In this overview, I want to keep it exactly what it says: an overview. While we have before sought to understand generally the various figures in each section, in this section we’re not going to be so concerned with this. Specifically, it is the debate of who this “man-child” is that we shall not be examining. The bulk majority of commentators take this son of the woman to be Jesus, and that is not without good reason. However, others have taken it to mean something completely different, and we’ll examine those arguments in a future post.
Thus, the content of Revelation 12 is rather straightforward. The woman is Israel, and not the church. We know this without any shadow of a doubt. John is pulling the description from Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9. Similarly, it was not the church that Jesus was born from, but Israel. To add on top of that, when we reach the last verse, the dragon goes off to fight against the woman’s other offspring, which are quite blatantly Christians. Christians are not offspring of the church; they are offspring of Israel.
All of this debate hinges upon a couple presuppositions. First, there is the dispensationalist who will distinguish between Israel and the church in a manner that the church is a new phenomenon. It did not exist before the coming of Pentecost. Second, there are the supercessionists (replacement theology) who would tell us that the church has replaced Israel, and therefore Israel is no longer Israel. We are the true spiritual Israel. In both of these positions, it is implicit that we make distinction between the church and Israel. The words of Paul that we are now part of the commonwealth of Israel is either misinterpreted or ignored.
The woman represents Israel, and I don’t personally make a distinction between Israel and the church. The church is that remnant that has always existed within Israel – the 7000 that did not bow the knee to Baal. However, here in Revelation 12, the woman is quite obviously ethnic Israel. I say quite obviously because there is indeed a distinction made between they who have the testimony of Jesus and this woman. Therefore, I must conclude that the woman is Israel. The dragon is defined for us in verse 9. It is Satan. Therefore, the dragon pursuing the woman is something to do with a calamity that will befall Israel – not necessarily the place (although this is true), but more specifically the people.
Now, as far as timeline and figuring out how the whole chapter works together, it depends on how you translate the man-child. If we see this as Jesus, then the timeline would quite obviously go back to the birth and ascension of Jesus. However, when I read this chapter, it seems to have eschatological implication. Satan being cast out of heaven so that he may no longer accuse the brethren is something that has not yet happened. We can look at Job and see that Satan came before God to accuse the man. Zechariah 3:1-2 also speak of Satan’s accusations. Strangely, we don’t see the language of Satan being the accuser directly in the New Testament. 1 Peter 5:8, Satan’s temptations for Jesus, and even the Lord’s words concerning Satan desiring to sift Simon Peter like wheat seem to imply, but not demand, the two Old Testament verses of Satan’s accusation.
Forthright, the reason that I interpret this chapter as future is extravagantly hanging upon the chasing of the woman through the wilderness. This chasing of the woman through the wilderness for 1,260 days, or as said in verse 14, a time, times, and half a time doesn’t show up anywhere around the death and ascension of Christ. Thus, if we are to conclude that this chapter is about Christ’s victory over the principalities, as explained in Colossians 2:15, then we ought to see some sort of three year exile into the wilderness where national, ethnic Israel is taken care of. That didn’t happen in the time of Jesus, and it certainly did not take place during the destruction of Jerusalem.
It is important to note something that many interpretations miss. The Greek in verse 6 tells us that the woman flees to the wilderness where there is a place prepared for her, and they will take care of her for 1,260 days. It is not that she will be taken care of, but that they will take care of her. Who is the “they” being mentioned here? The Greek is explicit, and the King James Version is the only English translation that I know of to translate this correctly. It appears that verses 13-17 are a reiteration of what we see in verse 6. The earth itself swallows the flood out of the dragons mouth, and the result is that the dragon then persecutes the Christians.
This leads me to believe that the Christians are being referenced as the “they”, and could possibly be symbolized as the earth that swallows the flood. It appears that there is some sort of end time schema that Israel will be persecuted, most likely at the time of the abomination of desolation (both from previous context and future context in the book), and that the Body of Christ will be the prepared agent of God to care for Israel during her time of sifting.
Ezekiel 20:33-35 also prophesies of a time when Israel would be met in the wilderness that they might come to know the Lord their God. Over and over again this is the pattern in the prophets. Israel has been rebellious, so God shall grant to her enemies that they might oppress or exile Israel. We see this with the Assyrians concerning the northern tribes. We see this with Babylon concerning Judah. We see this with Rome in 70 AD. It is continual. These are the dealings of God. Yet, every time that the prophets prophesy of this kind of destruction or sifting into the wilderness places, the result is always that Israel will come to know the Lord their God, and that He shall establish them back in the land, and that He will rule over them and put David as their shepherd. These sorts of phrases go hand-in-hand often in the prophets.
Thus, we are to conclude that this kind of sifting that is prophesied in the Old Testament has not yet been fulfilled. Israel has not come to know the Lord their God in that manner. The prophecies of Jeremiah when you read the sweep of chapters 29-32 have not come to pass. Ezekiel 36-37 has not yet come to pass. Amos 9 has not yet come to pass. We therefore await a future time. This is key when reading Revelation 12. This chapter does not take place in an isolated context. It is within the context of the rest of the book, which is in the context of what all of the prophets have written and declared.
The main thrust of this chapter is to expound the mystery that God has granted the church to be the safe-haven for Israel during her last days’ trauma. It is incredibly difficult, then, to find compassion for interpretations that would altogether neglect Israel in Revelation 12, or would claim the church to be gone. Something drastic takes place at this specific time to allow the Body to overcome in a manner that Satan is cast down (and thus the Antichrist is revealed in chapter 13), the woman is sifted (and thus the end is drawing nigh, as Jesus has declared), and the end of the age is upon us. It doesn’t get more clear when we see the symbolism for what it is. If the woman is Israel, and the “they” in verse 6 is related to the persecution of the church in verse 17, then it follows logically that the church must be the agent that takes in Israel, and thus the dragon gets enraged at the Body of Christ who would help the woman.