“Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev 12:1 NET)
I do not believe ‘heaven’ (ouranō) in Revelation 12:1 refers to the starry sky; and thereby, I do not think that the “woman” refers to an astronomical constellation or alignment of certain heavenly bodies.
This is part of a much larger article I am working on. But I want to mention one important reason here.
The woman is described with celestial imagery, which I believe alludes to Jacob’s dream (Gen 37:9) and/or the heritage of Israel (I will take up this issue in a separate article).
Revelation 12:1 says that the great sign appeared in “heaven” (ouranō). Many interpreters quickly assume that “heaven” must refer to the physical universe of the starry sky, namely because the woman is adorned with celestial images (sun, moon, stars). I think this is a hasty and false assumption to conclude that those celestial images refer to physical entities in the starry sky. Here is my reason.
The term “heaven” (ouranō) in the book of Revelation commonly refers to the transcendent abode of God, angels, and the saints. In our immediate context, Revelation 11:19, the verse immediately before verse 1 (chapters breaks are not part of the biblical text and thus are misleading), speaks of heaven as, not the physical universe of the starry sky, but of the transcendent abode of God: “Then the temple of God in heaven was opened and the ark of his covenant was visible within his temple” (Rev 11:19).
Do not get me wrong, I think that the spiritual dimension of heaven is located “up there” so to speak. We do not have eyes to see this other-wordly realm, unless God gives this vision of another dimension on special occasions (e.g. 2 Kings 6:17). But we should not confuse the starry-sky with the spiritual-heaven dimension, even as there are activities between these two realms.
Revelation 11:19 is important because it likely introduces the visions in Revelation 12 (and the larger section of chps. 12–14). Further, the usage of “heaven” that follows verse one certainly refers to the transcendent realm in the context of the second sign (see v. 3). And verse 4 says, “Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth.” The celestial image of “stars” likely does not refer to the physical celestial object of stars, but rather to the spiritual realm of heaven with the fall of angels who follow Satan. Moreover, a case can be made that the remaining instances of “heaven” (ouranō) in Revelation 12 focus on the transcendent, spiritual dimension (Rev 12:3–4, 7–8, 10, 12).
Next, what is often the case in the book of Revelation is that the apocalyptic vision begins in the spiritual-transcendent realm and spills over into physical-concrete realm. A perfect example of this is in the sixth seal where God opens up the transcendent realm to allow the wicked to see the throne room of heaven (Rev 6:13–17).
The same thing is going on in Revelation 12. The transcendent vision-images of the woman materialize into physical realities—not in the starry sky, but on earth:
“Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.” (Rev 12:4)
“So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod.” (Rev 12:5 NET)
“and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.” (Rev 12:6 NET)
“Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.” (Rev 12:13 NET)
“But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of—away from the presence of the serpent—for a time, times, and half a time.” (Rev 12:14 NET)
“Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood, but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth.” (Rev 12:15–16 NET)
“So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.” (Rev 12:17 NET)
So the great sign of Revelation 12 should be construed not as a public, astronomical phenomenon, but as a transcendent sign-vision given privately to John that will eventually realize itself into a physical-earthly reality.