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The great symbolism of the "woman" in the Book of Revelation (chapter 12) seems to represent Israel both of the Old and New Covenants:

Revelation 12:1-2: "A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars [12 tribes?]; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain [Israel's disobedience] to give birth."

In the first instance (O/T), this appears to be supported by the cunning of the "great red dragon" beginning in verse 3, intent on "devouring" the Child — perhaps a reference to the slaughter of the infants by Herod in Bethlehem. It would seem, then, that the Child might be Christ emerging from that ancient nation.

Further, we learn in verse 5 that the Child would rule all the nations with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:9), and would be caught up to God (Acts 1:11). There is only one Figure that seems to fit this description: Christ. Later, we read:

Revelation 12:13, 17: "And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child... 17So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war [persecution of saints?] with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (emphasis added).

Could the "Woman" be both physical Israel through which the Messiah arose (O/T), and spiritual Israel (Gal. 6:16) that gives birth to the saints of the the Old and New Testaments (Rev. 12:1-2, 5, 13, 17) — perhaps even dating back to those such as Abel, Noah and others?

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    This requires very skilled and very careful handling. I thoroughly recommend John Metcalfe's extensive coverage in his book Revelation which has many pages on this precise matter. Rather than merely copy pages in an answer, I recommend the whole passage. Unfortunately, it is not available online, sadly. He treats of the many attempts at exegesis and gives his own which I found deeply satisfactory. The problem with discussing Revelation is the many conflicting opinions which exist and the ensuing arguments which, invariably, result.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 12 at 8:47
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    If we are talking about the physical Israel of pre-Christian times, then probably yes.
    – Lucian
    Jul 12 at 9:10
  • Zeno, Are you saying Abel and Noah livd under Israel too?
    – Muriel
    Jul 12 at 22:34
  • @Muriel No, not exactly. I'm saying that all the saints have emerged from the "woman" as representative of God's chosen, all of them faithful under their own respective covenants. "Israel" just happens to be the one being characterized in Revelation 12.
    – Xeno
    Jul 12 at 23:48
  • ??? This interpretation is very simple. The answer is plain and unambiguous. One of the key principles in exegesis is to let scripture interpret scripture. And for this section in Revelation 12, it does. Full stop. End. The issue comes when you must reinterpret this section to fit your doctrine - which many need to do.
    – Dave
    Jul 13 at 18:32
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Some people do interpret the woman of Rev. 12 as the 'Israel of God' of the New Covenant. Others interpret her as being the nation of Israel of the Old Covenant. Yet others interpret her as being the virgin Mary. And still others say she is the New Testament church which 'births' Christ in the believer. There are probably lots of other permutations on this theme. But this question requires an hermeneutical answer.

To obtain that, all the related scriptures in the Bible would need to be collated and analysed, with the various interpretations compared to that considerable body of scripture. It's considerable because the first mention of "the seed of the woman" is in Genesis 3:15, apparently involving the first woman who was later named Eve - "mother of all living". Then centuries pass with the line of descent traced, involving other women like Sarah, who is an allegory for "Jerusalem above, the mother of us all" (Galatians 4:26), and "We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (vs. 28). The miracle-child, Isaac, was a figure of the birth of the heavenly man child, and of all that shall be born in and of his seed. This allegory is explained in Galatians: Sarah the freewoman answers to Jerusalem above, heavenly Jerusalem.

Yet we find more clues further back in the O.T. Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (also called Israel) was given a dream from God about the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing down before him (Gen. 37:9-11). Yet Rev. 12 describes the heavenly woman "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars"! Here is one hermeneutical comment on that:

"In that dream, Jacob, which is Israel, is depicted as the sun; Joseph's mother as the moon; his eleven brethren as the eleven stars, of which he himself therefore - a figure of Christ - was the twelfth... With the sun the heavenly woman was clothed; the moon was under her feet; and the twelve stars formed the crown upon her head. Distinct from her, therefore, but of her glory; if so, Israel was her heritage. But the heritage of the woman is distinct from that woman. That with which she was clothed is separate from the woman distinguished by such clothing. The sun, the moon, and the twelve stars which formed her heavenly raiment are not to be confused with the heavenly woman thus arrayed. While vested with these heavenly bodies, she herself is distinct from them. They speak - from Joseph's dream - of the glory of Israel. But of what does she herself speak?" ("The Revelation of Jesus Christ" by John Metcalfe, p278-9)

So far, we have clues that Eve and Sarah and the nation of Israel are part of this symbolic woman, encompassed in this spiritual complexity. In the N.T. this leads to the virgin Mary giving birth to the Son of God, Jesus. Although many things in the Book of the Revelation are obscure, if anything is clear, it is that chapter 12 involves the birth of Jesus! Christ is the seed promised to Eve, for she is mystically designated 'The mother of all living' Gen.3:20. Re. Rev. 12:4-6 when a great red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns appears, desperate to devour her child when born...

"The child is immediately caught up to God and to his throne. Then, no life of Christ on earth appears in the vision; neither does the cross; nor the resurrection. In Revelation chapter 12 the ascension is not viewed as from the earth, beyond death, and after the resurrection: it is depicted as from the visible heavens... So that those who look for historical exactitude, or even sequence, in the Book of the Revelation, err greatly...

Some have conjectured that the heavenly woman is Israel. However, Israel was not heavenly, but earthly. Again, the signs of Israel - from Joseph's dream - of the sun, moon, and twelve stars, are not the woman herself, but that with which she was adorned. But the woman is more than her vestments. So that she may incorporate much that is of Israel, but she herself remains a vastly transcendent concept. Besides, the seed of the woman was the promise given to Eve long ages before the existence of Israel. And there can be no doubt that the heavenly woman still answers to Eve in the beginning.

The Roman Catholics refer to the woman in Revelation 12 as Mary... [But] Mary did not bear the Son in heaven; rather it was in the manger at Bethlehem. But the heavenly woman in vision bore the man child in the visible heavens. Mary's child was not immediately caught up to the throne of God in heaven, but shortly taken down the road to Egypt. Mary did not flee - after the child was caught up to the heaven of heavens - into the wilderness, there to exist for the entirety of the age till the coming again of Christ. But that is exactly what is foretold of the heavenly woman. Finally, Mary did not live in the wilderness bearing, generation by generation, till the end of time, 'The remnant of her seed' (vs. 17)." (Ibid pp282-3)

A literal, physical and virgin woman did give birth to the man child, Jesus, but if she be the heavenly woman, then she also gave birth to myriads more - 'the remnant of her seed' whom the dragon then tries to drown. If the Catholic interpretation requires a physical woman on earth at the start, then switches to symbolic and heavenly interpretations for 'the remnant of her seed', that is to violate the principles of consistent, hermeneutical interpretation. Numbers in the Revelation are symbolic, not literal - another trap many fall into is thinking some numbers are literal, but the rest of the sentences containing those numbers are symbolic. However, the author I quote adds:

"Nevertheless it is true that Mary was the visible earthly culmination of a heavenly series of visionary prophecies spanning the whole of time and incorporating increasing openings from the beginning of scripture... In such vast and divine imagery, the visionary heavenly woman of necessity includes Mary, just as it does Eve, but the graphic imagery of the mysterious vision vastly transcends the individual.

Others have caught themselves in worse fables... that the woman is the church... The church bears the man child?... Eph. 5:32. Then, since Adam preceded Eve, Christ of necessity preceded the church. How then could she have borne him, when she did not so much as exist until the ascension? Once more, if the church appears at all in Revelation Chapter 12, it is as 'the remnant of her' - the heavenly woman's - 'seed'. But if the ecclesia be the remnant of her seed, then she, the mother of that seed, cannot possibly be the same as that ecclesia which she bears. (Ibid. p281-2)

The book explains much more until reaching its conclusion on the matter:

"This same Jerusalem above, heavenly Jerusalem, called 'the mother of us all', agrees with the great sign of the heavenly woman bearing Christ the firstborn, and in him all the elect seed from before the foundation of the world... In fine, the great sign of the heavenly woman in the vision of Revelation chapter 12 depicts her as the symbol of that reality, that heavenly totality of divine thought, which brought Christ down from heaven. She is the origin of his coming forth, the opening of truth which was the cause of his being born as a man. Out of the womb of ancient, lingering, divine promise, truth, and purpose, nothing but the coming of Christ yielded fulfilment and brought consummation to its fulness... The heavenly woman, for a moment of revelation, stands for ever as the embodiment of a transcendent vision in the mind of God, which Christ, issuing forth, brought to pass in himself. In a word, she is the concept that bore Christ and his seed, called heavenly Jerusalem, and spiritual Zion." (Ibid. p287-8)

So, my answer to your question is that a sound interpretation of who this symbolic Woman is, requires expanding our thinking to incorporate all that forms the mind and will of God to fulfil his promise in Genesis 3:15. Included in this symbolic Woman are literal women (like Eve, Sarah and Mary), also literal Israel that foreshadowed spiritual Israel (thus incorporating both Old and New Covenants). The heavenly Son and the Holy Spirit are equally involved in the mind and will of God to utterly crush the great red dragon, who is revealed in all his horror at the incarnation, but defeated at a stroke by the man child, the heir apparent, instantly being caught up to God and his throne at the moment of his appearing. This concept of The Woman is vast. We are generally far too narrow-minded (with vested interests in promoting one, small aspect) and miss out on the immensity of the sign that Revelation chapter 12 shows us.

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What the Bible says about Woman as Symbol of Church, from BibleTools.org states:

Every time a woman is used as a symbol, the common denominator is the idea of a system of beliefs and practices that influence other people.

Religions and religious organizations and their leaders are represented by women.

This applies to God's relationship with physical Israel:

Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce;
Jeremiah 3:8

And with spiritual Israel:

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
Ephesians 5:23 (NKJV)

… I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2

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

And with false religions:

… they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods …
Exodus 34:15

… this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land …
Deuteronomy 31:16

… the great harlot who sits on many waters … a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy … on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT … the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth …
Revelation 17

And, as the question asks about, with the true believers throughout history up to the Time of the End being represented by the woman described in Revelation 12.

Many denominations interpret this as Satan's attack on God's Church.

Some of them also believe that the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 1–3 are prophetically directed at seven church eras. The last two eras overlap.

The elect (the Philadelphian Church) will be moved to a place of safety, while the remaining true Christians (the "lukewarm" Laodicean Church) will have their faith renewed and strengthened by being persecuted during the Tribulation.

… to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write … Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Revelation 3:7–10

… to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write … I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. … As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
Revelation 3:14–19) - And to the angel of

Many other people that have for decades heard the message broadcast and published around the world without believing it will also come to realize its truth. They too will go through the tribulation, as a bride awaiting Jesus's return.

And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. — Mark 13:10

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The woman is portrayed as giving birth to Messiah under great pain, and then fleeing to the desert.

  • I've known messianic jews that interpret the woman as Israel (the people, not the country) because Messiah came from the jews.

This symbolism is supported by imagery of Joseph in Gen 37.9 (ESV)

"Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Thereafter the idea of sun, moon, and twelve stars (not eleven!) was viewed as a type for the tribes of Israel.

  • I've known Catholics that interpret the woman as Mary because Messiah was born of Mary. The argument is that the other characters (dragon, child) refer to individuals (Satan, Christ) so the woman should also refer to an individual (Mary). A dual version would be Eve, of whose seed the Messiah came. This passage is read on Assumption Day in Catholic churches. For more details, see https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-mary-the-woman-in-revelation-12

  • I've also known Catholics and Protestants as interpreting the Woman as being "the Bride" or "The Body", where this is a reference to all people of the Promise, from Abel (Hevel) down to John, and of course including Mary, David, and all those of the line of the seed, continuing on to every Christian, because Christ is born in the hearts of believers via the activities of the Church. Here is Hippolytus:

By the “woman clothed with the sun,” he meant most manifestly the church, endued with the Father’s Word, whose brightness is above the sun. And by “the moon under her feet,” he referred to [the church] being adorned, like the moon, with heavenly glory. And the words “upon her head a crown of twelve stars” refer to the twelve apostles by whom the church was founded. On the Antichrist 61.

Here is Victorinus of Petovium:

This is the ancient church of the fathers and the prophets and the holy apostles. For they experience the groans and torments of their desire until that which was long since promised was fulfilled out of their own people and according to their own flesh. That [the woman] was “clothed with the sun” signifies the hope of the resurrection and the promise of glory. The “moon” refers to the fall of the bodies of the saints on account of their irreversible debt to death which can never fail. For just as the life of people is diminished and so again is increased, so also the hope of the sleeping is never utterly extinguished, as some think, but in their darkness they will have light as of the moon. The “crown of twelve stars” indicates the [crown] of the fathers from whom the spirit was to assume flesh, according to the birth of the flesh. Commentary on the Apocalypse 12:1.

And Tyconius:

“And a great sign was seen in heaven.” We now see that which has occurred in the church, God has taken form in man. “A woman,” it says, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet.” We have already noted that a genus may divide into many species. For what [in one passage] is heaven, here signifies the temple placed in heaven. In the woman he indicates the church who in the purification of baptism puts on Christ, the “sun of righteousness,” as the apostle Paul testifies, “As many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” However, in this passage the moon is described as placed under the feet of the woman and so indicates the church of the heretics that the “sun of righteousness,” that is, Christ, does not allow to be illumined by his presence. Yet, since everything which is found in the Scriptures concerning the church may be interpreted in a twofold way, we can also interpret the moon in a good sense and compare it with the church. As it is written in the psalms, “Once I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His seed shall endure forever. His throne [will endure] as the sun before me and as a full moon forever. The witness in the skies is sure.” And again, “Bright as the sun and fair as the moon in her beauty.” “And on her head a crown of twelve stars.” He is indicating the twelve apostles whom Christ placed as a crown over the twelve tribes of Israel upon the head of his church and adorned her with spiritual gems. Commentary on the Apocalypse 12:1.

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    If the man child that the woman gives birth to is Christ Jesus, how can the church have given birth to him? Just as Adam preceded Eve, so Christ Jesus preceded the church. Or have I misunderstood the thrust of your answer and the quotes you have given?
    – Lesley
    Jul 17 at 15:20
  • @lesley the argument is that the church is the vessel by which Christ is born in you
    – Robert
    Jul 17 at 16:53

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