a great sign
Sign is σημεῖον [sēmeion] , from the same root word translated signified in Revelation 1:1. It indicates that what John sees is symbolic or figurative of the reality being conveyed. This is not a real woman in the heavens standing literally on the moon! Rather, the elements which John sees signify truths which are not directly stated in the text, but which are conveyed by the symbolism. A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the symbolism is drawn entirely from the OTas one might expect since all revelation is given by the same Holy Spirit.
And the fact that we are here told that this is a sign, goes far to prove that the Apocalypse in general is to be taken literally, except where indication to the contrary is given. It would be quite superfluous to tell us that this thing is a sign, and that certain things mean certain other things, except upon the assumption that whatever is not so labelled is to be taken just as it reads, . . . But, whatever else is literal in this book, the case of this woman is not.1See Interpreting Symbols. See commentary on Revelation 1:1.
John is introduced to a woman. She is one of a number of women found in Scripture. Within this book alone, we find four important women:
- Jezebel of Thyatira typifies the apostate church, which is not taken in the Rapture, but contributes to The Great Harlot. See commentary on Revelation 2:20, Jezebel.
- The woman before us in Revelation Rev. 12:1+ who struggles to give birth and then flees from the dragon to the wilderness.
- The woman of Revelation Rev. 17:1+ who is said to be a great Harlot (Rev. Rev. 17:1+). See commentary on Revelation 17:1, see The Great Harlot.
- The bride (Rev. Rev. 19:7+; Rev. 21:2+, Rev. 21:9+; Rev. 22:17+).
- Pagan Symbolism - Many commentators attribute the symbolism in this chapter to pagan sources. The significance of the woman, and the attendant sun and moon, is thought to be found by searching out vague similarities from pagan mythologies. But such an approach has several shortcomings. First, it assumes that God subjected the correct understanding of His inspired revelation to a dependence upon uninspired and blasphemous writings of those who do not know Him. Second , it ignores the many evidences that suggest just the opposite: that pagan mythology is dependant upon Gods inspired revelationserving up a vague distorted echo of the truth (e.g., the heel of Achilles, Gen. Gen. 3:15). See Searching Pagan Mythology.
- The Church is Everywhere - Among those commentators which manage to steer clear of interpreting this woman from a background of pagan sources, another error beckons: that of pouring the Church into every passage of Scripture from the beginning of Genesis through the end of Revelation and everywhere in between. Clear clues in the text which preclude an interpretation of the woman as the Church are ignored in favor of a preunderstanding that since this woman appears to be glorious, she must denote the Church Triumphant! But this view runs roughshod over the many interpretive clues in the text before us: Mat. 16:18), not the other way around. (2) The sun/moon/stars have a direct corollary in Josephs dream (Gen. Gen. 37:9). Sun = Josephs Father (Jacob), moon = Jacobs mother, 11 stars = brothers (12 stars meaning all twelve tribes). Hence a strong reference to Israel. (3) The reference to clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet refer to many passages which declare that the promises made to Israel (especially for a Davidic ruler and the continuation of the nation) can be thwarted only if the sun and moon can be made to cease from before God (Ps. Ps. 89:35-37; Jer. Jer. 31:36). Hence the reference is to the permanence of Israel and its promises in the mind of God as evidenced by His oaths involving the sun and moon. (4) The woman travails to give birth to the man-child (singular, male) who is caught-up. This would seem a clear allusion to the promise of the seed of the woman (Gen. Gen. 3:15) and the man-child is obviously Christ and not [the Rapture of] the church.2
- Originated with the promise of a redeemer to Eve (Gen. Gen. 3:15).
- Led to the creation of the nation of Israel through whom the redeemer would come (Isa. Isa. 7:14; Isa. 9:6-7; Mic. Mic. 5:2; Rom. Rom. 9:5).
- Found partial fulfillment in His First Coming by virgin birth from Mary (Isa. Isa. 7:14; Mtt. Mat. 1:25; Luke Luke 1:34).
- Finds ultimate fulfillment in His Second Coming to establish the Millennial Kingdom and to rule in the line of King David of Israel (Isa. Isa. 9:7; Jer. Jer. 23:5; Jer. 30:9; Amos Amos 9:11; Zec. Zec. 6:12-13; Luke Luke 1:32-33; Acts Acts 1:6; Rev. Rev. 20:4+). It is this aspect, often overlooked, which explains the continued persecution of the woman after having birthed the Man Child.
That Israel will play a key role in the end-time drama is not surprising. The seventieth week of Daniels prophecy (the Tribulation) will primarily concern Israel, just as the first sixty-nine did (cf. Dan. Dan. 9:24-27). Israels presence in the end times is consistent with Gods emphatic promises of her continued existence as a nation . . . (Jer. Jer. 31:35-37; cf. Jer. 33:20-26; Jer. 46:28; Amos Amos 9:8).3
clothed with the sun
Clothed is περιβεβλημένη [peribeblēmenē] , a perfect tense participle: having been clothed, cast around, wrapped in.4 When John saw her, she had already been clothed by God and enjoyed the protection afforded by her clothing (Isa. Isa. 61:10). Her being clothed with the sun is often the departure point for grand speculative expositions which interpret the woman as the church or specifically as Mary, the mother of Christ.5 It is also a frequent point of departure to search pagan writings for an understanding of her interpretation. One of the problems with such an approach is that the sun is employed as a symbol in many different ways in many different writings. The key to understanding the contribution of the sun to the identity of the woman is found by examining the way the sun is used within Scripture. First, it should be noted that a primary function of clothing is to provide shelter and protection from external elements.
Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, Live! Yes, I said to you in your blood, Live! I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine, says the Lord GOD. Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. Eze. Eze. 16:3-10 [emphasis added]Whatever the sun represents, it protects the woman in some way. For the LORD God is a sun and shield (Ps. Ps. 84:11a). When we examine the Scriptural use of the sun, we find both the sun and the moon often appear together as a dual witness. When God created the sun and moon, He said they would be for signs and seasons, and for days and years (Gen. Gen. 1:14). Most of us can readily understand how the sun is for seasons, and for days and years, but in what way is the sun for signs? The word for sign here is אוֹת [ʾôṯ] which indicates a token or mark, something designed as a memorial, to bring to remembrance.6 It is the same word which describes Cains mark (Gen. Gen. 4:15), the sign of the rainbow (a memorial of Gods covenant with Noah, Gen. Gen. 9:12), the sign of circumcision (a memorial of the Abrahamic covenant), the sign of the Passover (a memorial of the Exodus, Ex. Ex. 13:9), and the sign of the Sabbath (a memorial of the Mosaic covenant, Ex. Ex. 31:13). Thus, one function of the sun was to be used as a reminder in various ways. Weve already seen one such use of the sun in our study of Revelation because God promised there would be signs in the sun and the moon at the time of the end (see commentary on Revelation 6:12 ). We also know that there was a great sign via the sun when Jesus was crucified (Luke Luke 23:45). Perhaps some of the signs of the sun in the time of the end are intended to bring the crucifixion to mind? There is another way in which the sun serves as a sign, along with the moon. God uses the sun and the moon as dual witnesses to important promises He has made, much in the same way that He swears by heaven and earth.7 Of particular interest to our passage, God has said that both sun and moon will be witnesses (signs) of His unconditional promise to preserve the nation Israel:
Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus says the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. (Jer. Jer. 31:35-37) [emphasis added]In relation to the events which transpire in Revelation Rev. 11:1+ concerning the two witnesses, we note that the promise to preserve the nation Israel is found in the context of His promise to regenerate the nationthe only explicit mention of the New Covenant in the OT. This promise given through Jeremiah is essentially restated in the words of Paul: I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. Rom. 11:1). Let the reader and the nations of the world take note! The Jews will continue as a people so long as the sun and moon remain visible in the sky! If the enemies of Israel understood the full impact of this verse, they would immediately reprogram their missiles for a new target: they must first take out the sun and moon before they will be able to wipe out the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! The sun and moon not only witness of His promise to preserve the nation, but also His promise that the throne of David shall continue before Him and that there will be Levites to minister to Him:
Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: his seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky. Selah (Ps. Ps. 89:35-37)
Thus says the LORD: If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me. (Jer. Jer. 33:20-23)As we have seen, Jesus is not now seated on the throne of David, an earthly throne centered in Jerusalem. These promises are important to grasp because they are key to understanding why the dragon continues to persecute the woman, even after she successfully brings forth the Man Child Who then accomplishes the crucifixion and resurrected. For what purpose could the dragon have in pursuing the woman beyond the victory of Messiah at the cross? The answer is found in understanding that Gods purposes include elements which go beyond the crucifixion, but include promises and themes which are intimately connected with the Second Coming when Christ returns to earth to establish His millennial reign. See commentary on Revelation 3:21. See The Arrival of Gods Kingdom. The promise that Israel will always exist is a key motivator behind the doctrine of the faithful remnant of Jewish believers which stretches throughout Scripture. It is part and parcel of the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation Rev. 7:4+. See commentary on Revelation 7:4.
with the moon under her feet
The emphasis in relation to the moon under her feet is not so much standing upon, as in trampling or having authority over, but being supported. She is clothed (sheltered) by the sun and standing (supported by) the moon. Her position is sure. (See commentary above concerning the promises of God to Israel witnessed by the sun and the moon.)
a garland of twelve stars
Garland is στέφανος [stephanos] . See Crowns. Here we are given another evidence concerning the identification of this woman. What do these stars represent? Earlier we saw that stars represented angels of the churches (Rev. Rev. 1:20+). But they were only seven in number, not twelve. At times, stars also represent angels (Job Job 38:7; Rev. Rev. 9:1+; (4). Yet here the stars are not in isolation, but found with the sun and moon. This clearly is an allusion to Josephs dream which mentions the sun, moon, and stars:
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. 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. Gen. 37:9-10) [emphasis added]The sun represents his father Jacob, the moon represents Leah,8 and the eleven stars represent his eleven brothers. When we include Joseph as an additional star, we have our sun, moon, and twelve stars. This is perhaps the most important aspect of the identification of the woman: the twelve stars are to be understood in the sense of the gates (tribes) rather than the foundations (apostlesrepresenting the church) of the New Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 21:12+). See Twelve: Jewish Tribes, Completeness.
1 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), Rev. 12:1.
3 John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2000), Rev. 12:1.
4 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 12:1.
5 Medieval scholastic theologians . . . looked for excuses to find Mary, the mother of Jesus, in unsuspecting places. They saw her in Revelation Rev. 12:1+, where they envisioned her incorruptibility and bodily transfiguration. Clothed with the sun, that woman, they said, is the transfigured mother of Christ. Mal Couch, How Has Revelation Been Viewed Interpretively?, in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 38. The woman cannot mean, literally, the virgin mother of Jesus, for she did not flee into the wilderness and stay there for 1260 days, while the dragon persecuted the remnant of her seed.A. R. Fausset, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 12:1.
8 Note that Jacob interprets the moon as representing Leah rather than Rachel. Rachel was already dead. The dream was not fulfilled until much later in Egypt while Leah was presumably still alive (Gen. Gen. 44:14). Her death is not mentioned until later (Gen. Gen. 49:31). Gen. 37:10] Jacob was referring to Leah.McQuaid, Israel My Glory, 34.