Revelation (Part 26): Woman Gives Birth
Revelation is a book about the redemption story. From what has bee discussed so far throughout this Revelation series, we see the outline of the book clearly. Just like a book, it has the beginning information--a prologue or preface—and an ending after the story—the epilogue. Between the prologue and epilogue is the story divided into three parts: the Planning of redemption (based on showing the need), the Publishing of redemption (accomplished through the atonement), and the Perfecting of redemption (celebrated in the removal of evil and fulfillment of the Zion purpose of everlasting relationship of God and his created image bearers).
We have yet to cover two additional parts of the outline to this redemption story book. One is the Introduction, which follows the prologue but gives important information before presenting the redemption story. That introduction, found in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, is intended for the readers of the book, the God-focused—the churches of Jesus Christ. Although Revelation recounts the redemption story, that story has not been completely played out yet in history. We are in that story, moving from the first advent of Christ to the second, which falls from the Publishing of redemption to the Perfecting of redemption. The introduction, then, identifies those in this story for whom the book is written—us, the followers of Christ, the God-focused. This period in which we live, this interadvental time, includes both the God-focused and the Human-focused—those who accept God’s revelation of redemption to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God and those who reject that revelation, claiming themselves as standard for truth, goodness, and beauty. Of course, because truth, goodness, and beauty actually come from and exist only with God, those opposing God are actually filled with and operating in evil, making it incredibly difficult for the God-focused of this age. As we read the Introduction (chapters 2 and 3) of this book of Revelation, we find encouragement for the God-focused who live in this difficult time. It is for reassurance and support to be able to endure through the suffering of this period.
The other part of the story’s outline is a fuller description of this current difficult time. Because this part of the story actually occurs between the Publishing and Perfecting of the redemption story, that point is exactly where God positions this discussion. Sandwiched between the Publishing of chapters 8 through 11 and the Perfecting of chapters 20 through 22 is this discussion of the Human-focused of this age in chapters 12 through 19. It is to this section that we will first turn our attention.
Since this section on the Hunan-focused begins with the Publishing of redemption (the accomplishment through the atonement), it would seem that the very start (Revelation 12) would discuss this event, and indeed that is what we read. This whole Human-focused section is flooded with figurative language—symbols, types, and metaphors. But holding tightly to context, we should not become overwhelmed. Remember that Revelation is not providing some new, different knowledge of God or his plan. It rehearses and summarizes what we already know from the rest of Scripture concerning God’s redemptive plan in order to focus on our enduring through it in sight of the glorious hope of everlasting life with God. With that boundary on our imaginations, we will see the images in proper context.
Chapter 12 begins with a woman clothed with the sun, moon, and twelve stars. Because this woman gives birth to a male child that almost everyone considers to be Christ, many interpreters (predominantly Roman Catholic) understand the woman to be Mary. However, assuming the woman to be Mary simply because a woman is giving birth to the Christ figure ignores both context and OT imagery. Most protestants see a connection between the woman and Israel. The image seems very close to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37 in which he describes the sun, moon, and eleven stars (father, mother, and eleven brothers) bowing down to him. Of course, with Joseph himself as the twelfth star we find the full family of Israel. The result then is that most protestants, whether futurist, preterist, or idealist, understand the woman to be Israel producing the Messiah. (Many historicists and some others consider the woman as the church producing children for God.) Interesting that futurists (mostly priding themselves as literalists) understand the woman as Israel as well.
Based on the context we have already discussed, it would seem quite natural to regard this woman as Israel, but I think we need to take a more specific step. OT Israel, although certainly the offspring of Jacob/Israel and the nation known as the people of God, was itself used by God as an image. Israel stood for God’s redemptive plan to realize his Zion purpose. And everything about OT Israel, including kingship, land, offspring, and Jerusalem, the city set on a hill, contributed to that image. Therefore, while I do agree that this woman of Revelation 12 seems to indicate Israel, it is the Israel of God’s broader context—his redemptive old covenant plan.
When speaking of the old covenant, we need to be careful to describe exactly what is meant. Sometimes the old covenant is in used in reference to the original Adamic covenant of God providing truth, goodness, and beauty—life—while human kind was to trust God for his TGB. At other times, the old covenant may be used specifically to speak of the Mosaic covenant—the Law. In our discussion here, I’m using old covenant to refer to that portion of God’s redemptive covenant (plan) that focused on the bringing forth of a Redeemer. That encompassed the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants in part. When Christ came he fulfilled that old covenant—God’s self-imposed obligation to bring forth a Redeemer. The new covenant of application of redemption then began.
So this Rev 12 woman—this Israel image of God’s old covenant redemptive plan to bring forth a Redeemer—is pictured in this chapter as pregnant, bringing forth that very Redeemer who is our Christ. She has labor pains, indicating the difficulty for Israel in bringing forth that Redeemer.
Before her appears a red dragon. In Revelation 20, we already discussed that the Greek word dragon comes from a root that means to gaze upon in awe, which is exactly what we’d probably do if a dragon were to appear nearby. And it is also a fitting description for Satan who seeks to grab the gaze, admiration, and imagination of people. Although not all translations include it (like NIV and HCSB), the Greek plays on the looking, saying, in effect, “Look, there is a dragon (beast to look upon)!” The dragon is red, indicating war and violence. And the dragon has seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns. The crowns indicate authority. The number seven is a number of completion. And the number ten indicates a judicial completion (10 plagues, 10 commandments, the tithe, etc.). What we are to see in this is Satan’s seeming complete authority over the evil of the world—the head or instigator of the attack against redemption.
We must understand this consistently to get it correct. Sad to say, even many idealists (amillennialists) seem to get confused here. Everything about this picture so far is figurative—a woman for God’s Israel plan, a dragon for Satan, pregnancy showing the coming about of the Redeemer, stars of heaven (either angels [unlikely] or disobedient Israelites [likely) being cast down. We see imagery at every point. And yet as soon as the woman gives birth, almost everyone looks at it as the literal event of Mary giving birth to Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. Verse 5 tells us that after the birth, her child is caught up to God, and the commentators usually state that John skips over the life of Christ to go directly to his ascension to God. But no! If this woman is not Mary and is God’s old covenant plan bringing forth a Redeemer, we must consider how Jesus became Redeemer—not simply how he was physically born. The birth of Jesus AS REDEEMER (not as physical person) occurred through the delivery of his life, death, and resurrection! The birth in this scene is the atonement accomplished through all that Jesus did in his first advent. And thus, as he came through that birth (life, death, resurrection), he then ascended, as Paul, Priscilla, and Peter say, to the right hand of God making intercession for us (Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).