posted on May, 23 2010 @ 01:11 PM
I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation ch12 vv1-6.
I'll be focussing on the first of the "great portents" appearing in heaven, the woman seen in the middle of giving birth.
I'm going to be asking the question; who is this woman?
But the logical starting point, even so, must be the identity of the child.
We are told;
That the child is born.
That the child is male.
That he is to "rule the nations with a rod of iron"
And, finally, that he is then "caught up to God and to his throne".
Anyone who knows the gospels can recognise the basic outline of the story. The reference to the "rod of iron" comes from one of the psalms, where it
belongs to an anointed king about whom the Lord has just said "You are my son, today I have begotten you."- Psalm 2 v7.
We can hardly identify the child as anyone other than Christ himself.
(And if this passage relates to the birth of Christ, it appears to be what a modern film director would call a "flashback" scene, interrupting the
main flow of the story to fill in some of the background)
Who, then, is the mother?
There are two main schools of thought, so this is really going to be a matter of choosing sides.
On the one hand, there's a more literal approach, as favoured by the Roman Catholic Church. "If the child is Jesus, then the mother must be Mary".
So the passage becomes part of their teaching about the Blessed Virgin, and the details of the picture become part of Catholic iconography.
On the other hand, there's a more symbolic approach. We can find materials for that in the passage itself. We can compare what we learn with the
description of the "great Harlot" in ch17. And we can find further clues in some of the Old Testament prophecies.
Placed in Heaven
The very first thing John tells us in this chapter is that the woman is "clothed with the sun", that she has the moon at her feet, and that she has
a crown of twelve stars on her head.
This ought to be reminding us of one of Joseph's dreams, when the sun and the moon and eleven stars were understood as meaning his parents and
his brothers. It would appear that this woman has the whole family of Israel surrrounding her.
The symbolic meaning of numbers is always very important in Revelation.
The woman is carrying "12" stars, and "12" is the number which points us towards the presence of God's people, based on the 12 brothers
themselves and on the traditional 12 tribes of Israel.
The woman is "clothed with the sun", where people have seen a reference to the face of Christ in ch1 v16, "shining in full strength".
And the moon is at her feet. If the moon stood for Rachel in the original dream, then the implication of the subjection is that Rachel is being
displaced as "mother of Israel", and that the version of God's people which she represents is being displaced.
Putting all these details together, it seems to me that the woman in this passage is primarily a symbolic figure, that she represents God's people; a
newer version of God's people, focussed upon Christ himself.
The woman who is not the "great Harlot"
This lady and the "great Harlot" of ch17 are one of the "contrasting pairs" of Revelation. I don't need to examine the Harlot in any detail- just
enough to throw some light on the present passage.
The figure of the adultress is one of the running themes of Old Testament prophecy, found in Hosea ch2, for example, and in Ezekiel ch16. The point is
that she's a metaphorical figure, standing for spiritual infidelity. The "great Harlot" clearly belongs to the same tradition.
In Proverbs, there's an implicit contrast between the adultress and the feminine figure of Wisdom, both offering themselves on the street, for
I suggest that what we have in Revelation is a contrast of the same kind, between two different versions of God's people-
The "woman in heaven" is the faithful version
And the Harlot is the unfaithful version.
And the fact that the "woman in heaven" is being contrasted with a symbolic figure suggests to me that she herself is to be taken as a symbolic
figure, rather than as an individual person.
Suffering in childbirth
In Micah, and again in Jeremiah, a woman representing Zion is shown suffering an anguish which is like that of a woman in childbirth,
anticipating the oppression brought by Babylon.
But there's an interesting difference between the two treatments.
Jeremiah has been complaining that Jerusalem has been dressing herself in scarlet and ornamenting herself and beautifying herself for the sake of her
lovers- acting, in short, like a model for the great Harlot herself. Then he goes on to describe the daughter of Zion as a woman "in anguish,
as of one bringing forth her first child". The implication is quite clear, that the suffering resembling "birth-pangs" is the consequence of
her previous life as the "scarlet woman". (Jeremiah ch4 vv30-31)
I've already been considering this line of thought in my previous thread, "The Sins of the Church?"
In Micah ch4 v10, the daughter of Zion is told to "writhe and groan like a woman in travail", because she's on the verge of travelling into exile
in Babylon. But this is immediately followed by the promise of salvation. She's going to be ransomed and rescued in that place. There's no
suggestion that she's going to give birth in Babylon, though the ambiguous wording of the Authorised Version might give that impression ("There
shalt thou be delivered...").
Nevertheless, a birth does take place when we turn to the next chapter. This is where we find the well-known prophecy that a ruler in Israel
will come forth from Bethlehem, a prophecy which Christians apply to Christ himself. he will be able to stand and feed his flock, says Micah, "when
she who is in travail has brought forth" (Micah ch5 v3).
Is this the birth of the ruler himself, which is the usual Christian understanding? Or does Micah see a "saving birth" in the release of the
captives, the fact that "the rest of his brethren shall return to the land of Israel"?
Either way, the point is that the previous association of birth-pangs with suffering (as found in Jeremiah), has now been turned into an association
of birth-pangs with salvation.
In Revelation ch12, we find both associations.
The "birth-pangs" of the woman in heaven lead into salvation. The Christ is born as a member of God's faithful people.
At the same time, the suffering continues. The woman, escaping the power of evil, is forced to flee into wilderness.
That flight, incidentally, is the kind of thing which happens to a symbolic figure rather than a human individual, which is another reason, in my
mind, against identifying the figure directly with Mary herself.
I have labelled this figure as "God's faithful people".
For Old Testament purposes, she represented Israel, or at least the faithful portion of Israel.
For New Testament purposes, she represents the church- or at least the faithful portion of the church.
The church has already been told that God has "raised us up with [Christ] and made us sit with him in the heavenly places" (Ephesians ch2 v6).
In that respect, the church has already become part of her place in heaven.
But the church in this life remains the church in struggle, with human enemies and with temptation. Revelation describes a time when that struggle is
expected to intensify.
And, in that respect, the church is expecting to become part of her flight into the wilderness.