The Woman, the Dragon, and the Child (Revelation 12:1-6)
In the twelfth chapter of Revelation, John tells us about a sign that appeared in heaven. Heaven, then, is the background against which John sees this vision.
Moreover, the sign appearing in heaven could also indicate that the events to which this sign refers have been decided in heaven, that they affect the state of heaven. For, in 1 Kings 22:19 and 2 Chronicles 18:18, the host of heaven stood by the Lord's throne to weigh in on how events would unfold on Earth; the same appears to happen in Job 1:6-12 and many confrontations in heaven consist on an exchange of disputes (Zechariah 3:2; Jude 1:9).
According to John, the sign that appeared in Heaven was a woman clothed with the Sun; the moon was under her feet; and she wore on her head a crown with twelve stars. Although the Sun, the Moon, and the stars appear elsewhere in the book of Revelation, here they are all converging on a woman. Moreover, the stars are numbered: there are twelve stars.
Any reader familiar with the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), would have recognized that this number represents the nation of Israel, since the nation of Israel was said to be composed of twelve tribes. The Sun, the Moon, and the twelve stars also correspond to Joseph's dream, in which he saw the Sun, the Moon, and eleven stars bowing to him (Genesis 37:9). Obviously, Joseph only saw eleven stars because he did not include himself; and John sees twelve stars because the vision includes Joseph.
The woman, then, represents the nation of Israel.
In the second verse, John adds other details about the woman: she was pregnant, and she was crying out in pain because she was about to give birth.
John sees another great sign: a great red dragon. The dragon had seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems on its heads; and, with its tail, it swept one third of the stars of Heaven and cast them down to Earth.
Interpreting this dragon would be very hard indeed were it not for John who gives us the interpretation: on verse 9, John clearly tells us that the dragon is the ancient serpent (a clear reference to the serpent that is first mentioned in Genesis 3:1). And it case we haven't understood what John means, he tells us this dragon, this serpent, is the Devil, who is also called Satan.
According to John, Satan is the one who deceives the whole world.
Now, it is my view (I imagine others have the same view, but I'm not aware of this), that certain symbols in Revelation have different levels of interpretation. Thus, I believe there is more to this dragon than John is telling us. The reason I believe that some symbols in Revelation have different levels of interpretation is that, much further ahead, Revelation tells us that the seven heads of the scarlet beast (not to be confused with the red dragon in this chapter) are seven mountains and also seven kings (Revelation 17:9-10). And here, in Revelation 12, we are given many details about this dragon, but these details are not explained: instead, we are simply told that this dragon represents Satan. Consequently, I think there is more to this dragon than John is stating.
In regards to the stars swept from Heaven and cast on Earth by the dragon's tail, it appears that John quickly identifies them (though indirectly) as angels (Revelation 12:7). This interpretation of the stars is consistent with the book of Revelation, which previously equated stars with angels (Revelation 1:20), and with the Old Testament, which equates morning stars with angels (Job 38:7).
In regards to the other details about the dragon, let us consider first that the dragon is red. Red was previously used once in the book of Revelation: it is the color of the horse whose rider takes peace away from Earth. In other words, red is the color of war. This, then, is a fitting color for the dragon, because (as we shall see), the dragon means to declare war on the woman, which is Israel.
The Male Child
What John tells us next is absolutely terrifying. The woman (the nation of Israel) is in pain because she is about to give birth, and the dragon (Satan) stands before the woman, ready to devour her baby when she gives birth. This, of course, is horrible news!
Then the woman gives birth to a male child, and this child is predestined to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Who is this child? This child is God's anointed king, who will rule all the nations of the world from Zion and with absolute power (Psalm 2:2,6,8,9). Who is this anointed king? It is the Messiah, the Christ!
Thanks be to God, the dragon was not able to devour the child. Why? Because the child "was caught up unto God, and to his throne" (Revelation 12:5, KJV). Does this sound familiar? If you were a Christian member of one of the churches to whom John originally sent this book, there is no way you would have missed the clear reference to the ascension and glorification of Jesus.
The male child born of the woman is Jesus, the Messiah.
The events that the woman, the dragon, and the male child represent in Revelation 12:1-5 are obviously events that were past events to John himself, when he wrote the book of Revelation in approximately 90 AD (or 60 AD, or maybe even 40 AD). We know these were past events to him because John wrote Revelation several years after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ in 33 AD.
Logically, the dragon’s attempt to devour the male child when he was born represents the events described in Matthew 2:13-18. Herod the Great sought to kill Jesus, who was then only two years old (or less). And, since Herod the Great died in 4 AD, we deduce that the Lord was born sometime around that date, before Herod’s death.
The woman’s pains before giving birth likely represent Israel’s oppression under Rome before the Lord’s birth. When Pompey took control of Jerusalem in 63 BC, it took him three months to capture the temple mount. After breaching the walls, Pompey and his forces slaughtered thousands of Jews in the sanctuary.
Some time later, Hezekiah the Zealot led a resistance against the Romans; but he was captured and beheaded by Herod the Great, whom Rome rewarded in 37 BC by appointing him King of Judaea. Needless to say, the Jews never trusted Herod.
Looking Again at the Dragon
Given the details given about the red dragon, it is possible that the red dragon not only represents Satan, but also the Roman empire.
Like the fourth beast seen by Daniel (Daniel 7:7), the dragon has ten horns and it devours. That beast, which Daniel saw, also broke in pieces and stamped with its feet what was left: these actions are possible references to the earlier conflict between Jews and Rome (breaking in pieces) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (stamping what was left).
Finally, this red dragon, like the scarlet beast John describes further ahead in the book (Revelation 17:9-10), has seven heads. These seven heads appear to correspond to the seven heads of the scarlet beast, and thus they may refer to Rome's famous seven hills (Aventine Hill, Caelian Hill, Capitoline Hill, Esquiline Hill, Palatine Hill, Quirinal Hill, and Viminal Hill).
Given, then, that the red dragon is similar to Daniel's fourth beast (which is traditionally identified as Rome), that it is similar to Revelation's scarlet beast (whose horns correspond to the seven hills of Rome), that the pains of the woman may refer to the oppression of Israel by Rome, and that the agent through whom the dragon attempted to devour the man child is Herod (the king appointed by Rome), I think it is very likely that the red dragon not only represents Satan, but also the Roman government.
In verse sixth verse of the twelfth chapter of Revelation, John tells us that the woman fled to the wilderness (the desert), where God has prepared her a place for her to be nourished for 1,260.
Once again, the 1,260 days correspond to Daniel's seventieth week (Daniel 9:27). Revelation, then, appears to be indicating that during Daniel's seventieth week, Israel will have to flee from Satan (and whatever agent Satan uses then) to the desert for forty-two months (three years and six months); presumably, after the king mentioned in Daniel 9:27 breaks the covenant and stops the sacrifices and oblations offered by Israel.
The reader should note that, although past events (the oppression of Israel before 4 AD, and the Lord's resurrection in 33 AD) appear to be immediately followed by future events (the woman fleeing in the latter half of Daniel's seventieth week), Daniel 9:26 makes it clear that there is an indefinite period of desolations between Daniel's sixty-ninth week and Daniel's seventieth week.
This interpretation is consistent with the interpretation of other biblical passages. For example, when in Luke 4:17-19 the Lord reads from Isaiah, the Lord reads Isaiah 61:1 to the first half of Isaiah 61:2 instead of finishing the passage. The Lord then declares that what he had read had been fulfilled by him, but what about what he did not read? The day of vengeance, though it immediately follows the acceptable year in Isaiah 61:2, is still a future event. So then, there is a break between the acceptable year and the day of vengeance, even though this break does not appear in Isaiah 61:2.
Also, when in Acts 2:17-21 Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32, we have to admit that only Joel 2:28-29 have been fulfilled, and that Joel 2:30-32 will be fulfilled in the future. Also, in Malachi 4:5, God promises to send Elijah before the day of the Lord. It sounds as if this is going to happen right away, but in fact there was a break of 400 years between Malachi 4:5 and the appearance of John the Baptist (whom the Lord identified as fulfilling Malachi 4:5).
Finally, from just reading Daniel 2:44, we would think that God would set his kingdom on Earth at the end of the Roman empire, but that is not what has happened.
My point is that, consistent with other biblical prophecies, Revelation 12:1-6 describes past events and future events as if they occur in a close period of time, but in actuality, they do not: there is a great gap between the times when these events actually occur in human history.
Thus, Revelation 12:1-6 tells us about events that happened in the past until, and it also tells us about events that have yet to take place in the future.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Marcelo Carcach