Revelation 12: What is It Really About?

September 19, 2017 at 12:45 PM

In a word, “No.”

There is tremendous hoopla regarding this upcoming Saturday, September 23, 2017, and the stated potential by some who either call themselves prophets or are given that title by others. People are thinking the Rapture might occur followed by the immediate start of the Tribulation – all of it based on “signs” in the sky as they appear to correlate to Revelation 12. With that in mind, it’s probably a good time to simply discuss what Revelation 12 is actually all about.

I’ve written about Revelation chapter 12 (along with chapters 5 – 22), in a book I published that was actually my doctoral thesis. Other conservative, biblically based scholars have also written about this particular chapter. It’s a fascinating look at a very brief history of Israel. That’s right. Revelation 12 is all about Israel, though the Church and Tribulation saints are certainly mentioned, however, briefly (Revelation 12:17). Let’s take a look at some of the text.

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. – Revelation 12:1-6 (ESV)

In the above text we are dealing with a bit of symbolism. However, all of this has one, literal meaning. It’s not up for grabs. The Bible is replete with poetry, allegory, figures of speech, and much more. Understanding the Bible literally (in its most plain and ordinary sense), does not mean that a passage like the one above is to be taken literally in any way. The symbolism points to one literal meaning.

In English there are at least 20 different types of figures of speech (alliteration, anaphora, chiasmus, euphemism, hyperbole, metaphor, metonymy, oxymoron, pun, personification, etc., etc., etc.). People who hear or use them understand that they simply mean something that is literal, but the words used are not necessarily to be taken literally.

To understand the Bible in literal terms, especially when we come to passages that use a figure of speech or symbol, we need to ask what is meant by that passages like the one above? What is the passage’s actual meaning?

Let me illustrate. If you’ve ever heard anyone say, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!“, you would normally understand that person to be saying that he/she is terribly hungry. No one in their right mind would actually believe that the person wanted to eat a horse. It is a figure of speech that makes the statement larger for effect. By the way, the statement is not saying that the person wants to eat horse meat. The statement is used to express the degree of hunger the person is experiencing.

Another, simpler figure of speech might be when someone says, “The sun went down early today.” In point of fact, the sun doesn’t rise or set. The earth turns, giving the appearance of the sun moving. We would understand exactly what the person meant by that statement and likely agree. We have taken the literal meaning of the figure of speech.

Here’s one more example, this time a metaphor. “He listened with a stone face.” We immediately get what that literally means. It certainly does not mean that the man actually had a stone face while listening! It simply and literally means that while he listened, he showed absolutely no emotion on his face whatsoever. No one would have guessed what the man was thinking at all because his face was expressionless.

Again, when we come to passages in the Bible that use some form of figure of speech, just like we do in everyday conversation, our goal is to ascertain the literal meaning of what we’ve read. It’s really that simple.

I’ve read so many commentaries on Revelation written by all sorts of scholars, from conservative to liberal and from literal to allegorical. Some will simply explain the meaning of something with no proof of how they arrive to their conclusions. Had they taken the time to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, they would not have been able to make the statements they made. This is a huge point. Scripture must be allowed to interpret Scripture! The entire book, though written by 40 some human authors over a period of 1,600 to 2,000 years, still has one main Author, who tied everything together for us, if we will but search things out within His Word.

This is true of the passage above. Every bit of it is explained in other parts of Scripture, yet today, we have people who are looking to the sky to try to figure out what God’s Word says and means or what to expect next. This does a tremendous disservice to God, actually changing the meaning of His Words.

In the above passage, we need to remember that John was in God’s throne room at this point and he is shown a vision, a representation of truth God wanted to show him. Some of things God showed him were very symbolic in nature, while other things were seemingly very literal. The passage above most definitely has symbolic aspects to it, yet again, there can only be one true meaning to it. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of interpretations out there. Please choose wisely. Like the rest of God’s Word, the Bible says one thing or it says nothing. It cannot have more than one meaning, although many passages can and do have several applications.

Take verse one of Revelation 12. What’s happening there?

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Believe it or not, at least part of this verse takes us all the way back to Genesis and Joseph when he was a very young man of about 17 years old (read Genesis 37 thoroughly). Did you know that? If you know that, you will understand the last portion of the verse. But let’s start at the beginning.

The apostle John is describing what God is showing him behind the curtain, things the human eye cannot naturally see. John calls it “a great sign in heaven,” which turns out to be the start of the overall history of a particular nation. The entirety of chapter 12 actually brings us through and includes the Tribulation, which of course, has not occurred yet. That part of Revelation 12 is yet future.

Why did John call what he saw a great sign? First, it was occurring in the heavenlies – or God’s throneroom. Second, a sign in the Bible normally represents something else, other than the figurative language used to express the sign itself. This is true in this case as we’ll show. Third, the heavenly beings were to take notice of what God was going to do and God was also letting John in on the mystery (and us by connection to Jesus); the ongoing and historic battle between Satan and God. Of course, Satan has no chance of defeating God though that is his express wish and desire (Isaiah 14:14).

First, we see a “woman clothed with the sun.” Who is this woman? It is none other than the nation of Israel. Am I just guessing or can we know for certain? We can know for certain. Again, read Genesis 37.

The woman is described as:

  • clothed with the sun
  • the moon under her feet
  • she wore a crown of twelve stars

What do these appellations mean? They are obviously figurative in nature, but as stated, each has a very literal and specific meaning. No guess-work is needed at all, but simply having a good working knowledge of God’s Word.

God has described Israel as all of the things above in various parts of Scripture (Gen. 37:9-11; cf. Isa. 26:17-18; 60:1-3, 20). Constable notes “There are many figurative references to Israel as a travailing woman (pregnant and in labor) in the Old Testament (Is. 26:17-18; 66:7-9; Jer. 4:31; 13:21; Mic. 4:10; 5:3). She (Israel) eventually gave birth to Christ (v. 5). In Genesis 37:9-10, the “sun” corresponds to Jacob, the “moon” to Rachel, and the “12 stars” to Israel’s 12 sons (cf. 7:5-8; 21:12).” [1] Please take the time to read through the referenced Scriptures for greater clarity.

The fact that the woman in John’s vision was about to give birth is indicative of not only the birth of Israel as a nation, but ultimately, the birth of Messiah, Jesus, who, as a Jew from the tribe of Judah, was “birthed” from the nation of Israel. Of course, He was also directly physically birthed by Mary, His mother. But in the context of the vision, Israel is in view, not Mary. This was one of Israel’s main purposes, to birth the Messiah and Savior. The nation was also to be a light to all other nations on earth, so that their righteousness would shine forth, bringing great glory to God. In this they have failed repeatedly, though according to the Bible, a time is coming when this will be perfectly fulfilled by the final remnant of Jewish believers who survive the Tribulation period and enter into the Millennial Kingdom, ruled over by Jesus Himself.

In verse 3 above, John notes a second sign – “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” Here we are introduced to the “great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns…”

It is clear that this dragon is symbolic for Satan himself. His goal from the beginning has been to thwart God and His purposes. When he couldn’t stop God from creating Israel, he did what he could to destroy them. When that didn’t work, he got them to fail God time after time, through rebelliousness, pride, and idolatry.

Notice he is crouched ready to capture the child coming forth from the woman (Israel). Satan knew that the Deliverer (Messiah, Savior) would be born through Israel. He figured that much out since he was able to read Scripture as well as we can but of course, knows it far better than we do and he also has the additional ability of being able to see all of the movement in the spiritual realm, something we cannot normally see. That occurs only when God opens eyes of specific individuals (in the past).

Satan couldn’t destroy Israel as God always kept that pesky remnant around and that line is the line through which Jesus was born. But remember the multiple attempts on Jesus’ life, especially from Herod, when he ordered that every male child aged up to two years should be killed (Matthew 2:16).

John is seeing the allegorical view of the literal facts. He is essentially seeing word pictures. Satan wanted to destroy Jesus but notice the text tells us that this particular child birthed by the woman was destined to “…rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” This tells us for a fact that the child in question is not Israel, but Jesus. True, while the final remnant of Israel who go into the Millennial Kingdom will enjoy some aspect of “ruling” over all other nations, it is Jesus Himself who is the Chief Ruler and who will rule with a rod of iron during the coming Millennial Kingdom. As I’ve explained before in numerous articles, His tough rule is required because people who survived the Tribulation and go into the Millennium will still have the sin nature to contend with even though Satan will be physically bound during that time period and cannot tempt from without.

The reference to the fact that the child was “caught up to God and to his throne” is not referring to any sort of Rapture at all. It is referring to Jesus’ ascension after He rose from the dead (Acts 1). As the verse tells us, He ascended and now Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father waiting to be given His own earthly kingdom over which He will rule from His earthly father David’s throne (Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33).

Verse 6 is interesting because that particular verse jumps way ahead into the future, during the coming time of the Tribulation. How do we know this? Because of John’s reference to 1,260 days, which is the second half of the seven-year Tribulation period. Since Satan was completely unsuccessful in destroying Jesus (and Jesus cannot be harmed by Satan now), during the second half of the Tribulation, Satan (through Antichrist), will initially turn his attention to Israel, but note that Israel (the final, believing remnant), will flee into the wilderness for three and a half years. God will see to their protection during that time. In fact, verse 6 tells us that God has the entire thing planned out including the place where the remnant will go for their own safety. Satan will not be able to touch them there as they will be off limits to him.

Revelation 12 says nothing about the timing of the Rapture or start of the Tribulation. It is not even addressing Christians at all in nearly the entire chapter. It is about Israel and it is the best, most concise summary of Israel’s history anywhere in God’s Word. Notice we did not need to go outside of the Bible into the area of constellations and horoscopes to ascertain the meaning of Revelation 12:1-6. This is not to say that we can never look outside the Bible to help us better understand the Bible. In this case however, it is very clear that the true meaning of the text is clarified in other portions of God’s Word.

It would be far more advantageous for Christians to read the Bible thoroughly, studying it (to show one’s self approved; 2 Timothy 2:15), allowing God’s Word to interpret itself by being able to recall and compare one portion of Scripture with another. Instead, it seems that too many Christians are happy with very brief “bites” of God’s Word and they then rely on others to tell them what it means. I can take verses out of context and give them an entirely unique meaning other than what God intended them to mean. We must be exceedingly careful about that.

All of God’s Word speaks for God. Certainly, all of it total is a small revelation of Himself to us. But it is what He wants us to know about Him, His plans, and His purposes. We do a major disservice to God when we build eschatological theories around just a few verses without consulting all of God’s Word.

I would encourage you to read God’s Word daily. Study it. Pray over it. The most important thing you and I can do is learn it so that we become better at living the Christian life, not being preoccupied with things future. It’s fine to study those things and even necessary. But we are not to do so in a way that credits God with saying something He has not said.

God bless you. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Study His Word and pray to Him all the time. Don’t just ask Him for things. Praise Him for all He is and learn to trust Him for how He guides us, if we will let Him.


[1] Constable’s Notes on Revelation, p. 126.


Entry filed under: alienology, Atheism and religion, christianity, Cultural Marxism, Demonic, devil worship, Emotional virtue, eternity, israel, Judaism, Posttribulational Rapture, Pretribulational Rapture, rapture, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation, Satanism, second coming. Tags: , , .

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