This chapter now skips back to an earlier period in church history to the beginning of the Christian church and the period of the persecution of the early Church under pagan Rome that transitions into her persecution under papal Rome. The chapter is more of a vision of the spiritual view of the forces at work rather than those in the earthly realm. It shows us the same satanic power behind pagan Rome as is behind papal Rome. Compare verse 12:3 with 13:1.
This revelation really starts with chapter 11:19. There we read that the temple of God is opened in a new vision, where even the holy ark of His testament is seen. Compare to Revelation 4:1, the same type of language is used.
The ark of the Old testament covenant must have disappeared at some point from Temple worship, because, when the veil of the Temple was split down the middle (Matthew 27:51) at Christ’s death on the Cross, it showed that Christ earned the right of being (symbolically) the ark of God. He is the only intercessor between man and God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5). The ark of God in heaven means that the following occurs temporally after the resurrection of Christ.
There appeared (v.1) “a woman”, the true Church of God, “clothed with the sun,” symbolising Christ’s covering for salvation. The true Church shines with the light of the sun of righteousness. The phrase “the moon under her feet” could symbolise the Old testament, which shone by a reflected light not fully revealed until Christ came in the flesh, and is subordinate to the New Covenant of the Church. The woman then symbolises the true Israel of God (Isaiah 62:11), the believers (Galatians 4:31). Some say “the moon under her feet” means she survives in the world.
The true Church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2,9, Ephesians 5:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:2). She has “a crown of 12 stars,” which could mean she is led by the 12 Apostles of Christ, the Evangelists. This woman is viewed as that spiritual Church that Christ built, beginning with Christ who was born from the believing seed of physical Israel (v.2), not some ecclesiastical institution of man on Earth. “… as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isaiah 66:8). The travail of Zion causes the increase. (See Isaiah 54:1.) The state of the woman therefore implies a Church in sorrow, a suffering Church, but out of whose suffering there comes an increase of the saints. It is a period when the saints are multiplied in the midst of persecution.
Then appears a ‘great red dragon’ (v.3) which describes the Satanic (see v.9) control of the temporal earthly power. The red colour implies a persecuting power. It is described with “seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads”. These seven heads symbolise the world kingdoms, which, in chapter 17, will be seen that Satan’s woman sits on or controls. See Revelation 17:7,9,10. The city of Rome is called the City of seven hills. The dragon here has ‘ten horns’, which symbolise at this point in history 10 kings occupying pagan Western Rome at the end of the pagan Roman Empire. The 7 crowns are on the ‘heads’ not on the ‘horns’ thus represent the kings of the past kingdoms. The dragon was the standard of pagan Rome in the third century, as testified by many ancient writers.
Verse 4 describes both physical and the spiritual warfare. The expression “third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth” indicates warfare against the Church in the old pagan Roman empire. And “the dragon stood before the woman, … to devour her child as soon as it was born” symbolizes an effort to destroy the saints, the seed of the woman, the children of the early Church. This parallels the effort of Satan to destroy the Christ child before he was born.
Christ was born fully human (v.5), yet fully God. Satan was unable to prevent His birth and life on Earth as He accomplished the task He was prescribed to do. In the same manner, the children of the woman are the true Church. The “man child” is a symbol of the faithful members of the Church. But how shall they “rule all nations with a rod of iron”? The Greek text says “rule all ἔθνος ethnos [meaning heathen, pagan people] with a rod of iron.” This implies a firm and permanent, but tender and loving rule, not a stern rule. In Revelation 2:26,27 it is promised that he who overcomes shall rule the nations with a rod of iron.
The ‘woman’ (v.6) then clearly symbolises the primitive Church born from the seed of Israel. She hides in the ‘wilderness’ under persecution of Satan through the power of pagan Rome. The ‘wilderness’ means out from under the control of man’s authority. The true church always follows God’s authority. This persecution continues under the power of papal Rome and continues for a long period. The 1 day = 1 year equivalence means 1260 years (v.6), but could symbolise an even much longer period. cf: Revelation 11:3.
The ‘dragon’, symbolising the power behind the Papacy, which ascended to power from the pagan Roman Empire, makes war against the true Church on Earth (v.7-9). But Satan failed. He and his angels were cast out of heaven into the earth which symbolises the attempt to destroy the early Church but God protected her. There was “war in heaven: Michael … fought”. Michael means “Who is as God?” Contrast that with “Who is like unto the beast?” (Revelation 13:4)
Verse 9 tells us that Satan is the power behind the Papacy. Satan “deceives the whole world” with the ultimate deception of the Papacy, in the guise of God’s representative on Earth, as actually God’s true enemy. Wherever there is the true representation there is Satan’s false reputation — a copy of the truth.
The following language was addressed to Pope Innocent X, and may serve as a specimen of the feelings with which the Adoration [ceremony of inauguration of the pope] is performed:–
“Most Holy and Blessed Father, Head of the Church, Ruler of the World, to whom the keys of the Kingdom of heaven are committed, whom the Angels in Heaven Revere, and [whom] the gates of hell fear, and [whom] all the World adores, we specially venerate, worship, and adore thee, and commit ourselves, and all that belongs to us, to thy paternal and MORE than divine disposal”.
What more could be said to Almighty God Himself? (Excerpted from “Union with Rome” by Christopher Wordsworth.)
Those true believers who die at the hands of the Papacy and the Romish church are called up to heaven (v.10) and their accuser, Satan, is cast down, meaning into the Earth. Satan has power on Earth to war against the saints in great tribulation. Many believers die but they are saved by their faith (v.11). “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” implies that the saints were victorious (Satan “prevailed not” v.8). The saints in heaven are rejoicing because of their victory (v.12).
The devil continues to reign on Earth through the popes and the Roman Catholic Church, influencing kings and nations, persecuting the true Church but it can only continue for a finite and short period longer (v.12,13). Verse 12 says “he knows that he has but a short time”. This persecution is inspired by Satan against the fledging true Church, which is again symbolised by “the woman that brought forth the man child” (v.13).
Verse 14 describes the same period of persecution of the ‘woman’, the Church, that started under the power of papal Rome and continues for a long period. The period is 3½ ‘times,’ equivalent to 1260 years, but could symbolise an even much longer period. This symbolises the period of time of persecution of the true Church until the power of the Papacy was significantly broken towards the end of the 19th century.
The Papacy and the Roman Church told and does tell many lies about the true Church (v.15) but she hides among the nations of world (v.16). The expression “the earth helped the woman” symbolises the fact that the persecution was so hindered it failed to accomplish its goal. This may mean the hindrances often interposed by secular powers to stay persecution. The Hussites protected themselves under Zisca by force of arms; the German princes protected Luther; the edict of Nantes gave French Protestants a rest. These were times when “the earth swallowed up the flood”.
The “dragon was angry with t he woman” (v.17) Satan continued his warfare against the true Church against “the remnant of her seed”. This is persecution of the true Church, first by pagan Rome, and then by papal Rome, a persecution that results in the apparent disappearance of the true Church from the earth. Though not visible to the eye of the historians during this period, yet the true Church, fed of God, survives in the hearts of the hidden and persecuted saints. The period of her exile ends in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The true Church began to appear as a visible body, once more in the world. Papal Rome tries to destroy true Christians but there always remains a remnant who hold to the truth of Jesus Christ.