Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Study on Revelation 12: Part Two (Identifying the sun-clothed woman)

In his blog article entitled “The Snatching Away of the Son,” Andre Piet makes short work of the two most common theories within Christendom concerning the identity of the woman:

“The woman in Revelation 12 is, in the [Roman Catholic Church], traditionally explained as being Mary. That association is quickly made: after all, she is the woman who brought forth the son (who would be the Messiah). But that is where the explanation stays stuck, because everything else that is said about this woman is impossible to apply to Mary. The traditional Protestant explanation says that the woman pictures “the church”. To this idea they come, because they believe that “the Church” exists from the time of Adam to the last day. The “church” brought forth the Son, who will shepherd all nations…. In addition that this explanation is not able to do justice to the many details (1260 days, flight to the desert, etc.), it is not true, anyway, that “the church” would have brought forth the Son. Indeed, it is exactly the other way round.”

I think the traditional Protestant interpretation of the sun-clothed woman is closer to the truth than the Catholic view only insofar as it sees her as representing some group or category of people. But it’s simply not tenable to view her as “the church” (if by “the church” one is including that corporate group of saints described by Paul as “the body of Christ”). But if the woman doesn’t represent “the church,” then who is she?

In light of Genesis 37:9-10 (where similar imagery involving the sun, the moon and stars is used to represent the first family of Israel), I think this “woman” most likely represents Israel. Joseph and his eleven brothers are, of course, the individuals from whom the twelve tribes of Israel descended, and just as Joseph’s eleven brothers are represented as eleven stars in his dream (Gen. 37:9-10), so the woman is said to have a wreath consisting of twelve stars, representing the twelve patriarchs and tribes of Israel (and not merely the twelve apostles, as some have suggested).

In defense of the view, Andre Piet remarks as follows: “The “woman” is practically the standard reference in the prophets for Israel. The book of Hosea is completely based on that data. The LORD is the Husband and Israel His wife. He has covenanted with her a marriage covenant at Sinai. In many tonalities is this data elaborated upon by the prophets. Since the book of Revelation is the capstone of the prophetic books, we can assume in advance that where a woman is presented as symbol (“… there was a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman …”) this must refer to the people of Israel. -Hosea 3:1-5; Isa.54:4.5, etc.

In his book The Unveiling of Jesus Christ, A.E. Knoch went so far as to say that “It seems superfluous to insist that the sun-clothed women is faithful Israel.” I agree with Knoch on this point, and it needs to be emphasized that, by identifying the woman as “Israel,” I do not mean every natural descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who could claim these patriarchs as their ethnic ancestors. Rather, I mean those descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whom Knoch referred to as “faithful Israel.” Paul had this Israel in mind when he wrote, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Rom. 9:6). In Galatians 6:16 Paul referred to this category of saints as the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). It is this Israel which, in Paul’s day, constituted the “remnant according to the choice of grace” (Rom. 11:6), and who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God on the earth during the eons to come.

Now, as noted earlier, the company of Israelites whom the sun-clothed woman represents – i.e., faithful Israel, or the “Israel of God” - has been constituted by different individuals in every generation since the nation of Israel first came into existence. Those who constituted faithful Israel in Paul’s day are not, of course, the same individuals who will constitute faithful Israel during the 70th heptad. And yet, both groups of people can legitimately be referred to as “Israel,” or as “the Israel of God.”

If the time in history when the sun-clothed woman brings forth her “male child” (Rev. 12:5) is different than the time when the sun-clothed woman must flee into the wilderness (v. 6), then it means that two different companies of faithful Israelites living at two different times in history are in view in this chapter. Before we determine if this is in fact the case, however, we need to try and identity which company of Israelites is being represented by the sun-clothed woman in v. 6 (i.e., when she is described as fleeing into the wilderness). Does Scripture elsewhere describe a group of Israelites who, prior to the return of Christ, will have to flee into a wilderness area to escape a life-threatening situation? Yes, it does.

Just prior to the start of the second half of the 70th heptad, there will be a company of Israelites living in Jerusalem and the surrounding land of Judea who will find themselves in the perilous position of having to flee for their lives in order to escape the persecution of the “dragon.” This flight was foretold by Christ in his Olivet Discourse as follows:

Matthew 24
15 "Whenever, then, you may be perceiving the abomination of desolation, which is declared through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who is reading apprehend!);
16 then let those in Judea flee into the mountains.
17 Let him who is on the housetop not descend to take away the things out of his house.
18 And let him who is in the field not turn back behind him to pick up his cloak.
19 "Now woe to those who are pregnant and those suckling in those days!
20 Now be praying that your flight may not be occurring in winter, nor yet on a sabbath,
21 for then shall be great affliction, such as has not occurred from the beginning of the world till now; neither under any circumstances may be occurring.
22 And, except those days were discounted, no flesh at all would be saved. Yet, because of the chosen, those days shall be discounted.

It is this event which, I believe, is being symbolically represented in Rev. 12:6:And 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.”

Verse 6 is likely parenthetical. After describing the destiny of the “male child” in v. 5 (which we’ll look at later), John provides just enough information to reassure his readers that the woman is safe as well (she is, after all, the main protagonist of the drama that John saw unfold in this particular vision). However, it must be noted that the fleeing of the woman does not occur immediately after the snatching away of the male child. There is, instead, another important event (or series of events) which transpire in between the snatching away of the male child and the fleeing of the woman into the wilderness. After John covers this intervening complex of events in verses 7-12 (which we’ll also be looking at in part five of this study), he then returns to the subject of what happens to the woman, and provides the reader with more information than that given earlier in verse 6. In verses 13-17, we read:

13 And when the dragon perceived that it was cast into the earth, it persecutes the woman who brought forth the male.
14 And given to the woman were the two wings of a large vulture, that she may be flying into the wilderness into her place, there where she is nourished a season, and seasons, and half a season, from the face of the serpent.
15 And the serpent casts water as a river out of its mouth after the woman, that she should be carried away by its current.
16 And the earth helps the woman, and the earth opens its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon casts out of its mouth.
17 And the dragon is angry with the woman, and came away to do battle with the rest of her seed, who are keeping the precepts of God and who have the testimony of Jesus.

These verses correspond to the future event that will involve Israelites having to flee the land of Judea in order to survive the time of “great affliction” that will begin shortly after the “abomination of desolation” comes to be “standing in the holy place.” The 1,260 days of v. 6 and the “season, seasons and half a season” of v. 14 refer to the same period of time – i.e., the second half of the 70th heptad. Those Israelites who, in response to the prophecy-fulfilling events going on in Israel, obediently heed Christ’s warning to flee from the land of Judea into the mountains, will at this time constitute the “Israel of God” represented by the sun-clothed woman in John’s vision. It would also appear that this company of Israelites will be provided supernatural protection both during and after their flight from Judea. But is there anything more that can be said concerning the identity of the Israelites whom the sun-clothed woman will represent at this future time? I think so.

In chapter seven of the book of Revelation, John provides his readers with two (and only two) broad categories of faithful, believing Israelites who will be on the earth during the time period with which Revelation is concerned in chapters 1-19 (i.e., the time of the 70th heptad). It is the Israelites in these two categories who, I submit, will constitute the “all Israel” which (according to Paul in Rom. 11:25-27) will be saved at Christ’s return. The two categories of Israelites are:

1. “A hundred forty-four thousand” who are to be ”sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev. 7:3-8; 14:1-5); and

2. “A vast throng which no one was able to number, out of every nation and out of the tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9-17).

If, at the time period in view in Rev. 12:6, the sun-clothed woman is to be understood as representative of some or all of the Israelites that will constitute one of these two groups, it must be the 144,000 and not the “vast throng.” In order to see why this is so, let’s first consider who it is that will most likely comprise the “vast throng.”

In chapter 22 of his book The Unveiling of Jesus Christ, A.E. Knoch has, I believe, persuasively argued in defense of the position that the “vast throng” will be comprised of Israelites rather than gentiles. Knoch begins this chapter with the following remarks:

“THE hundred and forty-four thousand are the firstfruit of the millennial harvest (14:4; Lev.23:10). The vast throng are symbolized by the festival of ingathering (Lev.23:39-42). They appear with palm branches in their hands (7:9). They dwell in the tabernacle or booth of the Enthroned One (7:15). These, as well as the hundred and forty-four thousand who are sealed, are able to stand in the great day of His indignation.”

Knoch goes on to say, All the symbolism employed places them among the saved of the sacred nation. Israel itself did not keep the feast of ingathering (Neh.8:16,17) until after the return from Babylon. Then they celebrated it with great rejoicing (Ezra 3:11,12). How can it possibly figure a company of aliens, to whom these festivals do not apply? It was never kept in the wilderness, because it was reserved for the land, when they dwelt in houses. It was to remind them of the wilderness, when they dwelt in booths.

“All this typical teaching is for naught if we transfer this scene to the nations. We have a firstfruit, but no harvest, in Israel. We have a limited number saved, all males, scarcely more than one per cent of the nation. We have the favored people doubly decimated, and bring unnumbered aliens into their fold. The vast throng, as well as the hundred and forty-four thousand are Israelites, to whom the promises pertain.”

For Knoch, the strongest argument supporting the view that the vast throng will consist of Israelites is found in the fact that they are said to be “those coming out of the great affliction” (Rev. 7:14). As Knoch points out, the expression “great affliction” is “a special phrase denoting the sufferings of the faithful in Israel at the hands of the other nations.” See Christ’s words in Matthew 24:19-21, where the same expression is found (for a more in-depth look at what this “great affliction” will involve, how long it will last and where else it is referred to in Scripture, see part four of my study on the timing of the snatching away).

The vast throng is said to consist of people who are out of every nation and out of the tribes and peoples and languages.” Rather than identifying these people as gentiles, this language identifies them as the descendents of those Israelites who were scattered and dispersed among all the nations, and who today exist throughout the world instead of in the land of Israel (incidentally, the fact that people from all over the world will be coming out of the “great affliction” can be understood as further evidence that the great affliction will be worldwide in scope rather than merely local and confined to the land of Israel, as some have claimed). For more examples of references to the dispersion of Israelites among all the nations (or where the occurrence of such a dispersion in the past is implied), see Deut. 30:1-3; Isaiah 11:12; Ezekiel 6:8-10; 11:16-17; 20:23-24; 22:15; 36:17-20; Dan. 9:7; Acts 2:5, 8-11; James 1:1.

In contrast with the “vast throng” are the 144,000 Israelites who are first referred to in Rev. 7:3-8, and later in chapter 14.[1] Unlike the vast throng, the Israelites who will constitute the 144,000 are not said to be out of every nation and out of the tribes and peoples and languages.” It would, therefore, be reasonable to infer that this company of Israelites will actually be dwelling in the land of Israel when they are “bought” and “sealed” by God at some point prior to (or, more likely, during) the 70th heptad. If this is the case (which, again, seems plausible), then there can be no doubt that, when the sun-clothed woman is represented as fleeing into the wilderness for protection, she represents the 144,000 sealed and faithful Israelites, who will at this time be a “firstfruit to God and to the Lambkin.”

I think some students of Scripture may be “thrown off” by the fact that the 144,000 are said to be male, and from this fact conclude that this company of Israelites couldn’t possibly be represented by a woman (and thus making the “male child” a better candidate, in their view). But to make this assumption would be erroneous, and would be to lose sight of the fact that Israel has always been figuratively represented by a woman. This figurative imagery has never been about the gender of the people constituting Israel; even if every person constituting Israel was male, this company of Israelites could still be appropriately represented with the same figurative, feminine imagery found in Rev. 12.

Besides, what better way could a company of 144,000 faithful and “firstfruit” Israelites be represented than with that symbol which even A.E. Knoch acknowledged represents faithful Israel (i.e., the sun-clothed woman)? Such a sterling company of Israelites as the 144,000 - who are described as “flawless” in Rev. 14:5 - surely have just as must of a claim (if not more) to the privileged title “Israel of God” as any number of Israelites who came to faith in Christ through the ministry of the twelve apostles. And when we keep in mind that John has described only two broad categories of Israelites previously in Revelation, it seems unavoidable that, when the sun-clothed woman is described as fleeing into the wilderness, she - at this point in her history – should be understood as representing the first category of Israelites described by John in chapter 7 (those who are later described as “a firstfruit to God”).

That those constituting faithful Israel at the time the woman flees into the wilderness are the 144,000 seems even more likely when we consider the distinction that is made between the sun-clothed woman and another category of saints in Rev. 12:13-17. After we read about the woman fleeing into the wilderness where she is protected and nourished for 3 ½ years, we read about a company of saints who are described as “the rest of her seed, who are keeping the precepts of God and who have the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). Since those represented by the woman in verses 13-17 are faithful Israelites who will be living in the land of Israel during the first half of the 70th heptad (and who will be fleeing into the wilderness/mountains just before the time of great affliction begins), it follows that those in the second category referred to in v. 17 will consist of people who will, at this time, be living outside of the land of Israel (i.e., among the nations). The “rest of her seed” are, in other words, those who will come to comprise the “vast throng” described in Rev. 7:9-17. Concerning v. 17, A.E. Knoch remarks as follows (emphasis mine):

“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).”

Understanding the fleeing woman as the 144,000 and “the rest of her seed” as the vast throng harmonizes well with the fact that the 144,000 are referred to as “a firstfruit to God and the Lambkin.” By the time we get to Rev. 12:6, the “Israel of God” represented by the sun-clothed woman will be comprised of Israelites living during the 70th heptad. Thus, whoever it is that constitutes the “rest of her seed” in v. 17 wouldn’t be able to exist as the “seed” of the woman unless those represented by the woman were already “on the scene,” so to speak. And just as the woman during the 70th heptad (faithful Israel) exists chronologically prior to the “rest of her seed,” so the 144,000 – being “a firstfruit to God” - are redeemed chronologically prior to the “vast throng.”

The last consideration I’ll mention in support of who I believe the sun-clothed woman represents during the 70th heptad involves the idea of God’s providing supernatural protection to people on the earth during the day of the Lord. It would seem that the sealing of the 144,000 Israelites is for the purpose of protection and preservation during the time of great affliction (this seems to be implied by what we read in Rev. 7:3-8 and Rev. 9:1-4). We also know from Rev. 12:14-16 that the woman will be supernaturally protected by God during (and after) her flight into the wilderness, and that this divine protection will last throughout the time of great affliction. Thus, unlike those who will constitute the “vast throng,” the entire company of Israelites represented by the woman in chapter 12 will be preserved through the time of great affliction. Not a single individual in this company of faithful Israelites will be killed by the “dragon.” Thus, we find that the idea of supernatural protection on the earth (and in the midst of the time of great affliction) pertains to both the 144,000 and the sun-clothed woman. This strongly suggests that the same company of individuals is in view in both passages (with the former being a literal depiction of this company and the latter being symbolic).

In contrast with the sun-clothed woman, there is no indication that the “male child” is provided supernatural protection on the earth during the 3½ year period of great affliction. In fact, it’s clear from Rev. 12:5 that the male child won’t have to be provided supernatural protection on the earth during this time. This is because, at some point prior to when the woman must flee into the wilderness, we read that the male child is going to be completely removed from the earth (for, as we’ll see in the next section, the direction of his removal is said to be “toward God and toward his throne”). Apparently, God has other plans for this “male child” – plans that don’t involve being on the earth during the time of great affliction.

Part Three:

[1] I believe there is some significance to the fact that those to whom Christ was speaking when he gave his instructions concerning fleeing into the mountains after the abomination of desolation is set up were his twelve disciples, privately (Matt. 24:1-3). The twelve disciples were, of course, all males – just like the 144,000 Israelites described in chapter 7 and 14. And, of course, the number “144,000” is 12 multiplied by 12,000. Although by no means conclusive evidence, I find this fact at least highly suggestive, and as pointing to the strong possibility that the 144,000 will be the ones who will heed the instructions that Christ gave to the original twelve disciples in Matthew 24:15-18.

Interestingly, according to the most recent statistical data, there are approximately 6 million Jews living in the land of Israel today (of this number, approximately 500,000 live in Jerusalem alone). If, at this very hour, 144,000 male Israelites dwelling in present-day Israel were to flee into the mountains beyond the land of Judea, they would constitute merely 2.4% of the total population of Jews living in Israel today.  

No comments:

Post a Comment