The Catholic Church has a number of unbiblical teachings on Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Some of these include the concept of her bodily Assumption into Heaven, Mary as the “Queen of Heaven,” Mary as the “Mother of the Church” (i.e., of all Christians), and Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant.” It seems that a misinterpretation of Revelation chapter 12 is the springboard, at least in part, for these particular Catholic teachings. But is Mary the woman portrayed in Revelation 12? What does the Catholic Church say?
Note these official Catholic sources:
On February 2, 1904, Pope Pius X, in his papal encyclical (an official letter to the church), titled Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, said:
“A woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.” Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary… (Paragraph 24)
On May 13, 1967, Pope Paul VI, in his papal encyclical, The Great Sign, said:
The great sign which the Apostle John saw in heaven, “a woman clothed with the sun,”…as referring to the most blessed Mary, the mother of all men by the grace of Christ the Redeemer.
And Pope John Paul II, March 25, 1987, wrote in his papal encyclical (Redemptoris Mater):
For Mary… by her ecclesial identification as the “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1)… (Paragraph 47)
So, according to these popes, the Catholic Church officially sees Mary as the woman who is clothed with the sun in chapter 12 of the book of Revelation, where she is (supposedly) revealed in all of her splendor. But it doesn’t stop here. This interpretation also leads to other doctrines which cause Mary to be overly honored in other aspects, as well. The influence of this interpretation develops a mindset that can eventually lead to the worship of Mary, though most Catholics will not admit it.
But to be fair, there are some Catholic apologists who see several different interpretations of the “woman” in Revelation 12. In spite of the official Catholic documents quoted above, some will say that the woman clothed with the sun could possibly represent 1) the church, 2) Eve, 3) Mary, or 4) Israel.
But let’s take a look at the passage in context so that we can determine if it does indeed point to Mary or not. Here it is:
1) And there appeared a great wonder in Heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
2) And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3) And there appeared another wonder in Heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4) And his tail drew the third part of the stars of Heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
5) And she brought forth a manchild, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne.
6) And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
Ok, it seems obvious that the manchild who will rule with a rod of iron (v. 5) is Jesus Christ, I think most everyone would agree; although there are some who believe that the manchild will be the 144,000 Jews who are sealed by God (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5). But anyway, let’s find out who this “woman” is in context.
1) It is not the church.
How do we know? Because the church did not give birth to Jesus (v. 5). One could argue that Jesus “gave birth” to the church, but not the other way around.
2) It is not Eve.
One could say that Eve, in a sense, gave birth to Jesus, but she also indirectly gave birth to everyone else on the planet (except Adam). So, this is not helpful. Also, there is nothing in Scripture about Eve fleeing into the wilderness for special protection for 1260 days (v. 6).
3) It is not Mary.
Yes, Mary directly gave birth to Jesus Christ, but she did not flee into the wilderness for protection. Someone might object and say that this happened when she and her husband Joseph fled to Egypt, but according to Revelation 12, the woman’s flight was not when her Son was a child, but it was after the ascension of Jesus to the throne of God (v. 5-6). And again, their flight into Egypt had nothing to do with her being fed for 1260 days. So, this “woman” in Revelation does not describe Mary.
4) It is the nation of Israel.
If the “woman” is seen as Israel, everything lines up. Israel is “clothed with the sun” (a symbol of her glory given to her by God). She has the “moon under her feet” (symbolic of the dominion God gave her). She has a crown of twelve stars (representing the twelve tribes - Genesis 37:9-10). She produced / gave birth to the Messiah (John 4:22), Who will rule with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:7-9; Revelation 19:15). She will flee into the wilderness to escape the wrath of the antichrist and will be under God’s special protection for 1260 days (Revelation 12:6) - (or 42 months - Revelation 11:2; 13:5), (or three and a half years - Revelation 12:14; Daniel 7:25; 12:7) – these are all referring to the same thing. This extremely heavy persecution of Israel will begin in the second half (middle) of the seven-year Tribulation period (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15-21). These 1260 days have nothing to do with Mary, but everything to do with Israel.
By the way, the mention of the angel Michael in the same context (Revelation 12:7) is another clue that the author is speaking about Israel, since Michael is identified as the “great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people [Israel].” (Daniel 12:1)
Since the evidence points to Israel as the identity of the “woman clothed with the sun,” shouldn’t the Catholic Church make some serious changes in their doctrines and dogmas concerning Mary? Yes they should, but we seriously doubt that will happen.