A woman is described in the 12th chapter of The Revelation.  In this article I will be discussing who this woman is, how she relates to events in the Old Testament, and how she relates to events which have not yet taken place.  

Who is this woman?

The Revelation 12:5 says that this woman gives birth to a male child, who is destined to rule the world with a rod of iron.  But before he can do that, he is taken to God’s throne in heaven.  For us as Christians, this male child is obviously Jesus.  So the woman must be Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Easy!  

However, in the opening verse, the woman is described as being clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and twelve stars in a crown on her head.  There is nothing else in scripture to link Mary with the sun, the moon, and twelve stars.  Nevertheles, the imagery in this verse (whether it has any other meaning or not) has been added to many Catholic drawings of Mary, in order to make it more obvious (to Catholics anyway) that The Revelation chapter 12 is all about Mary.

Over the centuries, Mary’s role in the Catholic Church has evolved into one that appears to outrank God himself.  She is now, for example, referred to as the “Mother of God”.  The phrase "mother of Jesus” (as used in the Bible and used by Protestants) was apparently not strong enough for what Catholic Church officials wanted to promote.  As God’s mother, Mary becomes the source of all three aspects of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Mary comes across more or less as the creator (or Mother) of the Creator.

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary never sinned, never had sex with Joseph (even after they married), never died, and that she is now the "Queen of Heaven”.  (See Jeremiah 7:8, to learn what God thinks about this title!)  Not one of these claims about Mary is taught in the Bible, but they have grown out of Catholic tradition.  

For Catholics, Mary is not the Queen of Heaven by virtue of the fact that she is married to the King of Heaven.  In fact, there is no King.  God is her son, remember?  Mary is the ruling monarch in her own right, much like Queen Elizabeth in today’s world.  God and Jesus are relegated to the wings, much like Prince Charles, waiting patiently for the day when they might be able to resume control of heaven and earth.

Catholic reasoning to support people praying to Mary, is based on the argument that God himself would find it difficult to say No to his mother.  This tends to undermine and circumvent the authority of God the Father, and of Jesus, his Son.

In the 12th chapter of The Revelation, Mary’s Baby is described both as a male, and as one who will rule the world with a rod of iron.  From this biblical description, we get a picture of a male God with high standards and harsh judgments for those who do not measure up.  This forceful male authority has been replaced in Catholic thinking with a soft, feminine goddess.  Mary is one’s way around the Male God, and one's way to escape the iron rod of His Son.  Catholics are told that praying to Mary and getting her to pass their prayers on, to God and Jesus, will win them kinder treatment than they would get if they had prayed directly to God or Jesus.  The picture we are given is that of a “nice” mother protecting her children from a “not so nice” father and older brother.

Because of the apparent blasphemy in this teaching, Protestants often find it hard to accept the most obvious interpretation of the woman in chapter 12 of The Revelation.  But really, the problem only occurs because of an assumption that anything said in defence of Mary amounts to a defence for the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrines about Mary.

I believe that the woman in this chapter represents much more than Mary; but I think it is quite right to start by identifying this woman as Mary… the real Mary, the mother of Jesus.  

The Mary of the Catholic Church is not the real Mary of the Bible.  It’s a false Mary, fabricated by an apostate and effeminate church.  Mary herself would find such beliefs abhorrent.

It was a great blessing that Mary received; but when a woman shouted out to Jesus, “Blessed is the woman who gave birth to you!” he replied, “More blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and keeps it.”  (Luke 11:26-28)  When Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to talk to him, he left them waiting outside and pointed to the people who were listening to him teach, and he said “These are my mother and my brothers."  (Luke 8:19-21)

Here is our biggest clue about who the woman really is in the 12th chapter of The Revelation.  Jesus had previously said that the people who put their faith in him become his “mother”.  So this woman who gave birth to Jesus is, in my opinion, more than just Mary.  It is a tiny remnant of true believers which has existed, largely unnoticed, in every generation, like a golden thread running through all of history.  She is all those people who have learned to listen for and listen to God.

Mary was a part of that golden thread in her day, but only a part.  Her special role was recognised by her cousin, Elizabeth, by a few shepherds, by some holy men from Asia, and by an old man and an old woman (Simeon and Anna) in the Temple; but not much more.  These people were the golden thread that runs through all of history, and it was this golden thread or “remnant”, to use a Bible term, that gave birth to a male child, who is destined to rule the world with a rod of iron.

The Revelation gives three different descriptions of this good woman, but they all appear to represent different aspects of a faithful remnant.  There is the Bride who is waiting for her husband. (The Revelation 21:2)  This is universally believed to be the Church waiting for Jesus to return.  Then there is this Woman in the Wilderness from the 12th chapter of The Revelation.  And finally there is what has been called The Virgin Army, a group of 144,000 faithful followers of Jesus, who are described as female virgins.

Membership in the Church includes men and women both.  So the feminine description (Bride of Christ) is not limited to female Christians.  The Bible says that there is “neither male nor female in Christ Jesus”.  (Galatians 3:28)  The description of this Bride of Christ symbolises the church’s submissive role to Jesus.  Whether male or female, we must all become as females in our relationship to that “male child”, who is Jesus.  He is our corporate Husband, and it is our job to serve him, and to glorify him like a humble, submissive Bride… not to glorify ourselves and try to manipulate him, as happens in so much that passes for Christianity.

Similarly, the virgin army is described as specifically female virgins, but it also says of the people in this army that they "kept themselves from women.”  That has made many people think that the people in this army must be male virgins (i.e. men who have never had sex).  But the use of a word that represents only female virgins verifies that this is not about physical gender.  So what does it mean, to “keep ourselves from women”, if we are, in fact, spiritually “women" ourselves.

I would say that Jesus is looking for people (his Bride) who refuse to be controlled by some trait that is normally associated with women, or with being effeminate.  In our relationship to Jesus, we are soft, pliable, and submissive.  But in our relationships with the world, we need to be strong and masculine in terms of rejecting lies and deception.

In recent times, scientists have been able to identify one half of the brain which is dominant in women and one half that is dominant in men.  In brief, the masculine side is the rational side, whereas the feminine side is the emotional side.  All of us have both halves, but the tendency is for men to control their emotions through reasoning, and for women to challenge reason on the basis of emotions.  The differences are not absolute, and are much more complicated than what I have said here.  Nevertheless, they seem to represent fairly accurately the “feminine” (or feminist?) spirit that the virgin army has rejected.

I picture a group of people (including both males and females biologically) who have learned to control their emotions, even if it’s just by working in cooperation with someone else who is able to help them to control their emotions.  By doing this, we keep ourselves from “women” (an emotional instability), and we learn to exercise the rational side of our brain more than the emotional side.

When writing to the Ephesians about the different roles of husbands and wives, Paul finished by saying, “This is a mystery, but I’m talking about Christ and the Church.”  I think that we should apply a similar spiritual interpretation of some fairly offensive things that Paul said about “women” being in submission to men and keeping silence in the church.  Although he may not have fully understood it himself at the time, I think he was communicating a “mystery" about not letting our emotions over-rule our reason: not in our private lives, nor in our families nor in our churches.

Ultimately, all of us have problems with emotions getting the better of us at times; but true submission to Jesus will counteract this tendency.  Spiritually, we become wives, living in submission to (and under the protection of) our Husband, Jesus.  But this submission to Jesus keeps us from being tossed about by all the fancy words and false doctrines that have taken the church and the world farther and farther away from the real Jesus of the Bible.

So, in terms of who this woman is, we have concluded that she is Mary, the mother of Jesus, in part, but that she is much more than that.  Along with two other good “women” referred to in The Revelation, she represents faithful believers who are and have been in total submission to God throughout history.

How Does She Relate to the Old Testament?

Now, let us look at how Mary, as depicted in The Revelation 12, relates to believers in the past.  Mary was biologically a woman.  Her husband, Joseph, was biologically a man.  They both needed to learn to be feminine in their submission to Jesus, yet masculine in terms of not letting emotions lead them astray spiritually.  Their success in doing this is why they were represented as having given birth to Jesus in this chapter.

This woman standing on the moon and clothed with the Sun could just as easily represent Joseph… or the three wise men… or the shepherds.  Through their mutual submission to God, all of these people (and many others before them) brought Jesus into the world.  They became his mother and his brothers, as Jesus said.

It was only natural for Mary to be worried that Jesus might go off the rails in his zeal to obey God; but at some point she must have acknowledged the role of Jesus (and later, his disciple, John) as her human and spiritual protector, for she was there with the other disciples on the Day of Pentecost.  She is not seen as the Queen of all that was going on, but as a humble, submissive servant.  And this is what God wants from all of us, if we are going to truly “give birth” to Jesus in a world which badly needs to hear him and to heed what he has taught.
The real Mary would have no trouble recognising that she was just part of a faithful remnant of Israel, which had stayed true to God and the leadings of his Spirit throughout the ages, and she would have no problem with acknowledging that the incarnation of Christ was a gift from God to all of us.

Now I will read the first verse of the chapter in question:

“There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”

This obviously does NOT fit our normal understanding of Mary’s life, as portrayed in the Bible.  It is only the creation of Catholic icons with Mary portrayed in this way that causes anyone to naturally think of her as being clothed with the sun or any of the other things in this description.

The analogy of the sun, the moon, and twelve stars actually takes us back to the 37th chapter of Genesis.  Joseph, one of Israel’s twelve sons, had a dream in which his parents and his 11 brothers (represented by the sun, the moon, and eleven stars) all bowed down to him.

This was a reminder to that special family, long before any concept of twelve tribes had formulated, that God did not have to bless ALL the descendants of Abraham in order to keep his promise.  In fact, he was only going to bless those who had the faith of Abraham.  And the same is true today.  Affiliation with a church means absolutely nothing if you don’t have the faith of Abraham.

Ishmael was Abraham’s son, remember, and yet he did not receive the promise.  Esau was Isaac’s son, and yet he did not receive the promise.  And in Joseph’s dream, his other eleven brothers (who later became patriarchs of eleven tribes) were forced to bow to him, as the one who alone had acted in obedience to God.  At that time, and in that situation, Joseph was obviously the only one who had the faith of Abraham.

Notice that Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, and yet God delivered him.  In the Christmas story we read that another Joseph (Mary’s fiancé) was the one to whom an angel of God appeared, telling him to flee into Egypt with Mary and the Baby.  Sure, Mary gave birth to Baby Jesus; but God used Joseph to save his life.  It was Mary’s submission to Joseph that resulted in her making such a move, even though she herself had neither seen nor heard the angel which spoke to Joseph.

So God did something special through both Josephs.  And what he did was significant in terms of identifying this woman.  She represents those people who have been open to hearing from God throughout history.  God spoke to both Josephs through dreams and he protected both of them in Egypt… one of the least likely places to expect God to use as a refuge.

Coincidentally(?) the 12th chapter of The Revelation also talks of God leading people away into a “wilderness”, where they will be cared for during the Great Tribulation.

Then there is the story of God leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt in the Old Testament.  Virtually all of those who left Egypt were destroyed in the wilderness.  Once again, God rejected the mainstream of Israel’s descendants, and called out a remnant.  Moses himself missed out, and Joshua became the new seed (or descendant) of promise.  The name Joshua and the name Jesus are used interchangeably in Hebrews 4:8.  The name Jesus is used in the KJV, and the name Joshua in most other translations.

The Jews themselves are a remnant, in that ten of the twelve tribes had totally disappeared by the time of the New Testament.  And Paul understood that Christianity was the new remnant from those proud people as well.  See Isaiah 37:31-32 cf Romans 11:5.
Because of their faithlessness, God had the right to remove the promise from the mainstream, and he did just that, over and over.  He was under no obligation to fulfil a promise to any who did not stay faithful to him.  Faithfulness was always an assumed condition, but rebellious people throughout history have told themselves that God is obligated to keep some perceived “promise”, whether or not they ever obey him!  (See Deuteronomy 11:26-28.)

Only a remnant entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.  The point made was that God works through small groups more than through huge organisations, and that he is always free to dump those who refuse to listen to him.

How Does This Woman Relate to the Return of Jesus?

Twelve tribes of Israel are described in The Revelation.  Many Christians have been tricked into believing these twelve tribes will be flesh Jews, despite abundant proof and overwhelming reality to the contrary… the most obvious being that the Jews are NOT twelve tribes.  Ten tribes simply do not exist anymore.

James addressed his epistle to the “twelve tribes of Israel scattered abroad”.  God had long since rejected ten of the tribes of Israel, and the remnant that became the Church was all that remained of the other two in God’s eyes.  Nevertheless, those individuals who accepted Jesus became the new Israel, a resurrection of all twelve tribes.  They became the new church in the wilderness… the remnant that brings Jesus forth to the world.  

There is a slight, but significant, change in the naming of the tribes in The Revelation.  The tribe of Dan is left out, and Joseph is given two tribes, one for himself, and one for his oldest son, Mannaseh.  I believe this is a pointer to the lesson God was trying to teach through Joseph’s dream, and the lesson he wants us to learn from the 12th chapter of The Revelation.  God is not constrained from offering something extra to those who are most faithful, and he is also free to cast off any who are unfaithful.

The remnant, or true church, was there in the Old Testament, even when it appeared that the entire crowd was rebelling against Moses.  In his sermon just before his death, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, referred to this remnant as the “church in the wilderness" of Sinai. (Acts 7:38)  I believe he was saying that the church (or remnant of Israel) in the New Testament is the natural progression of that church (or remnant of Israel) that was faithful in the wilderness in the Old Testament.  And I believe that the church in the wilderness spoken of in The Revelation, chapter 12 is a remnant of the apostate institutional church of today.  During the last seven years, this remnant church will become visible, and it will survive in another wilderness situation just before Jesus returns.

In both “wildernesses", there were and will be no shops, and no way to buy or sell.  But God will provide.  In one way or another, we will be fed with manna from heaven.  We will become a testimony to the whole world, as a wicked world, led by the Devil incarnate, does all that it can to stamp us out.

 What we see in the 12th chapter of The Revelation is but one more reminder that it’s not the system, not the mainstream, not the empires of man that God is interested in, but he is interested in those rare and isolated individuals who will follow him like Noah, though we may be the last remaining faithful person on earth.  God is calling to all such individuals today, to get a clearer vision of his Son and all that Jesus came to tell us about how to live our lives and build our churches.  And don’t be surprised if the end result is that you find yourself all alone in the wilderness with God.