Revelation Part 8: The War in Heaven (Revelation 12)
(New American Standard Bible, 1995):
Rev. 12:1 ¶ A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
Rev. 12:2 and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.
Rev. 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.
Rev. 12:4 And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
Rev. 12:5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.
Rev. 12:6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she *had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Rev. 12:7 ¶ And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war,
Rev. 12:8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.
Rev. 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Rev. 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,
¶ "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.
Rev. 12:11 "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.
Rev. 12:12 "For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time."
Rev. 12:13 ¶ And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.
Rev. 12:14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she *was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.
Rev. 12:15 And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood.
Rev. 12:16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.
Rev. 12:17 So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Novum Testamentum Graece (New Testament in Greek)
Nestle-Aland, 27th Edition, prepared by Institut für neutestamentliche Testforschung Münster/Westfalen, Barbara and Kurt Aland (Editors). Copyright © 1898 and 1993 by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart.
Used by permission.
Morphological tagging by William D. Mounce and Rex A. Koivisto
Copyright © 2003 William D. Mounce.
Copyright © 2006 OakTree Software, Inc.
All rights reserved.
(You must have the Helena font installed in order to see the Greek text rendered correctly; it can be obtained here: http://www.accordancebible.com/)
Rev. 12:1 ¼ Kai« shmeion me÷ga wýfqh en tw× oujranw×, gunh\ peribeblhme÷nh to\n h¢lion, kai« hJ selh/nh uJpoka¿tw tw×n podw×n aujthvß kai« epi« thvß kefalhvß aujthvß ste÷fanoß aÓste÷rwn dw¿deka,
Rev. 12:2 kai« en gastri« e¶cousa, kai« kra¿zei wÓdi÷nousa kai« basanizome÷nh tekein.
Rev. 12:3 kai« wýfqh aýllo shmeion en tw× oujranw×, kai« idou\ dra¿kwn me÷gaß purro\ß e¶cwn kefala»ß epta» kai« ke÷rata de÷ka kai« epi« ta»ß kefala»ß aujtouv epta» diadh/mata,
Rev. 12:4 kai« hJ oujra» aujtouv su/rei to\ tri÷ton tw×n aÓste÷rwn touv oujranouv kai« e¶balen aujtou\ß eiß th\n ghvn. Kai« oJ dra¿kwn eºsthken enw¿pion thvß gunaiko\ß thvß mellou/shß tekein, iºna o¢tan te÷khØ to\ te÷knon aujthvß katafa¿ghØ.
Rev. 12:5 kai« e¶teken uio\n aýrsen, o§ß me÷llei poimai÷nein pa¿nta ta» e¶qnh en rJa¿bdw sidhra×. kai« hJrpa¿sqh to\ te÷knon aujthvß pro\ß to\n qeo\n kai« pro\ß to\n qro/non aujtouv.
Rev. 12:6 kai« hJ gunh\ e¶fugen eiß th\n e¶rhmon, o¢pou e¶cei ekei to/pon hJtoimasme÷non aÓpo\ touv qeouv, iºna ekei tre÷fwsin aujth\n hJme÷raß cili÷aß diakosi÷aß exh/konta.
Rev. 12:7 ¼ Kai« ege÷neto po/lemoß en tw× oujranw×, oJ Micah\l kai« oi aýggeloi aujtouv touv polemhvsai meta» touv dra¿kontoß. kai« oJ dra¿kwn epole÷mhsen kai« oi aýggeloi aujtouv,
Rev. 12:8 kai« oujk i¶scusen oujde« to/poß euJre÷qh aujtw×n e¶ti en tw× oujranw×.
Rev. 12:9 kai« eblh/qh oJ dra¿kwn oJ me÷gaß, oJ o¡fiß oJ aÓrcaioß, oJ kalou/menoß Dia¿boloß kai« oJ Satana×ß, oJ planw×n th\n oikoume÷nhn o¢lhn, eblh/qh eiß th\n ghvn, kai« oi aýggeloi aujtouv met aujtouv eblh/qhsan.
Rev. 12:10 kai« h¡kousa fwnh\n mega¿lhn en tw× oujranw× le÷gousan:
aýrti ege÷neto hJ swthri÷a kai« hJ du/namiß
kai« hJ basilei÷a touv qeouv hJmw×n
kai« hJ exousi÷a touv cristouv aujtouv,
o¢ti eblh/qh oJ kath/gwr tw×n aÓdelfw×n hJmw×n,
oJ kathgorw×n aujtou\ß enw¿pion touv qeouv hJmw×n hJme÷raß kai« nukto/ß.
Rev. 12:11 kai« aujtoi« eni÷khsan aujto\n dia» to\ aima touv aÓrni÷ou
kai« dia» to\n lo/gon thvß marturi÷aß aujtw×n
kai« oujk hjga¿phsan th\n yuch\n aujtw×n aýcri qana¿tou.
Rev. 12:12 dia» touvto eujfrai÷nesqe, [oi] oujranoi«
kai« oi en aujtoiß skhnouvnteß.
oujai« th\n ghvn kai« th\n qa¿lassan,
o¢ti kate÷bh oJ dia¿boloß pro\ß uJma×ß
e¶cwn qumo\n me÷gan,
eidw»ß o¢ti ojli÷gon kairo\n e¶cei.
Rev. 12:13 ¼ Kai« o¢te eiden oJ dra¿kwn o¢ti eblh/qh eiß th\n ghvn, edi÷wxen th\n gunaika h¢tiß e¶teken to\n aýrsena.
Rev. 12:14 kai« edo/qhsan thØv gunaiki« ai du/o pte÷rugeß touv aÓetouv touv mega¿lou, iºna pe÷thtai eiß th\n e¶rhmon eiß to\n to/pon aujthvß, o¢pou tre÷fetai ekei kairo\n kai« kairou\ß kai« h¢misu kairouv aÓpo\ prosw¿pou touv o¡fewß.
Rev. 12:15 kai« e¶balen oJ o¡fiß ek touv sto/matoß aujtouv ojpi÷sw thvß gunaiko\ß u¢dwr wJß potamo/n, iºna aujth\n potamofo/rhton poih/shØ.
Rev. 12:16 kai« eboh/qhsen hJ ghv thØv gunaiki« kai« h¡noixen hJ ghv to\ sto/ma aujthvß kai« kate÷pien to\n potamo\n o§n e¶balen oJ dra¿kwn ek touv sto/matoß aujtouv.
Rev. 12:17 kai« wÓrgi÷sqh oJ dra¿kwn epi« thØv gunaiki« kai« aÓphvlqen poihvsai po/lemon meta» tw×n loipw×n touv spe÷rmatoß aujthvß tw×n throu/ntwn ta»ß entola»ß touv qeouv kai« eco/ntwn th\n marturi÷an Ihsouv.
VI. Seven Signs (12:1-14:20)
A. First Sign: A Woman Gives Birth to a Son (12:1-6)
B. Second Sign: War in Heaven between Michael and the Dragon (12:7-12)
C. Third Sign: The Dragon Pursues the Woman and Her Offspring (12:13-13:1)
This section opens the second half of Revelation, and many assume this represents the mid-portion of the Great Tribulation on Earth (I do not think this is accurate). It instead is a "throw-back" to the great struggle between good and evil that took place in heaven, when Satan grew prideful and in his own mind place himself in a exalted place above God. It also represents less and less subtlety and more and more "greatness" in the signs that John is shown. Many commentators view the events of this through chapter 22 to be completed in a compressed length of time.
In John 15:20b, Jesus is quoted as warning, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." This is the earthly portion of an old hostility between God and Satan, which this section explains. Satan is cast out of God's presence due to his prideful rebellion, is outcast on earth among God's human creations, and knowing his time is very short (in the cosmic sense), turns his wrath on those men who keep their faith in his enemy. The overall theme of this chapter, through chapter 19, is that there will be a great and powerfully destructive war that will bring great pain and suffering among those humans who remain on earth, but in the end god triumphs and Satan is cast out of the scene forever.
This is the very reason why God directed John to write the passages, despite all of the toil and suffering men suffer on earth, there is an end to it we can all look forward to, and a glorious eternal existence in His presence afterwards.
The woman in 12:1 is the second of four symbolic women in Revelation:
1. 2:20 Jezebel, a false teacher who symbolizes paganism;
2. 12:1, un-named, but represents the faithful Israel, out of whom the true Messiah will appear;
3. 17:1, and un-named harlot, who represents the rebellious and corrupt church;
4. 19:7, the bride of the Lamb, the true church.
The "birth pangs" of the woman represent Israel giving birth to the true church under Jesus Christ.
The red dragon that appears in 12:3 is no mystery, John himself identifies it later as Satan. He stands ready to "devour her child," Christ, knowing that Christ is the One who will ultimately defeat him. Satan has used, and is still using, every guile, tact, weapon and tactic he can possibly use in order to reduce the size and effectiveness of Christ's church. Stan know scripture as perfectly as the most devout Christian, and knows that it predicts his ultimate fall and exile, but he is determined to take as many with him as possible after all, he took a third of all the angels in heaven with him when he was cast down to earth.
Apparently Satan was exiled to earth, but still had the ability to appear before the presence of God, at least until the events of 12:4, when God casts him and his allied angels to earth. Satan attempts to exact his revenge against God's discipline by preventing the appearance of Christ (Exod. 1:15-22; 1 Sam. 18:10-11; 2 Chron. 22:10; Matt. 2:16). As he fails to do so, and because he further failed to destroy Christ during His human existence on earth, Christ will eventually directly rule earth "with an iron rod" (Ps. 2). All through this section we see evidence of Satan's continued attacks and Christ's inevitable victories.
The "one thousand two hundred and sixty days" in 12:6 is a literary allusion to the last half of the Tribulation period, or three and a half years, through which God's people will be sustained and protected from Satan's wrath. To "flee into the wilderness" is a literary allusion here, representing God's place of safety, testing, discipling, and solitude from the worldly concerns.
The section from 12:7-12 is most interesting, as it makes clear that Satan falls and does not eventually succeed in his quest to usurp God. There is an interesting mirror here, as the four creatures (in 4:8) praise God ceaselessly day and night, Satan never stops accusing Christians of doing evil, both to God in Heaven and to those same saints, when they stop to listen to his lies.
"Granting the continuity of 12:1-14:5, one must see the portrayal of the victorious 144,000 in 14:1-5 as a sequel to the battle of the dragon's two emissaries with 'the rest of her seed' in chapter 13. The extended section is a connected sequence from this point on with the mention of the dragon's animosity toward that seed here, his stationing of himself on the sands of the sea in 12:18, the appearance of the earthly agents he will use to inflict his damage in 13:1, 11, and the proleptic scene of the victorious victims of his persecution after the conflict is over in 14:1-5. This sequence says rather plainly that 'the rest of her seed' is none other than the 144,000." (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 142)
(From The Ryrie Study Bible - Expanded Edition, by Charles Caldwell Ryrie)
12:1-3 Who Are the Woman and the Dragon?
The images presented in Revelation are vivid. The one in Revelation 12:13 is part of a set of pictures that serve as a prelude to the final end of the age, since the seventh trumpet, the penultimate judgment, has already blown. Yet what are we to make of this picture? Who is this woman? What is this dragon? How do we interpret such images, which remind us more of Greek mythology than of most Scripture?
John's images are intended to be meaningful, but at the same time he uses them because they can also be fluid. Both the woman and the dragon have a fluidity about them that allows them to be useful to the author.
First, we look at the woman. There are two women in this section of Revelation. The first is this woman, God's woman. The second is the woman of Revelation 17, a prostitute. The opposition reminds us of the two women of Proverbs 110, the one lady wisdom and the other the loose woman. Here the first woman is clothed with heavenly glory, the sun, with the moon being under her feet. The second woman is clothed in "purple and scarlet," colors of earthly emperors. The first woman has twelve stars for a crown. The second woman has gold and jewels. The first woman gives birth, but the second woman appears sterile. There is a contrast in every way.
We recognize that the second woman is Rome; is the first woman Jerusalem? There have been several answers to that question. Some scholars point to the twelve stars and argue the parallel to twelve patriarchs. Indeed, the whole picture, including the sun and the moon, reminds us of Joseph's dream (Gen 37:9). Other scholars look at the incident of the birth of the child and claim that the woman is Mary. Still others point out that the sign appears in heaven, so this must be some idealization of the people of God, God's true bride. I do not see that one must choose among these interpretations. Jewish thought often oscillates between the one and the many. For example, in the servant songs of the second part of Isaiah the servant is sometimes Israel (Is 49:3) and sometimes an individual (Is 49:5), and in Daniel the Son of Man (Dan 7:1314) and "the saints of the Most High" (Dan 7:18) also alternate. So in our image the woman is God's people, the faithful of Israel. The woman is also Mary, who individualized that faithful group in giving birth to the Messiah.
In the second part of the chapter the image of the woman shifts, for she is persecuted. Is she still the faithful in Israel? Or is she now the wider people of God, Jew as well as Gentile? Certainly in her flight to the wilderness we are reminded of Jesus' words (Mk 13:14; Lk 21:21), which the Jewish-Christian church acted upon just before A.D. 70. Does it then mean that God will protect a Jewish-Christian group? Or should we remember his words in Matthew 16:18 that "the gates of Hades" would not overcome his church, therefore interpreting this as a reference to his whole church? Perhaps the correct answer is both. The image is that of the flight of Israel from Pharaoh into the wilderness and the flight of the church from Jerusalem in the A.D. 6670 war. This shows that God will care for and protect his church, specifically during the time when the forces of evil reign apparently triumphant, the 1,260 days. All of the lies and demonic forces that the dragon can spit out cannot destroy this church. But at the same time the dragon makes war with the woman's children, the Christians. So while the church as a whole is protected and cannot be stamped out, Christians as individuals will experience the anger of Satan, even martyrdom.
Second, then, we have the dragon. This image is drawn from Old Testament pictures of Leviathan, the many-headed sea monster (Ps 74:1314). The monster is sometimes mythological in the sense that he is not identified with any historical embodiment, and sometimes a specific enemy of God's people, such as Egypt (Ps 74:14; Ezek 29:3) or Assyria (Is 27:1). This picture was medi-ated to John via Daniel, who describes a fourth beast with ten horns (Dan 7:7). John, of course, makes very clear about whom he believes Daniel is talking (or in terms of whom he is reinterpreting Daniel), for he writes in Revelation 12:9, "The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray." Yet this dragon also has an earthly embodiment. The "beast coming out of the sea" (Rev 13:1) has seven heads and ten horns like the dragon, as does the beast the great prostitute rides (Rev 17:3). And as the prostitute parodied the woman clothed in the sun, so the dragon parodies someone else. Revelation 12:3 notes that he has seven crowns, while in Revelation 19:12 the "King of kings and Lord of lords" has many crowns on his head.
The dragon naturally tried to destroy Christ, the child in the story. John is not interested at this point in the life and death of Christ, but moves from his birth to his ascension. However, we must remember than in his Gospel the "lifting up" of the Son of Man is both cross and ascension, so this does not mean that the cross is absent from his thought.
John's concern is with the war of the dragon against God's people. The war has two phases, a heavenly and an earthly. The heavenly phase is fought by Michael, "the great prince who protects your [that is, Daniel's] people" (Dan 12:1), and his angels. The dragon has swept one-third of the angels with him in his fall, so he also has angels to fight with. But he is the loser. Even though God never appears on the scene, but fights through his angels, the victory is secured. Satan loses his access to heaven. When does John see this as happening? Although some scholars refer this to the original fall of Satan, it probably happens at the end of the age, for it happens after the child is caught up to heaven. Furthermore, there is plenty of Jewish testimony to the idea of Satan's having access to heaven during world history.
There is also a battle on earth. The human beings apparently do not see their foe. Yet they defeat the devil. In fact, the outcome of the war in heaven appears to be parallel to that on earth, just as Daniel's prayers in Daniel 10 appear to be parallel to a battle going on in the spiritual realm, a battle he knows nothing about until he is informed. In Revelation the human beings win, not because of their strength and wisdom, but because of their trust in "the blood of the Lamb" and their open confession of their faith in him. They were so firm in this trust and confession that "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Rev 12:11). The devil could make martyrs, but each martyr was the devil's own defeat. The martyr was safe with God in heaven; the devil's power over the person had crumbled. In other words, the primary means of spiritual warfare is commitment to God and his redemption in Christ, a commitment so openly confessed and so radical that even death will not shake one from it.
This battle is fought throughout the Christian age, but it is most intense at the end of the age. In this period of 42 months the devil is fully aware that he has lost, both in heaven and on earth. Now he just wishes to destroy, to "make war" against "those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (see Rev 12:17). The reason John is writing this picture is so that such people will hold on until martyrdom or the end of the age.
Like all of his apocalyptic pictures, this one is not intended to scare Christians. It does portray them as characters in an eschatological battle of gigantic proportions, but at the same time it portrays the limitations of the devil himself, not to mention his angels, and his final end. Furthermore, it portrays the protection of God over his saints, as well as his eventual victory. This is designed to encourage the Christian to stand fast, whether he or she is living in the ongoing struggle of the Christian age or in the intense struggle of the final phase of that time. Dragons may be the stuff of fantasy, but in this case the fantasy is real, even if hidden in the spiritual realm, and the stakes are high. Yet the outcome is sure for those who remain firm in their commitment to Christ.
12:11 Overcame by the Blood of the Lamb?
Our acquaintance with video games and fantasy may prepare us for the use of some strange weapons in warfare, but Revelation 12:11 has some of the strangest ones, even given the context of fantasy. When we read about overcoming Satan by "the blood of the Lamb," don't we wonder how this is done? Blood is an exceedingly strange weapon. Furthermore, how does testimony function as a weapon? It isn't a type of curse or magic, is it? And while we may understand the usefulness of the courage implied in not loving one's life, how can these other things be weapons in a spiritual battle?
The context is that there has been a war in heaven between the devil and his angels and the archangel Michael and his angels. Michael, fighting in the name of God, has won. However, as the scene shifts to earth with the fall of the dragon, John inserts a hymn into the passage, which comments on the battle that has just taken place. First, the devil is called "the accuser of our brothers" and apparently had access to the presence of God to accuse Christians up until this point. Second, the battle itself is described, but we no longer hear of Michael and his angels. Instead we hear of the deeds of human beings.
It is clear from the setting that John is painting a picture of parallel scenes. One is a heavenly battle with angelic participants. The other is an earthly battle, with the devil on one side and the Christians on the other. Yet the two appear to be parallel. The casting down of Satan from heaven is attributed to the faithfulness of Christians on earth. The heavenly battle is apparently influenced by the earthly. It is analogous to Daniel 10, in which Daniel prays for twenty-one days. He is eventually told that his prayer had been answered the first day, but that there had been a heavenly battle preventing the answering angel from getting through to him until Michael came to take over the fight. All of this time Daniel is praying on earth, oblivious to the battle in the spiritual world. Is the author there implying that Daniel's struggles in prayer are part of what is affecting the outcome of the heavenly battle?
What, then, are the weapons of this earthly battle? The first is "the blood of the Lamb." John has already referred to the death of Christ, saying that the Lamb (Christ) appears "looking as if it had been slain" (Rev 5:6). Furthermore, John has confessed "to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev 1:5). So this image of blood indicates what Christ has done for the Christian on the cross. It is a weapon, not in that it is flung in the teeth of Satan as a talisman, but in that the Christian is committed to it. It is this sacrifice in which the Christian trusts, and it does not fail him when the accuser roars out his accusations.
The second weapon is "the word of their testimony." Revelation 1:5 presents Jesus Christ as "the faithful witness." In Revelation 2:13 Antipas, "my faithful witness," has been put to death. The theme of witness or testimony (the same Greek word can be translated by either English word) flows from one end of the book to the other. This testimony, then, is the confession of obedience to Christ. It is not the story about what Christ has done for us (which is the common modern evangelical meaning of the term), but the statement that one is loyal to Christ and therefore will not compromise. Because it is something spoken, probably in the context of a demand for the explanation of one's behavior, it is a word.
The third item really is not a weapon, although it is in a parallel clause. Rather, it is an attitude of mind that underlies the other two: "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." As Jesus said, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mk 13:13). If death remains a threat to a person, then there is a point at which they will compromise their commitment to the blood of Christ and certainly a point at which they will mute their word of testimony. The genuineness of commitment is seen when the heat is on. Those who pass the test are those who will not cling to life even under the threat of death, if it would mean compromising on their commitment to Christ.
In this context the devil has been presented as "the accuser of our brothers." This is the war that he wages against the people of God, for his weapons are lies and accusations. But these people have not believed the lie, for they have seen through Satan's deception to the reality of Christ. They know that life is not more precious than obedience to Jesus. And the accusations of Satan have no hold on them. Accuse as he will, he will only receive the response "I am trusting in the blood of Christ." And should he accuse them of being hypocrites, their faithful word of testimony even in the face of threatened death shows such an accusation to be completely false.
In other words, John is not saying that Christians win the battle against Satan by talking about the blood of Christ, telling Satan about that blood (he already knows about it all too well), or using it as a magic word in prayer ("by the power of the blood of Jesus"). Instead, Christians trust in the power of the death of Christ with a quiet confidence that is inwardly lived and outwardly confessed in word and deed (life matching speech), no matter what the threat. This radical commitment, John claims, is what defeats Satan.
John does not present this as super-Christianity, for martyrs only. Rather, it is normal Christianity. It is a Christianity that does not love Babylon (his image for the world and all it has to offer in power, wealth and advancement, as Rev 18 shows). It is a Christianity that is dedication to Christ, or, as he puts it, a faithful witness. This for him is spiritual warfare. No demons are necessarily seen,6 just as Daniel saw no spiritual battle, but despite the lack of visible pyrotechnics, the devil is cast down. In such faithfulness the devil discovers that his time is short.
6 This does not imply that John in any way rejects the expulsion of demons from the demonized, for this activity was universally part of the essence of spiritual warfare. Demon expulsion, evangelistic proclamation, healing the sick and caring for the poor are all part of the lifestyle of the gospel, but they flow out of the more basic trust in the blood of Christ and concomitant personal commitment to him, rather than replace it.
IVP-New Bible Commentary
12:1-17 The woman, the dragon and the deliverer
It is not difficult to recognize the essence of the Christian story in vs 1-6, but of one thing we may be sure: no Christian would summarize the gospel of Christ in this manner, omitting all reference to Christ's life and death. Many similar accounts, however, existed in the ancient world of conflict between the powers of heaven and hell. The Ugaritic Baal cycle tells of the battle of Baal, the storm god, with Yam, the prince of the sea. The Babylonians told of Marduk slaying Tiamat, the seven headed monster of the deep. (Marduk's mother was depicted similarly as the woman in 12:1, and Tiamat in battling against heaven is said to have thrown down a third of the stars.) The Persians spoke of the son of Ahura fighting the evil dragon Azhi Dahaka. The Egyptians recounted how the goddess Hathor (Isis, wife of Osiris) fled from the red dragon Typhon to an island; the dragon was overcome by her son Horus and finally destroyed by fire. The Greeks had a similar story in the birth of Apollo from the goddess Leto, who was pursued by the great dragon Python, because he heard that her offspring would kill him. Leto was hidden beneath the sea, and the newly born Apollo immediately attained maturity and slew the dragon. Other variants and additions to the story were current in the Middle East, and some Jews saw in them striking parallels with the promise of the Messiah. An unknown apocalyptic writer took up the saga and adapted it to Jewish hope by adding in v 5 the reference to the male child who is to rule all nations (cf. Ps. 2:9) and the defeat of the dragon through Michael, the guardian angel and protector of Israel (cf. Dn. 12:1; there is a remarkable parallel to vs 1-6 in one of the Qumran Hymns of Thanksgiving). It would appear that John was led to set forth the fulfilment of these expressions of pagan belief and OT promise in the Christ of the gospel by the simple addition of vs 10-11, thereby transforming the story into a proclamation of the victory of the crucified and risen Lord over the powers of sin and death.
1-2 Religious people of the ancient world would have seen in the travailing woman a goddess crowned with the twelve stars of the zodiac; a Jew would have understood her as Mother Zion (see Is. 26:16-27:1; 49:14-25; 54:1-8; 66:7-9), but for John she represented the Mother' of the Messianic community, the believing people of God of old and new covenants.
3 The enormous red dragon is identified with Satan in v 9. He is the antichrist of the spiritual world, just as his agent, the beast' (13:1), is the antichrist of earth.
4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky echoes a victory of the devil over angelic powers, but for John it will have been simply a pictorial allusion to the dragon's fearful power. 5 The statement of the child's destiny to rule all the nations (cf. Ps. 2:9) explains the dragon's desire to devour him-he [p. 1441] regarded the nations as his legitimate prey. Whereas the snatching of the child to God and to his throne originally was for his safety, the scene is sufficiently similar to the victorious ascension of Jesus to apply it to him in this sense in the passage.
6 The people of God are safe from the devil's wiles during the period of the antichrist's reign; this accords with the teaching of 7:1-7 and 11:1-2.
7-9 The war in heaven originally may have signified an attempt to storm the refuge of the ChildRedeemer. The heavenly protagonist is Michael the archangel, leading the hosts of God to conquer the devil and his demonic army. But the significant addition of v 11 transforms the picture. The real means of the dragon's overthrow was the atoning work of Christ; his people share that victory as they confess their faith in the gospel and bear witness to it through their word and deeds. The angelic conquest becomes a figure for the victory of Christ and his followers.
The song of vs 10-11 expresses in different words the songs in ch. 5 that celebrate the victory of the Lamb through his sacrificial death and his resurrection. So also in the extraordinary parallel Jn. 12:31-32, the hurling down of Satan is the result of the lifting up' of Jesus on his cross, thence to the throne of God. The imagery of v 9, as v 10 explicitly states, indicates that Satan can no longer fulfil his function of falsely accusing the saints before God (see Jb. 1 and Zc. 3), since Christ has secured their acquittal and reconciled them to God through his redemption.
13 The dragon now turns his attention to the women (i.e. the church), having failed to overcome its Lord (cf. Jn. 15:20).
14-16 In the symbolism of the story the serpentdragon is a sea monster, and so to be in the desert is to be out of his reach.
The parallel with Ex. 19:4 suggests the motif of the second exodus: as the Lord delivered Israel from the tyrant Pharoah, cared for them in the wilderness and led them into the promised land, so he will do the like for all his people in the tribulation that leads to the final kingdom. 15-16 The serpent sends a flood of water after the woman, but the earth swallows it up, and he can do no more. The picture illustrates the spiritual security of believers in relation to all that Satan can do against them. 13:1 The dragon stood on the shore of the sea -to call up an ally from the Abyss, his own home.
The Dragon, the Woman and the Child
This vision reapplies imagery that was widely known in ancient mythology. A pervasive Greek story, spread in several forms, presented Leto begetting the god Apollo while opposed by the dragon Python; Apollo then pursued the dragon Python and slew him. In an Egyptian story, the goddess Isis gave birth to the sun god Horus as the red dragon Typhon was pursuing her; Horus eventually killed Typhon. Such popular stories seem also to have been applied to the Roman emperor, whose rule is here linked with the evil dragon (in contrast with Roman tradition, which portrayed him in terms of the hero Apollo). Although these stories omit many details John includes from other sources (his whole account could be reproduced from the Old Testament and Jewish sources), they indicate that all his readers could identify with a story line modern readers often find impenetrable. But ancient readers familiar with the Bible would especially recognize here the story of Israel giving birth to Jesus and Satan's opposition to God's people.
12:1. Symbolic women occasionally appeared in apocalyptic visions (e.g., 4 Ezra; Hermas probably reflects Roman influence here- Plutarch has a woman in a man's visions of the afterlife). Ancient writers sometimes meant "signs" in heaven astrologically, but these signs were also fairly common as props in apocalyptic visions. The sun, moon and twelve stars help identify the woman as the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 37:9). Judaism in this period (e.g., Josephus, Philo; later evident in synagogue mosaics and the rabbis) often associated the twelve signs of the zodiac with the twelve tribes, despite biblical prohibitions against astrological speculation; indeed, the romance novel Joseph and Asenath borrows twelve rays from typical Greek imagery for the sun god. But the Genesis reference itself is clear enough to show that the allusion is to Israel (cf. also Abraham and Sarah as sun and moon to Isaac in the Testament of Abraham).
The Old Testament portrayed faithful Israel (or Judah or Jerusalem) as a virgin or God's bride but their unfaithful equivalent as a prostitute; thus the tale of two cities that contrasts the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:2) and Babylon the prostitute (17:5). (2 Baruch and 4 Ezra also follow Old Testament models and contrast righteous Zion with its oppressor wicked Babylon, by which they meant earthly Zion.)
12:2. Righteous Israel was portrayed as the mother of the restored future remnant of Israel (Is 54:1; 66:7-10; Mic 5:3; cf. Is 7:14; 9:6; 26:18-19), an image freely mixed with the image of Israel as a bride (Is 62:5). The Dead Sea Scrolls also spoke of the righteous remnant of Israel travailing to give birth (either to a saved Israel-cf. Rev 12:17 -or to the Messiah; the precise referent is disputed). Cf. John 16:21.
12:3. Ancient Mesopotamian myths portrayed seven-headed monsters; later Jewish tradition linked the worship of dragons to Babylon (Bel and the Dragon 23-27). The image of a seven-headed serpent or dragon was also part of Canaanite mythology that the Israelites symbolically turned to better purposes: God's parting the Red Sea was now symbolized as a defeat of the primeval serpent Leviathan or Lotan (Ps 74:13-15; cf. also Ps 89:9-10; Is 27:1; 30:7; 51:9; Job 9:13; 26:12-13; Ezek 29:3; for the principle see Ex 12:12. Rahab in some of these texts had become a cipher for Egypt- Ps 87:4). The Greek hero Heracles also confronted a seven-headed dragon, the Lernean hydra, in Greek mythology, although the number of heads changed quickly! Serpents were also associated with Asclepius; their association with Athena is less relevant in Asia Minor. Serpent veneration is common in many cultures and prevailed in a Gnostic sect called the Ophites in the second century.
Jewish people had many stories about the great evil reptile Leviathan, that he would even be killed and served up as part of the course at the messianic banquet (cf. 2 Baruch and later rabbis). Here the dragon is identified with the serpent of Genesis 3 and the devil (Rev 12:9).
12:4. The image of stars battling in heaven was used in the Old Testament (Judg 5:20, figurative language for the heavens pouring out rain), the Sibylline Oracles (catching the world on fire) and some Greek sources. Old Testament texts and later Jewish texts portrayed both Israel or the godly (Dan 12:3; cf. 8:10) and angels (1 Enoch; probably also Is 24:21 and 2 Baruch) as stars. Jewish traditions usually assigned the fall of angels to the period of Adam (refusal to worship God's image in Adam) or, more often, to Noah's time (sexual sins), but Revelation links their fall especially with rebellion against Christ.
12:5. Virgil and other Roman writers also extolled the birth of a divine boy who would bring deliverance to the world; the first emperor Augustus quickly filled the role of the divine savior in imperial ideology. In Revelation, however, the emperor is a puppet of the dragon, whereas Jesus is the divine leader of a group persecuted for rejecting the imperial cult.
In the various forms of the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern myth, the divine child was sheltered until he returned to slay the dragon. Here he is kept at God's throne until he comes to destroy the dragon. In the light of Psalm 2:6-9, Isaiah 9:6-7 and Micah 5:3, the "birth" probably indicates Jesus' death, resurrection and messianic enthronement, not his literal birth (cf. Jn 16:21).
12:6. When God led his people from captivity, they wandered in the "wilderness" until their redemption was complete (i.e., until they possessed their inheritance in the Promised Land). As elsewhere in the New Testament, the interim between Jesus' first coming and second coming is compared with Israel between Egypt and the Promised Land. The Jewish people were also expecting a new exodus of final deliverance in the wilderness.
More than 1,260 days had obviously already passed since Jesus' exaltation (see also comment on 11:2), but symbolic numbers were standard fare for apocalyptic texts. Although "1,260 days" refers to the great tribulation of Daniel, Revelation apparently reapplies it as a general symbol for final tribulation to the whole course of the present age. Daniel's own numbers were a reapplication of Jeremiah (Dan 9:2, 24), and some other apocalyptic writers also described other periods of tribulation symbolically as "1,260 days" to characterize the kind, rather than the length, of time they described.
(The language of older prophecies was commonly reused in Old Testament, later Jewish and Greek prophecy; sometimes prophecies and other texts sought to evoke the same meaning as the earlier texts, and at other times they simply borrowed earlier language as standard prophetic imagery, without implying that they referred to the same meaning. As to what happened to the literal 1,260 days, Josephus and possibly the Gospels applied them to A.D. 66-70, the Maccabean literature applied them especially to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and many early Christians probably expected a literal period of that length to precede Christ's return, as became explicit in writings of some of the church fathers of subsequent centuries.)
This Means War
That the 1,260 days of 12:6 symbolically covers the whole period between the first and second comings is clear from the structure of the context: it begins with Jesus' exaltation (12:1-6) and the coming of salvation (12:10), spans the period of persecution of Christians (12:11-17), and, given the story line Revelation uses (familiar to the first readers), undoubtedly ends with Christ's return to slay the dragon (see comment on 12:1-6).
12:7-8. One of two angels mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Michael was one of the chief heavenly princes, the guardian angel of Israel (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; each nation had its own angelic prince). In early Jewish literature and invocations, Michael was the chief prince of the heavenly host, God's main messenger (cf. Jude 9); in the Dead Sea Scrolls, everyone was either in the camp of the Prince of Light or that of the Angel of Darkness. Mythical language from Jewish stories about a primeval, heavenly battle leading to the fall of the evil prince and his angels is here transformed: the ultimate battle was fought and won at Jesus' death and exaltation (Jn 12:31; 16:11). Because Michael was sometimes presented as Israel's advocate before God, and Satan was generally presented as Israel's accuser, the image of war here may be one of judicial as well as of violent conflict.
12:9. The dragon is identified with the serpent of Genesis 3, who would be crushed by "the woman's seed" (Gen 3:15).
12:10. From his portrayal in the book of Job on, Satan is presented as an accuser of the righteous, a prosecuting attorney before God's court. In later texts, his role of tempter (gaining incriminating evidence) became more prominent, but he always retained his role as accuser; later rabbinic texts declared that he accused Israel day and night before God, except on the Day of Atonement. This verse declares that Christ's finished work has ended Satan's power to accuse the righteous.
12:11. The believers' legal "testimony" counts more before the throne than Satan's accusations, and the object of their testimony is the finished work of Christ on their behalf (1:2, 5, 9; 2:13). "Loving not one's life to the death " was the language of valor in battle (Judg 5:18), as was "overcoming"; they fought and won by faith to the point of martyrdom.
12:12. In many Jewish views of the end time, Satan/Belial would be unleashed against God's people in the final years (Dead Sea Scrolls). His authority was always delegated by God, permitted for only a particular length of time, to give him and his followers full opportunity to prove themselves wrong.
12:13-14. When God led his people forth from Egypt and into the wilderness, he "bore them upon eagles' wings" (Ex 19:4; Deut 32:11), and other Old Testament texts speak of God sheltering his people beneath his wings (Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4; cf. Jer 49:22); later Jewish texts speak of God's protecting his people, including converts to Judaism, under "the wings of his presence." "Time, times, and half a time" refer to three and a half years, as in Daniel (7:25; 12:7; cf. 4:32). The miraculous provision in the wilderness also recalls God's provision of manna for Israel of old there. The Old Testament prophets and Judaism looked forward to a new exodus like the first one in which God would ultimately deliver his people from all their oppressors; the early Christians applied this notion to their salvation by Christ's first coming and entrance into the future era of the kingdom by his second (see comment on Rom 8:12-17).
12:15. In the most common form of the Greek story about Leto and Apollo (see introduction to 12:1-6), the sea god hid Leto beneath the sea till she could bear the child; in another version of the story, the dragon stirred the waters against her but the earth helped her by raising up the island of Delos. "Floods" are a typical image of judgment (e.g., Jer 47:2 -war) and tribulation (Ps 32:6; 69:15) in the Old Testament, but God had promised safety for the people of the new exodus, just as he had brought Israel through the Red Sea (Is 43:2).
12:16. In Jewish tradition, creation, loyal to God, sometimes helped the righteous against their wicked human oppressors; thus, for example, a tree hid Isaiah from his pursuers, and the earth swallowed and so hid the vessels of the temple; in the Old Testament, cf. Genesis 4:10 and Numbers 16:31-32.
12:17. The woman's "seed" alludes to Genesis 3:15; the woman's seed would ultimately crush the serpent's head, but only after the serpent had bruised the seed's heel.
Revelation 12:1-17. VISION OF THE WOMAN, HER CHILD, AND THE PERSECUTING DRAGON.
1. This episode (Revelation 12:1-15:8) describes in detail the persecution of Israel and the elect Church by the beast, which had been summarily noticed, Revelation 11:7-10, and the triumph of the faithful, and torment of the unfaithful. So also the sixteenth through twentieth chapters are the description in detail of the judgment on the beast, etc., summarily noticed in Revelation 11:13, 18. The beast in Revelation 12:3, etc., is shown not to be alone, but to be the instrument in the hand of a greater power of darkness, Satan. That this is so, appears from the time of the eleventh chapter being the period also in which the events of the twelfth and thirteenth chapters take place, namely, 1260 days (Revelation 12:6, 14; Revelation 13:5; compare Revelation 11:2, 3). great - in size and significance. wonder - Greek, "sign": significant of momentous truths. in heaven - not merely the sky, but the heaven beyond just mentioned, Revelation 11:19; compare Revelation 12:7-9. woman clothed with the sun . . . moon under her feet - the Church, Israel first, and then the Gentile Church; clothed with Christ, "the Sun of righteousness." "Fair as the moon, clear as the sun." Clothed with the Sun, the Church is the bearer of divine supernatural light in the world. So the seven churches (that is, the Church universal, the woman) are represented as light-bearing candlesticks (Revelation 1:12, 20). On the other hand, the moon, though standing above the sea and earth, is altogether connected with them and is an earthly light: sea, earth, and moon represent the worldly element, in opposition to the kingdom of God - heaven, the sun. The moon cannot disperse the darkness and change it into-day: thus she represents the world religion (heathenism) in relation to the supernatural world. The Church has the moon, therefore, under her feet; but the stars, as heavenly lights, on her head. The devil directs his efforts against the stars, the angels of the churches, about hereafter to shine for ever. The twelve stars, the crown around her head, are the twelve tribes of Israel [AUBERLEN]. The allusions to Israel before accord with this: compare Revelation 11:19. "the temple of God"; "the ark of His testament." The ark lost at the Babylonian captivity, and never since found, is seen in the "temple of God opened in heaven," signifying that God now enters again into covenant with His ancient people. The woman cannot mean, literally, the virgin mother of Jesus, for she did not flee into the wilderness and stay there for 1260 days, while the dragon persecuted the remnant of her seed (Revelation 12:13-17) [DE BURGH]. The sun, moon, and twelve stars, are emblematical of Jacob, Leah, or else Rachel, and the twelve patriarchs, that is, the Jewish Church: secondarily, the Church universal, having under her feet, in due subordination, the ever changing moon, which shines with a borrowed light, emblem of the Jewish dispensation, which is now in a position of inferiority, though supporting the woman, and also of the changeful things of this world, and having on her head the crown of twelve stars, the twelve apostles, who, however, are related closely to Israel's twelve tribes. The Church, in passing over into the Gentile world, is (1) persecuted; (2) then seduced, as heathenism begins to react on her. This is the key to the meaning of the symbolic woman, beast, harlot, and false prophet. Woman and beast form the same contrast as the Son of man and the beasts in Daniel. As the Son of man comes from heaven, so the woman is seen in heaven (Revelation 12:1). The two beasts arise respectively out of the sea (compare Daniel 7:3) and the earth (Revelation 13:1, 11): their origin is not of heaven, but of earth earthy. Daniel beholds the heavenly Bridegroom coming visibly to reign. John sees the woman, the Bride, whose calling is heavenly, in the world, before the Lord's coming again. The characteristic of woman, in contradistinction to man, is her being subject, the surrendering of herself, her being receptive. This similarly is man's relation to God, to be subject to, and receive from, God. All autonomy of the human spirit reverses man's relation to God. Woman-like receptivity towards God constitutes faith. By it the individual becomes a child of God; the children collectively are viewed as "the woman." Humanity, in so far as it belongs to God, is the woman. Christ, the Son of the woman, is in Revelation 12:5 emphatically called "the MAN-child" (Greek, "huios arrheen," "male-child"). Though born of a woman, and under the law for man's sake, He is also the Son of God, and so the HUSBAND of the Church. As Son of the woman, He is "'Son of man"; as male-child, He is Son of God, and Husband of the Church. All who imagine to have life in themselves are severed from Him, the Source of life, and, standing in their own strength, sink to the level of senseless beasts. Thus, the woman designates universally the kingdom of God; the beast, the kingdom of the world. The woman of whom Jesus was born represents the Old Testament congregation of God. The woman's travail-pains (Revelation 12:2) represent the Old Testament believers' ardent longings for the promised Redeemer. Compare the joy at His birth (Isaiah 9:6). As new Jerusalem (called also "the woman," or "wife," Revelation 21:2, 9-12), with its twelve gates, is the exalted and transfigured Church, so the woman with the twelve stars is the Church militant.
2. pained - Greek, "tormented" (basanizomene ). DE BURGH explains this of the bringing in of the first-begotten into the world AGAIN, when Israel shall at last welcome Him, and when "the man-child shall rule all nations with the rod of iron." But there is a plain contrast between the painful travailing of the woman here, and Christ's second coming to the Jewish Church, the believing remnant of Israel, "Before she travailed she brought forth . . . a MAN-CHILD," that is, almost without travail-pangs, she receives (at His second advent), as if born to her, Messiah and a numerous seed.
3. appeared - "was seen." wonder - Greek, "semeion," "sign." red - So A and Vulgate read. But B, C, and Coptic read, "of fire." In either case, the color of the dragon implies his fiery rage as a murderer from the beginning. His representative, the beast, corresponds, having seven heads and ten horns (the number of horns on the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7; Revelation 13:1). But there, ten crowns are on the ten horns (for before the end, the fourth empire is divided into ten kingdoms); here, seven crowns (rather, "diadems," Greek, "diademata," not stephanoi, "wreaths") are upon his seven heads. In Daniel 7:4-7 the Antichristian powers up to Christ's second coming are represented by four beasts, which have among them seven heads, that is, the first, second, and fourth beasts having one head each, the third, four heads. His universal dominion as prince of this fallen world is implied by the seven diadems (contrast the "many diadems on Christ's head," Revelation 19:12, when coming to destroy him and his), the caricature of the seven Spirits of God. His worldly instruments of power are marked by the ten horns, ten being the number of the world. It marks his self-contradictions that he and the beast bear both the number seven (the divine number) and ten (the world number).
4. drew - Greek, present tense, "draweth," "drags down." His dragging down the stars with his tail (lashed back and forward in his fury) implies his persuading to apostatize, like himself, and to become earthy, those angels and also once eminent human teachers who had formerly been heavenly (compare Revelation 12:1; 1:20; Isaiah 14:12). stood - "stands" [ALFORD]: perfect tense, Greek, "hesteken." ready to be delivered - "about to bring forth." for to devour, etc. - "that when she brought forth, he might devour her child." So the dragon, represented by his agent Pharaoh (a name common to all the Egyptian kings, and meaning, according to some, crocodile, a reptile like the dragon, and made an Egyptian idol), was ready to devour Israel's males at the birth of the nation. Antitypically the true Israel, Jesus, when born, was sought for destruction by Herod, who slew all the males in and around Bethlehem.
5. man-child - Greek, "a son, a male." On the deep significance of this term, see note on Revelation 12:1, see note on Revelation 12:2. rule - Greek, "poimainein," "tend as a shepherd"; (see note on Revelation 2:27). rod of iron - A rod is for long-continued obstinacy until they submit themselves to obedience [BENGEL]: Revelation 2:27; Psalms 2:9, which passages prove the Lord Jesus to be meant. Any interpretation which ignores this must be wrong. The male son's birth cannot be the origin of the Christian state (Christianity triumphing over heathenism under Constantine), which was not a divine child of the woman, but had many impure worldly elements. In a secondary sense, the ascending of the witnesses up to heaven answers to Christ's own ascension, "caught up unto God, and unto His throne": as also His ruling the nations with a rod of iron is to be shared in by believers (Revelation 2:27). What took place primarily in the case of the divine Son of the woman, shall take place also in the case of those who are one with Him, the sealed of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), and the elect of all nations, about to be translated and to reign with Him over the earth at His appearing.
6. woman fled - Mary's flight with Jesus into Egypt is a type of this. where she hath - So C reads. But A and B add "there." a place - that portion of the heathen world which has received Christianity professedly, namely, mainly the fourth kingdom, having its seat in the modern Babylon, Rome, implying that all the heathen world would not be Christianized in the present order of things. prepared of God - literally, "from God." Not by human caprice or fear, but by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, the woman, the Church, fled into the wilderness. they should feed her - Greek, "nourish her." Indefinite for, "she should be fed." The heathen world, the wilderness, could not nourish the Church, but only afford her an outward shelter. Here, as in Daniel 4:26, and elsewhere, the third person plural refers to the heavenly powers who minister from God nourishment to the Church. As Israel had its time of first bridal love, on its first going out of Egypt into the wilderness, so the Christian Church's wilderness -time of first love was the apostolic age, when it was separate from the Egypt of this world, having no city here, but seeking one to come; having only a place in the wilderness prepared of God (Revelation 12:6, 14). The harlot takes the world city as her own, even as Cain was the first builder of a city, whereas the believing patriarchs lived in tents. Then apostate Israel was the harlot and the young Christian Church the woman; but soon spiritual fornication crept in, and the Church in the seventeenth chapter is no longer the woman, but the harlot, the great Babylon, which, however, has in it hidden the true people of God (Revelation 18:4). The deeper the Church penetrated into heathendom, the more she herself became heathenish. Instead of overcoming, she was overcome by the world [AUBERLEN]. Thus, the woman is "the one inseparable Church of the Old and New Testament" [HENGSTENBERG], the stock of the Christian Church being Israel (Christ and His apostles being Jews), on which the Gentile believers have been grafted, and into which Israel, on her conversion, shall be grafted, as into her own olive tree. During the whole Church-historic period, or "times of the Gentiles," wherein "Jerusalem is trodden down of the Gentiles," there is no believing Jewish Church, and therefore, only the Christian Church can be "the woman." At the same time there is meant, secondarily, the preservation of the Jews during this Church-historic period, in order that Israel, who was once "the woman," and of whom the man-child was born, may become so again at the close of the Gentile times, and stand at the head of the two elections, literal Israel, and spiritual Israel, the Church elected from Jews and Gentiles without distinction. Ezekiel 20:35, 36, "I will bring you into the wilderness of the people (Hebrew, peoples ), and there will I plead with you . . . like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of Egypt" (compare Notes, see note on Ezekiel 20:35, see note on Ezekiel 20:36): not a wilderness literally and locally, but spiritually a state of discipline and trial among the Gentile "peoples," during the long Gentile times, and one finally consummated in the last time of unparalleled trouble under Antichrist, in which the sealed remnant (Revelation 7:1-8) who constitute "the woman," are nevertheless preserved "from the face of the serpent" (Revelation 12:14). thousand two hundred and threescore days - anticipatory of Revelation 12:14, where the persecution which caused her to flee is mentioned in its place: Revelation 13:11-18 gives the details of the persecution. It is most unlikely that the transition should be made from the birth of Christ to the last Antichrist, without notice of the long intervening Church-historical period. Probably the 1260 days, or periods, representing this long interval, are RECAPITULATED on a shorter scale analogically during the last Antichrist's short reign. They are equivalent to three and a half years, which, as half of the divine number seven, symbolize the seeming victory of the world over the Church. As they include the whole Gentile times of Jerusalem's being trodden of the Gentiles, they must be much longer than 1260 years; for, above several centuries more than 1260 years have elapsed since Jerusalem fell.
7. In Job 1:6-11; 2:1-6, Satan appears among the sons of God, presenting himself before God in heaven, as the accuser of the saints: again in Zechariah 3:1, 2. But at Christ's coming as our Redeemer, he fell from heaven, especially when Christ suffered, rose again, and ascended to heaven. When Christ appeared before God as our Advocate, Satan, the accusing adversary, could no longer appear before God against us, but was cast out judicially (Romans 8:33, 34). He and his angels henceforth range through the air and the earth, after a time (namely, the interval between the ascension and the second advent) about to be cast hence also, and bound in hell. That "heaven" here does not mean merely the air, but the abode of angels, appears from Revelation 12:9, 10, 12; 1 Kings 22:19-22. there was - Greek, "there came to pass," or "arose." war in heaven - What a seeming contradiction in terms, yet true! Contrast the blessed result of Christ's triumph, Luke 19:38, "peace in heaven." Colossians 1:20, "made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; whether . . . things in earth, or things in heaven." Michael and his angels . . . the dragon . . . and his angels - It was fittingly ordered that, as the rebellion arose from unfaithful angels and their leader, so they should be encountered and overcome by faithful angels and their archangel, in heaven. On earth they are fittingly encountered, and shall be overcome, as represented by the beast and false prophet, by the Son of man and His armies of human saints (Revelation 19:14-21). The conflict on earth, as in Daniel 10:13, has its correspondent conflict of angels in heaven. Michael is peculiarly the prince, or presiding angel, of the Jewish nation. The conflict in heaven, though judicially decided already against Satan from the time of Christ's resurrection and ascension, receives its actual completion in the execution of judgment by the angels who cast out Satan from heaven. From Christ's ascension he has no standing-ground judicially against the believing elect. Luke 10:18, "I beheld (in the earnest of the future full fulfilment given in the subjection of the demons to the disciples) Satan as lightning fall from heaven." As Michael fought before with Satan about the body of the mediator of the old covenant (Jude 1:9), so now the mediator of the new covenant, by offering His sinless body in sacrifice, arms Michael with power to renew and finish the conflict by a complete victory. That Satan is not yet actually and finally cast out of heaven, though the judicial sentence to that effect received its ratification at Christ's ascension, appears from Ephesians 6:12, "spiritual wickedness in high (Greek, heavenly ) places." This is the primary Church-historical sense here. But, through Israel's unbelief, Satan has had ground against that, the elect nation, appearing before God as its accuser. At the eve of its restoration, in the ulterior sense, his standing-ground in heaven against Israel, too, shall be taken from him, "the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem" rebuking him, and casting him out from heaven actually and for ever by Michael, the prince, or presiding angel of the Jews. Thus Zechariah 3:1-9 is strictly parallel, Joshua, the high priest, being representative of his nation Israel, and Satan standing at God's right hand as adversary to resist Israel's justification. Then, and not till then, fully (Revelation 12:10, "NOW," etc.) shall ALL things be reconciled unto Christ IN HEAVEN (Colossians 1:20), and there shall be peace in heaven (Luke 19:38). against - A, B, and C read, "with."
8. prevailed not - A and Coptic read, "He prevailed not." But B and C read as English Version. neither - A, B, and C read, "not even" (Greek, "oude "): a climax. Not only did they not prevail, but not even their place was found any more in heaven. There are four gradations in the ever deeper downfall of Satan: (1) He is deprived of his heavenly excellency, though having still access to heaven as man's accuser, up to Christ's first coming. As heaven was not fully yet opened to man (John 3:13), so it was not yet shut against Satan and his demons. The Old Testament dispensation could not overcome him. (2) From Christ, down to the millennium, he is judicially cast out of heaven as the accuser of the elect, and shortly before the millennium loses his power against Israel, and has sentence of expulsion fully executed on him and his by Michael. His rage on earth is consequently the greater, his power being concentrated on it, especially towards the end, when "he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Revelation 12:12). (3) He is bound during the millennium (Revelation 20:1-3). (4) After having been loosed for a while, he is cast for ever into the lake of fire.
9. that old serpent - alluding to Genesis 3:1, 4. Devil - the Greek, for "accuser," or "slanderer." Satan - the Hebrew for "adversary," especially in a court of justice. The twofold designation, Greek and Hebrew, marks the twofold objects of his accusations and temptations, the elect Gentiles and the elect Jews. world - Greek, "habitable world."
10. Now - Now that Satan has been cast out of heaven. Primarily fulfilled in part at Jesus' resurrection and ascension, when He said (Matthew 28:18), "All power [Greek, exousia, authority,' as here; see below] is given unto Me in heaven and in earth"; connected with Revelation 12:5, "Her child was caught up unto God and to His throne." In the ulterior sense, it refers to the eve of Christ's second coming, when Israel is about to be restored as mother-church of Christendom, Satan, who had resisted her restoration on the ground of her unworthiness, having been cast out by the instrumentality of Michael, Israel's angelic prince (see note on Revelation 12:7). Thus this is parallel, and the necessary preliminary to the glorious event similarly expressed, Revelation 11:15, "The kingdom of this world is become (the very word here, Greek, egeneto, is come,' hath come to pass') our Lord's and His Christ's," the result of Israel's resuming her place. salvation, etc. - Greek, "the salvation (namely, fully, finally, and victoriously accomplished, Hebrews 9:28; compare Luke 3:6, yet future; hence, not till now do the blessed raise the fullest hallelujah for salvation to the Lamb, Revelation 7:10; 19:1) the power (Greek, dunamis ), and the authority (Greek, exousia ; legitimate power ; see above ) of His Christ." accused them before our God day and night - Hence the need that the oppressed Church, God's own elect (like the widow, continually coming, so as even to weary the unjust judge), should cry day and night unto Him.
11. they - emphatic in the Greek. "They" in particular. They and they alone. They were the persons who overcame. overcame - (Romans 8:33, 34, 37; 16:20). him - (1 John 2:14, 15). It is the same victory (a peculiarly Johannean phrase) over Satan and the world which the Gospel of John describes in the life of Jesus, his Epistle in the life of each believer, and his Apocalypse in the life of the Church. by, etc. - Greek (dia to haima; accusative, not genitive case, as English Version would require, compare Hebrews 9:12), "on account of (on the ground of) the blood of the Lamb"; "because of"; on account of and by virtue of its having been shed. Had that blood not been shed, Satan's accusations would have been unanswerable; as it is, that blood meets every charge. SCHOTTGEN mentions the Rabbinical tradition that Satan accuses men all days of the year, except the day of atonement. TITTMANN takes the Greek "dia," as it often means, out of regard to the blood of the Lamb; this was the impelling cause which induced them to undertake the contest for the sake of it; but the view given above is good Greek, and more in accordance with the general sense of Scripture. by the word of their testimony - Greek, "on account of the word of their testimony." On the ground of their faithful testimony, even unto death, they are constituted victors. Their testimony evinced their victory over him by virtue of the blood of the Lamb. Hereby they confess themselves worshippers of the slain Lamb and overcome the beast, Satan's representative; an anticipation of Revelation 15:2, "them that had gotten the victory over the beast" (compare Revelation 13:15, 16). unto - Greek, "achri," "even as far as." They carried their not-love of life as far as even unto death.
12. Therefore - because Satan is cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:9). dwell - literally, "tabernacle." Not only angels and the souls of the just with God, but also the faithful militant on earth, who already in spirit tabernacle in heaven, having their home and citizenship there, rejoice that Satan is cast out of their home. "Tabernacle" for dwell is used to mark that, though still on the earth, they in spirit are hidden "in the secret of God's tabernacle." They belong not to the world, and, therefore, exult in judgment having been passed on the prince of this world. the inhabiters of - So ANDREAS reads. But A, B, and C omit. The words probably, were inserted from Revelation 8:13. is come down - rather as Greek, "catebee," "is gone down"; John regarding the heaven as his standing-point of view whence he looks down on the earth. unto you - earth and sea, with their inhabitants; those who lean upon, and essentially belong to, the earth (contrast John 3:7, Margin, with John 3:31; 8:23; Philippians 3:19, end; 1 John 4:5) and its sea -like troubled politics. Furious at his expulsion from heaven, and knowing that his time on earth is short until he shall be cast down lower, when Christ shall come to set up His kingdom (Revelation 20:1, 2), Satan concentrates all his power to destroy as many souls as he can. Though no longer able to accuse the elect in heaven, he can tempt and persecute on earth. The more light becomes victorious, the greater will be the struggles of the powers of darkness; whence, at the last crisis, Antichrist will manifest himself with an intensity of iniquity greater than ever before. short time - Greek, "kairon," "season": opportunity for his assaults.
13. Resuming from Revelation 12:6 the thread of the discourse, which had been interrupted by the episode, Revelation 12:7-12 (giving in the invisible world the ground of the corresponding conflict between light and darkness in the visible world), this verse accounts for her flight into the wilderness (Revelation 12:6).
14. were given - by God's determinate appointment, not by human chances (Acts 9:11). two - Greek, "the two wings of the great eagle." Alluding to Exodus 19:4: proving that the Old Testament Church, as well as the New Testament Church, is included in "the woman." All believers are included (Isaiah 40:30, 31). The great eagle is the world power; in Ezekiel 17:3, 7, Babylon and Egypt: in early Church history, Rome, whose standard was the eagle, turned by God's providence from being hostile into a protector of the Christian Church. As "wings" express remote parts of the earth, the two wings may here mean the east and west divisions of the Roman empire. wilderness - the land of the heathen, the Gentiles: in contrast to Canaan, the pleasant and glorious land. God dwells in the glorious land; demons (the rulers of the heathen world, Revelation 9:20; 1 Corinthians 10:20), in the wilderness. Hence Babylon is called the desert of the sea, Isaiah 21:1-10 (referred to also in Revelation 14:8; 18:2). Heathendom, in its essential nature, being without God, is a desolate wilderness. Thus, the woman's flight into the wilderness is the passing of the kingdom of God from the Jews to be among the Gentiles (typified by Mary's flight with her child from Judea into Egypt). The eagle flight is from Egypt into the wilderness. The Egypt meant is virtually stated (Revelation 11:8) to be Jerusalem, which has become spiritually so by crucifying our Lord. Out of her the New Testament Church flees, as the Old Testament Church out of the literal Egypt; and as the true Church subsequently is called to flee out of Babylon (the woman become an harlot, that is, the Church become apostate) [AUBERLEN]. her place - the chief seat of the then world empire, Rome. The Acts of the Apostles describe the passing of the Church from Jerusalem to Rome. The Roman protection was the eagle wing which often shielded Paul, the great instrument of this transmigration, and Christianity, from Jewish opponents who stirred up the heathen mobs. By degrees the Church had "her place" more and more secure, until, under Constantine, the empire became Christian. Still, all this Church-historical period is regarded as a wilderness time, wherein the Church is in part protected, in part oppressed, by the world power, until just before the end the enmity of the world power under Satan shall break out against the Church worse than ever. As Israel was in the wilderness forty years, and had forty-two stages in her journey, so the Church for forty-two months, three and a half years or times [literally, seasons, used for years in Hellenistic Greek (MOERIS, the Atticist), Greek, "kairous," Daniel 7:25; 12:7], or 1260 days (Revelation 12:6) between the overthrow of Jerusalem and the coming again of Christ, shall be a wilderness sojourner before she reaches her millennial rest (answering to Canaan of old). It is possible that, besides this Church-historical fulfilment, there may be also an ulterior and narrower fulfilment in the restoration of Israel to Palestine, Antichrist for seven times (short periods analogical to the longer ones) having power there, for the former three and a half times keeping covenant with the Jews, then breaking it in the midst of the week, and the mass of the nation fleeing by a second Exodus into the wilderness, while a remnant remains in the land exposed to a fearful persecution (the "144,000 sealed of Israel," Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1, standing with the Lamb, after the conflict is over, on Mount Zion: "the first-fruits" of a large company to be gathered to Him) [DE BURGH]. These details are very conjectural. In Daniel 7:25; 12:7, the subject, as perhaps here, is the time of Israel's calamity. That seven times do not necessarily mean seven years, in which each day is a year, that is, 2520 years, appears from Nebuchadnezzar's seven times (Daniel 4:23), answering to Antichrist, the beast's duration.
15, 16. flood - Greek, "river" (compare Exodus 2:3; Matthew 2:20; and especially Exodus 14:1-31). The flood, or river, is the stream of Germanic tribes which, pouring on Rome, threatened to destroy Christianity. But the earth helped the woman, by swallowing up the flood. The earth, as contradistinguished from water, is the world consolidated and civilized. The German masses were brought under the influence of Roman civilization and Christianity [AUBERLEN]. Perhaps it includes also, generally, the help given by earthly powers (those least likely, yet led by God's overruling providence to give help) to the Church against persecutions and also heresies, by which she has been at various times assailed.
17. wroth with - Greek, "at." went - Greek, "went away." the remnant of her seed - distinct in some sense from the woman herself. Satan's first effort was to root out the Christian Church, so that there should be no visible profession of Christianity. Foiled in this, he wars (Revelation 11:7; 13:7) against the invisible Church, namely, "those who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus" (A, B, and C omit "Christ"). These are "the remnant," or rest of her seed, as distinguished from her seed, "the man-child" (Revelation 12:5), on one hand, and from mere professors on the other. The Church, in her beauty and unity (Israel at the head of Christendom, the whole forming one perfect Church), is now not manifested, but awaiting the manifestations of the sons of God at Christ's coming. Unable to destroy Christianity and the Church as a whole, Satan directs his enmity against true Christians, the elect remnant: the others he leaves unmolested.
Analysis of the Chapter
THIS portion of the book commences, according to the view presented in the closing remarks on the last chapter, a new series of visions, designed more particularly to represent the internal condition of the church; the rise of Antichrist, and the effect of the rise of that formidable power on the internal history of the church to the time of the overthrow of that power, and the triumphant establishment of the kingdom of God. See the Analysis of the Book, part fifth. The portion before us embraces the following particulars:-
(1.) A new vision of the temple of God as opened in heaven, disclosing the ark of the testimony, and attended with lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail, Rev. 11:19. The view of the "temple," and the "ark," would naturally suggest a reference to the church, and would be an appropriate representation on the supposition that this vision related to the church. The attending circumstances of the lightnings, etc., were well fitted to impress the mind with awe, and to leave the conviction that great and momentous events were about to be disclosed. I regard this verse, therefore, which should have been separated from the eleventh chapter and attached to the twelfth, as the introduction to a new series of visions, similar to what we have in the introduction of the previous series, Rev. 4:1. The vision was of the temple-the symbol of the church-and it was "opened" so that John could see into its inmost part-even within the veil where the ark was-and could have a view of what most intimately pertained to it.
(2.) A representation of the church, under the image of a woman about to give birth to a child, Rev. 12:1, 2. A woman is seen, clothed, as it were, with the sun-emblem of majesty, truth, intelligence, and glory; she has the moon under her feet, as if she walked the heavens; she has on her head a glittering diadem of stars; she is about to become a mother. This seems to have been designed to represent the church as about to be increased, and as in that condition watched by a dragon-a mighty foe-ready to destroy its offspring, and thus compelled to flee into the wilderness for safety. Thus understood, the point of time referred to would be when the church was in a prosperous condition, and when it would be encountered by Antichrist, represented here by the dragon, and compelled to flee into the wilderness; that is, the church for a time would be driven into obscurity, and be almost unknown. It is no uncommon thing, in the Scriptures, to compare the church with a beautiful woman. See Note on Isa. 1:8.
The following remarks of Prof. Stuart, (vol. ii. 252,) though he applies the subject in a manner very different from what I shall, seem to me accurately to express the general design of the symbol: "The daughter of Zion is a common personification of the church in the Old Testament; and in the writings of Paul, the same image is exhibited by the phrase, Jerusalem which is the mother of us all; i. e. of all Christians, Gal. 4:26. The main point before us is the illustration of that church, ancient or later, under the image of a woman. If the Canticles are to have a spiritual sense given to them, it is plain enough, of course, how familiar such an idea was to the Jews. Whether the woman thus exhibited as a symbol be represented as bride or mother depends of course on the nature of the case, and the relations and exigencies of any particular passage."
(3.) The dragon that stood ready to devour the child, Rev. 12:3, 4. This represents some formidable enemy of the church, that was ready to persecute and destroy it. The real enemy here referred to is, undoubtedly, Satan, the great enemy of God and the church, but here it is Satan in the form of some fearful opponent of the church that would arise at a period when the church was prosperous, and when it was about to be enlarged. We are to look, therefore, for some fearful manifestation of this formidable power, having the characteristics here referred to, or some opposition to the church such as we may suppose Satan would originate, and by which the existence of the church might seem to be endangered.
(4.) The fact that the child which the woman brought forth was caught up to heaven-symbolical of its real safety, and of its having the favour of God-a pledge that the ultimate prosperity of the church was certain, and that it was safe from real danger, Rev. 12:5.
(5.) The fleeing of the woman into the wilderness, for the space of a thousand two hundred and threescore days, or 1260 years, Rev. 12:6. This act denotes the persecuted and obscure condition of the church during that time, and the period which would elapse before it would be delivered from this persecution, and restored to the place in the earth which it was designed to have.
(6.) The war in heaven; a struggle between the mighty powers of heaven and the dragon, Rev. 12:7-9. Michael and his angels contend against the dragon, in behalf of the church, and finally prevail. The dragon is overcome, and is cast out, and all his angels with him; in other words, the great enemy of God and his church is overcome and subdued. This is evidently designed to be symbolical, and the meaning is, that a state of things would exist in regard to the church, which would be well represented by supposing that such a scene should occur in heaven; that is, as if a war should exist there between the great enemy of God and the angels of light, and as if, being there vanquished, Satan should be cast down to the earth, and should there exert his malignant power in a warfare against the church. The general idea is, that his warfare would be primarily against heaven, as if he fought with the angels in the very presence of God, but that the form in which he would seem to prevail would be against the church, as if, being unsuccessful in his direct warfare against the angels of God, he was permitted, for a time, to enjoy the appearance of triumph in contending with the church.
(7.) The shout of victory in view of the conquest over the dragon, Rev. 12:10-12. A loud voice is heard in heaven, saying that now the kingdom of God is come, and that the reign of God would be set up, for the dragon is cast down and overcome. The grand instrumentality in overcoming this foe was "the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony;" that is, the great doctrines of truth pertaining to the work of the Redeemer would be employed for this purpose, and it is proclaimed that the heavens and all that dwell therein had occasion to rejoice at the certainty that a victory would be ultimately obtained over this great enemy of God. Still, however, his influence was not wholly at an end, for he would yet rage for a brief period on the earth.
(8.) The persecution of the woman, Rev. 12:13-15. She is constrained to fly, as on wings given her for that purpose, into the wilderness, where she is nourished for the time that the dragon is to exert his power-a "time, times, and half a time"-or for 1260 years. The dragon in rage pours out a flood of water, that he may cause her to be swept away by the flood: referring to the persecutions that would exist while the church was in the wilderness, and the efforts that would be made to destroy it entirely.
(9.) The earth helps the woman, Rev. 12:16. That is, a state of things would exist as if, in such a case, the earth should open and swallow up the flood. The meaning is, that the church would not be swept away, but that there would be an interposition in its behalf, as if the earth should, in the case supposed, open its bosom, and swallow up the swelling waters.
(10.) The dragon, still enraged, makes war with all that pertains to the woman, Rev. 12:17. Here we are told literally who are referred to by the "seed" of the woman. They are those who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ," (Rev. 12:11;) that is, the true church. The chapter, therefore, may be regarded as a general vision of the persecutions that would rage against the church. It seemed to be about to increase and to spread over the world. Satan, always opposed to it, strives to prevent its extension. The conflict is represented as if in heaven, where war is waged between the celestial beings and Satan, and where, being overcome, Satan is cast down to the earth, and permitted to wage the war there. The church is persecuted; becomes obscure and almost unknown, but still is mysteriously sustained; and when most in danger of being wholly swallowed up, is kept as if a miracle were wrought in its defence. The detail-the particular form in which the war would be waged-is drawn out in the following chapters.
Rev. 11:19. And the temple of God was opened in heaven. The temple of God at Jerusalem was a pattern of the heavenly one, or of heaven, Heb. 8:1-6. In that temple God was supposed to reside by the visible symbol of his presence-the Shekinah-in the holy of holies. See Note on Heb. 9:7.
Thus God dwells in heaven, as in a holy temple, of which that on earth was the emblem. When it is said that that was "opened in heaven," the meaning is, that John was permitted, as it were, to look into heaven, the abode of God, and to see him in his glory.
And there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament. See Note on Heb. 9:4.
That is, the very interior of heaven was laid open, and John was permitted to witness what was transacted in its obscurest recesses, and what were its most hidden mysteries. It will be remembered, as an illustration of the correctness of this view of the meaning of the verse, and of its proper place in the divisions of the book-assigning it as the opening verse of a new series of visions-that in the first series of visions we have a statement remarkably similar to this, Rev. 4:1: "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven ;" that is, there was, as it were, an opening made into heaven, so that John was permitted to look in and see what was occurring there. The same idea is expressed substantially here, by saying that the very interior of the sacred temple where God resides was "opened in heaven," so that John was permitted to look in and see what was transacted in his very presence. This, too, may go to confirm the idea suggested in the Analysis of the Book, part fifth, that this portion of the Apocalypse refers rather to the internal affairs of the church, or the church itself-for of this the temple was the proper emblem. Then appropriately follows the series of visions describing, as in the former case, what was to occur in future times: this series referring to the internal affairs of the church, as the former did mainly to what would outwardly affect its form and condition.
And there were lightnings, etc. Symbolic of the awful presence of God, and of his majesty and glory, as in the commencement of the first series-of visions. See Note on Rev. 4:6.
The similarity of the symbols of the Divine Majesty in the two cases may also serve to confirm the supposition that this is the beginning of a new series of visions.
And an earthquake. Also a symbol of the Divine Majesty, and perhaps of the great convulsions that were to occur under this series of visions. See Note on Rev. 6:12.
Thus, in the sublime description of God in Psa. 18:7, "Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth." So in Exod. 19:18, "And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke-and the whole mount quaked greatly." Comp. Amos 8:8, 9; Joel 2:10.
And great hail. Also an emblem of the presence and majesty of God, perhaps with the accompanying idea that he would overwhelm and punish his enemies. So in Psa. 18:13, "The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice: hailstones and coals of fire." So also Job 38:22,23:-
"Hast thou entered into the treasures of snow?
Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail?
Which I have reserved against the time of trouble.
Against the day of battle and war?"
So in Psa. 105:32:
"He gave them hail for rain.
And flaming fire in their land."
Comp. Psa. 78:48; Isa. 30:30; Ezek. 38:22.
1. And there appeared a great wonder in heaven. In that heavenly world thus disclosed, in the very presence of God, he saw the impressive and remarkable symbol which he proceeds to describe. The word wonder-shmeion-properly means something extraordinary, or miraculous, and is commonly rendered sign. See Matt. 12:38-39; Matt. 16:1, 3-4; 24:3, 24, 30; 26:48; Mark 8:11-12; 13:4, 22; 16:17, 20;-in all which, and in numerous other places in the New Testament, it is rendered sign, and mostly in the sense of miracle. When used in the sense of a miracle, it refers to the fact that the miracle is a sign or token by which the Divine power or purpose is made known. Sometimes the word is used to denote a sign of future things-a portent or presage of coming events; that is, some remarkable appearances which foreshadow the future. Thus in Matt. 16:3: "signs of the times;" that is, the miraculous events which foreshadow the coming of the Messiah in his kingdom. So also in Matt. 24:3, 30; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7, 11.
This seems to be the meaning here, that the woman who appeared in this remarkable manner was a portent or token of what was to occur.
A woman clothed with the sun. Bright, splendid, glorious, as if the sunbeams were her raiment. Compare Rev. 1:16; 10:1; see also Cant. 6:10-a passage which, very possibly, was in the mind of the writer when he penned this description: "Who is she that looked forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
And the moon under her feet. The moon seemed to be under her feet. She seemed as if she stood on the moon, its pale light contrasted with the burning splendour of the sun, heightening the beauty of the whole picture. The woman, beyond all question, represents the church. See Note on Rev. 12:2.
Is the splendour of the sun-light designed to denote the brightness of the gospel? Is the moon designed to represent the comparatively feeble light of the Jewish dispensation? Is the fact that she stood upon the moon, or that it was under her feet, designed to denote the superiority of the gospel to the Jewish dispensation? Such a supposition gives much beauty to the symbol, and is not foreign to the nature of symbolic language.
And upon her head a crown of twelve stars. A diadem in which there were placed twelve stars. That is, there were twelve sparkling gems in the crown which she wore. This would, of course, greatly increase the beauty of the vision; and there can be no doubt that the number twelve here is significant. If the woman here is designed to symbolize the church, then the number twelve has, in all probability, some allusion either to the twelve tribes of Israel-as being a number which one who was born and educated as a Jew would be likely to use, (compare James 1:1) or, to the twelve apostles-an allusion which it may be supposed an apostle would be more likely to make. Compare Matt. 19:28; Rev. 21:14.
2. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, etc. That is, there would be something which would be properly represented by a woman in such circumstances.
The question now is, what is referred to by this woman? And here it need hardly be said that there has been, as in regard to almost every other part of the book of Revelation, a great variety of interpretations. It would be endless to undertake to examine them, and would not be profitable if it could be done; and it is better, therefore, and more in accordance with the design of these Notes, to state briefly what seems to me to be the true interpretation.
(1.) The woman is evidently designed to symbolize the church; and in this there is a pretty general agreement among interpreters. The image, which is a beautiful one, was very familiar to the Jewish prophets. Compare Ezek. 16. See Note on Isa. 1:8 ".
Compare Ezekiel 16.
(2.) But still the question arises, to what time this representation refers: whether to the church before the birth of the Saviour, or after? According to the former of these opinions, it is supposed to refer to the church as giving birth to the Saviour, and the "man- child" that is born (Rev. 12:5) is supposed to refer to Christ, who "sprang from the church"-kata sarka-according to the flesh.-Professor Stuart, ii. 252. The church, according to this view, is not simply regarded as Jewish, but, in a more general and theocratic sense, as the people of God. "From the Christian church, considered as Christian, he could not spring; for this took its rise only after the time of his public ministry. But from the bosom of the people of God the Saviour came. This church, Judaical indeed (at the time of his birth) in respect to rites and forms, but to become a Christian after he had exercised his ministry in the midst of it, might well be represented here by the woman which is described in chapter 12."-Professor Stuart. But to this view there are some, as it seems to me, unanswerable objections. For
(a) there seems to be a harshness and incongruity in representing the Saviour as the Son of the church, or, representing the church as giving birth to him. Such imagery is not found elsewhere in the Bible, and is not in accordance with the language which is employed, where Christ is rather represented as the Husband of the church than the Son. See Rev. 21:2, "Prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;" verse 9, "I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." Compare Isa. 54:5; 61:10; 62:5.
(b) If this interpretation be adopted, then this must refer to the Jewish church, and thus the woman will personify the Jewish community before the birth of Christ. But this seems contrary to the whole design of the Apocalypse, which has reference to the Christian church, and not to the ancient dispensation.
(c) If this interpretation be adopted, then the statement about the dwelling in the wilderness for a period of 1260 days or years (Rev. 12:14) must be assigned to the Jewish community-a supposition every way improbable and untenable. In what sense could this be true? When did anything happen to the Jewish people that could, with any show of probability, be regarded as the fulfilment of this.
(d) It may be added, that the statement about the "man-child" (Rev. 12:5) is one that can with difficulty be reconciled to this supposition. In what sense was this true that the "man-child" was "caught up unto God, and to his throne?" The Saviour, indeed, ascended to heaven, but it was not, as here represented, that he might be protected from the danger of being destroyed; and when he did ascend, it was not as a helpless and unprotected babe, but as a man in the full maturity of his powers.
The other opinion is, that the woman here refers to the Christian church, and that the object is to represent that church as about to be enlarged-represented by the condition of the woman, Rev. 12:2. A beautiful woman appears, clothed with light-emblematic of the brightness and purity of the church; with the moon under her feet-the ancient and comparatively obscure dispensation now made subordinate and humble; with a glittering diadem of twelve stars on her head-the stars representing the usual well-known division of the people of God into twelve parts-as the stars in the American flag denote the original states of the Union; and in a condition (Rev. 12:2) which showed that the church was to be increased. The time there referred to is at the early period of the history of the church, when, as it were, it first appears on the theatre of things, and going forth in its beauty and majesty over the earth. John sees this church as it was about to spread in the world, exposed to a mighty and formidable enemy-a hateful dragon-stationing itself to prevent its increase, and to accomplish its destruction. From that impending danger it is protected in a manner that would be well represented by the saving of the child of the woman, and bearing it up to heaven, to a place of safety-an act implying that, notwithstanding all dangers, the progress and enlargement of the church was ultimately certain. In the mean time, the woman herself flees into the wilderness-an act representing the obscure and humble and persecuted state of the church-till the great controversy is determined which is to have the ascendency-God or the Dragon. In favour of this interpretation, the following considerations may be suggested:
(a) It is the natural and obvious interpretation.
(b) If it be admitted that John meant to describe what occurred in the world at the time when the true church seemed to be about to extend itself over the earth, and when that prosperity was checked by the rise of the Papal power, the symbol employed would be strikingly expressive and appropriate.
(c) It accords with the language elsewhere used in the Scriptures when referring to the increase of the church. Isa. 66:7-8: "Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child. Who hath heard such a thing?-As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." Isa. 54:1: "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord." Isa. 49:20: "The children which thou shalt have, after thou shalt have lost the other, shall say again in thy ears, The place is too strait for me; give place to me that I may dwell." The comparison of the church to a woman as the mother of children, is one that is very common in the Scriptures.
(d) The future destiny of the child and of the woman agrees with this supposition. The child is caught up to heaven, Rev. 12:5-emblematic of the fact that God will protect the church, and not suffer its increase to be cut off and destroyed; and the woman is driven for 1260 years into the wilderness and nourished there, Rev. 12:14-emblematic of the long period of obscurity and persecution in the true church, and yet of the fact that it would be protected and nourished. The design of the whole, therefore, I apprehend, is to represent the peril of the church at the time when it was about to be greatly enlarged, or in a season of prosperity, from the rise of a formidable enemy that would stand ready to destroy it. I regard this, therefore, as referring to the time of the rise of the Papacy, when, but for that formidable, corrupting, and destructive power, it might have been hoped that the church would have spread all over the world. In regard to the rise of that power, see all that I have to say, or can say, in See Note on Dan. 7:24, seq.
3. And there appeared another wonder in heaven. Represented as in heaven. See Note on Rev. 12:1.
That is, he saw this as occurring at the time when the church was thus about to increase.
And behold a great red dragon. The word rendered dragon-drakwn-occurs, in the New Testament, only in the book of Revelation, where it is uniformly rendered as here-dragon: Rev. 12:3-4, 7, 9, 13, 16-17; 13:2, 4, 11; Rev. 16:13; 20:2.
In all these places there is reference to the same thing. The word properly means a large serpent; and the allusion in the word commonly is to some serpent, perhaps such as the anaconda, that resides in a desert or wilderness. See a full account of the ideas that prevailed in ancient times respecting the dragon, in Bochart, Hieroz. lib. iii. cap. xiv., vol. ii. pp. 428-440. There was much that was fabulous respecting this monster, and many notions were attached to the dragon which did not exist in reality, and which were ascribed to it by the imagination at a time when natural history was little understood. The characteristics ascribed to the dragon, according to Bochart, are, that it was distinguished
(a) for its vast size;
(b) that it had something like a beard or dew-lap;
(c) that it had three rows of teeth;
(d) that its colour was black, red, yellow, or ashy;
(e) that it had a wide mouth;
(f) that in its breathing it not only drew in the air, but also birds that were flying over it; and
(g) that its hiss was terrible. Occasionally, also, feet and wings were attributed to the dragon, and sometimes a lofty crest. The dragon, according to Bochart, was supposed to inhabit waste places and solitudes, (compare Note on Isa. 13:22) and it became, therefore, an object of great terror. It is probable that the original of this was a huge serpent, and that all the other circumstances were added by the imagination. The prevailing ideas in regard to it, however, should be borne in mind, in order to see the force and propriety of the use of the word by John. Two special characteristics are stated by John in the general description of the dragon: one is, its red colour; the other, that it was great. In regard to the former, as above mentioned, the dragon was supposed to be black, red, yellow, or ashy. See the authorities referred to in Bochart, ut sup., pp. 435, 436. There was doubtless a reason why the one seen by John should be represented as red. As to the other characteristic-great-the idea is, that it was a huge monster, and this would properly refer to some mighty, terrible power which would be properly symbolized by such a monster.
Having seven heads. It was not unusual to attribute many heads to monsters, especially to fabulous monsters, and these greatly increased the terror of the animal. "Thus Cerberus usually has three heads assigned to him; but Hesiod (Theog. 312) assigns him fifty, and Horace (Ode II. 13, 34) one hundred. So the Hydra of the Lake Lerna, killed by Hercules, had fifty heads, (Virg. AEn. vi 576;) and in Kiddushim, fol. 29, 2, Rabbi Achse is said to have seen a demon like a dragon with seven heads."-Professor Stuart, in loc, The seven heads would somehow denote power, or seats of power. Such a number of heads increase the terribleness, and, as it were, the vitality of the monster. What is here represented would be as terrible and formidable as such a monster; or such a monster would appropriately represent what was designed to be symbolized here. The number seven may be used here "as a perfect number," or merely to heighten the terror of the image; but it is more natural to suppose that there would be something in what is here represented which would lay the foundation for the use of this number. There would be something either in the origin of the power; or in the union of various powers now combined in the one represented by the dragon; or in the seat of the power, which this would properly symbolize, Compare Note on Dan. 7:6.
And ten horns. Emblems of power, denoting that, in some respects, there were ten powers combined in this one. See Notes on Dan. 7:7; Dan. 7:8; Dan. 7:20, Dan. 7:24.
There can be little doubt that John had those passages of Daniel (Dan. 7:7-8, 20, 24) in his eye, and perhaps as little that the reference is to the same thing. The meaning is, that, in some respects, there would be a tenfold origin or division of the power represented by the dragon.
And seven crowns upon his heads. Gr., diadems. See Note on Rev. 9:7.
There is a reference here to some kingly power, and doubtless John had some kingdom or sovereignty in his eye that would be properly symbolized in this manner. The method in which these heads and horns were arranged on the dragon is not stated, and is not material. All that is necessary in the explanation is, that there was something in the power referred to that would be properly represented by the seven heads, and something by the ten horns.
In the application of this, it will be necessary to inquire what was properly symbolized by these representations, and to refer again to these particulars with this view.
(a) The dragon. This is explained in See Note on Rev. 12:9
: "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world." So again, Rev. 20:2, "And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil." Compare Bochart, Hieroz. ii. pp. 439, 440. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the reference here is to Satan, considered as the enemy of God, and the enemy of the peace of man, and especially as giving origin and form to some mighty power that would threaten the existence of the church.
(b) Great. This will well describe the power of Satan as originating the organizations that were engaged for so long a time in persecuting the church, and endeavouring to destroy it. It was a work of vast power, controlling kings and princes and nations for ages, and could have been accomplished only by one to whom the appellation here used could be given.
(c) Red. This, too, is an appellation properly applied here to the the dragon, or Satan, considered as the enemy of the church, and as originating this persecuting power, either
(1) because it well represents the bloody persecutions that would ensue, or
(2) because this would be the favourite colour by which this power would be manifest. Compare Rev. 17:3-4; 18:12, 16.
(d) The seven heads. There was, doubtless, as above remarked, something significant in these heads, as referring to the power designed to be represented. On the supposition that this refers to Rome, or to the power of Satan as manifested by Roman persecution, there can be no difficulty in the application; and, indeed, it is such an image as the writer would naturally use on the supposition that it had such a designed reference. Rome was built, as is well known, on seven hills, (compare Note on Rev. 10:3,) and was called the seven-hilled city, (Septicolis,) from having been originally built on seven hills, though subsequently three hills were added, making the whole number ten. See Eschenburg, Manual of Classical Literature, p. 1, % 53. Thus Ovid:
"Sed quae de septem totum circumspicit orbem
Montibus, imperii RomAE Deumque locus." Horace:
"Dis quibus septem placuere colles."
"Septem urbs alta jugis, toti quae praesidet orbi."
Tertullian: "I appeal to the citizens of Rome, the populace that dwell on the seven hills."-Apol. 35. And again, Jerome to Marcella, when urging her to quit Rome for Bethlehem: "Read what is said in the Apocalypse of the seven hills," etc. The situation of the city, if that was designed to be represented by the dragon, would naturally suggest the idea of the seven-headed monster. Compare Note on Rev. 18:1, and to end of chapter. The explanation which is here given of the meaning of the "seven heads" is, in fact, one that is given in the book of Revelation itself, and there can be no danger of error in this part of the interpretation. See Rev. 17:9: "The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth." Compare Rev. 12:8.
(e) The ten horns. These were emblems of power, denoting that in reference to that power there were, in some respects, ten sources. The same thing is referred to here which is in Dan. 7:7-8, 20, 24.
See Note on Dan. 7:24.
The creature that John saw was indeed a monster, and we are not to expect entire congruity in the details. It is sufficient that the main idea is preserved, and that would be, if the reference was to Rome considered as the place where the energy of Satan, as opposed to God and the church, was centered.
(f) The seven crowns. This would merely denote that kingly or royal authority was claimed.
The general interpretation which refers this vision to Rome may receive confirmation from the fact that the dragon was at one time the Roman standard, as is represented by the following engraving from Montfaucon. Ammianus Marcellius (xvi. 10) thus describes this standard: "The dragon was covered with purple cloth, and fastened to the end of a pike gilt and adorned with precious stones. It opened its wide throat, and the wind blew through it; and it hissed as if in a rage, with its tail floating in several folds through the air." He elsewhere often gives it the epithet of purpureus-purple-red: purpureum signum draconis, etc. With this the description of Claudian well agrees also:-
"Hi volueres tollent aquilas; hi picta draconum
Colla levant: multumque tumet per nubila serpens,
Iratus stimulante noto, vivitque receptis
Flatibus, et vario mentitur sibila fiatu." + The dragon was first used as an ensign near the close of the second century of the Christian era, and it was not until the third century that its use had become common; and the reference here, according to this fact, would be to that period of the Roman power when this had become a common standard, and when the applicability of this image would be readily understood. It is simply Rome that is referred to-Rome, the great agent of accomplishing the purposes of Satan towards the church The eagle was the common Roman ensign in the time of the Republic and in the earlier periods of the empire, but in later periods the dragon became also a standard as common and as well known as the eagle. "In the third century it had become almost as notorious among Roman ensigns as the eagle itself; and is in the fourth century noted by Prudentius, Vegetius, Chrysostom, Ammianus, etc.; in the fifth, by Claudian and others."-.Elliott, ii. 14,
4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven. The word rendered drew-surw-means to draw, drag, haul. Professor Stuart renders it "drew along;" and explains it as meaning that "the danger is represented as being in the upper region of the air, so that his tail may be supposed to interfere with and sweep down the stars, which, as viewed by the ancients, were all set in the visible expanse or welkin." So Daniel, (Dan. 8:10) speaking of the little horn, says that "it waxed great, even to the host of heaven, and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground." See Note on Dan. 8:10.
The main idea here undoubtedly is that of power, and the object of John is to show that the power of the dragon was as if it extended to the stars, and as if it dragged down a third part of them to the earth, or swept them away with its tail, leaving two-thirds unaffected. A power that would sweep them all away would be universal; a power that would sweep away one-third only would represent a dominion of that extent only. The dragon is represented as floating in the air-a monster extended along the sky-and one- third of the whole expanse was subject to his control. Suppose, then, that the dragon here was designed to represent the Roman Pagan power; suppose that it referred to that power about to engage in the work of persecution, and at a time when the church was about to be greatly enlarged, and to fill the world; suppose that it referred to a time when but one-third part of the Roman world was subject to Pagan influence, and the remaining two-thirds were, for some cause, safe from this influence,-all the conditions here referred to would be fulfilled. Now it so happens that at a time when the "dragon" had become a common standard in the Roman armies, and had in some measure superseded the eagle, a state of things did exist which well corresponds with this representation. There were times under the emperors when, in a considerable part of the empire, after the establishment of Christianity, the church enjoyed protection, and the Christian religion was tolerated, while in other parts Paganism still prevailed, and waged a bitter warfare with the church. "Twice, at least, before the Roman empire became divided permanently into the two parts, the Eastern and the Western, there was a tripartite division of the empire. The first occurred A.D. 311, when it was divided between Constantine, Licinius, and Maximin; the other A.D. 337, on the death of Constantine, when it was divided between his three sons, Constantine, Constans, and Constantius. "In two- thirds of the empire, embracing its whole European and African territory, Christians enjoyed toleration; in the other, or Asiatic portion, they were still, after a brief and uncertain respite, exposed to persecution, in all its bitterness and cruelty as before."-Elliott, ii. 17. I do not deem it absolutely essential, however, in order to a fair exposition of this passage, that we should be able to refer to minute historical facts with names and dates. A sufficient fulfilment is found if there was a period when the church, bright, glorious, and prosperous, was apparently about to become greatly enlarged, but when the monstrous Pagan power still held its sway over a considerable part of the world, exposing the church to persecution. Even after the establishment of the church in the empire, and the favour shown to it by the Roman government, it was long before the Pagan power ceased to rage, and before the church could be regarded as safe.
And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child. To prevent the increase and spread of the church in the world.
5. And she brought forth a man child. Representing, according to the view above taken, the church in its increase and prosperity-as if a child were born that was to rule over all nations. See Note on Rev. 12:2.
Who was to rule all nations. That is, according to this view, the church thus represented was destined to reign in all the earth, or all the earth was to become subject to its laws. Compare Note on Dan. 7:13-14.
With a rod of iron. The language here used is derived from Psa. 2:9: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron." The form of the expression here used "who was to rule"-oß mellei poimainein is derived from the Septuagint translation of the Psalm-poimaineiß-"thou shalt rule them;" to wit, as a shepherd does his flock. The reference is to such control as a shepherd employs in relation to his flock-protecting, guarding, and defending them, with the idea that the flock is under his care; and, on the supposition that this refers to the church, it means that it would yet have the ascendency or the dominion over the earth. The meaning in the phrase, "with a rod of iron," is, that the dominion would be strong or irresistible-as an iron sceptre is one that cannot be broken or resisted. The thoughts here expressed, therefore, are
(a) that the church would become universal-or that the principles of truth and righteousness would prevail everywhere on the earth;
(b) that the ascendency of religion over the understandings and consciences of men would be irresistible-as firm as a government administered under a sceptre of iron; yet
(c) that it would be rather of a character of protection than of force or violence, like the sway which a shepherd wields over his flock. I understand the "man child" here, therefore, to refer to the church in its increase under the Messiah, and the idea to be, that church was, at the time referred to, about to be enlarged, and that, though its increase was opposed, yet it was destined ultimately to assert a mild sway over all the world. The time here referred to would seem to be some period in the early history of the church when religion was likely to be rapidly propagated, and when it was opposed and retarded by violent persecution-perhaps the last of the persecutions under the Pagan Roman empire.
And her child was caught up unto God. This is evidently a symbolical representation. Some event was to occur, or some Divine interposition was to take place, as if the child thus born were caught up from the earth to save it from death, and was rendered secure by being in the presence of God, and near his throne. It cannot be supposed that anything like this would literally occur. Any Divine interposition to protect the church in its increase, or to save it from being destroyed by the dragon-the fierce Pagan power-would be properly represented by this. Why may we not suppose the reference to be to the time of Constantine, when the church came under his protection; when it was effectually and finally saved from Pagan persecution; when it was rendered safe from the enemy that waited to destroy it? On the supposition that this refers to an increasing but endangered church, in whose defence a civil power was raised up, exalting Christianity to the throne, and protecting it from danger, this would be well represented by the child caught up to heaven. This view may derive confirmation from some well-known facts in history. The old Pagan power was concentrated in Maximin, who was emperor from the Nile to the Bosphorus, and who raged against the gospel and the church "with Satanic enmity." "Infuriate at the now imminent prospect of the Christian body attaining establishment in the empire, Maximin renewed the persecution against Christians within the limits of his own dominion; prohibiting their assemblies, and degrading and even killing their bishops." Compare Gibbon, i. 325, 326. The last struggle of Pagan Rome to destroy the church by persecution, before the triumph of Constantine, and the public establishment of the Christian religion, might be well represented by the attempt of the dragon to destroy the child; and the safety of the church, and its complete deliverance from Pagan persecution, by the symbol of a child caught up to heaven, and placed near the throne of God. The persecution under Maximin was the last struggle of Paganism to retain the supremacy, and to crash Christianity in the empire. "Before the decisive battle," says Milner, "Maximin vowed to Jupiter that, if victorious, he would abolish the Christian name. The contest between Jehovah and Jupiter was now at its height, and drawing to a crisis:" The result was the defeat and death of Maximin, and the termination of the efforts of Paganism to destroy Christianity by force. Respecting this event, Mr. Gibbon remarks, "The defeat and death of Maximin soon delivered the church from the last and most implacable of her enemies," i. 326. Christianity was, after that, rendered safe from Pagan persecution. Mr. Gibbon says, "The gratitude of the church has exalted the virtues of the generous patron who seated Christianity on the throne of the Roman world." If, however, it should be regarded as a forced and fanciful interpretation to suppose that the passage before us refers to this specific event, yet the general circumstances of the times would furnish a fulfilment of what is here said.
(a) The church would be well represented by the beautiful woman.
(b) The prospect of its increase and universal dominion would be well represented by the birth of the child.
(c) The furious opposing Pagan power would be well represented by the dragon in its attempts to destroy the child.
(d) The safety of the church would be well represented by the symbol of the child caught up to God, and placed near his throne.
6. And the woman. The woman representing the church. See Note on Rev. 12:1.
Fled. That is, she fled in the manner, and at the time, stated in Rev. 12:14. John here evidently anticipates, by a summary statement, what he relates more in detail in Rev. 12:14-17. He had referred (Rev. 12:2-5) to what occurred to the child in its persecutions, and he here alludes, in general, to what befell the true church as compelled to flee into obscurity and safety. Having briefly referred to this, the writer (Rev. 12:7-13) gives an account of the efforts of Satan consequent on the removal of the child to heaven.
Into the wilderness. On the meaning of the word wilderness in the New Testament, See Note on Matt. 3:1.
It means a desert place, a place where there are few or no inhabitants; a place, therefore, where one might be concealed and unknown-remote from the habitations and the observation of men. This would well represent the fact that the true church became for a time obscure and unknown-as if it had fled away from the habitations of men, and had retired to the solitude and loneliness of a desert. Yet even there (Rev. 12:14, 16) it would be mysteriously nourished, though seemingly driven out into wastes and solitudes, and having its abode among the rocks and sands of a desert.
Where she hath a place prepared of God. A place where she might be safe, and might be kept alive. The meaning is, that during that time, the true church, though obscure and almost unknown, would be the object of the Divine protection and care-a beautiful representation of the church during the corruptions of the Papacy and the darkness of the middle ages.
That they should feed her. That they should nourish or sustain her-trefwsin-to wit, as specified in Rev. 12:14, 16. Those who were to do this, represented by the word "they," are not particularly mentioned, and the simple idea is that she would be nourished during that time. That is, stripped of the figure, the church during that time would find true friends, and would be kept alive. It is hardly necessary to say that this has, in fact, occurred in the darkest periods of the history of the church.
A thousand two hundred and threescore days. That is, regarding these as prophetic days, in which a day denotes a year, twelve hundred and sixty years. The same period evidently is referred to in Rev. 12:14, in the words "for a time, and times, and half a time." And the same period is undoubtedly referred to in Dan. 7:25: "And they shall be given into his hand until a time, and times, and the dividing of time." For a full consideration of the meaning of this language, and its application to the Papacy, See Note on Dan. 7:25.
The full investigation there made of the meaning and application of the language renders its consideration here unnecessary. I regard it here, as I do there, as referring to the proper continuance of the Papal power, during which the true church would remain in comparative obscurity, as if driven into a desert. Compare Note on Rev. 11:2.
The meaning here is, that during that period the true church would not become wholly extinct. It would have an existence upon the earth, but its final triumph would be reserved for the time when this great enemy should be finally overthrown. Compare Note on Rev. 12:14-17.
7. And there was war in heaven. There was a state of things existing in regard to the woman and the child-the church in the condition in which it would then be-which would be well represented by a war in heaven; that is, by a conflict between the powers of good and evil, of light and darkness. Of course, it is not necessary to under stand this literally, any more than the other symbolical representations in the book. All that is meant is, that a vision passed before the mind of John as if there was a conflict, in regard to the church, between the angels in heaven and Satan. There is a vision of the persecuted church-of the woman fleeing into the desert-and the course of the narrative is here interrupted by going back (Rev. 12:7-13) to describe the conflict which led to this result, and the fact that Satan, as it were cast out of heaven, and unable to achieve a victory there, was suffered to vent his malice against the church on earth. The seat of this warfare is said to be heaven. This language sometimes refers to heaven as it appears to us-the sky-the upper regions of the atmosphere, and some have supposed that was the place of the contest. But the language in Rev. 11:19; 12:1, See Notes on Rev. 11:19; Rev. 12:1, would rather lead us to refer it to heaven considered as lying beyond the sky. This accords, too, with other representations in the Bible, where Satan is described as appearing before God, and among the sons of God. Of course, this is not to be understood as a real transaction, but as a symbolical representation of the contest between good and evil-as if there was a war waged in heaven between Satan and the leader of the heavenly hosts.
Michael. There have been very various opinions as to who Michael is. Many Protestant interpreters have supposed that Christ is meant. The reasons usually alleged for this opinion, many of which are very fanciful, may be seen in Hengstenberg, (Die Offenbarung des heiliges Johannes,) i. 611-622. The reference to Michael here is probably derived from Dan. 10:13; 12:1. In those places he is represented as the guardian angel of the people of God, and it is in this sense, I apprehend, that the passage is to be understood here. There is no evidence in the name itself, or in the circumstances referred to, that Christ is intended; and if he had been, it is inconceivable why he was not referred to by his own name, of by some of the usual appellations which John gives him. Michael, the archangel, is here represented as the guardian of the church, and as contending against Satan for its protection. Compare Note on Dan. 10:13.
This representation accords with the usual statements in the Bible respecting the interposition of the angels in behalf of the church, (See Note on Heb. 1:14) and is one which cannot be proved to be unfounded. All the analogies which throw any light on the subject, as well as the uniform statements of the Bible, lead us to suppose that good beings of other worlds feel an interest in the welfare of the redeemed church below.
And his angels. The angels under him. Michael is represented as the archangel, and all the statements in the Bible suppose that the heavenly hosts are distributed into different ranks and orders. See See Notes on Jude 1:9; Eph. 1:21.
If Satan is permitted to make war against the church, there is no improbability in supposing that, in those higher regions where the war is carried on, and in those aspects of it which lie beyond the power and the knowledge of man, good angels should be employed to defeat his plans.
Fought. See Note on Jude 1:9.
Against the dragon. Against Satan. See Note on Rev. 12:3.
And the dragon fought and his angels. That is, the master-spirit-Satan, and those under him. See Note on Matt. 4:1.
Of the nature of this warfare, nothing is definitely stated. Its whole sphere lies beyond mortal vision, and is carried on in a manner of which we can have little conception. What weapons Satan may use to destroy the church, and in what way his efforts may be counteracted by holy angels, are points on which we can have little knowledge. It is sufficient to know that the fact of such a struggle is not improbable, and that Satan is successfully resisted by the leader of the heavenly host.
8. And prevailed not. Satan and his angels failed in their purpose.
Neither was their place found any more in heaven. They were cast out, and were seen there no more. The idea is, that they were defeated and driven away, though for a time they were suffered to carry on the warfare elsewhere.
9. And the great dragon was cast out. See Note on Rev. 12:3.
That there may be an allusion in the language here to what actually occurred in some far-distant period of the past, when Satan was ejected from heaven, there can be no reason to doubt. Our Saviour seems to refer to such an event in the language which he uses when he says, (Luke 10:18,) "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven;" and Jude, perhaps, (Jude 6) may refer to the same event. All that we know on the subject leads us to suppose that at some time there was a revolt among the angels, and that the rebellious part were cast out of heaven, for an allusion to this is not unfrequent in the Scriptures. Still the event here referred to is a symbolical representation of what would occur at a later period, when the church would be about to spread and be triumphant, and when Satan would wage a deadly war against it. That opposition would be as if he made war on Michael the archangel, and the heavenly hosts, and his failure would be as great as if he were vanquished and cast out of heaven.
That old serpent. This doubtless refers to the serpent that deceived Eve, (Gen. 3:1-11; Rev. 20:2; compare Note on 2 Cor. 11:3) and this passage may be adduced as a proof that the real tempter of Eve was the devil, who assumed the form of a serpent. The word old here refers to the fact that his appearance on earth was at an early stage of the world's history, and that he had long been employed in the work which is here attributed to him-that of opposing the church.
Called the Devil. To whom the name Devil is given. That is, this is the same being that is elsewhere and commonly known by that name. See See Note on Matt. 4:1.
And Satan. Another name given to the same being; a name, like the other, designed to refer to something in his character. See it explained in See Note on Job 1:6.
Which deceiveth the whole world. Whose character is that of a deceiver; whose agency extends over all the earth. See See Note on John 8:44; 1 John 5:19.
He was east out into the earth. That is, he was not suffered to pursue his designs in heaven, but was cast down to the earth, where he is permitted for a time to carry on his warfare against the church. According to the interpretation proposed above, this refers to the period when there were indications that God was about to set up his kingdom on the earth. The language, however, is such as would be used on the supposition that there had been, at some period, a rebellion in heaven, and that Satan and his followers had been cast out to return there no more. It is difficult to explain this language except on that supposition; and such a supposition is, in itself, no more improbable than the apostasy and rebellion of man.
And his angels were cast out with him. They shared the lot of their leader. As applicable to the state of things to which this refers, the meaning is, that all were overthrown; that no enemy of the church would remain unsubdued; that the victory would be final and complete. As applicable to the event from which the language is supposed to have been derived-the revolt in heaven-the meaning is, that the followers in the revolt shared the lot of the leader, and that all who rebelled were ejected from heaven. The first and the only revolt in heaven was quelled; and the result furnished to the universe an impressive proof that none who rebelled there would be forgiven-that apostasy so near the throne could not be pardoned.
10. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven. The great enemy was expelled; the cause of God and truth was triumphant; and the conquering hosts united in celebrating the victor. This representation of a song, consequent on victory, is in accordance with the visual representations in the Bible. See the song of Moses at the Red Sea, Exod. 15:1; the song of Deborah, Judg. 5:1; the song of David when the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, 2 Sam. 22:1; and Isaiah 12-25. On no occasion could such a song be more appropriate than on the complete routing and discomfiture of Satan and his rebellious hosts. Viewed in reference to the time here symbolized, this would relate to the certain triumph of the church and of truth on the earth; in reference to the language, there is an allusion to the joy and triumph of the heavenly hosts when Satan and his apostate legions were expelled.
Now is come salvation. That is, complete deliverance from the power of Satan.
And strength. That is, now is the mighty power of God manifested in casting down and subduing the great enemy of the church.
And the kingdom of our God. The reign of our God. See Note on Matt. 3:2.
That is now established among men, and God will henceforward rule. This refers to the certain ultimate triumph of his cause in the world.
And the power of his Christ. His anointed; that is, the kingdom of Christ as the Messiah, or as anointed and set apart to rule over the world. See Note on Matt. 1:1.
For the accuser of our brethren is cast down. The phrase "our brethren" shows by whom this song is celebrated. It is sung in heaven; but it is by those who belonged to the redeemed church, and whose brethren were still suffering persecution and trial on the earth. It shows the tenderness of the tie which unites all the redeemed as brethren, whether on earth or in heaven; and it shows the interest which they "who have passed the flood" have in the trials, the sorrows, and the triumphs of those who are still upon the earth. We have here another appellation given to the great enemy-"accuser of the brethren." The word here used-kathgoroß, in later editions of the New Testament kathgwr-means properly an accuser; one who blames another, or charges another with crime. The word occurs in John 8:10; Acts 23:30, 35
Acts 24:8; 25:16, 18; Rev. 12:10, in all which places it is rendered accuser or accusers, though only in the latter place applied to Satan. The verb frequently occurs, Matt. 12:10; 27:12; Mark 3:2; 15:3, et al. The description of Satan as an accuser accords with the opinion of the ancient Hebrews in regard to his character. Thus he is represented in Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5; Zech. 3:1-2; 1 Chron. 21:1.
The phrase "of the brethren" refers to Christians, or to the people of God; and the meaning here is, that one of the characteristics of Satan-a characteristic so well-known as to make it proper to designate him by it-is that he is an accuser of the righteous; that he is employed in bringing against them charges affecting their character and destroying their influence. The propriety of this appellation cannot be doubted. It is, as it has always been, one of the characteristics of Satan-one of the means by which he keeps up his influence in the world-to bring accusations against the people of God. Thus, under his suggestions, and by his agents, they are charged with hypocrisy; with insincerity; with being influenced by bad motives; with pursuing sinister designs under the cloak of religion; with secret vices and crimes. Thus it was that the martyrs were accused; thus it is that unfounded accusations are often brought against ministers of the gospel, palsying their power and diminishing their influence, or that when a professed Christian falls the church is made to suffer by an effort to cast suspicion on all who bear the Christian name. Perhaps the most skilful thing that Satan does, and the thing by which he most contributes to diminish the influence of the church, is in thus causing "accusations" to be brought against the people of God.
Is cast down. The period here referred to was, doubtless, the time when the church was about to be established and to flourish in the world, and when accusations would be brought against Christians by various classes of calumniators and informers. It is well known that in the early ages of Christianity crimes of the most horrid nature were charged on Christians, and that it was by these slanders that the effort was made to prevent the extension of the Christian church.
Which accused them before our God. See Note on Job 1:9-10.
The meaning is, that he accused them, as it were, in the very presence of God. Day and night. He never ceased bringing these accusations, and sought by the perseverance and constancy with which they were urged, to convince the world that there was no sincerity in the church, and no reality in religion.
11. And they overcame him. That is, he was foiled in his attempt thus to destroy the church. The reference here, undoubtedly, is primarily to the martyr age, and to the martyr spirit; and the meaning is, that religion had not become extinct by these accusations, as Satan hoped it would be, but lived and triumphed. By their holy lives; by their faithful testimony; by their patient sufferings, they showed that all these accusations were false, and that the religion which they professed was from God, and thus in fact gained a victory over their accuser. Instead of being themselves subdued, Satan himself was vanquished, and the world was constrained to acknowledge that the persecuted religion had a heavenly origin. No design was ever more ineffectual than that of crushing the church by persecution; no victory was ever more signal than that which was gained when it could be said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
By the blood of the Lamb. The Lord Jesus-the Lamb of God. See Notes on Rev. 5:6; John 1:29.
The blood of Christ was that by which they were redeemed, and it was in virtue of the efficacy of the atonement that they were enabled to achieve the victory. Compare Note on Phil. 4:13.
Christ himself achieved a victory over Satan by his death, (See Notes on Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:15,) and it is in virtue of the victory which he thus achieved that we are now able to triumph over our great foe.
"I ask them whence their victory came;
They, with united breath,
Ascribe their conquest to the Lamb,
Their triumph to his death."
And by the word of their testimony. The faithful testimony which they bore to the truth. That is, they adhered to the truth in their sufferings; they declared their belief in it, even in the pains of martyrdom, and it was by this that they overcame the great enemy; that is, by this that the belief in the gospel was established and maintained in the world. The reference here is to the effects of persecution, and to the efforts of Satan to drive religion from the world by persecution. John says that the result, as he saw it in vision, was that the persecuted church bore a faithfull testimony to the truth, and that the great enemy was overcome.
And they loved not their lives unto the death. They did not so love their lives that they were unwilling to die as martyrs. They did not shrink back when threatened with death, but remained firm in their attachment to their Saviour, and left their dying testimony to the truth and power of religion. It was by these means that Christianity was established in the world, and John, in the scene before us, saw it thus triumphant, and saw the angels and the redeemed in heaven celebrating the triumph. The result of the attempts to destroy the Christian religion by persecution demonstrated that it was to triumph. No more mighty power could be employed to crush it than was employed by the Roman emperors; and when it was seen that Christianity could survive those efforts to crush it, it was certain that it was destined to live for ever.
12. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens. It is not unusual in the Scriptures to call on the heavens and the earth to sympathize with the events that occur. Compare Note on Isa. 1:2.
Here the heavens are called on to rejoice because of the signal victory which it was seen would be achieved over the great enemy. Heaven itself was secure from any further rebellion or invasion, and the foundation was laid for a final victory over Satan everywhere.
And ye that dwell in them. The angels and the redeemed. This is an instance of the sympathy of the heavenly inhabitants-the unfallen and holy beings before the throne-with the church on earth, and with all that may affect its welfare. Compare Note on 1 Pet. 1:12.
Woe to the inhabiters of the earth. This is not an imprecation, or a wish that woe might come upon them, but a prediction that it would. The meaning is this: Satan would ultimately be entirely overcome-a fact that was symbolized by his being cast out of heaven; but there would be still temporary war upon the earth, as if he were permitted to roam over the world for a time, and to spread woe and sorrow there.
And of the sea. Those who inhabit the islands of the sea, and those who are engaged in commerce. The meaning is, that the world as such would have occasion to mourn-the dwellers both on the land and on the sea.
For the devil is come down unto you. As if cast out of heaven.
Having great wrath. Wrath shown by the symbolical war with Michael and his angels, (Rev. 12:7;) wrath increased and inflamed because he has been discomfited; wrath the more concentrated because he knows that his time is limited.
Because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. That is, he knows that the time is limited in which he will be permitted to wage war with the saints on the earth. There is allusion elsewhere to the fact that the time of Satan is limited, and that he is apprised of that. Thus in Matt. 8:29, "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" See Note on Matt. 8:29.
Within that limited space, Satan knows that he must do all that he ever can do to destroy souls, and to spread woe through the earth, and hence it is not unnatural that he should be represented as excited to deeper wrath, and as rousing all his energy to destroy the church.
13. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth. That is, when Satan saw that he was doomed to discomfiture and overthrow, as if he had been cast out of heaven; when he saw that his efforts must be confined to the earth, and that only for a limited time, he "persecuted the woman," and was more violently enraged against the church on earth.
He persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. See Note on Rev. 12:5.
The child is represented as safe; that is, the ultimate progress and extension of the church was certain, But Satan was permitted still to wage a warfare against the church-represented here by his wrath against the woman, and by her being constrained to flee into the wilderness. It is unnecessary to say that, after the Pagan persecutions ceased, and Christianity was firmly established in the empire; after Satan saw that all hope of destroying the church in that manner was at an end, his enmity was vented in another form-in the rise of the Papacy, and in the persecutions under that-in opposition to spiritual religion no less determined and deadly than that which had been waged by Paganism.
14. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle. The most powerful of birds, and among the most rapid in flight. See Note on Rev. 4:7.
The meaning here is, that the woman is represented as prepared for a rapid flight; so prepared as to be able to outstrip her pursuer, and to reach a place of safety. Divested of the figure, the sense is, that the church, when exposed to this form of persecution, would be protected as if miraculously supplied with wings.
That she might fly into the wilderness. There is here a more full description of what is briefly stated in Rev. 12:6. A wilderness or desert is often represented as a place of safety from pursuers. Thus David (1 Sam. 23:14-15) is represented as fleeing into the wilderness from the persecutions of Saul. So Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) fled into the wilderness from the persecutions of Jezebel. The simple idea here is, that the church, in the opposition which would come upon it, would find a refuge.
Into her place. A place appointed for her; that is, a place where she could be safe.
Where she is nourished. The word here rendered nourished is the same-trefw-which occurs in Rev. 12:6, and which is there rendered feed. It means to feed, nurse, or nourish, as the young of animals, (Matt. 6:26; 25:37; Luke 12:24; Acts 12:20; ) that is, to sustain by proper food. The meaning here is, that the church would be kept alive. It is not indeed mentioned by whom this would be done, but it is evidently implied that it would be by God. During this long period in which the church would be in obscurity, it would not be suffered to become extinct. Compare 1 Kings 17:3-6.
For a time, and times, and half a time. A year, two years, and half a year; that is, forty-two months, (See Note on Rev. 11:2;) or, reckoning the month at thirty days, twelve hundred and sixty days; and regarding these as prophetic days, in which a day stands for a year, twelve hundred and sixty years. For a full discussion of the meaning of this language, See Note on Dan. 7:25.
It is manifest that there is an allusion here to the passage in Dan. 7:25 that the twelve hundred and sixty days refer to the same thing; and that the true explanation must be made in the same way. The meaning of the passage before us is, that during all the time of the continuance of that formidable, persecuting power, (the papacy) the true church would not in fact become extinct. It would be obscure and comparatively unknown, but it would still live. The fulfilment of this is found in the fact that during all the time here referred to, there has been a true church on the earth. Pure, spiritual religion-the religion of the New Testament-has never been wholly extinct. In the history of the Waldenses, and Albigenses, the Bohemian brethren, and kindred people; in deserts and places of obscurity; among individuals and among small and persecuted sects; here and there in the cases of individuals in monasteries, (All affecting instance of this kind-perhaps one of many cases that existed-is mentioned by D'Aubigne.) (B. 1. p. 79, Eng. Trans.,) which came to light on the pulling down, in the year 1776, of an old building that had formed a part of the Carthusian convent at Basle. A poor Carthusian brother, by the name of Martin, had written the following confession, which he had placed in a wooden box, and enclosed in a hole which he had made in the wall of his cell, where it was found:-"O most merciful God, I know that I can only be saved, and satisfy thy righteousness by the merit, the innocent suffering and death of thy well-beloved Son. Holy Jesus! my salvation is in thy hands. Thou canst not withdraw the hands of thy love from me: for they have created and redeemed me. Thou hast inscribed my name with a pen of iron in rich mercy, and so as nothing can efface it, on thy side, thy hands, and thy feet," etc. the true religion has been kept up in the world, as in the days of Elijah God reserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal: and it is possible now for us, with a good degree of certainty, to show, even during the darkest ages, and when Rome seemed to have entirely the ascendency, where the true church was. To find out this, was the great design of the Ecclesiastical History of Milner; it has been done, also, with great learning and skill, by Neander. From the face of the serpent. The dragon-or Satan represented by the dragon. See Note on Rev. 12:3.
The reference here is to the opposition which Satan makes to the true church under the persecutions and corruptions of the Papacy.
15. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood. This is peculiar and uncommon imagery, and it is not necessary to suppose that anything like this literally occurs in nature. Some serpents are indeed said to eject from their mouths poisonous bile when they are enraged, in order to annoy their pursuers; and some sea-monsters, it is known, spout forth large quantities of water; but the representation here does not seem to be taken from either of those cases. It is the mere product of the imagination, but the sense is clear. The woman is represented as having wings, and as being able thus to escape from the serpent. But, as an expression of his wrath, and as if with the hope of destroying her in her flight by a deluge of water, he is represented as pouring a flood from his mouth, that he might, if possible, sweep her away. The figure here would well represent the continued malice of the Papal body against the true church, in those dark ages when it was sunk in obscurity, and, as it were, driven out into the desert. That malice never slumbered, but was continually manifesting itself in some new form, as if it were the purpose of Papal Rome to sweep it entirely away.
That he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. Might cause the church wholly to be destroyed. The truth taught is, that Satan leaves no effort untried to destroy the church.
16. And the earth helped the woman. The earth seemed to sympathize with the woman in her persecutions, and to interpose to save her. The meaning is, that a state of things would exist in regard to the church thus driven into obscurity, which would be well represented by what is here said to occur. It was cut off from human aid. It was still in danger; still persecuted. In this state, it was nourished from some unseen source. It was enabled to avoid the direct attacks of the enemy, and when he attacked it in a new form, a new mode of intervention in its behalf was granted, as if the earth should open and swallow up a flood of water. We are not, therefore, to look for any literal fulfilment of this, as if the earth interposed in some marvellous way to aid the church. The sense is, that, in that state of obscurity and solitude, the Divine interposition was manifested, in an unexpected manner, as if when an impetuous stream was rolling along that threatened to sweep everything away, a chasm should suddenly open in the earth and absorb it. During the dark ages, many such interventions occurred, saving the church from utter destruction. Over-flowing waters are often in the Scriptures an emblem of mighty enemies. Psa. 124:2-5, "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: then the proud waters had gone over our soul." Psa. 18:16, "He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters." Jer. 47:2, "Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing flood, and shall overflow the land," etc. Compare Jer. 46:7-8. See Note on Isa. 8:7-8.
And the earth opened her mouth. A chasm was made sufficient to absorb the waters. That is, John saw that the church was safe from this attack, and that, in order to preserve it, there was an interposition as marked and wonderful as if the earth should suddenly open and swallow up a mighty flood.
17. And the dragon was wroth with the woman. This wrath had been vented by his persecuting her, (Rev. 12:13;) by his pursuing her; and by his pouring out the flood of water to sweep her away, (Rev. 12:15,) and the same wrath was now vented against her children. As he could not reach and destroy the woman herself, he turned his indignation against all who were allied to her. Stripped of the imagery, the meaning is, that as he could not destroy the church as such, he vented his malice against all who were the friends of the church, and endeavoured to destroy them. "The church, as such, he could not destroy; therefore he turned his wrath against individual Christians, to bring as many of them as possible to death." - De Wette. And went to make war with the remnant of her seed. No mention is made before of his persecuting the children of the woman except his opposition to the "man child," which she bore, Rev. 12:1-4. The "woman" represents the church, and the phrase "the remnant of her seed" must refer to her scattered children, that is, to the scattered members of the church, wherever they could be found. The reference here is to persecutions against individuals, rather than a general persecution against the church itself, and all that is here said would find an ample fulfilment in the vexations and troubles of individuals in the Roman communion in the dark ages, when they evinced the spirit of pure, evangelical piety; in the cruelties practised in the Inquisition on individual Christians under the plea that they were heretics; and in the persecutions of such men as Wycliffe, John Huss, and Jerome of Prague. This warfare against individual Christians was continued long in the Papal church, and tens of thousands of true friends of the Saviour suffered every form of cruelty and wrong as the result.
Which keep the commandments of God. Who were true Christians. This phrase characterizes correctly those who, in the dark ages, were the friends of God, in the midst of abounding corruption.
And have the testimony of Jesus Christ. That is, they bore a faithful testimony to his truth, or were real martyrs. See Rev. 2:13.
The scene, then, in this chapter is this: John saw a most beautiful woman, suitably adorned, representing the church as about to be enlarged, and to become triumphant in the earth. Then he saw a great red monster, representing Satan, about to destroy the church: the Pagan power, infuriated, and putting forth its utmost energy for its destruction. He then saw the child caught up into heaven, denoting that the church would be ultimately safe, and would reign over all the world. Another vision appears. It is that of a contest between Michael, the protecting angel of the people of God, and the great foe, in which victory declares in favour of the former, and Satan suffers a discomfiture, as if he were cast from heaven to earth. Still, however, he is permitted for a time to carry on a warfare against the church, though certain that he would be ultimately defeated. He puts forth his power, and manifests his hostility, in another form-that of the Papacy-and commences a new opposition against the spiritual church of Christ. The church is, however, safe from that attempt to destroy it, for the woman is represented as fleeing to the wilderness beyond the power of the enemy, and is there kept alive. Still filled with rage, though incapable of destroying the true church itself, he turns his wrath, under the form of Papal persecutions against individual Christians, and endeavours to cut them off in detail.
This is the general representation in this chapter, and on the supposition that it was designed to represent the various forms of opposition which Satan would make to the church of Christ, under Paganism and the Papacy, it must be admitted, I think, that no more expressive or appropriate symbols could have been chosen. This fact should be allowed to have due influence in confirming the interpretation suggested above; and if it be admitted to be a correct interpretation, it is conclusive evidence of the inspiration of the book. Further details of this opposition of Satan to the church under the Papal form of persecution are made in the subsequent chapters.
Jewish New Testament Commentary
Whether favoring literal or figurative interpretation of the book of Revelation, nearly all commentators agree that these verses depict the birth of Yeshua the Messiah and his ascension to heaven after being resurrected. This means that Revelation is not simply a presentation of future events in chronological order, since this passage flashes back to past history.
The woman is not Miryam, Yeshua's mother, but Israel, in its normal sense, the Jewish people, because the imagery is from Isaiah 66:7-10 (compare also Isaiah 26:17, Micah 4:10). Because of v. 17 this cannot be the "extended Israel" concept which includes Gentile Christians (see 7:4N on "from every tribe of the sons of Israel").
Although Israel is on earth, Yochanan sees her in heaven, symbolizing the fact that God protects and preserves the Jews; this is made more explicit at vv. 6, 13-16. Moreover, Mikha'el is Israel's angelic protector (v. 7&N). There is an obvious resemblance between the woman and "heavenly Jerusalem" (Ga 4:26, MJ 12:22-24).
Twelve stars. Some think this means the twelve signs of the zodiac. While writers draw on materials from their own culture, and Judaism became embroiled with astrology well before Yochanan lived, it is clear that his purposes have nothing to do with astrology. At 21:12-14 the number twelve refers to the tribes of Israel and the emissaries of Yeshua, and this understanding is adequate to the context here too.
She screamed in the agony of labor. See Mt 24:8N on the "birth pains" of the Messiah.
The dragon is Satan, the Adversary (see v. 9N); its seven heads and ten horns also equate it with the "fourth beast" of Daniel 7:7, 24 (see 13:1N). It stood in front of the woman, opposing Yeshua, ready to devour the child the moment it was born.
Stars. Possibly natural stars (6:13, 8:12; Mt 24:29), but more likely "his angels" (v. 7; compare 1:20, 9:1), who rebelled with Satan against God (see 2 Ke 2:4&N).
A male child. Compare Isaiah 66:7; see v. 17&N. Who will rule all the nations with a staff of iron. This phrase from Psalm 2, in its entirety about the Messiah, is also quoted at 2:26-27&N and 19:15; see also 11:18&N.
See vv. 14-17&N.
Mikha'el, one of the ruling angels (see 1 Th 4:16&N, Yd 9&N). In Jewish popular thought, angels are a Christian invention reflecting a departure from pure monotheism. Actually, angels are frequently mentioned in the Tanakh, although Mikha'el (Michael) and Gavri'el (Gabriel; see Lk 1:19N) are the only ones it identifies by name. Post-Tanakh Judaism developed an elaborate angelology.
At Daniel 10:13, after Daniel had fasted three weeks, Gavri'el explains his delay in coming: "The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me for twenty-one days, until Mikha'el, one of the first-ranked angels, came to my aid, and I was no longer needed there with the kings of Persia." At Daniel 10:21, Gavri'el tells Daniel about "Mikha'el, your prince"; and "your" is plural - Mikha'el is the Jewish people's prince or guardian angel, who fights alongside Gavri'el against the angels of Persia and Greece. Daniel 12:1, speaking of the End of Days, adds, "At that time Mikha'el, the great prince who stands [guard] for the children of your people, will arise; and there will be a period of trouble greater than any which has been from the time nations began until then; but at that time your people - that is, everyone whose name is found written in the book - will be delivered." (This verse is alluded to at 20:15, Mt 24:21.) Here Mikha'el is seen with his heavenly armies, defeating the dragon.
The aggadah names many other angels, for example, Rafa'el and Aza'zel, referred to in the quotation from 1 Enoch in 2 Ke 2:4&N. (See also 1:4N on "the sevenfold Spirit" and 8:2N.) Moreover, the tradition expands the roles of Mikha'el and Gavri'el. According to Pesikta Rabbati 46:3, they are two of the four angels surrounding God's throne; but the Talmud states that Mikha'el is greater than Gavri'el (B'rakhot 4b). Mikha'el was the angel who called on Avraham not to sacrifice Yitzchak (Midrash Va-Yosha in A. Jellinek, Beit-HaMidrash 1:38, referring to Genesis 22:11). According to Exodus Rabbah 18:5, it was Mikha'el who smote Sennacherib and the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35); the passage adds that
"Mikha'el and Samma'el [identified with Satan; see Yd 9N] both stand before the Sh'khinah; Satan accuses, while Mikha'el points out Israel's virtues, and when Satan wishes to speak again, Mikha'el silences him."
Esther Rabbah 7:12 says it was Mikha'el who defended the Jews against each of Haman's accusations. When the Messiah comes, Mikha'el and Gavri'el will accompany him and will fight the wicked (Alphabet Midrash of Rabbi Akiva).
One of the most moving passages in the Midrash Rabbah occurs at its close. When the time came for Moses to die, Samma'el, the angel of death, came to take his soul. But Moses objected, reciting a long list of his accomplishments to prove that he need not surrender his soul to Samma'el. Finally it was God himself who
"came down from the highest heavens to take away the soul of Moses; and with him were three ministering angels, Mikha'el, Gavri'el and Zagzag'el. Mikha'el prepared his bier, Gavri'el spread out a fine linen cloth by the pillow under his head, and Zagzag'el put one at his feet. Then Mikha'el stood at one side and Gavri'el at the other. The Holy One, blessed be he, summoned Moses' soul; but it replied, Master of the Universe, I beg you, let me stay in Moses' body.' Whereupon God kissed Moses, taking his soul away with a kiss of his mouth; and God, if one may say so, wept. And the Ruach HaKodesh said, Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses' (Deuteronomy 34:10). Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen." (Condensed from Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:10)
Though compiled in the fourth century C.E., the writers of the Midrash Rabbah did not recognize that Yeshua was the "prophet like Moses" and had already "arisen in Israel"; see Ac 3:22-23N. Y'hudah 9 alludes to this tradition concerning Mikha'el's role in Moses' death; see notes there and at 11:3-6 above.
In the kabbalistic (Jewish occult) literature the status of Mikha'el is further exalted. He is associated or even identified with the angel Metatron, himself sometimes equated with the Messiah. Mikha'el is given a role in redemption and becomes a personification of grace. He is sometimes portrayed as bringing before God the souls of the righteous (see 6:9&N).
Is the New Testament merely warmed-over Greek mythology? If not, why does it have a chapter about a great dragon? Yochanan answers here and at 20:2 by identifying the dragon (Greek drakô) in Jewish terminology as:
(1) That ancient serpent, Greek ophis, used in the Septuagint at Genesis 3 to translate Hebrew nachash, the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
(2) The Devil, Greek diabolos, "slanderer, accuser," the Septuagint's word for "Satan"; this is precisely his role at Job 1-2.
(3) Satan (the Adversary). I render Greek Satanas twice, first by a transliteration, then by a translation; see Mt 4:1N.
(4) The deceiver of the whole world. Compare 20:2-3 below.
(5) The accuser of our brothers. Satan's accusing God's people is familiar in non-Messianic Judaism; one may say that antisemitism is one of its manifestations.
Moreover, the Tanakh uses "monster language" of its own when speaking of Satan:
(1) Rahav ("Rahab" - no connection with the woman who sheltered the spies in Jericho), meaning Egypt, but with Satan's power lurking beneath (Isaiah 51:9, Psalm 39:10, Job 26:13).
(2) Livyatan ("Leviathan, sea monster"; Isaiah 27:1; Psalms 74:14, 104:26; Job 40:25 - 41:26 41:1-34)); the description in the last passage makes it clear that Leviathan is no natural sea monster.
(3) Behemot ("Behemoth, hippopotamus"; but in Job 40:15-24 a supernatural being).
(4) Tanin ("dragon, crocodile"; Isaiah 51:9, Psalm 74:13, Job 7:12).
(5) Nachash ("serpent"; Genesis 3:1-19, Isaiah 27:1, Amos 9:3, Job 26:13).
In the Septuagint "drakôn" (which underlies the English word "dragon") is used frequently to translate "tanin," "nachash" and "livyatan"; the KJV Old Testament uses "dragon" twenty times.
In v. 3 above this dragon is also identified with the "fourth beast" of Daniel 7:7, 24.
The great dragon was thrown out. Compare Lk 10:18, where Yeshua says, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."
He was hurled down to earth. What does he do here? Answer: "Your enemy, the Adversary, stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Ke 5:8). This is confirmed in vv. 12-17, 13:7. What should we do about it? "Stand against him..." (1 Ke 5:9-10, Ya 4:7; compare Ep 6:10-17, also 13:10 and 14:12 below).
The coming of God's victory (or "salvation"; see 7:10N) is the subject of the next six chapters; the cry is repeated at 19:1.
Our brothers defeated Satan, the Accuser, because of God's gracious act on behalf of mankind, the shedding of the Lamb's blood (see Ro 3:25bN), and also because of... their fearlessly doing their part, giving witness to this act of God and his son Yeshua, even when facing death. See Ac 7:59-60N on being martyred al kiddush HaShem.
His time is short. After unknown ages in heaven (Isaiah 14:11-15), the Adversary spends a relatively short interlude on earth before being banished to "the lake of fire and sulfur" (20:10), "the fire prepared for the Adversary and his angels" (Mt 25:41). During this time he is very angry - see 1 Ke 5:8 and vv. 9-10N above.
He went in pursuit of the woman, that is, went to persecute the Jewish people (v. 1N), and perhaps the Messianic Jews in particular. The precise meaning of the details is not clear; the general sense is that God foils Satan's most demonic attempts to destroy Israel.
The rest of her children are Gentile Christians. They obey God's commands, not the 613 mitzvot but the Torah with the necessary changes (MJ 7:11, 8:6; Ac 15:22-23; Yn 13:34; Ro 13:8-10) that give us "the Torah's true meaning, which the Messiah upholds" (Ga 6:2). See notes to these passages. And, like Messianic Jews, they bear witness to Yeshua (see v. 11N). R. H. Charles uses convoluted reasoning to equate the woman with the Church and "the rest of her seed" with all believers; nevertheless, even he says that the phrase "originally" meant "Gentile Christians." Revelation, Volume 1, p. 315. See also Isaiah 66:8.
The dragon stood on the seashore to call forth the two beasts of 13:1, 11, his instruments for persecuting both Israel and Gentile believers.
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament
1. Wonder (shmeion). Better, as Rev., sign. See on Matthew 24:24.
Clothed (peribeblhme÷nh). Rev., better, arrayed. See on ch. 3:5.
The moon under her feet. See Cant. 6:10. The symbol is usually taken to represent the Church.
2. Travailing in birth (wÓdi÷nousa). See on sorrows, Mark 13:9, and pains, Acts 2:24.
In pain (basanizome÷nh). Lit., being tormented. See on ch. 11:10, and references. For the imagery compare Isaiah 66:7, 8; John 16:21.
3. Red (purjrJo\ß). See on ch. 6:4.
Dragon (dra¿kwn). Satan. See ver. 9. The word is found only in Revelation. In the Septuagint, of the serpent into which Moses' rod was changed. In Isaiah 27:1; Ezekiel 29:3, of the crocodile or leviathan of Job 41:1. In Jeremiah 51:34, of a dragon.
Crowns (diadh/mata). The Kingly crown, not the chaplet (ste÷fanoß). See on ch. 2:10
4. Of the stars of heaven. Some expositors find an allusion to the fallen angels (Jude 6).
Did cast them to the earth. Compare Daniel 8:10.
To devour her child as soon as it was born (iºna o¢tan te÷khØ to\ te÷knon aujthvß katafa¿ghØ). Rev., more literally, that when she was delivered he might devour her child. Professor Milligan says: "In these words we have the dragon doing what Pharaoh did to Israel (Exodus 1:1522), and again and again, in the Psalms and the Prophets, Pharaoh is spoken of as the dragon (Psalm 74:13; Isaiah 27:1; 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3). Nor is it without interest to remember that Pharaoh's crown was wreathed with a dragon (the asp or serpent of Egypt), and that just as the eagle was the ensign of Rome, so the dragon was that of Egypt. Hence the significance of Moses' rod being turned into a serpent."
5. A man-child (uio\n aýrjrJena). Lit., a son, a male. The correct reading is aýrsen, the neuter, not agreeing with the masculine individual (uio\n son) but with the neuter of the genus. The object is to emphasize, not the sex, but the quality of Masculinity - power and vigor. Rev., a son, a man-child. Compare John 16:21; Jeremiah 20:15.
To rule (poimai÷nein). Lit., to shepherd or tend. See on Matthew 2:6.
A rod of iron. Compare Psalm 2:9, and see on ch. 2:27.
Was caught up (hJrpa¿sqh). See on Matthew 12:12. Compare Acts 23:10; Jude 23.
6. Of God (aÓpo\ touv Qeouv). Lit., from God, the preposition marking the source from which the preparation came. For a similar use, see James 1:13, "tempted of God."
7. There was (ege÷neto). Lit., there arose.
War in heaven. Compare 1 Kings 22; Job 1, 2; Zechariah 3; Luke 10:18.
Michael. See Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; and on Jude 1:9.
Fought (epole÷mhsan). The correct reading is touv polemhvsai to fight. So Rev., "going forth to war against the dragon (kata» touv dra¿kontoß). The correct reading is meta¿ with.
8. Prevailed (i¶scusan). See on Luke 14:30; 16:3; James 5:16.
9. The great dragon (oj dra¿kwn oj me÷gaß). Lit., the dragon, the great (dragon).
That old serpent (oj o¡fiß oj aÓrcaioß). Lit., the serpent, the old (serpent). For this habitual construction in John, see on 1 John 4:9. For aÓrcaioß old, see on 1 John 2:7, and compare "he was a murderer aÓp aÓrchvß from the beginning," John 8:44; aÓrch/ beginning being etymologically akin to aÓrcaioß old.
The Devil. See on Matthew 4:1.
Satan. See on Luke 10:18.
The deceiver (oj planw×n). Lit., he that deceiveth. See on 1 John 1:8.
World (oikoume÷nhn). See on Luke 2:1 The world with all its inhabitants.
Down to (eiß). Lit., into.
10. Saying in heaven (le÷gousan en tw× oujranw×). The correct reading joins in heaven with great voice. So Rev. I heard a great voice in heaven.
Now (aýrti). See on John 13:33.
Is come (ege÷neto). Lit., came to pass. Alford says: "It is impossible in English to join to a particle of present time, such as aýrti now, a verb in aoristic time. We are driven to the perfect in such cases."
Salvation, power, the kingdom. All have the article: the salvation, etc. So Rev. The phrase, now is come the salvation, etc., means that these are realized and established. Some, less correctly, render, now is the salvation, etc., become our God's Compare Luke 3:6.
Power (exousi÷a). See on Mark 2:10. Rev., authority.
The accuser of our brethren (oj kath/goroß tw×n aÓdelfw×n hJmw×n). The correct form of the Greek for accuser is a transcript of the Rabbinical Hebrew, kath/gwr. The Rabbins had a corresponding term sunh/Øgwr for Michael, as the advocate of God's people. The phrase is applied to Satan nowhere else in the New Testament.
Is cast down (kateblh/qh). The aorist tense. Once and for all. Compare John 12:31; 16:8, 11.
Which accuseth (oj kathgorw×n). Lit., the one. The article with the present participle expresses what is habitual.
11. Overcame (eni÷khsan). See on 1 John 2:13.
By the blood of the Lamb (dia» to\ aima touv aÓrni÷ou). The preposition dia¿ with the accusative signifies on account of. Hence Rev., correctly, because of: in virtue of the shedding of that blood. Similarly in the succeeding clause, "because of the word of their testimony." For lamb, see on ch. 5:6.
Testimony (marturi÷aß). See on John 1:7.
They loved not their life even unto death. Alford, correctly, "they carried their not-love of their life even unto death."
12. Dwell (skhnouvnteß). See on John 1:14. Compare ch. 7:15; 13:6; 21:3.
To the inhabiters (toiß katoikouvsin). Omit. Read, as Rev., woe for the earth and for the sea.
Wrath (qumo\n). See on John 3:36.
Time (kairo\n). See on Matthew 12:1; Mark 1:15; Acts 1:7.
14. Two wings. The definite article ai the should be added: "the two wings." Compare Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalm 36:7.
The great eagle. The article does not point to the eagle of ch. 8:13, but is generic.
A time and times and half a time. Three years and a half. See on ch. 11:2.
15. Cause her to be carried away of the flood (tau/thn potamofo/rhton poih/shØ). Lit., might make her one carried away by the stream: a river-born one. The word occurs only here in the New Testament.
17. Jesus Christ. Omit Christ.
The best texts add to this chapter the opening words of ch. 13:(A.V.), "And I stood upon the sand of the sea." Some, however, change esta¿qhn I stood, to esta¿qh he stood, referring to the dragon.
Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 52a: Revelation 1-5, Volume 52b: Revelation 6-16 & Volume 52c: Revelation 17-22, David E. Aune
Barnes' Notes on the New Testament: Revelation of St. John the Divine, Albert Barnes
The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 and The Book of Ezekiel: Chapter 25-48: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Damiel I. Block
An Introduction to the New Testament, D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo
Dr. Constable's Notes on Revelation, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary (his class notes)
Revelation: Four Views. A Parallel Commentary, Steve Gregg
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 1871 Edition, Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, Dennis E. Johnson
Revelation Unveiled, Tim LaHaye
Macarthur New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation 1-11, Revelation 12-22, John MacArthur
The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Robert H. Mounce
The Preacher's Commentary: 1,2 & 3 John/Revelation, Earl F. Palmer
Exploring Revelation: Am Expository Commentary, John Phillips
The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, Vern S. Poythress
"Behold, He Cometh": A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Revelation, John R. Rice
Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern
Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary and Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary, Robert L. Thomas,
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Marvin R. Vincent
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Revelation, Michael Wilcock
IVP Pocket Dictionaries:
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzke and Cherith Fee
Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta -
Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of
Religion, Stephen Evans -
Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament
Greek, Matthew S. DeMoss Intervarsity Press' New Testament Commentary Intervarsity Press' New Bible Commentary Intervarsity Press' Hard Sayings of the Bible
IVP Pocket Dictionaries:
- Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzke and Cherith Fee Nordling
- Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta
- Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion, Stephen Evans
- Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek, Matthew S. DeMoss
Intervarsity Press' New Testament Commentary
Intervarsity Press' New Bible Commentary
Intervarsity Press' Hard Sayings of the Bible
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