REVELATION
SEVEN MYSTIC FIGURES

Notes on Revelation 11:9 - 14:5
Cecil N. Wright

            Introduction: Chapter 11:19 was included in the Notes on "The First Four Trumpets" because it was the last verse in that chapter. But it belongs with and is introductory to what begins with Chapter 12 and, in a sense, marks a new beginning. Whereas before, John and seen a door opened in heaven and was called to come up there to be shown things which would come to pass thereafter (4:1), now the temple of God in heaven was itself opened and John saw the ark of God's covenant (containing his promises to his people) opened (revealing facts pertaining to the temple of God, symbolizing the church). And, whereas the preceding chapters have appeared to present predominantly certain aspects of secular history of the Roman empire affecting the church and Christianity, even to the dissolution of the empire itself, the remaining chapters seem to cover much the same ground, and even beyond, but to deal primarily with aspects of religious history pertinent to the purpose of the Book of Revelation. They seem to begin even with the birth of Christ himself, and emphasize the spiritual struggles and ultimate triumph of his church and saints over the enemies they faced when The Revelation was given.

            Chapters 12:1 through 14:5 present seven mystic figures involved in the conflict and struggle just mentioned - a Radiant Woman, her Man Child, Michael, and the Lamb, on one side, and the great Red Dragon, a Beast from the Sea, and a Beast from the Earth, on the other side. In figurative and symbolic language, a given entity may at one time be represented as one thing and at a later time as something else. For example, John was told that a Lion of the tribe of Judah had prevailed to open the seals of the book sealed with seven seals, but when he looked it was a Lamb that he saw receiving the book to open its seals (5:4-7). Likewise, the Beast of Earth in 13:11-18 will be found to become the False Prophet of 16:13; 19:20; 20:10. It will be well to keep this in mind in connection with the Radiant Woman presently to be considered - also in connection later with the Man Child and the Lamb.

            The seven "mystic" figures are involved in the events of the seven seals and the seven trumpets already presented and in the seven bowls yet to be depicted. They are therefore not to be taken as a chronological link between the seven trumpets and the seven bowls. (See Chart of Revelation 6-22 and its explanatory Notes for the perspective set forth in these outlines.)

            The woman and the Dragon are seen as "signs" or "symbols in heaven", and both heaven and earth are involved in the conflict for which the Dragon is responsible. What the woman symbolizes is of heavenly origin and association. And what the Dragon symbolizes was likely once an occupant of heaven but became a rebel and the leader of a rebellion in heaven, before being cast out along with those he led. (Cf. Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6.)

            1. A Radiant Woman (12:1-2). "And a great sign in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered."

The Woman can hardly be a "sign" or symbol of Mary, the physical mother of Jesus. She is more likely to represent the Messianic community, the ideal of spiritual Israel, that gave us Christ, of which the New Testament church is a continuum. Of that community it is prophetically stated centuries before-hand: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of host will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7). That the New Testament church is in a very real sense a continuum of that community is seen, among other things, in the fact that all who are Christ's are also Abraham's seed, and call "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16; cf. 3:13-14,29) - Israel being descended from Abraham.

            The woman continued after being delivered of the Man Child, though persecuted, and had other "seed" besides him - "who keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus" (12:17) - which identifies her with the Jerusalem that is above ..., which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26) - and the "heavenly Jerusalem" is identified with the "church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:22-23) - "that are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27) - the "Lamb," of course, being Christ (Revelation 5"6-10; cf. John 1:29,35).

            And, because the Messianic community in its continuation as the New Testament church was involved in the great conflict depicted in Revelation, the Woman is described in terms that would identify her as such - as being "arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." Sun, moon and stars are heavenly sources of light - in this case, spiritual light - the word of God (Psalm 119:105). Christ is prophetically spoken of as "the sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2) - the greatest light of all - and spoke of himself as "the light of the world" (John 8:12; cf. 1:4-9). The Woman was "arrayed with the sun" and therefore radiates the light of Christ in the New Covenant, of whose light it was but a reflection, but upon which the New Testament church nevertheless stands. And the twelve stars, while possibly alluding to the twelve tribes of Israel as some have thought, more likely represents the twelve apostles who, next to Christ, occupy the highest position with reference to the church, its leaders and teachers of his word. They constitute a stephanos, crown, not of royalty, but of victory - likely symbolizing victory at last for the church and "the testimony of Jesus".

            The Woman, at the threshold of the new dispensation, was described as being with child and in pain to be delivered, which may represent, as has been suggested, "the true Israel in her pre-messianic agony of expectation." But in particular it provides symbolism for showing the incipiency of the conflict in which John and his readers were involved and which is the major burden of the Book of Revelation.

  2. A Great Red Dragon (12:3-4). "And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his head seven diadems. And his tail draweth a third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child."

            In v.9, we are told that the dragon was "the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." But his having seven heads and ten horns, and wearing seven diadems (crowns of royalty), seem to point particularly to his connection with and embodiment in the empire of pagan Rome (cf. 13:1-10; 16:3-18). Red, the color of blood, likely symbolizes his murderous nature. His greatness and fury are likewise symbolized and dramatized by his drawing and casting to earth a third of the stars of heaven with his tail, which may be an allusion to his leading an apostasy and rebellion among the angels of God, as shall be noted later. A third part signifies a considerable number, not a larger part.

            In his enmity against God, he is also represented as having been poised to devour the Man Child of the radiant Woman when she delivered - to do whatever he thought he would have to do to destroy him, which included what he attempted to do through Rome's puppet king Herod to get rid of him as an infant (Matthew 2:13-18) and later through the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers that crucified Christ (Matthew 27:27-31; cf. Acts 2:23). But God thwarted him, as will soon be seen.

            3. A Man Child (12:5-6). "And she was delivered of a son. A man child, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days."

            Here we see Satan thwarted, first in that the Man Child, whom we take to be Christ, was caught up to heaven. That was the climax of his failure with reference to his person. It began with God sending the babe to Egypt before Herod could strike, and culminated in raising him from the dead after his crucifixion, receiving him into heaven at his right hand, and making him Lord and Christ, to reign till all enemies had been made the "footstool of thy feet" (Acts 2:24-36). This corresponds to his being the Woman's son, "a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne." (cf. 19:15.)

            Second, the Devil is likewise described as thwarted when at some subsequent time he sorely persecuted the Woman herself (the community of the saints), and she "fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days." This symbolism seems to allude to Israel's escape from the Egyptian Pharaoh and his armies by fleeing into the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea. When they reached Mount Sinai, God said to them through Moses: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself" (Exodus 19:4). And, of course, they were nourished by bread from heaven during the sojourn in the wilderness. A further allusion to the same occasion is found in v.14 of Revelation 12: "And there were given the woman the two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly unto the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half time."

            The "thousand two hundred and threescore days" of v.6 and the "time, and times, and half a time" of v.14 equal the same and are equivalent to the "forty and two months" of 11:2 and likewise of 13:5. These, in turn, have there prototype in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7. In each instance, it represents a period of persecution for the people of God - at the same time indicative of a limitation of it (described in terms meaning 3 1/2 years) - and contrast greatly with the thousand years yet to be presented in 20:1-6, indicative of a vastly longer period. Likely both are symbolical, not literal. The 3 1/2 years appear in each instance to occur within the history of the Roman empire, and the 1,000 years appears to follow it (as will be noted again in connection with chapter 20).

            Especially to be remembered is the Woman (symbolical of the church, or people of God in the aggregate) was "nourished" rather than destroyed during and by the above mentioned period or persecution - as was learned also from the section of Revelation previous to the one beginning with our present chapter.

            4. Michael (12:7-17). "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not. Neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him." These are verses 7-9.

            In Jude 9, Michael is called "the archangel" - that is, highest angel, or chief angel. There are indications of rank among the heavenly creation. It is likely that Satan was once an angel of high rank, with angels under him, as we read of "the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41) as well as of "Michael and his angels". It would seem, therefore, that Satan was leader of the rebellion of angels who sinned and were cast down to hell (Gr. Tartartos) to await judgment (2 Peter 2:4). Jude speaks of them as follows: "And angles that kept not their principality, but left their proper habitation, he (God) hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (v.6) - that is, the day of final judgment. And Paul states a "novice" (a new convert) is not to be made a bishop in the church, "least being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of (that is, the condemnation passed on or received by) the devil" (1 Timothy 3"6). The implication, then, is that the rebellion of the devil and his angels resulted from pride, which led to dissatisfaction with the rank and position assigned to them and an effort to acquire one they did desire - which may have been the highest. It is likely, therefore, that their rebellion resulted in actual war in heaven with Michael and his angels, and is used as a prototype for the symbolism in John's vision.

            Michael is again referred to by name in Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1. In 10:13, 21, he is described by a personage in a vision of Daniel as aiding said personage in his divine mission against evil princes in Persia and Greece. And in 12:1, he is said to be "the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people" - that is, for the people of God, "found written in the book" - and would be involved in their deliverance at a time of great trouble then future - seemingly the time of the end, and in connection with the resurrection (cf. 11:40; 12:1-4). In Matthew 13:36-43,49-50, Christ stated that he would employ angels in separating the righteous from the wicked at the end of the world. And in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, it is stated that when Christ comes to raise the righteous dead and receive them and the righteous living unto himself, he will "descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (v.16).

            In the symbolism of Revelation 12, the casting down of Satan and his angels may have represented the defeat of paganism as embodied in the Roman empire, for associated with it is the victory of the saints, who had overcome him "because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony: and they loved not their life even unto death" (vs.10-12). That being the case, not the literal heaven, but the political and religious heaven, may have been the arena. If so, then Michael and his angels may symbolize Constantine and his armies, and the Dragon and his angels may symbolize Maxentius in the west and Licinius in the East, and their armies; the Dragon cast out and down may symbolize the defeat and humiliation of paganism as embodied in the Roman empire.

            An alternate interpretation is that Satan, infuriated at his failure to destroy Christ by crucifying him, followed him in his ascension and made bold to storm the bulwarks of heaven, where he met a crushing defeat at the hands of Michael and his angels, and lost forever any further power to harm Christ or the souls of the redeemed. (Halley's Bible Handbook, which also states, " the outcome may depend, far more than we realize, on the armies of the invisible world.") And this seems more compatible with vs.13-17, in which Satan in his "great wrath" is described as setting out to make the most of the limited time ("short time," v.12) he knew he had - evidently the 3 1/2 years of v.14 - by intense persecution of the Woman and "the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus". But still they experience the victory described in the fore going paragraph, accomplished on their part "because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of their testimony; and (because) they loved not their life even unto death" (v.11).

            The American Standard Version makes the sentence begun in 12:17 to continue through a part of 13;1, as follows "And the dragon waxed worth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus: and he stood upon the sand of the sea". John then saw two confederates of the Dragon appear, one a beast coming up out of the sea, the other a beast coming up out of the earth. These will play an important role in the Dragon's conflict with the Woman and "the rest of her seed," as depicted in succeeding chapters.

            5. Beast from the Sea (13:1-10). From what is stated in this text and subsequent ones (Chapter 17 particularly), it becomes pretty evident that this Beast represents Imperial Rome in its capacity as persecutor of Christians, and has been proleptically mentioned in 11:7 as coming up out of the abyss, making war with God's two witnesses, overcoming and killing them (though they remained dead only 3 1/2 days and were received up into heaven). He seems to answer the fourth beast (Roman empire), of Daniel 7:1-8, and is described as a composite of three predecessors depicted by Daniel in reverse and chronological order as a leopard (Babylonian empire), a bear (Medo-Persian empire), and a lion (Grecian empire). The Dragon "gave him his power, and his thrones, and great authority" (v.2). And he is represented as "having horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems (crowns of royalty), and upon his heads names of blasphemy" (v.1). "He opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven. And it was given to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain" (vs.6-8) - the Greek text being more accurately represented in the margin of the ASV and in the text of the KJV, as follows: "... not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" - that is, not names "written from the foundation of the world," but "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" - in the purpose and plan of God.

            John saw one of the "seven heads" of the Beast "as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed" (v.3). This is elaborated upon in Chapter 17. Suffice it to say that if "heads" represent emperors, as they seem to do, likely the one receiving the "death-stroke" was Nero, a monster and the first to persecute Christians, who likewise a suicide (A.D. 68). Though given a state funeral, many refused to believe he was dead and a legend grew up that he had gone among the Parthians and would soon return with a Parthian army to destroy Rome. As time went on, the belief that he was still alive faded and was replaced with the expectation that he would rise from the dead and return to seize power. And when Domitian, who was emperor A.D. 81-96, became a persecutor toward the end of his reign, the only predecessor with whom he could be compared in this respect was Nero. It was as if Nero had risen from the dead and was back in Rome as a persecutor - which was pagan and in essence, devil worship (see vs.3-4). That John's symbolism is an allusion to Nero-redivivus myth, which he would not believe but would suggest to them Domitian, the current emperor, as the particular Roman emperor under consideration, seems a reasonable and probable hypothesis.

            Vs.9-10 are of special importance for Christians. Their part of the warfare between them and their enemies was to be spiritual, and only that. They were not to attempt to promote or defend their cause by carnal means - not by the sword and not by taking captives. Captivity only produces captivity for him who takes others captive, and he who is takes the sword shall die by the sword. The victory of Christians was assured notwithstanding the use of captivity and the sword against them, but would not be accomplished by the employment of such means on their part.

            6. Beast from the Earth" (13:11-18). If the Beast from the sea was Imperial Rome, represented at that time by Domination, the Beast from the Earth must have been the Emperor Cult of the pagan priesthood of the Roman empire, for they worked hand in hand, each supporting the other - the second Beast promoting worship of the first Beast - hence, emperor worship (in the case, that of Domitian in particular). At that time, the greatest concentration of Christians seems to have been in Asia Minor, where also the Emperor Cult was most ancient and active. Its promotion of emperor worship is described as including the making of monuments to and images of the emperors worshipped, and doing "great signs" to deceive the populace - namely, "making fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men" and "giving breath ... to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should even speak." (The word we translated "even" is kai, and is translated either "even", "both" and "also", depending on context. We have here, along with the RSV and NASB, adopted "even" rather than "both" as best suiting the context. Some other translations have achieved the same result by means of paraphrase. Moffatt: "so that the statue of the Beast should actually speak."

            The Journal of Biblical Literature of December 1984, pages 599-610, carries an article by Steven J. Scherrer entitled, "Signs and Wonders of the Imperial Cult: A New Look at a Roman Religious Institution in Light of Rev13:13-15." Well researched and documented from ancient sources, he demonstrates that contrived religious wonders were not unusual in the ancient world and concludes: "In light of all this it seems quite plausible that technology and simulation of nature might have been employed in the imperial cult. We suggest that Rev13:13-15 be accepted as describing a part of the actual practice in the cult of the princes in the East."

            It was also given unto the second Beast to "cause that as many as should not worship the image of the (first) beast should be killed." " And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead; even the name of the beast or the number of his name." (vs.15-17.) A mark on the right hand is thought by some to represent one's practice, while a mark on the forehead indicates what one professes. The power of the second Beast to enforce worship of the first Beast ranges from economic sanctions to putting one to death, to be exercised, at least principally, at his discretion.

            How identify the first Beast? "Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six." V.18). This indicates that only the wisest might understand the significance of the clue. And we are without information as to their interpretation. So it is part of wisdom for us to be cautious and undogmatic. For one thing, while the preponderance of manuscripts have the number 666, a few have 616. And for another, in the Greek language, in which our New Testament scriptures were written, there is no indefinite article corresponding to our "a", but only the definite article to our "the". When a noun is left inarthrous (without an article), the context has to determine whether in English a definite or indefinite article is to be understood. Or none at all. "A man" would refer to an individual, whereas "man" might be a class noun referring to mankind.

            What is clear, is that reference is made to a cryptogram (writing with a hidden meaning) consisting of a gematria (a numerical equivalent of the letters of a word or name) - possibly in either Hebrew or Greek in this case, since both used the letters of their alphabets as numbers. If our interpretation up to this point is correct, the most attractive of the many solutions that had been put forward is that the name is the Greek form Nero Caesar, which while transliterated in Hebrew characters adds to 666. If the Latin spelling is used, the sum in Hebrew translations is 616, which might account for the variant in some Greek manuscripts. "The recent discovery of an Aramaic illustration of Nero Caesar spelled so far to equal 666 at Qumran gives credence to this as a solution. Given Jewish background for many Christians and Greek Godfathers, it is not surprising that John should have adopted this riddle." (J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John [Austin, Texas: The sweet Publishing Company, 1974], p.116.) In such event, the cryptogram would be an allusion to the Nero- redivivus myth, with application to the revivification of Nero in the person of the emperor Domitian. Incidentally, the abbreviation in Greek of the full title of the emperor Domitian himself also total 666. (see Donald Guthrie. New Testament Introduction [1970], p.960, n.1.)

  7. Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1-5). "And I saw, and behold, a Lamb standing on the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven , as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of many harpers harping with their harps: and they sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders: and no man could learn the song save the hundred and forty and four thousand, even they that had been purchased of the earth. These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, to be the first-fruits unto God and unto his Lamb. And in their mouth was found no lie: they are without blemish."

            This is a consolatory vision, in which Christ is symbolized as a Lamb having one hundred and forty and four thousand with him who have been purchased out of the earth with his blood (see5:9). They are standing on Mount Zion, associated with deliverance (Joel 2:32 - not earthly Zion, however, but the heavenly (cf. Hebrews 11:22-24). They have the name of the Lamb, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads (cf. 7:3-4) - in contrast with those who worshipped the Beast and had his mark on their right hand or upon their forehead. The latter are doomed to be tormented with fire and brimstone forever and ever (14:9-11), while the former are rewarded with association with the Lamb wherever he goes - for all time to come seeming to be implied. They were free from idolatry (often symbolized by adultery or fornication) - not meaning only men will be saved. They were also purchased from among men to be the "firstfruits unto God and the Lamb" - first fruit always being dedicated unto God under the old Covenant -- and Christians (not just the earliest Christians, who were Jews) have been brought forth "by the word of truth, that we should be a kind if firstfruit of his creatures" (James 1:18). The Lamb in this vision is the same as the Man Child of 12:5, who was to "rule all nations with a rod of iron: and ... was caught up unto God, and unto his throne."

            This vision, featuring the seventh Mystic figure (the Lamb on Mount Zion), is designed to emphasize the glory that will reward those who align themselves with the Woman, the Man Child, Michael, and the Lamb (who is also the Man Child) against the Dragon and his confederates, the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Earth, depicted in the Revelation. And immediately following it is an Interlude of six Angelic messages before there is a description of "the wrath of God" upon his enemies and those of his people, beginning with Chapter 15. They combine with the foregoing in order to provide more background and vocabulary for understanding and appreciating all that yet follows.