Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 27 - The Woman and The Dragon (ch. 12)

The seven characters in the heavenly drama of Revelation 12, 13 appear on the scene in quick succession. The curtain is rung up to the accompaniment of “lightnings, voices, thunderings, earthquake, and great hail” (11:19), and the ark of God is seen in the inner sanctuary of the heavenly temple. This is very similar to the prelude to the Seven Vials (15: 5, 8), and suggests that these two heptads are intended to have similar reference. Certainly several of the main characters re-appear in chapters 16, 17.

The Ark of the Covenant being seen implies the imminent forgiveness of sins for the people of God (Leviticus 16:14, 30) and the bestowal of an imperishable life symbolized by the incorruptible manna (Exodus 16:32, 33; Revelation 2:17) treasured inside the ark. But it also means judgement for the enemies of the Lord who assume a right of access to the holy things of God (1 Samuel 6:19 LXX).


The woman in heaven bears all the marks, which identify her as a symbol of the nation of Israel. In Scripture, sun, moon and twelve stars are associated with Israel (see chapter 18 and “Time of the End,” Chapter 11). There are hardly any exceptions to this rule. Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9) by itself can be regarded as conclusive in the interpretation of this sign.

Since the woman is seen in heaven, she must represent Israel (“the daughter of my people”) at a time before the nation was cast off and disowned by God. She is “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet.” These details are full of significance. Repeatedly, the Word of God associates the sun with the Messiah (Psalm 72:17; and 19:4, 5; Malachi 4:2; Isaiah 60:1-3), whilst the moon has special associations with the Law of Moses (e.g. the month and its special feast was decided by the moon; so also was Passover and the entire annual rota of Jewish Feasts; further, the moon derives its variable incomplete light from the sun - if there had been no promised Messiah the Law would have been nugatory from the first day at Sinai).

This woman is clothed with the sun - her Messiah has been made manifest The moon is under her feet - no longer need she be subject to it, to the Law contained in ordinances. Here then is Israel in its position of religious privilege after the Son of God has done his glorious work as Prophet and Sacrifice.


Her child about to be born is to “rule (shepherd!) all nations with a rod of iron.” The words are verbatim from the Second Psalm (LXX) At first glance, then, the Man Child is the Lord Jesus Christ himself - none other; for does not Revelation itself apply these very words to him in his glory (ch. 19:15)? But, then, it applies them also to those who are approved in Christ and deemed worthy to share his glory (2:26, 27).

Choice then must be made between these two interpretations. There is good reason to discard the first and seemingly more obvious, in favour of the other. This vision goes on to describe an attempt to destroy the Man Child after he has been brought forth. Now Psalm 2, and especially the words, “this day have I begotten thee” can apply only to Christ after his resurrection when he became “the first-born from the dead,”[50] and after the resurrection no enemy could or did make any attempt to destroy him as in Revelation 12:4.

The man child, then, represents the early church, those in Christ born so to speak, out of the travail of the nation of Israel. Appropriately, in the vision, the mother never suckled the child!


Whilst the woman was in travail, there awaited the outcome of her labour a great red dragon with seven crowned heads and ten horns. This dragon, Revelation itself declares, is none other than “that old serpent, the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” Evidently, then, the drama being enacted before John was that foretold in the time of Eden: “the seed of the woman shall bruise thy head, and thou (the serpent) shall bruise his heel.” Here are woman, seed, and serpent, but with these differences: this seed is not bruised in the heel, because another more worthy Seed has suffered thus on his behalf; this serpent is not bruised in the head by this seed, because he is to be not only bruised in the head but cast out “because of the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11). Details such as these confirm the interpretation already offered, that the man child represents the infant church of the First Century.

Yet further confirmation, if indeed it be needed, comes from Isaiah 66, which also makes its contribution to this prophecy: “A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple (Revelation 11:19), a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing?” (v. 6-8). This describes Israel bringing forth her Messiah before the time of her travail in A.D. 70. The prophecy continues: “Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (v. 8). This is the early church, now a completely separate entity from Judaism after the overthrow of Jerusalem.


Interwoven into the apocalyptic scene there is also the drama of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. The similarities are listed below:

Revelation 12
Moses’ deliverance of Israel

Egypt (Ezekiel 29:3; Psalm 74:13, 14; Isaiah 27:1 and 51:9).

The woman.

The man child to be destroyed.
Pharaoh’s fiat against all male children (Exodus 1:16).

The child caught up to God.
Israel at Sinai.

“They overcame by the blood of the Lamb.”
Deliverance through the Passover Lamb.

The woman in the wilderness.
Israel in the wilderness (Ezekiel 20:32; Hosea 2:14, 19).

Provided with food there.
Manna given

Wings of the great eagle (the cherub of Revelation 4:7).
“I bare you on eagles’ wings” (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11).

“The dragon persecuted (=pursued) the woman.”
Pursuit by Pharaoh’s army.

“The earth swallowed up the flood.”
“The earth (i.e. Red Sea quick sands) swallowed them up” (Exodus 15:12).
This fusing of many Scriptures together into a new yet familiar picture is one of the marvels of Revelation. The skill with which it is done, the subtlety of the allusions, the tremendous compression of Biblical ideas - all these bear the stamp of inspiration, and would prove that the Apocalypse is the very Word of God, even if no sense whatever could be made of its symbolism. It becomes increasingly a matter for wonder that earlier expositors have made so little use of these copious hints and directives towards a Biblical interpretation. Even with these there is uncertainty enough. Then what shall be said of interpretations, which depend entirely on the expositor’s flair for picking out of the tangle of ancient history a sequence of events that follow a comparable pattern? This is not to say that such conclusions are mistaken. But at least the fact should be faced that an interpretation, which harmonizes these many strands of Biblical ideas, has much more to recommend it.


The dragon with ten horns is palpably Daniel’s fourth beast (7:7, 19), but with the added detail (not contradictory of Daniel 7), that it has seven heads. In other words, besides its own, it has the six heads of the three preceding beasts. Or, seen another way, here are the great oppressors of Israel through the centuries - Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Beast in the Last Days. The ten horns suggest the Last Day phase of human opposition to the Lamb and his people (17:12; Daniel 2:44), a detail appropriate to the concluding section of this vision.

Even whilst it is about to make its effort to devour the newly-born man child, the dragon with its tail sweeps away “the third part of the stars of heaven,” i.e. a third part of those twelve stars (the twelve tribes) which form the woman’s crown. The language is reminiscent of the earlier Trumpets, where the same phraseology comes time after time, and also of Ezekiel 21: 26, 27: “Remove the diadem, take off the crown ... I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more until he come whose right it is.” Here, then, in effect, the woman loses her crown-her kingdom is overturned. It is one of the three overturnings of Israel: either B.C. 606, or A.D. 70, or the overthrow of the state of Israel by the fierce Invader in the Last Days. It must surely be the second of these.

Contemporary with this epoch-making event, the man child is born, and - the dragon’s enmity notwithstanding - he is forthwith “caught up to God and to his throne.” The dragon’s resolute hatred of the child even before birth is an indication of the unremitting hostility shewn by Rome to the new Faith. Nevertheless, from God’s point of view the new-born church was worthy of even higher status than Israel itself had had as a nation hitherto. Since Sinai, Israel had experienced the blessing of an all-embracing, national covenant with the God of Abraham, and consequently until A.D. 70 had a permanent place in the “spiritual heaven” of the Apocalyptic Sanctuary.

Now the infant church is “caught up (not to “heaven”, for it is born in “heaven”; see verse 1; but) unto God and to his throne.” That is, the spiritual status of converts to Christ was far higher than that of those who were members of God’s covenant-race merely by virtue of circumcision. Thus these Witnesses now have a title to the most exalted of all positions in the “heavenly places” - “all things are yours,” for “ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”


No sooner has John witnessed these dramatic happenings than he sees the woman fleeing (from the face of God or the dragon?) into the wilderness. The woman, then, has forfeited her right to “the heavenly places.” This is Israel now disowned by God; fellowship with the divine has been withdrawn. Israel is in the wilderness of the nations, scattered, despised, unloved, persecuted. The wilderness has ever been the place of probation. It was, for Israel, after escape from Egypt. It was, for Moses, for Elijah, for Paul - for Jesus himself. And now, once again Israel must face the testing of the wilderness - a long-drawn-out trial, as it has proved, of nigh on two thousand years, and still their hearts remain hard as tables of stone.

The woman flees, so John describes, to “a place prepared of God.” Here the manuscripts sort themselves out into two well-balanced groups, one set reading “prepared by God” (Greek: hupo) and the other reading “prepared away from God” (Greek: apo). If the first reading be accepted, then the meaning must be that Israel’s scattering was a judgement formally pronounced and determined by Almighty God (Deuteronomy 28:37; Jeremiah 16:13; Ezekiel 36:19, etc.); but if the second, then emphasis goes (and how appropriately!) on the fact of Israel’s estrangement from God during the times of the Gentiles. “God spared not the natural branches ... on them which fell, severity ... “ The contrast with those in Christ is very marked. “In my Father’s house (the new spiritual temple) are many abiding places ... I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).


By any pattern of interpretation the “thousand and two hundred and three score days” present an outstanding problem. No “continuous historic” assumption of “a year for a day” has come within a hundred years of supplying a satisfactory time period. Following what has been said elsewhere on this theme (e.g. “the Last Days,” Chs. 5, 6), that here there is no adequate Biblical reason for “a year for a day,” this period is taken to be literally three and a half years in the time of the end - ”the times of the Gentiles” (“a time, times, and a half”) which, at the date of writing this, have not yet begun! This is in striking contrast with the conclusions of many expositors who (ignoring such Scriptures as Zechariah 14:2; Daniel 12:1) have been known confidently to aver that “the times of the Gentiles” concluded in 1967. Another Gentile down-treading of Jerusalem is certain.

Attention is drawn here once again to the remarkable breaks which occur in many Bible prophecies, sometimes with little or no indication of a long interval of time during which Israel are in the “wilderness”: Luke 21: 24, 25; Matthew24: 29; Daniel 11:39, 40; 8:22, 23; 2:40, 41; Isaiah 61:2; Micah 5:3, 4; 7:10, 11. This phenomenon may perhaps be explained by assuming a great deferment, comparable to that of Numbers 14:33, 34. But whether that be the correct explanation or not, the fact of this large unchronicled time-gap is hardly to be gainsaid.

Now to apply this idea to Revelation 12:6. Interpreting in harmony with the foregoing, the passage may mean that the duration of the woman’s time in the wilderness is not specified, until in the Last Days Israel finds herself in the “wilderness” once again, this time for three and a half years. In other words, verse 6 is to be read as having a long gap in the middle of it. As with the other Scriptures just listed, this long intermission is not specified explicitly. The prophecy leaps suddenly from the First Century to the Twentieth.[51]

That Israel will be scattered once again from the land of their fathers is very clearly indicated in a number of prophecies (Zechariah 14:2, Joel 3:2-7, 19; Isaiah 19:18-20; Ezekiel 20:33-38; Deuteronomy 28:68 - the only verse in this remarkable prophecy not yet fulfilled). Thus this prophecy in Revelation follows the pattern and repeats the features of a number of other familiar Scriptures.


There ensues in the end of the age a “war in heaven” between Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels. Neither the man child nor the Lion of the tribe of Judah are participants. But the identification of these combatants is not easy. Many evince a strong disposition to understand Michael - “Who is like God?” - as another representation of Christ himself. This is not impossible. Since the dragon is very obviously symbolic, and not literal, the same may well be true for the other protagonist.

But over against this are three other considerations:

1. The close connection with the familiar prophecy in Daniel 12:1: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book of life” (this last detail is picked up again in Revelation 13:8).

2. The other two references to Michael appear to be literal, not symbolic. Jude 9 refers to a literal angel. The undeniable link with Zechariah 3:2 would prove this. Also, in this passage Messiah is a separate person from Michael. He is Joshua-Jesus, the high-priest, called in Jude 9 “the slave, servant, of Moses” (not “body,” as in the Common Version). The parallel in 2 Peter 2:11 is surely decisive: “Angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them.” Daniel 10:13 requires reference to an archangel. To refer these words to the Lord Jesus is to file a petition of expository bankruptcy.

3. The fact that Michael and his angels overcome by the blood of the Lamb (12:11) seems sufficient to require a distinction between “Michael” and “the Lamb.”


If these considerations are deemed decisive, then interpretation of the war in heaven is not to be sought in the world of European politics (the kind of obsession which has bedevilled so many attempts to unveil the Apocalypse). In the Last Days the serpent-dragon is, as always, the embodiment of human opposition to the will of God in the world (see especially Revelation 20:2, 3). In this particular instance it may be possible to identify the “heaven” where the conflict takes place as being Jerusalem - this in accordance with a common Bible idiom which has suffered neglect by students of prophecy because of the afore-mentioned prepossession with political “heavens and earth.”[52] In a nutshell, what needs to be recognized is that, because the sanctuary of the Lord was in Jerusalem, the holy city is spoken of as “heaven,” and the Holy Land is referred to as “earth” (this latter item being well helped out by the familiar “earth, Land” ambiguity which attaches to this word in both Old and New Testaments). A few examples may not be amiss:

1. The 144,000 are described in Revelation 14:1 as being “on the mount Sion,” and in 7:15 as “before the throne of God, serving him day and night in his temple,” which temple is described in chs. 4, 5 as being in heaven (4:1, etc.).

2. Revelation 3: 12: “the new Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven from my God.”

3. Hebrews 12:22, 23: “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem ... to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.”

4. Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the House: “ ... the place which thou hast said, My name shall be there ... when they shall pray toward this place, hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place” (AVm: “in this place” is definitely wrong); (1 Kings 8:29, 30).

5. Isaiah 51:16: “ ... that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.”

6. Isaiah 65:17, lo: “I create new heavens and a new earth ... I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.”

Other passages which might bear on this: Revelation 21:2, 10; Zechariah 12:1, 2; Isaiah 66:20, 22; 1:1, 2; 63:15; Psalm 102:16, 19, 21; 96:5, 6; Ezekiel 8:3. Compare also the suggestions advanced in Chapter 4.

So, then, the war in heaven rids the Holy City of its human enemies: “neither was their place found any more in ‘heaven’ “ (v. o). This is Daniel 2:35, which foretells the final expulsion of human power and authority from Jerusalem (this is the specific reference of all the visions in Daniel): “and the wind (spirit) carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great moul1tain (the mountain of the Lord’s house), and filled the whole Land” (2:35).


The other phrase describing this victory: “the dragon fought ... and prevailed not,” is in deliberate contrast to Daniel 7:21: “the (little) horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them” - a theme which the next chapter in Revelation develops in some detail.

There is need to identify the twentieth-century dragon which is cast out so that the way is immediately open for proclaiming the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom. “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.” The power of Rome very adequately fulfils the necessary First Century conditions - that the dragon be a hater and persecutor of both Jews (the woman) and Christians (the man child). What dragon power is there in the Holy Land today, which is a hater of Jews and Christians (true believers, not conventional misguided members of orthodox churches)? At the time of writing, the answer to this enquiry must be: none. But there is every likelihood, from the standpoints of Bible prophecy[53] and modern politics, that before long Israel will be over-run by their Arab enemies (helped, of course, on a massive scale, by Russia), and then there will be more than enough hatred and persecution of Jews. And of Christians also? Quite conceivably, persecution of orthodox Christians, because they are suspected of special sympathy with hated western powers But to accept such a solution is to share one of the biggest blunders of conventional interpreters of Revelation, who have turned a blind eye to the massive perversions of Truth by Donatists and Waldenses and Albigenses and Huguenots in desperate attempts to identify them with the Lord’s faithful remnant. There is another and better way out of this difficulty. Chapter 25 and also “The Last Days,” Chapter 7; and “The Time of the End,” Chapter 2, bring together some of the copious Bible evidence for a partial repentance of Israel before the coming of the Lord. Then, just as converted Jews in the time of the apostles became, symbolically, the man child born of the woman, so also in the end of the age repentant Jews will fill the role of “the rest of her seed which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”


The ejection of hostile powers from the city of God will leave the way open for Jesus to be proclaimed King of the Jews. “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them.” This covers not only the handful of the faithful remnant in Jerusalem itself, but also all who know and rejoice in the Hope of Israel, wherever they may be.

Isaiah 49:13-17 is marvellously apposite here: “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me ... Thy children shall make haste from thy destroyers, and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.” The entire passage (v. 10-26) should be studied with Revelation in mind.

It would be a mistake to assume that the hymn of triumph (v. 10) means that all parts of the earth have now come under the sway of the King of Kings. It is sufficient that at this time Jesus has appeared on the Mount of Olives in divine glory, with all the holy angels, and that he has taken control of Zion, being proclaimed there King of the Jews.


By contrast there is “woe for the earth and for the sea, because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time” (v. 12).

It would seem from this that the reaction of Israel’s enemies, thrust out of Jerusalem, is to intensify persecutions against Jews in the rest of the Land and in Gentile countries also[54] wherever they can be got at in countries under Russian or Arab control. With Messiah established in Jerusalem, the Serpent is bruised in the head. Now “he hath but a short time.”

The people of Israel, for all their suffering and disappointment, are now nearer to the fulfilment of their destiny than they can believe possible. The second allusion (v. 14) to the woman in the wilderness is markedly different from the first (v. 6). In the first instance, she “fled” into the wilderness. This was the dispersion of Israel after A.D. 70. In the second she flies as a bird, by virtue of the eagle’s wings, which are given to her. This symbol of God’s providence over Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11), even though an unbelieving people, indicates fairly clearly that this last tribulation of Israel is a divinely appointed discipline. Israel’s distress in the Land and in ensuing captivity can last no longer than three and a half years.


In the vision the dragon pours a mighty flood of water after the woman in a last desperate attempt to destroy her. Already attention has been drawn to the attempt by Pharaoh to wreak vengeance on Israel as they fled to the wilderness. The figure of speech used in Revelation 12:15 resembles even more closely a prophecy by Isaiah of Israel’s final tribulation. Isaiah 17:11 is an easily understood picture of the flourishing state of Israel suddenly brought to “grief and separate sorrow.” But, through divine intervention, the tables are turned yet again: “Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters. The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains and like the whirling dust before the storm” (v. 12, 13). The final figure of speech here is exactly that which is used in Psalm 83:13 of the downfall of Israel’s Arab enemies in the Last Days.

The woman is saved from utter destruction by the way in which the earth swallows up the flood of persecution. It is a picture of a river losing itself in the parched sands of a desert. The classical interpretation answers very well here - the Lord’s people being saved from an evil fate because the ferocity of the persecutor is vented on others who incur the dragon’s wrath.

There is, however, another rather attractive interpretation available. If the “earth” is really “the Land,” as it is in so many other places in Revelation, then this symbol could indicate that scattered and harassed Jews will unexpectedly find that they are able to escape the last bitter explosion of vengeful animosity by going back to the Land from which they have lately been driven out, their safety there being guaranteed by the presence of their Messiah in Jerusalem. “They shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors and he shall send them a Saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20). “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance ... even in the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32).

Perhaps the fulfilment of Micah 4:6, 7, 10 comes in here also: “In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted (overturn, overturn, overturn it!): and I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever ... Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail, for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shall dwell in the field (Revelation 12: wilderness), and thou shalt go even unto Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered (the earth helped the woman); there the Lord shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.”


Naturally the dragon is angry at the woman’s escape (v. 17). Here is the explanation of that somewhat enigmatic expression: “the nations were angry,” in the Seventh Trumpet which opened out into these visions of the Seven Dramatis Personae. This anger expresses itself in a campaign against “the remnant of the woman’s seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus.” The last phrase here points to believing Jews or believing Gentiles. And since at this time those in Israel who believe will have been united with their Messiah in Jerusalem (Joel 2:32, Isaiah 59:20; 1:8, 9, 27; 30:19; 31:4, 5), it would appear that there may be here an indication of persecution at the very last of those who constitute the Lord’s faithful remnant in Gentile countries. But it is difficult to find intimations of the same kind in other prophetic Scriptures.

Another possibility here is that those “which keep (i.e. hold) the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus” may mean Israel, as the custodians of the Old Testament with its copious witness to Christ. Support for this view may be found in the first phrase of chapter 13, which modern translations attach to chapter 12: “And he (the dragon) stood upon the sand of the sea.” This last expression is a common Old Testament symbol for the people of Israel (e.g. Genesis 22:17), and may point to the last phase of persecution (v. 17) being directed against communities of the Dispersion, e.g. the three million Jews locked up in the U.S.S.R.

[50] Reasons: (a) Hebrews 5:5 is conclusive; the priesthood of Jesus began only after his resurrection, (b) Hebrews 1:5 when taken with v. 4; (c) Acts 13: 30-37 is concerned entirely with resurrection; cp. also “raised up” in Acts 2:24; (d) Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5 emphasize “firstborn from the dead”, (e) “The Lord hath said unto me ... This day have I begotten thee” — not spoken to an uncomprehending, newborn babe.
[51] The ideas suggested in the Appendix have an important bearing on this paragraph.
[52] In several places John Thomas mentions his own considerable dependence here on the prophetical writings of Daubuz. This man was a French Protestant minister who settled in Yorkshire. He had, understandably, strong feelings in favour of the Huguenots and against Rome. Hence perhaps the expositions often heard of Revelation 11, 12.
[53] See “The Last Days” chapter 2, and “‘The Time of the End” chapter 2.
[54] See comparable exposition of “earth” and “sea” in Revelation 10:2 (chapter 24).
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