The Conflict of the Ages
v.1-2 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and pain to give birth.
The “sun” the “moon” and the “garland of twelve stars” clothing this woman are all interpreted elsewhere in Scripture to signify the nation Israel (Gen.37:9,10). The child she carries is Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, Who is the true offspring of the nation, and through the ancestral line of Mary was indelibly linked to Israel through every generation back to Abraham (Luke 3:23-34).
Therefore, this great sign shows the Nation of Israel, long in labor, about to give birth to its Messiah the Savior of the world and our Lord Jesus Christ. (See also—Luke 2:25-32).
Allow me to point out why I don’t believe that this woman is either the church or the Virgin Mary. The church didn’t exist when Christ was born, but itself was born only after a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit subsequent to His death and resurrection (Acts 1,2). Plus, it was Christ who gave birth to the church (Matt.16:18), not the other way around. Moreover, the image is a “sign” (a symbol) not a literal person. The image doesn’t exclude Mary because she did conceive and give physical birth to Jesus, but the sign is greater than, and extends beyond, the mother in the manger.
v.3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
This is Satan, who is named the dragon (Revelation 20:2).
He is called “great” because of his great power. Once the “anointed cherub who covers” (Ez.28:14), Satan was corrupted by pride and removed from his angelic office, yet still maintains a great power that even Michael the Archangel dares not challenge (Jude, v.9). He is called a “fiery red dragon” because of his ferocious and cruel nature; a “murderer from the beginning” Jesus said (John 8:44). His “seven [crowned] heads” are seven kingdoms (see notes—17:9-11), and his “ten horns” are ten kings who comprise the ruling world government empowered by Satan during the Great Tribulation (see notes–17:12).
This sign shows Satan as a powerful and ferocious entity that rules over the governmental affairs of man. He is the malignant and sinister force that influences the nations of the earth to oppose God both openly and contemptuously (see Dan.10:13,20-21).
v.4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
The two most prominent Scriptural references to the origin, rebellion, and fall of Lucifer are found in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. In this sign, John is shown more.
“His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” The “stars of heaven” is interpreted to mean angels (Job 38:7), suggesting that Lucifer, staging his rebellion against God, was able to influence one third of the angels against God and in so doing, by “his tail” brought them into contempt before God and thus cast from heaven down to earth.
“And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.” Satan’s rebellion against God didn’t end on the earth. In the Garden of Eden, he successfully assaulted man with a temptation that created the enmity between God and man that has existed to this day.