12:1 great wonder in heaven. “Wonder” is the same as “sign.” By calling this miraculous scene in the heavens a sign John helps to confirm that the other events described in Revelation should be understood literally if they are not designated as signs. Since the meaning of the sign is not explained in the immediate context, it must be understood in terms of previous revelation. As a matter of fact, the sign is so comprehensive that it embraces the entire plan of redemption, beginning with the Edenic promise. Here, in the middle of the book of Revelation, the Lord has provided through John several parenthetical revelations, each extending from primeval history up to this climactic point, the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation, and then even on beyond to the end.
12:1 twelve stars. While this symbol might at first suggest a connection with Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9-10), in which he saw the sun, moon and eleven stars, representing his parents and brothers, bowing down to him, there are important differences, and the sign must go far beyond that. The key is in Revelation 12:17, the climactic verse of the chapter, referring to the enmity of the dragon against the woman and her seed. This recalls God’s Protevangelic promise in Eden. Speaking to the old serpent, He had said: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed, and her seed; [He] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). Thus the woman in the sign must represent Eve “the mother of all living” first of all, then Israel, the wife of Jehovah, and the church, the bride of Christ. Even beyond that, the phrase “the woman” must refer to all godly women and finally to Mary, the particular godly woman who was chosen to bring the promised Seed into the world.
The sign will have special application in this context to Israel; the church will have been taken out of the world, and God will be dealing with Israel in a special way once again. The sun may well symbolize Christ Himself, the light of the world (John 8:12), for the woman has “put on Christ.” The moon is a sort of counterfeit light, or false religion, which the woman has put under her feet; and the twelve stars in her crown possibly represent the tribes of Israel, soon to be revived and restored as the special nation of God’s election.