INAUGURAL LECTURE DELIVERED IN BIGARD MEMORIAL SEMINARY ENUGU, AT THE INAUGURATION CEREMONY OF THE 2014/2015 ACADEMIC AND FORMATION YEAR, BY REV FR. DAMIAN UDECHUKWU, ON THIS DAY 27TH OCTOBER, 2014.
Revelation 12:1-17 Revelation 12:1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. 3 And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads.4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth;5 she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. 7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,8 but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child.14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood.16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had poured from his mouth.17 Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
This captivating phrase: The Woman Clothed with the Sun is taking from an eschatological narrative in the celebrated Book of Revelation chapter 12:1-18. The author of this passage began with the astonishing statement: 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 (Rev. 12:1). Who is this woman presented in such a glorious picture? Her prodigious appearance is reminiscent of the way ancient writers portray a goddess. Does John intend for us to view the woman as a goddess? A simple minded Catholic will immediately see in this glorious woman of Revelation, the Blessed Virgin Mary since the church showers a great deal of honor and praise on her. How would you substantiate this claim?
On the other hand several exegetes of the modern times not only question this catholic stand but advance a different interpretation. For them the woman is not Mary but ancient Israel and the church. If she is not Mary but Israel how did one arrive at this? The simple assignment of this paper is to present the two major positions as to the true identity of this woman and then offer an impassionate appraisal of them. I strongly believe that with this, a lot of insightful information can be recorded. Many scholars believe strongly that this woman refers primarily to the people of God, Israel and the church but a secondary reference can be made to Mary. For some scholars, especially the Protestants who were always predisposed negatively against the Virgin Mary, the woman has no mariological penchant in any way. In the late first century Christianity, can a woman be referred to as the mother of the messiah without Mary the Mother of Jesus coming to mind at all?
The Book of Revelation is soaked in symbolism and imagery very difficult to understand for the people of our time. This goes a long way to prove that the author succeeds in his purpose of disguising his message that those outside his circle would not be able to decipher it. The author was heavily influenced by the Old Testament apocalypticism.
Like all apocalyptic literature, the Book of Revelation, written at a times of crisis, precisely during persecution of Christians by the Roman state in the time of Emperors Nero and Domitian. This was a time when it was a crime to be a Christian. The Roman state promulgated Emperor-cult worship which directly contradicted and confronted the faith of Christians. In such a precarious circumstance many who resisted this pagan order were martyred for the faith. On account of this, there were also many Christians who were losing heart and apostatizing.1
1 The New Community Bible: Introductory Note on the Book of Revelation, St Pauls Society, Bombay, 2008, P. 2227.
The overall purpose of the author of Revelation is to assure the Christians of ultimate victory in times of persecution. This story of how the dragon failed in its bid to destroy the child of the woman and of how God continues to protect the woman and her offspring in the wilderness when the dragon pursues her definitely fits into this overall purpose. 2The Book of Revelation therefore aims at offering not only encouragement to the faint-hearted, consolation to the suffering, and a declaration of Christian faith and hope, but also a polemic against the official paganism of Rome by presenting the institution of God’s reign and the final defeat of the Evil One. Our passage presented three great characters: the Woman, the Son and the Dragon.
Three principal characters dominate the narrative of Revelation chapter 12: the “red dragon,” the “woman,” and the “male child.” We shall then seek to discern the identity of each character.
1.The Identity of the Male Child. The “male child” obviously symbolizes Jesus, the Messiah since verse 5 says: “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” John, the author here alludes to Psalm 2:7–9, a “Royal Psalm” in which the Davidic king or “Messiah” says:
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
Ask of me,and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
2 Brown R. Et al, (Ed.) Mary in the New Testament, Bangalore 2008, 231
If the male child is Jesus, then the remainder of verse 5 (“And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.”) may refers to Jesus’ ascension into heaven to take a seat at God’s right hand. In a single verse, John moves from Jesus’ birth, through his earthly ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, to his exaltation by God3
2. The Identity of the Red Dragon. In the LXX the word “dragon” translates Heb. nahas, “serpent” or “viper,” Heb. tannīn, “serpent,” “dragon,” “sea-monster,” and Leviathan. Three OT figures, very similar to one another, seem to have influenced our author: the dragon, the Leviathan, and Rahab. The dragon is usually a mythical sea monster who is the enemy of Yahweh (Isa 27:1, 51:9; Job 7:12; cf. Amos 9:3; Ps 104:26). Dragons generally are the embodiment of evil, but their appearance varies in the different
In verse 9 of our passage, the “red dragon” is clearly referred to as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” The “Satan” (Satana/j) is the Hebrew term for “adversary” or “accuser.” We see Satan performing the role of “accuser” in, for example, Job 1–2. He is “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev. 12:10). The term “devil” (διάβολος, diabolos), a Greek translation of “Satan,” likewise means “adversary,” “accuser,” or “slanderer.” By John’s time, apocalyptic writers understand the biblical “Satan” to
3 Davis, C. A. (2000). Revelation. The College Press NIV commentary (247). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub.
3 Compare Isaiah 27:1 (LXX), which describes Leviathan as both a drakōn(“dragon”) and an ophis (“serpent”); Jeremiah 51:34, which calls Nebu chad nezzar a “serpent” to be destroyed by God; and Ezekiel 29:3–5 and 32:2–8, which likewise picture Pharaoh as a scaly “sea monster” killed by God.
LXX The Septuagint
be a fallen angel, the leader of a group of demons bent on destroying the good works of God.
Furthermore, John calls Satan a “serpent” (ὄφις, ophis) thereby identifying him with the “serpent” (ophis) of Genesis 3, which tempted Adam and Eve to sin and thereby “led the whole world astray.”
The fact that the dragon in question has “seven heads” identifies him with a particular “serpent”—namely, Leviathan, the seven- headed sea serpent used in Jewish apocalyptic as a symbol for evil and chaos.3 The following texts (Ps 74:13-14; Job 26:12-13; Isa. 27:1; 51:9) speak of the sea monster, Leviathan or Rahab who symbolizes the forces of chaos that are conquered by the God of creation. The author of Revelation teaches with these reworked mythological stories that creation is not a thing of the past but that God is constantly at work bringing creation out of chaos.
The dragon wears “seven crowns”—one for each head, making itself out to be a king in the place of the rival king about to be born, the “male child” whom the dragon hopes to destroy.
Moreover, the dragon has “ten horns” and thus resembles the “fourth beast” of Daniel 7:7. In Daniel, the fourth beast represents an evil empire that torments Israel, God’s covenant people. After a time, the Lord slays the beast and replaces this human kingdom with the eternal kingdom of God (see Dan 7:11–14). The ten horns symbolize ten kings over this doomed empire. By adapting this image, John adds political connotations to his presentation of the dragon.
Seventh, John writes that the dragon’s “tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” This image is reminiscent of Daniel 8:10, in which a “little horn” (probably
representing King Antiochus IV “Epiphanes”5) “threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.” In other words, he exalted himself over even the angels in heaven. John’s image also pictures Satan as the one who led a group of angels (“stars” in v. 4, “his angels” in vv. 7–9) to rebel against God and to be cast out of heaven—a common idea in apocalyptic literature.
In Revelation 12, John seems to be presenting Satan not so much as an individual being (although that is not excluded), but as the leader or personification of all the forces of evil that oppose God and his Messiah. The dragon stands for Satan himself as the ancient corrupter of the human race and rival to Christ. Satan is the individual evil behind evil in its variety of forms. John will further develop this image later in the book.
The monster is the embodiment of chaos, the antithesis of Yahweh who is the source of all order in the world. Thus he is aligned with the hybrid creatures like the locusts in Ch. 9 and all the cosmic disturbances, while the woman represents poise and harmony and beauty in the universe. The dragon wears diadems upon his heads. The diadem is a symbol of royalty (Sir 11:5, 47:6), wisdom (Wisd. Sol 5:16), and high priesthood (Wisd. Sol 18:24). In the NT “diadem” occurs only in Revelation (12:3, 13:1, 19:12); in all instances it is used of royal power. Our dragon is king (and possibly priest) of chaos. Salvation will recapitulate creation, and the cosmological myth of Yahweh’s victory over the monster(s) will be realized on an eschatological level. A new heaven and a new earth appear in Rev 21 after the conquering of the dragon; cf. Isa 9:6–8, 65:17, 25, Hosea 2:18–22
The dragon performs two actions. First, he sweeps a third of the stars from heaven with his tail. Second, he stands before the
5 By taking the name “Epiphanes,” this blasphemous king sought to identify himself as a manifestation, or “epiphany,” of God on earth.
woman, who wore the crown of twelve stars, and waits to devour her child.Doubtless, the stars which his tail sweeps down are the fallen angels who traditionally turned away from God with Satan as their leader. A similar concept is found in Dan 8:9–11, where the little horn casts some of the host of the stars down to the ground and tramples upon them; cf. the star fallen from heaven in Rev 9:1.
He came to a halt or he took up his stand before the woman, like Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who tried to swallow up Jerusalem; Jer. 51:34. The same metaphor of devouring occurs in 1QpHab 3:11 where the Kittim (Romans) attempt to devour the people, and in 11:5–6 where the wicked priest persecutes the Teacher of Righteousness, “swallowing him up in the anger of his fury in the place of exile.” In Hebrew perspective, “swallowing up” means to kill or eliminate. Thus our dragon is portrayed as acting in two dimensions, the heavenly and the earthly; supernatural evil mingles with human evil and supernatural good with human good. Our writer is probably resuming the Exodus motif; the eagle is the symbol of God’s providence in Exod. 19:4, Deut. 32:10–12, in which the wings of the eagle are explicitly mentioned.
Throughout the ages God has seen this people idealized as a resplendent woman; Christ as the king of destiny; and the devil as a powerful, hostile dragon and much of human history is about the devil’s hatred for Christ and God’s people. Who is this glorious woman, clothed with the sun? The only answer that fits is, “the redeemed people of God as God sees them, glorious and splendid.” Only sporadically did Old Testament Israel appear splendid and complete, for example in the days of David and Solomon4
1QpHab Commentary on Habakkuk, from Qumran Cave 1; p. stands for Heb. pesher, “commentary”
4Easley, K. H. (1998). Vol. 12: Revelation. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (208). Nashville, TN: Broadman& Holman Publishers.
Theories Regarding the Identity of the Woman. As the male child represents Jesus Christ surely, and the Dragon is obviously identified with Satan, the identity of the woman is not easy to unravel. There are more than five theories presented in attempt to explain the personality of this mysterious woman. On the two main theories out of these will concern us here.
Most modern exegetes believe that the “woman” of Revelation 12 symbolizes Israel—first the Jews who received the Mosaic covenant, and then later Christians (the “new Israel,” both Jews and Gentiles) who embrace the new covenant.
However, this theory seems consistent with many statements in the biblical text. The “crown of twelve stars” on the woman’s head identifies her with the twelve tribes of “Israel,” the covenant people of God. As Old Testament Israel, the woman “gives birth” to the Messiah. We find some precedent for this idea in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There, Israel, the People of God, is pictured as a mother bringing forth the Messiah in the Hymns Scroll (1QH 3:4).11 As the “new Israel” or church, the woman “gives birth” to Christians, is pursued by Satan, and receives protection from God throughout the “1,260 days” leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. Many scholars see this as the most plausible interpretation of Revelation 12.5
Against this background, who, then, is the “woman” of Revelation 12? It may be that John has no one in particular in mind—that the mother of the “male child” is simply a literary device, a necessary part of the myth John uses to present Christ as the true destroyer of evil. If John does intend for her to represent a particular person or group of persons, then the “woman” most likely represents
11 Israel, the People of God, is pictured as a mother bringing forth the Messiah in the Hymns Scroll (1QH 3:4 — Cf. Vermes, p. 157).
5Davis, C. A. (2000). Revelation. The College Press NIV commentary (251). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub.
Zion/Jerusalem/Israel (first Old Testament Israel and then later “true Israel,” the church) pictured as the goddess Leto. This theory easily explains all the statements John makes about the woman— including those concerning her appearance which portrays her more as a goddess than as a human being.6
Verse 7 of our passage reports that “there was war in heaven” that is, a battle between God and Satan, who fought each other through their respective angels. Michael, the archangel responsible for Israel, serves as the commander of God’s angelic army.19 We learnt according to Verses 8–9 that Satan loses the war, and John portrays his defeat by using an image common in Jewish apocalyptic writings: Satan and his demon allies are cast out of heaven to the earth.20
It is clear that this supernatural “war” took place on the cross as we can realize from verse 11 since its operative phrase is “by the blood of the Lamb.” Christ’s vicarious death instituted the new covenant of faith which guaranteed eternal life and by this covenant, provides everything human beings need to escape from sin and its mortal consequences.
Verse 10 proclaims: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” and whereas verse 12 warns saying: “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury,
6Davis, C. A. (2000). Revelation. The College Press NIV commentary (252). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub.
19 In the Christian canon, Michael appears in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; and Revelation 12:7. The archangel plays a much larger role in Jewish apocalyptic literature of the intertestamental period.
20 Note that, whereas most apocalyptic writers describe the demons’ fall from heaven as a defeat suffered prior to the temptation of Adam and Eve or shortly thereafter, John describes it as a defeat suffered at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The prophet adapts the apocalyptic image of fallen angels and uses it to communicate a different idea than it normally communicates.
because he knows that his time is short.” Although Satan has been mortally “wounded,” he is not yet “dead.” Even though he has lost the “war,” he nevertheless continues to fight. With these statements, John expresses “the already, but not yet” of Christian theology. By his death, Christ has already inaugurated the “eschatological age.” However, the “present evil age” has not yet entirely passed away. The kingdom of Satan has already been broken, but it has not yet been abolished. The kingdom rule of God has already begun, but it has not yet been consummated. The two ages temporarily “overlap.” The two kingdoms “coexist” until Christ returns to complete his redemptive work. 7
Chapter 12 of Revelation reveals the whole community of the faithful under the traditional figure of a woman and shows her adversary the dragon, who may be identical with the beast from the abyss in 11:7. The conflict which has been directed mainly from heaven will now take on a terrestrial dimension8. But the woman in 12:1 is the only felicitous sign; the others are associated with evil happenings, the beasts and their servants. Thus, the woman is the chief and only sign from God standing in opposition to the six other signs and presaging the New Jerusalem from heaven (ch. 21).
The Greek LXX sēmeion means sign, that is, “some event assuring man of a divine intervention”. It is a form of revelation. In Rev 12 the woman was a great sign, surrounded by cosmic symbols, sun, moon, stars, seems to be the earthly complement of the angel in Rev 10. A personification of light, she faces the hostile forces of darkness symbolized by the dragon. The battle will not end until all evil is conquered and the new creation comes to pass. This end will
7Davis, C. A. (2000). Revelation. The College Press NIV commentary (255). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub.
8Ford, J. M. (2008). Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Includes (194). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
LXX The Septuagint
be indicated in 20:1–4 when the themes of the angel descending from heaven (10:1, 20:1), the key of the abyss (9:1, 20:1), and the dragon who is the ancient serpent (12:9, 20:2) are resumed.9A text which is peculiarly pertinent is Isa 7:10–17. Here the Lord asks Ahaz to request a sign, be it “deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (RSV). The sign is a young woman who will conceive, bear a son, name him “God with us,” Hebrew Immanuel. It is a confirmation that the Davidic dynasty will continue; cf. 2 Sam 7:12–16. Our sign appears to be something similar, especially as the woman brings forth a male child who will rule (vs. 5).10Although the woman may be an individual, a study of the OT background suggests that she is a collective figure, like the two witnesses. In the OT the Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel, is classically symbolized by the image of a woman. For instance: Zion whose husband is Yahweh (Isa 54:1, 5, 6, Jer. 3:20, Ezek 16:8–14, Hosea 2:19–20), who is a mother (Isa 49:21, 50:1, 66:7–11, Hosea 4:5, Bar 4:8–23), is also in the throes of birth (Micah 4:9–10, cf. Isa 26:16–18, Jer 4:31, 13:21, Sir 48:19). However, the OT text nearest to ours is the description of the bride in Song of Songs 6:10 (RSV):
Who is this that looks forth like the dawn,
Fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
Terrible as an army with banners?
9Ford, J. M. (2008). Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Includes (195). New Haven;London: Yale University Press.
RSV Revised Standard Version
10Ford, J. M. (2008). Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Includes (195). New Haven;London: Yale University Press.
RSV Revised Standard Version
The biblical Testament of Naphtali 5:1–8, reports a vision in which Isaac bids the sons of Jacob to try to seize the sun and moon. Levi grasped the sun and Judah took hold of the moon, “and both were lifted up with them. And when Levi became as the sun, lo, a certain young man gave to him twelve branches of palm; and Judah, was bright as the moon, and under their feet were twelve rays” (APCh, II, 338). Here the sun is associated with a priestly figure, Levi, and the moon with the house which will give kings to Israel, Judah. In a similar way in Qumran literature the anointed of Aaron (priest- messiah) takes precedence over the anointed of David (1QS adjunct 2:11–15). This superiority may perhaps be indicated in our vision by the fact that the sun is around the woman, the moon under her feet. The sun represented strength, perhaps even the power of God. On the other hand, one Hebrew word for the moon comes from yerah, probably akin to arah, “wander,” designating it “the wanderer.” The injurious influence of the moon is suggested in Ps 121:6, although its beauty is mentioned in Song of Songs 6:10 and it is symbolic of eternity in Pss 72:5, 7, 89:37. At least one can say that the moon is the lesser light and, as such, lies in a subordinate position under the woman’s feet.11 If the woman is the community, the cosmic features surrounding her may suggest a priestly community
Thus, if the stars of the crown reflect the zodiac, this does not preclude their also representing the sons of Jacob as in Gen 37:9. There the sun and moon represent Jacob and Rachel. All these features would suggest that our woman is the priestly community
APCh Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, ed. R. H. Charles
1QS Rule of the Community, from Qumran Cave 1
11Ford, J. M. (2008). Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Includes (196). New Haven;London: Yale University Press.
12Ford, J. M. (2008). Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Includes (197). New Haven;London: Yale University Press.
(cf. Exod 19:5–6), closely associated with the twelve tribes just as the sealed were in Rev 7.13 Texts one finds quite a remarkable parallel to Rev 12:1 in
Though the stars of the crown reflect the zodiac, as many opine, this does not preclude their also representing the sons of Jacob as in Gen 37:9 in which the sun and moon represent Jacob and Rachel and the stars represent their twelve sons. All these features would suggest that our woman is the priestly community (cf. Exod 19:5–6), closely associated with the twelve tribes just as the sealed were in Rev 7.
The Dragon with seven heads, ten horns and seven diadems upon the horns re-echo (12:3) the description of the beast with ten horns in Daniel 7:8, 20, and 24. The Book of Daniel presented this beast as the fourth and most wicked of the empires that persecuted the Israelites under Seleucid kingdom. The author of Revelation likened the Dragon to the two beasts that represent the power and religion of the Roman Empire in its persecution of Christians.
The woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and crowned with twelve stars (Rev. 12:1) recalls the story in Genesis 37:9 concerning the dream of Joseph in which the sun refers to Jacob, the moon to Rachael, and the stars referring to the twelve sons of Jacob who were the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The woman crying in birth-pang anguish about to deliver (12:2) may be an allusion to the people of Israel or Zion as woman in labor (Is. 26:17; 54:1; 66:7-9; Mica. 4:19). The birth pang may interpret the hardship that had befallen the chosen people as well as the tribulation times that introduce Messianic age. We can also recall the story in Qumran scroll concerning a woman in birth anguish
13Ford, J. M. (2008). Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Includes (197). New Haven; London: Yale University Press
who delivered a wonderful counselor (a term used for a Davidic Prince in Isa. 9:6).14
The woman in the wilderness theme recalls the Israel of Exodus whom God protected and nourished with manner and quail in the wilderness of Sinai after their escape from Egypt (cf. Rev 12:14 and Ex. 16:4-17); and the two wings of the eagle (Rev 12:14) with which the woman was conveyed re-echoes the words of Exodus 19:4: “I bore you on eagles wings” (Deut. 32:11-12).
Most scholars opt for Jewish sources behind Revelation 12. For them it is most likely that the woman is a personification of Israel, the people of God of the OT and that the Christian adaptation of the Symbolism involves having the woman, after the birth of the messianic child, becomes the church, the people of God for the New Testament.15
The ongoing struggle typifies the church as those who bear testimony to Jesus and keep God’s commandment (Rev 12:17) undergo the wilderness experience of the Israel of the OT. The idea that the woman represents both Israel and the church is less troublesome if we see that in the author mind the church is reliving aspects of Israel’s career. Infact the church’s hostile experience with Roman emperor-worship which the author will describe in the next chapter reminds him of Israel’s struggle with the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes who tried to reintroduce false worship hence the reference to Daniel’s “time, and times and half times” – the period of God’s tolerance of evil under such persecution by a world power.
The fact that the wings must be two in number requires no elucidation; it is, however, somewhat remarkable that the Woman receives the wings herself and becomes a flying Woman. Thus did
14 Brown R. et al. (Ed.) Mary in the New Testament, Bangalore 2008, 230-231
15Op. Cit. 232
the young Church of Christ fly from Jerusalem to Pella; and thus in every subsequent persecution it has fled deeper into the wilderness of solitude, of concealment, of renunciation, of foreign countries;* thus it finally fled literally into the wilderness of hermitry and monasticism. For the wilderness forms, in general, a contrast to the worldly region of secular life, just as the wilderness into which the Eagle bore Israel formed a contrast to Egypt.16 During the Middle Ages, the flight of the church at the face of every new advance and threat of secularization has been represented by the development of monkish spirituality and unmitigated strictness. The Church has ever fled deeper into the hiding-place of world-renunciation which continues to be her abode where she is nourished. And how she has been nourished with heavenly strength, has been shown by the Mystics of the Middle Ages.
To find out the relationship of Mary with this woman of our passage we may look at the specific statements of John. First, the woman is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” Second, the woman is pregnant and crying out in pain as she struggles to give birth (v. 2). Third, she gives birth to the Messiah—she is the mother of the Messiah (v. 5). Fourth, verse 17 shows that she is also the mother of Christians. “Those who obey God’s commands and hold to the testimony of Jesus” are also her “offspring.”Fifth, the woman is “pursued” by Satan (v. 13).Sixth, she flees to the desert on the wings of an eagle (vv. 6, 14). Seventh, God cares for the woman for “1,260 days” or for “a time, times and half a time” (vv. 6, 14–16). As we have seen, these symbolic numbers represent the entire period from John’s receipt of the Revelation in A.D. 95–96 to the consummation of the kingdom of God. The woman, then, remains
* Christians as emigrants to Bohemia, Poland, Germany, Prussia, America—a long story, See Matt. 10:23.
16Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures : Revelation (254). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
alive throughout the centuries leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.
In brief, orthodox Catholics would respond that Mary in our passage is not being portrayed as a deity or goddess, but as exalted. She is the “Mother” of the church in the sense that she gives birth to the Messiah, who himself founds the church. She lives on through the, “1,260 days” in the sense that she did not die, but was taken up bodily into heaven, where she now leads the saints in interceding for the church. The evidence that such a view of Mary was held in the first century is Revelation 12 itself.
The revelatory statement of Jesus on the cross refers to the woman: “woman behold your son”, (Jon 19:26) and to John: “son behold your mother” (Jon 19:27). After this statement John tells us that Jesus understood that “all is now accomplished” and so he gave a loud cry and having bowed down his head, he handed over the spirit. It is wonderful to learn that the very hour when Jesus died on the cross coincided with the moment Mary becomes the mother of all believers. In other words the hour of Jesus’ death-resurrection coincides with the hour of Mary’s spiritual maternity and inaugurates the time of the church, when the hour of Christ , the last day has dawned (Jon 6:39-40; 44-54; 12:48), just as with the hour of parturition of a woman (16:21) dawns the day of the child in the world.17 Jesus in John’s Gospel compared the sorrow of his impending crucifixion to the pain of a woman in labour (John 16:20-21). So the birth pangs can seemingly refer to the pain associated with Jesus’ departure and death, and the birth itself may point to his resurrection and victory. His death and subsequent victory can be seen as the moment of Satan’s expulsion. Here attention is called to the presence of the mother at
17Mlakuzhyil G., Abundant Life: In the Gospel of John, Academy Press NIODA (2007), 227-228.
the foot of the cross who was addressed as “woman” (John 19:25- 27).18
The woman of the Book of Revelation actually was given the wings of the eagle to enable her fly as swiftly as possible in to the desert to escape the dragon. We realize the eagle is the symbol of John the apostle to whom Jesus handed over his mother while he was dying on the cross as representative of all his brothers (believers or children of God) to be the mother and vice versa (Jon 19:26-27). There is really a theological connection between the women of both passages. Both were in pain and agony and both were called woman and mother. The agony of Mary under the cross of her crucified son is comparable to the travails of a woman at birth. At the Gospel Jesus seeing Virgin Mary his mother under the cross, addressed her as “woman”, and then made her the mother of John who represented all other believers. Like Mary, the woman of Revelation referred to as “woman” in travail who became the mother of the son of God has other offspring (Rev 12:17). We know from the scripture that after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and seated at the write hand of God, just as the son born of the woman in Revelation was taken to the bosom of God in heaven.
In biblical understanding, the wilderness signifies hardship, and at the same time a place of safety. This concept calls immediately to mind the escape of Mary with her child to Egypt (Matt 2:13) when the dragon (Herod) was desperate to kill the newly born son of God, and the woman’s stay in the wilderness seems to be modelled on Jesus’ stay in the wilderness (Matt 4:1ff).
The wings of the eagle symbolize strength and indicate the care and protection of God (Ex 19:14 Deut 32:11) and the woman’s total reliance on God. Just as Satan cannot compete with God in strength, the dragon cannot be as swift as the woman who flies with wings of the great eagle which combines strength with swiftness. As
18 Brown R. et al ed., Mary in the New Testament, , Fortress Press Bangalore India (1978) 237
the scripture says: “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isa.40:31).19
There is no way we can remove or ignore the picture and role of the Virgin Mary in this passage. This woman in question definitely stands for both Virgin Mary and the church. The redemptive function of church and Virgin Mary are deeply connected and interspersed. The former plays the role of the latter and the latter plays the role of the former. Mary was the mother of Jesus who was the first born of all the believers begotten through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit at baptism by the church. The church is Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit in their redeeming activities through the instrumentality of men elected and chosen by God.
Mary remains the daughter of God and the microcosmic representation of the people of God (in OT and NT), the virgin church. In her is fulfilled the prophecy in Zachariah 2:10; 9:9; Zeph. 3:14-17: “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” This same phrase was addressed to Mary through angel Gabriel: “Rejoice, O highly favored one, the Lord is with you!” The daughter of Zion refers to the entire people of Israel. The “rejoice O daughter” is an invitation to the messianic joy which God was about to usher in. The name Maria is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Miriam which signifies the “exalted one”. So the Greek Cai/re( kecaritwme,nh\Chairekecharitomeneis translatable to “Hail or rejoice o highly favoured one” (or exalted one – Maria). Chaire (rejoice) in OT Greek is always directed to the daughter of Zion inviting her to rejoice for the fact that the Lord, her king and saviour is with her.
Satan vehemently resented the whole enterprise and economy of salvation. Though in vain, we can see his devastating attack at the birth of Jesus (Matt 2:13), his threefold temptation on him after fasting (Matt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13) and his final onslaught during his arrest and crucifixion (Lk 22:53).
19Thekkemury J., Unveiling the Apocalypse: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (2011) St Pauls Bombay, 285.
The idea of woman/Eve motif can come in here since the dragon is synonymous with the ancient deceptive serpent of Genesis 3:15 where God had said: “I will put enmity between you (Serpent) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed…” (Gen 3:15; Rev. 12:9). That this enmity is continuous is clear from the episode in Revelation chapter 12. That this woman was an antithetic figure of Eve who was still a virgin also when struggled with Satan in the temptation of Genesis 3 can be seen in Virgin Mary’s similar encounter with the angel Gabriel in Luke. Here we can see the role of the first Adam Eve vis-a-vis the role of the second Adam and the second Eve (Mary). While the former negotiated with Satan and brought sin and death to the world, the latter was discussing with an angel to save man from the doom and quagmire of death.
To make this clearer, let us borrow from the contrast St Paul made on the activities of the Old Adam and the New Adam (Jesus Christ).“If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then, as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men; so, one man’s act of righteousness led to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:17-19).
The most ancient tradition coming from Irenaeus, Justin, Tertullian, and Ambrose have seen in the episode of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) a parallel to the account of the original sin in Genesis 3: the angel opposed to the Serpent, and Mary to Eve. We can also see that the two women listened to the announcement from the two messengers: Mary accepted and obeyed the message of God delivered by angel Gabriel; Eve disobeyed God and acted on the deceptive words of the satanic Serpent. While Eve became the cause of damnation for the human race, Mary championed the cause of salvation.20
Actually, it is untenable for one to hold that in late first century Christianity, a woman can be referred to as the mother of the son of God without Mary the mother of Jesus coming to mind.21
20Mattam Z., The Gospel According to Luke: The Voice of the Beloved, Pauline Publications, Bombay (2008) 46
21Brown R. Et al ed., Mary in the New Testament, Fortress Press Bangalore India (1978) 234