Re 12:1-17. VISION OF THE WOMAN, HER CHILD, AND THE PERSECUTING DRAGON.
1. This episode (Re 12:1-15:8) describes in detail the persecution of Israel and the elect Church by the beast, which had been summarily noticed, Re 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, &c., summarily noticed in Re 11:13,18. The beast in Re 12:3, &c., 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 (Re 12:6,14 Re 13:5; compare Re 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, Re 11:19; compare Re 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 (Re 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 Re 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 (Re 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 (Re 12:1). The two beasts arise respectively out of the sea (compare Da 7:3) and the earth (Re 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 Re 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 (Re 12:2) represent the Old Testament believers' ardent longings for the promised Redeemer. Compare the joy at His birth (Isa 9:6). As new Jerusalem (called also "the woman," or "wife," Re 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 Da 7:7 Re 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 Da 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," Re 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 Re 12:1 1:20 Isa 14:12). stood--"stands" [ALFORD]: perfect tense, Greek, "hesteken." ready to be delivered--"about to bring forth." for to devour, &c.--"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 on Re 12:1,2. rule--Greek, "poimainein," "tend as a shepherd"; (see on Re 2:27). rod of iron--A rod is for long-continued obstinacy until they submit themselves to obedience [BENGEL]: Re 2:27 Ps 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 (Re 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 (Re 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 Da 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 (Re 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 (Re 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. Eze 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 on Eze 20:35,36): 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 (Re 7:1-8) who constitute "the woman," are nevertheless preserved "from the face of the serpent" (Re 12:14). thousand two hundred and threescore days--anticipatory of Re 12:14, where the persecution which caused her to flee is mentioned in its place: Re 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 Zec 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 (Ro 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 Re 12:9,10,12 1Ki 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, Lu 19:38, "peace in heaven." Col 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 (Re 19:14-21). The conflict on earth, as in Da 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. Lu 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 Eph 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 Zec 3:1-9 is strictly parallel, Joshua, the high priest, being representative of his nation Israel, and Satan standing at God's fight hand as adversary to resist Israel's justification. Then, and not till then, fully (Re 12:10, "NOW," &c.) shall ALL things be reconciled unto Christ IN HEAVEN (Col 1:20), and there shall be peace in heaven (Lu 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 (Joh 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" (Re 12:12). (3) He is bound during the millennium (Re 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 Ge 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 (Mt 28:18), "All power [Greek, 'exousia,' 'authority,' as here; see below] is given unto Me in heaven and in earth"; connected with Re 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 on Re 12:7). Thus this is parallel, and the necessary preliminary to the glorious event similarly expressed, Re 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, &c.--Greek, "the salvation (namely, fully, finally, and victoriously accomplished, Heb 9:28; compare Lu 3:6, yet future; hence, not till now do the blessed raise the fullest hallelujah for salvation to the Lamb, Re 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--(Ro 8:33,34,37 16:20). him--(1Jo 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, &c.--Greek (dia to haima; accusative, not genitive case, as English Version would require, compare Heb 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 Re 15:2, "them that had gotten the victory over the beast" (compare Re 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 (Re 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 Re 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 Joh 3:7, Margin, with Joh 3:31 8:23 Php 3:19, end; 1Jo 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 (Re 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 Re 12:6 the thread of the discourse, which had been interrupted by the episode, Re 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 (Re 12:6).
14. were given--by God's determinate appointment, not by human chances (Ac 9:11). two--Greek, "the two wings of the great eagle." Alluding to Ex 19:4: proving that the Old Testament Church, as well as the New Testament Church, is included in "the woman." All believers are included (Isa 40:30,31). The great eagle is the world power; in Eze 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, Re 9:20 1Co 10:20), in the wilderness. Hence Babylon is called the desert of the sea,Isa 21:1-10 (referred to also in Re 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 (Re 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," Da 7:25 12:7], or 1260 days (Re 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," Re 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 Da 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 (Da 4:23), answering to Antichrist, the beast's duration. 15, 16. flood--Greek, "river" (compare Ex 2:3 Mt 2:20; and especially Ex 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 (Re 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" (Re 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.