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Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. Revelation 12:1–2


Systems of Religion


I have titled chapters 12 through 14 as Systems of Religion. The preview we did in our previous lecture suggested that the systems of religion seen in these chapters correspond with the seven parts of the visions of the seals and trumpets. In these chapters we find the woman in two conditions, a red dragon, a beast rising up out of the sea, a lamb-like beast, and the Lamb on Mount Zion with a reaping of a harvest and a gathering of clusters of grapes. Within these three chapters we find 7 religious situations we can loosely call religious systems. Matthew Henry begins his comments on these chapters:


It is generally agreed by the most learned expositors that the narrative we have in this and the two following chapters, from the sounding of the seventh trumpet to the opening of the vials, is not a prediction of things to come, but rather a recapitulation and representation of things past, which, as God would have the apostle to foresee while future, he would have him to review now that they were past, that he might have a more perfect idea of them in his mind, and might observe the agreement between the prophecy and that Providence that is always fulfilling the scriptures.


Mr. Henry’s English may be somewhat incomprehensible, so let’s restate what he writes in words we can understand. The chapters we are about to study to not predict future events at this point in the Revelation; rather, they look back upon what has been revealed to give us a better understanding of what we have studied. So, chapters 12 through 14 cover the same church history as the series on the seals and the trumpets.


A Woman Clothed With the Sun


The first thing we encounter in this part of the vision is a woman clothed with the sun. Verse 2 informs us that this woman is with child. This is a clear picture of the nature of the early church. Paul writes in Galatians 4:26, “But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” In this text Paul is comparing the two covenants: the Law of the Old Testament and the gospel of the New Testament. He likens the gospel to Jerusalem using it for a metaphor for the church. Adam Clarke expands on the meaning of this Jerusalem.


There is a spiritual Jerusalem, of which this is the type; and this Jerusalem, in which the souls of all the righteous are, is free from all bondage and sin: or by this, probably, the kingdom of the Messiah was intended; and this certainly answers best to the apostle’s meaning, as the subsequent verse shows. There is an earthly Jerusalem, but this earthly Jerusalem typifies a heavenly Jerusalem: the former, with all her citizens, is in bondage; the latter is a free city, and all her inhabitants are free also. And this Jerusalem is our mother; it signifies the Church of Christ, the metropolis of Christianity, or rather the state of liberty into which all true believers are brought.


Uriah Smith in his Thoughts, Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation briefly outlines the symbolism of the first two verses.


“A woman,” the true church. “The sun,” the light and glory of the gospel dispensation. “The moon,” the Mosaic dispensation. As the moon shines with a borrowed light derived from the sun, so the former dispensation, shone with a light borrowed from the present. There we had the type and shadow; here we have the antitype and substance. “A crown of twelve stars,” the twelve apostles.[1]


F. G. Smith in his The Revelation Explained says essentially the same thing but in more words.


This first symbol in the scene, the woman, directs us most definitely into the department of the church for its fulfillment. We have, therefore, the original church of God in the morning time of the Christian Era. . . . The Bible recognizes two kinds of light, natural and spiritual; therefore the one may very appropriately be used to symbolize the other. Christ is the “Sun of righteousness: (Mal. 4:2); “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” now shines in and through his church (II Cor. 4:4); and so we may infer that the brightest luminaries of heaven gathered around the woman in this vision may be designed to express her heavenly character, her spiritual equipment, power, and glory. This view is strengthened by the suggestiveness of the royal insignia, “a crown of twelve stars.” . . . The twelve stars in the diadem of the church allude to the twelve apostles of the Lamb.[2]


In a later edition of this work he expands on the meaning of the light giving an explanation for the moon.


The moon is a fit symbol of the old covenant, above which the church had just risen, only to be clothed in the superior brightness and glory of the new covenant. And as the moon shines only with borrowed light, obtaining its illumination from the sun; so, also, the old covenant was only a shadow of the good things to come and now stands eclipsed in the brightness and transcendent glory of that new and better dispensation.[3]


A movement that later separated from the Church of God Reformation Movement calling itself the Seventh Trumpet Message and the Seventh Seal Church still followed the same interpretation. In a book titled The Revelation With Gospel and Prophecy the writers explain on these verses:


Here the Revelation follows Isaiah the prophet, and uses a pure woman to symbolize the true church, which is Mt. Zion. This woman standing on the moon, clothed with the sun, with a crown of twelve stars upon her head is surely a symbol of the New Testament Church, “built upon the foundations of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20). Standing on the moon would symbolize the Old Covenant under her feet. The light of the moon is in reality, a reflection or shadow of the sun, the real light. . . . The crown of twelve stars on her head would symbolize the twelve apostles, which were lively head stones of the church. The woman herself is a symbol of the church, the true tabernacle the Lord pitched, and not man.[4]


In these three examples that cover approximately 70 years we find consistency in the interpretations of Bible teachers on these opening verses of this part of the Revelation. This helps us to understand . . . .


The First System of Religion


The first system of religion illustrated by this woman is the church Jesus built and inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost.

First we must understand that Jesus built His particular church: Matthew 16:18, “On this rock I will build my church.”

Was that church actually built? Acts 20:28, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Jesus built His church on the rock, which is saying He built His church upon Himself, the atonement He made through His blood on the cross—the revelation that He is the Son of God and redeemer of mankind. Jesus identifies Himself with His church because it is His body. Colossians 1:24, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.”

The church came into being on the Day of Pentecost 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. Acts 2:1–4 Records that auspicious event. The disciples were in one place, which probably was the temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit came on them and filled them. This was the time when the disciples, who were devout Jews, were actually born of the Spirit and the opening of the gospel dispensation.

The church is pictured as a woman in Revelation 12:1. She is pictured as a married woman that is expecting a child. In Ephesians 5:22–27 the Apostle Paul places the church in the same relationship to Christ as the wife to the husband. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Verses 22–24)

John sees the church clothed with the sun. The Prophet Malachi foresaw this in Malachi 4:1–2,


For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.


This Messianic prophecy appears to suggest the Day of Pentecost. Jesus had come and made atonement for sin—a burning oven that burns up sin like stubble. For those that accept the gospel and experience the atonement, Christ is the Sun of Righteousness. Notice the word “sun” is capitalized indicating divinity, but it is not the word “son” as a boy child, it is sun as the sun that shines light on the earth. The light of this Sun sheds His light on the souls of mankind and heals the wounds of sin. But see that His light also produces growth—personal spiritual growth and growth of the church. Paul speaks of this light in 2 Corinthians 4:4, where He calls the gospel the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Albert Barnes comments on this light:


Light is the emblem of knowledge, purity, or innocence; and is here and elsewhere applied to the gospel, because it removes the errors, and sins, and wretchedness of men, as the light of the sun scatters the shades of night.


The woman stands on the moon indicating the change in dispensations where the gospel has risen above the Old Testament but yet is supported by it. In 1 Corinthians 10:11 Paul teaches about the importance of the Old Testament. Of events recorded in the Old Testament he writes “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Matthew Henry writes,


 Their history was written, to be a standing monitor to the church, even under the last and most perfect dispensation: To us, on whom the end of the world is come, the concluding period of God’s gracious government over men. Note, Nothing in scripture is written in vain. God had wise and gracious purposes towards us in leaving the Jewish history upon record; and it is our wisdom and duty to receive instruction from it. Upon this hint the apostle grounds a caution.


The woman wore a garland of twelve stars. When the woman is understood to be the church built by Jesus it is quite obvious that this garland represents the 12 apostles of Christ. Luke 6:13, “And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” The twelve apostles were the original cadre of church Jesus sent out as He began to expand the influence of His church. The original apostles, except Judas, remained in Jerusalem until after the conversion of Paul. From that time on the church expanded. Each of the original apostles met a martyr’s death except for John.

James was the first apostle to die. He was killed by Herod in Jerusalem.

Philip died in Hierapolis in Asia Minor in AD 52.

Matthew died in Parthia in AD 60.

Matthias, who replaced Judas, died in Jerusalem.

Andrew was crucified at Patrae in Greece.

Peter was said to have died in AD 64 in Rome during the persecution under Nero.

Paul, the apostle Jesus later added to the church, also died in Rome under the persecution by Nero.

Bartholomew translated Matthew’s gospel into the language of heathen nations. He was killed either by the sword or was beaten to death.

Thomas took the gospel to India where he was killed by a spear.

John died a natural death in Ephesus at the age of about 100.


The Man Child


The last thing we see about the woman, the church, in verse 2 is that she is in labor about to give birth. The actual birth is recorded in verse 5 as the birth of a man child. It is interesting that of the 8 Bible versions I use in my study, the NKJV is the only version that capitalizes the word child, suggesting the child is Jesus. The footnote in my study Bible says, “The woman represents the true people of God, the faithful in Israel before Christ came, and His church today. The Child is Jesus.” No support is given for this statement. This cannot be as Jesus was not born from either the church or the nation of Israel; He is God incarnate.

As the child is birthed from the woman it can only represent the vast body of converts under the gospel preaching of the church at this time. This birth began on the Day of Pentecost where it is said in Acts 2:41 that “about three thousand souls were added to them.” In Acts 2:47 it says that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” In Acts 4:4 after the first scuffle of persecution from the Jews, “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” Finally, the growth of the church was so strong it simply says in Acts 5:14, “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.


This System Was New To the World


The first two verses of chapter 12 introduce us to the first system of religion in this series. This system was new in the world. While God had a people under the Old Testament, the provisions of that system never really dealt with the human condition. Hebrews 5:8 says that it was only a shadow of the heavenly things because in Hebrews 10:11 we are told that the sacrifices of that system could never take away sin.

The great sign that appeared in the heaven of Revelation 12:1 ushered in a new and perfect system that actually corrects the human condition: Hebrews 10:14 “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus, the church was born and Jesus began the process of building it. That building is pictured by the birth of the child as “believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.”


[1] Smith, Uriah,  Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation,  Steam Press: Battle Creek, MI.  1875,  pg 214.

[2] Smith, F. G.,  The Revelation Explained,  The Warner Press: Anderson, IN,  1908,  ppg 154 & 155.

[3] Smith, F. G., The Revelation Explained, Faith Publishing House: Guthrie, OK,  1918 (Reprint 1973),  pg. 213.

[4] Lawson, J. F.; Turnbow, P. D.; and Rogers, D. W.,  The Revelation with Gospel and Prophecy,  Self-published, date unknown,  pg 28.