THE VISION OF THE CHURCH, PART 1
Rev 12:1-6 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
Although verse 19, of chapter 11 serves as an appropriate closing to the revelation disclosed to the apostle John at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, most bible scholars seem to think that it is even a more appropriate introduction to what is revealed in chapter 12. Beginning here, there seems to be the second series of visions which are similar to, but noticeably different from, the first series, which began in chapter four. There we read that a door was opened in heaven, which allowed the apostle John to view things which must be hereafter (Vs. 1). Verse 19, of chapter 11 has a similar rendering: the temple of God was opened in heaven, which indicates another revelation of the temple of God, which symbolically refers to the spiritual New Testament temple - the church of Christ. The vision beginning with chapter four seems to depict the evils of civil government, and apostate religtions, and their affect upon the body of Christ. Beginning with lesson text of chapter 12, a new vision is revealed, which seems to primarily portray the church of Christ, its struggles within the anti-Christian world that surrounds it, as well as both other sorrows and glad tidings to befall it, that is, other tribulations and triumphs.
The lesson text opens with the image of a woman appearing to the apostle John, as his vision from heaven continues to unfold before his eyes. She is regally clothed with the brilliance of the sun, symbolically representing truth and glory. With only rare disagreements, the woman, according to the vast majority of bible scholars, represents the New Testament church of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Continuing this analogy, the moon under her feet represents the lesser light of the Old Testament's Jewish dispensation. Having no light of its own, it is merely the reflected light of the sun, which tells us that it is subordinate in importance to the New Covenant doctrine of Christ and His church. The twelve stars of the crown that adorned her head, no doubt represent the true light of the gospel of eternal salvation, which, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, was brought into the world by the twelve apostles on the Day of Pentecost following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven by the Son of God, Christ Jesus.
There exists innumerable interpretations of verse 2, which reads: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. However, most bible scholars seem to hold the following opinion, which is a fittingly appropriate rendering of this verse, and those that follow. Since the woman noted in verse one assuredly refers to the church of Christ, verse two cannot refer to the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, as some scholars hold. The man child that was born, according to verse 5, could not possibly refer to Jesus, since this symbolic delivery, according to verse 6, took place during the 1,260 years of Roman persecution of Christ's church. One has only to review the prophecy of Isaiah to understand the meaning of this verse. The church at this time in history was suffering great tribulation, symbolized here as a woman travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. This could not refer to the birth of Jesus or the origination of His church, because these events had taken place over a thousand years previous to the event predicted by this prophecy. Rather, it foretells the rebirth of the church, whose growth in knowledge and number had been dormant, due to the extreme persecution of the church and its faithful gospel preachers.
At the same time John witnessed the brilliantly clad woman, who was about to give birth, there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. At the time the church was about to receive religious freedom and experience tremendous growth, this Satanic, red monster appears symbolizing the future rise civil powers that would persecute the body of Christ. Much of this same symbolism is foretold by the prophet Daniel in chapter 7 of his inspired writings. Also, in chapter 17 of this book of Revelation, the great red dragon introduced here, is discussed in considerably greater detail. Sufficient for this study, we are assured that this text is a prediction of continuing persecution of the church by the anti-Christian influence of world powers that were to be established in future times. The vast differences and numbers of these civil powers is indicated by the seven heads, and ten horns, and seven crowns of this devilish dragon.
The universal nature of this dragon is represented by the power of its tail. He seemed to be able to sweep it into the heavens and destroy a third part of the stars. Some scholars seem to think this refers to the Roman world, which at one time was divided into three parts. Two parts, or ages, of this imperialistic government showed a limited toleration for Christianity, while the third part demonstrated extremely bitter persecution of the church of Christ. From the broad meaning of this scripture we understand that, although there would continue to be persecution of the church, it would be limited. There would not be a complete denial of public bible reading and preaching of the true New Testament gospel of Christ, as it was under the Roman government, which was influenced,, and controlled, by papal edicts of the Roman Catholic Church. This dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. This dragon, symbolizing Christian persecution by various governmental bodies, was poised to slay the child about to be born, that is, the new growth of members of the church of Christ. The easiest way to disrupt, defeat, and destroy the growth of the church, by Satan and his followers, is to lure away its newest members - those that are still considered to be "babes in Christ." Having less understanding and zeal for the cause of Christ, these new Christians are more easily swayed into indifference by false teachers and the allurement of worldliness. This was Satan's evil method of destroying Christianity from its foundation, throughout its growth, and it remains his practice against the church of Christ today.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne. The offspring of this woman is her seed (Vs. 17), which assuredly refers to the saints in Christ which make up His church. It also refers to the head of this body, Christ Jesus, who rules His kingdom from His throne at the right hand of God. It is not that Jesus rules the world directly, but His truths, which is taught by faithful preachers, and administered by obedient elders, who oversee His body, implement His doctrine by which the world will be judged. Therefore the church of Christ, in this sense of stewardship, has been given the New Testament will of God to be carried into all nations of the world. Being unchangeable, this rule is unwavering as if administered with a rod of iron.
However, before this was to take place, it was necessary for the church to seclude itself due to the Roman Catholic persecution demanded by its papal rulers. Realizing the extent of this persecution, God prepared a place of refuge for His church, which is described here as a wilderness area - a place with few, if any, inhabitants - a place where the church could be easily concealed and be relatively free from the harm sought by the apostate religious order that was to rule the world at that time in history. The period of these trials and tribulations, as previously referred to Revelations 11:3, was to last for thousand two hundred and threescore days, which symbolically represents the same number of years. Indeed, the church of Christ, for this period of time, found divine protection from the corrupt Catholic papacy, and found survival from the gospel darkness they demanded during these historic middle ages.