The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON THE BOOK OF REVELATION
28th February 2013
Last week we finished with the first interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets where John the Evangelist was given a little book containing the mysteries of God and was told to prophesy again of the future events. The description of the future events begins immediately after the second interlude which essentially is the continuation of the first interlude and happens to be a very brief summery of this bitter-sweet content of this little book. The second interlude is probably one of the most difficult pieces to interpret but also one of the most important pieces of the Book of Revelation. The scene of this unfolding second interlude seems to be the area of Jerusalem and the temple; however this is clearly of a symbolic character without excluding the possibility of a real interpretation. The second interlude is in two parts, the first part which refers to the church and the second to the two prophets.
"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months."
The reed is something like a measurement rod and John is told to measure the temple of God, the altar and the worshippers that are inside. This is a symbolic action of the protection of God equivalent to the seal of the faithful which we saw when the four angels held back the four winds of the earth until the servants of God were sealed with the sign of God on their foreheads and we were told that the number of them sealed was 144,000. Here we have the same thing, to measure the temple, the altar and all the faithful worshipping therein. This shows that they are all sealed, they are protected with divine protection. What is the identity of the temple and where is it? Does it refer to the Temple of Jerusalem? During the writing of Revelation, the temple had already been destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. Some say the temple in question is the Old Testament and the outer court of the temple is the New Testament, however it is believed that the temple of God is the church and more specifically the faithful and they are represented here with the image of the temple. It is well known that in the New Testament the believers are called the temple of God: St. Paul uses this term many times. When it says the altar and the faithful worshipping therein, it means the altar of Christ and the faithful worshipping there are those who live the Liturgical life and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. These then will have the protection of God during the time of the antichrist.
"But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not."
John is told not to measure the outer court because those who belong to the outer court will not be included in the protection of God. Now this outer court is still part of the temple so why will they not have God's protection? The outer yard refers to all those Christians who call themselves Christians but are Christians only in name. These are the lukewarm Christians, the secularized Christians who live according to the spirit of the world and the many Christian heresies that do not belong to the one true church. All these will not be protected by Christ and will be trodden upon by the gentiles, those who do not have any relationship with the church. The treading underfoot of the Holy City, Jerusalem, which is representative of the Ecumenical Church, for the course of forty-two months signifies that at the time of the coming of the Antichrist the faithful will be persecuted for the course of three and a half years. But the faithful will remain steadfast in their faith because they have the protection of God while the lukewarm Christians will be swayed and become subject to the demands of the Antichrist.
As already said, the second part of this interlude refers to the two prophets:
"And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed."
The one speaking is Christ "I will give power unto my two witnesses." Who are these two witnesses? They are not named but it is assumed that they are known and John at least knows who they are. There are various interpretations for the two prophets saying that they are symbolic figures, but in general the Orthodox Church has always understood them to be two specific people. The majority of the fathers say that these are the Old Testament prophets Enoch and Elias (Elijah), but there are some who have identified then as Elias and Moses. This they base on the fact that it was these two who appeared at the Lord's Transfiguration and supported by the following verse which refers to the same authority to make miracles that remind us of Elias and Moses.
"These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will."
The shutting of heaven that it rain not reminds us of Elias who during his prophetic mission on earth shut the heavens so that it didn't rain and the turning of water into blood and smiting the earth with all plagues brings to mind Moses. With both traditions Elias is one of the two prophets so let's see how the fathers come to this conclusion. In the Old Testament we are told that Elias did not die, but that he was taken up to heaven in body by a chariot of fire. After this there were prophecies that Elias would come again before the coming of Christ as a forerunner to prepare the way. This was the belief of the Jews and he was to come before the appearance of the Messiah. The prophet Malachi writes: "And, behold, I will send you Elias the Tishbite before the great and glorious day of the Lord cometh, who shall turn again the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his neighbour." (Malachi 4:4-5)
Because of this belief the apostles were puzzled because they were convinced that Christ was the messiah, but why didn't Elias come first. Why didn't Elias appear before the appearance of Jesus as it was prophesied? When the three disciples, Peter, James and John were taken up to Mount Thabor was witnessed the Lord's Transfiguration and saw him talking with Elias and Moses their curiosity concerning the coming of Elias became more intense and as they came down the mountain they asked Jesus: "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." (Matth. 17: 10-13) The Lord gave the disciples two occasions of when Elias will come. He first said that Elias truly shall first come in the future tense and here Christ was referring to his Second Coming, then he adds that Elias has already come meaning that he came before his first coming. So we have two forerunners, one for each of the comings of Christ. Elias is definitely the forerunner of Christ's second coming, but is he also the forerunner of Christ's first coming in the person of St. John the Baptist? St. Luke clears this up in his first chapter. Talking of John the Baptist he says: "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17) in other words with the spiritual gift and energy of Elias. It refers to the same fearless energy – Elias spoke against Jezebel, John spoke against Herodias, Herod's unlawful wife, Elias was a hermit in the wilderness so was John, Elias preached repentance to a corrupted generation so did John, Elias was persecuted by King Ahab and Jezebel and similarly John was persecuted by King Herod and Herodias.
In the spirit and energy of Elias does not mean as some heretics claim that the soul of Elias entered John thereby using this to justify that the Bible speaks of reincarnation. Origen, the third century scholar answers to this saying: "If Elias had died then it could be argued that Elias has already come in the person of John with the idea that his soul entered another man and that this new man is Elias with another name. But Elias did not die and according to the belief of reincarnation you cannot have one soul in two bodies.
The other witness is identified by the fathers as Enoch again because tradition and the Bible point to Enoch as not having suffered a bodily death, but was taken in the flesh, whereas Moses did die and therefore cannot be one of the two witnesses of the last times. This is important to understand, Elias and Enoch are not coming back to live a second life. Their death was only postponed and from wherever they are now in body which is not certain, because they cannot be in the kingdom of God unless they possess a resurrected body, neither can they be in Paradise which is a place for the souls of the departed. God has placed them somewhere like heaven of which knowledge has not been revealed to us. But wherever they are they will return to finish their earthly course, to witness and point out the antichrist, suffer martyrdom, to die and then resurrect unto eternal life.
We do not know much about Enoch. In the genealogy given in the Book of Genesis, Enoch is the seventh after Adam from his son Seth and the great grandfather of Noah. With all the other names mentioned in the genealogy we are given the ages of each and we are told that they died. With Enoch it says: "And all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty and five years. And Enoch was well pleasing to God, and he was not found, for God translated him." This has been taken to mean that Enoch did not die but was transported somewhere. This was the belief of the Jews and St. Paul writing to the Hebrews verifies this belief saying: "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5) The last words of this testimony are very interesting "Enoch had this testimony that he pleased God."
If we go back to the genealogy found in Genesis it says: "And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters." Enoch only began to walk with God after he begat Methuselah at the age of sixty five. Up until then we can assume that Enoch lived like everyone else of his generation, in wickedness and distant from God. People of his time and up to the time of his great grandson Noah, lived without God in their lives with evil steadily increasing until we are told that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth" Gen. 6:5-7) and this he did with the great flood. Thus Enoch began walking with God after the birth of his son Methuselah. So the birth of his son stirred something in Enoch's heart which means he seriously repented and pleased God with his repentance. This is important to understand because when he comes back with Elias he will be the preacher of repentance. He may say, Look I also lived through sinful times and a sinful life, I fully understand the wickedness you have fallen into because I also fell to the same wickedness, but I repented and I was spared. God took me out of my generation.
It is believed that Elias will preach to the Jews while Enoch will be the evangelist to the pagans and unbelievers. The witnesses are two because Holy Scripture says that every word shall stand by the mouth of two witnesses and by the mouth of three witnesses. (Deut. 19:15) In other words a testimony to be valid must be given by at least two people and since the object of this testimony is of intense important because they will come to show who is the antichrist and to testify about Jesus Christ the true God it is necessary to have at least two witnesses. Christ did the same when he sent out his 70 disciples and his 12 disciples; he sent them out in pairs so that their testimony would have validity.
But Elias and Enoch will not be the only witnesses; the faithful will also be witnesses to the truth; they will not be clueless about the antichrist. If they are to be clueless then why does Christ go to all the trouble to give us the many signs of his Second Coming? We see therefore that the faithful will have knowledge of the antichrist regardless of the testimony of the two witnesses, but the two witnesses will come and reinforce this particular knowledge of the faithful that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah and that the antichrist is an impostor.
"And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth."
The two witnesses will prophesy and announce to the people not to be deluded by the great signs and miracles of the fantastic works of the antichrist. The thousand two hundred and sixty days being forty two months or three and a half years is taken to mean exactly that. It is one of the few times in Scripture that a number is not seen as a symbolic number. These are the days of the antichrist, the same three and a half years that we saw earlier when the church will be persecuted and it is interesting to see that the two witnesses will continue to preach as long as the antichrist remains in power. Jerusalem will be trodden down underfoot by the antichrist, but the Church which we spoke of will not be in the city Jerusalem but in the desert as we shall see at a later time.
They will be clothed in sackcloth. The sackcloth is an indication of grief and bereavement and repentance and we see this often in the Old Testament, but especially with the Ninevites who believed Jonah that God will destroy them and repented wearing sackcloth.
"And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed."
The two witnesses have superhuman authority from God for the following reason. The antichrist will be performing great signs and miracles through the energy of Satan, and by these he will be deceiving people and convincing them that he is the true messiah. Through God's grace and power the two witnesses will also be performing tremendous miracles to counterbalance those of the antichrist and to show that he is a deceiver. This is something similar to what happened in Egypt with Moses. The two witnesses will have the protection of God and that's why if anyone wants to harm them fire will proceed from their mouth and devour them. This reminds us of Elias during his first time on earth when a king Ahaziah sent a captain and fifty men to arrest him and Elias brought down fire from heaven and consumed them. So from this we can assume that the two witnesses will also have the same power to burn their enemies. But it can also be interpreted symbolically, the word of these prophets will be a consuming fire, their sermon will be fiery and will reproof, crush and consume the words of their enemies.
"And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them."
For the three and a half years that the Witnesses will be preaching no one will be allowed to harm them, not even the antichrist himself who will be restrained by God, but when their mission comes to an end, then God will allow the beast, in other words the antichrist to take them and put them to death.
"And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified."
Their corpses will be thrown in the street or rather in the city square according to the Greek, showing the cruelty of the antichrist against the servants of God by publicly humiliating them. This action will separate the true Christians from the lukewarm Christians. Those who are not courageous enough to suffer persecution will see in the death of the two prophets the end of their hopes and will deny their faith. They will think it's all over; the antichrist has won and in fear of their own lives will join the opposite camp. The disciples did the same when Christ was arrested; they lost hope and abandoned Christ thinking everything was over. This will happen with the two prophets and the majority of Christians at that time. They will see the death of the two prophets' and will lose hope and say the two prophets didn't accomplish anything and our faith in them was all in vain. Many Christians at that time will abandon their faith in Christ for as Christ said: "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)
The city where these things will happen is Jerusalem which John tells us is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt and to verify that he does not mean another city he informs us that it is where our Lord was crucified. The antichrist will come to give rise to the royal house imitating David the king so that he can convince the Jews that he is fulfilling the prophetic word – I will resurrect the tabernacle of David that has fallen. He will rebuild the Temple of Solomon and reside in Jerusalem to show that he is the awaited Messiah. But why does John spiritually call Jerusalem Sodom and Egypt? The prophets often likened Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorra to highlight that sin and especially sexual immorality among the Israelites had increased. Sodom was known for its open acceptance and practice of homosexuality. This is an indication of our times where this sexual immorality has found legal acceptance and marital rights side by side with conventional marriage. In the last days sexual immorality in the city will surpass the levels of ancient Sodom. Egypt is a reference to power and dominion over the people. Israel was in slavery to Egypt for 430 years and the people suffered greatly under their Egyptian rulers. They were forced to make bricks in hard labour, to break their spirits because Egypt was afraid of them. As Israel suffered from the Egyptians this is how the New Israel, the Church will suffer from the Old Israel, Jerusalem.
"And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves."
The antichrist and his government will not allow the bodies of the two prophets to be buried and the people of all the nations and tongues will see their dead bodies lying in the centre of Jerusalem. Someone living a hundred years ago would have found this inconceivable; how can all people around the world simultaneously see something happening in one corner of the earth? But now with satellites and television sets we have made the world so small that we are accustomed to watching things live from the opposite side of the world. The verse also shows the universal spirit of the world concerning the two prophets, the fact that they will all be watching expresses the eagerness of the spectators to see the murder of these two prophets and the exposition of their corpses in the city square.
"And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth."
What malicious joy! Through TV they will see and rejoice and make merry because they got rid of the tormenting sermons of the prophets: the sermons which tormented their consciences. But why should this trouble an unbeliever? There is no reason why an unbeliever should feel reproach since the unbelievers and atheist are beyond reproach so why should they feel tormented, especially since they don't believe in Hell? The atheists are not tormented yet they are the ones who initiate persecution against the Christians. Why is this? Simply because there is no absolute atheist. man was fashioned to believe; God made us for himself. This is in relation to the image of God in all of us which cannot be uprooted by anyone; it is innate in us from our creation. So the person who claims he is an atheist, in reality inside him, in his subconscious, he maintains a certain fear and when he sees that he distances that fear he rejoices. He exercises this persecution precisely to be liberated from this fear. Thus the citizens of the earth will be rejoicing and exchanging gifts because with the death of the two prophets, they will feel liberated from their consciences. They have nothing more to be afraid of and can finally sleep peacefully.
"And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them."
The joy of the unbelievers is short-lived and now we have the triumph of heaven – the resurrection of the two prophets. The mistake of the atheists and unbelievers is twofold. First they deny the eschatological dimension of history. They do not want to believe that history will come to an end. An atheist believes that history existed and will always exist. There is no end to creation and life will always go on. The second mistake is the reality of the resurrection of the dead and this explains their great fear and shock when they see on TV the two prophets to stand on their feet. God has planned it for their eyes to be glued to their TV sets and suddenly when they thought that the bodies of the two prophets would begin to stink, they see them stand on their feet and breathing. This is terrifying, the greatest shock treatment to an atheist. They will suddenly be faced with the reality of the resurrection. People will be terrified when they witness this awesome miracle and we are not talking about normal fear like the fear of a bomb exploding which will take our breath away but after a while we will recover. The fear that man cannot overcome so easily is the supernatural fear which literally paralyses man. If we were to see an evil spirit appear in our room we would be struck down and paralyzed by this supernatural fear and even probably lose consciousness.
"And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them."
They heard a voice; this was the voice of Christ calling to the two martyrs to come up here, come up here to heaven. And how do they go up to heaven? Christ sends a cloud, the royal carriage and heavenly vehicle to carry them up. Here the ascension of Christ comes to mind who also was received by a cloud and was transported into heaven. However this cloud has nothing to do with the water clouds of our environment, it is the presence of the divine glory. This also reminds us of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians: "and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:16-17) So all those people who do not believe in the resurrection will be given final proof and will see with their own eyes the two prophets come back to life and also see them being taken up to heaven.
"And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven."
There is a similarity with the earthquake that occurred at the time of Christ's death on the Cross and the earthquake that occurred at his Resurrection. This would suggest that the earthquake that will take place is a real earthquake and not an earthquake with an allegorical meaning. It also seems to be centred at Jerusalem and not worldwide. The earthquake will be high up on the Richter scale and will destroy a tenth of the city and kill seven thousand men, the number of which could be symbolic. The earthquake comes to assure that the two Prophets are from God and that the Antichrist is an impostor and that the earthquake comes as a punishment to those who did not believe. What will the rest of the citizens and those watching from their TVs do? They will be terrified and give glory to the God of heaven. But this is praise and glory under pressure of fear not true praise.
"The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly."
The third woe is still a couple of chapters away, but we have next the blowing of the seventh trumpet and of future events seen in heaven and on earth, but also of events in history that go back to the battle in heaven between Lucifer and Michael, Lucifer's defeat and casting out of heaven and his ongoing war against the Church.
Let's hear the first lines of the Seventh Trumpet.
"And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God. Saying, We give thee thanks, O LORD God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned."
The sounding of the seventh trumpet takes us back again to heaven. The great voices in heaven are the voices of the celestial beings proclaiming Christ's victory of the world which was under the rule of Satan. The Lord called Satan the prince of this world (John 12.31). And Satan himself claimed to have dominion over the world when he tempted the Lord, showing Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and saying: All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me (Matthew 4.8-9). Christ rejected this temptation; but the Antichrist will accept it, which is why he will be given power over the whole world. However, this power is temporary and deceiving. He Who said to Pilate: Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, unless it were given thee from above (John 19.11), only grants power to the devil and his servants so that sinners may taste the bitter fruit of their sin and turn to the only true King and God. In the end, the deceiving power of the devil will be smashed and all power given to Christ to whom every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. (Philippians 2.10).
With the four and twenty elders is see again the familiar heavenly image with the elders on their thrones on either side of the throne of God. They fall down in prostration and worship God with a doxology saying: we give thee thanks, O Lord God almighty, who is, who was and who is to come, because thou has taken to thee thy great power and hast reigned.
"And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth."
This verse contains very briefly the entire work of the universal judgement. The unbelieving nations are angry because they have tasted God's wrath upon them. The time of the dead indicates the time of the resurrection of the dead, in which to each will be given a reward corresponding to his deeds.
By the prophets, and the saints, and those that fear His name, small and great, one may understand three degrees of men. It brings to mind the Parable of the Sower where the seeds that fell on good ground brought forth, some thirty fold, some sixty fold and some a hundred fold. The hundredfold are the Prophets and Apostles and the sixty fold are all the other saints we honour. All these have reached perfect love which expels and puts out fear. The thirty fold are all other pious Christians who fear the Lord, but not in the same way, which is why this last category is divided into small and great. It is understood that the small are those whose spirituality is at the first levels and have not found perfection but live in fear of the judgement, they live in fear of being punished and the great are those who have reached some perfection in virtues and have overcome this fear of being punished, but fear of losing what they have achieved, they fear of falling from God's love.
But this small and great brings us great joy, comfort and hope because we do not all have the same strength to bring forth fruit a hundred fold or sixty fold, but we have here a message that we don't have to; God accepts the thirty fold as he accepts the hundred fold, and the small and the great, because what matters is that we heard the word of God and accepted it into our hearts and even through fear of punishment, which is not considered high on the spiritual ladder, we can still bring forth fruit that God will find pleasing.
"And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail."
When the doxology and prayer of the elders came to an end the Ark of the Covenant appeared in heaven. We know that the Ark of the Covenant was guarded in the holy of holies in the temple that was built by Solomon. When the Babylonians overtook Jerusalem in 586BC, the temple was destroyed and all the vessels were looted and taken to Babylon. Later when the Jews returned to Jerusalem and were allowed to rebuild the temple all the vessels were returned to them, but there is no mention of the ark. It seems to have disappeared, but we are told in the second book of the Maccabees the mystery of its disappearance. Before the looting of the temple, the Prophet Jeremiah was forewarned of God and told to take the ark, the altar of incense and the tabernacle to the mountain where Moses was shown the land of Canaan where he found a cave and placed the items inside and sealed the cave. When those who helped him tried to find their way back to the cave they couldn't find it and Jeremiah told them that the place shall remain unknown until the time that God gathers his people again together, and receive them unto mercy. Then shall the Lord show them these things, and the glory of the Lord shall appear, and the cloud also, as it was showed under Moses. (2 Macc. 2:1-8)
Now how is this interpreted? The Jewish interpreters say that the ark would be revealed with the coming of the Messiah. Our interpreters say that it will be revealed at the end of time. But this ark in heaven is probably not the same historical Ark of the Covenant simply because since God allowed the destruction of the temple it means that there is no longer a place for the ark. In Christian terms the ark is the Mother of God and the tablets of the Law are Christ the Word of God who became man and dwelt among us. So there is no reason to find the ark, we have the true ark in heaven. But then what is the ark of the covenant that John saw in the temple of God? The opening of heaven and the appearance of the ark serves as a symbol and manifests the treasury of blessings prepared for the saints, blessings which are all hidden in Christ, in Whom dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2.3-9). These are the blessings of the kingdom of God which are Christ himself, God the Word the living tablets. And while these things are being revealed to the saints the lawless and impious ones will be sent frightful voices, lightnings, thunderings, earthquakes and hail.
Here ends the chapter and a new chapter begins which has three visions referring to three different time spans. The first is of a woman clothed with the sun which has to do with the birth of the church, the second is of the war in heaven between the dragon who is Lucifer and the archangel Michael which took place before the fall of man and the third has to do with the battle of the dragon with the woman who represents the church which is ongoing. We don't have time for all three today but let's see part of the first vision.
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth."
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven."
By heaven it does not mean the kingdom of God. This vision is seen from earth looking up to the sky. The heaven here is the natural firmament above the earth that we see with the sun and moon and everything else that belongs to the created universe.
There are two interpretations for the woman. The first is that she is the Mother of God and the second that she represents the church. Many verses here and later point to the woman as being the Mother of God, but from the fact that she is in pain during childbirth, it is evident that it is incorrect to see in this woman the Most Holy Mother of God, because as the Church has always taught, her giving birth to the Son of God was without pain. Our interpretation therefore should rest on the woman as representing the church. The church clothed with the sun, clothed in the Word of the Father, clothed with Christ shining more brightly than the sun. This brilliance of the sun likewise signifies that the church possesses the true knowledge of God and His laws and contains His revelations. The moon represents change because whereas with the sun in the sky we always see a complete circle, with the moon we sometimes see a full moon, a half moon, a crescent moon or just a sliver. Thus the moon under her feet is a sign that the church is above everything mutable, above the secular spirit which continually changes. The crown of twelve stars on her head represent the teachings of the twelve apostles on which the church is founded. It is what we confess in the Creed: I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
"And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered."
These torments of birthgiving signify the difficulties which had to be overcome by the Church of Christ when she was being established in the world, but also through history; persecution, martyrdom and the spread of heresies.
"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth."
This is still part of the same vision with the Woman. Next to her now appears a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crown upon his heads. The dragon is the devil as we will be told a little further down. He appears as a red dragon, the red colour signifying his bloodthirsty cruelty. The seven heads symbolize the great number of his servants, the many organizations that make up the power of Satan, and the ten horns the magnitude of his power, in other words the devil is the prince of this world. The seven crowns on his seven heads confirm that he has authority over the world that he is the prince of this world. Of course the devil has no authority – all authority and power belongs to God, but God has allowed him this temporary authority to govern the world until the time when this authority will be taken from him at the end of time and the end of this world as we know it.
"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth."
These stars are understood to mean the fallen angels or demons who accepting his arrogant view to become god also fell with him as dark beings. A second understanding is that the stars are representative of the churches and teachers who are corrupted by satanic power; the many heresies that he has succeeded in turning away from the true faith.