What are the stars of heaven in Revelation 12:4 – angels or people?

Summary

Great Red DragonIn Revelation 12:4, “a great red dragon” swept away “a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Rev 12:3-4). What does this mean? Revelation 12 also describes a war in heaven between the dragon’s angels and Michael’s angels. Are the “stars” in 12:4 the same as the dragon’s angels? Consider the following:

1) The Book of Job described angels as stars (Job 38:1-7).

2) The Book of Daniel symbolizes God’s people as stars (Dan 8:10; 12:2).

3) Closer to our text, Revelation 1 represents Jesus as one like a son of man. He has seven stars in the right hand which are explained as the angels of the seven churches (Rev 1:20, 13, 16). But I assume that these “angels” really are the leaders of those churches and, therefore, they are people.

4) In Revelation 12 itself, in the context of the war in heaven, the Dragon is identified as Satan. This may imply that the stars are supernatural beings such as angels. But, in verse 4, the dragon has “seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 12:3), symbolizing the organizations on earth through which Satan works (Rev 17:9, 12). This may imply that the stars are people.

FALSE PROPHET

5) Isaiah 9:14-15 declares, “the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail.” So, the dragon’s tail may symbolize “falsehood.” But this does not help us much because Satan declares falsehood both in heaven and on earth.

6) The context of our verse is that the dragon stands before a woman who is expecting a child; ready to devour her child as soon as he is born (Rev 12:1-4). That woman is identified below as a symbolization of the woman in the garden of Eden, with respect to whom God promised that her “seed” would “bruise” the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Her child is Christ. This woman in Revelation 12 has a crown of 12 “stars” (Rev 12:1). The number 12, in both the Old and New Testaments, represents God’s people. The 12 stars in her crown, therefore, symbolize people.

Conclusion

I propose that 12:4 must be interpreted within its immediate context and not within the context of the war in heaven described a few verses later:

Since verse 5 describes the time of Christ, the context of verse 4 is before Christ. In contrast, the war in heaven in verse 7 is described after Christ.

Furthermore, verse 4 describes the war between the woman and the dragon: “the dragon stood before the woman.” In that context:

The woman represents God’s people, ever since God gave the promise of the Messiah to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, the have been longing for the Messiah. See – Who are the woman and her child?

The dragon, with its seven heads and ten horns, represents the human organizations through which Satan persecuted God’s people.

Given that context, I propose that the stars symbolize God’s people. That the dragon swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth then means that Satan has deceived a large number of God’s people in the time before Christ was born.

The dragon is also identified as “the serpent of old” (Rev 12:9). This reminds us of the Garden of Eden and emphasizes Satan’s deception of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1-7).

– End of Summary –


The Woman

Revelation 12 begins with “a woman clothed with the sun” who was expecting a child (Rev 12:1).

The Dragon

This is followed by a description of “a great red dragon” that swept away with its tail “a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Rev 12:3-4).

The Child

The dragon stood before the woman to devour her child as soon as he was born (Rev 12:4). “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5). Jesus received authority from His Father to rule the nations with “a rod of iron” (Rev 2:27) and, when He returns, He will rule them “with a rod of iron” (Rev 19:11, 15). Therefore:

      • This male child is the One we know as Jesus Christ.
      • Revelation 12:5 describes His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement in a single verse.

Who is the Woman?

Since the woman gave birth to Christ, she represents God’s Old Testament people who looked forward to the coming of Christ. The Old Testament portrays Israel as a woman (e.g., Jer. 2:32) but the woman in Revelation 12 also includes people outside the Old Testament nation of Israel. She is a symbolization of the woman in the garden of Eden, with respect to whom God promised, speaking to the serpent:

I will put enmity Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel
” (Gen 3:15).

However, after Christ has ascended “to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5), the woman remains on earth (Rev 12:6, 14) and also has other children (Rev 12:17). She, therefore, also represents God’s New Testament people; later described as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9). The New Testament, similarly, describes the Church as a pure woman (1 Cor. 11:3; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 5:22-23; 2 John 1).

For a further discussion, see:

The Question

This analysis shows that the dragon swept away a third of the stars before the birth of Christ. This question is, what does that mean?

This is not a literal dragon or literal stars. Later in Revelation 12, in the context of the “war in heaven” between “Michael and his angels” and “the dragon and his angels” (Rev 12:7), the “great red dragon” is identified as Satan (Rev 12:9). Therefore, given this context:

    • Do the “stars” symbolize angels?
    • Does sweeping away a third of the stars describe Satan’s deception of the angels? Has a third of God’s beautiful angels been deceived by Satan?
    • Are these “stars” the same as the dragon’s angels in the war in heaven (Rev 12:7)?

Job also described angels as stars. He wrote:

The morning stars sang together” when “the LORD” “laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:1-7).

Since this refers to the creation of our world, these “morning stars” seem to be supernatural beings.

To determine whether the stars in 12:4 symbolize angels or people, consider the following:

1) The Dragon is Satan.

The dragon is identified as Satan (Rev 12:9). This may imply that the stars are supernatural beings.

But the dragon has “seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 12:3). Both the “seven heads and ten horns” are explained as “kings” (Rev 17:9, 12). So, the dragon also seems to represent the organizations on earth through which Satan works. This may imply that the stars are people.

2) The Dragon’s Tail is Falsehood.

Perhaps we can interpret the tail of the dragon in terms of Isaiah 9:14-15, which reads:

The head is the elder and honorable man,
And the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail.”

Then the dragon’s tail symbolizes “falsehood.” Satan declares falsehood in heaven but also on earth through his representatives. So, this does not help us to identify the stars as angels or as people.

3) The stars in Jesus’ right hand

Earlier in Revelation, the seven stars in the right hand of the one like a son of man (Jesus) are identified as the angels of the seven churches (Rev 1:20, 13, 16). I assume that these “angels” or messengers symbolize the leaders of those churches and, therefore, they are people.

4) Daniel symbolized people as stars.

Daniel wrote that the evil horn will cause “some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down” (Dan 8:10). Since the horn is an earthly organization, these stars must be people; specifically God’s people.

Daniel also wrote that “those who lead the many to righteousness, (will shine – after their resurrection) like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:2).

6) The stars in the woman’s crown

The woman in Revelation 12 has a crown of 12 stars (Rev 12:1). The number 12, in both the Old and New Testaments, represents God’s people.

The following shows that the eternal home of this woman is the New Jerusalem:

The angel said to John that he will show him “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” but then John saw “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:9-10).

This “Jerusalem” has written on it the names of both the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12) and the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Rev 21:14). Therefore:

(a) This confirms that the New Jerusalem is the eternal home of both God’s Old Testament and New Testament people.

(b) The 12 stars on the head of the woman symbolize God’s people in all ages.

7) Of heaven

The stars are described as the stars “of heaven” (Rev 14:4). We find this also in phrases such as “the God of heaven” (Rev 16:11) and “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2). On the other hand, Revelation sometimes describes God’s people on earth as if they are in heaven. For example:

Those who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2) are depicted as “standing on the sea of glass” (Rev 15:2), which is before the throne of God (Rev 4:6). But they are still on earth because, later, they are advised to keep their clothes (Rev 16:15). (Revelation uses white robes as a symbol of being right with God (e.g., Rev 7:14).

And the woman of Revelation 12 herself is standing on the moon and is clothed with the sun (Rev 12:1). In a sense, she is also “of heaven.

Conclusion

Much evidence, therefore, exists to interpret the stars in 12:4 as people. I propose that this verse must be interpreted within its immediate context and not within the context of the war in heaven described a few verses later:

Since verse 5 describes the time of Christ, the context of verse 4 is before Christ. In contrast, the war in heaven is described after Christ.

Furthermore, verse 4 describes the war between the woman and the dragon: “the dragon stood before the woman.” In that context:

The woman represents God’s Old Testament people.

The dragon, with its seven heads and ten horns, represents the human organizations through which Satan persecuted God’s people.

Given that context, I propose that the stars symbolize God’s people. That the dragon swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth then means that Satan has deceived a large number of God’s Old Testament people.


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