And a great sign was seen 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 the child; and she cried out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered. (v1-2)
This commentary is presented with the belief that the child in this verse represents Christ as evidenced in verse five of this chapter.
The elements John sees in this vision of the sun, moon, and stars are found together in one other place in the Bible; the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.
Then he [Joseph] dreamed another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” (Gen. 37:9-10)
The connection to the description of the woman from Joseph’s dream and Jacob’s rebuke, suggests that the woman is somehow tied to the family of Jacob. In Joseph’s dream, the sun represents his father Jacob, the moon his mother Rebecca, and the eleven stars his eleven brothers. The sign does not necessarily represent these individuals, but rather the family of Israel.
Some believe that the woman represents the nation Israel; others think she represents the church; and some find elements of both. There are even those who believe the woman to be the virgin Mary. Evidence that the woman is Mary the mother of Jesus, however, is base solely on the fact that she gave birth to Jesus; there is no biblical evidence outside of that fact that lends credence to the theory. But whether the woman represents Israel, the church, or something else requires more biblical examination. The following reference may help furnish some insight to the investigation.
Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28)
Jacob wrestled the angel not by his own strength, but by the strength God provided him. The prophet Hosea testifies, “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with him.” (Hos. 12:3-4) Jacob was in prayer when the angel met him and continued in prayer with weeping throughout the struggle. At one point the angle put Jacob’s thigh out of joint with the touch of his hand. Jacob would not have prevailed had he not drawn strength from God through faith. Thus, the angel gave him a new name. No longer was he called Jacob (supplanter) but Israel (God Prevails). By faith Jacob prevailed and received the blessing from God of God’s governess. Thus signifying that his descendants would be governed of God.
In Old Testament times the governed of God were those who believed God and trembled at His word. The majority of the nation often failed to fit this description. Evidence from the prophets reveal that the believing Jews have, through most of Jewish history, been a mere remnant of the nation of Israel.
God, by His prophet Isaiah, asked the Jews a provocative question:
Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isa. 66:1)
The Jews revered the temple as the house of God; it was the place of the arch and Spirit of God dwelt among His people there. The Jews did offer sacrifice in the temple, but many did it carnally and with complete absence of divine worship. God reveals the true sacrifice He desires which should have accompanied their offerings. For through His offering of His only Son, God shows mercy to such who love Him and tremble at His word. But for those who followed the letter of the Law and rejected the spirit of the Law by delighting in their scandals, God sharply answers with this:
“He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a cereal offering, like him who offers swine’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like him who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose affliction for them, and bring their fears upon them; because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isa. 66:3-4)
Clearly God distinguished between those Israelis who feared Him and those who followed their own ways.
Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: “Your brethren who hate you and cast you out for my name’s sake have said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame. (Isa. 66:5)
Indeed, when Christ was risen to glory the believers of Israel found peace and joy though they were put out of the synagogue and dishonored by their people. The nation of Israel had the opportunity the rest of the world lacked, they had the promises, the Law, and the prophets. Yet they rejected God and His grace. But a remnant of that chosen nation has always been faithful and always will be faithful. The Apostle Paul tells us that the nation is indeed the bearer of Christ according to the flesh, but think not that their rejection has in any way impeded the promises of God, for Paul confirms what we read from the prophets; that they are not all true Israelites.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race. They are Israelites, and to them belong the son-ship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. (Rom. 9:3-8)
It is my conclusion, based on the biblical evidence, that the sign John sees in verse one represents true Israel, because in reality, this was not man’s doing but of God’s.