jesus was caught up into heaven.
The Woman Persecuted: the Fourth Clue
At the midpoint of the 70th Week of Daniel, we know that Michael stands up (Dan. 12:1) and fights a war with Satan and casts him out of heaven (Rev. 12: 7-12). It is then that Satan begins the most intense persecution in all of history which we call the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1-2, Matt. 24:15 )
Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. (Rev. 12:13-16)
In this passage we see that Satan (through his earthly agents the Antichrist and the False Prophet) persecute the woman (Israel), but she is able to flee from the Dragon. Jesus instructs those in Judea to flee at this exact time:
Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matt. 24: 15-16)
This then begins the “Times of the Gentiles,” the “time, times, and half a time” (3 1/2 years) spoken of in the above passage in Revelation. This is the fourth clue that the woman is not Mary. Mary doesn’t flee during the Great Tribulation period which “time, times, and half a time” is universally understood to represent.
Israel is able to flee with the help of two wings of a great eagle. Now there has been much speculation about these wings of the great eagle, whether they are an airplane, a symbol of the USA, etc. As with the symbolism of the sun, moon, and twelve stars, the Bible will explain the symbolism.
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. (Exo. 19:4)
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40: 31)
The first reference in the bible to eagles’ wings (Law of Primacy) is found in the story of the Exodus. The flight of Israel in the last days is being compared to the flight of Israel in the Exodus. The very next few verses in the Revelation passage confirm this:
So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. (Rev. 12:13-16)
This is something like a reverse parting of the Red Sea! In the Exodus account, the water parted and then swallowed up the pursuing Egyptian army. In this Revelation account, the ground swallows up the pursuing flood (probably also an army). Did the Holy Spirit inspire John to call this army a flood? I believe so. By using this symbolism we see the Exodus similarity AND capture the reference to a flood in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Covenant with Death.
We have made a covenant with death, and with hell we are in agreement. The overflowing scourge (Heb. : combination of two words “rod” and “flood”) shall not come to us when it passes through, for we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have hid ourselves . . . then the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. (Isa. 28:15,17)
This is so appropriate because it is at this moment in time, at the Abomination of Desolation, at the midpoint of the 70th Week that the Covenant with Death is broken.
Where is the Church?
If the woman is Israel, where is the Church in this passage?
Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and he went to wage war with the remnant of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev. 12:17)
Satan will be furious that Israel escapes his grasp. It is at that moment that he turns and vents his anger against the Church who he continues to persecute throughout the Great Tribulation.
Will some of the Church be divinely protected and hidden and nourished in the “woman’s place” (Rev. 12:5) just as Israel will be? I don’t know. I believe Rev. 12 is picturing a specific event at the outset of the Great Tribulation when Israel flees from the Antichrist armies into the wilderness. Will he also protect a remnant of the Church? We know that a remnant of Christians are eventually raptured, so I say “yes,” he divinely protects some of them as well.
There is a huge difference between the Israelites he protects and Christians, however. These Israelites do not yet believe in Christ. God must protect their physical lives until they are saved spiritually at the physical return of the Lord. Christians on the other hand may indeed be martyred, but they are already spiritually safe in Christ; they will be resurrected. God has another task for the Church during the Great Tribulation and it is hinted at in this final verse of Rev. 12: they have the testimony of Jesus! Carrying that testimony to the World during the persecutions is their task.
A Great Sign in Heaven: Yet another clue
At the beginning of the article, we discussed that a great sign in heaven appeared: a woman clothed in the sun, moon at her feet with a crown of twelve stars. We mentioned that it was a literal sign. What might this sign have been? In order to understand, we must first be aware of something known as the Mazzaroth. The Mazzaroth are the constellations of the zodiac. — I’m sure you’re saying to your self, “Nelson has gone off the deep end here” — but wait. You see the Mazzaroth are named in scripture (Job 38:32) and half of Psalm 19 talks about them; they are completely biblical. Tim Warner has written a wonderful book about that Mazzaroth that I highly recommend. In that book, Pastor Warner explains that God has prophetically written his entire redemptive plan in pictures in the night sky. These pictures are what we call the signs of the zodiac. Modern astrologers have co-opted God’s cosmic message to us about his redemptive plan and made it something about evil astrology. But it was always about God and his plan. Let’s look at what Psalm 19 has to say:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun (Psalm 19: 1-4)
Now this is fascinating. I bet you have read this Psalm your whole life and never knew it was about the zodiac (Mazzaroth.) Let’s look at what it says. David, the psalmist, says the sky 1.) declares the glory of God, 2.) shows his handiwork, 3.) utters speech, and 4.) reveals knowledge. The first two items are fairly easy to understand; the sky shows off God’s creative handiwork in terms of stars, planets, and the sun. But what about speech and knowledge? What kind of speech is it uttering? It says the sky does this every day and every night! Not just when God decides to send a miraculous sign, but daily. We will discuss this in a moment.
The psalmist then shows us where this takes place. He says “their line has gone out through all the earth.” It also says that “in them God has set a tabernacle for the sun.” The signs of the zodiac each in their turn “house” or “tabernacle” the sun during one month of the year. These signs form a continuous “line” throughout the night sky. David is telling us “knowledge” and “speech” is coming from the constellations of the zodiac. What is this knowledge? Knowledge of the gospel, God’s redemptive plan. Paul tells us in Romans:
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.” (Rom. 10:17-18)
Paul directly quotes Psalm 19 about the zodiac as proof that all have heard the gospel!! Obviously Paul believed God’s redemptive plan was written into the stars, and in particular into the zodiac. He gives it as a reason that the unbelievers have no excuse, that they have “heard” the words written in the stars. And if Paul believed it, so likely did John who was a contemporary of Paul.
Here is a summary of Tim Warner’s interpretation of the Mazzaroth:
|Zodiac (Mazzaroth) Constellation||Aspect of God’s Redemptive Plan|
|Virgo||Sarah gives birth to Isaac, the birth of the nation of Israel|
|Libra||The Law is given to Moses|
|Scorpio||The Hebrews wander in the desert among scorpions|
|Saggitarius||Joshua conquers Canaan with his mighty bow|
|Pisces||Return from captivity and Temple built|
|Aries||Jesus, the lamb of God, is sacrificed for all|
|Taurus||The disciples, like the bulls around the Holy Sea, carry the gospel to the world|
|Gemini||Jew and Gentile united within the Body of Christ|
|Cancer||The Antichrist arises and strikes the Body of Christ on its heal during The Great Tribulation|
|Leo||Christ returns in great glory and establishes his Kingdom|
The Hebrew civil year begins in September/October with Yom Teruah and the Mazzaroth begins with Virgo that coincides with these months. When Rev. 12:1 says a literal sign appeared in the sky of a woman, it refers to Virgo. This is the final clue, because Virgo is symbolic of the birth of the nation of Israel.
Virgo is found in the night sky during many evenings. In order for it to be a sign however, she must be clothed in the sun (it must be September/October), the moon must be at the feet of the constellation, and there must be twelve stars “crowning” Virgo’s head.
Virgo is normally “crowned” by the constellation of Leo which has nine stars. If three planets are also in Leo, this forms a “crown” of twelve total stars. This exact “sign” appeared in the sky on Yom Teruah, September 11, 3 BC. The three planets were Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter; and the sign only existed for two hours after sunset until the moon set at 7:45pm Jerusalem time that night.
Some believe this sign marked the conception of Christ, some believe it was the birth of Christ. There is evidence for both points of view. If it was the conception of Christ, nine months later in June, 2 BC, the once-in-2000-year “sign” of a conjunction between Venus and Jupiter where the planets touched took place.
A Sign Yet Future?
I doubt we should be looking for this great sign to be repeated. Just as we saw the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus nearly repeated in June 15, 2015, God may send similar signs as warnings to us (a similar sign of Virgo being crowned with twelve stars is coming on September 23, 2017), but I don’t believe these signs will have significance in terms of timing of events. The sign in heaven in Rev. 12 is clearly about the birth of a “male child” who is obviously Christ. It is not about the Bride of Christ or other future events in my opinion. We must be careful to not superimpose our own theories onto what the Bible clearly says.
Understanding the woman of Rev. 12 is important. If we say she is Mary or the Church, we wrongly add or diminish the meaning of this Chapter of scripture trying to impose additional meaning onto the text. This is not meant to diminish Mary’s place as a great servant of God, she simply is not the sign in Rev. 12.