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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 12

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-17

PART B B (I) XI:19-XV:4.

’tabernacle’. Cf. ’The Doctrine of the Shekinah and the Theology of the Incarnation’ in The Gospel of the Infancy and other Essays, by E. S. J. Burrows

XII 1-16 A Double Prefatory Vision (a) 1-16 A great ’symbol’ in the sky —1, 2. A Woman, radiant with sun, moon and stars, crying aloud in her birthpangs. 3, 4. Another symbol in the sky: a fiery-red Dragon, with 7 heads royally crowned and 10 horns: his tail sweeps to earth one third of the stars.

4. He watches for the Birth that he may devour the Child.

5. But the Man-Child, when born, is carried up to God’s throne to shepherd the nations with the Messianic rod.

6. The Woman flees to an ’appointed place’, in the desert, ’that they may nourish her there’ 1,260 days (persecution-time).

(b ) 7-16 War in the sky —7. Michael and his angels against the Dragon and his own. 8, 9. Michael conquers and the Dragon is cast down to earth.

10-12. A paean over this real yet unfinished victory: the Martyrs have conquered, but the Devil has come down to the Earth, furious, aware that his time is short.

13, 14. The Dragon in fact pursues the Woman who flies with eagle’s wings to the desert for her ’time, times and half a time’ (see above, 1,260 days).

16. The Serpent tries to engulf her with a flood cast from his mouth: but the Earth opens her mouth and swallows the water up.

17. So the Dragon, in anger against the Woman, goes to make war upon ’the rest of her offspring’—those faithful to the commandments of God, who hold fast to the witness to Jesus.—This verse really belongs to the next section but may be usefully mentioned here as helpful for the explanation of the Woman.

Explanation of 1-17 supra. Begin with what is clearest. The Child (5) is the Messias: Psalms 2:9 is certainly alluded to (see 9, 14, 15; Genesis 3:1). The Dragon is the primeval Serpent; he who is called ’Devil’ and ’Satan’ (9)—the Adversary, the Slanderer, ’who sets all the nations astray (ib.; cf.Zach 3:1 ff.; esp. Job 1:6 ff.; 2:2 ff.: ’to wander’ as opposed to ’walk’ is a thoroughly Johannine contrast: often in his Gospel): the Accuser (10; see esp. Job 1:9 ff.). It is at least appropriate that the Serpent should cast forth the water-flood (15), because of the vague but traditional association of the sea-monster Tiamat (Tehom: the watery abyss) with water and chaos: cf.Ez 29:3; 32:2; Psalms 74:14; and, I think, Job 7:12. But this was a very faded imagery, important only if we saw Babylonian astronomical imagery consciously used throughout this section (which we do not). Michael was Protector (opposed here to Adversary, Accuser) of Israel (Daniel 10:1, Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21, etc.): here, of the New Israel. The Fall of Satan: Luke 10:18. The war between Michael and good angels with evil angels is highly elaborated in apocryphal literature.—For the crowned heads and the horns, see §970l, sqq.—The Woman. Her celestial array: cf.Psalms 103:2; Song of Solomon 6:10. In the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs Levi is like the sun, and Judah was ’brilliant as the moon and beneath his feet were 12 stars’, which suffices, I think, to show that the adornment is not significant in detail, but traditional, and doubtless in origin astronomical. Who is this Woman? Clearly, the Mother of the Messias (2, 5), but also of a vast posterity (17) which endures to the end of time. She is, then, as symbolic as the Dragon, and indeed John says so (1, 3), and is comparable with the ’ Jerusalem on high, the Mother of us all’ (Galatians 4:26): Jerusalem, whether terrestrial or ideal, especially as representing the whole people of God, the Bride of God (see also below, 19:7; 21:10), was constantly figured as a woman, mother of the Holy People from whom, in OT times, the Messias was to come. The mass of tradition sees in the Woman both the Synagogue and the Church: there is no break, in God’s eyes, between them. Hippolytus († after 235): ’Never shall the Church cease from producing from her heart the Word that in the Avorld is persecuted by the unbelieving’. Victorinus († c 303), the first Latin commentator on Apoc: ’She is the ancient Church of the Patriarchs and Prophets and the Saints and the Apostles. The groanings and the torments of her yearnings were upon her until she should see that Christ, the fruit of her people according to the flesh, had from that very race taken up a body.’ Augustine (on Ps 42): ’This Woman is the ancient City of God.’ Bede ( † 735): ’Ever the Church, though the Dragon fight against her, is bearing Christ.’ Beatus ( † 776): ’Ever was this Woman, before the Lord’s advent, in travail.’ This does not exclude John’s having seen our Lady in this Woman—how could he not? Having spent so long in her company, he could not have written of the Mother of the Messias without being conscious of her, any more than he could have written about ’eating the flesh and drinking the blood’ of Christ without thinking of the Eucharist. And the moment he thinks of the ’primeval serpent’ he must have remembered Eve; so the Woman becomes the Second Eve, and we have the series—the ’Mother of the Messias’: the Universal Eve: Jerusalem and the People: the Church and Mary. The immediate appearance of Mary as the Second Eve in patristic literature must surely be due in part to this passage. Notice that the Enthroned remains immobile. It is Michael—’Who is like to God?’—who wages war on the Dragon—’I will not serve’ (and below: ’Who is like to the Beast?’). John has by now introduced almost every symbol he will use later.

XII:13-XV:4 Seven Great Mysteries.

XII:13-XIV:5 (a) A group of 4 Mysteries —13-17. The Dragon. He, prevented from injuring the Church as such (the Woman), for she is enabled to escape him and is nourished in the ’wilderness’ for ’persecutiontime’, turns to make war on ’the rest of her offspring’, i.e. Christians throughout their history.

14. The ’eagle’s wings ’indicate directly only that the Woman’s flight is swift enough to save her from the Dragon, though cf.Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11; Esdr 17:3—the ’great’ eagle, ’the great-winged, the wide in his out-stretching’. In one sense, the Church is always in flight, in exile, in the desert, nourished on desertfood, the Manna, or the bread that gave Elias strength for 40 days, in short, the Eucharist. 16 f. The Earth swallows the Dragon-flood; a pictorial detail possibly suggested by the Asiatic streams that vanish into the fissured soil. Still, the very earth is on the side of heaven, not of hell! The ’ideal’ allegoric vision is now closed, though the transition to actual history (related, of course, symbolically) has been gradual— a melting-into, rather than a dove-tailing.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Revelation 12". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/revelation-12.html. 1951.
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