What are the two great wings in Revelation?

Q. The book of Revelation says, “The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle.” What are these two wings?

I personally don’t believe that these wings are individually symbolic. That is, one wing doesn’t stand for something, and the other wing for something else. Rather, I think this is an allusion to a statement that God makes to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, right after bringing them out of Egypt and just before giving them the Ten Commandments: “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

The book of Revelation is full of quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. It uses these to portray the experiences of Jesus’ faithful followers as continuous with the experiences of God’s people down through history to that point. I believe that the passage in Revelation where these wings are mentioned is, in its initial application, a description of an experience that the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem had in the middle of the First Century. As I say in my study guide to Daniel and Revelation:

“Many interpreters believe that the story of the woman’s escape from
the dragon recapitulates how Jewish followers of Jesus escaped from
Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman war of AD 66–70. In the
spring of ad 68, they fled across the Jordan River. It was swollen with spring
floods, but it unexpectedly subsided enough to permit them to cross. This
was like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to escape from Egypt, when, as
Moses said, God carried them ‘on eagles’ wings.’ On the other side of the
Jordan, these Jewish followers of Jesus reached the city of Pella, where Gentile Christians from Galilee provided for them throughout the period of danger.”

(You can download a free copy of this study guide at this link.)

It is possible that this passage will have a further fulfillment sometime in the future, when faithful followers of Jesus experience a similar deliverance. But I believe that we need to start by understanding such passages in their initial historical setting, and then think about further applications by analogy.

An illustration of the woman of the Apocalypse in Hortus deliciarum (redrawing of an illustration dated c. 1180), depicting various events from the narrative in Revelations 12 in a single image. Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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