In the prophecy of Revelation 12, the woman in heaven, clothed with the sun, represents the saints, and includes the saints of the Old Testament period as well as the church which began in the first century as related in the New Testament. The woman flees to the wilderness, twice in this chapter.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
This presents several questions, foremost of which are, what does the wilderness represent? Are the two time periods identical? Does the church flee to the wilderness? Why does she flee to the wilderness twice? These are addressed below.
The prophecy obviously invokes symbolic language, but some insist that some particular elements of it should be taken literally. Rev. Herman Hoeksema discussed an example of this. The wilderness was the item said to be literal, in a preterist interpretation. The paragraphs quoted below are from his book Behold He Cometh. Hoeksema wrote:
There is no one who takes this woman for a real woman. Nor are there any interpreters who understand the dragon as a real animal, or the stream which he casts out of his mouth as a real stream, or the wings which the woman receives as real wings. In so far there is no difficulty.
But in spite of this, it is necessary that we remind you of the fact that here we have no literal presentation of facts, but rather an allegory, which does not allow of literal interpretation. For although all agree that this is not a real woman with real eagle's wings, and that the dragon mentioned here is not a real dragon, and that the stream of water he casts out after the woman is not a real stream of water, yet there are interpreters who make the mistake of singling out that wilderness and of maintaining that it, at all events, must be taken in a literal sense of the word. The woman, so they say, is at this time evidently in Jerusalem, the Old Testament holy city. And as she is attacked by the enemy, she flees into a literal wilderness somewhere in the vicinity, where she is hidden twelve hundred sixty days, even as at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem the disciples fled to Pella. Now this is violating one of the most fundamental rules of interpretation, and especially of the interpretation of the Apocalypse. And we must guard against it. There is no right to single out one element in an allegorical representation of things and to take it in the literal sense.
The woman in Revelation 12 pictures the church. She is clothed with the sun, which represents the gospel, which is the true spiritual light of all mankind. John said about Jesus, "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." [John 1:9] John showed that every human is to be enlightened by the gospel. Those who have faith and believe in Christ are pictured by the woman in heaven.
Because the woman flees to the wilderness, the church (which is represented by the woman) can not be identified with a great denomination, that is visible to the world, with its head in Rome, or some other city on the earth. The image of a woman fleeing to the wilderness suggests that the church at times has been hidden from the world, and its light has become very dim. As Puritan scholar William Fulke said, no great denomination has fled to the wilderness literally.
In this prophecy, the woman flees to the wilderness for 1,260 days, and also for "a time, times, and a half." What do these time periods mean?
Since the woman in the prophecy is symbolic, and likewise the sun, the dragon, and the wilderness, the time period for which she remains in the wilderness is symbolic too. The 1,260 days and the "time, times and a half" are figurative. They represent the entire church age, when the gospel goes to the world. The explanation is provided in the article Daniel's time, times and a half.
To say this period means a literal 1,260 days, or three and a half years, is to single out one element in an obviously allegorical representation. This mistake is commonly made by dispensationalists.
The two accounts of the woman's sojourn in the wilderness correspond in the following ways:
These accounts of the woman's sojourn in the wilderness differ in at least two ways:
Exodus 19:4 says that God bore the Israelites upon eagle's wings. Isaiah speaks of eagles' wings in connection with a renewal of strength:
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
So, the prophecy of Revelation 12 indicates that some may need to take another look at the scriptures, with a different point of view. The human point of view is the earthly one, from ground level. It is the point of view that is associated with the little horn, in the prophecy of Daniel 7. There is a link between this chapter and the prophecy about the woman flying to the wilderness for "a time, times and a half." This expression is first mentioned in Daniel 7:25.
Daniel said, "behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things." [Daniel 7:8] These "eyes like the eyes of man" represent a human viewpoint.
The spiritual viewpoint is one that is enlightend by God, and by an understanding of the gospel. This is not a literalistic approach. An eagle soars at a great height and views the earth from above, and so, in Revelation 12, the two wings of an eagle given to the woman represent a divine viewpoint.
The king of Babylon, who received visions of the future from God, was represented by a lion with eagles' wings, in Daniel 7:3-4. These wings were plucked off. The third beast in Daviel's vision was a leopard, with four wings of a fowl, obviously meant to depict an inferior sort of wing. The Hellenistic kingdoms were characterized by pagan superstition. The worship of the Greek gods, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hestia, and a host of others, and the pagan philosophy that went along with those beliefs, was depicted by wings of a fowl, as being a much inferior condition, compared to the understanding given to king Nebuchadnezzar. Such inferior "wings" represent false prophets and false teachings.
Thus, eagles' wings represent the gift of understanding prophecy.
One of the key questions about the prophecy of Revelation 12 concerns the significance of the wilderness. Paul showed that there is a connection between the experience of the church and the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness after they came out of Egypt, and all the hard lessons they learned, which were for our examples. [1 Corinthians 10:6, 11]
The 42 months in Revelation 11:2 and 13:5 has been associated with the 42 different camps of Israel on their way to the promised land, listed in Numbers 33. They "pitched in Succoth;" ... "pitched in Etham;" ... "pitched before Migdol;" ... "pitched in Marah;" ... "came unto Elim ... and they pitched there;" ... "encamped by the Red sea;" ... "encamped in the wilderness of Sin;" ... "encamped in Dophkah;" ... "encamped in Alush;" ... "encamped at Rephidim;" ... "pitched in the wilderness of Sinai;" ... "pitched at Kibrothhattaavah;" ... "encamped at Hazeroth;" ... "pitched in Rithmah;" ... "pitched at Rimmonparez;" ... "pitched in Libnah;" ... "pitched at Rissah;" ... "pitched in Kehelathah;" ... "pitched in mount Shapher;" ... "encamped in Haradah;" ... "pitched in Makheloth;" ... "encamped at Tahath;" ... "pitched at Tarah;" ... "pitched in Mithcah;" ... "pitched in Hashmonah;" ... "encamped at Moseroth;" ... "pitched in Benejaakan;" ... "encamped at Horhagidgad;" ... "pitched in Jotbathah;" ... "encamped at Ebronah;" ... "encamped at Eziongaber;" ... "pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh;" ... "pitched in mount Hor;" ... "pitched in Zalmonah;" ... "pitched in Punon;" ... "pitched in Oboth;" ... "pitched in Ijeabarim, in the border of Moab;" ... "pitched in Dibongad;" ... "encamped in Almondiblathaim;" ... "pitched in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo;" ... "pitched in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho;" ... "pitched by Jordan, from Bethjesimoth even unto Abelshittim in the plains of Moab."
These 42 different camp sites help to show what the wilderness represents in Revelation 12:6 and 14. Like the Israelites who moved from place to place, the church also has not attained her permanent spiritual "land," but is still being taught, and led, often in a roundabout way, to her final destination, the promised "rest," and the eternal inheritance of the saints.
Illustrations of this occur when individual Christians abandon formerly held interpretations, and systems of interpretation, for a different view, or leave the denomination they were brought up in, and become aligned with another. The wilderness for us is the unsettled state, of seeking our promised land, not having attained it already.
The two different flights of the woman to the wilderness may be explained as representing two different viewpoints, or methods of interpretation; one being the earth-bound view, which the woman is limited to, when she lacks the two wings of an eagle, that are given to her in her second flight to the wilderness. The wings of eagles represent an understanding of prophecy, as when an eagle soars high in the air, it views the earth from above, picturing the divine viewpoint, which contrasts with the human viewpoint, represented by the little horn, which dominates the saints in the vision of Daniel 7.
In the wilderness the woman has a place prepared of God, and they feed her there for 1,260 days, but who "they" are is not stated. Then, we read of a great war in heaven. It is a spiritual war, as it is fought between the various angels of the dragon, and Michael and his angels. But that does not mean that the saints or the church have no part in it. Michael is victorious, and the dragon and his angels are cast out. When Satan is cast out, verse 11 says "they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony." Thus in this war, the church is involved in a great struggle for the truth. But it is not a war between flesh and blood. Paul said:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The woman is persecuted by the dragon, who sees he has been cast out.
About the time the magnificent temple in Jerusalem was nearing completion, John the Baptist went out to the wilderness to preach. The people had to leave the towns and cities, and go to the desert to hear him. John did not join one of the Jewish sects; the wilderness was neutral territory.
The woman has a place prepared for her in the wilderness, which pictures saints seeking God, by following the teaching of the scriptures. In the quest for the truth, many have left established institutions. The spiritual journey of saints to their promised "rest" is represented by the woman fleeing to the wilderness. Jesus said,
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
The disciples who followed Jesus left all; they left their traditions, families, and friends. [Mark 10:28, Luke 5:28; 18:28]
Most people accept the teaching of the religion or denomination in which they were raised. But Jesus showed that for those who follow him, even family unity could be threatened. [Matthew 10:35-3; 19:29]
In the wilderness, the woman is nourished with the message of the gospel.
The children of Israel were fed with manna in the wilderness, but Jesus said that he is the true manna. [John 5:32-58]
The wilderness represents the way through which Christ leads his saints to their eternal inheritance.
And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
The saints are those who follow him wherever he goes.
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The saints seek a heavenly inheritance.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
Paul said, "come out from among them," referring to the world.
2 Corinthians 6:17
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
From the wilderness, the whore can be seen.
So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
Again there is a warning to the saints, to come out of Babylon:
Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
The wilderness pictures the period of preparation of the saints before they enter their promised rest. Jesus promises rest.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
One of the most obvious features to be seen in chapters 11, 12, & 13 of Revelation is the prominence given to the time periods, and their associated numbers, 1,260 days, and 42 months, and the "time, times, and a half;" all pointing to the same period of one half of a prophetic week, and corresponding to the similar symbolic 1,290 days and 1,335 days of Daniel 12, and the "time, times, and a half" mentioned in Daniel 7:25, and in Daniel 12:7. I suggest it is the last half-week of the 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27, when Christ continues to confirm his covenant with his church.
In Revelation chapter 12, these numbers are applied to the period for which the woman is in the wilderness, which alludes to the account of the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, led by Moses, before they entered the promised land under Joshua.
A prominent feature in chapter 12 is the presence of two separate descriptions of the woman's flight to the wilderness, the first one occurring before the description of the war in heaven, and the second occurring after. In both of these flights to the wilderness, the woman is fed. In her second flight to the wilderness she is equipped with eagle's wings. In both flights to the wilderness, the time specified is similar, and corresponds to the symbolic "time, times, and a half," and its equivalent of 1,260 days, and to the duration of the ministry of the two witnesses. The wilderness depicts the sojourn of Christians in this present life; see 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.
The character of the woman's two flights to the wilderness may be contrasted.
In her first flight to the wilderness, there is a famine, of "hearing the word of the Lord." [Amos 8:11-13]
In her first flight to the wilderness, there is no rain of the word of God, but a famine. The 1,260 days correspond to the three and a half years of no rain in the days of Elijah.
The two witnesses have power to "shut heaven." [Revelation 11:6] The "rain" is symbolic of God's word.
In her first flight to the wilderness, the holy city is trampled by Gentiles. [Revelation 11:2]
People view the prophecies through the spectacles of men who they view as spiritual "giants," and see themselves as "grasshoppers" in comparison to them. They quote from commentaries, and follow the traditions of men that are embraced by particular denominations or sects, that effectively kill the two witnesses, the word, and the Spirit.
In her first flight to the wilderness, the saints are overcome by the little horn, the Antichrist spirit. [Daniel 7:21, 25]
In her first flight to the wilderness, the saints are scattered. [Daniel 12:7] This has been fulfilled, and is shown by the tens of thousands of denominations.
In her first flight to the wilderness, the church becomes desolate, like a valley of dry bones. [Ezekiel 37:1-2]
In her first flight to the wilderness, the church is plundered by the armies of Gog and Magog. [Ezekiel 38:10-13]
In Zechariah's prophecy, in Zechariah 14:1-3, many of the saints are taken into captivity, houses rifled, and women ravished. It is a spiritual seduction, such as Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 11:1-3.
In her first flight to the wilderness, the world rejoices over the desolation of the church, and the death of the two witnesses. [Revelation 11:10]
In her second flight to the wilderness, the saints have renewed strength. The woman has been given eagle's wings. [Revelation 12:14] The prophecies may be viewed in a new way-from above, as pictured by eagle's wings, whereas in the first flight to the wilderness, her point of view was earth-bound, having "eyes like the eyes of a man."
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
Isaiah said the saints will renew their strength, and "shall mount up with wings as eagles." [Isaiah 40:31] David said God "satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." [Psalm 103:5]
In the woman's second flight to the wilderness, Satan, the accuser of the brethren, has been cast out. [Revelation 12:9]
In the woman's second flight to the wilderness, the wilderness itself is changed. Isaiah said, the wilderness will be glad; the desert will "blossom as the rose;" [Isaiah 35:1] streams will flow in the desert; [Isaiah 35:6] the mountains and hills bring forth fruit; [Ezekiel 36:11] hills will rejoice. [Psalm 65:11-13] God will make bright clouds, and showers of rain. [Zechariah 10:1]
In her second flight to the wilderness, the woman has some help; the flood from the serpent's mouth gets swallowed up by the earth. [Revelation 12:16] The deceptions are exposed.
In the woman's second flight to the wilderness, the two witnesses come to life, and stand on their feet. [Revelation 11:11]
Daniel said the beast is slain, and his body given to the burning flame. [Daniel 7:11]
Fire falls on those who "know not God."
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
In the woman's second flight to the wilderness, the war between the angels has been fought. The saints are victorious. [Revelation 12:11-12]
In the woman's second flight to the wilderness, the ark of
the covenant is seen in the temple. [Revelation 11:19] This may be
understood as the fulfillment of the new covenant, that says God will
write his laws on our hearts, and remembers our sins no more. [Hebrews
The woman's flight to the wilderness in Revelation 12:6 & 14 was foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah described it in terms of a second exodus.
10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
11 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
In vs. 10, Isaiah identified the ensign as Christ. Zechariah 9:16 refers to the saints as an ensign.
Those who have a part in this great exodus come to worship at Jerusalem.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
Isaiah said Jerusalem and Zion would be raised up; [Isaiah 2:2] and in the NT this prophecy is fulfilled, as shown in Hebrews 12:22-23, where Jerusalem is referred to as the "heavenly" Jerusalem; "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem..."
According to Jeremiah, the second exodus will eclipse the first one.
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.
Nowhere in the NT are Christians encouraged to go to the land of Canaan, so Jeremiah's reference to "the land that I gave unto their fathers" must refer to the eternal inheritance of the saints, under the figure of the promised land, which was called a "rest," [Psalm 95:11] but was only a type or shadow of the eternal "rest" promised to the saints. [Hebrews 4:8]
In the NT, Abraham is called the "father" of those who have faith in Christ. [Romans 4:16] Paul called him "the father of us all."
Jeremiah described the second exodus as something so great, and wonderful, that the first one, when Jews came out of Egypt under Moses, will seem insignificant in comparison.
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.
What is the promised land of the saints? It is not Canaan, but what Canaan represents, the invisible things that the saints hope for.
We are to labour, to enter into rest, the promised inheritance, which is a lasting one. This involves faith in the word of God.
Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Peter said the saints have escaped the corruption that is in the world.
2 Peter 1:3-4
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
In the Olivet discourse, Jesus warned against following anyone trying to lure us away to a desert, or to some secret place, to find the truth.
Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
The place Jesus said we should flee to is not a literal wilderness,
but he said "flee to the mountains," referring to the promises of God
to the saints.
These words of Jesus show that involvement in an obscure sect is not how to follow Christ. The light of the gospel will shine from the east to the west; it will be seen all over the world.
An angel said to John, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." [Revelation 19:10]
The two wings of an eagle given to the woman represent an understanding of prophecy. In her second flight to the wilderness, equipped with the powerful wings the eagle, she finds her place, where she is nourished. This follows the victory of the saints over the serpent.
An eagle is a predator which feeds on serpents! When the scriptures became widely available, and were translated into the languages of the people, there was much opposition from the established churches and clergy, yet the church was given spiritual nourishment from the scriptures. Many denominations arose, because of varying interpretations. The word itself was translated and distributed around the world. When she flees to the wilderness possessing the wings of eagles, which represent the divine point of view, the prophecies of scripture may be properly interpreted and understood.
Copyright © 2010 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.