Long before I followed Yeshua, I turned in fascination to the book of Revelation in a little New Testament my teacher gave (in a public school). I found in Revelation a story about a dragon and a woman. I was enthralled.
Over the years I have returned to Revelation 12 and my vision of its story has grown progressively. After following Messiah and developing a heart for the history and the future of the Jewish people, I saw part of the story in Revelation. The frustration of the dragon in pursuing Israel’s destruction is both fearsome to behold and encouraging since his success would be far worse than his vexation. In time, I came to believe in a backstory prior to creation, a drama of angelic beings. My reading of the story in Revelation 12 expanded and the cosmic dimensions of the story grew for me.
The following is how I see the story.
Some Background to the Story
The woman, the sun, and the twelve stars should remind us of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37, especially verse 9. They represent the father of Israel (Jacob), the mother of Israel (Rachel), and her children (the tribes).
A woman in the pains of labor is a common prophetic theme for Israel in distress leading to something better. Consider Isaiah 13:8, for example, “And, overcome by terror, they shall be seized by pangs and throes, writhe like a woman in travail.”
The dragon brings to mind many things, including the serpent in the Garden (Gen. 3) and Leviathan, the chaos serpent defeated by God and reminiscent of the myth of Tiamat (cf. Isa. 27:1). God defeated chaos and pushed it back (Gen. 1:2). The dragon is, of course, the devil (cf. Rev. 12:9) and the devil’s relation to chaos is hinted at here.
The sweeping away of the stars is taking up an image from Daniel 8:10, in which the stars referred to the heavenly host, the angelic beings. There is more than a hint here of a pre-creation angelic rebellion. Other texts refer to a pre-creation existence of angelic beings (Job 38:7).
The war in heaven and the fall of the dragon bring to mind Yeshua’s saying in Luke 10:18. The timing of Satan’s fall, as implied in the story of Revelation 12, is surprising (see below).
The male child who rules the Gentiles with a rod of iron is from Psalm 2. It is about the Davidic ruler and indirectly about Messiah.
The 1,260 days is equivalent to three and a half years. When stated in terms of days, the reference is generally positive: the time for prophesying and protection (Rev. 11:3; 12:6). When stated in terms of months the reference is generally negative: the time for the Beast’s rule (11:2; 13:5).
One interpretive decision that also informs my reading of the story is that John, though telling of Israel’s continual danger from the evil powers, also shows how his community fits into the story. The story of Revelation 12 is about Israel, but the church is equally involved. Revelation 12:17 makes this rather evident and should do two things: put to rest the idea that the woman is the church and also show that the church is equally involved in the story.
The Story of the Woman and the Dragon
Israel is in a time of distress from which Messiah will emerge. This is a time of Messianic woes and leads to something better, the age of Messiah. (Rev. 12:1-2).
Back in the cosmic past, Satan led a third of the heavenly beings in rebellion. Back in the narrative present, Satan is ready to destroy this Messiah that Israel is bearing. (Rev. 12:3-4).
Messiah is born and the story jumps to his ascension to the right hand of the throne of God. (Rev. 12:5).
Israel is sent to the wilderness for protection and nourishment. The time since Messiah is in view and Israel is nourished (by Judaism, most likely) in this historical parenthesis. (Rev. 12:6).
Meanwhile there is now war in the heavens, the timing of which was decided by the ascension of the Messiah. His ascension meant victory over powers and thrones of evil. So Michael casts Satan down to earth. (Rev. 12:7-9).
Yeshua’s congregation participates in this drama of evil and coming redemption. The church is protected by the fact of justification, God’s verdict has already been announced and no accuser can overrule God’s justification. Nonetheless, the church will face persecution motivated by Satan’s wrath. (Rev. 12:10-12).
Frustrated in his failure to destroy Messiah, earthbound Satan works to destroy Israel. Yet his murderous intent is thwarted again and again. (Rev. 12:13-16).
Thus, Satan turns also to the church from the nations and unleashes persecution. The church finds it place beside Israel, persecuted and longing for the time of redemption. (Rev. 12:17).