Revelation 12: Who Is the Woman Clothed with the Sun?

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion, Apologetics, Bible, Eschatology, Prophecy

The Virgin of Guadalupe displays the sun, moon, and stars symbolism of the Woman of Revelation 12

The book of Revelation contains a passage in which St. John sees a great sign in the sky. He wrote:

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.

She brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne [Rev. 12:1, 5].

Who is this mysterious Woman clothed in the sun?

In the following video–and the accompanying audio (see the bottom of the post)–we explore that question and look at different theories that have been proposed.

In particular, we look at the view advanced by Pope Benedict XVI, both in his personal writing and in his teaching as pope.

The answer may surprise you!

Is She the Virgin Mary?

Note that the Woman gives birth to a male child who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. That’s a reference to the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2, where we read:

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron [Ps. 2:8-9].

 Jesus fulfilled this Messianic prophecy.

The fact that the male child is caught up to the throne of God is a reference to Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, so we have another confirmation that the male child is Jesus.

And since the Woman who gives birth to him is his Mother, we could infer that the Woman here is Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary.

But there is more to the story.

Is She Israel . . . or the Church?

The symbolism connected with the Woman is drawn from the book of Genesis, where the patriarch Joseph has a dream involving the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Then he dreamed another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” [Gen. 37:9-10].

The symbolism of the sun, moon, and twelve stars comes from Genesis, where it refers to the family of Jacob and the twelve patriarchs, who headed the twelve tribes of Israel.

That has led some to say that the Woman in Revelation 12 is Israel.

You could go further and note that the Church is the spiritual Israel. So some have suggested that the Woman as the Church.

Figuring out Which View is True

Which view is true?

  • Is the Woman Mary?
  • Is the Woman Israel?
  • Is the Woman the Church?

You could try to solve this problem by making some of the symbols primary and some secondary.

For example, you could make the Woman’s role as the mother of Jesus primary, so she’s his literal mother, Mary, and the sun, moon, and stars imagery only means that Mary was a Jewish woman.

Or you could make the sun, moon, and stars imagery primary and say that she’s Israel, and the fact that Mary was the particular Jewish woman who gave birth to Jesus is secondary.

Either/Or Vs. Both/And

We don’t have to make that choice, because if you study the way symbolism is used in the book of Revelation,  it often uses a single symbol points to more than one thing.

For example, Revelation 17 tells us what the seven heads of the beast represents:

This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the [Whore of Babylon] is seated; they are also seven kings (Rev. 17:9-10).

If the seven heads can be seven mountains and seven kings then the Woman clothed with the sun might be the Virgin Mary and Israel and the Church.

Pope Benedict’s View

That’s what Pope Benedict suggests. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, volume 2, he writes:

When the Book of Revelation speaks of the great sign of a Woman appearing in heaven, she is understood to represent all Israel, indeed, the whole Church. . . .

On the basis of the “corporate personality” model—in keeping with biblical thought—the early Church had no difficulty recognizing in the Woman, on the one hand, Mary herself and, on the other hand, transcending time, the Church, bride and mother, in which the mystery of Mary spreads out into history [Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth 2:222].

On another occasion, Pope Benedict said:

This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but at the same time she also represents the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church which in all ages, with great suffering, brings forth Christ ever anew [General Audience, Aug. 23, 2006].

As Pope Benedict shows us, we don’t have to make a forced choice between the possible meanings of what the Woman represents.

In keeping with the richness of the way Revelation uses symbolism, to use Pope Benedict’s phrases, she can be Mary and “all Israel” and “the whole Church” in different ways.

Learning More

If you’d like to learn more about what Pope Benedict says about the book of Revelation, I’d like to invite you to join my Secret Information Club at

The very first thing you’ll get is a free “interview” with Pope Benedict where I composed the questions and took the answers from his writings.

He has lots of interesting things to say!

You’ll also get lots of additional information on fascinating topics, absolutely FREE, so you should join now using this handy form:

Just email me at if you have any difficulty.

If you’d like to listen to or download this in audio format, just use the player and links below!

If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!

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Pat September 1, 2012 at 7:03 am

Does it matter that Revelation 12:2 says “She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth” but that cannot describe Mary since she was Immaculately Concieved and pain in chidbirth is part of the curse of Original Sin (Genesis 3:16)???

L Niall Quinn September 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I think that the interpretation of the Woman as symbolizing the Blessed Virgin as well as the Church adequately “deals with” objections of pain in childbirth.

John Gerard September 2, 2012 at 8:19 am

First of all, Genesis 3:16 says, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing….”  The implication is that there was pain to multiply, that childbearing was not destined to be pain-free before Original Sin.
Secondly, one might just as easily assert that Jesus could not truly suffer, nor truly die; because He, surely, was conceived without original sin, and by rights should have avoided the curse of Genesis 3:22-24, in which Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden of Eden, ostensibly to keep them from eating of the Tree of Life and thereby living forever.  If humans are, therefore, destined to die, the implication is that we are to suffer en route; and yet Jesus, without Original Sin, was destined to suffer and to die. How might one reconcile Jesus’ own suffering and death with your line of reasoning, Pat?
Therefore, I would merely suggest that you reserve judgment regarding some of these issues.  “I believe in order to understand,” said St. Augustine of Hippo.  If you, Pat, reserve the prerogative of refusing to believe what you cannot understand, are you not, in a sense, arrogating to yourself the prerogative that led to the Protestant Reformation? 

Pat September 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm

John Gerard, first off I disagree with pain in childbirth before the Fall. I think you have major theological issues to deal with if you accept pain and suffering (and presumably death) before any sin separated us from God and His love, after all “God saw that all He had made was VERY good” (Genesis 1:31). Second, Jesus was free of Original sin and never sinned. THAT IS THE BEAUTY OF THE CROSS. That’s the whole “Lamb of God” symbolism. He did NOT have to die nor suffer, but He willingly took on our sin. That is why God the Father forsook(?) Him on the cross “eloi, eloi, lama sabachtani?” And, as He had a fully human nature, He did suffer and die when He took on our sins onto His human nature-“the wages of sin is death” says St. Paul. Thirdly, i’m not sure what I’m refusing to believe because I don’t understand and choosing my own theology. Clarify? I am Catholic by the way and don’t reject any Church teachings that I know of…

L Niall Quinn September 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I think that the interpretation of the Woman as symbolizing the Blessed Virgin as well as the Church adequately “deals with” objections of pain in childbirth.

yan September 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm

One thing that neither the ‘Israel side’ or the ‘Mary side’ deals with, so far as I can tell, is the verse following the verse where the woman gives birth and the child is caught up to God’s throne: verse 6:
“And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”
I don’t see how that really fits into an interpretation that the woman is Mary.  Maybe it fits more with an interpretation that she is Israel or the Church, but I don’t see how it fits into an interpretation of her being Mary.
Interesting observation about the possibility that childbirth would involve some pain, even before the Fall.  I wonder, was there NO pain of any kind in Paradise?  That’s hard to imagine as being reasonable to my mind.

briteside September 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm

As a Protestant, we were taught that the woman clothed w/the sun represented Isrial and  now as a Roman Catholic, the Woman dipicted to me in this manner sounds more like our Blessed Mother especially the picture of  “Our Lady of Guadelupe.

sndys September 3, 2012 at 5:47 am

John Gerard, your tone is very sanctimonious.  “if you reserve the perogative of refusing to believe what you cannot understand…” – are you implying that YOU understand this subject?  How wonderful for you that God has granted the gift of understanding to you and you alone, since even the pope does not pretend to have that knowledge.  Perhaps you should hold off on the judging and open your mind to the possibility that others may have valid input???

Everett September 7, 2012 at 7:21 am

 First, I think the twelth chapter of Revelation is the most difficult chapter in the book.
Second, the (Catholic) New American Bible does not think the woman is Mary but all believers in Israel and the Church.
Third,  If there’s something in the word of God you don’t understand, by faith you believe and in due time, you will believe the things you need to understand.  If it’s merely the word of man, any man, and you believe what you don’t understand, expect to be mislead, and you won’t be disappointed.

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