Signs in the Heavens
Here in Chapter 12 we see “signs in heaven.” We see the “mother, the child, and the dragon.” Sandwiched between the trumpets and the bowls, chapters 12-14 are the heart of the book of Revelation, and can supply some key points for interpreting the rest of the book.
We see “signs”, or better stated, “symbols” in the book. Greeks would apply this style of language to Constellations, such as in this case, things like Virgo: the Virgin, and Hydra: the Serpent. Differences in portrayal suggests that Revelation communicates a unique point, whatever the images used may be. Although the reference to the heavens here in chapter 12 could very well be seen in the cosmos images, the Old Testament is, like with all this Book, the place for gleaning its interpretation. There are 404 verses in the Book of Revelation. There are 590 Old Testament verses quoted or alluded to within them. Nearly 1.5 Old Testament verses referenced for each of the 404 verses that compile this book!!! So when a preacher or denomination tell you that the Old Testament isn’t important because we are under the New Covenant, recognize that that is stupidity at the highest level. Ughhhh…..
Before looking at the text, I wanna offer a brief outline of the use of the constellations as an interpretation. The birth and death of Jesus Christ, using the tradition of 33 A.D. is very fallable. Biblically, Jesus died on a Wednesday during passover. There was no Wednesday passover in 33 A.D., so the traditional year of His crucifixion is utterly wrong. 28 A.D. and 31 A.D. were two years with a Wednesday passover. Scholars have put 31 A.D. as the actual year of His passion and resurrection, making His birth 3 B.C., (due to errors with the Gregorian Calendar), which coincides with Herod’s death when Jesus was around 2 years old, as portrayed in scripture. Although September 11th is relevant to us in America, it is actually insignificant to the Biblical discussion, (unless you’re another dispensational merchandiser of the gospel looking for some hooky spooky information that sounds cool, intending to sell a book). But yeah….September 11, 3 B.C. was actually Tishri 1, the Jewish New Year, and also birthdate of Noah as well. When looking at the date of Tishri 1, in 3 B.C., the image below, (using a program called Starry Night), I rolled back the cosmos to this date, and it shows what was present in the heavens at the moment of His birth around 6:30pm in Israel on Tishri 1.
In the stars, you have Virgo, the Virgin, “clothed with the Sun”, an astronomical term used when the Sun is present “within” a constellation. Virgo the Virgin, the only woman present, can appear with the Sun in her midst for 20 days. And then you have the moon present “at her feet”, with Hydra the Serpent standing before her, and so on. The Moon can only appear at her feet for an 80 minute window!! So we can see the timing involved in this event. If you look in Norton’s Star Atlas, or any other atlas of the constellations, there will be 12 visible stars present around her head. All of this symbology was well known in the Ancient Near East. So there is much symbolism present in this image of the stars, so much as even having the “Sun” in her belly, or mid-section, denoting pregnancy of a virgin, a dragon standing before her with “seven heads” and “ten crowns”. Not a coincidence!! And this would have all occurred long before the birth of this writer, John. So…..
The heavens definitely declare the glory of God, and based on Genesis 1, the heavens are a display that God uses to communicate to His people. But following the context, and hermeneutical rule of the book of Revelation, the intent of the writer is found within Old Testament allusions and symbolic images. So let’s look at Chapter 12 in that light.
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
If we look at the identity of the mother in 12:1 using the same method of discerning the rest of the book thusfar, (the Old Testament), we see this “mother” here as the forerunner of the faithful bride, the New Jerusalem. She is portrayed as the opposite of the prostitute, Babylon. Prophets portrayed righteous Israel as the mother of the restored future remnant of Israel, such as in Isaiah 54:1, 66:7-10, Micah 4: 9-10, and 5:3, with the Messiah. We have a mixed image of mother and bride in Isaiah 62:5. Mixing metaphors was more allowed back then than apparently it is today. Maybe the actual authors knew something that we fail to today? Hmm…there’s a thought!
The sun, moon, and stars? Where do we see those three things appear in a classic Biblical story? Joseph’s dream. The sun represented his father, the moon depicted his mother, and the 12 stars portrayed the 12 tribes of Israel. So this image would have been commonly understood in this day of writing as Israel’s faithful remnant.
Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.
This woman goes into labor pains here in verses 2 and 3. Israel, as the restored future remnant of Israel, is often portrayed as being in labor. Again, we have that in Isaiah 54, and in ch 66, and in Micah chapters 4 & 5. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Qumran hymns, the period of tribulation is depicted as childbirth, bringing forth a new community. God promises suffering, pregnant Israel in Isaiah 26:17-18, that she will bear new life with the resurrection. Then in the following verses, 26:20-27:1, it identifies that as the day of God’s wrath, the day he will slay the serpent. This is all some of the background for these verses, along with some Greek background, as we’re about to see.
And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.
The serpent, or dragon, here is indicative of Psalm 74:14, referring to Leviathon, who was said to have had many heads. Canaanite writings specifically spoke of this serpent as having 7 heads (see image with verse 14), which is the case here, (along with every other thing in Revelation, unless it is marked by 12. LOL!)
Here it is specifically the “ancient” serpent in Revelation 12:9, which is the Deceiver from Genesis 3. We read about God’s conquest of Leviathan in Psalm 74:14 and Isaiah 27:1. Jesus crushed the serpents head. The serpent, sometimes called Leviathon, and at times called Rahab, being conquered is often Old Testament lingo. Rahab, here, doesn’t refer to the harlot Rahab, but more specifically as a type of spiritual code name for Egypt, much like we saw in the use of Jerusalem being called Babylon, or a false prophetess referred to as Jezebel. Rahab would depict the image of Egypt being defeated in the sea, in Psalm 89:10, Isaiah 37, and in Isaiah 51:9, provoking imagery of Leviathan being defeated in the sea.
But some of these images are sort of recycled with new meanings, not only in the Biblical imagery applied here, but also seen in Greek and Egyptian images as well. For example, in the Egyptian myth, goddess Isis, (or earlier known as, Hathor), (considered the source of all others), associated with “light” and “re-birth”, with the sun on her head, birthed the god Horus. And the Red Dragon, Typhon, sought to slay her, but she escaped to an island, and Horus overthrew the dragon.
In the Greek version of this myth, the great dragon, Python, was warned that he would be slain by Leto’s son, and he was pursued by the pregnant Leto. Poseidon hid Leto on an island and submerged it. After Python left, Leto birthed Apollo, and four days later he was strong enough to go slay the dragon.
Another cultural influence of these myths was seen in Rome, with the allusions to its emperor worship, because some emperors associated themselves with Apollo. Ancient artwork portrays Rome as a mother goddess and its emperor as her child, or “savior of the world.”
But in this allegory, the conqueror is not Apollo, or Horus, or some Roman emperor, who were actually servants of this Biblical dragon, Satan. Here it is the risen Son of God, Jesus Christ who slays the enemy of God; the crucified leader of a persecuted people. Mythology focused on their false god’s birth, but Revelation focuses on the risen King’s exaltation and enthronement, which is exactly how Psalm 2 is portrayed in the New Testament in Acts 13 and Hebrews 1.
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.
The fall of the stars? In Revelation 1:20, we saw that stars often represent angels, which is further seen in 1 Enoch, and throughout Old Testament books. This reference here could lead one to believe this was the fall of the angels, which Jewish people often saw in Genesis 6, when the Sons of God took on human form and lay with the daughters of men. Jude refers to that as them having “left their first estate.” But the imagery here is not talking about something that happened back in Genesis. The imagery here is reapplied Christocentrically, or in light of Jesus, and His victory on the Cross. The greatest revolt of Satan and his angels did not occur in the Garden of Eden, nor in Noah’s era, but from the time that Jesus Christ was born in opposition to His incarnate mission. All of a sudden, in the Gospels, we see an uprising of demonic attacks and demonization of multitudes of men, women, and children. Jesus’ enthronement spelled out the defeat of Satan, as we will see in verses 7-9 in this chapter.
She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne,
The child represented is clearly Jesus who rules with a rod of iron, as depicted in Revelation 19:15. His servants are depicted as reigning with Him in Revelation 2:27. But here He is identified as reigning Himself. Other children who follow Jesus are mentioned later in this passage, but the One who is caught up here is Jesus, and not His followers.
This story in chapter 12 is the centerpiece of the Book of Revelation, and it’s history, and no one else can be the central role of it all other than Jesus.
and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
Verses 5 and 6 portrays the likeness of a new “Exodus”, which was prophesied by the prophets. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” in Isaiah 40, depicts a new exodus, where God gathers His people back to the land. Hosea 2 parakeets the same inference. Historically, because of this knowledge, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, some had even moved in that day to the wilderness awaiting this “new exodus.” There were false “messiahs” that even rose up in the wilderness, in that day, being that it was the one place they could gather a crowd of people to evade the watch of the Roman eye. Biblically and historically, the wilderness was often sought for a place of hiding, or refuge. Like we saw with the Egyptian and Greek myths in prior verses, their fleeing mothers escaped to an island. Though here it is not an island, but a wilderness. This is to strengthen the “New Exodus” allusion, being that the original Exodus was to a…….wilderness.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the tribulation was said to be 40 years long. How long is it said to be here? It is said to be 1,260 days, which alludes back to Daniel’s vision of a 3.5 year tribulation. Revelation reapplies a lot of imagery from traditional Jewish symbols from the Old Testament to symbolize a new message application. So when is this Great Tribulation? John is reapplying the time of tribulation Christocentrically. He applies it symbolically for the type of time (a period of trial), rather than a literal length of time. Like all numbers in Revealtion, this too is symbolic, not a literal 3.5 years. It is the time span between the first and second comings of Christ. Think of it this way, Satan’s defeat and Christ’s kingdom came 2000 years ago, but neither are summated physically yet. Jesus’ followers can walk in victory now by the Spirit empowering them to live the commands of God, yet there is a day coming, the Eschaton, in which the physical Kingdom comes, and Satan’s physical binding will occur, and he is removed from the earth and bound in darkness, unable to influence Christ’s physical Kingdom on the earth. Jesus is King in Christ. He has come, and His Spirit abides in His followers on the earth. Yet He will return in body to reign in His visible Kingdom restored.
Biblically, the Great Tribulation is the period between Christ’s two advents. Acts 2, 1 Timothy 4, 2 Timothy 2, and 2 Peter 3 all declare this span of time as being the Last Days, or the age of the Great Tribulation. Satan has been spiritually defeated, but not yet bound. From the resurrection of Jesus until the return of Jesus, Satan’s kingdom will rage against the people of Christ because he knows time is running out, for he and his angels. The King is coming!
So how do we know this Last Days/ Great Tribulation theme is what is being portrayed in light of scripture? Revelation rarely takes imagery from Old Testament passages without applying them thru Jesus. Revelation is full of symbolic numbers. For instance, we mentioned in Revelation 2 how John used Daniel’s reference of “10 days tribulation” to symbolically point the 1st century audience, not to the number as being literal, but to the imagery of the persecution Daniel spoke of. Referencing the passage took the hearer’s mind to a scene in the Bible that they well knew, and it cast a vision of what Jesus was warning them of to look like. The number was irrelevant. The context of the suffering wasn’t.
Daniel did the same thing to Jeremiah’s words and number. Jeremiah gave a 70 years prophecy that spoke of restoration after the 70 years. After those 70 years something had in fact happened but it wasn’t the complete thing spoken. Daniel sought God for an answer and learned that the 70 years were not 70 literal years, but 70 sabbatical years (70×7), which was 490 literal years, or 70 weeks of years. And the final half of 7, or half week of that, 3.5 years, would be the the Great Tribulation in Daniel 9.
Daniel mentions the “abomination of desolation” three times. 1) Daniel 9, where it is applied to Titus destroying the Temple in 70A.D. 2) Daniel 11 seems to denote the context of what Antiochus Epiphanes did in 165 BC, with his attack on Jerusalem, and slaughter of many Jews. And 3) Daniel 12 seems to merge right into the final tribulation, as if all of these are alike, and point to the fact that as long as there is sin, and a “Temple” to be desecrated, then judgment will come.
Revelation reapplies Daniel’s number. How do we know that Revelation does with Daniel what happened between Daniel and Jeremiah? Well, it’s very unlikely, if Revelation is written in the 90’s, that Revelation is referring to what Daniel meant literally, because Jesus referred to the events about which Daniel spoke, with the abomination of desolation, and of the desolating sacrilege, taking place within a generation. And in fact, the Temple was desecrated and destroyed within a generation between 66 to 70A.D. Some other Jews also symbolically reapplied Daniel’s figure for the tribulation, but it’s the context of Revelation 12 that settles the matter. It goes on to speak of how salvation has come, and as we’ll see, there are only certain periods to which that can apply. Also Jesus’ exaltation immediately precedes the tribulation here!
Read Revelation 12:5-6 and pay close attention to the sequence.
1) Israel gives birth to Messiah Jesus, who is to rule with a rod of iron
2) But He is caught up to God and to His throne; Jesus is exalted as Lord
3) The woman, remnant of Israel, the Temple of God/ the Church, enters the wilderness, (the place of testing), and the tribulation through which the Bride is strengthened begins. No, this verse does not refer to Petra in Jordan, where God will create a supernatural forcefield around the Jews to protect them from nuclear missiles. LOLOL! Though that does make for a better scifi movie!
John, the author of the Book of Revelation, declares, even himself, as a fellow companion to this book’s audience, in tribulation. The 1,260 days are not literal, but are applied, as we said, Christocentrically. This book is about Jesus, His call for a holy Bride, and His imminent return.
“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “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 brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
Celestial combat: Satan is expelled. When has this occurred? At the time of Jesus’ triumph through His death and resurrection. Satan is defeated as Jesus defeats Death, Hell, and the Grave. Jesus has taken the proverbial keys and is now exalted as Lord of lords.
Christ’s earthly victory is part of the celestial battle. There is a theme in the Qumran war scrolls of an end-time conflict. So this also applies to a climatic spiritual battle, like we see in Revelation 19. At the Cross, the victory was decided. Michael, the warrior prince of Israel, is seen singlehandedly fighting off angel princes of other nations in Daniel 10. And here in this depiction, Michael leads the battle of the hosts of heaven. But Michael only acts out of Divine authorization in scripture, as exemplified in Jude 9. The short footnote for spiritual warfare is that, how we as believers behave, forgive, and treat one another on earth, directly affects the battle going on in the heavenly realm. So our angels fight for us, or have to stand down based upon our application, or rebellion to the Word of God. So we see a correlation in this book’s narrative here, that what is taking place in heaven is directly a result of what was taking place on earth.
Michael is ordered to stand down in Daniel 12:1 so spiritual Israel, could experience the final tribulation, to which some believe to be the point of the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. But here in Revelation 12, Michael and his angels expel Satan and his forces. Michael and his angels are directly aligned to Christ and His victory taking place on earth at that moment. Jesus declared to the Apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and likewise, whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Obedience is not negotiable. The rewards for it are great, and the consequences for its lack are far reaching. Our spiritual warfare hinges upon our submission to Christ and His Word.
When Christ the intercessor ascended, Satan the accuser had to descend. In the Old Covenant, Satan’s highest role was Accuser/ Slanderer, as seen in Zechariah 3, Job 1, and Job 2. Hence the Hebrew name, Ha’Sa’tan הַשָּׂטָן, “the accuser.” His literal name is Helel הֵילֵל, but Satan is more of a job title, rather than a proper name. Christ’s victory here silences the satan. Romans 8 says, “If Christ is for us who can be against us?” In other words, if Jesus is interceding on our behalf, who is there to accuse us? Whose words have more weight than He who paid our ransom? He, to whom the ransom was owed, is rendered powerless when paid his ransom. He no longer has an ear to which to accuse us because we are freed of his hold through the blood, appropriated through faithfulness and obedience to Christ.
1 Peter 1:2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
So how do God’s people appropriate this victory on earth? Revelation 12:11 tells us: They overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the Word of their testimony.” We are victorious the same way Jesus was: through faithfulness to the Word, and through martyrdom in laying down our lives to doing His will, or even literally by death, if required. The Lamb’s blood requires that we cannot be accused before God any more, just as the pascal lamb delivered the Jews from the plagues of Egypt.
“…And they loved not their lives unto death.” This is the part of Revelation 12:11 that is rarely quoted, because it is the part of the high requirement upon us for salvation. It contradicts the “salvation without works” motif. Dying to this life is a prerequisite to salvation. No, Jesus hasn’t paid it all in this context, because He cannot die to us, for us. Yes, he died for our sins to be erased. But He could not die for our obedience. That is the salvation that you and I work out, as Paul said; a Salvation that is appropriated by faith(fulness.)
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
The Saints who dwell in heaven command the heavenly hosts to rejoice at the fact that Christ’s Kingdom has been established, Satan has lost his accusatorial position in heaven, and the Saints can overcome his accusations through Christ’s atonement. A woe is directed to the realm of earth, because the devil “has been cast down” to it, or confined to it. The woe is heralded because the devil will now concentrate all his efforts on causing chaos among the inhabitants of earth, since he can no longer have a voice in heaven before Christ.
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
Verse 13 picks up where both verses 6 and 12 left off. Verse 6 told us of the people of God fleeing to a place of refuge, yet never elaborated any detail about the persecution of the dragon. Verse 12 explained that the devil was angered over having lost his prosecuting position as accuser in the heavenly courts, due to his inability to thwart the birth of the Messiah, and even more so, His exaltation, and enthronement.
It is the woman’s identification with the “male child” that causes the dragon to persecute her. As we have seen, it is NOT, literal Israel, but the remnant born out of Israel, The Church. The church is identified with Christ, who threw the devil down. Therefore his only remaining tactic is to cause physical harm to those who pledge loyalty to Jesus. This remnant is promised a crown of life if they remain faithful and refuse to compromise to the beast, no matter what.
Jesus, after the 70 returned amazed that demons were subject to them, says, “I beheld Satan fall as lighting to the earth.” Jesus was using Satan’s initial fall from grace to reapply it to his soon defeat and loss of power over the people of God. Jesus has empowered His faithful to walk upon the powers of the Enemy, and his forces.
But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.
The image is projected here that God provides the woman with “eagle wings”, which likely refers to His own divine help, such as Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 32, where God bears up His people on eagles wings. Isaiah 40:31 says that those who wait upon Yahweh will mount up on the wings of eagles, which denotes the salvation of the Lord.
The reference to being strengthened in the wilderness is pointing to the strengthening that comes through testing or trials, which is tribulation, and also to the manna in the wilderness where we await God’s divine providence and daily Bread, as we pray for it.
An Ugaritic artifact depicting a seven headed, fiery backed, dragon called Lotan being fought by the god, Ba’al.
The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.
In Exodus, as we mentioned, God overthrew the serpent who lived in the waters, which is declared in Psalm 74:13, Ezekiel 29:3, and 32:2. The “water from the mouth” refers to slander and false accusations. Satan’s agents function this way in Revelation 2:9 and in 3:9. A flood represents unjust opposition in both Psalm 18 and 124. “Mouths” is used in Revelation to denote speech. In the next chapter, in verses 2-6, we will see words of blasphemy and arrogance spew from the dragon’s and his prophet’s mouths. And we will see in Revelation 14:6 that God’s people have no lie in their mouths. So we see a contrast between a Kingdom of Truth and a kingdom of deceit. Psalm 140, contextually, speaks of the enemy spewing slander against the righteous. Here this deluge of false witness against the Bride brings her great persecution, but she will be lifted up to the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall she ever be with the Lord! In Isaiah 43, God has promised to bring His people safely through the waters.
But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.
There is sweet irony seen here in the fact that the earth’s mouth opens up to swallow the flood proceeding from the dragon’s mouth. In Greek mythology, the dragon was the son of the earth. But here, the earth is God’s servant, and swallows the enemy of God, along with its works. It alludes to the Exodus 15 story where the sea swallows up the Egyptians, and the episode of Corē, where they were swallowed by the earth. The Lake of Fire, made for the Devil and his angels, swallows up all people who bow their lives to the Beast.
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
So how does the Dragon wage war on the Saints? The answer comes in Chapter 13, when the king beast and the priest beast demand worship, and bring economic refusal, and martyrdom to all saints who will not bow their lives, and compromise to the world financial system, and the false church who waters down the message of Christ, promoting self preservation, compromise, and a false way of salvation.
Will we love Jesus Christ so much that we will lay down our desires and lives for His Name’s sake?