IN THIS NEXT article in a series of on the Book of Revelation, we will examine closely Revelation chapter 12 and revisit portions of chapter 11. Typically most commentators will treat these two chapters as separate discussion which are unrelated. I prefer to combine part into one discussion as in all likelihood these chapters are describing events of the early church from two different angles or perspectives. In fact, Revelation chapters 8 and 9 seem to be also related to some of the same events in chapters 11 and 12. Chapters 11 & 12 are key to understanding the prophetic view which aligns closely with the history of the church through its struggle against many heresies. Between Chapter 6 to 17, the author St. John on quite a few occasions will back up the discussion and offer different alternative descriptions of key event in the history and life of the Christian church. For just as we have four Gospels offering different eye-witness accounts of the same event, John uses the same approach by describing these same events from different perspectives and grouped time periods. John might focus on a specific period of events at a high level in one section of the Apocalypse, while at other times reexamine the same events, offering more critical details or using different analogies and styles of symbolism.
The Woman and the Dragon of Revelation Chapter 12
Chapter 12 Vision of the Women Clothed With The Sun
Revelation 12:1 – “And there appeared a great sign in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:”
John sees a “great sign” in heaven that is a spectacular phenomenon and of great importance. On the surface this story seems very similar to the story of the birth of Jesus described in the Gospels. In fact, many Catholic interpreters strongly believe this woman is a vision of the Virgin Mary. Evangelical Dispensationalists view this great sign and vision as something entirely different, and are convinced this is a reference to the Jews and the Nation of Israel. Upon further analysis of key terms – woman, sun, moon, stars – and referencing other scriptures, we can confidently confirm the identity of this woman who is pregnant and is about to give birth. In reality, this woman is most likely identified as the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” that would exist from the time of Christ until the second coming, in which the Gates of Hell would not prevail. The scriptures tell us the Church is the Bride, and Jesus is the Bridegroom. In fact, the Church since the early centuries viewed itself as the Bride “betrothed” to Christ. Take for example the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew chapter 25 which describes the Bridegroom relationship and the Church as follows.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” – Matthew 25:1
The church in Revelation 12 at first “betrothed” to the Bridegroom:
“… For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. ” – 2 Corinthians 11:2
The church also is referred to the Bride and Wife of Christ by St. Paul in Ephesians:
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” – Ephesians 5:23-27
Jeremiah refers to the Church as a daughter, the New Israel, who was born out of the 144,000 Jews who disseminated the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire:
“I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman” – Jeremiah 6:2
We are told later in Revelation chapter 19 that this betrothed woman will become the wife of Christ on the completion preparation during the betrothal process. This is the period that she would undergo many trials and tribulations to show herself worthy of his honor:
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready (Revelation 19:7).”
The woman is described with additional information to truly identify her as the True Church: “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”. And in a previous blog post we also reviewed the symbolic references of the sun, moon and stars in scripture so that we have a proper context of this passage. The “woman clothed with the sun” is the betrothed bride-to-be that is adorned with the true doctrines of Christ. St. Paul tells us we receive this clothing from Christ at our baptism “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).” Next, we see the “moon is under the feet” symbolizing the foundation of the Holy Trinity in which the church was built, while also prophetically showing that the woman would step on and defeat the crescent moon religion of the serpent/dragon at a future appointed period of time, as the gates of Hell would not prevail. “Upon her head a crown of twelve stars” describes the early foundations of the church authority which began with the twelve apostles who as successors and protectors of Christ’s Gospel message, would help deliver the child and his message by spreading the teachings, which would continue to be passed down through their succeeding bishops to the rest of the body of the entire future church.
Revelation 12:2 – “and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”
The early church is described as “being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” Just as a married woman conceives a child and becomes pregnant by her husband, the Church conceives and gives birth to the word of truth of the four gospels since she is the Bride of Christ. This was foretold by the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 26:17-18: “And as a woman in travail is about to give birth and cries out in her pangs, so were we to your beloved because of the fear of you, O Lord. For thy fear, 0 Lord, we have conceived and travailed and gave birth to the spirit of salvation on the earth.”
As the good news of the Gospel would spread as a salvation to the Gentiles, the Church would struggle to give labor over early heresies (i.e. Gnosticism and Marcionism) to create the canon of the books of the New Testament, while simultaneously suffering and laboring through persecutions at the hand of the Romans and Jews.
The Great Red Dragon with Seven Heads and Ten Horns
Revelation 12:3 – “And there appeared another sign in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.”
After receiving a vision of the woman clothed with the Sun, we then are shown another sign in heaven, a “great red dragon” with “seven heads and ten horns”, and “seven crowns upon his heads”. This second sign is the adversary and opponent to the first sign. For the first sign now is the first power on earth that would have the ability to destroy the delusions and kingdoms of Satan. The first sign describes the activities of the Church to bring in a new kingdom of peace through Christ, and the second sign describes the activities of Satan on earth through great empires which sought worldwide dominion through war and bloodshed. Therefore the “great red dragon” is Satan’s dominion over the earth representative of great world empires in biblical history and their wars and subjugation. From the very beginning of man, Satan has envied man’s authority over the animals of the earth and sea. But with the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan was able conquer man and to subjugate man to his own will and desires through war, theft, bloodshed, rape and slavery. And with the birth of the new child by the woman, God was able to challenge Satan’s authority on the earth. This adversarial relationship is described to us in the Book of Genesis with the fall of Adam and Eve:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15).
The Great Red Dragon would suffer two defeats, once by the Virgin Mary who gave birth to the Christ who won the victory at Calvary, and once again, by another woman clothed with the truth of Christ at the end of the period of persecution measured as 1260 days after Satan’s control of man through seven heads and ten horns. So then, the dragon knows very well the danger that is upon him, and stands before the woman of truth to attempt to devour the child Christ before the Gospel message of truth was born or defined in written scriptures.
Satan’s authority through his seven crowned heads represent seven great empires which would exist from before the time the woman would give birth, through her birth and protection until her flight to the wilderness for a significant period of time. The ten horns would represent smaller nations or empires that would help support his activities along with the major empires. It is historically documented that there were seven great world empires based around the Mediterranean from the early history of the Jews up until the present era: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Roman Empire, Islamic Empire.
Revelation 12:4 – “And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered, to devour her child as soon as it was born.”
The “tail” of the dragon would cast down “a third of the stars of heaven” through his crafty twisting of the church’s early doctrines leading to many heresies. This “tail” represents the drawing and attraction to new heresies that would arise from the time of the early church through the apostolic age, then through the age Ecumenical Councils and finally through the rise of the Papacy and Islam and the dawn of the Reformation. Just as during the fall of Satan, he successfully manipulated and tricked one-third of his angels to be cast out with him, Satan would once again trick and convince one third of the “stars” or bishops and apostles of the church to fall into heresy and split from the True Faith. It is historically documented that second-century heresies like Arianism, Gnosticism, Marcionism and Manichaeism caused about one-third of the gentile converts and Jews to adopted these other teachings. Many left the church or were excommunicated due to their heretical teachings and conflicts. The Dragon battled to confuse the early Christians on the true nature of Jesus and would then use Arius to try to devour the male child of the woman before she would give birth to the male child called the God-Man.
The “Man Child” a.k.a. the God Man
Revelation 12:5 – “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.”
The Church, or woman clothed with the Sun, gives birth to the “man child”, or the God-Man, the Theanthropos which was dogmatized from the first four ecumenical councils from Nicaea to Chalcedon in defeating the heresies of Arius and Nestorius. This child of the Church, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, would be “caught up unto God, and to his throne” by the understanding of the great fathers of the church that Jesus WAS God, the God-Man who was the divine Logos who sat on the same throne with the Father from the beginning of time. This has a similar parallel to Daniel 7 with the “Son of Man” approaching the “Ancient of Days”. It is through the Incarnation, the Logos has a Divine and Human nature. By the fourth ecumenical council the Man-Child/God-Man was born as confirmed with the Chalcedonian Creed:
“Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.” – From Wikipedia
Jesus Christ – the God Man and Theanthropos- defined by the fourth ecumenical council in the year 451 AD, is the same Man-Child of the woman clothed with the Sun Christ was defined to be under a single hypostasis but under two natures and two wills. The Red Dragon Satan attempted to devour this doctrine through further heresies but was defeated through future ecumenical councils.
The Rise of Monasticism in the Fourth Century
Revelation 12:6 – “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and three score days.”
After the birth of the Man-Child, the woman “fled into the wilderness” to escape the persecution by the Red Dragon, full of rage and animosity against her. After the fourth ecumenical council, God would provide a period of time for the church to take refuge in the monasteries, or “a place prepared of God”, for a period of a “thousand two hundred and three score days”, which equates to the entire period of tribulation and reign of the Antichrist on the earth. The history textbooks and encyclopedias of Christianity all describe the growth of monasticism around the time the fourth council in the year 451. The places that were “prepared by God” began to grow in the early fourth century and these monasteries were built along the deserts, remote mountains and forests around the Mediterranean and Middle East and Egypt. During the period of persecutions of the Church, the monasteries became areas for refuge for the people of the Orthodox Church. During this period the monasteries enjoyed many freedoms from taxation and oppression from the Ottoman rulers. Therefore, the monasteries from the early fourth century would prepare a place “of God” before the 1260-year persecution of the church that gave birth to the God-Man, so that she could take refuge during this period and afterwards return back to the cities and civilization to proclaim the Gospel to the world at a future appointed time.
The Church’s Monasteries Physical Presence in the Wilderness and Mountains
The Age of the Ecumenical Councils
Revelation 12:7-9 – “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
After Chalcedon, the Church continued to grow its monastic communities as centers of learning and refuge. During this time, we have a description of further “war in heaven” and division. On the surface it seems to describe the ancient story of the fall of Satan when he was cast out of heaven at the beginning of the creation of the stars and planets. But this war within Christianity describes a similar fall that would happen to the “angels” who are the “stars” that would fall from heaven. Just as Satan had authority over a third of his angels, he also was given authority to deceive one-third of the bishops and theologians within the Church.
“War in heaven” is symbolic speak for the Church, i.e. the Kingdom of God on the earth. The name “Michael” means “Who is like unto God“. A possible reference to Constantine and the Byzantine Emperors who reigned as representatives of Christ with supreme political authority. “Angels” as we know from earlier in the apocalypse are the elders and bishops of the church. (i.e., the seven angels/stars of the seven churches). Thus, we can see this parallel relationship of the symbols in the text to the historical testimonies that Constantine and his angels (i.e. bishops) called together the First Ecumenical Council to fight against the Dragon and his bishops such as Arius, battling in the “Kingdom of Heaven” or the Church prior to being “cast out” or excommunicated, such that their “place was not found any more in heaven.” Nestorius would be another example of the Dragon’s angel. Satan was able to draw a third of the “stars” (or bishops) of heaven (or the church) through the many heresies during the first few centuries up through the 4th Ecumenical Council.
The “war in heaven” would also occur from the Fourth Ecumenical Councils through the Six Ecumenical Councils in which one-third of the Christian churches would break communion from the True Church, or the “woman clothed with the sun”. Due to the condemnations of the Monophysitism Heresy of the 4th Council and the Monotheletism heresy of the 6th Council, the churches could not come to a unanimous agreement through the dissenting bishops. There were attempts at reconciliation after the fourth council but with no success. The churches that split from Constantinople and Rome after the fourth ecumenical council included: Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. These churches were “cast out” of heaven, or no longer in communion. Ironically, the countries where these churches were located (Egypt, Syria and Persia) would be the first to fall quickly to Islam in the seventh century.
But Satan was unable to destroy the birth of the God-Man, the Theanthropos.
Revelation 12:10-12 – “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil has come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.”
After the victory of the God-Man through the Ecumenical councils, there was worship in heaven celebrating the defeat of the accusation of those like Arius and Nestorius. “They overcame him” by the “word of their testimony” confirms that the testimony and decrees of the councils are unshakable and unmovable. These witnesses to the truth would proclaim it as such during the 1260-year persecutions to come.
This rejoicing of the heavens and those that dwell in them is synonymous to the proclamation or “Confession of the Faith on the Sunday of Orthodoxy” which was celebrated after the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787:
“As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught,… as the Church has received… as the teachers have dogmatized,… as the Universe has agreed,… as Grace has shown forth,… as Truth has revealed,… as falsehood has been dissolved,… as Wisdom has presented,… as Christ Awarded,… thus we declare,… thus we assert,… thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor as Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the one hand worshipping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord; and on the other hand honoring as true servants of the same Lord of all and accordingly offering them veneration. This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.”
And who is the identity of the witnesses who give the “word of their testimony” through the ecumenical councils? Let’s briefly move to some of the key verses in Revelation chapter 11, which will aid us with the identity of the two witnesses.
Revelation 11:3-7 – “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.”
The “two witnesses” are considered two classification of witnesses that belong to the woman clothed with the Sun: the Clergy and Laity. The Clergy consists of the bishops and priests who received their authority from the Apostles, while the Laity grew in size and influence, especially within the monastic communities which were to persevere and hide from the Dragon for 1260 years, clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth is a symbol and garment of mourning. During this time of persecution these two witnesses are covered in black sackcloth to mourn the period of Christ’s glory, which becomes dim with the spread and delusion of Satan. However, Satan is unable to hurt their doctrines and defense of the God-Man. For as new heresies arose to try to cause damage to the two witnesses, then ecumenical councils were called to defend against them, and heretical accusations were met with division and excommunication. Through the Holy Spirit proceeding out of their mouth, they were able to devour any accusations and heresies on the nature of the God-Man. However, after the Church completed it’s testimony of the seven ecumenical councils, then Satan would finally be allowed to unleash his final and greatest heresy to try to destroy the spread and growth of the woman and her Man Child throughout the world.
Revelation 11:7 – “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.”
When the Clergy and Laity in the church “finished their testimony” through the creation of the Nicene Creed and the definition of the God-Man’s doctrines and canons of the seven ecumenical councils, the “beast” or Antichrist Mohammed would ascend out of the deserts of Arabia with a new monotheistic religion, Islam, to make war against the Christian empires and overcome them.
Iconoclast Controversy and Fleeing From Persecution
Revelation 12-13 – “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the male child.”
When Satan realized that he was unable to destroy the identity of the Man-Child or God-Man Jesus Christ through the various Christological Heresies and their defeat with the testimony of the two witnesses of the woman through the Ecumenical Councils, he began to persecute the church for a period of 1260 years with a divide and conquer approach from outside and within.
Revelation 12:14 – “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
As the spread of Islam began out of the sea of Arabia in 632 AD, the woman began to be persecuted through martyrdom, taxation and forced conversion. However, the church was well prepared for such an assault and the centers of the faith were switched over to the monasteries in the wilderness for protection. The church was given “two wings of a great eagle” to describe the physical location of many of these monasteries in the high cliffs away from the invading armies where many eagles would build their nests. At the same time the “two wings of the great eagle” describes the spiritual elevation of the faith and it’s understanding of the divinity of Christ through its two wings: prayer and fasting. With her flight into the wilderness to the place prepared of God, she would grow and strengthen spiritually for 1260 years.
Meteora – The Church’s Monastic Life “on two wings of the Eagle”
Only where Eagles fly… away from the Flood of the Serpent
Revelation 12:15 – “And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.”
Water is normally used to describe the spiritual nourishment and sustainment of a person through the reading of scriptures. Jesus first spoke of this “stream of living water” when he asked the Samaritan Woman to draw him water from the well:
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – (John 4:13-14)
Also, in John 7:37-39 we read
“…If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. To the one who believes in Me, it is just as the Scripture has said: ‘Streams of living water’” will flow from within him. He was speaking about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.“
But the Serpent or Dragon’s water is a different type of water. The Serpent would pursue the woman with a new type of water intended to drown the woman and cause her to be carried away. This water would arrive with fast moving armies of the barbarian invaders “like a flood” with its strong fast moving current. What is the essence of this type of water? This water represents the heresy and delusion of a new monotheistic religion to give honor, thanksgiving and worship to the Dragon – Allah, through his mouthpiece Mohammed. The main object of Satan was to create a new heresy that would cause the church to be swept away by the fast poisonous flood of invasions by the nomadic Arabian converts to Islam that would be called to begin a Jihad or Holy War against the surrounding empires and countries. This dangerous water represents a new type of “scriptures” represented by the Koran, the mouthpiece of the serpent. Whoever drank from the water contained within this book would drown or lose his soul. Because this water represents the new heresy called Islam that the Dragon invented to look like it was “authentic” monotheism, but in reality, it swept away souls to Hades by the millions due to their worship of the Red Dragon, Allah.
The Serpent’s Flood of Heresy and the Mouth of the Earth’s Empress who saved Her
Revelation 12:17 – “And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.”
The early influence of Islam in the seventh century had disastrous effects upon the church after the six ecumenical council. As Islam spread as a new form of monotheism, the veneration of the holy icons were accused to be idolatry, thus giving rise to the great Iconoclasm movement of the Church. The Emperor Leo sought to abolish the use of icons and images within the church due to the influence of Islam. But the “earth helped the woman” by swallowing the flood from the dragon’s mouth with the Churches support from Gregory II and St John of Damascus, which provided logical arguments in defense of icons. In the year 787 the seventh ecumenical council decreed adoration and veneration of icons and anathamized the Arabic belief of the Red Dragon and the iconoclast emperors. Iconoclasm would attempt to swallow the woman until the year 842 AD during the reign of Theodora, when on the Sunday of Orthodoxy the “flood” which the “dragon cast out of his mouth” was stopped in its tracks.
Revelation 12:17 – “And the dragon was angry with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Satan, being enraged against the Church and his defeat through the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the decree of Theodora halting the influence of the flood of the “new scriptures” and the Koran upon the Church, went on to make war with the rest of the church that did not fall away to schism and heresy for a period of “time of times and a half of a time”, or 1260 years of tribulation.
Revelation Chapter 12 – Summary and Conclusions
Chapter 12 of the Apocalypse provides to us valuable information on the formation of the church and it’s struggles through heresy and persecution. The woman clothed with the sun is the bride of Christ, the church, who proved herself worthy of Christ by repelling all of the heretical attacks of the Dragon, giving birth to the God-Man who was raised to the throne of God. The woman also gave birth to the two witnesses standing before God of the Earth, who would finish the testimony of ecumenical councils. Finally, after this period, she would escape the danger of the “flood” by the dragon and be taken by the two wings of the great eagle to the holy monasteries where she would remain there until the safe arrival of the “days of the voice of the seventh angel.”
© 2018 by Jonathan Photius