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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Revelation 12



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. σημεῖον. A. V[437] translates “a wonder” here and in Revelation 12:3, because σημεῖον in N.T. has a quasi-technical sense; R. V[438] “a sign.”

γυνή. Who is this? The two answers most commonly given are [1] the Virgin Mary, [2] (which may be called the traditional sense) the Church. Neither seems quite satisfactory. There can indeed be little doubt that the Son born of this woman is the Son of Mary: nor ought theological or ecclesiastical considerations to exclude the view that Mary is herself intended by the mother; the glory ascribed to her is no greater than that of a glorified saint (Daniel 12:3; St Matthew 13:43), and St John was not bound to suppress a truth for fear of the false inference Pius V. or Pius IX. might seek to draw from it. But it is not in harmony with the usage of this book for a human being, even a glorified saint, to be introduced in his personal character: if St John saw (see on Revelation 4:4, Revelation 5:5) himself, who was not yet glorified, sitting among the elders, it is plain that it is typical, not personal, glory or blessedness that this description indicates.

Who then, or what, is the typical or mystical Mother of Christ? Not the Christian Church, which in this book as elsewhere is represented as His wife: but the Jewish Church, the ideal Israel, “the daughter of Zion.” See especially Micah 4:10; Micah 5:3 : where it is her travail from which He is to be born Who is born in Bethlehem. This accounts for the only features that support the other view, the appearance in her glory of the sun, moon, and stars of Song of Solomon 6:10, and the mention of “the remnant of her seed” in Revelation 12:17.

It may, however, perhaps be true that the ideal mother of the Lord is half identified in St John’s mind, and intended to be so in his reader’s, with His human mother: she embodies the ideal conception, just as the ideal of the false enemy of goodness in Psalms 109 received embodiment in Judas, or as the king of Israel who was to come is called “David,” by Hosea and Ezekiel.

περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον … There may be a reference to Song of Solomon 6:10, where however there is no mention of the stars. More certain is the reference, or at least similarity of imagery, to Genesis 37:9, where “the eleven stars,” i.e. signs of the zodiac, represent Jacob’s eleven sons, bowing down to Joseph, the twelfth. Here, the ideal Israel appears in the glory of all the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives, are hers, and of the Twelve Tribes none is wanting. The whole description, in fact, is interpreted in Romans 9:5.

Verses 1-6


This Vision is clearly not to be closely connected with that of the Witnesses: not only is it separated by the arrangement of the prophecies Revelation 11:14; Revelation 11:19; but the historical situation seems to be completely changed: in the former Jerusalem is standing and inhabited from first to last: in the second the flight of the woman (cf. Micah 4:10 if as is probable, see below, she is to be identified with the ideal Sion) corresponds to the fall of the earthly city, after which the elect remnant, the spiritual Israel, are preserved in the wilderness for a time appointed. It is remarkable that every part of the prophecy of the Lord on the Mount of Olives should be expanded in this book, except what concerns the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem and its Temple.

Verses 1-12

Revelation 11:15-19. Revelation 12:7-12. THE SEVENTH TRUMPET

Verse 2

2. καὶ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα. The construction if we follow most editors must be ὤφθηγυνὴ περιβεβλημένηκαὶ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα καὶ κράζει. There is an exact parallel to the interrupted construction in the apocryphal book of Zephaniah (Clem. Strom. Revelation 12:11 fin.), καὶ ἀνέλαβέν με πνεῦμα, καὶ ἀνήνεγκέν με εἰς οὐρανὸν πέμπτον καὶ ἑθεώρουν ἀγγέλους καλουμἐνους κυρίους· καὶ τὸ διάδημα αὐτῶν ἐπικείμενον ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, καὶ ἦν ἐκάστου αὐτῶν ὁ θρόνος ἑπταπλασίων φωτὸς ἡλίου ἀνατέλλοντος, οἰκοῦντας ἐν ναοῖς σωτηρίας καὶ ὑμνοῦντας θεὸν ἄρρητον ὕψιστον.

ὠδίνουσα καὶ βασανιζομένη τεκεῖν. There is probably a reminiscence of Genesis 3:16, and perhaps of St John 16:21. The main reference is to Micah 4:10 : cf. also St Matthew 24:8; St Mark 13:8.

Verse 3

3. δράκων. The word in classical Greek means simply “serpent,” though perhaps it was always specially applied to the larger or more formidable kinds. But in St John’s time the conception seems to have been familiar of a half-mythical kind of serpent, to which the name was appropriated: it had not gone so far as the mediæval type of “dragon,” with legs and wings, but the dragon was supposed to “stand” (see the next verse), hardly perhaps “on his rear,” as Milton imagines the Serpent of Eden to have done, before the curse of Genesis 3:14, but erect from the middle upwards; see Verg. Æn. II. 206–8. Whether this dragon bore visibly on him the primæval curse or no, there is an undoubted reference to the story of the Fall in this picture of the woman, the man, and the serpent. In Psalms 74:13-14 (14, 15); Job 26:13; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9, we seem to find references to a “war in heaven,” either past or future, like that which follows here.

κεφαλὰς ἑπτά. Probably the vision avails itself of the imagery furnished by popular mythology: very likely Syria and Palestine had tales of seven-headed serpents, like the hydra of Lerna, or the cobras of modern Indian stories.

καὶ κέρατα δέκα. The only illustration of this is, that the Beast of chaps. 13, 17. and of Daniel 7. has the like. Possibly, though the dragon is the archetype, not a copy, of the Beast, his appearance is known by that of the Beast: possibly the meaning here is more general: all unsanctified power is embodied in him (cf. St Luke 4:6), as all the power of holiness in the Lamb (chap. Revelation 5:6).

Verse 4

4. καὶ ἡ οὐρὰ αὐτοῦ σύρει. Is σύρει part of the description of the dragon, while ἔβαλεν marks an event? If so, we should understand that the great serpent coils himself over a third of the sky, and seems to sweep the stars in his train: when he is cast down they are cast down with him after the war in heaven. This of course would be an allegory of the fall of the angels. If not, we must suppose that the wrigglings of his tail are always casting down the stars, and explain the change of tense, if at all, as a Hebraism.

ἵνακαταφάγῃ symbolises the enmity of the serpent against the seed of the woman, beginning with the intended treachery of Herod, and massacre of the Innocents; but including also the malice that pursued Him through life, the temptation, and at last the Cross.

Verse 5

5. ἔτεκεν υἱόν, ἄρσεν. Cf. Isaiah 66:7, and crit. note.

ὃς μέλλει ποιμαίνειν. A periphrasis for the future. This designation of the Son proves beyond question who He is: see Revelation 2:27 as proving, if there could be any doubt about it, how Psalms 2:9 is understood in this book.

πρός τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ. Cf. Revelation 3:21. In the vision, “He that sat on the throne” is still, it may be, present: if so, St John sees the translation of the child to His side.

Verse 6

6. εἰς τὴν ἔρημον. Did she descend to earth? she had appeared in heaven before. See on Revelation 10:9. Possibly, as the vision proceeds, heaven, if we ought not to say the sky, becomes the mere background or even the canvas of its scenery.

ὅπου ἔχει [ἐκεῖ] τόπον. See critical note. The redundant adverb is genuine and a Hebraism. Most of the historical interpretations that have been advanced for this part of the vision proceed on the assumption that the Woman is the Christian Church. As interpretations, they are excluded if we admit that she is the ancient Israel: though applications and illustrations drawn from one may be appropriate to the other. On the view taken here, the doctrine of this chapter is analogous to that of Romans 11, though the point of view is not quite the same. St Paul distinguishes a double fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel—“the Election,” the believing minority, receive them now, and “all Israel shall be saved” at last. St John does not distinguish the two, but uses language that covers both. The Daughter of Zion is kept alive by God, both in the continued quasi-national life of the Jewish people, and in the number (be it large or small) of Christians of Jewish race; who are known to God, though for 1500 years at least they have, as a community, disappeared in the mass of their Gentile fellow-believers. It is hardly necessary to contradict the utterly unhistorical theory, that any now existing Christian nation can be identified with a portion of Israel. The theory is perhaps most absurd when applied to the English, whose ancestors are mentioned as a pagan tribe of north Germany, within 30 years, if not within three, of the date of this vision. (Tac. Germ. 40.)

ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα. See on Revelation 11:2-3. Here, as in the earlier of those verses, the time defined may be that of the humiliation of Israel, as perhaps in the second it is conceived as that of their temporary rejection. It is a curious coincidence (even on the hypothesis that distinctly Jewish elements have been incorporated in the Apocalypse, it can scarcely be more) that the desert fortress of Masada did hold out three years and a half after the fall of Jerusalem.

Verse 7

7. ἐγένετο πόλεμος ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ. This must refer to an event subsequent to the Incarnation—not therefore to the “Fall of the Angels” described in Paradise Lost. Milton may have been justified in using this description as illustrating or suggesting what he supposed to have happened then: but we must not identify the two.

ὁ ΄ιχαήλ. Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1. The two latter passages seem to tell us that he is the special patron or guardian angel of the people of Israel: and it may be in that character that he is introduced here.

οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ. He is called “the archangel” in Judges 1:9 : the angels are “his,” as well as “angels of the Lord,” just as either a general or a king can talk of “his soldiers.”

τοῦ πολεμῆσαι. Ewald tried to explain this as a Hebraism. The sense is “There was war in Heaven, so that Michael and his angels made war with the Dragon.” R. V[439] “going forth to war.” Did the text before the transposition suggested above ever run καὶ προῆλθεν δράκωνὅ τε ΄ιχαὴλ καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ τοῦ πολεμῆσαι μετὰ τοῦ δράκοντος?

Verses 7-12


Here it is possible that a part of the vision of the Seven Trumpets has been transposed into the vision of the Woman and the Dragon, for it certainly seems as if the coming down of the Devil to earth is the Third Woe: and we have seen reason to think that the visions of the Angel with the Book and the Two Witnesses were inserted designedly between the Sixth and the Seventh Trumpets. A seer of course has a perfect right to re-arrange his visions: the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets: here the transposition is very significant; because the Advocate is taken up the Accuser must needs be cast down.

Verse 8

8. ἴσχυσαν. A and many cursives have ἴσχυσεν, and many cursives αὐτῷ for αὐτῶν.

Verse 9

9. ἐβλήθη. “Was cast down,” rather than “cast out.”

ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος. Genesis 3:1. This is the only place in canonical Scripture (see, however, Wisdom of Solomon 2:24) where we are told that the Tempter in Eden was the Devil: but it cannot be doubted that we are so told here.

ὁ καλούμενος διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς. In spite of the way the articles are placed, of course these are both names of the Dragon. The former name is regularly used in the LXX. as the representative of the latter: though the two are not quite synonymous, the Hebrew name meaning “the Adversary,” and the Greek “the Slanderer” (e.g. the same word is used in a general sense in 1 Timothy 3:11). “Satan” has the article here, as always in the O.T., except in the Book of Job—it is still rather a designation than a proper name. In Enoch xl. 7 we have it used in the plural in a passage very like this: “The fourth voice I heard expelling the Satans, and prohibiting them from coming into the presence of the Lord of spirits, to prefer accusations against the inhabitants of the earth.” The voice is afterwards explained to be that of Phanuel, the angel of penitence and hope.

ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν. St Luke 10:18, St John 12:31 throw light on what must be meant—a breaking of the power of the Devil by that of the Incarnate Lord: but we cannot be quite sure that our Lord speaks of the same fall of Satan in both passages, or in either of the same that St John describes.

Verse 10

10. φωνὴν μεγάλην. See on Revelation 6:6, and cf. Revelation 11:12. The “great voice,” as appears from “our brethren” below, is the voice of a multitude whether of angels or of men. We are told that the saints are fellow-citizens of the angels, and the angels fellow-servants of the saints: nowhere that the two are brethren: perhaps that is a tie that can only be between creatures of flesh and blood.

ἡ σωτηρία καὶ ἡ δύναμις. Probably the salvation and the might of God; but the view of A. V[440] that ἡ βασ. τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν and ἡ ἐξ. τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ correspond exactly and exclusively is not indefensible. The previous articles would then merely mark salvation or strength in general, and have no idiomatic equivalent in English.

ἡ ἐξουσία. Here, as generally, a derivative committed power, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27-28. See also Revelation 16:9 n.

ὁ κατήγορος. The true reading is ὁ κατήγωρ. The word was borrowed and distorted by the Rabbins, and is found in Hebrew letters in the Talmud applied to Satan. St Michael was called by the correlative term “the Advocate.”

ὁ κατηγορῶν. Literally “who accuseth,” but the context shews that the meaning of the tense is to mark the act as habitual rather than as present. The “Prologue in Heaven” of the Book of Job, and Zechariah 3:1, of course illustrate the sense. Sometimes the conflict between good and evil is a conflict of ideas and principles: then Satan accuses the brethren in heaven, not always falsely (St Luke 16:15); sometimes on one side or on both it is a clashing of passions and interests: then Satan is cast down to earth: it goes ill with all who have their conversation there.

Verse 11

11. διὰ τὸ αἶμαδιὰ τὸν λόγον. These conquerors are the martyrs and confessors of Christ: though He is gone up, Satan is not at once cast down. The accusatives mark the cause, not the means of their victory: we might have expected the second to have been replaced by a genitive. The whole verse would be easier to understand after Revelation 12:17.

οὐκ ἠγάπησαν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτῶν. St John 12:25, St Luke 14:26 are the closest parallels among the similar sayings of our Lord. Here, as in all of them, the word for “life” is that elsewhere rendered “soul“—not the same as that used for “life eternal” in St John l.c.

ἄχρι θανάτου. They carried the temper of not loving life (not only to the renunciation of its joys, but) even to death.

Verse 12

12. διὰ τοῦτο. Because the Accuser is cast down from Heaven, which is at once the proof of the coming of “the salvation and the might and the kingdom” and the earnest of the victory of the brethren.

οἱ ἐν αὐτοῖς σκηνοῦντες. The order here and in Revelation 13:6; Revelation 13:12 is common in ordinary Greek, rare in this book.

οὐαὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν. See crit. notes, and for accusative cf. Revelation 8:13. The sense, is clear though the construction is peculiar to this book. When and in what sense the Devil’s power was, or will be, at once lessened and brought into more terrible neighbourhood to earth, we can hardly venture to say precisely. Perhaps texts like St John 9:39; John 15:22 illustrate this. Every manifestation of Christ deepens the guilt of sin which persists in spite of it. Yet it cannot be said that since the Incarnation Satan has had increased power to afflict unbelievers or backsliders; on the contrary, earthly life has upon the whole been steadily growing safer, easier and more comfortable, both for the good and for the evil, since Christ has been ruler in the midst of His enemies, for whom He is still receiving gifts. It is probable therefore that the principal fulfilment of this Scripture is still to come.

ὀλίγου καιρὸν ἔχει. This short season corresponds with the reign of Antichrist, the Beast, whom the Dragon enthrones on earth when he himself is cast down from heaven. Consequently it cannot be identified with the “little season” of Revelation 20:3, which comes after the overthrow of Antichrist and the binding of Satan.

Verse 13

13. ἐδίωξεν τὴν γυναῖκα. The reference is probably in the first instance to the Roman persecution of the Jews, in and after the wars of Titus and Hadrian: both the bitterness with which those wars were conducted (Josephus probably exaggerates the clemency of Titus), and the savage fanaticism which provoked it, were the Dragon’s work. So also were the mediæval persecutions of the Jews by Christians: and so is the social or intellectual intolerance which is by no means extinct yet, and which is actually often bitterest against a Christian Jew who does not forget his nationality.

Verses 13-17


Verse 14

14. αἱ δύο πτέρυγες τοῦ ἀετοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου. The great eagle need not be any one mystical eagle known to the Seer and his disciples, it may be as general as “the eagle” Deuteronomy 28:49; if on the other hand we omit the article before δύο, it will be clear that the eagle is many-winged as in 4 Esdras, and therefore mysterious. Some suppose “the great eagle” to symbolise the Roman Empire; but that did not protect the Jewish church, though to some extent it did the Christian.

ἵνα πέτηταιτοῦ ὄφεως. This resumes Revelation 12:6 in a way characteristic of the writer’s method in linking different visions together, cf. Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6 and Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:5-6. In the latter passage and in this chapter it might be a question whether the earlier verse was not the afterthought.

Verse 15

15. ἵναποιήσῃ. Cop[424] omits, Primas[425] ut eam perderet.

18. καὶ ἐστάθην. So Text. Rec[426] and Tisch[427] with B2P cop[428] And[429] Are.; Lach[430] Treg[431] W. H[432] and Weiss read ἐστάθη with אAC vg[433] arm[434] syr[435]; Primas[436] seems to omit the verse.

Verse 15-16

15, 16., Genesis 3:15. The sense must be, that the Devil attempts to frustrate God’s counsels, not now by attacking the old Israel, but the new “Israel of God.” Titus, we are told, resolved to destroy the Temple, “in order that the religion of the Jews and Christians might be more completely abolished” (Sulp. Sev. II. 30, supposed to embody a quotation from Tacitus). Hadrian, on the contrary, seeing that the Christians had separated their cause from that of the rebel Jews, extended to them a tolerance not merely contemptuous. But thenceforward the best and ablest emperors, from M. Aurelius to Diocletian, recognising the independent power of the Church, thought it necessary to persecute it. At last, Julian completely reversed the policy of Titus, seeking to discredit the Gospel by patronage to the Jews. This policy, apparently, will be carried out by Antichrist: but will be baffled when the Jews, whom he has restored to their land as unbelievers, are converted by the martyrdom and resurrection of the two prophets (see notes on the preceding chapter).

Verse 17

Revelation 12:17 to Revelation 13:10. THE BEAST FROM THE SEA


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Revelation 12:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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