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This Chapter opens with the History of the Church, from the Beginning. Here is represented by Figure, that Church, brought forth, and immediately persecuted. A Dragon stands ready to devour. She is preserved in the Wilderness. To these follow an Account of War in Heaven, with the Consequences.
(1) And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: (2) And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. (3) And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. (4) And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. (5) And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. (6) And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
We cannot hesitate a moment, under divine teaching, to apprehend what was intended from this figurative representation. The prophecy all along relates to the Church. When the Son of God first appeared to John, to give him the revelation contained in this, book, it was not to tell him of things past; but to show to his servant, things which should be hereafter. Revelation 1:1 . Hence, therefore, the birth of this man child could not be, as some have thought, to represent the birth of Christ, for that had long before taken place; but of the Church. The Lord is here beginning again the same subject as before; only now, the Lord will make a new representation of the same truths, under a different form. He opens, therefore, with representing Zion bringing forth the Church, which is called a great wonder in heaven. And a wonder indeed, which angels desire to look into. Here is a woman represented, as clothed with the sun. Zion clothed with Christ her Husband, the Sun of Righteousness. Having put, on Christ, made comely in his comeliness, and shining in his robes of salvation. The moon, which represented the earth, under her feet, to intimate, that now clothed with Christ, she had risen above all the dying, perishing things here below; and became wholly engaged with the glories of her Lord. And, to show her coronation with Christ her husband, she hath a coronet of twelve stars upon her head. Perhaps an allusion also to the adorning of the head and heart with the bright light of the teaching of the twelve Apostles.
The fruitfulness of the Church is blessedly set forth, under this figure, of her being with child; for, it is said of Zion, that as soon as she travailed she brought forth; before her pains came, she was delivered of a man child! Isaiah 66:7 . Reader! what a sweet thought ariseth from hence. The travailing pains of the soul, are sure tokens of soul-deliverance. The womb of grace, like the womb of nature is sure to bring forth souls unto God. For thus graciously speaks the Lord. Shall I bring to the birth and not cause to bring forth? Shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb, saith thy God? Isaiah 66:9 . And Reader! what saith the Lord concerning the register of Zion's children? Yea, what saith the Lord, concerning Zion's King, as well as his brethren? The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man (this God-Man) was born there! Psalms 87:5-6 .
This other wonder, of a great red dragon in heaven, (that is, in the Church, see Revelation 21:1-3 ) meaning the devil, and is so called in verse 9. The seven heads, and ten horns, with seven crowns, of this dragon, defines the place, and authority of this beast, And, that we might not err in application, to whom it belongs, we read in the opening of the next Chapter, that the dragon gave his power and his seat to the beast, which arose out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. Now, as all this is figurative of kingdoms, so the description can suit none but Rome. For that empire is notoriously known to stand upon seven mountains. The differences of the crowns, in one instance being seven, and in the other ten, perhaps may be, from three other kingdoms being since added to the empire, Revelation 13:1-2 .
The tail of this dragon drawing the third part of the stars after him, implies, (what stars always, when figuratively used in scripture mean, principalities and powers,) that this beast had such influence with certain great ones of the earth, to draw them after him to his devilish policy. So that he got into alliance with him the sovereigns of the earth. And this was eminently manifested, when the Roman empire was heathen. And in the after periods, when professing christianity under the emperor Constantine, still the influence of the dragon continued. The devil, by turning Christian, found that policy more profitable than even heathenism; for he never more artfully carries on his persecutions against true believers, than when he transforms himself into an angel of light. Oh! what multitudes hath his tail drawn after him, from that hour to the present, in persuading men to profess the knowledge and faith of Christ, while denying his eternal power and Godhead?
I beg the Reader to notice what is said of the Church bringing forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. Let not the Reader suppose, that this meant Christ; for Christ himself is here showing his servant John, by this figure, the bringing forth of the Church, after his return to glory, and during the period of the Roman government while heathen. The ruling all nations, implied the universal dominion of Christ's Church, by virtue of her union with her Lord, as set forth: Psalms 2:0 . So Christ promised his Church in his Epistle by John, to the Church at Thyatira. He that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron. Revelation 2:26-27 . And such we know will be the event, when the seventh Angel shall sound the seventh trumpet; for then the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. Revelation 11:15 . And we, saith the Church, shall reign on the earth. Revelation 5:10 .
Some have thought, that this man child represented the emperor Constantine, and that the devil the dragon, stood to devour him as soon as born. I venture to believe not so. I humbly conceive, that the representation means the Church in general, yea, the whole body of Christ's mystical members, whom the devil, in every individual instance, alike hates. The empire, by turning Christian under Constantine, did not a single atom promote the Lord's glory, the Church's interest. Yea, from the awful heresies, which soon after began to arise, the devil found occasion to carry on his diabolical purposes with greater advantage: Besides, the representation here made of the Church, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and crowned with twelve stars, represents a more glorious state of the Church, than ever was, except in the first ages of the Gospel, when after Christ's return to glory, and God the Holy Ghost had visibly come down, the whole body of Christ's Church, were of one heart, and of one soul. This was the blessed age of the Church, when living upon Christ, professing to be saved wholly in his Person, blood, and righteousness, she might be truly said to be clothed with the sun; and from despising the earthly accommodations, and going about with their lives in their hands, the moon, which represented earthly things, might be said to be under their feet; and the words of the Apostles, and doctrines, as stars, crowning their whole lives and conversation. The Lord, therefore, in beginning the subject again, takes it up from this part, and is describing the history of his Church from John's time downward, the better perhaps to prepare the Apostle's mind for the events which were hereafter to follow.
The child being caught up, as soon as it was born, unto God, and to his throne, cannot be supposed to mean, taking the Church to heaven immediately on the birth; but rather, it is a beautiful confirmation of that blessed doctrine of grace, that at the new-birth of every child of God, the Lord's people are made partakers of the divine nature, and have all things given them that pertain to life and godliness. God undertakes for them. And the God of all grace, who hath called them unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after they have suffered awhile, will perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle them. 2Pe 1:4-5 ; 1 Peter 5:10 .
The wilderness, into which the woman, immediately on delivery, is said to have fled, is a further proof of the observation just made. The wilderness is this world, where, under wilderness dispensation, the Church is placed, during her time-state, from grace to glory. And hence the Church, in the Songs is represented, as coming up out of the wilderness leaning upon Christ her beloved. For no sooner is the Lord Jesus Christ known by the child of God, at the new birth, or regeneration, than everything here, becomes a wilderness, out of Christ. The Lord's appointing the Church's feeding in the wilderness, hath a reference to that sweet, but secret mercy, by which, even in times of famine, the Lord gives his chosen ones the bread of life, and the hidden manna, which none knoweth, saving him that receiveth. Say, ye hidden ones of my God, is it not so now? And will it not be so forever, till the Lord, who now feeds, in secret, will come to make known his people openly, Let the Reader observe what is said here, of the thousand two hundred and threescore days. Though no man hath ever yet been able to count those days, neither hath any man been as yet informed of God, when the date of them commenced, nor when they shall end; yet the Church, as is here said, is to be fed the whole time; while the Lord's servants, his two witnesses, are to prophecy in sackcloth; and as long as the persecution of the Eastern, and Western, and all other heresies, shall remain. Reader! think what a sweet assurance this is! Look at this sixth verse again. In this wilderness, God himself hath prepared a table for his Church. And observe, it is said, that they should feed her there the whole period of years. Who are they that are to feed her? Surely God himself in his threefold character of Persons, will feed his people. His servants, the faithful ministers of his word and ordinances, shall feed her: yea, rather than his Church shall want bread, God will feed her from his very enemies table. Our God saith now, as He said of old, when his Israel was in a strait: Moab! saith God, let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab; and he thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler, Isaiah 16:4 . As if the Lord had said, Moab! thou art a bitter foe to my Israel, and thou wouldest gladly sweep them off from the face of the earth: But I will overrule thee, as I did Balaam, to bless my people, when he would, at thy instance, have cursed them, Numbers 22:6 . Feed my out-casts; for though they are outcasts, they are my outcasts: house them, therefore, and take care of them, till I take them home, from all their wilderness straits and difficulties. Reader! do you know anything of this in your own history? Oh! it is sweet, it is precious, so to do. A child of God finds even straits and difficulties blessed, when thereby it affords opportunity for the Lord's play of grace. These things make the wilderness; and the solitary place, and the desert, to rejoice and blossom, as the rose, Isaiah 35:1 .
I said just now, that concerning the period of those twelve hundred and sixty days, no man hath ever yet been able to count them, neither hath any man as yet been informed of God, when the date of them commenced, or when they shall end. And I beg very humbly of the Reader, to be on his guard against all the proud presumptuous publications of unenlightened carnal men on the subject, who have attempted and do attempt it. If, from the time of Daniel's prophecy concerning those days, (see Daniel 12:11 ) to the present hour, our God hath not thought proper to inform one of his redeemed servants, can it be supposed that the secret will be made known to men, who, though professing Christianity, know nothing more of it than in the name? There is somewhat very awful in my view, in the publications of such characters. But while I shudder at their presumption I am much more astonished that any of God's dear children should be led away by them, to place any confidence in their calculations, untaught of God, as they most evidently are. The Word of God saith, that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. But we never read that the Lord unfolds, what for wise and gracious purposes, he for a time withholds from his people, to make known to his enemies. Very sure I am, that in the general, the Lord doth not lay open his prophecies further, than to deliver his predictions, and it is the province of his redeemed, to be found in humble waitings their accomplishments. And when any of his own would say as the Prophet did, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? the answer can hardly be expected more gracious, than was given to the man greatly beloved. Go thy way Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Daniel 12:8-9 .
(7) And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, (8) And prevailed not; neither was their place found anymore in heaven. (9) And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (10) And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. (11) And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (12) ¶ Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
Let the Reader keep in remembrance, that, for the most part, when heaven is spoken of in this book of God is meant the Church. Indeed, it can hardly be necessary to observe, that when it is said there was war in heaven, it could not be supposed is meant, that blessed place, where God dwells, where all is peace, and holiness, and joy. But, the war here mentioned, was, and still is in the Church. Michael by whom is meant Christ, is opposed by Satan, and the conflict must be as is here stated, in the ultimate termination. But during the contest God's dear children, though sure of victory, have many an hard skirmish to sustain from day to day, neither doth the faithful soldier in Christ's army, unbuckle his armor, until the Lord undresseth him for the grave.
But if we consider what is here said, with an especial eye to the Church, at the period Christ had in view, when instructing his servant John, and this also, as leading on by a spirit of prophecy, to the great events then to take place in his Church; and from thence to the end of all things, we must call to remembrance, that this was the period of the Church, after Christ's return to glory, and under the time of the Empire, being heathen, to the time when the Empire professed Christianity, including a space of about three hundred years. And this brings down the history in this Chapter, to the time of the Arian heresy.
So wonderful an event, as that of an whole Empire becoming Christian, (that is professing Christianity, and, no doubt, though multitudes under that character were no other than summer flies basking in the sun-shine of prosperity, yet many of God's dear children being now no longer terrified with the threats and persecutions of their pagan neighbors, were enabled to boast aloud in the God of their salvation,) might well be supposed to celebrate the Lord's glory in the change. Hence, the loud voice of John in vision heard in heaven, that is in the Church; Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ. And let the Reader observe no less, how the faithful as with one voice, attributed all their victory to the Lord Jesus Christ. So is it now, and so must it be forever, during the whole time-state of the Church upon earth. No victory, but in and by Christ. No washing from sin, but in his blood. No righteousness but his, to justify before God!
And well may the Church rejoice, while the devil grows more and more angry, in the consciousness of the shortness of his triumphs over the Church. For what is the whole of his reign, from the fall of Adam, to the time of his being cast into hell forever. What is six thousand years to eternity? It is no more than a single grain of sand, compared to the globe! I have often thought, if a child of God could but, keep this always in remembrance, every exercise would be as nothing. Day by day lessens all our sorrows. The one of yesterday is gone to be numbered with the years beyond the flood, never more to return. Like boys at school we may cut off the daily notch, which makes the number to the holidays. Shortly; the last will come to be cut off, and then the child of God, hears the chariot wheels of Jesus come to take him home to his Father's house.
While, on the contrary, I have as often thought, how short-lived, the triumphs or the pleasures of the ungodly! How most the man of earth, I mean the christless sinner, ingulphed like Korah and his company in earthly concerns, begrudge every day that passeth. Each night he might say, as the knell of day tolls for its funeral, there's another day gone of my comforts upon earth, and when the last comes, where am I departing? Hence, it is the world dreads to be told of their age, because they dread to die. Reader! with which class are you standing? If new born in Christ, (for that is the only real standard of character,) look out, with holy confidence and joy, for the chariot wheels of Jesus! If unawakened, unregenerated, unrenewed in soul, death cannot but be dreadful!
(13) And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. (14) And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (15) And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. (16) And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. (17) And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
At this verse, if I am correct, may be dated the rise of heresy in the professing Church, after the Empire became what is called Christian. When the dragon found, that the Emperor and his court acknowledged Christianity, and the idols had tottered and fallen, being cast out of the palace and city, as an unclean devil, he thought it best to come in a clean devil. Hence, he himself in his angels or messengers professed Christianity. But, by a masterpiece of subtilty, he took up the profession of a new faith, and robbed Christ of his Godhead. To use the words of our Lord, as long as he had been the strong man armed, and the Empire continued sunk in the darkness of paganism and idolatry, his goods and his captives were at peace. But, when the stronger than he came upon him, and overcame him, his armor of idolatry was over. Hence, he saith I will return into my house, (still his house, in every instance where there is no change of heart by regeneration,) from whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept, and garnished of all the idols he had once set up there. But now returning with all the various heresies, the human mind untaught of God is capable of receiving, he enters in and dwells there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Matthew 12:43-45 .
The flight of the Church into the wilderness, from the persecution raised against her in the city, is a striking but just figure of those wilderness exercises, the Lord's people sustain under persecution. To every child of God, truly regenerated by the Spirit of God, and who from that regeneration and teaching of the Holy Ghost, knows Christ in his Godhead, and Person, and offices, and character, the present day is a wilderness day, into which the soul is brought. He cannot but find wilderness dispensation, while he hears the blasphemy. Hence, like David, his language is, Rivers of tears run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy laws, (Christ) Psalms 119:136 .
The serpent casting out of his mouth water, as a flood after the Church, very plainly means to show, the flood of heresy, which the devil about this time raised up in the Church. Not the heresy of Popery or Mahometanism, for neither of those Anti-Christian powers were as yet in being. But the flood of heresy was that of Arius, who denied the Godhead of Christ. And another famous, or rather infamous heretic by this time had appeared, Pelagius, who denied original sin, and by insisting upon man's purity by nature, and an holiness of will to obey God, he totally set aside among all his followers, the necessity of redemption by Christ's blood. There were also the Nestorian heresy, and the Macedonian at this time, and followed not by a few. The former divided the Person of Christ, and the latter would admit neither of the Person nor Godhead of the Holy Ghost. These were among the great torrents of schism, with which the Church of Christ was then beset, beside some lesser sweeping streams, to annoy her in the purity of her worship.
By the earth helping the woman, just as an opening made in the earth, comes seasonably to swallow up a flood, is probably meant, that men of no religion, displeased with the cruelties exercised upon the real godly, in those times (of which profane history is full with the account,) put a stop at them, not unfrequently. The providence of God so overruled things, that when the wrath of man, instigated by the devil, was very great, the Lord made it to praise him, by inducing the very reverse the enemy intended. And when that wrath was more than ministered ultimately to the Lord's glory, the Lord restrained it, Psalms 76:10 . Oh! how often may the people of God set their seal to this great truth. Very frequently their enemies are led by the Lord to do the very reverse of what they design, and become the unconscious ministers of producing good, where they intend evil. When the Jews crucified Jesus, what did they design? In Christ's death, what did they accomplish? When hell pursued the Church with error, what was the object? But from those heresies the devil stirred up, God's taught children, through the Lord's teaching, have learnt the greater blessedness and preciousness of the truth. Oh! the depths of divine wisdom! Oh! the unsearchableness of divine love!
READER! if the Church appeared as a great wonder in heaven, when beheld clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of stars, shall not you and I wonder as we behold her also? Oh! what a lovely sight is the Church, the spouse of Jesus! And what a wonder, that the Son of God should choose for himself such an one, when all the Angels of God were at his command! Yea, Reader! what a greater wonder still, if so be you and I are of Christ's members, in this mystical body! A child of God is the wonder of heaven, the wonder of angels! and oh! how much more a wonder to himself, that while meriting hell, he should be preserved for heaven.
And, Reader! let us look also to the other wonder in heaven, and behold this great red dragon. Let us look at him without fear, while looking to, and depending upon Jesus for help. Jesus hath conquered him for us, and in us; and we know, that the God of peace, will bruise Satan under our feet shortly. Oh! what a world of wonders are we in, that the worm Jacob shall thresh the mountains! But, Reader! never lose sight in whose strength it is, we are made strong. The armies of heaven, overcome by the blood of the Lamb. Yes! there can be salvation in no other. No other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved!
Lord Jesus! cause the earth to help the woman, thy Church, now in the flood of heresies, the Serpent hath belched out of his month with a view to destroy her, in this present sinful and spiritual adulterous generation. And while hell in such numberless directions, is making war with the true remnant of thy seed, oh! for the Lord to give that seed to see that more is with us, than all that are against us. Remember, precious Jesus, thine own gracious words, and make them particularly sweet and refreshing to thine own, in the present day of rebuke and blasphemy: My seed (thou hast said), shall serve him, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness, unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25