Who is the woman of Revelation 12?
Most commentaries identify the male child as Jesus Christ. However, there are various views as to the identity of the woman, including:
- Mary - the literal mother of Christ;
- The church, i.e., the followers of Christ;
- Israel, i.e., the literal nation of Israel; and
- God’s People, meaning the true believers from all times and nations and denominations.
Below, we first discuss various indications of the identity of the woman and conclude with a summary:
a) She gave birth to Christ.
The church came into existence after Christ. The church, therefore, did not give birth to Christ and cannot be the woman of Revelation 12.
b) She is beautiful in God's sight.
The woman is beautiful in God’s sight. For example, she is “clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1). Since Israel was not always beautiful, the woman does not seem to symbolize literal Israel.
c) Her other children hold to Jesus.
The rest of the woman's children "keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Rev 12:17). This seems to eliminate literal Israel, for it does not "hold to the testimony of Jesus."
d) The woman is a symbol.
Revelation is a book of symbols. The immediate context also indicates that this woman is a symbol. For example, she appears as “a great sign … in heaven,” stands on the moon, and is confronted by a “great red dragon” (Rev 12:1-3). Therefore, the woman should not be interpreted as a literal woman such as Mary.
e) God describes His people as His wife.
The Old Testament symbolizes the relationship between God and His people as a marriage; God is the husband and Israel is His “wife.” And, when Israelites are unfaithful to Him, Israel is called an adulteress (e.g. Jer 3:8; Exo 34:15; Deut 31:16).
The New Testament describes the relationship between Christ and His church in the same way (e.g., 2 Cor 11:2).
The harlot and wife imagery of Revelation, therefore, must be interpreted accordingly:
- “The great harlot” (Rev 17:1-2, 5) must not be understood as literal harlotry but as unfaithfulness to the only true god (Yahweh).
- “The bride, the wife of the Lamb” refers to the true followers of Christ (Rev 19:7; 21:9).
Given that the Bible pervasively uses husband/wife symbolism for the relationship of God to people, the beautiful woman of Revelation 12 should be understood as symbolizing God’s true worshipers.
f) The woman is persecuted.
Jesus warned that the church will be persecuted (e.g., Matt 24:9). Therefore, the mere fact that the woman of Revelation 12 is persecuted, forcing her to flee into the wilderness (Rev 12:4, 6, 14-15), means that she symbolizes God’s people.
Furthermore, she hides in the wilderness for “a time, times, and half a time” (Rev 12:14) and for 1260 days (Rev 12:6). These two periods are the same and also the same as the 42 months mentioned elsewhere in Revelation. This period is mentioned several times in Daniel and Revelation and always is the period of persecution of God’s people, namely when:
- The saints of the Highest One are worn down (Dan 7:25),
- The power of the holy people is shattered (Dan 12:7),
- The holy city is trampled under foot (Rev 11:2),
- God’s two witnesses prophesy clothed in sackcloth (Rev 11:3), and
- The beast overcomes the saints (Rev 13:5-7).
Since, during this same period, the woman is hiding in the wilderness, it follows that the woman symbolizes the saints; the holy people. All of these symbols mean the same thing, namely that God’s people will be despised and persecuted.
g) She is the woman of Genesis 3.
In God’s judgments following Adam’s sin, as recorded in Genesis 3, we read:
14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“… 15 … I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your
seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall
bruise him on the heel.”
16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in
childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children …”
There are several links between this and Revelation 12:1-5:
Both mention a woman bearing a child.
Both mention the severe pain in childbirth (Gen 3:16; Rev 12:2).
The dragon of 12:3 is later explained as “the serpent of old” (Rev 12:9), which takes us back to the serpent in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:14).
God said that there would be “enmity” between the woman and the serpent. Similarly, in Revelation 12, “the dragon (the serpent) stood before the woman” (Rev 12:4).
Both passages refer to Jesus Christ; He is both the seed promised to Eve in Genesis 3:15 and the “male child” in Revelation 12:5.
These links imply that Revelation here converts the woman in Genesis 3 into a symbol. Consequently, the promise in Genesis 3 of a savior that will be born from the woman implies that the woman in Revelation 12:1-2, who is expecting a male child, symbolizes all people before the time of Christ who were hoping for the savior promised by God in Genesis 3, including all God's people who lived before Israel existed and also all non-Jews who lived after Israel came into existence.
Consequently, the woman of Revelation 12 cannot be limited to Mary or to literal Israel or to the New Testament church.
h) She is God’s people.
In several ways, a high-level analysis of the second half of Revelation (chapters 12-22) will show that the woman in Revelation 12 is a symbol of God’s people:
Who participates in the war?
Firstly, the second half of Revelation describes the war between Christ and Satan. It begins in chapter 12 with an overview of that war. In that overview, the war on earth is between the dragon and the woman. But the subsequent chapters explain that war in more detail, including that:
The dragon works through many allies, including the sea beast (Rev 13:1) and the land beast (Rev 13:11).
Through its allies, the dragon wage war against God’s people, for example, against the 144000 (Rev 14:1) and “those who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2).
So, in the subsequent explanation of Revelation 12, the woman symbolizes God’s people.
Begin and end with a woman
Secondly, the description of the war between Christ and Satan in the second half of Revelation (Rev 12-22) begins before the time of Christ (Rev 12:1-5) and ends at the end of the Millennium (Rev 20:7), a thousand years after Christ has returned. It describes various entities involved in that war but, at both the beginning and at the end, it describes both the dragon and a woman:
It begins with a woman and a dragon in Revelation 12.
It ends when the dragon (Satan) is destroyed in “the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev 20:10) while “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” is received in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:9, 1).
By implication, it is the same woman at both the beginning and the end. Therefore, since the woman at the end is explicitly Christ's bride (Rev 21:9), the woman at the beginning is also the bride, which is a familiar concept referring to the followers of Christ (e.g., 2 Cor 11:2; John 3:29; Luke 5:35).
i) She exists always everywhere.
In Revelation, there are two women who are also cities:
- As discussed in the detailed part of this article, Christ’s bride and the New Jerusalem are two perspectives of the same thing (Rev 21:9-10).
- And “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots” is “the great city” (Rev 17:5, 18).
The harlot and the bride, therefore, are opposing counterparts. The previous section showed that the bride is the same as the woman in Revelation 12. Consequently, the woman in Revelation 12 and the harlot are opposing counterparts, meaning that they are the same type of thing, but in the opposing camps: What the harlot is in Satan’s army, the woman is in Christ’s army. Therefore, we are able to identify the woman by identifying the harlot.
Another article series shows that Babylon always exists. For example, she is guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people who died for their faith in all ages (Rev 18:24; cf. 17:6; 19:2). It also shows that Babylon is worldwide. For example, she sits on “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15).
The woman of Revelation 12, as the opposing counterpart of Babylon, therefore, presumably, also always exists and is also worldwide. Consequently, she cannot be limited to Israel or to the church or to Mary; the literal mother of Jesus.
j) Revelation merges the church into Israel
The most important argument against the proposal that the faithful woman of Revelation 12 symbolizes literal Israel is that the Book of Revelation does not distinguish between Israel and the church. Rather, as discussed elsewhere, Revelation merges the church into Israel. For example:
Revelation uses one of the things in the Jewish temple, namely, the
seven-fold lampstands, to symbolize the seven churches (Rev 1:20).
“The New Jerusalem” - a symbol of God's people (Rev 21:9-10) - has
written on it the names of both the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of
Israel (Rev 21:12, 14).
Revelation, therefore, is consistent with Paul’s analogy of the olive tree, from which some natural Jews branches were cut off and some wild Gentiles branches were grafted in (Rom 11:16-24).
The table below summarizes the criteria to determine who the woman is by identifying which of the alternative interpretations are eliminated by which criteria. The four alternative interpretations are as follows:
- Mary - the literal mother of Christ;
- The church, i.e., the followers of Christ;
- The literal nation of Israel; both before and after Christ; and
- God’s People from all times and nations and denominations.
The only alternative that fulfills all criteria is "God’s people." If God’s people are defined as the true believers from all times and places, it is a wider concept than Paul’s olive tree (Rom 11:16-24) because it also includes believers from before the time of Israel and believers outside Israel during the time of Israel.
The full article is available here.