First impressions can be comically wrong. Maybe the first time you met your best friend you thought he/she was totally obnoxious. Or maybe the first time you listened to your favorite band you thought their music sounded weird. Sometimes our first impressions are spot on, but many times people, art, and most aspects of our daily lives require more consideration than a first impression.
Revelation 12, like all biblical texts, also requires more than a first impression. Taken at face value, it could qualify as one of the weirdest passages of Scripture. What could be more shocking than the image of a woman giving birth to a Baby with a dragon waiting to devour that Baby as soon as it’s delivered? If you had a dream like that, you’d probably call it a nightmare–not a word from God. However, that scene is in the Word of God, and it’s there for a reason. We have to push beyond our first impression to see what it’s depicting and what it means.
The Main Characters of Revelation 12
Let’s first read Revelation 12:16 to get a picture of what this passage is describing. Then, we’ll come back and work through it to explain the imagery that’s drawn from the rest of Scripture.
“Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.”
A little confused? A little disturbed? That’s okay. You’re not the first, nor the last, Christian to have a strong first impression of this passage. We’ll start with the Baby. In this passage, we see this Child is meant to rule all the nations with an iron rod, and He will be brought up to God’s throne. When put this way, the identity of this Boy should become apparent. The Boy represents Jesus. Especially when you compare the language of Revelation 12 to Psalm 2, it becomes clear that this passage is a metaphorical description of the birth of Jesus. With that established, we move on to the next obvious character of the story–the woman giving birth to Jesus. It’s tempting to quickly jump to conclusions and say the woman must be Mary. However, the imagery doesn’t support this reading. Instead, it’s important to look at how she’s described, specifically the crown of 12 stars. The number 12 is seen throughout the Bible to represent the nation of Israel or to at least bring Israel to the mind of the reader. In addition, similar to how this woman gives birth to her son, we know Jesus was brought forth through the nation of Israel. From those two factors, and a couple other inferential clues, we can be confident in connecting the mother to Israel. Finally, we come to the dragon meant to represent Satan. Not only is he consistently depicted as a snake or dragon throughout the Bible, but verse 9 explicitly reveals that this dragon represents Satan in all of his deception and evil.
The Main Character of Scripture
The reason I took so much time and space to explain the basics of these connections is because it’s important to follow this thought process for yourself and not just take someone’s word for it. Revelation is a complex book that’s been sadly misused and abused for centuries. Men and women have forced interpretations onto the text that fit their personal agenda and deceive millions in the process. That’s why you have to know how to read it for yourself. Bring in trustworthy external sources and be familiar with the whole Bible, so you can spot the true Old Testament connections and call out the false ones. And in everything, from making the connections to knowing why they’re important, do not lose sight of what this passage is communicating. Satan may look poised for victory. You might look around this world and think there’s no way everything can turn out alright. But Revelation tells us a different story. Satan cannot stand against the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. He may still be the god of this earth for now, but his days are numbered. Satan was defeated in his efforts to destroy Christ at His birth, and Satan will soon again be defeated by Christ once and for all. In the midst of trials and suffering, we can reflect on Jesus’ birth and imminent victory, and rejoice with a cry of, “O what a Savior!”