“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 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. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne. Rev. 11:19–12:5
Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 12:17)
- The woman in Rev. 12 dwells inside “the temple” of God;
- she is not a personified metaphor;
- she is clothed with the sun, has the moon under her feet, and has a crown of twelve stars;
- she is mother to Jesus and she has other children.
I am familiar with the interpretation others have about the woman revealed in Revelation 12. There are some who say she is simply the church personified, Israel personified, or New Jerusalem personified. Then there are those Christians who believe she is Mary, the mother of Jesus, crowned in glory as Queen of Heaven. I, however, have discovered that this amazing woman is far more meaningful than any of these theories allow.
The Woman Dwells Inside the Temple of God
Now, if you’ve read Revelation 12 before–without taking into account the preceding verses in Revelation 11–then you have probably missed the fact that the temple has just been opened. For this study, we will disregard the imposed chapter breaks (since there were no chapters in the original writing). And as we do, we realize the temple has just opened and the Ark of God’s Covenant is now on display. We now expect to see God’s glorious ark, but suddenly the idea of the ark is overlayed with the shocking image of a woman. Our minds are now jarred. We were expecting the ark–instead we see a woman! Rev. 12 then continues on to give us a flashback: the summarized version of the birth and death of Jesus and his ascension into heaven.
If you’ll take a moment to remember in my prior Bible study I wrote about how Jesus is God’s temple. I also explained that we cannot see the mystery of what lies inside the temple unless the temple is opened to us. I then explained how the Bible tells us that hidden within Jesus is the Spirit of Wisdom (God’s Holy Spirit)–who happens to be regarded as a “she” spirit. I also wrote about how the “image” and “likeness” of God are represented on earth by two different types of images (1) a male image (Adam) and (2) a female image (Eve). I then described how the first image (Adam/male) brings about the second image (Eve/female) from his own body just as Jesus releases from within himself the Holy Spirit. After the release of both Eve and the Spirit–all life then proceeds from the feminine image of God. Life for the human race, therefore, begins with the male image of God and ends with the female–which is why males are described as the “head” of the wife. The word “head” meaning “source of life.”
Since the Bible describes the male image bringing about the female image, there should be no surprise that when the temple opens in Revelation we find a woman dwelling there. After all, by now we should be expecting a woman: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16).”
But Why do we Find a Woman where the Ark of God’s Covenant Dwells?
An ark is a place of refuge, safety and salvation as Moses was hidden in an ark in order to escape the decree of Pharaoh (that all Israelite male babies be executed):
But when she could no longer hide him [Moses], she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. (Ex. 2:3)
But an ark is also a place of promise and covenant as God promised to save Noah by placing him and his family in an ark:
[God said to Noah] “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” (Gen. 6:18)
An ark is also a secret place. Moses was placed in the ark and hidden. Noah built his ark as a place of refuge but the reason for the ark was kept secret. The rest of the people during Noah’s time, though they could see the ark, did not understand what purpose it served until the waters came. The glorious golden ark of the Israelites was much the same–it was a place of salvation, it was a hiding place, and it was the place where the Covenant dwelt:
They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. . . . You shall put into the ark the covenant that I shall give you. (NRS Ex. 25:10-11, 16)
He declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets. (NRS Deut. 4:13)
This ark was as much a mystery and as much a place of salvation and promise to the Israelites as the ark was to the people in Noah’s day except for one huge difference: the Israelites’ ark was not yet attainable to the people. For instance, no one—except for the Levite priests—could touch the ark or they’d be struck dead (1 Chr. 13:10). No one could even enter the ark’s room, the inner court of the temple located behind the curtain called the Holy of Holies, except for the high priest (and he could enter only on the Day of Atonement—Lev. 16:2). And if any other nation managed to get their hands on the ark—a plague would strike (1 Sam. 5:1-6). In this sense, the ark was not only mysterious; it was also powerful. Because of the ark’s inherent power to destroy Israel’s enemies and keep Israel safe, it led the Israelites into battle (Num. 10:35). The ark also led the Israelite people across the Jordan into the Promised Land:
When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it. (NRS Josh. 3:3-4)
But the “Ark of the Covenant” wasn’t just some unattainable mystery adorning the heart of the temple; it was also God’s throne where the people could seek God’s mercy. For example, the “mercy seat” on top of the ark was where God met and spoke with Moses:
When Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he would hear the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the covenant. (NRS Num. 7:89)
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
By studying the Ark of the Covenant and realizing that it was both God’s throne as well as the place where God’s Covenant dwelt, we now see the picture of the woman more clearly: the temple–Jesus’ body–is opened, suddenly we glimpse the throne and sitting there in the heart of Jesus is the Holy Spirit, God’s eternal Wisdom–she is the New Covenant:
Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:5–6).
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you. (Ezek. 36:26–27)
You show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (Cor. 3:3)
My child, keep my words and store up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister.” (Prov. 7:1–4)
Jesus loves the Spirit and this is why the Spirit sits upon the throne of his heart. She is his Helper; she is Wisdom—the Spiritual Law written (not on stone tablets like the Ten Commandments) but on the very heart of Christ.The woman in Revelation 12 is the actual image of God’s everlasting covenant. The Ten Commandments that were once placed inside the Israelite’s ark revealed to us that the true spiritual Covenant was still hidden and unattainable. After all, “it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual” (NRS 1 Co 15:46). However, once Jesus died the official New (spiritual) Covenant became attainable because God’s temple was opened to us:
Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the [natural] temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened. (Mt. 27:50-53).
Now when Jesus died and the veil of the natural temple was split open there was surprisingly nothing to see inside the Holy of Holies. This was because the Israelites’ ark along with the Ten Commandments was by this time missing and so the room that once housed the ark was sadly empty: “In speaking of ‘a new covenant,’ he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear” (NRS Heb. 8:13). But in Revelation John is seeing something quite different. He is witnessing the opening of the true temple… and what he sees inside is not an empty room with an obsolete stone covenant; instead, he is shown God’s Living and Spiritual Covenant–the Holy Spirit:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun. (Rev. 11:19- 12:1)
We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Cor.2: 4-7)
The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And he will show them His covenant. (Ps. 25:14)
On the day of Jesus’ death, the day the prophets of old had been speaking about had finally come–the release of the Holy Spirit from her secret place of security. Symbolically this is the temple, behind the veil, where the Ark of God’s Covenant sits, but spiritually it is the body and heart of Christ:
But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Cor 3:15-17)
The Woman is Not a Personified Metaphor
I obviously do not believe the woman in Revelation 12 is mere personification as others have come to believe. After all, throughout this episode with the woman, John introduces other characters who—according to the Bible—are actual persons. The other persons include: the enormous red dragon, who is Satan; the third of the stars, who are other rebelling angels, and the woman’s male child, who is Jesus. All this presupposes that the woman too must be an actual personality—a real person. A person with these attributes:
- she is clothed with the sun;
- she wears a crown with exactly twelve stars;
- she has the moon under her feet;
- she cries out in labor;
- she birthed Christ;
- she is the mother of others who follow Jesus.
These attributes attached to the woman are important. They’re not mentioned for mere ornamentation. To grasp the true identity and purpose of this woman each attribute should be studied and understood. The means through which we gain understanding is, of course, by studying other passages in the Bible.
She is clothed with sun, the moon is under her feet, adorning her head is a crown of twelve stars.
I have used the New Kings James Version unless otherwise noted.
COPYRIGHT © 2017 Deidre Havrelock