The Woman and the Dragon
We come to a change in the narrative, a change of focus perhaps. We've finished with the trumpets and the sense of judgement, to a different scene, more comforting even. Chapter 12 tells us that the elements we find are in fact "signs", symbolising things. While this chapter is more reassuring for the saints, we must still uncover what the imagery means.
First up, we find a woman, a pregnant woman at that. She is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. This links really well to one of Joseph's dreams when a similar description describes Israel, including his own family will, one day, bow down to him, (Genesis 37:9):
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.
This description however takes this Old Testament description and moves it forward to a New Testament and Revelation setting. This woman now represents not just Israel, but rather all of God's people (including Gentiles) - the saints - those that hold onto faithful witness. There are other options. For example, the Catholics identify the woman as Mary. With the child clearly representing Jesus as we'll explore later, this could be Jesus's biological mother, however, if it is, why is it being revealed to John as a woman and not specifically Mary? The other possibility is that there is a Greek myth, where a woman (Leto) gives birth to a child, Apollo. And it is Apollo who defeats a serpent. The Romans adapted this myth to have the woman as Roma, who gives birth to the Emporer, Ceaser. John documents this image to engage his 1st-century audience, modifying it to have the vision link dramatically to Jesus being the victory.
Labour pain also links to the Old Testament. Genesis 3:1-16, (specifically that last verse), springs immediately to mind, while Isaiah 26:17-27:1 shows us that without Jesus, we, (both individually and collectively as the world), suffer. However, once the baby is born, that is, once Jesus enters your life, we are born again, born into a new life. A life with Christ, where the labour pain and suffering has been removed. This again points to Jesus's victory. The victory that was first prophesied about in Genesis 3:15.
It's at this point we hear about the dragon or the serpent. Most cultures had dragon/serpent myths, for example, Eygpt had stories about a Red Dragon, and Greece had Python, which in the myth of Leto and Apollo, was pursued until Apollo finally killed it.
It is the serpent's tail then wipes out some stars. Stars may represent divine beings, but in Revelation, they tend to mean Angels or messengers. It could refer back to some of the saints that have died or been martyred for their faithful witness. Either way, the point seems to be that the serpent, (who is the devil, Satan), is attempting to oppose the birth of the child. The child is the ruler over all the nations and is snatched up to the throne, therefore identifying Him as Jesus, we can then make the small jump to interpret that this scene of the serpent opposing the birth of the child, actually represents Satan opposing Jesus's mission on earth. The focus of this is not Jesus's birth, for this is covered elsewhere, e.g. the Gospels. No, this looks to Jesus's exaltation. You can even draw a timeline from the moment Jesus was first identified as King of the Jews. This is when a sign was placed above Jesus as He hung upon the cross. It was therefore at this point that Jesus won the victory over sin, casting out Satan, bringing in the kingdom and truly taking His place as King of His kingdom. It is at this point that Jesus goes ahead to prepare a place for us.
The idea of place helps us solidify our thinking about the woman representing the saints. The same word is used when Satan loses his place (12:8) and the place prepared for the woman by God (seen in both 12:6 and 12:14). Jesus tells His disciples He is going ahead to prepare a place for them:
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)
Timing is again provided here in verse 6. 1,260 days (3 1/2 years) is again defined, taken from Daniel 12:11. I think however it's defining the type of time, that is a time of tribulation and suffering, rather than a literal timeframe. Taking this interpretation we could then say that this tribulation began at the cross and will continue until He comes again, framing the seals and the trumpets as represents of this tribulation that the saints aren't exempt for, but rather protect through. The victory Has already been won and the kingdom is here, while it is also not yet. Throughout Christ is king having already been exalted and enthroned. The battle we see here has already happened, however, Satan still lives on earth. Michael (see Daniel 10:13,21,12:1 and Jude 9) represents a guardian prince acting within the authority of God. Again this points to God's protection over His people, but not an exemption from, Satan's works and the suffering the world endures.
Satan's accusations and slander in the world are presented as the water from the serpent's mouth, and while we may experience some reprieve, we see that Satan goes off to wage war against the rest of her offspring - which is us - the saints - those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.
What is this war? Well, we'll see in the forthcoming chapters what this is.