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A woman clothed with the sun. A woman is used as a symbol many times in the Scriptures. "Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh." (Isa 62:11.) Here the reference is to the Church. Again Paul (Gal 4:31) says, "Ye are not the children of the bond woman, but of the free woman." All are agreed that here the free woman represents the Church. Again (Rev 21:2), John sees the New Jerusalem descending adorned as a bride to meet her husband. The bride, the Lamb's wife, here and in Rev 21:9, indeed in every place spoken of, is the Church. Once more: Paul speaks of Jerusalem, the mother of us all, alluding again to the Church. This symbol, then, is a common one to represent the Church, and we are justified in declaring that to be its meaning in this passage. The fact that she is clothed with the sun symbolizes the fact that the true Church shines with the light of the sun of righteousness.
The moon under her feet represents the Old Testament, or dispensation, which shone by a reflected right and is subordinate to the New Covenant of the Church. The crown of twelve stars is explained by the twelve apostles, lights of the Church and a crown of glory to it.
She being with child cried. Again we must let the Scripture explain its own meaning. "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." (Isa 66:8.) The travail of Zion causeth an increase. See also Isa 54:1 and Isa 49:20, where the same figure is used. The state of the woman therefore implies a Church in sorrow, a suffering Church, but out of whose suffering there cometh an increase of the saints. It is a period when the saints are multiplied in the midst of persecution.
Behold a great red dragon. Another wonder is seen, also in the sky, a great serpent-like figure, red, with seven heads and ten horns. This figure, we learn from Rev 12:9, is a devilish manifestation. The devil uses it for his purposes. The red color implies a persecuting power. The seven heads are explained in Rev 17:9, where the seven-headed beast appears again, to be seven mountains, and also seven kingdoms; the ten horns are there said to be ten kingdoms which did not yet exist. We have also this monster appearing substantially in Dan., chapter 7. I will discuss it more particularly in chapter, but will here say that there is little doubt that it represents the persecuting powers of the earth which have opposed God and his Israel; the great world powers arrayed against God. This world power appears as Pagan Rome in the persecution of the Woman; the Church. The dragon was the standard of Pagan Rome in the third century, as testified by many ancient writers.
And his tail drew a third part of the stars. This may indicate the great power of the dragon. Perhaps it has a more particular meaning. We have found under the 8th and 9th chapters that the old Roman world was divided into three parts, that the term third part was used of these divisions. In the early part of the fourth century, when the great triumph of Christianity over Paganism was about to be realized, the Roman world shows this division; in two parts toleration is shown; in the remaining third part there is the most bitter persecution, and finally the ruler of this part, Maximus, enters upon war with Constantine with the vow that if successful he will restore everywhere the old Pagan religion. This may be symbolized.
And the dragon stood before the woman. This symbolizes an effort to destroy the saints, the seed of the woman, the children of the Church.
And she brought forth a man child. If the reader will turn to Rev 12:17 he will learn that the remnant of the woman's seed is "those who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." The offspring of the woman, the "woman's seed," then refers to the saints. The man child is a symbol of the faithful members of the Church. But how shall they rule all nations with a rod of iron. The Greek says "rule as shepherds with a rod of iron." This implies a firm and permanent, but tender and loving rule, not a stern rule. In Rev 2:27 it is promised that whosoever overcometh shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. In Rev 19:15 the same thing is stated of the Word of God. This is accomplished through the saints. They shall yet possess the earth. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. The kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ. The man child, the woman's seed, the saints, shall have a complete, an undisputed, a resistless dominion.
And her child was caught up. This figure always means a glorious exaltation. It signifies that God will protect the saints and give them victory. This was probably fulfilled when Christianity triumphed over Paganism in the fourth century.
And the woman fled into the wilderness. The flight into the wilderness is alluded to again in Rev 12:14. There it belongs in order. Under that verse the meaning will be more fully considered.
And there was war in heaven. The woman had been seen in heaven, and there she is seen to be assailed. She has, however, a champion who fights her battles. It must be remembered that Michael, the woman, the man child, the dragon, the conflict, and the casting down of the dragon are all symbols. This symbolism indicates the defeat of the dragon in his attempt. He is not only vanquished, but humiliated, "cast down." The first mighty attempt of Satan to "abolish the Christian name from the earth," signally fails. We have already written enough to show the reader that this represents the facts of history. Pagan Rome, the dragon, struck at the heart of the Church. Blood flowed in rivers, the blood of the saints, but the grandeur of their lives and the heroism of their deaths struck fear and conviction to the hearts of their enemies. Each martyr called forth an army who were ready to die for Christ. God exalted the man child, caught it to his bosom, protected it, and Pagan Rome went down. The dragon prevailed not. Baffled, he is cast to the earth.
Now is come salvation, etc. We have next the songs of triumph sung 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," etc. These songs of triumph are always heard when the symbolism portrays any great triumph of righteousness. See Rev 7:12; Rev 11:15. The triumphant songs here seem to exult over the overthrow of Paganism in the fourth century.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. This shows how the victory indicated in Rev 12:8 was won. It was won by the blood of Christ and the faithfulness of the saints. "They loved not their life even unto death." They were willing to give their lives for Christ.
Woe for the earth and for the sea. Not an imprecation but a prediction. Satan, cast down, will take another form to do his wicked work.
The dragon . . . persecuted the woman. In some other form, not as a Pagan power defying Christ, but perhaps garbed as an angel of light, he still persecuted the woman.
There were given two wings, etc. The meaning is that means were given to the persecuted church to flee into the wilderness, into a place where she would be hidden from view. The Church would disappear from sight. There she would be a time, and times, and half a time, or a year, two years and half a year, three and half years, forty-two months, 1260 days. See Rev 12:6 above, and Rev 11:2-3. This period we found under chapter 11 to begin in A. D. 533, and to extend to about the close of the last century.
And the serpent cast out . . . a flood. He resorted to persecutions in order to drive the true Church off of the face of the earth.
The earth helped the woman. In some way the flood of persecution was so hindered that it failed to accomplish the object. I believe this refers to the hindrances often interposed by secular powers to stay persecution. The Hussites protected themselves under Zisca by force of arms; the German princes protected Luther; the edict of Nantes gave French Protestants a rest. These were times when "the earth" drank up the flood.
And the dragon waxed wroth. Was angry at his defeat. He continued the warfare by asking to destroy the woman's seed. I believe that this vision reveals the persecution of the true Church, first by Pagan, and then by Papal Rome, a persecution that results in the apparent disappearance of the true Church from the earth. Though not visible to the eye of the historian during this period, yet the true Church, fed of God, survives in the hearts of the hidden and persecuted saints. The period of her exile began about 533, in the reign of Justinian, and ends about the beginning of the nineteenth century. Before the end of the period, the Divine measure, the reed of the apostles, was used to measure the temple, altar and worshipers, and, as the result, over three-fourths of a century ago, the true Church began to appear as a visible body, once more in the world.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16