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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Revelation 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

SECTION III

(Revelation 12:12 through Revelation 14)

REV:12

Here begins the second and final great division of Revelation. "In it we traverse the same ground once more."[1] Beginning with the Incarnation, we have the efforts of Satan to destroy Christ while he is on earth, and failing in this, to destroy the church, and failing in this, to wage war against the saints. The outline of the chapter is:

The drama of the woman and the dragon (Revelation 12:1-6).

A retrospective parenthesis to explain Satan's hatred of the woman and her seed (Revelation 12:7-9).

A heavenly proleptic doxology, but also including retrospective mention of past events (Revelation 12:10-12).

The war against the church by Satan (Revelation 12:13-17).SIZE>

The vision which begins in this chapter has several parts, but, "It does not end until the judgment day has arrived (Revelation 14:14f)."[2] McDowell entitled this entire second division of Revelation as, "The Conflict of Sovereignties and the Victory of God."[3] We also agree with Ladd that Revelation 12-22 are: "A representation of the struggle in the spiritual world that lies behind history."[4] Although some of the visions are undoubtedly applicable as accurate predictions of events future from John's time, it does not appear that this was the primary purpose of the prophecy.

Regarding the apostle's alleged "sources" of the visions here revealed, we reject the nonsense of dragging up from the ash can of history all of the pagan mythology of Greece, Rome, Persian, Babylon, Egypt, etc., and "finding" any origin there of this New Testament Apocalypse. The truth is that the essential features of Revelation are found nowhere but here! The apostle gave his source in Revelation 1:1. It is amazing that some of the same scholars who speak of the "ignorance" of the apostles have attributed to John with reference to this prophecy an almost exhaustive knowledge of the entire field of ancient mythology! There is not the slightest proof that John had ever even heard of any of it. Where is the "scientific objectivity" of those bizarre theories regarding the "source" of these visions? Their source, the source of such critics, will be found in Revelation 12:15. A Christian commentary on Revelation should not read like an anthology of ancient pagan mythology.

And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; (Revelation 12:1)

A woman arrayed with the sun ... It simply is not true that there is anything very difficult about this chapter, despite there being several diverse views of what it means. Rist thought that these first six verses are "probably one of the most puzzling episodes in Revelation";[5] and no doubt for him it was, because he made the woman here to be the celestial mother who gave birth to the Messiah before creation began![6] Such interpretations come from reading too much mythology.

The woman, of course, is a symbol of the "whole family of God" (Ephesians 3:15 KJV), including especially the true Israel of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It includes Christians, because later in the chapter, they are indicated as children of the woman; and it includes the Old Testament Israel, because through them the Messiah was born. This view, with modifications of it, is widely accepted:

She is the one church, the Una Sancta[7]

She is the church in both dispensations.[8]

She is the whole family of Israel.[9]

She is the messianic community, the ideal Israel.[10]

She is the body of the redeemed people of God.[11]

She is the people of God of both the old covenant and the new covenant.[12]

She is the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church.[13]SIZE>

The figure of God's people as a woman is extensive throughout the Bible, and no Christian of John's day could have had the slightest doubt of who is meant by this glorious woman. Only a very few writers have ever erred on this. Some have made her out to be Eve;[14] and as might have been expected, Roman Catholic scholars have identified her with the Virgin Mary.[15] This latter interpretation, however, is refuted by the fact that the New Testament nowhere refers to Christians as the children of Mary.

Mounce believed this figure was chosen deliberately as "an obvious contrast to the scarlet whore of Revelation 17."[16]

Arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet ... There is no reason to seek specific realities typified by such symbols, because it is the radiant glory of God's church, from the heavenly viewpoint, that is meant. On the earth, her state is one of lowliness, persecution, and hatred on the part of man; but her true beauty and splendor are represented here.

And upon her head a crown of twelve stars ... These suggest both the twelve patriarchs of Israel and the twelve apostles, supporting the identification of the woman as both Israels.

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 361.

[2] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 162.

[3] Edward A. McDowell, The Meaning and Message of Revelation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1951), p. 127.

[4] George Eldon Ladd. A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 166.

[5] Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 452.

[6] Ibid., p. 453.

[7] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 363.

[8] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 164.

[9] Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), p. 119.

[10] Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 236.

[11] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 154.

[12] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 621.

[13] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 126.

[14] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 160.

[15] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 167.

[16] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 236.


Verse 2

and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered.

And she was with child ... This verse is not merely incidental. The hatred and opposition from Satan to both the woman and her child already existed before the child was born. Therefore, the satanic hatred could not have been the result of the Christ (the child) at some later date winning a victory over Satan. This is important to understanding later verses in the chapter.

Travailing in birth ... This is a fitting metaphor for the long endurance, patience, and suffering of God's ancient people (the true spiritual seed of Abraham) who were a despised minority of the proud, secular Israel during the long period of waiting for the birth of the Messiah. At times, there must have been many, like Elijah, who felt that they were utterly alone, and like the prophets must have prayed for God to "take away" their lives (1 Kings 18:22; 19:4). This was a time of "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25).

This dramatic verse brings us near the time of the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, for the child about to be born was the Seed of Woman, the Incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.


Verse 3

And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems.

Behold, a great red dragon ... There is no doubt of who is symbolized by this. It is Satan (Revelation 12:9). The word "dragon" is in the dictionaries of every nation under the sun; and none can question the choice of such a word to symbolize the devil. In this vision, the dragon was presented in a form and appearance absolutely unlike any mythological creature ever imagined. The critics, however, by a process of combination, elimination, and invention vainly try to make out some connection here with a dozen ancient myths, but to no avail. This account is unique. If they could find this in any myth, it would be embossed in gold and trotted out as "John's source"! Satan is the one indicated here; the symbol is not the principal thing.

There are a number of references to "dragons" in the Old Testament; but even there they are all symbolical. Thus, this portrayal of Satan by such a figure is Biblical and absolutely unrelated to mythology. Such things as the color, number of heads, number of horns, etc., do not relate to anything in the myths of antiquity; but they were designed by the Holy Spirit to present definite and specific meanings, as is apparent later. The similar use of such symbols in Daniel makes it relatively easy to ascertain the meanings here. The heads are indications of great vitality, and also of "seven mountains," as in the case of Rome. The multiple horns are symbols of great power, and also of kings and their successors, as revealed later.

Seven diadems ... These do not symbolize lawful power but usurped authority. "These are not like the crowns of victory worn by the saints (Revelation 2:10; 3:11; 6:2, etc.)."[17] A different word is used in the Greek. Morris thought that the color red, so prominent in the description of the dragon, was to identify Satan with the beast ridden by the great scarlet whore of Revelation 17:3.[18] Red also symbolizes bloodshed, warfare, and ruthlessness; or, as Roberson said, "He is red because of the ferocity with which he destroys men."[19] Beasley-Murray's comment on these diadems is that, "They stand for blasphemous claims to sovereignty, in imitation of the divine royalty of Christ."[20] Lenski said of the ten horns and the crowns that they are symbols of "power arrogated by Satan in his usurped dominion over men. This dragon, the devil, would be God, so that all men might bow before him."[21]

This verse is extremely important to all the remainder of this prophecy. "The first great enemy of Christ's church, the cause of all the hostility against her, is Satan."[22] This is the character who appears here as the dragon. He has several names (Revelation 12:9), and will appear and reappear in several guises throughout Revelation, before he is finally overwhelmed in the lake of fire. Practically all of the hatred and opposition to the holy religion of Jesus Christ finds its fountain head in this inconceivable dragon.

[17] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 311.

[18] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries on the New Testament, Vol. 20, the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 158.

[19] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 83.

[20] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 199.

[21] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 365.

[22] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1082.


Verse 4

And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child.

And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven ... Pieters and many other present-day commentators decline to find any meaning here except that of emphasizing the dragon's size;[23] but, "ancient interpreters took the passage as referring to the fall of Satan, who took with him one third of the angels of heaven (cf. Milton's Paradise Lost)."[24] This ancient understanding of it is attractive to this writer. It is true that we do not have much revealed on this subject; but all that is revealed fits the interpretation perfectly. We know that Satan has some angels (Matthew 25:41), and that these are almost certainly the same as the angels of 2 Peter 2:4. No less a scholar than Bruce agrees that, "The reference is probably to the angels who were involved in Satan's fall."[25]; Revelation 12:9 also mentions these same wicked angels.

Standeth before the woman that ... he may devour her child ... The enmity of Satan was of long standing. Through Pharaoh, he endeavored to destroy Israel; and, at a later time, Haman was Satan's instrument in the passing of a law "to kill, destroy, and cause to perish all Jews, young and old, little children and women, in one day, and to take the spoil of them for a prey" (Esther 3:13). Herod's murder of the innocents (Matthew 2:16) is another example of the same malicious hatred on the part of Satan. Having failed to destroy the mother (Israel), Satan was alert to destroy her child (the Christ); and failing also in that, his continuing hatred is vented against Christ's servants throughout the ages. "This is another example of the personal history of Christ being repeated in the history of the church."[26] It is said that Diocletian decided to exterminate Christianity; and Gibbon said of that emperor that, "He declared his intention of abolishing the name Christian."[27] Herod Agrippa I also attempted to do the same thing (Acts 12).

Hendriksen is correct in seeing this single verse as, "The entire history of the Old Testament, the story of the conflict between the Seed of Woman and the dragon, between Christ and Satan."[28]

[23] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 158.

[24] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 569.

[25] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 651.

[26] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 311.

[27] Edward Gibbon, Esq., The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Five Volumes (Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates and Company n.d.), Vol. II, p. 69.

[28] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 165.


Verse 5

And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne.

And she was delivered of a son ... and her child was caught up to God, and unto his throne ... These two clauses open and close this verse; and the whole biography of the earthy life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God is here compressed into nineteen words! The critics have really had a fit about this. Some have even denied that the birth of Christ is mentioned here. Roberts, following Caird, wrote:

John does not mean precisely the birth of Jesus (passing over the earthly life of Jesus and going directly to his ascension), but rather his death, resurrection and ascension.[29]

Despite such views, the pregnant woman, the travailing in birth, and the delivery of a man child in this passage can mean nothing else except the birth of Christ; and the compression of Jesus' whole biography into such a short space is perfectly in harmony with what the author did by presenting the entire Old Testament history in a single verse (Revelation 12:4). To suppose that the birth is not included here would make the passage mean that the woman brought forth his death and resurrection; because the emphatic statements of her pregnancy and her being delivered clearly makes her the achiever of whatever happened in Revelation 12:5. This therefore has to be a reference to Jesus' physical birth in Bethlehem.

The consternation of the critical community that John should have produced so short a biography of Jesus is a mystery to this writer; because it is in perfect harmony with all of John's writings. He left out of his gospel all of the miracles but seven and omitted the actual birth of Jesus altogether. He did many other things that some would have accounted unbelievable. Paul also did exactly the same thing which John does here. In his letter to Timothy, "He passes straight from the birth of Christ ("He was manifested in the flesh") to his resurrection ("He was vindicated in the Spirit"); and the whole passage contains no mention of the life and death of Christ."[30] Thus, this thumb-nail biography of Jesus is in the very best New Testament tradition; and there is no need to make out that Jesus' birth here actually means his death! What was the reason for the brevity? The movement of the narrative demanded it. How false then must be the conclusion that John "is not interested in the human Jesus."[31]

We have belabored this point a bit, due to the false allegations of some that the apostle John did not write this but "took over a pagan myth."[32] Morris expertly refuted such notions by pointing out that John "described heaven in Revelation 4 with no mention of Christ; but when he came to Revelation 5, he emphasized the central place of the Lamb."[33] That example shows that John is quite capable of concentrating on one thing at a time.

She was delivered of a son, a man child ... Of special note is the double emphasis of masculinity here. Alexander Campbell translated this, "She bore a masculine son."[34] Pieters rendered it, "A son, a he-man, a fierce assertion of the virility of Christ."[35]

Regarding the identity of the Son, our own view that he is unmistakably the Christ of the ages is already clear enough. This is the usually accepted meaning. "A long array of commentators regards this as a reference to the birth of Christ, and we must join them."[36] "The man child is certainly symbolical of Christ."[37] Just who else, in the whole history of the world, ever qualified for this identity as certified in the next clause?

Who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron ... "These words are quoted from the second Psalm, and they identify beyond question who the child is (See Revelation 2:27)."[38] Both that second Psalm and the book of Revelation deal with the victory of Christ over his adversaries.

As Summers said, "Some scholars of the continuous-historical school deny this, viewing the woman as the church, and the man child as the sons and daughters born of the church's travail."[39] Among those of that view was the late eminent preacher and scholar, L. S. White, with whom this writer began his ministry of the gospel. He wrote: "The child is a symbol of faithful Christians, and the woman is the church of the living God."[40] It appears to be impossible, however, to harmonize such interpretations with the fact of the sex of this man child being so vigorously stressed here. Such interpretations are not actually derived from the text, but from prior interpretations leading up to it. Since the previous chapters have already taken them up to the times of Constantine the Great, or later, "They must find something after the fourth and fifth centuries to which this may be applied."[41]

And her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne ... This clearly denotes the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

How Ellicott and the historical school can regard this as a reference to the elevation of Constantine to the throne of the Roman Empire, and quote Gibbon that "Christianity was seated on the throne of the Roman world," we fail to comprehend ... As for the futurists, they would leave the "iron rod" (of this verse) idle in the hands of the exalted Christ until the Second Advent.[42]

It should be noted that according to this verse, it was God's throne in heaven to which this man child was elevated.

[29] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 100.

[30] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 200.

[31] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 78.

[32] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 159.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Alexander Campbell, as quoted by James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour, and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 162.

[35] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 159.

[36] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 367.

[37] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1961), p. 171.

[38] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 84.

[39] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 171.

[40] L. S. White, Sermons on Revelation (Cincinnati, Ohio: F. L. Rowe, Publisher, 1917), p. 185.

[41] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 160.

[42] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 369.


Verse 6

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

And the woman fled into the wilderness ... Like the old Israel that wandered in the wilderness, the new Israel, the church, must dwell in her own wilderness. The old Israel is a type of the new, as elaborated in my Commentary on 1Corinthians, pp. 149,150. "So long as the Lord is personally absent, the church is in the wilderness."[43] Just as the place of the wilderness wanderings was a place of Jewish safety from Pharaoh (the devil), just so the wilderness of the church represents her place of safety from the mighty red dragon (Satan). There are also many other analogies. The old Israel was fed by God in the wilderness and nourished and sustained providentially. So it is with the church. Also, as their wilderness was a time of trials, testing, and temptations, so it is in the period of the church's probation. Many fell, but a remnant entered Canaan; and the same truth is projected with reference to the church.

There she hath a place prepared of God ... The great harlot (Revelation 17:3) was also "in the wilderness"; but her place was not there prepared of God. There is a sacred providence that ever watches over the redeemed of earth (Matthew 18:18-20).

That they may nourish her ... God will take care of the church. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against her; and Christ is with them always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20).

A thousand two hundred and threescore days ... What can this mean? Is there a certain time-period only when Christ will be with his church? No indeed! This time-period represents every minute of the whole Christian dispensation. This is given in exactly the same form as in Revelation 11:3; and there it was understood as all of the time between the two Advents of Christ, and so it must be understood here. "It describes the period of this world's existence during the whole of which the devil persecutes the church."[44] It is also called forty-two months; and someone has suggested that this was the number of the forty-two stations of the Israelites in the wilderness. Hendriksen called this time-period "the millennium of Revelation 20";[45] and we believe this understanding of it to be correct, despite the description of it there by use of a different figure. The saints of Christ are reigning with him now in his kingdom; and Christ already has the authority in heaven and upon earth (Matthew 28:18-20). His rule is not accepted by many, due to the freedom of the will of man; but that does not contradict the higher truth that Christ is truly reigning today in the hearts of those who love and serve him.

[43] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 85.

[44] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 311.

[45] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 172.


Verse 7

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.

It is important to note why this episode was included:

The war and its issue are introduced as an explanation of Satan's fury in these last times and a prediction of his final overthrow.[46]

This war does not merely explain Satan's fury during "these last times" as apparently limited by Beckwith, but also the fury of Satan from the garden of Eden until the end of time, thus providing the true key to the problem of just "when" this conflict occurred. The events of this encounter lie totally outside the perimeter of the Judeo-Christian religion. The Bible reveals very little with reference to it, except a few references here and there. It is an amazing folly indulged by some Christian scholars who fancy they can find out all about this war from pagan mythology, such mythology itself, in all probability, having been concocted from perverted and corrupted "versions" of a truth evidently known by the early patriarchs. That these verses concern a past event, prior to all history, and perhaps even prior to the human creation itself, is absolutely certain. No other possible understanding of it is either intellectually or theologically tenable. As Beckwith affirmed, "That the Apocalyptist thinks of it as past is evident."[47]

It (Revelation 12:7,8) is included here to account for the relentless hostility of the devil towards God and his church. It relates to the period anterior to the Creation, concerning which we have a slight hint in Jude 1:1:6.[48]

Inasmuch as this interpretation is rejected by some, a glance at the reasons for its adoption here is appropriate.

(1) It explains the reason for the passage's appearance in this context.

(2) The war is between the devil and Michael, not between the devil and Christ.

(3) This removes it from the period of the Incarnation, during which the war is between Christ and Satan.

(4) Spiritualizing this passage to make the war a post-resurrection conflict contradicts Matthew 28:18-20. This device is also ridiculous in other ways. "These verses require a much more literal interpretation."[49]

(5) The transfer of Satan's activities to earth did not occur either during Christ's ministry, nor after his resurrection. It existed before the birth of Christ (Revelation 12:4), and for ages prior thereto. See comment above on Revelation 12:4.

(6) The heavenly doxology in Revelation 12:10,12, is at once both proleptic and retrospective, a common feature in this prophecy, and makes no sense at all unless it is so understood. Furthermore, this doxology begins with Revelation 12:10, and should be separated from the account of the war and made the beginning of a new paragraph, as in Wilcock's translation of this chapter.[50]

(7) Plummer noted that the "strongest argument"[51] opposed to this view is based on Luke 10:18, where Jesus said, "I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven," a statement made by our Lord upon the return of the seventy; but that verse is a reference to a past event, not to a future one; and it is inconceivable that Jesus meant the casting out of a few demons by the seventy was the equivalent of Satan's being thrown out of heaven! What Jesus meant by such a remark was that, just as Satan had indeed already been thrown out of heaven, Christ was about to throw him out of the earth also! As proof that he would indeed do this, the good report of the seventy had made it certain.

When Jesus said, "Now shall the prince of this world (Satan) be cast out" (John 12:31), he did not mean, nor did he say, "out of heaven." Satan was about to be cast out of the earth, not in the final sense, but in the sense of the enabling victory of the Cross about to be consummated. This apocalyptic account of Satan's being thrown out of heaven has absolutely nothing to do with the passages in the gospel.

Two different wars are in view: (1) that of Michael and Satan which issued in Satan's being thrown out of heaven, and (2) that of Christ and Satan with the final result of Satan's being thrown out of the earth and into the lake of fire.

(8) Advocates of other views are not easily dissuaded, attempting to show that in the Old Testament Satan is represented as having access to the presence of God (in the sense of heaven, of course)[52] quoting Job 1:6-9; Job 2:1-6 and Zechariah 3:1,2. The inference drawn from such passages is that Satan was "still in heaven" during Old Testament times, and that the war in this passage had not yet occurred. Such a view would require us to believe that when Satan inspired Haman to kill all the Jews on earth, he was still in heaven. Who could believe such a thing?

But what about those passages in Job? There is no hint whatever of the events there being "in heaven." Twice in that passage Satan confessed that he was "walking up and down in the earth" (Job 1:7; 2:2). Job was a citizen of the earth at the time of those events; and the access that Satan had to God in that passage was exactly that of "the sons of God" who were also living on the earth.

The same truth is evident in Zechariah where Satan was in the presence of the high priest (during the high priest's lifetime on earth). But were they not also standing before the angel of the Lord? Indeed they were; but the ministry of angels itself is for the saints on the earth (Hebrews 1:14). Scholars who wish to place Satan in heaven during the Old Testament period will have to come up with something a lot better than arguments like these in order to do so.

Returning again to Luke 10:18, if Jesus meant that Satan had only recently been cast out of heaven, what possible event in the ministry of Jesus was the occasion of it? No! Jesus definitely referred to the event related in these verses, and for exactly the same purpose, that of encouraging his followers. Satan's being cast out of heaven was the prophecy of his final overthrow in the lake of fire.

(9) The name Michael can hardly be construed as a "figure" of anything. To do so would send us in search of figurative meanings for hundreds of Biblical names. Michael stands in the Old Testament as a mighty angel, the prince of God's Israel (Daniel 10:13), and in the New Testament as the archangel (Jude 1:1:9). We should not dare to spiritualize this and refer it to another. In this connection, it is appropriate to observe that Christian Science (so-called) has spiritualized a whole dictionary of Bible names, indicating the folly of spiritualizing any name that is clearly a name.SIZE>

War ... Michael and his angels ... and the dragon ... and his angels ... Morris noted that, "Michael appears as the leader of the heavenly host ... his angels. This accords with his description as archangel (Jude 1:1:9)."[53] The dragon also leads a band of angels, spoken of in Matthew 25:41. Presumably, these angels who followed Satan are the same as those of Jude 1:6,2 Peter 2:4. We consider these verses historical, despite the objections of some scholars who go out of their way to deny it.

This paragraph must be interpreted in its context in Revelation rather than in relation to obscure Old Testament passages, or Milton's Paradise Lost. This is not a historical account of the original state of the devil and his fall from that state.[54]

John Milton was a better Bible commentator than some of the modern interpreters. There is no reason whatever for not receiving this passage as historical, despite arbitrary, unproved, and unprovable denials of it.

As for the conceit that this prophecy must be interpreted without benefit of the light shed upon it from other passages of the word of God, such notions should be rejected. What kind of nonsense is it that would deny the light shed by other passages in the Bible, while at the same time dragging in every old pagan myth ever heard of and basing a so-called interpretation on that! The apostles and the Lord himself appealed to the holy Scriptures as supplying enlightenment upon what they discussed; and Christian scholars should do likewise.

We cannot tell who the original author of Ray Summers' comment, above, may be; but, amazingly, some ten or twelve of the scholars we have consulted on this passage have almost identical, verbatim language used to downgrade any historical view of this passage; but, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!"[55] Michael is a valid, historical name of the archangel, used in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Also, there are clearly historical references to fallen angels in both 2Peter and Jude, which leads us to inquire, why this prejudice against the historical understanding of this? Besides that, any figurative interpretation winds up in all kinds of insoluble difficulties. For example, if it is supposed that this "war" came after the resurrection and enthronement of Christ, and that, "It was an effect of Christ's resurrection and enthronement,"[56] how can the previous verses here be true; for this chapter clearly reveals that Satan's being on earth and hating and persecuting the radiant woman was already a fact long before the birth of Christ. This battle which issued in Satan's being cast down to earth from heaven took place at a time at least prior to the history of the old Israel. Some of the interpretations even bring in angels as mediators!

And they prevailed not ... Nothing is revealed to us of this cosmic struggle; but the implication of the great power, daring, and ability of the evil one are evident. Sufficient to us is the truth that he could not win.

Neither was their place found any more in heaven ... The implications are here, likewise, profound. This says that Satan once had a place in heaven and provides the clue to understanding Ezekiel 28:12-19 as a description of Satan in his heavenly abode. Furthermore this passage reveals Satan already to have been at the time of Ezekiel's prophecy a fallen being utterly under the condemnation of God, adding another prophecy of his ultimate overthrow in the lake of fire. It is impossible to suppose that, when Ezekiel wrote, Satan was still in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast down ... he was cast down to earth ... It is important to note the difference in being "cast down to earth," which occurred in the "war" of this passage, and in being "cast out" of the earth, as in John 12:31. The first means that Satan's base of operations was removed to the earth; and the second means that, at last, Satan's base of operations will be destroyed in the lake of fire. The names of the dragon are next given, making his identity certain.

The old serpent ... "This word carries us back to the garden of Eden, where Satan, under the guise of a serpent, successfully tempted Eve to disobey God's command."[57]

That is called the devil ... There is only one devil, namely Satan. The word "devil" means "slanderous one, false accuser."[58]

And Satan ... "This is a Grecized transliteration of the Aramaic [~Satana], which originally meant one lying in ambush for."[59]

The deceiver of the whole world ... "This means the one continually deceiving, not merely an erratic deception, but a perpetual, never ceasing program."[60] This is one of ten times that this expression occurs in the New Testament.

This fourfold name of the evil one is a full description of his nature. The reality of Satan as the person who organizes the totality of evil on earth is either forgotten, ignored, or disbelieved by many today; but the perpetual witness of his true existence is in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from the evil one." No one who actually believes the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Testament can deny it.

After the victory of Christ on the cross, and subsequent to his glorification, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, no further victories were needed, whether by the archangel Michael or any other being in heaven or upon earth. Therefore, it is theologically impossible to make this war, or battle, in heaven a post-resurrection event. The mingling of the victory of Michael and that of Christ in the following doxology should not be allowed to obscure this fact.

[46] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 618.

[47] Ibid.

[48] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 312.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 119.

[51] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 311.

[52] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 81.

[53] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 160.

[54] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 170.

[55] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2, line 242.

[56] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 373.

[57] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 570.

[58] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 377.

[59] Ibid.

[60] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 164.


Verse 10

And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom, of our God, and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night.

I heard a voice in heaven ... We do not need to identify the voice as being either that of the martyrs or other deceased Christians.

The singers are heavenly beings, but are not designated more precisely. They are not saints, for these are not represented by the book as being in heaven before the end.[61]

This doxology, beginning with this verse, should be separated in a new paragraph to set it off from the "war," as in Wilcock's translation mentioned above. Many scholars suppose that this doxology was "sung" despite there being no mention of singing. See under Revelation 5:9.

Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ ... There can hardly be any doubt that Beckwith's comment here is correct:

The expulsion of Satan from the seat of his dominion in the heavens assures his complete overthrow in the end, and calls forth one of those outbursts of praise common in the book, celebrating the future triumph as if present. The hymn is anticipatory. The kingdom of God and the Messiah is not yet established.[62]

Since the kingdom of God and the Messiah and the establishment of the "authority" of Christ mentioned here took place at the very beginning of the Christian dispensation (Matthew 28:18-20), this doxology has the quality of being proleptic at the time it was spoken in heaven by the angels, and from the standpoint of the apocalyptist the quality of being retrospective! Thus, this indicates that the victory celebrated took place long before Christianity began.

For the accuser of our brethren is cast down ... Some have thought that the use of "our brethren" here meant that "the voice" was that of deceased Christians; but that is not correct. Angels might very properly refer to God's people on earth as their "brethren," for an angel so referred to John himself in Revelation 19:10. This brotherhood between earthly beings and heavenly beings fits beautifully into the purpose here of providing encouragement to suffering and persecuted saints. The fact of the doxology being spoken in heaven "is unsuited to the martyrs beneath the altar,"[63] or any other earthly followers of the Lord. They are not yet in heaven. Ladd also agreed that, "This verse is proleptic and looks forward to the consummation which has not yet occurred."[64] However, the rejoicing angels properly understood that the "casting down" of Satan meant that the ultimate establishment of Christ's kingdom (the church) was a certainty, for the "casting down" was a prophetic token of what would follow. This simply cannot mean that after the atonement, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, then Satan would have to be thrown down to earth before the kingdom and authority of Christ could be established. No indeed! Satan had already been operating upon the earth ever since the garden of Eden. Thus this passage regarding the heavenly "war" refers to an episode as old as the race of man upon the earth. Barclay misunderstood this passage to refer to "the song of the glorified martyrs when Satan was cast out of heaven."[65] This would require the view that Satan was operating in heaven when the martyrs died for their faith in Christ and would also make the achievement of Michael and his angels to be some kind of great victory beyond and in addition to what Christ had already achieved upon the cross; and, to us, such views are absolutely untenable. Such interpretations derive from mythology, not from the word of God.

[61] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 626.

[62] Ibid., p. 625.

[63] Ibid.

[64] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 172.

[65] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 83.


Verse 11

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.

This portion of the proleptic doxology, still being spoken by the angels of heaven, takes a still greater leap into the future and rejoices at the salvation of saints who would overcome by the blood of the Lamb and love the Lord even unto death. The big point of this doxology which John placed in the mouths of the angels is that Michael's victory had no saving power whatever. As a matter of fact it only resulted in Satan's being cast down to earth where his hatred of God was only multiplied, a hatred which he vented against God's human creation. Moffatt here probably understood this:

The author by a characteristic and dramatic prolepsis, anticipates the triumph of martyrs and confessors.[66]

This verse proves that the overthrow of Satan, as it regards human salvation, "has actually taken place, not through Michael, but through the power of the sacrifice of Christ."[67] Cox analyzed the things that would enter into the salvation of people thus: "the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and their self-sacrificing love."[68] It is clear that the event of Satan's being thrown down to earth was an ancient thing that did not enter at all into the procurement of salvation, except in the sense of being a feeble type of it. That is the way it is used in this passage.

[66] James Moffatt, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 427.

[67] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 203.

[68] Frank L. Cox, According to John (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1948), p. 81.


Verse 12

Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.

Rejoice, O ye heavens ... The mention of sea and earth in the same verse seems to suggest that "heavens" here is used in the sense of "sky"; but its being used in the plural demands, in context, that it be understood as a reference to the dwelling place of the heavenly host.

Woe for the earth and for the sea ... The great significance in both the war episode and in this doxology is that human sorrows have implications far beyond life on earth. Why are there sufferings, persecutions, hatred, tribulations, doubts, and fears? Long, long ago, there was a war in heaven; and the defeated party was cast down to earth where we live. Satan hates God and all goodness, but he cannot attack God; therefore, he turns his malignant rage against the race of man. The quibbler may ask, Why does not God go ahead and destroy Satan at once in order to save all this? But the purpose of God requires that people be tested, and Satan is used of God for that purpose until all of the Father's designs are accomplished. Sometimes a dog when being punished will bite the stick through anger at the one using it; and people also have been known to wreck a room or a house through anger and frustration at something else. In a similar way, people are a tempting target for the rage of Satan because of the love lavished upon mankind by the Father. In this appears the explanation of all the woes of earth. Our conflict is not merely ours alone.

Angelic forces are also engaged. Our struggles are not to be shrugged off as insignificant. They are part of the great conflict between good and evil.[69]

Human woes and misfortunes are related to that cosmic struggle going on in a theater of far greater dimensions than those of mortal life alone. They are part of what Barclay called the "sleepless vigil of evil against good."[70] The vision of Revelation 12:7-12 was given to afford Christians a glance of the broader conflict of which their own trials are a part.

Because the devil is gone down unto you ... Here is the explanation of the whole phenomenon of evil, and we might add that this is the only true explanation. Several very important considerations appear in this: (1) the kingdom of evil is ruled and directed by an enemy of tremendous strength, energy, intelligence, and hatred; (2) his devices against people are motivated by satanic purposes of the utmost cruelty, savage hatred, and insane wrath; (3) this enemy is personal, Satan being a person of the magnitude of the archangel himself; and (4) he is aided in his nefarious designs by a host of angels constituting, before their fall, a heavenly host of a third of the angels in glory (Revelation 12:4), best understood as meaning a significant part, but a minority, of the heavenly host.

Having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time ... It is vital to understand the "short time" or "little time" mentioned here. The temptation to literalize everything in the book leads to some bizarre conclusions. Some see this as a very few years, months, or even days, just prior to the Second Advent, as Satan "sees his time running out." This has to be wrong, because Satan is not going to see his time running out. No angel of God, much less Satan, knows the day nor the hour of the Second Advent (Matthew 24:35). Beckwith spoke of the time when Satan would see that "he had but a little time before his overthrow";[71] but the maximum intensity of Satan's wrath crested to its full tide on Calvary, where it contained and defeated, where its fullest fury was spent and beyond which there could never be any greater intensification, just as no army deploying its maximum force and suffering a disastrous defeat can ever regain its original effectiveness. "From the moment Satan was cast down to earth, the moment of his defeat, the short time begins."[72] "This short time is the period of the world's existence from the advent of Satan until the final judgment."[73] As for the exact time of Satan's advent on earth, how could we know that? He was certainly in Eden where the great progenitors of the human race were attacked and defeated by him.

There may possibly be another thing intended by a subsequent mention of the "loosing of Satan" in Revelation 20:7ff, at a time when the dispensation is coming to a close, when the human race in large part shall have finally and irrevocably chosen to serve the devil. The disastrous consequences of that event shall usher in the end itself; but the wrath of Satan shall be no greater than it already is.

[69] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 160.

[70] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 83.

[71] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 619.

[72] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 87.

[73] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 314.


Verse 13

And when the dragon saw that he was cast down to earth, he persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child.

He persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child ... It is a gross error to read this as if it said, "He persecuted the woman after the man child was caught up to God." To be sure, he did that also, but such an understanding of the passage imports a time element that does not belong there. When did he persecute the woman? As soon as he was cast down to earth. That persecution existed in Eden (Genesis 3:15) and has been going on ever since. The woman is to be identified with God's people throughout all dispensations.

That brought forth the man child ... is therefore to be viewed merely as an identification of the woman (which certainly included Eve and her descendants) and has the meaning of "the woman who was in time to bring forth the man child"; but when John wrote, the man child had already appeared, hence the past tense in this identifying clause.

He persecuted the woman ... The duration of this persecution is that of the human race itself. There has never been a time, nor will there ever be, when Satan does not persecute the righteous. He persecuted the old Israel, then her son Christ, then the holy church throughout the time of her pilgrimage. Why? The two reasons visible here are: (1) Satan was thrown out of heaven to earth where mankind was available to him as an object of his hatred and wrath; and (2) Satan knew that he had but a little time. "It is short with reference to eternity."[74] How is the persecution carried on? In every way. "It includes persecution of the hand, of the tongue, and of the pen."[75]

[74] Ibid.

[75] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 81.


Verse 14

And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

The two wings of the great eagle ... The great drama of persecution has here moved into its third phase: (1) It first raged against the woman before Christ was born. (2) It reached it bitterest and most intense malignity during the ministry of the Son of God. (3) It next fell upon the young church, the old Israel itself being a satanic instrument in this. The first outrages against the church were promulgated by the Jews. The church would sorely need the wings of the great eagle in order to flee from her foes.

This figure of eagle's wings is an old one, God himself having used it in speaking of his deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 9:4), of which God said, "I have borne you on eagles' wings." Here the wings are given to the woman, and thus there is both a difference and a resemblance. "The strength of the earlier dispensation was a strength often used for, rather than in, the people of God; the strength of the latter is a strength in them."[76] There is a plain indication in this passage that the experiences of the church are the antitype of the escape of Israel from Pharaoh, "and her preservation in the wilderness."[77] The church also has her wilderness wanderings. "The typology seems to remind the people of the new covenant that, like the people of the old covenant, they are pilgrims having no settled home in the world."[78]

Where she is nourished ... The manna and other marks of divine favor given to Israel in the wilderness are a pledge that God will also provide for his church. "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

For a time, and times, and half a time ... This is the same period as the forty-two months (Revelation 11:2,3); and, "This is the whole period of the church's experience upon the earth."[79] "These forty-two months may contain an allusion to the forty-two stations of the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 33:5f)."[80] The historicist interpreters limit this period to 1,260 years after the rise of the papacy, and extending to the days of Martin Luther.[81] As stated repeatedly, we do not despise this method of interpretation, because there very definitely are very startling suggestions of the things held to be prophesied here; but our preference for another view is inherent in the evident purpose of Revelation to encourage Christians; and it could have been no encouragement at all for the suffering saints of the first century to be told that the Lord would start nourishing the church in her wilderness some four or five centuries after they lived.

[76] W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 595.

[77] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 314.

[78] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 205.

[79] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 88.

[80] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 164

[81] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 185.


Verse 15

And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the steam.

Water as a river ... This flood is thought to represent "overwhelming misfortune, every form of destructive and bitter persecutions,"[82] "all manner of delusions,"[83] etc. Caird thought the river is "the river of lies which the serpent spewed out of his mouth."[84] The fact of the serpent's mouth being mentioned here as the source of the river, and also the fact of his original deception of Eve with a base lie suggest that the river is indeed a great and never-ending stream of vicious and delusive lies. In ancient times, it was the lies of the Gnostics and various delusive heresies that rose from within the historical church herself; but the old serpent's falsehood business is a prolific and prosperous as ever. It is not difficult to cite examples. Lenski cited evolution; Pieters named:

Ebionism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Montanism, Arianism, and Pelagianism from early centuries, and Romanism, Socinianism, Unitarianism, Modernism, Russellism, Christian Science, Spiritualism, etc., from later and present times.[85]

For ourselves, we shall add Solifidianism, Materialism, Communism, and Humanism.

[82] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 314.

[83] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 384.

[84] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 159.

[85] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 165.


Verse 16

And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

Earth helped the woman ... swallowed up the river ... There are two different interpretations of this:

(1) Beasley-Murray illustrated this with Judges 5:20, where it is said that, "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera," also citing the case of the waters of the Red Sea withdrawing and enabling Israel to escape from Pharaoh.[86] Barclay also took a very similar view thus:

Nature itself is on the side of the man who is faithful to Jesus Christ. As Froude the historian pointed out, in the world there is a moral order; and, in the long run, it is well with the good and with the wicked.[87]

It cannot be denied that in nature itself there are many providences that "help the woman."

(2) A second view was expressed by Cox.

When Christ's disciples are of the world, the world loves its own (John 15:19). When the church's tone and life are lowered by yielding to the influences of the world, the earth itself is ready to hasten to her side.[88]

While this is true enough, it is not clear how such a thing would be called a "help" to the woman, except indirectly through providing a less hostile atmosphere for the true Christians resisting worldly influences. Perhaps we should leave the "how" of this with the Lord. "What is certain is that the church is preserved in a wonderful and even miraculous way from the efforts of Satan."[89]

[86] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 206.

[87] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 86.

[88] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 82.

[89] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 314.


Verse 17

And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus:

And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman ... What is meant here is not an intensification of Satan's wrath, but an extension of it. Progressively, Satan had persecuted Israel (the woman) before Christ was born, and then the Christ himself, upon whom the fullest anger and hatred of the devil reached its most intense and bitter climax on the cross; and, at this point, his wrath was directed to the destruction of the infant church, a project inherent in the activity both of Saul of Tarsus and of Herod Agrippa II; but when the church fled into the wilderness (the scattering that arose upon the martyrdom of Stephen), Satan extended and continued his persecution of God's people, called here "the rest of her seed," and meaning the Christians of all ages.

The rest of her seed ... This suggests Galatians 3:16,29, where Paul spoke of all Christians as "the seed of Abraham." Thus the woman is both the old Israel and the new Israel, but in both cases, only the true Israel. "The rest means the whole body of Christians, not merely those who are contrasted with the church in Jerusalem."[90] "The church is every believer's mother. She precedes us and brings us forth as her seed."[91] The signal to Christians in this is that satanic hatred, persecution and violence are to be expected throughout the whole life of the church on earth.

That keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus ... This makes a distinction between the false and the true Christian. The world indeed may love "and help" the church in the person of its weak and compromising members (as in view 2, above); but those who really honor the word of God and the testimony of Jesus shall suffer persecution. "These are the true members of the body, not merely worldly professors."[92]

Revelation 13:1a, and "I stood upon the sand of the sea." (KJV)

Rist was of the opinion that the RSV should be followed here (also our own version the ASV); but we have followed the KJV for the sake of the following comments. The reading "He" stood upon the sand of the sea gives the meaning that, "the dragon is summoning help from the sea, and is going to give up his authority to the beast that comes up out of its depths."[93] In this chapter, Satan, the great enemy of mankind, depicted here as the dragon, has been introduced; but he will appear repeatedly in several different guises in the subsequent chapters of this prophecy.

This picture of the dragon halting on the seashore to call his terrible ally is one of the highest interest, and forms a real feature of Revelation. The student must not think of the sea as calm and peaceful, but as restless and troubled (It is a symbol of earth's populations).[94]

[90] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 630.

[91] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 386.

[92] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 90.

[93] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 459.

[94] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 90.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 12:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/revelation-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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