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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 12

Verses 1-17

Revelation 12. The Vision of the Woman, the Child, and the Dragon.— This chapter has always presented difficulties to the student of Revelation. Two questions present themselves: ( a) What is the connexion of this chapter with the previous part of the book? ( b) What interpretation did the writer intend his readers to put upon the vision? The first question has been answered in many ways. Some scholars regard this passage as a fresh interlude, and think that it is unconnected with the main movement of the drama. It is often explained as a fragment of a Jewish Apocalypse which the writer determined to utilise, though he failed altogether to weave it into the thread of the argument. The most probable explanation is as follows. The theme of the second part of the Apocalypse is the struggle against Antichrist, and this chapter forms the introduction. Antichrist is first introduced almost incidentally in Revelation 11:7 and the allusion in that passage is here developed and carried a stage further on. The second question is equally difficult to answer. There are three characters in this scene— the woman, the child, the dragon. There is no difficulty about the identification of the dragon. It undoubtedly represents Antichrist, but the other two characters are not so easy to explain. The child is generally understood to represent the Messiah, but the details of the story do not correspond with the facts of the life of Jesus. Jesus was not “ caught up unto God” immediately after birth, and the description in Revelation 12:5 of “ a man child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” does not seem an appropriate description of His mission. It is difficult, therefore, to suppose that this chapter was written with full knowledge of the life of the actual Messiah. It is, however, when we come to ask what is meant by the woman that the problem becomes acute. We may dismiss at once the theory that identifies her with the Virgin Mary. There is not a single detail of the narrative which suits such an hypothesis. Nor can we suppose that the woman was intended to denote the Christian Church if the child is to be regarded as the Messiah. It was not the Christian Church that produced the Messiah: it was the Messiah who created the Christian Church. The only reasonable explanation is that the woman personifies the people of Israel. The best interpretation of the chapter is, therefore, that we have here a pre-Christian Apocalypse representing Israel in travail with the Messiah and that this Apocalypse has been inserted by the author of the book without any attempt to reconcile it with the facts of the life of the actual Messiah. Gunkel thinks that the basis of the story was a Babylonian myth. [No story of the birth of Marduk has been discovered; Gunkel postulates the existence of a myth of his birth on the lines of the myth of the birth of Apollo. Dieterich derived our passage from the Greek myth of the birth of Apollo; Bousset has called attention to the Egyptian myth of the birth of Horus. The parallels with our passage are too close to be accidental. Probably there was a widespread myth, of which the Greek and Egyptian forms are variants, describing how the god of light was successfully born in spite of the attempt of the dragon of darkness and chaos to prevent his birth. See Peake, The Person of Christ in the Revelation of John, in Mansfield College Essays.— A. S. P.]

Revelation 12:1 . a woman: the people of Israel in the early part of the chapter, and later on probably the Christian community.— the sun: the imagery used here is probably suggested by a passage in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, “ Judah was bright as the moon and under his feet were twelve rays” (Test. Naph. 5 ).— twelve stars: probably an allusion to the twelve tribes.

Revelation 12:2 . child: the Messiah.

Revelation 12:3 . dragon: Antichrist; in Revelation 12:9 he is identified with “ the old serpent who is called the Devil and Satan.”— seven heads and ten horns: the frequent occurrence of similar terms in the Book of Daniel makes it clear that the writer uses them to cover a reference to kings or kingdoms. What the original writer of this little Apocalypse intended by these words cannot be discovered, but our author obviously meant them to refer to Roman Emperors.

Revelation 12:4 . draweth the third part: for the metaphor cf. Daniel 8:10.

Revelation 12:5 . child was caught up unto God: this cannot refer to any event in the life of Christ, unless it be to the Ascension, but must be an imaginary picture of the Messiah’ s experience drawn by a pre-Christian writer.

Revelation 12:6 . A prediction of Israel’ s fate after the Messiah’ s departure. 1260 days: ( Revelation 11:2 *) suggested by the 3½ years of Dan.

Revelation 12:7 . The war in heaven described in the following verses has its analogy in the wars of the Olympian gods described by Homer and Virgil ( cf. Ephesians 6:12 *).— Michael: the guardian angel of Israel ( cf. Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1).

Revelation 12:8 . This verse seems to imply that the final fall of Satan from heaven ( cf. Luke 10:18) did not take place till this conflict, but perhaps the words should not be unduly pressed.

Revelation 12:10 . The victory of Michael is followed by a paean of triumph.

Revelation 12:11 . The victory in heaven is followed by a victory of the martyrs upon earth.

Revelation 12:12 . a short time: afterwards defined as 3½ years ( Revelation 12:14).

Revelation 12:14 . two wings of the great eagle: we must not attempt to turn poetry into prose and find some definite fact beneath this phrase. All that it denotes is that in some mysterious way the woman was enabled to escape.— a time, times, etc.: i.e. years ( Daniel 7:25 *, Revelation 11:2 *).

Revelation 12:15 . cast out . . . water: the tangible facts covered by this phrase cannot be deciphered. Some have interpreted it of the Roman armies [at the siege of Jerusalem, 66– 70 ]; others of the persecutors; others of the influx of heretical opinions. If these words were in the early Apocalypse, they are probably meant to be indefinite.

Revelation 12:16 . the earth opened: here again it is useless to look for an answering fact [ e.g. the escape of the Jerusalem Christians to Pella, or the death of a persecuting emperor.— A. J. G.]. The phrase simply means that help would come from unexpected quarters. [There are streams in Asia Minor, e.g. the Lycus and the Chrysorrhous, which flow for a distance underground.— A. J. G.]

Revelation 12:17 . the rest of her seed: the followers of the Messiah, especially those outside Palestine, e.g. in Asia Minor.— [ and he stood: possibly we should read, “ and I stood” (AV), and connect with next chapter.— A. J. G.]

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.