A. Past Lessons
- The First Four Trumpets (8:6-13)
- The Fifth Trumpet Brings the First Terror (9:1-12)
- The Sixth Trumpet Brings the Second Terror (9:13-21)
- The Mighty Angel and the Small Scroll (Rev 10)
- The Two Witnesses (Rev 11:1-14)
- The Seventh Trumpet Reveals the Third Terror (Rev 11:15-19)
B. Text of Revelation 12:1-6
“1Then a great sign was seen in heaven: A woman clothed in the sun, the moon was under her feet, and on hear head was a crown with twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and cried out in her birth pains and she was tormented to give birth. 3Then another sign came from heaven. Behold! A large fiery-red dragon had seven heads and ten horns. On his seven heads were seven crowns. 4The dragon’s tail swept one-third of the stars from the sky and threw them down to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth so that when she gave birth to her child he might devour the child. 5Then she gave birth to a male son. He was about to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. But, the child was taken to God and to his heaven. 6The woman fled into the wilderness—a place which had been prepared by God—in order that she could be nourished for 1,260 days.” (Rev 12:1-6)[/ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own based on the NA28 text[/ref]
Photo Credit: Phillip Medhurst Collection
C. General Remarks
“Chapter 12 can be characterized as a flashback, telling of the birth of the Messiah and the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus soon after he was born. However, instead of telling this as a historical narrative in a straightforward manner as Matthew does (Matt 2), John presents a heavenly tableau of characters that are portrayed with sensational Near Eastern imagery. In describing the tableau John borrows old apocalyptic motifs, some of which have their roots in a dim and distant past. Striking parallels have been found in Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, and Greek mythology, and in astrological lore.” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 72)
QUESTION: WHAT IS A JEW OR GENTILE? AS WE HAVE READ THE BOOK OF REVELATION DO YOU FEEL THAT THE BOOK HAS MORE OF A “JEWISH” OR “GENTILE” BACKGROUND AND MESSAGE?
II. THE FIRST SIGN: A WOMAN (Rev 12:1-2)
A. Outer Description (v. 1)
Καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον, καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς στέφανος ἀστέρων δώδεκα,
“Then a great sign was seen in heaven: A woman clothed in the sun, the moon was under her feet, and on her head was a crown with twelve stars.” (Rev 12:1)
1. Sign, Not Event
What John sees is a “sign” not an “event.” In my translation above I have listed it as a “great sign was seen in heaven” while the New Living Translation (which I often use) says that it was “an event of great significance.” Mulholland correctly notes, “A ‘sign’ may be an event, but not necessarily. In this case, the sign is not an event, but a person—a ‘woman’” (Mulholland, “Revelation” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 504).
One of my favorite commentators on the book of Revelation—Robert Thomas—who sees most of the book as literal and future events even concedes that this is a “sign.” This little word “shows that the woman who constitutes the sign is not an actual woman, but symbolically represents some other entity or group” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 119). Regarding these signs Osborne comments, “Here the woman and her adversary, the dragon, are ‘signs’ that alert the reader to the key conflict of the book” (Osborne, Revelation, 456).