Who Is the Remnant in Revelation 12:17?
Just a short time ago some Christians were all a buzz because of the blood moons and preachers like John Hagee told his live and television audiences that these blood moons were to be seen as a “sign of the end of the age” as was described in passages like Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20 and Revelation 6:12. His followers and others like them looked to the night-time skies for the fulfillment of these passages. Some see this chapter as being yet in the future as they do with most of the book of Revelation beyond chapter 3.
Without a doubt, the book of Revelation is the one book of the Bible that has stirred the imaginations of its readers like no other has. This book is also referred to the Apocalypse which in Greek means to uncover or reveal, but it is now synonymous with the complete and final destruction of the world. The numerous visual elements and narratives almost seem to be derived from medieval or Greek lore with its dragons, strange beasts and supernatural catastrophes. But, for those who hold to its promise of deliverance, it is a book of hope and of victory over the powers of darkness. As the words Revelation and Apocalypse both mean, this is a revealing or uncovering of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1).
In this article I wish to focus on chapter 12 and the identity of this “remnant” as it is worded in the King James Version that is mentioned in verse 17. There are those who claim to be the “remnant” and that they are actually a “remnant church” that has remained pure and unstained from false teachings and doctrines of a pago-Christian religion. Is this claim merited or is it simply a case of some seeking to be vindicated as being the one group that has the correct doctrines, teachings and beliefs?
Let’s examine the context of this passage and determine what this chapter is about and who John was likely talking about as being the “remnant” in this passage.
The Vision and Story
Chapter 12 takes place right after the seven trumpets that are sounded in chapters 8 through 11, which follows the opening of the seventh seal. John’s attention is then diverted to a great scene in heaven. He gazes upon a woman who is clothed with the sun, has twelve stars in her crown with the moon under her feet. While the “blood moon” crowd took this to mean that this was the constellation Virgo and its relative position to the literal sun and moon, the very words used to describe her should remind the reader of another vision or dream found in the Old Testament by a young man by the name of Joseph.
Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” - Genesis 37:9
In Genesis 37, the sun, moon, and twelve stars are a reference to the family of Israel. Like much of the book of Revelation, this vision borrows from the Old Testament for its meaning. The woman here represents the very people that God preserved through the bloodline of Abraham in order that His promise to Abraham might be fulfilled; that through his seed (Christ) all of the families of the earth might be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This woman is in labor and cries out in pain, see Isaiah 66:6-9. Then Satan, the dragon, stands ready to devour this child.
Does the woman represent Israel as a whole? I don’t think so, and I will explain further in a moment. Rather, I would suggest that she represents those of Israel who were eagerly waiting for the Messiah and clung to the promises found in scripture that God would send a deliverer, a Prince of Peace. A majority of Israel rejected Christ and didn’t even seem to be looking for a Messiah, while others like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zacharia, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna and the disciples who were earnestly seeking for the promised Messiah. I believe that this woman represents the true and faithful Israel that Paul spoke of in Roman 9:6-8.
The next thing that you read about is a great red dragon (Satan) ready to devour the male child being born from this woman. The male child, one who is to rule all nations is born with an iron rod. Make no mistake, this scene is about Jesus Christ coming to this world and Satan attempting to destroy Him before He is able to complete the plan of redemption. Jesus was then caught up to heaven and made to sit at the right hand of the Father as was written in Hebrews 1:1-4. These events happened well before John wrote down the book of Revelation so this is not a future event, but looking back at the enormity of what was the apex of God’s plan of salvation.
Then the woman, the same woman that gave birth to Christ, the faithful Israel, fled into the wilderness where she was nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. This can only be describing the diaspora of Jewish believers who fled Judea when the Jewish leadership began to persecute the early church following the stoning of Steven. It is for this reason that I do not believe that the woman represents Israel as a whole, the early persecution of the church originated from Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her.
Then, verses 7-12 speak of a war taking place in heaven between the dragon and his angels and Michael the archangel and his angels with the result being Satan being cast down to the earth. It appears as though Satan must have had some type of access to God up until this point in time, and he stood as a prosecuting attorney continually accusing those who have been faithful to God. We also get a glimpse of Satan’s access to God in the book of Job. What is it that Satan accuses the brethren of? He was making the accusation that the human race is deserving of death because we, like Adam and Eve, have known both good and evil. In reality, he is right, but because of us being covered by the Lamb’s blood, through His righteousness, we have overcome the works of Satan and have victory over the second death.
Then Satan, realizing that he is defeated and has forever lost access to God, turns his wrath upon those who continue to hold their hope and faith in the risen Messiah. But God protects the woman from Satan’s wrath and fulfills His promise that not even the gates of Hades would prevail against His church.
Who Is the Remnant?
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. - Revelation 12:17
The King James Version and versions that are directly derived from the King James use the word “remnant”, other translations use words or phrases like remainder, the rest of, other children, offspring, etc.. A literal translation would read:
“And was angry the dragon with the woman, and went to make war with the rest of her descendants or children”.
It should be a fair statement to say that Satan was not only angry with those who fled from Judea during the Christian diaspora, but he has also been angry with any followers of Christ, including subsequent generations of Christians that would follow to this very day. Satan desires to destroy all Christians, whether it be by physical death, by discouragement, introducing false doctrines or simply by hindering the spreading of the gospel.
Is the remnant only Christians that keeps the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus? The short answer is yes, the long answer is also yes. Is this referring to only a subset of the Christian faith that is to be considered the “remnant” thus earning the title of “remnant church”? I do not believe that this passage supports that idea. The thought being conveyed is the rest of her descendants, not a subset of the Christian faith. There is no mention of the rest of her descendants being a portion of, or a group of believers that would be established in the future.
Paul called himself a member of the remnant of Israel in Romans 11:5. Like the seven thousand men who remained faithful in Elijah’s day, Paul was a remnant of Israel who remained faithful to God in his time. Like Paul, the descendants of the woman in Revelation 12 were the remnant or remainder of the true Israel, likely scattered abroad. They were the sheep who heard His voice and knew their Shepherd.
Does this mean that Satan is only angry with believers of Jewish descent? No, Paul makes it clear in Romans 10:12, Romans 11:17 and Ephesians 2:11-22 that both Jewish and Gentile believers are one is God’s sight. Paul mentions in Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:35, 1 Thessalonins 1:6 that those justified by faith would experience tribulation. Hebrews 10:32-39 speaks of those who have been enlightened suffering tribulation. Then in the book of Revelation 1:9, John remarks that the churches are fellow partakers in tribulation. Should it be any wonder? Didn’t Jesus say that His followers would be delivered over to tribulation?
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. - Matthew 24:9
The characteristics of the woman’s offspring are those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. What are the “commandments of God”? John, the writer of this book, quoted Jesus as saying that the identifying mark of someone who is a follower of Him is one that loves one another.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another. - John 15:12-17
Throughout John’s gospel and epistles, John refers to the commandments of God as simply loving your neighbor, nothing more. Jesus said:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:37-40
For more on this topic, please read The Commandments of God According to the Apostle John.
The remainder of her children also have the testimony of Jesus Christ. They speak of a risen Savior, one who loves them enough to die in their stead and one who dwells within their heart. To summarize, these are true, loving Christians who share their faith in Jesus Christ and partake in spreading the gospel message.
First of all, I believe that it is a mistake to look at this chapter as being something that is to happen in the future. There was a specific group that fled to the wilderness, and God preserved them for a limited amount of time, and there are the rest that the dragon pursued that were the woman’s offspring. I also believe that it is a mistake to read this chapter and come away thinking that it is speaking of denomination or subset of Christians who have dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s in regards to proper exegesis. We should all resist the temptation of denominational pride and realize that we are all part of the same body of Christ and that God desires that we love each other just as He has loved us.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” - John 13:35
Thank you for taking time to read this article, I look forward to your comments.
May God bless!
Who do you believe the "remnant" to be?
© 2019 Tony Muse