1And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon underneath her feet, and on her head a wreath of twelve stars. 2And being pregnant, she is crying, travailing and tormented to be bringing forth.
3And seen was another sign in heaven, and lo! a great fiery-red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads seven diadems. 4And its tail is dragging a third of the stars of heaven, and casts them into the earth. And the dragon stands before the woman who is about to be bringing forth, that it may be devouring her child whenever she may be bringing forth 5And she brought forth a son, a male, who is about to be shepherding all the nations with an iron club. And her child is snatched away to God and to His throne. 6And the woman fled into the wilderness, there where she has a place made ready by God, that there they may be nourishing her a thousand two hundred sixty days.
THE SUN-CLOTHED WOMAN
AND HER MALE SON
THE first "sign" in the Unveiling, specifically so called, is that of the sun-clothed woman, with the moon beneath her feet, in the throes of bringing forth the male son. Strange as it may seem at first, signs are not associated with the political aspect of the kingdom proclamation. The first three accounts of our Lord's life are practically devoid of signs, except the sign of Jonah, which was fulfilled in our Lord's burial and resurrection. He tells them that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a sign and would not be accommodated. In John's account, however, there are many signs, the first of which is the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). There are striking similarities and contrasts when the first sign in John's account of our Lord's life is compared with the first sign in his record of Christ's unveiling.
Cana sets forth the joys of the millennial era when Israel, under the new covenant, will celebrate her union with Yahweh for a thousand years. In the Unveiling we see Israel, before the new covenant is ratified, under the figure of two women, one faithful to her marriage vows, the other, great Babylon, in covenant with the nations, faithless and false. In neither case are the joys during the reign of Christ in view, but the sufferings which precede His advent.
It seems superfluous to insist that the sun-clothed women is faithful Israel. In our introduction to "The Mystery of Babylon," as well as in other writings which we issue, we have fully shown that Israel's covenant relationship to Yahweh is figured by a wife or a bride. Such a relationship is never connected with His title "Christ." There is no such thing as "the bride of Christ" known in the Scriptures. Christ is the title of an office. It is a spiritual relationship rather than a physical one. We are united to Him by spiritual ties, hence have the much more intimate and vital union with Him of members of His body. When Paul desires to enforce the mutual duties of the marriage relation, he does not appeal to the figure of a bride, but of a body. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies, because such is our relationship to Him.
In the restoration of the earth, brought before us in the first chapter of Genesis, we are first introduced to the three heavenly features of this sign. There the sun and moon are set to be luminaries on the earth, the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night, as well as the stars (Gen.1:14-18). These luminaries are said to be signs. They, like the scene we are considering, have a spiritual significance. They figure the spiritual illumination and rule of the earth. Only He Who called Himself the Light of the World can be suggested by the sun. He will rule when earth's day dawns. The moon's dim reflection of His glory was seen in the law, and the stars are beautiful similes of Abraham's spiritual seed, just as the seashore sand is of his physical progeny.
When is earth's day? Hitherto we have had man's "day," but it has been very dark. The sun certainly has not been shining. Earth's illumination waits until the Sun of righteousness arises. The light we have makes us sons of light and sons of the day, but we can never claim to disperse the darkness. Only in the day of Yahweh shall the knowledge of God flood the earth. Not till then does the sun arise. At that time we, the members of His body, will not be here. We will shine in other, celestial spheres. The illumination of the earth is Israel's prerogative. She is clothed with Christ, to enlighten and to rule the earth.
The nations, or gentiles, have no relation to the law. It was not given to them. They were never subject to it. Israel alone was illuminated by its cold and lifeless rays. It proved a snare to the unbelievers in the nation and brought them into bondage. But it is not so to the believers in Israel. Clothed in Christ, the law is beneath their feet. In the second part of this section we find the law again, as it affects the apostate part of the nation. When the "testimony" (the scroll of the law) is bared to view, it brings down the severest series of judgments of which we have any record. The seven bowls are poured out upon those who break God's holy law. Not so with those clothed with Christ. It cannot enslave them. It cannot condemn them. It is beneath their feet.
The stars speak of Abraham's promised spiritual seed. The twelve stars, like the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem (Rev.21:14), can be no others than the twelve apostles who are Israel's spiritual heroes. The number twelve is peculiarly and appropriately confined to the twelve-tribed nation. The fact that Paul has no place in this wreath is sufficient to rule us out of the picture, for he is the apostle of the nations, the Uncircumcision. Here we are concerned only with the Circumcision. It may be that the twelve stars also suggest the patriarchs, and the twelve tribes, as in Joseph's dream (Gen.37:9).
Here, then, we have a figure of the faithful nation at the time of the end. She is brought before us at the crisis of her sorest trial. Within the nation, and the cause of their travail, will be a select company, variously described in this Unveiling. In the prophetic section those of marked faithfulness are called conquerors. In Thyatira such a one is promised authority over the nations, and shall be shepherding them with an iron club (Rev.2:26,27). In the throne section the select company is described by number - twelve thousand out of each tribe of Israel (Rev.7:4-8). They are quite distinct from the vast throng of Israel's redeemed (Rev.7:9,10). In this section they are referred to as a firstfruit to God and the Lambkin (Rev.14:4).
The "male son," who emerges at the time of Israel's travail, is probably the same company elsewhere known as the hundred and forty-four thousand, or the conquerors. As the woman is not an individual, the male son cannot consistently be such. As all of these selected saints come forth at the time of the great affliction, as all, are noted for their fidelity in the midst of faithlessness, as all are specially favored and protected during the time of trial, and as all are destined to be invested with special honor and authority in the kingdom, they are probably identical, being viewed from various aspects in each section. Their special prerogative seems to be the rule of the nations. Israel will be under the twelve apostles, but the outside world will be subject to the hundred and forty-four thousand, or the male son.
The masculinity of this special selection of saints is very striking indeed, when contrasted with the pervading figure, which is feminine. In covenant with Yahweh. Israel is a married woman. But there is a group within the nation which is markedly male. The hundred and forty-four thousand are celibates, who have nothing to do with women (Rev.14:4). The company in the sign before us is called a male son. The reason is that they are viewed in relation to the nations whom they are to rule. They will not be linked to them by a covenant, but, with virile vigor, will rule them with rigor. The millennial reign will not consist of mere mutual agreements of ententes and leagues. It will be a despotism. The law will go forth from Jerusalem and will be enforced among all nations by an iron club in the hands of those who are here called the male son.
Few of the key phrases of Scriptures are as defective and discordant as the rendering "man child." Neither man nor child are correct, yet the expression has imbedded itself into our speech and literature. Of the three words translated "man," this one has the least title to it, for English has an exact equivalent, and there is no reason whatever why it should not be used. But the archaic "man child," for a male infant, will be difficult to displace, even though the added "son" shows that, though newly born, it was not a helpless infant by any means.
In the Scriptures there is a vast distinction between childhood and sonship, which is too often obliterated by our versions. Sonship involves a maturity, a dignity, a likeness which is not necessarily the case with childhood. All who believe are children. All have God for their Father. But it is only in the measure in which we represent Him to others that we are sons. As many as are being led by God's spirit, these are sons of God (Rom.8:14). There is safety and satisfaction for us in the certainty that we are God's children. There is glory and honor for Him when we act as His sons should conduct themselves. At present this is but a feeble intimation of the full dignity which will be ours in resurrection. Not till then will God's sons be revealed to the world, and He will be revealed in them.
This is what is involved in the expression here used. Those who emerge from Israel in the time of her trial will be God's representatives among the nations. They will be like the great Firstborn. He will be shepherding the nations with an iron club (Rev.19:15). So will they (Rev.12:5). They will be the vicegerents of the King of kings and Lord of lords in the glorious day of His exaltation. Through them His dominion will be administered from pole to pole, from Jerusalem to the remotest corners of the earth.
Since the destiny of the male son is to rule with an iron club, the action of the sign is readily understood. The dragon, as we shall see, is the real ruler of the nations now, and, like Herod, it seeks to destroy its rival at the very earliest moment (Rev.12:4). But there is an immediate and powerful intervention on the part of God. They are separated from the mass of the nation, which flees into the wilderness, and are sustained by divine sovereignty, in a place where the dragon dare not follow. In much the same fashion the hundred and forty-four thousand are shielded from the "four winds" by the seal of the living God in their foreheads (Rev.7:2-4). Later we find them on mount Zion (Rev.14:1).
We have already seen how God measures a temple and an altar and worshipers with a reed like a rod (Rev.11:1). It is probable that mount Zion will be the first spot on earth to be seized and held subject to God's throne. Here He will sustain a select company with power while the rest of His faithful followers flee into the wilderness or give their lives for their faith. Our Lord foretold this flight (Matt.24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20). These passages should be read carefully in this connection. When the abomination of desolation is set up all in Judea are warned to flee to the mountains with the utmost haste. It is the signal for affliction unparalleled since the dawn of creation.
The woman flees into the wilderness, where she also is sustained in a miraculous manner. In a specially prepared place, probably in the rocky fastnesses southeast of Judea, where no food is found, she is nurtured as in the days when she was brought through this same region under Moses. In crags accessible only to vultures (Rev.12:14), they remain hidden until the indignation is past. The same beautiful figure is used of the exodus from Egypt. He bare them on vultures' wings and brought them to Himself (Ex. 19:4). At that time the waters of the Red sea helped them. In the future the earth will help them. It would seem that, by a decree of the dragon, vast reservoirs of water will be loosed upon the fleeing host, but, by some convulsion or earthquake, the earth opens up and swallows the onrushing wall of water, and saves them from being carried away and drowned.
One of the most remarkable features of Jerusalem's location is its closeness to the wilderness. The country from Olive's ridge down to the Dead Sea and a vast region to the south, all the way to the gulf of Akaba, with the rough and rugged heights of mount Seir to the east, is unutterably desolate and inhospitable. It contains deep canyons and rocky heights. There are hardly any settled habitations, for there is no means of sustenance. Here is the ancient city of Petra, hewn out of the solid rock. It seems to be an ideal place of refuge under the circumstances, and has often been suggested as the future hiding place of Israel's saints in their time of trial. But none of this, at present, would be a secure retreat against modern weapons, unless it is protected, in some special way yet unknown to us. If this is the place, it will need to be miraculously prepared, for both defense and sustenance, and this is according to the promise.
The dragon, having been foiled in its attempts to destroy the woman, now turns its attention to those who were not included in this exodus. Doubtless there will be faithful ones all over the earth, who are not in Jerusalem or its vicinity when these things occur. These now become the object of its anger. Doubtless these are the vast throng which no one was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and languages, who come out of the great affliction (Rev.7:9-14). They probably seal their testimony with their lives.
Unlike the previous divisions, the temple section commences in the middle, rather than at the beginning of Daniel's seventieth heptad. The first half is passed over without comment. The setting up of the abomination of desolation (Dan.9:27) is the signal for the flight from Judea and the commencement of the great affliction. Hence the woman is nurtured for the balance of the heptad, a thousand two hundred sixty days (Rev.12:6), or a season, seasons and half a season (12:14), that is, until the glorious appearing of their Messiah on His white horse (19:11) and Satan is bound in the abyss (20:2).
In like manner, the scope of this section is limited in the future. The throne section not only commences earlier, at the beginning of the seventieth heptad, but it leads to a reign for the eons of the eons. The temple section is followed by the millennium, or thousand-year dominion of Israel as the priest nation. As kings they will reign until the consummation, as priests it will last only during the day of Yahweh. There will be no priesthood in the new earth, for God will be in touch with all mankind.
One further thought is too important to pass in this connection. At the time of the end Israel will be divided into various companies, of unequal privileges and varied destinies. There are at least three distinct "bodies." One of these has been seized upon with great avidity by some of the saints in order to give themselves a superior position to others less enlightened or less faithful, in their estimation. It would not be surprising if, when we come to review the history of the church in the glory, we should find that millions claimed to be in the hundred and forty-four thousand, and great numbers have sought to secure a place as the "man child." They will be agreeably disappointed to find that the highest place in Israel will not compare with their true place in Christ Jesus.
Let us leave these companies in their proper place and time. We are one body, and only one. Being the objects of pure, unadulterated, limitless grace, we all have present privileges and a future destiny as high above the "man child" as heaven is high above the earth. We are not divided by our attainments or lack of them. Neither our present position among the saints or the future rewards for service and suffering can affect the great and vital unity of the spirit. We should glory in this, rather than a fancied superiority, whether based on experiences or knowledge. We have nothing which we have not received through God's grace. He lavishes this in all. We are one - one body, one faith, one expectation. May He give us grace to revel in it!