SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 12
John sees Mary in Heaven as the Ark of the New Covenant, and then he tells us what makes her the Ark by showing us that Mary was the vessel of the Word Incarnate. John also gives an account of Satan attempting to kill the newly born Jesus as well as the Holy Family’s flee to Egypt for three and a half years until the death of Herod. We also see here Satan and the demons being cast out of Heaven, which actually took place at the Crucifixion.
This chapter, as well as most apocalyptic writings, are not arranged in chronological order, but are visions of past, present, and future events scattered throughout, and some events are intermingled together, which takes careful discernment to understand what point in time is being meant.
11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
Mary is the Ark of the Covenant that St. John sees. Where the ark of the Old Covenant contained within it the “gold jar containing the manna, the staff of Aaron that had sprouted, and the tablets of the covenant (Heb. 9:4)”, the Ark of the New Covenant, that is Mary, contained within her the Bread of Life, the eternal Priest Himself, and the Word of God, not on tablets, but in the Flesh. Mary was chosen by God to be the vessel that contained God’s covenant!
1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
Oecumenius: The incarnation of the Lord, by which the world was subjected and made his own, became the occasion for the raising [of the Antichrist] and the endeavors of Satan. For this is why the Antichrist will be raised up: so that he may again cause the world to revolt against Christ, and persuade it to turn around and desert to Satan. Since again the Lord’s physical conception and birth marked the beginning of his incarnation, the vision has brought into some order and sequence the events which it is going to explain, by starting its explanation from the physical conception of Christ, and by depicting for us the Mother of God. For why does he say, And a portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet? He is speaking of the mother of our Savior, as I have said. Naturally the vision describes her as being in heaven and not on earth, as pure in soul and body, as equal to an angel, as a citizen of heaven, as one who came to effect the incarnation of God who dwells in heaven (“for,” he says, “heaven is my throne” [Isa 66:1]), and as one who has nothing in common with the world and the evils in it, but wholly sublime, wholly worthy of heaven, even through she sprang from our mortal nature and being.
He says, And on her head, a crown of twelve stars. For the Virgin is crowned with the twelve apostles who proclaim the Christ while she is proclaimed together with him.
According to Quodvultdeus, fifth century Father of the Church and Bishop of Carthage:
“The Woman signifies Mary, who, being spotless, brought forth our spotless Head. Who herself also showed forth in herself a figure of holy Church, so that as she in bringing forth a Son remained a Virgin, so the Church also should during the whole time be bringing forth His members, and yet not lose her virgin state.”
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet. The woman clothed with the sun is blessed Virgin Mary, covered with the power of the Most High. A type, namely the Church, is also understood in her. The Church is not called a woman by reason of weakness, but because it gives birth every day to new people, with whom the general body of Christ is being formed. So the Church is clothed with the sun according to this: As many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.1 Indeed Christ is the Sun of justice,2 and the brightness of eternal light.3 The moon, which wanes as time passes, represents the mutability of time; and since the Church despises it, it is as if it pressed it down under its feet. Note also that there are some things in the following that do not correspond to the species, but to the genus. And on her head a crown of twelve stars. The twelve stars the crown is fitted with are the twelve apostles, through whom the Head of the Church, that is Christ, first won victory. They are called stars because the reason of truth illuminates the darkness of ignorance.
(1) Gal. 3:27.
(2) Mal. 4:2.
(3) Wis. 7:26.
2 And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.
John goes from telling us about seeing Mary in Heaven as the Ark, then he jumps to the event where Satan tried to kill the Lord as He was being born. Verse two is not to be understood as what happened right after John sees the Virgin in Heaven, but he is recalling a past event. Similarly the way that St. Mark, when telling about Jesus choosing the 12 disciples, said of Judas, “and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mark 3:19).” Mark did not mean that Judas betrayed Jesus at the moment that he was chosen by Jesus, but he is simply referring to a detail about Judas that happened at another time.
Many ancient interpreters have shied away from interpreting the woman as Mary because of this verse. The reason is because the many held that Mary was exempt from original sin and did not suffer the pain of child birth, which became a curse at the Fall in Genesis. But this pain that Mary suffered perhaps wasn’t physical pain but emotional. Why was she in such emotional stress and pain? Two verses down is the answer, “And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth (v.4).” Mary was about to give birth to a newly born son and she had all the forces of evil, Satan and all the demons, waiting to kill her child. Any good mother would be in great distress when their child is in any sort of danger, Mary had the Gates of Hell waiting to devour her child!
Oecumenius: But in the present passage you should understand the crying out and being in anguish in this way: until the divine angel told Joseph about her, that the conception was from the Holy Spirit, the Virgin was naturally despondent, blushing before her betrothed, and thinking that he might somehow suspect that she was in labor from a secret marriage. Her despondency and grief he called, according to the principles of metaphor, crying and anguish; and this is not surprising.
Andrew of Caesarea: