SPECIAL TOPIC: A Woman Clothed in Twelve Stars (from Rev. 12:1)
I. "A woman clothed with"
The woman in Rev. 12:1 is beautifully described, in antithesis to the great whore of Rev. 17:4, who symbolizes anti-God world empires such as Babylon, Rome, and the end-time Antichrist world system. There have been two theories about the source of John's imagery:
1. Genesis 3, where there is a woman, a serpent and a man-child
2. strong allusions to "birthing" in the OT (cf. Isa. 26:17-18 in the Septuagint and Isa. 66:7-13)
Israel is described as a woman giving birth (cf. Mic. 4:10), therefore, this woman represents the true people of God (cf. Rev. 12:1-6), but in Rev. 12:13-17 she will be the NT people of God fleeing from the wrath of the dragon (see Special Topic: The Red Dragon). For other theories see Alan Johnson's Revelation, pp. 117-119.
In Answers to Questions F. F. Bruce said,
"The woman I should think of as the messianic community or ‘Israel of God' especially as manifested locally in the Palestinian church, the mother-church par excellence; . . . The ‘remnant of her seed' will be Christians in other parts of the world, the target of attack in 13:7" (p. 140).
In New Bible Commentary by George R. Beasley-Murray said,
"Religious people of the ancient world would have seen in the travailing woman a goddess crowned with the twelve stars of the zodiac; a Jew would have understood her as Mother Zion (see Isa. 26:16; 27:1; 49:14-25; 54:1-8; 66:7-9), but for John she represented the ‘Mother' of the Messianic community, the believing people of God of old and new covenants" (p. 1441).
II. "twelve stars"
Here again our presuppositions drive the interpretation.
1. if it is OT then it refers to the twelve Jewish tribes
2. if it is intertestamental apocalyptic literature it refers to the signs of the zodiac
3. if it is NT then it refers to the twelve Apostles
Twelve is the regular biblical symbolic number of organization. See Special Topic: The Number Twelve.
However, the meaning of chapter 12 is not conditioned on a proper identification of John's symbolism, but the central truth of the context. This principle must be maintained. We must not
1. push the details
2. choose some things literally and some things symbolically
3. force our interpretations into our historical setting
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