- Religion and Philosophy
Revelation 12: The Woman and the Dragon
The following is an exegesis of Revelation chapter 12, drawing from a wide range of sources regarding the meanings of John’s writings on this vision. In doing this, many commentaries have been consulted and a strong tie between this and Old Testament scriptures have been noted and found fitting. Fee and Stuart warn against overusing the ‘analogy of scripture’, i.e., in this instance interpreting Revelation based upon other scriptures. However, even though symbols are used to tell the prophetic story of Israel, the symbols are clear when interpreted by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Arnold Fruchtenbaum asserts that, “every symbol in the Revelation is explained either elsewhere in the Revelation itself or somewhere else in the Bible.” This is especially notable in the parallels between this passage and scriptures regarding the Israelites and Egypt. MacArthur agrees that a literal approach to exegesis takes into account symbolic language but also appreciates that it points to a literal reality. Allen maintains that as the symbols in this chapter are drawn from scripture that they cannot be arbitrarily interpreted. This exegesis will focus mainly on the symbolic playing out in the skies of John’s vision regarding the Woman, the Dragon and the Child.
This particular series of John’s visions is introduced as a ‘wonder’, (12:1), which coming from the Greek word ‘semeion’, normally means ‘sign’, and is the word used in the Gospels to refer to Jesus miracles. In this instance it refers to a person, a ‘symbolic figure’ as Stott put’s it. Interestingly, Scott maintains that this is the only instance in the book where John does not say that he saw the vision for himself, but that it is normally rendered ‘it was seen’, Morris states that the reference to ‘In Heaven’ could be understood as the sky, with the visions appearing in the sky then being acted out on Earth. His vision of ‘a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown on twelve stars’ is believed by Morris to refer to Israel, God’s covenant people. This is well evidenced in the previous verse, which comes at the end of the previous chapter, “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple”. The explicit use of reference to the Ark of Covenant (only used in connection with Israel) reveals the woman clearly as Israel. Further, through-out the Old Testament Israel is consistently referred to as a woman, most frequently as the unfaithful wife of God. The twelve stars denoting the twelve tribes. This is well evidenced in the previous verse, which comes at the end of the previous chapter, “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple”. The explicit use of reference to the Ark of Covenant (only used in connection with Israel) reveals the woman clearly as Israel. This interpretation is strengthened by the strong parallel in the imagery used to that of Joseph’s dream in Genesis (37:9-11). The eleven stars in Genesis 37 represent Jacobs (Israel’s) sons, Josepth is the twelth star to whom the others bow, thus twelve stars.
The allusion to a woman being in childbirth is described by Morris as being reminiscent of Isaiah’s prophecy ‘As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth She writhes and cries out in her labour pains’ (Isaiah 26:17), furthermore he sees that Israel acknowledged they could not bring about ‘deliverance in the Earth’ (Is 26:18) i.e., it’s writhing in child birth was in vain- ‘We gave birth, as it seems, only to wind’(Is 26:18). However the perfect Israel in this vision can and does birth a child in v5.
The second wonder, a red dragon, is perceived generally to be symbolic of the Devil. Osbourne notes differing views on the meaning of the Dragon sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky. Most believe it to either signify the persecution of God’s peoples (the stars) by the Devil and His followers (basing this on the allusions to the imagery in Daniel 10:20-21 & 12:1-3, thus reasoning that angels often represent the saints and expanding upon this by referring to Antiochus’s attack on Israel in Dan 8 as an attack on Heaven itself.), or that this is a reference to the rebellion in Heaven where the third cast down refer to the fallen angels.Osbourne reasons that the stars in the attack in Dan 8 are commonly accepted to be angels and uses this to support the latter interpretation. He further states that this sweeping of the stars out of Heaven was the Devil’s initial victory in convincing a third of the Heavenly fleet to rebel against God, whereas the casting down of the Dragon is the Devil’s defeat when the war in Heaven has actually been fought.
Now the Dragon turns His hostility to the woman. Osborne views the description of the Dragon waiting to devour the child the woman is bringing forth as a reference primarily to the Devil’s attempt to kill the messiah child by using King Herod to kill off the infants in Bethlehem at the time of His birth (Matt 2:16). Osborne acknowledges the belief of some that the child about to be born is the people of God and that this attempt to devour by the Dragon is the Devil’s persecution of them, but he disagrees pointing to many instances in the New Testament in which the Devil tried to defeat Jesus (Mark 3:6, John 7:30, 8:58 etc).
Osborne describes verses 5-6 as a telescoping of events skipping from the birth of the messiah to His ascension and reasons this is due to the close link in His destiny to rule and His ascension and exaltation. There is emphasis on His being a male child to demonstrate He is the culmination of Jewish Messianic prophecy, (Exod 12:5, Mal 1:14 etc). The child is clearly the awaited Messiah as is made clear by the reference to the Messianic Psalm in ‘who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron’ (Psl 2:9). The woman fleeing into the wilderness parallels the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt during which time God provided for them, and is generally agreed to be representative of the Church on Earth waiting for the second coming of the Messiah. 
The drama that plays out in verses 7-11 takes place in Heaven and the characters are Michael and the Devil. This time it is not the adversary of God in the role of war-maker, but it is notabley the angel Michael who initiates the war against the Devil. It is God’s fleet of angels that go to war with the Devil and His angels. The result is that they are seen to loose and the Devil’s defeat sees Him being thrown out of Heaven. Trafton notes a parallel between the wording in this section and that of Isaiah 112:9 and 4:12 in which the King of Babylon is thrown down. He also points out a similar parallel in the defeat of the King of Tyre in Ezekial (28:16-17). He sets this up against a bigger backdrop of complimentary parallels of the triple ‘thrown down’ of 12:9 and the 3 thrown downs of the Old Testament enemies of God’s people. This can be seen as a perfect fulfillment of a historical pattern that could be reasonably stated as a precursor to what was to come for God’s ultimate enemy.Hamilton sums up how this defeat was affected thus,
‘The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (12:5) authorised Michael to forcefully expel Satan from Heaven because He has been defanged and His accusations are now toothless’.
In continuing with the drama with between the woman and the Dragon, Hamilton parallels the reference to the woman being given 2 eagles wings as harking back to the Exodus from Egypt once more (Exod 19:4), when God ‘bore’ His covenant people on Eagles wings, sustaining and protecting them. Verses 15-16 show the Dragon pouring water from His mouth to drown the woman (Church). This is understood by most to mean the persecution of the Church and draws on the imagery of Pharaoh drowning male children in the Nile (Exod 1:22). This links to Ezekiel’s ‘Great Dragon which lies in the midst of the streams’ (Ezekiel 29:3). The Earth is described as ‘helping the woman’ and swallows up the water. This generally can be described as an act of God to cause the waters to be dried, though specifically it strongly resembles the imagery of the Red Sea being subdued to allow safe passage for a people of God in a hostile environment, i.e., undergoing persecution. The end of this vision characterised by the Dragon warring with the women’s children ‘who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus’ (v17), make it arguable clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman is the Church; her children, God’s people, and the warring, Satin’s persecution of the Church until the Messiah comes again.
A helpful sum-up of what has gone on in this chapter is to divide what is happening into the two views it takes place from. The first is 12:1-6 and 12:13-17 which is the view from Earth, and the second is the perspective from Heaven. Trafton sees 12:10-12 as being the crucial verses for tying it all together. He states that a reader only following the action of the 2 signs, the woman and the Dragon and thus seeing 12:7- 12:13 as an unrelated scene, or an interruption will completely fail to make sense of what has happened. He explains that because of the activity of the woman bringing forth child and Him being taken up to Heaven, thus victorieus, is the reason for the Devil’s defeat by Michael in Heaven and why the Devil is seen to be thrown down. This is why in the verse following His defeat the voice from Heaven can say,
“Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down...”(Rev 12:10).
Furthermore, though the Dragon (Devil), is described as going to war with the woman, who clearly represents the Church, there is an assurance that the Church will not suffer defeat for the war has already been won by the redemptive happenings of 12:1-6 as commented in the previous paragraph, but more so clarified by the voice from Heaven saying this,
“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev 12:11).
Hermeneutically, one would acknowledge based on the context of believers at the time that John received these visions and wrote them, that there is a great deal of encouragement for believers under-going persecution at this time. This is notably a historical president that God’s people have received words of hope through apocalypse during times of oppression and persecution. 
Thus to conclude, Revelation 12 is a chapter which can be said to contain the analogies of an overview of the history of the spiritual realities of good and evil affected by God and the Devil on the covenant people of God from the time of the Israelites to the conception of the Church due to the redemptive birth of the Christ child and His subsequent death and resurrection, which caused the defeat of the Devil and His expulsion from Heaven. It points strongly to Old Testament happenings, with an overt focus on the events of the Israelites in Egypt, forming a tie between these and the Church’s wilderness existence on the Earth. There are major overtones of hope and rescue that play out in this chapter as the Israelites are given the child of hope and the Church is given sanctuary and sustainance even in Her wilderness time. This chapter would have provided a great deal of hope for believers during their times of persecution at its writing and since and contributes to a greater understanding of God’s redemption plan for His Covenant People.
Allen, J., ‘What The Bible Teaches: Revelation’, (Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, LTD, 1997).
DeMar, G., ‘Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church’ (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999).
Fee, D. G, and Stuart, D., ‘How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth’, (Grant Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
Fruchtenbaum, A., ‘Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events.’ (Tustin:
Ariel Press, 2003).
Hamilton, J and Hughes, K., ‘Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches’ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
Keener, C., ‘Revelation’ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
MacArthur, J., ‘The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 12—22’ (Chicago: Moody, 2000).
Morris, L., ‘Revelation: An Introduction And Commentary.’ (London: Tyndale Press, 1969).
Osborne. G., ‘Revelation: Baker Exegetical Commentary’. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002)
Scott, C., ‘The Book Of The Revelation’ (London: Hodder and Stoughton,1906 ).
Stott, J., ‘The Message Of Revelation’, (Leicester : Inter- Varsity Press, 1975).
Trafton, J.L., ‘Reading Revelation: A Literary And Theological Commentary’ (Smyth and Helwys Publishing: Macon, 2005).