Sunday, January 23, 2022

Where in Revelation Does the Woman in Chapter 12 Come From?

On the fulfillment of Romans 11:25b-26a

Following up on the last post, a telling question to ask is, “Where did the Jewish woman in 12:1-6 come from in the wider flow of the Book of Revelation?” The most obvious textual location to find such an answer is 11:1-13, the most recent narrative in the Apocalypse, prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:15-19). However, is there material in Chapter 11 which might provide insight?

The answer is in two stages: The first stage is demonstrating there are Jewish people in view in Revelation 11:1-13, which is understood from the following two points: 1) those worshiping in the “sanctuary” (Gk naos) of God in Jerusalem (“the holy city” [11:2]; “where also their Lord was crucified” [11:8]); and 2) the presence of God’s “two witnesses,” whose Jewishness is demonstrated by their echoing of a number of major prophecies naturally understood as expecting Jewish fulfilment (Zechariah 4; 2 Kings 1; Malachi 4:5; 1 Kings 17-18; Malachi 4:6).

The second stage is more complicated, but clear enough to set up Revelation 12:6 and the remainder of Chapter 12. The only use of “gospel” (Gk euangelion) in the Apocalypse is in 14:6, in which “the eternal gospel” is announced “to every nation, tribe, language, and people.”  In 14:7, the gospel message is defined as “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship the one who made heaven and earth….”

Back to Chapter 11, in 11:13b, the “survivors” (Gk hoi loipoi), in the wake of a great earthquake in Jerusalem (“the city” [11:13a; see 11:8], are said to fear God and give Him glory. Thus, in the Apocalypse, that wording means the survivors do precisely what the “eternal gospel” message required, and thus are saved. 

But who are “the survivors” in Revelation 11:13? Chart Two below goes a long way toward answering that question. The following summary of the chart provides helpful orientation:

Interpretative Summary of Chart Two

Seven passages in Revelation list four “groupings of mankind.” Five of the seven passages (5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6) contain the same four terms—“tribe(s),” “language(s),” “people(s),” “nation(s)”—though none of the five have them in the exact same order. Two passages drop “tribes” and replace it with “kings” (10:11) and “multitudes” (17:15). 

In accounting for these exclusions, it is significant that there are 21 total uses of “tribe(s)” (Gk phule) in the Apocalypse, and 15 of the remaining 16 besides the five seen in the chart above refer to “tribes” of ethnic Israel. Thus, the absence of “tribes” from 10:11 and 17:15 logically infers Israel is not in view in either of those passages.

If the absence of “tribes” from Revelation 10:11 infers the tribes of Israel are not included in the bittersweet prophecy John was being prepared to deliver about “many peoples, nations, languages, and kings,” it would be expected the biblical text would provide additional evidence to make that point. Does that turn out to be the case?

Going back momentarily to 12:6, the woman “fled into the wilderness” (Gk ephugen eis ten eremon). Her period of protection from Satan being “1,260 days” in 12:6 and “a time, times, and half a time” in 12:14—both equating to three and a half years—at least means her fleeing takes place in the end times. Reasonably similar wording to Revelation 12:6 is found in Matthew 24:16 (see also Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21) in the immediate context of the description of “the great tribulation” (Gk thlipsis megale) in the end times (Matthew 24:21): “then those in Judea must flee to the hills” (Gk tote hoi en te Ioudaia phuegetosan eis ta ore). Since there are hills (Gk oros can mean “hill” or “mountain,” depending on the context) in the wilderness in Israel, both passages can easily be speaking of the same thing. If both are speaking of the same “fleeing,” then those who flee are Judeans (i.e., Jewish).

In Revelation 11:9, “those from peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” (i.e., the inclusion of “tribes” means some of this crowd in Jerusalem are Jewish) are clearly not believers, given the highly disrespectful way they treat the dead bodies of the two witnesses (i.e., they would not “permit their bodies to be put into a tomb”). However, there is another group mentioned twice in 11:10, who are in a far worse spiritual condition: “those who dwell on the earth,” whom 13:8 describes as “… everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered”. The bottom line here is that “the earth-dwellers” cannot be saved, but “those from peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” can be saved, and, according to 14:6-7, they will hear “the eternal gospel.”

So, where is everything headed in Revelation 11:9-13? To cut to the chase, to the fulfillment of Romans 11:25b-26a: “… A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved….”

Admittedly, that is a major assertion, exegetically and theologically! However, it’s not like the wording about “the fulness of the Gentiles” coming in (i.e., being converted) and “all Israel will be saved” aren’t back-to-back in the biblical text. The phrases are linked by the Greek kai houtos. The kai appears to be a simple connector meaning “and.” The standard renderings of the adverb houtos are “in this manner,” “thus,” and “so.” But, how does this help to understand Romans 11:25b-26a?

The typical evangelical understandings here are either: 1) to view “all Israel” being saved as just another name for the “fulness of the Gentiles” coming in, essentially making “Israel” a spiritual Israel (or the church the “new Israel”); or 2) to translate houtos as “then,” claiming that the fulness of the Gentiles comes in first, then (i.e., at some later time) “all Israel” (i.e., ethnic Israel) will be saved. The problem with the first view is that the entirety of the prior context of Romans 11 is about ethnic Israel, so to see Israel being folded into the Church spiritually is highly unlikely exegetically, at best. The problem with the second view is that it simply is not convincing in terms of usage to take houtos as meaning “then.”

The understanding set forth here, however, differs from both of these standard evangelical views. It takes Romans 11:25b-26a as describing side-by-side mass conversions: (the last part of) “the fulness of the Gentiles” will come in and in this [same] way (at least the part of) “all Israel” present in Jerusalem in Rev 11:9-13) will be saved.”

How does this play out in Revelation 11? “Great fear” (11:11) comes upon those from “the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” ([11:9] i.e., including both Gentiles and Jews) because of the resurrection of the two witnesses (11:11). The viewing of the witnesses’ ascension to heaven by these onlookers (11:12) is followed immediately by a great earthquake, which kills 7,000 people (11:13a). The reaction of the “survivors” (i.e., those from “the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations”—but not including “the earth-dwellers”) is what the eternal gospel in 14:6-7 calls for as a personal response: fearing and glorifying God (11:13b). 

From what has been argued just above, these (now) believing “survivors” include both Gentiles and Jews. The newly converted Jewish believers are “the woman” of Rev 12:6ff. The newly converted Gentile believers will be seen to be “the rest of [the woman’s] offspring” in 12:17 in the next post.

Dr. Boyd Luterhttps://www.tku.edu
Dr. Boyd Luter is the Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at The King's University.