In Revelation chapter 12 John saw “a great sign in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). John goes on to describe how she was pregnant and about to give birth, and that “a great fiery red dragon” (later identified as Satan) was ready “to devour the Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne” (Revelation 12:2-5).
The male child who rules all nations is obviously Jesus Christ. The representative of the dragon, who tried to snuff out His life at His birth, was king Herod who killed all the baby boys of Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus. At first glance it would appear that the woman clothed with the sun must be His mother, the virgin Mary. However, a careful study shows that Mary is only one small aspect of what is symbolized by the Woman. Mary was the human representative of the Woman clothed with the sun at the time of Jesus’ birth, just as Herod was the representative of the dragon.
First of all, this section is highly symbolic. A woman in prophecy symbolizes God’s chosen people, in Old Testament times the nation of Israel and in New Testament times the Church. This particular woman is surrounded by the sun, moon and twelve stars. The only passage of scripture that mentions all of these heavenly bodies together is Genesis 37, where Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and 12 stars symbolized his father Jacob, his mother Rachel, and the twelve sons of Jacob who, along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were the patriarchs of the nation Israel.
Thus the woman who is about to give birth represents the nation of Israel, which “gave birth” to the Messiah. Israel as a nation rejected the Messiah and lost the privilege of being the chosen people. But God appointed the Church to be His chosen people to bring the light of the Gospel to the world. The woman of Revelation 12 also represents the Church.
“When the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:13,14).
The phrase “a time and times and half a time” is a direct reference to Daniel 7, where a series of wild beasts arise out of the sea, a lion, a bear, a leopard and a monster, representing the empires that oppressed God’s people (Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome). Daniel saw a “little horn” coming up out of the Roman monster. “(The little horn) shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time” (Daniel 7:25).
The “little horn” represents the oppressive papal power of the Middle Ages that persecuted those “heretics” who would not submit to her authority. Many of these “heretics” constituted the true underground Church of God and were symbolized by the “Woman clothed with the sun”. The “time and times and half a time” represents the 1260 years that the papal power exercised oppressive authority and “persecuted the woman”.
“The serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman” (Revelation 12:15). Water in the Book of Revelation represents multitudes of people. The increase of population toward the end of the Middle Ages made it more difficult for the underground Church to find places of refuge in the mountainous “wilderness” of Europe. “But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth” (Revelation 12:16). With the discovery of the western hemisphere, believers were able to leave Europe and find a place of refuge in America.
Thus we see that the Woman clothed with the sun represents God’s chosen people through the ages, the nation of Israel during the Old Testament period and the true Church during the New Testament period.
There is a lot more information about the woman and the dragon as well as scriptural support for the above interpretation in chapter 12 of The Book.