As we noted in our previous post, Revelation 12 depicts an abiding hostility between the Dragon and the Woman who flees to the Wilderness for safety. The conflict that unfolds in this chapter is similar to that which occurred in the Garden of Eden, as well as that which came upon Jesus when the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted. In Eden, God said one thing to Eve: “…thou shalt not eat…” (Genesis 2:17), and the Serpent said another: “Yea, hath God said …?” (Genesis 3:1). In the “wilderness of Judæa” God said one thing to Jesus: “This is my beloved Son…” (Matthew 3:1,17), and then in the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus to question God’s Word, saying “If thou be the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3). Eve’s decision came down to a choice between obedience stemming from belief, or the disobedience of unbelief. Would she believe the Word of God or the word of the serpent? The options presented to Jesus in Matthew 4 were essentially the same: would He trust His Father’s words, and reject the Devil, or would He trust the Devil’s words, and question His Father’s? In Revelation 12, the same choice is again laid before the Woman: will she trust the Word from the mouth of her Lord or succumb to the error that comes from the mouth of the Serpent?
There is much to assess here in the 12th chapter of Revelation, but among the most pressing matters at hand are the time frame of the events and the identities of the Woman and her Son. She was “with child … travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered” (Revelation 12:2). Among Roman Catholics the Woman is often interpreted to be Mary, and her Child, “the Incarnate Word” (e.g., John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater (1987)). The Woman is also interpreted by some Roman Catholics to be “God’s people in the Old and the New Testament,” and her child, “the Messiah” (US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Revelation 12). Some see the Woman of Revelation 12 fulfilled in the various apparitions of “Mary” over the centuries (Cycles of Salvation History, The Woman Clothed with the Sun).
Among Protestants, there is a general consensus that the Woman signifies the Church, but accompanying that consensus is a reluctance to identify the Man Child as Christ. Albert Barnes, for example, rejected the “incongruity in representing the Saviour as the Son of the Church, or representing the Church as giving birth to him,” for the Church was formed of Christ, not Christ of the Church (Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, Revelation Chapter 12 (1834)). E. B. Elliott, too, rejected the identification of the Man Child as Christ, for “Christ is no where called the Son of the Church, but its Husband” (Elliott, Horæ Apocalypticæ, vol 3, 2nd ed., Chapter 1, Apocalypse 12:1-12 (London: Seeley, Burnside & Seeley (1846) 10n). Both observe, as well, the apparent discordance in making the Woman of Revelation 12 to be Israel, for such symbolism would be “contrary to the whole tenor of the Apocalyptic prophecy” (Elliott, 11n), which focuses on the Church rather than the Jews.
Such interpretations as those of Barnes and Elliott tend to constrain the significance of the birth and ascent of the Man Child to a time frame well after Christ’s ascension, since they reject at the outset the identity of the Woman as National Israel and her Son as Jesus Christ. Barnes writes, “[t]he time there referred to is at the early period of the history of the church… “. He agrees here with Elliott who suggests a Nicæan or post-Nicæan fulfillment at a time when the church’s “rulers, or bishops, would be recognized as dignified authorities before the world.” To Elliott, the Woman’s place in heaven signifies a “political elevation … to recognition as a body politic” (Elliott, 10-12).
By such reasoning, the Woman is thus thought to be the newly formed or politically influential Church, and in some sense, so is the Man Child. Barnes, by way of one example, has the Child signifying the protected Church preserved in heaven, and the Woman signifying the persecuted Church on earth. Elliott, by way of another, has the Woman signifying the Church, and the Man Child signifying her many offspring, constituting a “dominant body politic” (Elliott, 10). As noted, Barnes’ and Elliott’s time frame is constrained by their assumptions, but those assumptions can easily be corrected with a few simple observations. Once corrected, the time frame of Revelation 12 shifts as well.
First, while it is true that Jesus is nowhere called the Son of the Church, He is nonetheless a Son of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15) and “Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). Further, the Church is said by Paul to be “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). The New Testament has Jesus coming “unto his own” nation (John 1:11), and then, rejected by it, conferring Israel’s blessings upon His Church comprised of Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors, lepers and sinners (e.g., Matthew 22:1-10). These are “of Israel” Paul says (Romans 9:6) for they are sons of Abraham by faith (Romans 4:13), inwardly Jewish by the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). In fact, this is precisely how Paul responded to the Jewish objection that saving Gentiles instead of Jews “make[th] the faith of God without effect” (Romans 3:3). Nay, Paul responds, it most certainly does not:
“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6)
Second, the transition from a National Jewish Israel to an Ecclesial Israel really is within the tenor of the narrative of Revelation. This is seen plainly in the sealing of the Church of the “hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation 7:4). These are they who continually appear throughout the narrative as God’s faithful obedient Church (Revelation 12:17, 14:12), untouched by the wiles of the Devil, marked as they are with “the seal of the living God” (Revelation 7:2). The narrative continually identifies them as they who do not wonder after the Beast or worship his Image, but obey the commandments of the Lord (Revelation 14:1, 14:12, 15:2, 20:4). These patient, obedient saints are the sons of Abraham by faith—faithful, Ecclesial Israel.
If the Woman of Revelation 12 is thus understood as National Israel from whom Jesus came, and transitioning to Ecclesial Israel which Jesus formed, then not only do the incongruities disappear, but the time frame also shifts significantly to the left. The labor pangs would thus have occurred before Christ’s birth, rather than after His ascension. The time frame of this transition from National to Ecclesial Israel is confirmed in two ways. First evaluating the heads, horns and crowns of Revelation 12 and 13, and second by mapping Michael’s intervention in Revelation 12 to his intervention in Daniel 12.
When comparing the crowns of the Serpent of chapter 12 with those of Beast of Revelation 13:1, we first observe that both the Serpent and the Beast are depicted as aggregations of the four beasts of Daniel 7, each with seven heads and ten horns. The Serpent has crowns on his heads (Revelation 12:3), signifying the seven heads of the four kingdoms of Daniel’s visions (Daniel 7:17, 8:22), all of which rose up and dominated while National Israel still existed. The Beast of Revelation 13:1, on the other hand, has crowns on his horns, signifying “ten kings” that would one day “receive power … one hour with the beast” (Revelation 17:12), well after National Israel had been destroyed. The Woman thus signifies an Israel persecuted by a succession of Beasts, from whom comes the Messiah, and then after His ascension a Christian Church, “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), who is the object of the Serpent’s ire (Revelation 12:17) and the Beast’s belligerence (Daniel 7:21, Revelation 13:7). She is Israel, in different manifestations, the whole time.
We may confirm this understanding of the time frame in Revelation 12 by comparing the Woman’s labor pains to the tribulations experienced by the people of God under the Greek and Roman empires in the book of Daniel. In both Daniel and Revelation 12 a Greek persecution is followed by a Roman oppression. During the Roman empire the salvation of God’s people is secured, an in both cases, the event is described in which Michael rises to intervene on their behalf. We see this first in Daniel 11:3-45 where the rise of the Greeks is depicted, under whom God’s people “fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil” (Daniel 11:33) in the reign of Antiochus IV. It is he who “cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them” (Daniel 8:10). Immediately upon the decline of the Greeks, the Roman empire begins, during which time Michael shall “stand up … for the children of thy people.” There is also “a time of trouble,” and “thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1).
Turning now to Revelation 12 we see the same sequence, the Woman’s birth pangs being depicted for us in similar terms: a persecution of God’s people under the Greek empire, leading up to the Incarnation under the Roman, during which empire Michael adopts a defensive posture on behalf of the people of God. The first manifestation of the Woman’s labors takes place under the reign of Antiochus IV, when the serpent’s “tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth” (Revelation 12:4), a plain reference to Antiochus’ casting “the stars to the ground” in Daniel 8:10. Turning from that watershed event of the Greek era, John then invites our attention to an event in the Roman era in which “Herod will seek the young child to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13). John’s reference to the Dragon that was ready “to devour her child as soon as it was born” (Revelation 12:4) is a plain reference to that event. Escaping Herod’s grasp, Christ takes His place on the throne of God. “Michael and his angels” go to war on behalf of God’s people (Revelation 12:7), and the Devil is cast down and persecutes the Woman. She flies to the wilderness for safety, and the Dragon lets loose a flood that he might ensnare her by his errors (Revelation 12:13-15). Only they whose names are “written in the book of life” escape the great deception that he visits upon the world (Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:15).
By mapping the events of Revelation 12 to those depicted in Daniel we can thus establish not only the identities of the Woman and the Man Child, but the time frame of the events as well. The Woman begins as National Israel suffering under Greek persecution and Roman oppression. The Man Child is Christ who lived, died, rose and ascended to God’s throne during the Roman Empire, delivering the Woman, who has now transitioned to Ecclesial Israel. During the 4th Empire, Michael goes to war, the Devil is cast down and persecutes the Woman. As the 4th Empire fully disintegrates into its constituent fragments and the 5th Empire rises, the Woman flees to her place of refuge, undergoes further persecution by the Beast, but is protected from the wiles for the Devil and nourished on a steady diet of the Word of God. It is by means of such nourishment that they whose names are written in the book get the “victory over the beast, and over his image” (Revelation 15:2).
The time frame thus depicted in Revelation 12 encompasses the period from the rise of Antiochus IV and his 1,290 days of desolating and polluting the temple (Daniel 12:11) and “scatter[ing] the power of the holy people” (Daniel 12:7), to the late 4th century rise of Roman Catholicism and its 1,260 year period of earthly dominion, all of which includes the casting down of “the host and of the stars to the ground” (Daniel 8:10, Revelation 12:4), the Incarnation, the transition from National to Ecclesial Israel, the rise of Michael to defend the people of God (Daniel 12:1, Revelation 12:7), the casting of the Devil down to earth, his civil persecution of the people of God (Revelation 2:10), the flood of error that comes from his mouth in an attempt to carry the Woman away, the transfer of Satan’s “power, and his seat, and great authority” to Roman Catholicism (Revelation 13:1) and the Woman’s endurance of the Beast’s civil oppression and the Devil’s continued doctrinal war against her. We will cover the whole period in this present series and will unfold this in greater detail in each installment. The Woman, as we shall see, followed the example of her Savior, and withstood the Devil’s temptations.
On a side note, for those interested in our analysis of Daniel, and particularly why we see Antiochus IV depicted in Daniel 8:9-26, Daniel 9:27, Daniel 11:21-39 and Daniel 12:7-12, and why we see his 1,290 days as literal, we invite their attention to our series of articles on that topic:
The Leviticus 26 Protocol
Rightly Dividing the Weeks
The Seventieth Week of Daniel 9
The Intercalation of Time
All the Evenings and Mornings
Reduction of the Diadochi
The Bounds of Their Habitation
The Shifting Frame
When North was North…
…and South was South
Pirates in the Bay
The Single Frame Hypothesis
Convention of the Angelic Narrators
Our thoughts on Daniel are largely summarized there, and we will not recapitulate them here.
However, we will conclude this inaugural entry of this new series by returning briefly to Elliott that we might highlight the danger of miscalculating the time frame of Revelation 12, as we believe he did. As noted above, Elliott understood a Nicæan or post-Nicæan fulfillment of the Woman, her place in heaven suggestive of the sway of her political power. In the process, Elliott made a stipulation that essentially granted to Roman Catholicism her most precious claim—that the seat of the Beast is the very throne of God:
“[W]e may interpret the man-child of whom the spiritual Zion, or Church of Christ, appeared travailing to be delivered,—not as the Child Jesus, born at Bethlehem, an explanation on no account admissible,—but as its children united into a body politic and raised to dominant power; with the accompaniments of deliverance, triumph, and glory attending their nationalization and elevation. … It seems clear, that whatever the woman’s hope in her travail, the lesser consummation was the one figured in the man-child’s birth and assumption; viz. the elevation of the christians first to recognition as a body politic, then very quickly to the supremacy of the throne in the Apocalyptic world, i. e. the Roman Empire a throne which, as thenceforth christian, might consequently thenceforth, just like Solomon’s, be designated as the throne of God. Seated on this, it appeared, the christian body would, after a little while, coerce the heathens of the empire and rule them even as with a rod of iron.” (Elliott, 11-12)
As we highlighted in One Kingdom Too Late, and “The Kingdom of Earth is at Hand,” Roman Catholicism — and many Protestants with her — has misunderstood Daniel to teach that God’s people would enjoy an earthy kingdom shortly after His Incarnation. But Daniel prophesied a heavenly kingdom “in the days of those kings” (Daniel 2:44), not an earthly one, and both John and Jesus came preaching that the Heavenly Kingdom was nigh (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). When asked, Jesus insisted that He had not come this time to establish an earthly one (John 6:15, 18:36). Daniel also prophesied (Daniel 7:24-25), and John confirmed (Revelation 13:1-5), the rise of an earthly kingdom—of which kingdom the people of God were sternly warned —for that kingdom would make war with and prevail over the saints (Daniel 7:21; Revelation 13:7). The seat of that earthly kingdom would be the Harlot city of Rome that currently “reigneth over the kings of the earth” at the time of John’s vision (Revelation 17:18). Harlot Rome is by no means under any circumstances “the throne of God.”
Elliott’s mistake—and it was a big one—was to translate the Woman’s elevated position from heaven back to earth again, and thus to weigh down that Woman of heavenly beauty with the earthly encumbrances of such civil power that she might “coerce the heathens” and rule over them. Such sway the saints do not possess until Christ’s return in glory (Revelation 19:15). Before then, it is the Devil (Revelation 2:10) and the Beast (Revelation 13:5-10) who leverage earthly civil power for coercion, not the lovely Woman of the Lord’s enduring affection.
To assign to the Woman such political power and sway not only sets up an earthly kingdom too soon, but also plays right into the hands of Roman Catholicism—for who succeeded the Roman Empire, but Roman Catholicism, and who coerced “the heathens” by the imperial sword, but the Pope and his minions? Such reasoning as Elliott’s legitimizes the bloody rise of Damasus I and the fraudulent claim of primacy by him and his successors, which we described in our previous post, forcing the offspring of the Woman to trace their roots through the tainted, political intrigues and harlotry of Papal Roman Catholicism, robbing them of the heavenly purity of their legitimate apostolic ancestry. Our ancestry is traced not through harlot Rome, but through the lineage of that heavenly Woman of Revelation 12.
Of that ancestry, we will continue in our next installment.