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She is introduced:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.—Revelation 12:1 (NIV)

Who is the woman referred to here? Is it Mary, the Church, the Jews, or someone else?

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    I dealt with this some in answering this question. – Caleb Jun 29 '12 at 23:07
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    @Caleb I thought it was funny that your linked answer and my answer (below) arrived at the same conclusion, even though my emphasis was on how we need to understand it in the context of the passage which contains it, and your emphasis was on how it can't be understood without the context of Scriptures outside of the passage which contains it! (We probably agree in practice, but it was funny to me how we were making somewhat opposite points.) – Jas 3.1 Jun 30 '12 at 0:41
  • @Jas3.1 Your answer is excellent and I agree with the conclusion, however in point 3 at the end it hinges entirely on your assertion that no interpretation of this passage no matter how metaphoric can be seen to be filled in Mary. The Catholic church claims it was. In order to make sense of that (im)possibility I think one must bring the weight of the rest of scripture to bear on the matter. Your interpretation is good, but depends on your view on several issues going into the interpretation process. Rather than depending on your assumptions, why not let it depend on other scripture? – Caleb Jul 1 '12 at 5:49
  • @JohnMartin That's not really how this works. Some things can be fixed by third party edits, but the sort of re-focusing I suggested would need to come from the author. I've given my suggestion for how the answer could me improved. It's up to Jas to try to implement it or not; he already has my upvote this is just a suggested for fixing one area where it is weak. If I was going to do it I would spend the time answering myself. – Caleb Mar 25 '14 at 16:55
  • @JohnMartin Why? The answer I'm commenting on slips-up in ignoring the existence of Catholic commentators in suggesting that nobody could see it another way. I am pointing out that many somebodies do in-fact see it the way he suggests it cannot be seen. Rather than ignoring this large body of commentary, I think he should acknowledge that it exists — bring it into play and show (with hermeneutical reasoning) how it fits the pieces or how it fails. – Caleb Mar 25 '14 at 22:14
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One of my favorite sayings in hermeneutics is:

The meaning of a word is determined by the context in which it is used.

As you indicated in your question, there are many "women" mentioned in the Bible, so to determine which "woman" is being referenced here, we need to look at the context. As we proceed, keep in mind that this is "a great sign in heaven", so the language is very symbolic. (If you don't want to read the whole thing, I suppose you could just skip to the bottom.)

The Child

and she was with child, and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. -v. 2

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. -v. 5

We are given enough familiar language in verse 5 to identify the "child" as Jesus. The child being "caught up to God and to His throne", then, is referring to the ascension of Jesus after His crucifixion. (NOTE: This identification is further reinforced by careful consideration of verses 17 and 10.)

her child was caught up to God and to His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God -v. 5-6

After the ascension of Jesus, the "woman" flees into a place prepared by God, although it is not clear from this verse if she flees immediately after the ascension, or if some events transpire between the ascension and fleeing.

The Dragon

(Verses 3-4) describe another character: "a great red dragon". If we jump ahead a bit to verse 9, we learn that the "dragon" is Satan.

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan -v. 9

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. -v. 4

So the picture in verse 4 is that Satan was waiting for the "woman" to give birth to Jesus so he could destroy Him.

The War In Heaven

Starting in verse 7 we see a war in heaven between Michael's army and Satan's army. Satan's army loses, and they are cast out of heaven, which results in a proclamation of the beginning of Christ's reign (in verse 10). Satan's army is cast down to the earth, where the proclamation continues:

"Woe to the earth... because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time." -v. 12

This "casting down of Satan" appears to happen at some point after the ascension of Christ based on the structure, supporting passages (examples), and the proclamation in verses 10-11 of Christ's resulting position as well as the reflection on the functional power of His blood. In fact, there appears to be some time between the two events, during which there is a period of "overcoming by the blood of the Lamb" during times of persecution. Based on all of these things, it seems unnatural to think Satan was kicked out of heaven prior to the ascension (or even simultaneous to it.)

The Persecution

As we saw previously, at some point after the ascension of Jesus the "woman" flees into the "wilderness".

Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. -v. 6

God had a purpose in preparing a place for her in the "wilderness"; this is where she would be nourished for 1260 days. Why would she need a place of nourishment for 1260 days? Because Satan goes after the "woman" once he is thrown down to the earth! The "wilderness" is a place of refuge for the "woman" to flee the persecution of Satan.

And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But [it was] given to the woman [to] fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. -v. 13-14

So the order of evens so far appears to be:

1) Satan waits for the "woman" to give birth to Jesus so he can destroy Him

2) The "woman" gives birth to Jesus

3) Jesus is caught up to God and to His throne

4) There is a period of time where:

  • The brethren overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, etc.

  • There is a war in heaven, and Satan is overcome and cast out

5) There is a resulting proclamation in heaven that:

  • "Now" Christ will reign, and

  • "Woe to the earth" where Satan has been cast down to

6) Satan realizes he has been banished to earth and persecutes the "woman"

7) It is given to the "woman" to flee to the "wilderness" where she can take refuge from Satan's wrath.

8) The "woman" remains in the "wilderness" for 1260 days, or 3.5 "times" (i.e. 360-day years)

This "fleeing" doesn't stop Satan, though - he has a Plan B:

And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth. v. 13-16

Satan wanted to sweep her off the face of the planet (where he is at this point) with a flood of "water", but the "earth" helps her by consuming it all. (I'll forgo interpretation at this point, since it depends upon an understanding of the woman.)

The Other Children

The chapter ends with an explanation of the other children this woman has:

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring —those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. -v. 17

Identifying The Woman

NOTE: To avoid confusion due to semantics, I will use the word "Church" to refer to Christians who live after the time of Christ, I will use the term "Natural Israel" to refer to the nation of Israel, and I will use the term "Spiritual Israel" to refer to the people of God, regardless of when they lived. "Spiritual Israel" would be the olive tree which started with "Jewish" followers like Abraham, and has had gentile Christians like me grafted in.

1) The "woman" "gave birth" to Jesus. Based solely on this, our candidates would include Mary, Eve, Natural Israel, and Spiritual Israel. The most natural way to read this would be symbolically (given the context), which makes Mary an unlikely candidate, but let's consider all possible readings for now. (It wouldn't make much sense to consider any other "woman" as the mother of Jesus. I'll assume that is clear.)

2) The "woman's offspring" are "those who keep God's commandments and hold fast their testimony about Jesus." This rules out Natural Israel and Eve, and leaves Mary and Spiritual Israel as the sole candidates.

3) The "woman" is protected in the "wilderness" for 1260 days during the time of Satan's great wrath at having been cast out of heaven and given "a short time" on earth. It seems to be clear to most Bible teachers that this is "end-times speak", but either way, I'm pretty sure this wasn't fulfilled during the life of Mary.

CONCLUSION: The safe bet seems to be that the woman in Revelation 13 is "Spiritual Israel", as defined above.

Hope that helps!

  • +1 - The crowns on her head could be the gospel preached by the Apostles, and she seems on the moon possibly representing the light on a dark world under law. She stands (is supported by) the law and the prophets which reflected the 'dawning of the gospel. Also she is clothed with the Sun. So it seems she is the church who births more of the same. – Mike Jun 30 '12 at 11:13
  • @Jas 3.1 Having just read Revelation again, I considered asking this type of question, but then looked for previous ones. Great, thorough answer! I guess I had already given you at +1. Thank you. – John Martin Mar 11 '14 at 11:55
  • Great answer with the exception of the identification of "spiritual Israel" as a conflation of the new regime with the faithful Jews (ie: natural branches and the wild branches). Jesus was born of the faithful Jews, not of Christians. Still, +1 way up. – Ruminator Nov 7 '17 at 18:51
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I disagree with the answer given here. the Woman cannot be spiritual Israel without any connection to physical Israel, because spiritual Israel did not birth Yahuwshuwa (Jesus). No where in the Scriptures teaches that.

The woman cannot be Mary, because Rev 12:17 shows that the woman's children are the church.

So this leaves the third choice, which is physcial Israel. The scripure already interprets this woman for us and the hosts of heaven on her.

Genesis 37 9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

So when we add Joseph to the 11 stars, we see that the Sun, moon , and stars represents Israel (Jacob) and the 12 tribes.

we see that a Woman represents a city according to the interpretation in Rev 17:18, the earthly whorish woman being Rome, while the pure heavenly woman representing Jerusalem , and since she is in heaven she represents Jerusalem which is "from above which is free, and the mother of us all" ( Galatians 4:26) Which also connects to Revelation 12:17.

This woman was clothed with the sun, which represents Jacob (Israel), and wore a crown of the stars representing the righteous from the 12 tribes who received their crowns and will reign with the Messiah. Here is scripture to support that:

Isaiah 63:2-3 2The nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory; And you will be called by a new name Which the mouth of the LORD will designate. 3You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God

When we put all this symbolism together, together with the context of being before the birth of the man child, we see this woman represents the righteous of the ancient congregation of fathers and prophets who labored through the torments and persecutions, as they groaned and longed for the promised seed to arrive. While they lived in faith in the coming messiah, and foresaw him through the shadows of the law and the prophecies.

This is what the Woman travailing in birth in verse 2 represents, its the righteous of physical Israel longing in pain for their coming Messiah. Here are some examples from scripture:

Micah 4:9 Now why dost thou cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counsellor perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail.

10 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 shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the Lord shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.

So here see that the daughter of Zion is travelling in pain because of persecution and judgemnt. Then in the next chapter it speaks of Zion bringing forth the messiah:

Micah 5 (KJV)

5 Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.

2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

3 Therefore will he give them up, **until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.

4 And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.**

"She which travaileth" is identified in the previous chapter as the daughter of Zion. And the man she brought forth is the Messiah that would cause the renment of Israel to return. Another separate verse to add is Isaiah 26:17:

Isaiah 26:17 Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.

18 We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.

19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

Now lets continue. In verse 2-4 it shows the red dragon with 7 heads and 10 crowns, with crowns on its heads. This red dragon is satan manifesting through the pagan roman empire His tail drew a third part of the stars of heaven. and the dragon stood before the woman ready to devour her manchild as soon as he was born. This is fulfilled in Matthew 2:

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men

So satan worked through the Roman empire to try to kill Yahuwshuwa as soon as he was born, but failed.

Verse 5 shows the woman brought forth the Man child, again this cannot be simply Mary or spiritual Israel, this is physical Israel birth the messiah through the tribe of Judah. This man child is Yahuwshuwa who would rule all the nations with a rod of iron ( Psalm 2). then it says he was caught up to heaven, speaking about his ascension to the right hand if the Father after his Resurrection.

the wilderness represents a place of testing while being divinely protected ( Deuteronomy 8 and Luke 4). The woman was fed and nourished ( Rev 12:6,14) by the gospel after the ascension, eating the flesh and blood of Yahuwshuwa preached by the apostles. Nourished by the pure milk of the word, and the strong meat. Nourished by the word of faith as shown in 1 Timothy 4:6 :

1 Timothy 4:6 (KJV)  If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained

The war in heaven represents the spiritual warfare the saints were going through at his time, which satan was defeated at the cross and was defeated by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony ( Rev 12:11). verse 10 declares the victory of the death, burial, and resurrection, but then warns the earth of the devils wrath because he knows his time is now short.

CH 12:17 doesn't contradict this woman representing physical Israel.

17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

we can see this in one of 2 ways. either its saying the remnant of her seed, meaning the remnant of the Hebrews who believed the gospel. or its talking about the gentiles too, who were birthed through the gospel which was preached by Israel.

1 Corinthians 4:15 " For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel"

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    Thanks. I added a little to it and can add more scripture to support it. I also can show early church fathers who also agree with it. – diego b Nov 7 '17 at 21:11
  • "The woman cannot be Mary, because Rev 12:17 shows that the woman's children are the church" Given Jn 19:25-27 could be Jesus making Mary the new "mother of all the living" in Christ (i.e. Eve to the new Adam, Himself), except of course in a spiritual sense, and so at least this argument against the woman being Mary is not airtight; even though I agree that it perhaps does not signifiy Mary primarily. – Sola Gratia Nov 7 '17 at 23:59
  • Sola the church is the new mother of all living, the bride.. Adam was put into a deep sleep, wounded in a sense on his side to bring forth eve by his rib, then awoke to a sinless bride. Representing deatg and ressurection. Same way Yahuwshuwa was pierced on his side and poured out blood and water, which brought brought life to his church, and now all those dead to sin can be made alive. Eve was Adams wife not mother. So I don't see how you made that connection. – diego b Nov 8 '17 at 0:29
  • You might want to add a reference to Isaiah 66:7-14 – Ruminator May 29 '18 at 0:48
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This article explains why the woman doesn't necessarily have to mean only one thing, that is either one of Mary, or the church, or the Jews, but rather is an image that represents Mary, the Church, Israel and even Eve. The book of Revelation uses fusion imagery. For example, the 24 elders of Revelation 4:4 can be interpreted as symbolic of the 12 patriarchs and the 12 apostles, representing at once, the people of the Old Covenant and the New.

I will just demonstrate how, for example, the woman represents Mary -

  1. She is the mother of Jesus (Rev 12:5). The mother of Jesus is Mary.
  2. The woman fled to the wilderness for a while (Rev 12:6). Mary had to flee to Egypt for a while shortly after the birth of Jesus.

Similar parallels can be made for the Church, Israel and even Eve, as the article shows.

  • Welcome to the site! We are looking for complete answers that stand alone. Perhaps you could summarize the contents of the here? I see that the URL is already out of date! Thanks. – Jon Ericson Jun 30 '12 at 22:20
  • You mean that in the sense that, Mary is the 'mother of God' ? – John Unsworth Nov 14 '13 at 17:44
  • Why the downvotes. It's a good answer but not elaborate. In such cases people should indicate what can be added to the answer not just down voting in silence. – user20490 Nov 23 '17 at 20:30

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