The identity of the woman in Rev 12 is as nuanced as the distinction between Israel and the church. I am unhappy with interpretations that identify the woman entirely as the church to the exclusion of Israel, but I am equally unsatisfied with the view that the woman is Israel to the exclusion of the church. I see the woman as consisting of two elements. While Israel and the church are distinct throughout this age, they are not entirely separate, because their destinies do meet in time.
In the earliest view, the church was seen as the revelation of the saved remnant of the new covenant within the bosom of the larger nation. The church was a revelation of a mystery, but it was not entirely new. It saw itself in continuity with the righteous remnant that always constituted the preservative within the larger nation. This is what Paul called “the remnant according to the election of grace.” This individual election of the remnant never replaced the nation, but was seen as the pledge of the elect nation’s promised renewal in the coming day of the Lord.
The early church viewed itself as a kind of corporate Jeremiah standing within the nation in priestly identification with its present death and future resurrection. The ingathering of the gentiles does not change the church’s essential identity as a seed born within the bounds (womb) of the elect nation. So even while the larger nation abides in unbelief and apostasy, the election continues to go with the nation ‘as’ nation, though, of course, such election of the nation provides no comfort to any individual that dies outside of Christ. The greater Zion of God contemplates not only those presently in Christ, but all that continues to be the object of election as pertains to future salvation as well, and this necessarily includes the nation of Israel despite its present condition.
This is why I see the woman as inclusive of both the believing remnant (the church) and also the beleaguered nation in flight. In keeping with the tradition of Satan’s effort to stop the seed, the nation of promise is the first object of his strategy of destruction, because when God is vindicated in the rebirth of Israel, his time is finished. This is why I understand the phrase, “the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of Jesus’, as a deliberate distinction between that believing remnant (the church), and the nation that does not come to faith until the end of Jacob’s trouble.
[As an aside: A comparison of the language of Isa 27:13 with Mt 24:31 leads me to consider that Jesus’ use of the term ‘elect’ in Mt 24:22, 24 has particular reference to the elect of Israel that are being divinely preserved to the day of salvation at the end of Jacob’s trouble. That certainly fits the context in both testaments. In any event, the woman includes both elements of church and nation in anticipation of the day of the Lord salvation of the nation (“the third part” Zech 13:9).]
So the woman is not only the nation, but contemplates the entirety of God’s elect. In this sense, she is the Zion of God, the “Jerusalem which is above, the mother of us all.” This is why John could call a local assembly of believers “the Elect lady.”
The ‘man child’ signifies a future birth and ascent that is definitely timed in relation to Michael’s eviction of Satan. In keeping with Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 12:1; Rev 12:7), Michael’s expulsion of Satan begins the last 3 1/2 year persecution of Antichrist against Israel and the saints.
[Note: As you know, I believe the entirety of Daniel’s seventieth week is yet future and concerns the early activities of the Antichrist as well as those that occupy the forty two months of great tribulation. Therefore, I see the last 3 1/2 years as proceeding after a first 3 1/2 years that begins when Israel enters an ill-fated league with Antichrist (Isa 28:15; Dan 9:27; 11:23). On the basis of Dan 9:27, we call this the ‘middle of the week’.]
Now notice the conjunction of events. The birth of the man child coincides with the war in heaven and the flight of the woman into the wilderness. This order and relation of heavenly events stand behind the scenes of the earthly tribulation events, and their interrelated order, time, and relationship are important to note.
Note that the woman’s travail results in the pre-tribulational birth and catching up (rapture) of the man child. So we must distinguish between a preliminary travail that ends with the birth and ascent of the man child and the travail of Jacob’s trouble that does not begin until Satan is cast down by Michael in the ‘middle of the week’ at the threshold of the tribulation. This is the ‘short time’ of Satan’s wrath. This is also called Zion’s travail (Isa 13:7-9; 26:17-18; Isa 66:7-8).
We must remember that the woman’s travail is completed on this side of the tribulation, before the time of Zion’s travail, which is the great tribulation itself. Note that the accomplishment of the woman’s travail actually provokes and occasions Jacob’s trouble. If the travail of the woman can be shown to be immediately related in time to the great tribulation, then it follows that the church’s preliminary travail accomplishes a heavenly transaction that begins the last conflict. This suggests a quickened awareness of the church’s relation to Israel, and of Israel’s relation to the end of Satan’s tenure and the return of Christ. This travail is inseparably related to the future events that bring the nations into collision with the everlasting covenant that is bound up with Israel’s restoration.
[Note: Isa 66:7-8 alludes to this mysterious double travail of Zion (notice the contrast between “before” and “as soon as.” Both testaments show a heavenly Zion that is the counterpart to the earthly.]
The first travail accomplishes a birth and ascent that removes the man child out of Satan’s reach. This is significant for its relevance for the church. Defeated in his futile attempt to stop the seed, Satan’s now turns his fury against the woman, and then more particularly against the believing portion of her seed. In contrast to the woman’s pre-tribulational travail, the travail of Israel (Jacob’s trouble) doesn’t begin until after Satan is cast down, which begins his ‘short time’ (3 1/2 years) of wrath against the church and Israel. But for the sealed servants, it is too late; the man child is safely out of reach. What does this mean?
Who then is the man child? Clearly this signifies something beyond the historical birth of Christ and His post resurrection ascension, just as the woman is a much larger figure than Mary, and Satan represents the power behind the pattern of a Herod or a Pharaoh in his war against the seed.
I believe the birthing of the man child at this definite time represents a mighty break-through of spiritual revelation and anointing that comes to the corporate body at this time in particular. It is as transforming, revelatory ‘in-breaking’ that can be compared to Isaiah’s experience in Isa 6, or Daniel’s in Dan 10. It will be a powerful dispensation of revelation and break through that comes in the middle of Daniel’s last week, on the eve of the unequaled tribulation. Whatever is intended by the birth and catching up of the man child, it is impossible to separate this event from the onset of the tribulation events that start immediately upon Michael’s eviction of Satan. This is the time that scripture shows the believing remnant (church) to wax mighty in Spirit (Dan 11:32; Rev 12:10).
The birthing of the man child at this time, and in connection with this particular convergence of tribulation events, signifies the perfecting of the church in love for its final witness through a deep and ‘unhindered’ apprehension of the gospel (the ‘accuser’ has been removed). This and this alone is the secret of the overcoming church. The gospel, as a revealed mystery, is the power of God unto salvation. The church is called church by reason of its identification with the revelation of Christ, but this is insufficient apart from a divinely quickened apprehension and appropriation of that revelation, a revelation of the revelation, so to speak. The imagery and time related sequence of events suggests that the church comes into a corporate fullness (deep self-emptying) at this time.
When Satan (the restrainer 2Thes 2:7) is removed/ ‘cast down’, he immediately takes up a full and unhindered residence in the lately fallen Antichrist (the seventh head). The mortally wounded beast is then raised as the resuscitated seventh. The eighth head is none other than the resurrected seventh, only now as the eighth, he incorporates the fullness of all the former beasts. The fallen Antichrist is the 7 th. Then, Satan enters the Antichrist and he is called the 8th as now incorporating the combined fullness of all that went before.
As Christ was given the Holy Spirit “without the measure” (Jn 3:34), this will be the unrestrained fullness of Satan’s spirit in the flesh. For this reason, he is the composite beast (Rev 13:2). This mortally wounded seventh, which now, through resurrection, becomes the eighth, is the beast that “was, is not, and now is again” (Rev 17:8, 11). After the healing of the deadly wound, the beast ascends from the abyss into which he descended by reason of the wound. From there, he ascends to become Satan incarnate, and as such persecutes the saints and eventually kills the two witnesses (Rev 11:7; 17:8). The miraculous recovery of the beast is precisely what bedazzles and deceives the entire world. It is then that the ten nations give their power (17:12) to the beast to wage his final war on Israel (the holy covenant; see Dan 11:28, 30, 32; Joel 3:2).
So when the revelation of the mystery of iniquity is manifest on earth with the incarnation of Satan in the flesh, then, under an illusion of invincibility as incarnate deity, the ‘Man of Sin’, (little horn) invades Jerusalem and goes to the temple of God to place the the abomination of desolation that begins Jacob’s trouble (Dan 11:31; Mt 24:15-21; 2Thes 2:4).
But before this, the true church (or a remnant of the church?) has experienced a ‘catching up’. What does this mean? A study of this word by no means requires the idea of a literal rapture or removal from the scene. It most often has to do with a forceful snatching away. This catching up removes the seed to a place that is beyond Satan’s reach. This need not imply physical removal from the scene of conflict, but a spiritual ascent that is equivalent to the sealing of the servants of God. In this case, the catching up has to do with an escape through a victorious spiritual ascent over all the power of the enemy (such as comes to the believer when he or she attains to the full assurance of faith), and not necessarily physical exemption from suffering.
If we understand this birth and ascent to have a particular application to the events that begin the unequaled tribulation, then it follows that this intends a perfecting of the church’s faith in preparation for the final conflict. It is not a change of spatial location, but a deeper apprehension and appropriation of the gospel. It is a revelatory event that comes at the end of a travail that has broken the power of self-reliance in the church in analogy to the removal of Jacob’s strength at the end of his travail (Deut 32:36 with Dan 12:7). The ‘rapture’ of the man child signifies the church’s advance triumph over the veil that obscures the gospel from Israel and the nations (Isa 25:7; 2Cor 3:16). This is true of the church of all time, but it will be profoundly apprehended at the end of the travail that precipitates the final tribulation.
This comes at a time of ultimate crisis and urgency with God. At the end of the woman’s travail something is born that is also instantly raised, just as our new birth is also a spiritual resurrection. I believe this will take the form of a deep and unhindered grasp of the glory of justifying mercy through the imputation of Christ as “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:5). Such glorious ascent comes to a faith that is free from the hindrance of what Paul calls ‘confidence in the flesh’. It is the deeper grasping of the full meaning of the believer’s inheritance, as already ascended and ‘sit down’ (a term of completion) together with Christ in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power’. So the body on earth shares in the victory of its ascended head, not by physical removal, but by revelation of spiritual victory. For these ‘sealed’ servants at the threshold of Jacob’s trouble, it is already finished. Though facing persecution and death, paradoxically, “not a hair of their head can perish,” not because they are exempt from bodily harm, but because their spiritual victory is secure.
For this cause, I do not see this ‘catching up’ in the sense of physical removal, but spiritual ascent. In fact, to see it as a physical removal would violate Paul’s expectation of the time of his own rapture in connection with the last trump (Dan 12:2; Isa 27:13; Mt 24:31; 1Cor 15:52; 1Thes 4:13-17; 5:4; 2Thes 1:7; Rev 11:15-18). But here, through the convergence of signal events and the fuller opening of Daniel’s sealed vision (12:4, 9), the church is brought into a fullness of revelation and apprehension that hasn’t existed on such a corporate scale since the apostolic period. This is the fullness that God intends for the church before Israel can come in (this is how I understand the “fullness of the Gentiles” see also Eph 4:13). But it comes at the end of a corporate travail that is most definitely induced through an awareness that the time has arrived. The time will indeed be knowable through signal prophetic events that only the true church will recognize (Dan 12:10; 1Thes 5:4).
So Jacob’s trouble comes with the victory achieved in the heavens by the last day’s travail of the heavenly woman. Her travail is for the sake of the the remnant of her seed upon the earth that is now facing the ultimate threat. With the mystery of iniquity now fulfilled by the revelation of Satan in the flesh, the resurrected Antichrist (Man of Sin) will proceed to Jerusalem to place the ‘abomination of desolation’, thus beginning Jacob’s trouble, the unequaled tribulation. But notice that these events follow the completion of the woman’s travail. Is this travail accomplished by Israel of old via Mary? Or, does it signify a future travail of the church? The context puts it unmistakably in the future. It is clearly immediately preliminary to the final tribulation (Dan 12:1 with Rev 12:7-17).
The saints will know that the door of the final seven years has closed behind them and that the last conflict is upon them. This will be one of the most solemn and sobering times that the universal church has faced in a collective way on such a world scale since the persecutions of the first century.
The timely revelation of the truth in conjunction with manifest fulfillment of signal prophetic events will have a sifting and narrowing effect (birthing canal) on the true church as the time approaches. The urgency that comes with such unprecedented prophetic certainty concerning the time will crowd the true body of Christ into a reality and ultimacy with God that will be transforming. This fullness results in the greatest harvest of souls the world has ever seen (compare Dan 11:32-35; 12:3; Rev 7:9, 14).
We may be sure that Michael’s success over Satan at this time is not unrelated to the church’s travail in analogy to the way Michael was enlisted in response to Daniel’s travail. There is much instruction here. When Daniel humbled himself in desperate urgency, Michael displaced and deposed the hindering entity (in this case the Prince of Persia). Thus ‘a’ restrainer was removed, and the power of revelation broke through to Daniel. See the analogy?
So the pre-tribulational birth and ‘snatching up’ of the man child represents something that will profoundly quicken and greatly elevate the church at this time; she will be transported to a place inaccessible to Satan, far above all principality and power. This is a foretaste and first fruits of the salvation that will be revealed to Israel at the end of Jacob’s trouble. How so? Because of the church’s travail, Michael is able to ‘prevail’, so that “‘Now’ (particularly NOW) is come salvation, strength, the kingdom of our God and the power of His Christ.” I emphasise now, because the question comes: Is the ‘now’ because nothing any longer stands in the way of the kingdom that will come 3 1/2 years later at the end of the tribulation? Or is this an announcement of something that has broken Satan’s hold in the heavens that now permits a powerful in-breaking of light and life, an advance foretaste of the power of the coming kingdom? Both are true; but I think the latter, because the announcement implies something that comes immediately at the moment that Satan is cast down, and does not seem to refer to an event that must wait till the end of the tribulation. In fact, it is not until the sound of the seventh trumpet in Rev 10:7 that the angel announces that there shall be no more delay.
So Michael stands, Satan is cast down, and the tribulation begins (Dan 12:1 with Rev 12:7ff), but it doesn’t begin until the believing remnant under the figure of the man child has been transported into a new glorious victory over Satan on the eve the final trial. This sounds very close to the ‘sealing of the servants of God’ before the tribulation can begin (Rev 7:3). Significantly, with this unprecedented clearing of the heavens, the scripture continues “and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (12:11). This is the distinction of the tribulation saints. They know their God and do exploits (Dan 11:32). They are the those that understand and instruct many, and turn many to righteousness (Dan 11:33; 12:3). Thus I believe it is the ‘martyr church triumphant’ that is here depicted as newly born and caught up beyond Satan’s reach. These metaphors and symbols, familiar throughout the New Testament, are typically used in reference to the believer’s regeneration and participation in Christ’s ascended victory over Satan, sin, and death. It is my view that the same imagery is being employed here to depict a reiteration of that truth, only here it stands for the church’s deeper sanctification unto a corporate fullness that comes through a travail that is especially intensified by the events of the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week.
[Note: I understand that Jesus saw Satan fall like lightening, and that the prince of this world came, found nothing, and his power was fatally nullified by the cross. However, though Satan has been once and for all defeated in the work of Christ, there is a sense in which this is yet to be more fully apprehended by those facing the last trial. I say this because Michael is uniquely the angel of the apocalyptic unveiling (Dan 10:21). I’ll come back to that point some other time. But the issue is not the original defeat of Satan by Christ, but the church’s fuller apprehension and enforcement of that legally accomplished reality in the heavens, and in the courts of conscience.]
What will it mean for the church to know the power of Christ AFTER Michael, the angel of apocalyptic unveiling, has cast down Satan? It’s been a long time since the world has seen such a church (Dan 11:32-33; 12:3; Rev 7:9, 14; 12:11).
I like to say that ‘when the woman will ‘travail’, Michael will ‘prevail’. Because when Michael stands to thrust down Satan, something radical happens in the heavens that changes everything and permits the mystery of iniquity to be manifest, thus opening the way for the Son’s return and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:19-21), but first the church will be caused to shine by the Spirit of revelation and power.
It is the necessary prior revelation of the mystery of iniquity that withholds the Day of the Lord. This is the event that withholds; but there is one that hinders that revelation. Why would Satan resist the incarnation of himself in the Antichrist? He is in no hurry for this event, because he knows that when this revelation takes place, his ‘time is short’. So before the way is opened for the Lord’s return, Satan must be forcibly removed by a greater power, namely, Michael. This happened before when Michael removed the opposing Prince of Persia that was acting to hinder the revelation sent to Daniel (Dan 10:13).
The mystery of iniquity is revealed when Satan is forced into the body of the mortally wounded Antichrist, who then becomes the Man of Sin. It is this mystery that Satan has been holding back, but with his eviction by Michael, his hindering position of influence in the heavens is removed, and the way is made clear for the mystery of iniquity to be revealed. With this event, nothing else can stand in the way; the Day of the Lord and the kingdom of God can come at last. No wonder the saints are so jubilant in their shout of victory (Rev 12:10). Though in both principle and pattern, there is continuity with the past, the futurity of these events is as certain as their indisputable relation to the final tribulation.
This convergence of events will affect everything! In essence and pattern, it is consistent with what has characterized the church of all time, but there is a specific fulfillment that comes here particularly at the threshold of the final 3 1/2 years. This birthing and ascent (over all principalities and powers) happens in manifest conjunction with the final breaking of Satan’s illicit stronghold in the heavenly places. After this, all that follows is ‘as good as done’.
It is not incidental that Satan is bound only with Israel’s final deliverance at the end of the tribulation. This is when the mystery of God is finished (Rev 10:7), and the veil that covers all nations is destroyed (Isa 25:7). Then will the nations know why Israel went into captivity (Ezek 39:23). For the first time, the nations will understand what this last holocaust, and really all others, has been about. Until Israel is back in its covenant place, and the Word of God has been openly vindicated “in them,” the earth will have no real lasting peace, because Satan’s usurping rule is only ended with the covenanted restoration of the natural branches. This deserves the deepest consideration and contemplation as to why this should be so.
When Michael cast down Satan, the saints rejoice with great jubilation (Rev 12:10). Something has happened that gives them a victory unknown until this point in time. The removal of the accuser of the brethren affects an unprecedented transformation in the tribulation church. From this point, Satan’s time is short and all things are near to be restored at Christ’s return (Acts 3:21). The final restoration comes when the surviving remnant of Israel cry out in penitent contrition, “Blessed is that cometh” (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39).
From the time that the league is made with the Antichrist, many will know that the last seven years has begun. From the time that the abomination of desolation is placed in the temple in Jerusalem, every true believer will know that in just 3 1/2 years, Satan will be bound and the earth take its Sabbath rest. This explains the loud cry of elation from the saints ” Now (with Michael’s eviction of Satan) is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, (restrainer removed) which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” ( Rev 12:10-11). This cry of elation and ultimate freedom in Christ comes in the middle of the week, at the threshold of the last 3 1/2 years.
So I do not see the birth and ascent of the man child as a rapture of an especially sanctified group of saints at the midpoint of Daniel’s seventieth week. But rather, I see the ‘catching up’ of the man child as symbolic of a final unveiling of the glory of the church’s inheritance. At that time, a tremendous surge of faith and freedom of love (no more accusation) will be poured out on the martyr witness church on the eve of its final offering up. Hence, the kind of ascent or ‘catching up’ that is in view in this context is more in keeping with what is suggested when Jesus said he was ‘in heaven’ at the same time he was speaking to Nicodemus on earth.
Thus, the true remnant under the figure of the ascended man child may expect a corporate fullness of apprehension and appropriation of the fullness and power of the gospel. They will know the full weight of what it means to be ascended and sit down together with Christ in heavenly places’. It is the kind of full assurance that gives optimal spiritual stamina in the face of ultimate requirement.
In brotherly affection, Reggie