SEVEN MYSTIC FIGURES
Notes on Revelation 11:9 - 14:5
Cecil N. Wright
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
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).
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
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."
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."
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
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
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
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.
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"
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.
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
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 , 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
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.