The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
3. The battle with the beasts, 11:19-15:4
ii] The woman and the dragonSynopsis
John now witnesses two great signs, or portents, in heaven. The first is a pregnant woman clothed in celestial raiment, and the second, an enormous red dragon causing celestial destruction and preparing to devour the child of the pregnant woman. On giving birth, the child is snatched up to the heavenly throne-room, while the woman flees into the wilderness under God's care for 1,260 days.
The kingdom of God is victorious over the powers of darkness.
i] Context: See 11:19. John's vision in chapter 12 presents in two parts, although both parts are closely related. Together they describe a war in heaven which spills over into the earth. In the first part, John describes the red dragon and his violent intentions, v1-6. The second part begins with a heavenly battle between the dragon and God's angelic forces, v7-9. This is followed up with a hymn of victory, v10-12, and then a description of how the war spills over into earth, v13-17.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8.
iii] Structure: The woman and the dragon:
The sign of the pregnant woman, v1-2;
The sign of the red dragon, v3;
The dragon and his murderous quest, v4;
The woman and her child are delivered from the dragon, v5-6.
It goes without saying that the interpretations of this chapter are many and varied. None-the-less, John gives us a little help by telling us that the actors in the vision are signs, or portents, which he says are en tw/ ouranw/, "in heaven", probably in the terms of Jesus' words ek tou ouranou, "from heaven" - they are revealed from heaven. Wilcock calls them "symbolic figures with meanings beyond the superficial one"; "communication in symbolic form", Koester. Wilcock argues that only the pregnant woman and the dragon are "signs", but Smalley argues that just because the word is only used here, and in 15:1, doesn't mean that the other actors / elements in the vision are not also signs; the child is obviously also a sign, ie., the child serves as a symbolic representation of reality.
John first points us to the heavenly portents / signs of a pregnant woman and a raging dragon. The general consensus is as follows:
• The dragon represents Satan (OT Leviathan / sea monster);
• The woman represents the remnant messianic community of Israel that bears the promised messianic seed, Christ (her crown indicates the twelve tribes of Israel);
• The birth of the child represents the ministry of the incarnate Christ;
• The child's being "snatched up to God" represents Christ's death, resurrection, ascension and enthronement - he will "rule all the nations with an iron scepter" (ref., Psalm 2, a messianic Psalm describing the rule of the messiah over the nations).
So, in this symbolic confrontation between Christ and Satan, Christ is victorious. The woman, representing Israel, the people of God, finds herself in the wilderness. Presumably this represents God's people tested by their wilderness experience, but protected from the evil one (obviously alluding to the wilderness wanderings of Israel as she strives for the promised land). Again we have the half of seven indicating that the wilderness experience will be shortened for the sake of the elect - "the three and a half years encompass the entire time between the Messiah's exaltation and final return", Koester.
This interpretation is somewhat specific, but probably comes close to John's intentions.
Text - 12:1
The woman and the dragon, v1-6: i] The sign of the pregnant woman, v1-2. The scene opens with the vision of a glorious woman experiencing the pain of childbirth. She represents the people of God at the moment of salvation history when messianic fulfillment is realized in the incarnate Christ.
kai "-" - and. Here indicating a step in the narrative.
shmeion (on) "a [great] sign" - An image which represents a significant reality. "A great and mysterious sight was revealed / appeared from / in heaven."
en + dat. "in [heaven]" - [was seen] in [heaven]. Local, expressing space. Note above, ek tou ouranou, "from heaven". Some millennial commentators have argued that this sign in heaven will be observed in the last day, but it is more likely a sign revealed from heaven for us to consider now.
gunh (h) "a woman" - The identification of this woman was quite fanciful in the middle ages. The most widely held view today is that she represents the children of God, Israel, and by extension (her offspring) the Christian community, the new Israel. Other possibilities include the Jewish community, so Thomas, the Christian church (the twelve stars represent the twelve apostles), and Mary.
peribeblhmenh (periballw) perf. pas. part. "clothed [with the sun]" - having been clothed [with the sun]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting woman, "who was clothed with the sun", but possibly possessive, "whose cloths were the sun", CEV. It commonly takes an adverbial accusative expressing accompaniment "clothed with the sun." "A woman who had the sun wrapped around her like a dress", see TH.
uJpokatw + gen. "under [her feet]" - [and the moon] underneath [the feet of her]. Spacial; "under, underneath, beneath." It seems unlikely that the moon under her feet is a symbol of authority over the earth. This involves over-extending the imagery. "And the moon served as a footstool on which she rested her feet", TH.
asterwn (hr rwn) gen. "[a crown] of [twelve] stars" - [and on the head of her a crown] of [twelve] stars. The genitive is adjectival, epexegetic, or idiomatic / product; "a crown which is made up of twelve stars." "And she had on her head a crown that had twelve stars on it", TH.
epi + gen. "on [her head]" - upon [the head of her]. Spacial; "upon, on."
ecousa (ecw) pres. part. "she was pregnant" - [and in the womb] having = bearing a child. The participle is virtually functioning as a finite verb, best classified as a periphrastic construction with an assumed verb to be; "she has a child in the womb" = she was pregnant." See ecwn, "having", 1:16.
krazei (krazw) pres. "cried out" - [and] called out. Historic / narrative present, the first of many in this passage.
wdinousa (wdinw) pres. part. "in pain" - suffering birth-pains. The participle, as with basanizomenh, "being tormented, traumatized", is adverbial, probably causal, "she cried out because she was suffering birth-pains and trauma"; the NIV opts for manner.
tekein (tektw) aor. inf. "to give birth" - The infinitive is probably adverbial, final, expressing purpose, she went through pain and trauma "in order to give birth", or better, end-view, "with a view to ...", or simply reason, so Blount. The imagery is quite strong and may reflect the trauma associated with the end of the age cf., Isa.26:17, Jer.4:31, Mic.4:9-10, Jn.16:21-22, 1Thes.5:3. Like the birth of a child, the kingdom comes to fruition with pain and trouble.
ii] The sign of the red dragon, v3. Satan now appears on the scene, a monstrous beast that is but a parody of glory.
drakwn (wn onoV) "[an enormous red] dragon" - [and was seen another sign in the heaven, and behold, there was a great red] dragon. Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. This monstrous creature is usually depicted as a serpent, a beast from the deep, a sea monster, Leviathan. He devours the vulnerable, Jer.51:34, but a monster easily defeated by God, Isa.27:1, Ezk.32:2. The dragon obviously represents Satan, an enemy whose defeat is inevitable, 20:7-10.
ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "with [seven heads]" - having [seven heads and ten horns]. The participle is adjectival, attributive. Representing a monster with numerous heads, here the perfect / complete number seven, serves to magnify the horror. Note John's flexible used of the participle "having", 1:16.
epi + acc. "[seven crowns] on [its head]" - [and] upon [the head of it seven crowns]. John's favorite spacial preposition is usually followed by a genitive to express "on, upon", but here he opts for the accusative. Jeweled metallic wreaths or headbands (diadhmata), symbolizing authority and rule, are in mind, and so John may intend "around" its head, rather than crowns "on" its head, as with the woman. The word stefanoV, "crown", usually refers to a laurel wreath worn as a token of victory, rather than rule. Smalley argues that Satan's royal power parodies the true sovereignty of the King of kings and his many diadems.
iii] The dragon and its murderous quest, v4. In this scene we witness the dragon's hostility toward the woman, and particularly her child. The powers of darkness rant and rage in the face of the realization of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, even to the point of destroying God's anointed one (the child) and his people (the woman, v6).
Note that the three verbs in v4 take a different tense: "draws" takes a present tense, "cast" is aorist, and "stands" is perfect. In the NT "to stand" is often perfect given what is involved in the action of standing. The present tense may serve to indicate a new scene, which is often the function of a narrative present. The aorist for John seems to be his default tense, with time determined by context.
twn asterwn (hr roV) gen. "[a third] of the stars" - [and the tail of him draws the third] of the stars. The genitive is adjectival, partitive. This image serves to illustrate the size of the monster; it is not being used to teach that Satan gets to destroy false teachers (stars) in the last day, etc., etc., ...
tou ouranou (oV) gen. "out of the sky" - of heaven. The genitive may be ablative, source / origin, "from heaven", as NIV, or adjectival, idiomatic / local, "the stars which are located in heaven". "Its tail swept from its place a third of the stars in the sky", Barclay.
eiV + acc. "to [the earth]" - [and cast them] to [the earth]. Spacial, movement toward; "to, toward."
thV melloushV (mellw) gren. pres. part. "[the woman] who was about" - [and the dragon was standing before the woman] being about. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "woman"; "the dragon then stationed himself in front of the woman who was about to give birth", Berkeley.
tekein (tiktw) aor. inf. "to give birth" - The infinitive is complementary, completing the action of the participle "being about."
iJna + subj. "so that" - that [when she gives birth to the child of her it might devour him]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose. Again John's imagery should not be taken too literally. The dragon's preparation to destroy the infant is probably not an image of the crucifixion, so Caird, or the many plots faced by Jesus during his ministry, so Osborne. The image serves to reveal the opposition of the powers of darkness to the messianic fulfillment of the covenant realized in Christ, but is not specifically illustrating the birth of Christ, or any particular moment in Christ's ministry, ie., "the situation illustrates the antagonism which will surround Jesus throughout his earthy ministry", Smalley. The image "simply reflects a pattern of opposition", Koester. "The dragon took its place in front of the woman who was about to give birth to a child, so that as soon as she did he might devour it", Phillips.
oJtan + subj. "the moment [he was born]" - Temporal conjunction, introducing an indefinite temporal clause, "when, whenever."
iv] The woman and her child are delivered from the dragon, v5-6. In the final scene, both the child and the woman are protected from the rage of the red dragon. The powers of darkness raged against the incarnate Christ, but he won the victory and is now Lord, bringing low all powers ranged against him. So also for God's people, the powers of darkness may rant and rage as we journey to the promised land, but our ultimate security is assured under the providential care of God.
arsen adj. "a male child" - [and she gave birth to a son], a male. The adjective serves as a substantive standing in apposition to "son", as NIV. Interestingly, John again ignores concord with "male" neuter and "son" masculine. It is again likely that John uses this to indicate an allusion to a scriptural text, here probably Isaiah 66:7 where the LXX has arsen, so Beale. None-the-less, there is a variant masculine and Mathewson argues that the neuter is more likely the work of a scribe wanting the text to conform to Isa.66:7. It seems likely that the birth image is alluding to messianic fulfillment in Christ, of "God with us", Isa.7:14, and of the messiah's rule over the nations, Ps.2:9. The incarnation is probably in John's mind, but in the terms of the embodiment of the divine in the Son of God, the messiah, in human flesh as Jesus Christ, rather than the actual birth of Jesus, ie. the birth of the messianic age in Christ rather than the birth of Jesus himself, contra Koester. If we opt for the birth of Jesus then the woman is surely Mary, but the woman as Mary doesn't fit with v6.
poimainein (poimainw) pres. inf. "who will rule [all the nations]" - [who is about] to shepherd [all the nations]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to be about to." "Who will shepherd all the nations with an iron rod", Peterson.
en + "with" - with [a rod made of iron]. Here the preposition is adverbial, instrumental, expressing the means of ruling the nations, or modal, expressing the manner of the rule.
proV + acc. "[was snatched up] to God" - [and the child of her was snatched up] to [god] to [the throne of him]. The preposition expresses movement toward. It seems unlikely that we have a direct allusion to the ascension, but the ascension is certainly part of the package resulting in Christ's victory and enthronement. Christ's life of obedience unto death, his resurrection and ascension are integral to his enthronement. The powers of darkness may seek to thwart the fulfillment of the covenant promises in the messianic age, but Christ is victor over the dark domain and now rules over all powers and authorities. "He was taken to God and placed on his throne", CEV.
hJtoimasmenon (eJtoimazw) perf. mid./pas. part. "[to a place] prepared for her" - [and the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place there] having been prepared. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "a place", "a place ... which had been prepared for her." The redundant local adverb ekei, "there", is resumptive, possibly a Semitism, so Aune. John again ties the experience of God's people, in the days before the end, with the wilderness journey of the children of Israel. "The woman fled to the desert where there was a place prepared by God, waiting for her", Barclay. The image illustrates the providential care of God for his people in the days before the end, so reflecting the promise contained in the prayer "deliver us from evil" - safe and secure, although singed!
apo + gen. "by [God]" - from [god]. A rare instrumental use of the preposition, expressing agency. In Koine Gk. sometimes used instead of uJpo with passive verbs.
iJna + subj. "-" - that. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose; "in order that ...."
trefwsin (trefw) pl. pres. subj. "[where] she might be taken care of]" - that [there] they might nourish [her]. The durative aspect of the present tense may indicate continual care, although Mathewson argues the present tense is used in the narrative to express action in progress. The plural number is most likely used to express an impersonal passive. The verb is used to express God's care and support for his people during the days before the end. "John is reassuring his audience that God has made ready, in himself and through Christ, a place of spiritual refuge and eventual conquest, which will enable the saints to resist the powers of evil ranged against them in many forms. For them, the 'desert' of their situation is not a realm of isolation but of protection and succor; it is also the setting in which the eschatological deliverance of the Church, in time and in eternity, will eventually be completed", Smalley.
hJmeraV ciliaV diakosiaV exhkonta acc. "for 1,260 days" - a thousand two hundred sixty days. Accusative of time, duration; "for ......". Another designation of half of the perfect number seven, here three and a half years. As already noted, this time signature indicates a shortening, for the sake of the elect, of the days of tribulation leading up to the end. As such it serves to emphasize God's providential care toward the people of God during their wilderness journey.