Then an enormous portent in the sky was discerned, a woman having wrapped herself all around in the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, and she was holding in her stomach: and she cries out travailing and having been in torturous pain to give birth.
Then another portent was discerned in the sky, and behold! A gigantic fiery dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and upon his heads seven diadems, and his tail drags the third of the stars of the sky, and he hurled them onto the earth.
Then the dragon has placed himself before the woman who was about to give birth, in order that whenever she gives birth, he could devour her child.
Then she gave birth to a son, a male, who is going to shepherd all the nations with a staff of iron, and then her child was carried off by force to God and to His throne,
Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place there having been prepared from God in order that there they would nourish her one thousand, two hundred and sixty days.Revelation 12:1-6
There are some few details that caught my attention as I read this passage.
Did you notice? John does not write about this oracle in the same way he did his previous visions. This one comes across as visible, or at least discernible, to others as well. It is not a private viewing for John in heaven. It is something others apparently could perceive.
For that reason, I chose the translation
- “discern” for ὁράω | horaō—which means variously “to see with the eyes,” “perceive,” “behold,” discern,” “take heed,” “beware,” “experience,” “visit,” “see to,” and “care for,”
- “sky” for οὐρανός | ouranos—which means either “heaven” or “sky,” depending, and sometimes “air.”
So the question is: who are the others who can see, or at least discern, these portents? Who is watching besides John?
Among all the highly symbolic imagery, there is a group that John might have been indicating.
The fiery dragon – whether that means the dragon was a fiery red, or that the dragon was characterized by a fiery nature, or that the dragon was in some way like a flaming fire – dragged its tail through the sky and hauled a full third of these celestial orbs out. The way it reads, this was one sweeping motion of dragging and casting.
Our eyes, in a literary sense, are drawn to those hapless shining ones, torn from their God-given domain and thrust into an unnatural environment. We see a globe scattered round with the dragon’s twinkling captives as the dragon positions himself in front of the radiant woman in the throes of childbirth.
But the sky is still filled with countless trillions of brilliant stars which have escaped the dragon’s snare. One third plus one dragon will still be no match for two thirds and God.
“Carried Off By Force”
The Greek ἁρπάζω | harpazō means to “sieze,” “catch up,” “snatch away,” or “carry off by force.” I notice most translators favor “snatch.” But I think that does not quite capture the scene.
Instead, I see the dragon leaning in ever closer, with his bedeviled stars also gathering near. The dragon is preparing to subdue the exhausted woman and feast upon her newborn child. Yet, somehow, he is so concentrated on the woman before him, and attending with such keen fixation on the baby crowning as he is about to be born, that he does not notice what is happening in the sky.
For above him all the stars he has not entangled have also perceived what is happening. They, too, are poised with fierce determination. They, too, are focused with every fiber of their beings. For, at the moment the tiny son – destined to shepherd the nations – is brought forth into the world, they respond with a sweeping motion of their own.
For just as the dragon’s tail dragged through and cast down, so now the stars (as I see it) sweep down and lift up with great power, with divine potency, with all the force of their might. The dragon and his cursed stars cannot prevail against the greater strength of the heavenly stars catching the newborn up to God.
“They Would Nourish”
That is another telling detail. Greek verbs have all kinds of factors (okay, well, five, which seems like a lot) which indicate how to conjugate them. The important factors in this case, for τρέφωσιν | trephōsin, which is conjugated in this sentence from the verb τρέφω | trephō, are
- present tense.
- active, meaning the subject has a direct connection with the verb.
- subjunctive, which puts it in the “would, could, should, may, can” category.
- third person .
- And here is the kicker—plural.
You see the situation. God had prepared a place already for the woman to flee to, which she apparently knew was there because she ran right to it. But it is not God nourishing her there, directly. It is “they” who now have the opportunity to nourish her.
Who are “they”?
I think we are back to those two thirds of stars which were left remaining in the heavens. If I am right, and they are the ones who have taken the infant shepherd up to God, then they must also be the ones who are now in a position to minister to the exhausted and frightened mother. (I hesitate to call her bereaved because surely she knows her son has been rescued and is even now in the safety of God’s care. I also want to believe that mother and son will be reunited once she has reached her sanctuary).
And, since I am hypothesizing here, I am going to hazard a theory on these stars’ identity from the following scriptural passages:
”This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God …
Luke 2:12-13 (NRSV, modifications added)
“… for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
Matthew 4:6, 11, 26:53 (NRSV, modifications added)
I could, of course, add more passages – lots more – but this is enough, I think, to support my theory. Whoever the dragon is (though I think we know), and whoever the woman is (which, oddly enough, might be a bit more challenging to identify), the stars could very well be angelic beings.
- They are a multitude in heaven.
- They protect the infant son, destined to rule the world.
- They bear the baby up to heaven so that He comes to no harm.
- They minister to one exhausted in the wilderness.
- They are a vast company poised to follow the command of God .
Put all together, John witnessed a scene that was both earthly and heavenly, physical and spiritual. What he saw with his eyes he also perceived with his mind, as did an unnamed audience.
A woman gloriously arrayed but seemingly entirely alone is in the last stages of labor. As she cries out in agony, with the last remnants of her strength, a dragon appears, swooping through the sky, causing a cascade of stars to shoot through the night and crash to the earth.
The dragon looms dark and close to his prey, with burning eyes, dripping jaw, his ominous knife-sharp teeth glistening in readiness. There is growing apprehension, for this child has a great destiny.
But just as the infant is born, in what must have been a sudden arc of blinding light, the baby boy is caught up to God, and the woman flees to a wilderness asylum already prepared by God for her. There, she is ministered to, nourished and cared for, for a span of 1,260 days.