Chapter 11 of Revelation concludes with the opening of the heavenly temple, giving John a view of the ark of the covenant. Signs such as thunder accompany this unveiling (v. 19). Such phenomena attended God’s revelation of the law on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16). Moreover, under the old covenant, only the high priest could enter the room in the earthly temple that held the ark (Lev. 16). All this suggests that something normally hidden is about to be seen, that something not immediately apparent will be revealed.
Revelation 12:1–6 indeed gives us a new revelation of something that has been invisible to our physical eyes. Remember that Revelation 6–11 says much about the suffering of God’s people, the assault on the church by her enemies, and the ultimate safeguarding of believers through it all. Revelation 12 explains that this all happens on account of Satan’s attempt to thwart God’s plan and harm Jesus’ followers.
We read in 12:1–6 about a woman, her male child, and a dragon. Verse 5 identifies the male child as “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” This language comes from the description of the Messiah in Psalm 2:9, indicating that the male child is Jesus. Revelation 12:9 identifies the dragon as the serpent—that is, Satan. This dragon, or Satan, has ten horns, just like the beast in Daniel 7 who wages war on God’s people in the day that the Son of Man receives His kingdom. Since Jesus is the Son of Man and the dragon is trying to consume the male child (Acts 7:56; Rev. 12:4), these various threads come together to depict Satan’s warring against Jesus as He inaugurated His kingdom in His first coming and ministry. The devil fails, however. The male child is taken up away from him to the throne of God (Rev. 12:5). Jesus, of course, rose from the dead victorious over Satan and his principalities and powers, and He ascended to heaven, from where even now He reigns (1 Cor. 15:20–28; Col. 2:15).
That leaves us to identify the woman. Some have suggested that she is to be identified with Mary the mother of Jesus, but that is too limited in its description of her identity. The woman is clothed with the moon, the sun, and twelve stars, all of which correspond to figures in Joseph’s vision of nascent Israel recorded in Genesis 37:9. Given that the Old Testament also speaks of faithful Israel in maternal terms (Isa. 54:1; Mic. 4:9–10), we are to understand the woman as the remnant of Israel, as God’s faithful people. They receive God’s protection in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6).