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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 12

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

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Verses 1-2

Lecture 26

(Revelation 12:1-2)


Revelation 12:1-2. (Revised Text.) And a great sign was seen in the heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, and, being with child, she crieth out, travailing and agonizing herself to bring forth.

This book of the Apocalypse is one of the most wonderful in the Sacred Scriptures. As the Bible among literature, so is this part of it among the inspired writings. Though it has had to fight its way in every age, and to struggle to maintain its place in the sacred canon, there is not another book in the volume of inspiration more strongly attested, or more fully authenticated. Its superscription, its historical statements, its catena of testimonies, and the nature of its contents, amply evidence its genuineness, and its divine original. Its imposing scenery, its grand similitudes, its pregnant maxims, its significant dialogues, its stirring exhortations, its glowing prayers, its evangelic songs, and its sublime doxologies, give to it all the majesty of the book of the mighty consummation, not of inspiration only, but of the grandest revealed plans and purposes of God. And if an inspired book at all, there is not another which so solemnly enforces itself upon the attention of the Churches, or that is compassed about with guards and penalties more explicit and severe. We must needs regard its author as an unaccountable boaster, if it is not the highest interest and duty of every earnest Christian to read and try to understand it, so as to take its momentous presentations in among the most settled and potent things by which to direct his way and fashion his expectations. Therefore, with a devout and able living divine beyond the sea, I would say "Join your prayers with mine, my brethren, that our resumption of the study of this Divine Book may be fruitful, not in curious speculation and intellectual gratification, but above and before all else, in the quickening of our Christian vigilance, and in the increase of our knowledge of God in His Son."

In the passage which we are now to consider, we have the picture of a marvellous Woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, and she herself agitated and agonizing with the anxieties of parturition.

This, the Apostle tells us is a sign, σημεῖον, a word which he here uses for the first time in the Apocalypse, and which serves to show that the apparition is not simply a "wonder," as our version has it, but a wonder intended to bring before us something beyond itself. I have repeatedly remarked, that when the Scriptures use figures or symbols, or speak in a way not intended to be taken literally, like all serious writings they always give some intimation of it, in one way or another. The text is a case in point. What is described, is said to be a sign, a representation or picture of something else-a symbol. And the fact that we are here told that this is a sign, goes far to prove that the Apocalypse in general is to be taken literally, except where indication to the contrary is given. It would be quite superfluous to tell us that this thing is a sign, and that certain things mean certain other things, except upon the assumption that whatever is not so labelled is to be taken just as it reads, a woman for a woman, a star for a star, a mountain for a mountain, and so on. But, whatever else is literal in this book, the case of this woman is not; for the Apostle says it is a sign--a picture--a symbol of something else, which is the true subject of contemplation. He further tells us that it is "a great sign." In itself it was something very imposing and sublime to the eye which beheld it. But the greatness cannot be well understood, except with reference to the thing signified. It was a great sign as indicating something great, remarkable, momentous. The whole picture is itself so marvellous and extraordinary as to necessitate the idea of something of the greatest excellence, conspicuity, and importance. And when it is yet added, that the sign is a "great" one, that to which it refers must needs be of the utmost consequence and consideration, and no trifling object or ordinary event can be admitted as fulfilling the majesty of such a picture.

This sign appeared "in the heaven." But that does not seem to be of special significance. In the verses following, we read of another "sign," which appeared in the same place, whilst both the woman and the dragon are really as much on earth as in heaven. It is simply the scene of vision that is indicated. The seer is in the heavenly regions, and in those regions these signs appear, though relating to both earth and heaven.

A more important question is that respecting the object intended to be symbolized by this Woman. Who is she, and what are we to understand by her? The answers returned by expositors are not in all cases the same.

Some are disposed to consider it the picture of the Virgin Mary giving birth to the blessed Saviour. Even Professor Stuart says, that no attentive reader can help thinking of the birth of Christ and the massacre of Bethlehem. But, much as we may think of it, and howsoever included, this cannot be the proper subject. If the Apostle had believed it a representative of Mary, he doubtless would have said so; neither is it congruous thus mysteriously to give us the picture of one woman so superlatively exalted, in order to denote another woman so poor and lowly as Mary at the birth of our Lord. Nor was Mary ever clad and adorned as here set forth. She has also long since passed away from the earth, while this woman continues even until after the sounding of the last trumpet. When Christ was caught up to God, this Apocalypse was not yet written, nor for half a century after, whereas it was said at the time of the writing that it referred to things then still future.[128]

[128] See the quote near footnote 10 in the comments for Revelation 1:17-20. See the quote near footnote 36 in the comments for Revelation 4:1-11.

Others think that it means the City of Jerusalem. It has been said that there are only two women spoken of in this book, and that as the one is "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth," so the other is that city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. But it is as foreign to all Scripture diction, as it is contrary to the nature of things, for a material earthly city to take wings and fly away to the wilderness, and after 1260 days to return again.

A more common view, in which there is a more general agreement, is, that this woman somehow represents the Church, the body of God's professed people. It belongs to the ordinary Scripture imagery to speak of the Church under the figure of a woman, a spouse, a mother. We read of "the Daughter of Zion" as a personification of this kind under the Old Testament, and Paul speaks of the spiritual Jerusalem as "the mother of us all." The Canticles, which certainly are to be taken in a mystic sense, show how familiar such conceptions were to the Jews; and the same sort of language is everywhere employed, in one form or another, in the New Testament. And when we contemplate all the splendid particulars respecting this woman, how she is assailed by Satan, and the destiny of the offspring she bears, there is hardly any room left for a doubt, that it is the collective body of the Church or people of God that we are to see in this picture.

But what Church, or the Church of what particular dispensation or era, or the Church in what particular aspect, is not so generally agreed. Some say it is the Old Testament Church, others that it is the Christian Church of the early centuries, persecuted by the heathen, agonizing for converts, and finally bringing forth the Emperor Constantine; others, that it is the Latin Church of a later period; and others still, that it refers to the Church in yet other times, or the Church in general, without undertaking to find any one particular fulfilment for it.

In trying to come to a definite conclusion where there is so much irreconcilable diversity, it is necessary to bear in mind that we are here dealing with consummations. The Apocalypse is the Book and revealer of consummations; and the seventh trumpet, under which this sign appears, above all, refers to the times and scenes in which everything runs to its final completion and end, and appears in its terminal culmination. It is the climax of the great judgment period, when all that has gone before comes to its full, and is finally disposed of. It would therefore harmonize best with the time, and with the character of the connected administrations, that any picture of the Church here introduced should embrace it in its largest fulness, as made up through all ages and dispensations, and as related to the great consummating events pertaining to the end.

So, then, I have been led to view and interpret this wonderful sign. It does not refer to the Jewish Church exclusively; for that, apart from the Christian, never, to the same degree, possessed the majesty and glory which pertain to this woman. It is not the Christian Church exclusively; for the man-child who is to rule the nations with the rod of iron must necessarily include the Lord Jesus as its Lord and head; but he was born before the Christian Church, as such, had an existence. But the Church of the Old Testament and that of the New, are, after all, not so alien to each other. There is still an inner oneness between them never to be overlooked, which makes one a necessary part of the other, and which constitutes them the one Church of God, notwithstanding the differences of dispensations and outward form. Christian believers are children of faithful Abraham, and brethren of the ancient prophets, who were not perfect without us. Changes of external order and administration have occurred, and will perhaps occur again when the present age is consummated, but it is still the same Church of the living God. There has really been but one Church on earth, existing through all times and under all economies. And so we have here, as the symbol of it, this one glorious woman, in whom all its highest excellences and chief characteristics are summed up from the beginning even unto the great consummation, at which point, and with reference to the great occurrences of that time, it is here brought to our contemplation. It is the one only Church of God on earth, though its several parts have existed in succession-even the same which was patriarchal before Moses, Jewish before Christ, and Christian since Christ, here aggregately exhibited, that we may at one and the same view see it in its fulness, and particularly with reference to what is to happen it under the seventh and last trumpet.

It is wonderful also what a profound and complete view of the Church, in all its deepest peculiarities, excellences, office, and prospects, is here given in one single picture, at once as simple as it is sublime.

1. We have here the image of a woman. Woman was made out of Adam. A deep sleep fell upon him for the purpose, and out of that sleep woman came into being. From a rib out of his side was she builded. There was but one made, and Adam had none other. She was brought unto the man, and accepted and loved as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and made one with him in the closest of all earthly relations. This is not only history, but also parable and prophecy. Paul is very particular to tell us that it is "a mystery," a sacred revelation set in historic facts, to show the character and relations of the Church. Adam was "the figure of Him that was to come." Christ is "the Second Adam." And the wife of the Second Adam is the Church, made out of Him by the hand and Spirit of God from that deep sleep of His for the sins of the world. It is but one, and beside it there is none other. It is Christ himself begotten in His people, and joined to Him in holy compact, service, fellowship, and love, so deep and close as to be really organic; for "we are members of his body, and of his flesh, and of his bones"-one with him as the branches with the vine-sharing each other's characteristics, estates, and destiny. And to say nothing of the feminine qualities as distinguished from the masculine, there is here the profoundest reason for the representation of the Church in the figure of a woman,-a pure, beautiful, sublime, and perfect woman. The Church is the woman, in her creation from the second Adam, in her naming after Christ, and in her receptivity, love, maternity, trusting dependence, beauty, and willing obedience. She is the betrothed of the Lord, His Bride, His Queen, partaker of His inmost love, and all His estate and kingdom, having her joy in Him and His in her. Nor is there another image known to man which more richly and truly sets forth that mystic body, which we recognize and identify in every age as the Church or people of God.

2. This woman is in the way of motherhood. This is the characteristic of the Church in every period of its existence, and with special reference to what is to be fulfilled when the last trumpet shall sound. She ever bears in her body the maturing germs of a mighty birth awaited in the future. There is one individual outward figure, but that figure incloses and carries within it an invisible seed, the royal sons of a royal sire. As seen and known to us, the Church is the assembly of God's called and chosen people, manifest in the fellowship and profession of the rites and signs of revealed religion. This assembly, however, embraces two classes, the truly elect and regenerate, whom God has begotten as His own children, and in whom the Church has its life-character as the congregation of saints, but along with them many nominal outward members, who are not God's children in living reality. It is quite manifest to those who look, that not all are saints who profess Christianity and observe its rites; but who are the true members is not certainly known to us, but to God only. There is, therefore, a visible and an invisible Church-one woman, but compassing a hidden seed to be revealed hereafter. The invisible Church lies within the visible, and there is begotten, nourished, and borne, till the time comes for it to be brought forth. The visible Church is truly the Church, because the elect are in it, only it embraces some who are not of the elect. In it alone are God's true people to be found. There are the means and instruments through which saints are begotten and nurtured, and the Church collected, and its offices and administrations filled. Though it has many who are not really what they profess, and are not of the inner household of faith, it does not cease to be the true Church of God and the only mother of saints on that account. Their profession still is right, and the word and sacraments which they handle are still God's appointed means of grace and salvation. And it is the Church as one glorious whole, outward and inward, visible and invisible, that we are to see in this magnificent woman.

And there is much in the picture in this respect to teach us duty, and to support and encourage our faith. The Church is meant for the work of begetting and bearing saints. It is not for show but for fruitfulness,-for the carrying and bringing forth of a royal seed of God, to inherit His kingdom, and to rule and reign in the ages of eternity. In all places and in all time, this is her office. It is the one aim of all her equipments and all her high relations. Ministers and people forget their calling, pervert their mission, and take the attitude of hypocrites and usurpers, where this is not their one sole aim in all their ministrations and endeavours. And as they devote themselves, often in sadness and tears, to this their work and aim, it is a blessed thing to know that, wherever the Church is, this her mission is being fulfilled, however imperceptibly to human eyes. God's fact-picture of the Church is, that where she is found, she is at the same time burdened with a seed begotten of God, which is being nurtured from her own body for a glorious birthhour when time reaches its close. The patriarchs and prophets were often discouraged in their privations and labours for God and His cause. The efforts of the faithful seemed ever to be coming to nought. The old world apostatized.

Noah's house degenerated into idolatry. Israel departed from Jehovah, and knew not the day of their gracious visitation. The Christian Institutes were soon alloyed, tainted, and soiled with the intermixtures of falsehood and heathenism. Again and again the true life of faith seemed to die out of the earth, leaving nothing but the corpse of godliness. And to this hour we are oft disheartened and desponding over the ill-success of our best and costliest efforts. The earnest messengers of God come weeping with Isaiah, that men will not believe their report. And when we look about us, the true servants of Jesus are as hard to find as grapes remaining after the vintage, whilst the man of sin takes possession of the very temple of God. But the Church lives nevertheless, and is ever "with child." With all the discouragements and defections, within her body, unseen to mortal eyes, the princes are maturing for the birth to celestial and eternal rulership. Blessed revelation which the dear Saviour thus sends us from heaven! Why then should we despond or grow weary in our work?

3. This woman is magnificently arrayed. It is sometimes decried as a woman's weakness that she is fond of beautiful attire, and has an irrepressible instinct for personal adornment. It is not a weakness, but an instrument of power. It is part of her God-given nature, as the original type and representative of the Church. She may abuse it, and fall into many silly mistakes and sins by reason of it, but it becomes her, and belongs to her proper womanliness to be as beautiful as possible, and to be as beautifully and appropriately arrayed as she honestly can. She owes it to herself, to her sex, to her husband, and to society. A slattern is a monstrosity to the Divine ideal. The Church is the truest and heavenliest woman, and she is splendidly arrayed. She is "clothed with the sun."

Of course, no mere creature, or any number of creatures, can be literally dressed with the sun. That sublime luminary cannot be worn as a garment. It is only a pictorial representation, which is to be figuratively understood. But it is a gorgeous and most expressive figure.

The sun is the fairest and most brilliant thing our eyes have ever seen. It is the great orb of brightness. To be clothed with it, one would needs be clothed with light. And so it is with the Church and the people of God. Jesus says, they are "the children of light" (Luke 16:8). It is the office and end of all God's merciful appointments "to turn men from darkness to light" (Acts 26:18). Of those whom the Apostles enrolled as members of the Church of Christ, it is written, "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). The Church has ever been an illuminated body. Its children are not of darkness, but of the day. God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into their hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of His own glory. They "walk in the light." They wear it about them as a garment. If there be any light in the Divine revelations, they have it as their constant possession. If there be any teaching and illumination of the Holy Ghost, they enjoy it. They are an instructed people, illuminated from on high. They are the truly wise. They have the true philosophy of things, and are the widest awake to the highest truth and wisdom. While others grope in darkness, they are arrayed in light.

The sun is at the same time the great light-giver. It radiates brightness as well as possesses it. Light streams forth from it as the illuminator of this whole sublunary world. And to be clothed with the sun, one must necessarily be a glorious dispenser of illumination. And such is the Church. Its members and ministers have been the brightest lights of the ages. It is the pillar and ground of the truth-the golden candlestick of God amid the abounding and otherwise sunless darkness of this alien world. It is constituted and ordained for the teaching of the nations, and the bearing of the light of heaven to the benighted souls of men. People can learn the way of truth only through its testimony and confession. Christ hath said of His people, "Ye are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). By them it is that the knowledge and joy of salvation are carried over the earth, and ministered unto the dwellers in darkness and the shadow of death. They are the dispensers of the light of God. It is a great and wonderful endowment and office; but this treasure hath the Lord given to His Church. Oh, that His people may know and realize it!

The sun is likewise an orb of great excellence and purity. Nothing can diminish its glory, or taint its rays. To be clothed with it, is to be clothed with unsullied excellency. And so it is with the Church. It may have shabby members, but they are not really of it. Whatever may be the native corruption of men, or their entanglement with the errors and vices of an ungodly world, in becoming God's people they are washed, they are sanctified, they are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. They are the purest and holiest of the race. They are the flower of mankind. They are the jewels of the Lord of hosts. They are saints, having put on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is "the Sun of Righteousness."

Light is the garment of God. It is the symbol of His own nature. And as all true people of His are "partakers of the divine nature," being begotten unto Him from above, they enter also into the same clothing. The Church is robed with the sun.

4. This woman is victorious in her position. She has "the moon under her feet." Needless is the perplexity which men have felt in ascertaining what we are here to understand by the moon. As the sun is the king of day, so the moon is the empress of night; and hence a fit picture of the kingdom of darkness. And as to be clothed with the one is to be "light in the Lord," a glorious lightbearer to the world, a possessor of great excellence and purity; so to tread the moon under foot is the image of victory over the powers of darkness, whether of nature, or aught else. And this is a blessed characteristic and honour of the Church. All her true members are conquerors. Not all have yet come to the final triumph. This is not a picture of the Church triumphant, for the woman is still the subject of persecution, compelled to fly into the wilderness for her life. But even now, all who have come to real standing and membership in the household of faith, must needs have gained certain victories, and attained to the character of conquerors. By whatever Divine helps and gratuities it has been achieved, they have vanquished their native ignorance and hatred of God. They have subdued their prejudices, and brought their bodies and passions under the sway of another and better dominion and discipline. They have risen in rebellion against the old bondage and have conquered it, and broken away from it, and by stern resolve through the grace of God have entered upon the field of self-mastery and independence. With some the battle still rages, and "there remaineth yet much land to be possessed." But they have not warred in vain. Some glorious vantage-grounds have been won. They have conquered so far, that if they will only stand firm, their final triumph is sure. On fields once held by Satan, they have succeeded in planting the banners of Jehovah. And from the heights they have already gained, they see the victory from afar, and realize it even now. The moon is under their feet.

And the same is equally true of the Church as a body. She is the child and hero of battles, sufferings and victories. It is the primordial condition of her being to fight, going forth "conquering and to conquer." Without having anything in this world, she has successfully made her way into it, in spite of all the antagonism and power of the devil, who has never ceased to assail and resist her with all the might of earth and all the craft and subtlety of hell. Without the show of conquest, and mostly in weakness and in pain, straitened betimes as if it were impossible for her to survive, she has moved on, through blood and fires, floods and wildernesses, never surrendering, never losing a jot of her character and office, and doing her work against all the powers arrayed against her. Kings have combined to exterminate her, tyrants have oppressed her, treason has been raised in her own bosom, children have betrayed her, friends have deserted her, prisons have closed upon her, despotism has stamped its feet upon her neck, men in power have taken pleasure in dashing her little ones against the walls and feeding their flesh to the beasts of the earth, and many a time have her foes sent up their congratulations to each other that at last she was effectually vanquished. But still she has lived on, like the bush of Moses, unharmed by the fires, gathering children as trophies from the ranks of her enemies, pushing her influence to the very throne of Satan, making mighty champions of truth out of the veriest sons of hell, penetrating into all the nations, and to-day still waves aloft the palm of ten thousand contests, singing her paeans of thanksgiving to her God, as when Miriam struck the cymbals on the Red Sea's further shore. Small, and weak, and feminine, and despised, and pursued by the great destroyer, and seemingly ever on the point of destruction, she has continued victorious through all, God himself turning her worst calamities to triumphs, and the very malice of her foes to her glory. The moon is under her feet.

5. Still further: this woman is royal in rank and dignity. Regal gems glitter about her brow. There is "on her head a crown"--a crown "of stars,"-stars to the sacred number of completeness,-"twelve stars." Whatever the particular allusion may be, whether to patriarchs, or tribes, or apostles, or all of these, or to the totality of her teaching agency, there flashes forth from this the unmistakable idea of kinghood and authority; yea, of celestial royalty and dominion. And this too is one of the sublime possessions of the Church. Christians are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9.) By anticipation at least, all who are washed from their sins in the blood of Jesus, are "Kings and priests unto God." (Revelation 1:6.) All who are called by the Gospel, are called to royal place and dignity, and in so far as they have made that calling sure, whatever be their earthly estate or place, they are anointed and sealed as lords and princes of the eternal realm. They are joint heirs with Him to whom all power in heaven and earth is given. Time only is needed to instate them in immortal thrones. Crowns are theirs and the glory of imperishable empire.

And if we take these "stars" in the crown of the Church as representative of her ministers and teachers, after the manner of "the seven stars" in the first chapter, her royal character is strikingly manifest. In the covenants and promises to the fathers, in the precepts of the law, in the revelations of the prophets, in the melody of the Psalms, in the wisdom of the Proverbs, in the records of the four Evangelists, together with the princely letters of the Apostles, there stands written a Royal Law, stamped with the signature of the Eternal, unalterable by any existing powers in earth or heaven, binding not only the bodies but also the souls and consciences of men, and enthroned forever in the Council Halls of Christendom. To monarchs at their coronations, to magistrates, and judges, and officers of state at their induction into office, to bishops, ministers, and teachers at their ordinations, to every witness coming to testify in the courts of justice, and to every man, woman, and child seeking recognition before the altar of God, it is solemnly delivered, and its mandates enjoined, as The One Supreme and unchangeable Law, to which all must conform on pain of being denied of God, and of perishing eternally And as the possessor, guardian, and administrator of this Law and teaching, the Church attests her queenliness before all the earth. Herein she is even, already enthroned, judging men, and judging angels. People look with contempt upon the Church. They think her mean among the majesties of this world. They esteem her manner of life a letting down of man's proper dignity and consequence. They scorn her modesty and humility as effeminacy. But they are despising Jehovah's Queen. They are vaunting over a power which is charged with the decision of their own destiny. They are contemning the Mother of Eternity's Kings. They are making light of the sole mistress of the holy keys which bind and loose on earth, with the irresistible authority of the very throne of God. For the Church is a royal woman, crowned with the stars of heaven.

6. And she is in travail to bring forth. She is persecuted; but these are not so much pains of persecution. The pains of persecution come upon her from without; this anguish is from within. Persecution proceeds from the wicked, for the purpose of destruction; this agony proceeds from a treasure of heavenly sons, and is a travail to produce. Persecution has its spring in hell's malignity; this agonizing has its origin in the love, and faith, and hope of a pious maternity.

Friends and Brethren: There is a grand and glorious birthday on hand when once the seventh trumpet begins to sound,-a birthday foreshadowed by the seizing away from earth of Enoch and Elijah, and forepledged by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave, and his sublime ascension to the right hand of the Father,-a birthday which Paul had in his eye when he wrote, "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:52.) To that all the promises point. Of that the patriarchs were persuaded when they "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (Hebrews 11:13.) To that the twelve tribes under the law, instantly serving God day and night, hoped to come. (Acts 26:7.) For that the great Apostle of the Gentiles counted all his sacrifices and sufferings as nothing, and ever pressed, through stripes, and prisons, and losses, and privations, as the mark and prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:4-14.) And, in all the ages, this is the grand birthhour for which the Church ever cries to God, and agonizes and strives. It is the goal of all her being. It is the pole-star of her hope, and faith, and labours. It is the opening of the consummation for which her inmost nature ever yearns. And the effort to bring her sons to that birth, is the travail and anxiety here portrayed.

For this present we are in heaviness and tribulation. Heaven is not in this world. Our inheritance is beyond, and only the resurrection can bring us to the full fruition of it. In the day of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, and His saints come to that for which they look, and long, and cry out, in all these years of waiting. Think, then, what a time that will be when once the object of all these prayers, sufferings, and endeavours has at last been reached! What, indeed, is all the glorious light, and victory, and royalty, and joy of faith and hope we now possess, compared with the fulness of joy which shall come with that glad consummation!

But we may not now anticipate. The subsequent portions of this book tell the blessed story. Till we come to them, we defer what more is to be said. We have seen enough to suffice us for the present. We have seen that God has a Church on earth. We have seen its features and characteristics as pictured by Himself. And blessed above all is the fact that it exists for us. It is, and lives, and agonizes thus, that we may be members of it and be nurtured and disciplined in it for the glories of immortal regency. And all this cheering light concerning it is given to draw us into it, here to steady and improve us in faith and duty, that we may be God's sons and daughters, and share the destiny of its children. God grant that none of us may fail of the transcendent honours!

The Church-the Church-the holy Church-

The Saviour's spotless Bride!

Who doth not love her queenly form

Above all earth beside!

Be mine through life to live in her;

And, when the Lord shall call,

To die in her, the Spouse of Christ,

The Mother of us all.

Verses 3-4

Lecture 27

(Revelation 12:3-4)


Revelation 12:3-4. (Revised Text.) And there was seen another sign in the heaven, and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail draweth along the third of the stars of the heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stands before the woman which is about to bring forth, that when she has brought forth he may devour her child.

Parallel with the history of the Church in this world, there runs another, of very great moment, and closely related to it. It is the history of a mighty antagonizing power with which the Church has ever to contend, and which is ever set to hinder her progress and destroy her hopes. Nor is it possible to have a complete view of the one without some corresponding account of the other. Hence, in connection with the apparition of the woman clothed with the sun, "there was seen another sign in the heaven," which is described to us in the text. It is "another sign"-σημεῖον, and therefore to be interpreted after the same manner as the preceding.

The image presented is that of "a dragon"-a sort of being better known to heraldry, fable, and fanciful art, than to natural history. In the book of Job (chap. 41) there is a description of some semi-marine animal, clad in a panoply of hard scales, "esteeming iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood, counting darts as stubble, and laughing at the shaking of a spear," setting at defiance all the power and courage of man. It is there called Leviathan, but the same, or some corresponding serpentine creature, is elsewhere identified as "the dragon." (See Isaiah 27:1, and Psalms 74:13-14.) Some think it the crocodile, others the whale, and others perhaps one of those gigantic reptiles whose remains are occasionally dug up out of the earth. Evidently we are to conceive of it as some terrible serpentine creature, inhabiting the estuaries of rivers, or the marshes and margins of the sea, clawed, and armed at every point, and delighting to attack, terrify, and devour. When Jeremiah would set forth the terrible voracity and oppression of Babylon, he assigned to it the characteristics of this beast, saying, "he hath swallowed me up like a dragon." (Jeremiah 51:34.) Hence, it was given place on the escutcheon of Egypt, and adopted as one of the military ensigns of imperial Rome. The legions of the latter bore it aloft, with the winds whistling through its wide-open throat, causing it to hiss as if in a rage, while its tail dangled or floated in various folds to the breeze.

But while the picture here is in general that of a dragon, it is one altogether peculiar, and different from common dragons. It is "a great dragon," one in size and bulk vastly in excess of the ordinary idea, and with every dragon-feature hugely magnified. It is also of a peculiar colour, "red"-πυῤῥὸς, fiery, or red as fire. It has "seven heads." Dragons ordinarily were assigned but one head; but this is possessed of seven, and each head has on it a diadem or crown--"upon his heads seven diadems." He is armed also with "ten horns." And he has a most extraordinary "tail," which "draweth along the third of the stars of the heaven." The image is most formidable and terrific. And the attitude is equally threatening and terrible. The monster confronts the Woman as a great and malignant destroyer, in determined readiness to devour her child the moment it is born.

What, then, are we to understand by this Dragon? Who is he? What is thus meant to be brought to our view?

Fortunately on this point we can speak with entire confidence and certainty. The answer is given, in the Revelation 12:9, by the inspired writer himself. We there read that "the great dragon" is none other than "the old serpent, that is called the Devil and Satan, who seduceth [or misleadeth] the whole world." Whatever men's theories of the Apocalypse may be, they cannot go back of this statement. It is one of those divinely settled points by which the whole interpretation must accord, in order to be true. The Dragon, then, is not Egypt as such, nor Babylon, nor the Roman Empire, nor anything but what John here tells us it is, namely, the Devil, even Satan. So the early interpreters all taught and maintained. Even catechumens in the fifth century are addressed by their teacher as all-knowing, "that this dragon is the devil." He is not literally a dragon, as the Church is not literally a woman, but the Dragon here described is a divinely-given image or symbol of him.

And as we are now dealing with consummations, we are to take this image of the Devil in the same way in which we took the image of the Church; that is, in his whole character, career, and manifestations, from the beginning up to the end of this present world, particularly with reference to the decisive occurrences under the last trumpet. As the sun-clad woman denotes the Church in its entirety with reference to the final termination, so this dragon denotes the devil in his entirety with reference to the same.

There is, then, a Devil. Of this the chapter before us is authoritative proof. If there were no other passages on the subject, this would be sufficient to settle the question. But we read of him from the very beginning. In the Pentateuch, in Job, in the Gospels, and in the Epistles there are the most direct allusions to him, his origin, his malignity, and his works. The Bible tells of evil spirits, and of Satan as the head of them. Reason is reluctant to receive such doctrine. It is one of the favourite resorts of Satan to try to persuade men that no such being as he exists. Some think it impossible for such an evil power to find place in the realm of almighty Goodness. But there is no greater difficulty in explaining or construing the existence of wicked angels than the existence of wicked and devilish men. The very nature of moral government implies and necessitates the possibility of evil. God never made an evil being; but, having constituted moral agents, the ability to do wrong as well as good had to be in them. And with the ability to do wrong, there is nothing improbable in the doctrine that some have exercised that ability, perverted their being, and lost their character, standing and place as holy creatures. It is rather one of the unavoidable liabilities of such a constitution; and without such a constitution God could not half be known as He is known, and the sublimest part of the universe would be nothing but a blank. Instead of being offended with God for having made it possible for evil to originate within his domain, and of finding fault with Him for allowing sin, we should rather be praising and blessing Him for those sublimities of moral being, to the existence of which the possibility of evil is necessarily incident. That evil exists is a plain and evident matter of fact. A man must have lost all perception not to see and admit it. It stares him in the face whithersoever he turns. He encounters it in others, and he feels it in himself. And if it is possible for men to be evil, it is just as possible and likely that other creatures, higher in the scale than we, likewise have among them some who are apostate and depraved. And if so, reason, itself is sufficient to suggest the doctrine of some great leader and prince in evil, in exact accord with the Scripture teaching with regard to the Devil. At all events, Revelation tells us of a crafty and powerful spiritual being who was the cause of the fall of our first parents, who was the direct agent of Job's afflictions, who tempted and assailed Christ, and who is the head and soul of a great empire of evil, which has eaten its way into the glorious creation of God, drawing some of His sublimest works into peril and ruin. And with these teachings we can most safely abide, believing what our gracious Father in heaven has caused to be written for our learning, and ordering our thinking accordingly.

We could not but admire in our last the wonderful beauty and fulness with which the Church was portrayed to us in the sun-clad Woman. But no less remarkable and complete is the picture of Satan as sketched in this "great red dragon." The subject, of course, is not so inviting, but still it is very important. Let us look at it then with something of the care and solemnity which is called for by the circumstantial particularity with which God has caused it to be here introduced.

1. When Moses was commanded to take up the serpent, into which his rod had been turned, he was told to "take it by the tail." (Exodus 4:4.) And this may be a very proper way to take hold of this Dragon, "the old serpent." His tail is certainly one of the most striking features in the picture, and with it very marvellous execution is done. It swings through heaven, coils about celestial principalities, and "draweth along the third of the stars."

These, however, are quite other stars from those in the crown of the Woman. Those were simply "stars," her coronal gems; but these are "the stars of the heaven"-some particular stars. Neither are they literal stars, for the whole thing is a "sign"-a symbol. But we are not to think of "the body of pagan priests," as Adam Clarke would teach us; nor of the apostasy of Licinius, as Elliott would have it; nor yet of the princes and rulers of the world subdued to the Roman Empire, as Mede and Hengstenberg suggest. All this is far beneath the majesty and relations of the picture. Vitringa hit the truth much more successfully, when he spoke here of the angels. These are truly "the stars of the heaven." When God brought the world into being, we are told that "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." (Job 38:4-7.) These were the angelic hosts. They are fitly called stars by reason of their beauty and glory; and they are preeminently "the stars of the heaven," as they pertain to heaven, and are the sublimest ornaments of the celestial world. Satan himself was once one of these stars, as we saw in Revelation 9:1.Isaiah 14:12; Isaiah 14:12 alludes to this, where the exclamation is, "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer [literally, day-star], son of the morning!"

Has there then been any calamity among the angelic hosts to answer the description before us? The Scriptures distinctly tell us that there has. Jude 1:6 speaks of "angels which kept not their first estate [their principality], but left their own habitation." Peter refers to "the angels that sinned," whom "God spared not." (2 Peter 2:4.) A time there has been when evil got in among these heavenly orders, infected many of these shining sons of light, soiled their robes, tarnished their crowns, silenced their songs, dislodged them from their glorious seats, and ate out of them every noble impulse and holy affection. How the sorrowful disaster came about, is suggested in various places, and distinctly indicated in the picture before us. Satan, one of the brightest and mightiest among them, was the cause and author of it all. Abusing his moral liberty, he dared to lift himself up against his Maker, and instituted a revolt against the throne and majesty of God. By his example, instigations, and persuasions, he infected others, imbued them with his spirit, and made them copartners in his plot.

By their aid, aspiring

To set himself in glory, above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
And, with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in heaven and battle proud.

Here then was this dragon exerting his strength in the heaven, insinuating his coils about the sons of light, and drawing them along with his presumptuous cause. All these

The Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion down.

How many were thus involved is not told us. The text says that the terrible apostasy embraced "the third of the stars of the heaven." Many take this as significant only of a large proportion, without regard to any exact number. And so the meaning may be. But the statement itself is definite, and will bear the interpretation that just one-third of all the angelic host fell through that Satanic rebellion. Milton imagines a great multitude, greater than that which the north of Europe emptied out,

When her barb'rous sons

Came like a deluge on the south, and spread
Beneath Gibraltar to the Lybian sands.

These were "cast to the earth"--not the literal earth, for we are contemplating "a sign," and we must interpret accordingly. Contrasted with the visible heavens, the earth is simply the lowest place-the ground-the base. For a star to be cast down to the earth, is to be plucked out and thrown down from its setting as a star. And so these rebel angels have been plucked from their places, dethroned and abased. Hence we read of them as "reserved in chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." (Jude 1:6.) Having failed voluntarily to keep to their proper place, they are now kept against their will, in the power and purpose of God, for a doom not yet fully executed. They lost their heavenly principality. In place of their starry brightness they are now darkness, which clings to them, as chains to a prisoner, and holds them for eternal punishment. They still roam at large, particularly about our earth, and in the atmosphere which surrounds it; for the devil "goeth about" to do mischief. But, like tethered cattle, or chained dogs, their liberty is bounded, and they can go no further than that tether's length. And this is the casting down and disability which the picture before us symbolizes.

So much, then, for the tail of this dragon, his chief power, which draws along the third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.[129]

[129] It is a strong confirmation of our correctness here, that the two verbs are in quite different tenses. The drawing, συρει, is in the present, denoting an action in continuity at the time John wrote, which is the fact with regard to Satan's influence over these fallen powers, but not the fact with regard to any other interpretation proposed. The casting down, ἐβαλεν, is in the second aorist, denoting an action past, as the deposition and dejection of the wicked angels is, and was at the apostle's time, a past event. Satan's drawing of them along with him began before their expulsion from heaven, and it continues long after, till now, and even under the last trumpet. To no other interpretation will the diction thus accurately fit.

2. We advance now to his heads and horns, which look formidable enough; for he has "seven" of the one, and "ten" of the other.

The head is the governing power, and implies rule. When crowned, it implies political rulership. These seven heads of the dragon are all crowned heads. He is an imperial personage. Each one of his heads has on it a diadem, indicating imperial rulership and autocratic administration. And just so far as these heads show themselves on earth, terrestrial magistracy and government are implied. The number of these crowned heads is seven, which is the number of dispensational fulness, the earthly complete number. Hence we have in these heads the symbol of the entire imperial government of this world from beginning to end, the universal secular dominion of the earth in all periods. They are seven heads, in the same sense that we read of "the seven Spirits of God"-a manifold unity. Daniel beheld the imperial authority of this world up to the great judgment day, under four successive beasts, and these several beasts together had also seven heads, to indicate the whole aggregate completeness of earthly empire.

We need not bother ourselves then about the seven hillocks on which the city of Rome was built; nor about the seven administrations, or forms of dominion, or dynasties, which are said to have marked the history of the Roman Empire; nor yet go on a search through the archives of the world to find and identify seven successive imperial establishments to embrace the governmental history of time. However the facts in these cases may incidentally conform to the picture, it goes quite above and beyond all such arithmetical enumerations and trifling distinctions and details; for trifling they are as compared with the mighty sweep of the subject. The number is the symbol of full completeness, which takes in all of its kind in the whole world-period. It is nothing more nor less than earth's political sovereignty, however and wherever put forth, from the beginning to the day of judgment, that is embraced in these crowned heads.

And they are the Devil's heads. All sovereignty is, indeed, of God; but, in this world, Satan has usurped much of it. When he pointed out to Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them," and offered them as a compromise and compensation to the blessed Christ if He would but "fall down and worship" him, it was not mere boast and false pretence. Three times the Saviour pronounces him "The Prince of this world" (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11). Paul styles him the very "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). The glorious ones in heaven are witnesses to us, that "the kingdom of the world" is not yet "our Lord's and His Christ's," nor will be till the last trumpet sounds, and the grand events under it are consummated. John testifies that "the whole world lieth in the wicked one" (1 John 5:19); that is, reposes in his bosom, as the source of its warmth and life, its lord and its resting-place. Its governments, therefore, above all, must be in his power, and pertain to his administration. Good elements, in a greater or less degree, may here and there be in them, and sometimes they may largely conform to what is right and true; for God has not resigned His providence over the world; but Satan has hold of them, and operates by them nevertheless. If now and then modified, so that his presence is not so conspicuous, and his influence repressed, it matters not. He is the great usurper, and one or the other of his numerous heads has been under and in every temporal crown that ever swayed the sceptre of sovereignty on earth, save only the Israelitish theocracy. So the Scriptures teach; and hence the image before us presents him as wearing the diadems of all the dominions of this world. And through these world-powers he puts himself forth over against the kingdom of God.

Horns are the weapons of animals, their means of inflicting injury, their power for evil. As symbols, they do not so much represent rulership or dominion, as power to harm, wound, and afflict. The "four horns" in Zechariah's vision, were the powers which devastated Palestine, "scattered Judah," and injured, oppressed, and destroyed the people of God. (Zechariah 1:18-21.) And such are the horns of this Dragon. The number of them is ten, the number of worldly completeness, especially in the line of worldly evil. All the tyrannies, oppressions, and hard inflictions that have tortured mankind, from the beginning to the end of them, are thus ascribed to Satan. They are his horns, with which he gores, and wounds, and scatters, and destroys. Every manifestation in the world, in the line of violent and oppressive injury or mischief, is from the Devil. And whatever the persons, combinations, or powers, whether governmental or otherwise, by which the damage is inflicted, they are the Devil's horns, which he has been using with mighty effect in every age, and is still using, and will use, till the great judgment sits, and he is put out of the way.

3. We look next at his colour; for nothing in the description is without significance. This Dragon is "red," the hue of fire and blood. This was the colour of the horse whose rider was to take peace out of the earth, who carried the great sword of execution, and who filled the world with bloodshed and slaughter. (Revelation 6:4.) It is the colour of the apparel of the Almighty King, when he puts on his strength to crush out his enemies. (Isaiah 63:2-4; Revelation 19:11-15.) It tells of flaming heat, of intensity of fierceness, of bloody administrations. And this well describes the inmost nature of Satan, as everywhere portrayed. He is a fierce and murderous being, cruel, bloodthirsty, and ever intent on destruction. Jesus says, "He was a murderer from the beginning." (John 8:44.) Peter warns all Christians against him, as one that walketh about, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8.) He is the Destroyer of both souls and bodies. He seduceth and misleadeth the whole world, promising good and peace only that he may the more effectually entrap and ruin. With what murderous malignity did he attack the innocence of our first parents, and the heavenly purity of Jesus! With what carnage and misery has he overflooded the earth! There has never been a murder, but he caused it. There has never been a sanguinary war, but he instituted it. There has never been a death-scene, but it is traceable to him. Every blight of human happiness, every failure of human peace, every sorrow of human life, has come from him. All the fiery passions that rankle in men, and break forth in deeds of violence and blood, are his inspirations. Never a being has been perverted from the beneficent object of its existence, never a soul has lost its Creator's image or gone down to perdition, never a life has been disabled or extinguished, never a heart has been broken or a wretchedness enacted, of which he is not the primal cause. All graves, all tears, all mutilations and dismemberments of earth's families, nations, or the race, are results of his doings and malignity. And when we think of the blood that has been shed, and the murders committed, since Cain raised his hand against his brother's life; how rapine, and plunder, and violence have disgraced and tormented the world in every age; what hellish devastations war alone has wrought; how human society has been continually spoliated and cursed with intemperance, ignorance, uncleanness, and vice; and remember that all these, with all the calamities, misfortunes, and sufferings of time and eternity, have their source in Satan, and are but outbirths, enactments or results of his spirit; how could a truer characterization be given of him, than that of a monster, indyed with flames and blood! He is red, for he is the Satan, the Devil, the Apollyon.

4. Still another feature specially noted, is his greatness. He is a fierce, malignant, and bloody monster, and a "great" one. But how shall we get a right conception of what is thus portrayed? Milton talks of him as Titanian, long, and large, extending many a rood; his shield, like the broad circumference of the moon; and his spear so great, that to it the tallest pine

Hewn on Norwegian hills to be the mast
Of some great admiral, were but a wand.

But, not in this way can we get a right idea of Satan's greatness. We must lift our thoughts to much wider and mightier contemplations.

Looking out from this world into the depths of space about us, we see "an outward, visible universe, studded with constellations of suns and their attendant systems, circling in unmeasured orbits around an invisible and omnipotent centre, which controls them all. Amazed and overwhelmed at these stupendous displays of creative power, wisdom, and goodness, in adoring ecstasy we inquire into the uses of these mighty orbs, which, in such untold millions, diversify and adorn those undefined fields of ethereal beauty which fill unbounded space. Reasoning from all our native analogies, and from the scattering rays of supernal light that have reached our world, we must infer that all these orbs are the mansions of social beings, of every conceivable variety of intelligence, capacity, and employment, and that in organized hierarchies, thrones, principalities, and lordships, they constitute each within itself an independent world," though all together but so many members of the one immense family of creation.

Now, in all these intellectual assemblages, spread over the immeasurable area of universal being, there are but two distinct and essentially diverse confederations-two empires, with two primal heads. On the one hand sits the almighty and ineffable Jehovah, whose majesty transcends all human thought or comprehension; his being, eternal; his nature, perfect; his throne, absolute; to whom "every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and upon the sea," in one form or another, is compelled to give the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, for the ages of the ages. But, on the other hand, stands a mimic god, a creature, indeed, and not at all beyond the Almighty's government and control, but one of the sublimest of angelic beings, a prince among the celestial hierarchies, set against God, seeking to overturn heaven, aiming to supplant the kingdom, authority, and rightful worship of the great Eternal, himself grasping for the reins of universal sovereignty. We tremble as we think of the awful daring. The ambition and adventure of earthly despots in setting out to conquer this world, is startling; and because of what men have done towards accomplishing it, history calls them "great." Yet here is a being, who has adventured upon the exploit of conquering the universe, of wresting creation from its Maker! Under the mysterious economy of God, he has also been enabled to make mighty strides towards the realization of his fell purposes. Principality after principality, in the celestial realms, succumbed, and fell in line beneath his banner. A third of the very stars of the heaven joined his cause, and followed in his train. The appointed lord and sovereign of the earth at the beginning was betrayed into his power, and all earth's naturally engendered children were made his born slaves and servants. And so there now exists a mighty confederation of evil, made up of angels and men, disembodied and in the flesh, numbering millions on millions of disloyal spirits, who burden our atmosphere, and overspread our planet with disorders, anarchy, misrule, darkness, gloom, sorrow, death, and ten thousand embitterments of existence, from which uncounted creatures sigh, and groan, and cry to be delivered! Long ago, indeed, an effectual check was put upon the growth and sway of this impious coalition in heaven. Also, in the decrees of God, the unalterable determination stands, to uproot and destroy it utterly. But till the eternal Son of Deity undertook the case, not a potency in all the circle of created things could shake its hold upon this world of ours. Neither could He, without centuries on centuries of preliminary work, and then the resignation of His place in the Divine bosom, the conjoining of himself to human flesh and blood, and the enactment of an humiliation, as astounding to all heavenly intelligences as it was unparalleled in the history of things. No, nor even then without battle and conflicts so intense and horrible that they wrung even His mighty soul with anguish unspeakable, shook the fabric of His immortal being to the verge of annihilation, and put the very Lord of glory under the pangs, and bonds, and darkness of death and the grave! And only when we have surveyed the dimensions of an empire so gigantic, and counted the cost at which alone its hold could be broken, are we in position to estimate the greatness of that fell spirit, who created it out of his own subtle deceit and unholy ambition, sits as its head giving force and direction to all its parts, and wields it with a genius and will inferior only to that of eternal uncreated Mind. Ah, yes, the Dragon is "great."

5. And yet one feature more is given in this picture, to wit, his attitude and bearing toward the Church of God." The dragon stands before the woman which is about to bring forth, that when she has brought forth he may devour her child." How intensely does this sum up the whole history of the case in all the ages of time! The Church and the Devil, the kingdom of heaven and the powers of darkness, have ever been the two great antagonizing forces on the earth. The one is the spirit of mercy, embodied in the work of man's deliverance; the other is the spirit of malignity, going about to crush and kill every tendency, power, or prospect of man's salvation.

We go back to the beginning of the world, and contemplate the excellent sacrifice of Abel, "by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts" as of an heir to a blessed immortality. But the Dragon is there, enraged that such a seed should come from among men. Envy, hate, and fratricide he stirs up in the sullen heart of Cain, till murder's hand is put forth for the first time in our world, and the meek and holy believer's blood is shed by his own brother, for no other reason than that in him was brought forth a child of eternal life and princehood.

With the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was lodged the promise of spiritual sonship and glorious dominion. Out of them was to be developed a seed to redeem and rule the world. But as the time approached for them to take their place according to the covenant, lo, the claws of this same Dragon were upon them, clenching them tighter and tighter to keep them down, and giving forth imperial edicts for the slaughter of all their infant sons, to defeat what God had spoken. And through the whole national existence of that people, again and again, the heathen raged, and the people meditated mischief, and the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed, fulfilling ever more and more the great draconic image of the text, to prevent the Godchild's forthcoming to the rulership of the world.

We recur to Bethlehem, as the great Head and chief of all this divine seed appears. We hear the angels sing and the shepherds rejoice. We see the stars giving unusual indications, mighty sages of the far-off land coming to lay their royal treasures at his feet, and everything aglow with a sense of the wonderfulness of the event. But the Dragon is there, with rage inflamed, and eager to devour. In Herod he inquires, and plots, and sends his executioners to slay all the children in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, to make doubly sure of reaching this child's life, and destroying this whole seed forever.

So has it also been in all succeeding time. While Jesus was going up and down among the villages of Palestine, fulfilling the prophecies and maturing God's plans for begetting a people for Himself, the earthly powers about him were ever prowling and plotting to destroy both him and his work, and finally seized him, killed him, and sealed up his mangled body in the sepulchre. When, by the Spirit of God, he rose again, and gave new commissions and endowments to his apostles, threatening and slaughter pursued them, and the sword, the cross, and the stake awaited them. Rome joined with Jerusalem in oppressing, banishing, and destroying them, and all who adhered to them. Emperors sported themselves with their sufferings, and edict after edict went forth from the throne of the world for their extermination. Ten mighty persecutions fell on Christians throughout all the jurisdiction of the Caesars. The earth was repeatedly deluged in martyr blood. And what was it all but this seven-headed and ten-horned Dragon confronting the travailing woman, determined to make an end of her royal seed!

Nor was it essentially different after Paganism was dethroned, and the cross appeared upon the imperial banners. The tactics changed, but it was still the Dragon that wrought. Outward oppression was broken, but then came inward assaults, corruption, and decay. The sword of state for a while was sheathed, but then was drawn the more killing weapon of domineering heresy. Soon also the tiara became the imperial crown, the wearer of it the world's dictator, and kings and governments the slaves and menials of another Rome, robed in Christian symbols indeed, but at heart the Dragon still, with fagot, and bloody inquisition, and bans of terrible damnation, striving to enforce its blasphemous assumptions and soul-destroying lies. When the holy Reformers began again to shake the torch of evangelic truth to light the nations to their salvation, the Vatican thundered with its bulls, armies rallied for the onslaught, and massacres and butcheries filled many lands with the blood of God's confessors, or lighted them with flames to consume the bodies of the saints. And even to this day and hour, the old serpent lies coiled in the Church's path, and in the forms of a pretended superior science, a false philosophy, a perverted Gospel, and many an ugly persecution, still strikes, assails, and mightily struggles to crush the meek Galilean's power from the earth, and keep the Godchild from bis royal destiny and dominion.

So true is it, that "The Dragon stands before the woman which is about to bring forth, that when she has brought forth he may devour her child."

Behold then, my friends, what a mysterious battlefield this world is. A contest here is waging which enlists and engages the mightiest powers that exist. It is the great and far-reaching conflict between good and evil, between truth and falsehood, between right and usurpation, between the Kingdom of God and the Empire of Satan, between Heaven and Hell-the great war of a divided universe, coming to final issue upon this little world of ours! It is largely silent and invisible. Though raging round us every hour; we perceive so little of it, that many doubt its reality. But its very hiddenness is evidence of its awful greatness. The little broils and disputes of a neighbourhood are loud, and thrust themselves on every ear, because they are confined to a level and limit within easy observation and comprehension; but this conflict we can only know by divine Revelation, because it encompasses so much of eternity, and pertains to spiritual potencies under and behind the outward ongoing of things. The "noise of the captains," the "shouting," the rattle of arms, the boom of artillery, marking earthly battles, is but the fuss and ado pertaining to the local and circumscribed exhibits of man's doings.

When it comes to a contest stretching through worlds and ages, and enlisting the greatest of invisible powers, the reach of human hearing and sight are necessarily far transcended, and the conflict is all the deeper and more tremendous because of its hiddenness and silence. But, whether conscious of it or not, such a mighty strife exists, and we ourselves are all parties to it, and combatants in it. If not of the glorious Woman, we are of the seven-headed and ten-horned Dragon, at war with her, her seed, and her God. Nor are any of us of the glorious Woman, who have not renounced Satan and all his works, and confessed ourselves to Christ in obedience to His Gospel. I ask not any of you to tell me to which side of this awful controversy you belong.

The Word of God has settled that question. And from these holy oracles of truth I make it known to you this night, that if you have not yet enlisted under the banner of Emanuel, and at His altar sworn unfaltering allegiance to Him, you are under the Dragon's standard, serving his will, helping on his foul and murderous work, and on the way to share bis destiny. God help every one in such a case to see it before it be forever too late! Though involved in Satan's coils, it is not impossible yet to change sides; but it must be done quickly, if ever. Hence, the very first question which we are bound to ask of those to whom we are to deliver the promise of salvation is: "Do you renounce the Devil and all his works,-the vanities of the world and the sinful desires of the flesh?" And for those who decline to do this, now in the time of their probation, there is no hope, and no promise of eternal life.

Verse 5

Lecture 28

(Revelation 12:5)


Revelation 12:5. (Revised text.) And she brought forth a son, a male [neuter, embracing either sex], who is to rule [shepherdize] all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught away to God, and to his throne.

In the discourses which last engaged our attention, we saw what is to be understood by the wonderful Woman clothed with the sun; and likewise ascertained who the great red Dragon is that stands before her. But we are not quite done yet with either of them. This Woman was travailing and agonizing herself to bring forth, and really did bring forth, even in the face of the murderous Dragon. It remains, therefore, to inquire concerning this Child, the nature of the birth spoken of, and the results which followed; remembering, of course, that we are still dealing with a symbolic picture, "a sign."

In looking over the expositions that have been given of the matter, we encounter a strange and wide-ranging amount of conjecture and confusion. Some find the fulfilment in the birth of Christ; some, in the birth and enthronement of Constantine, the great, the first Christian Emperor; some, in the increase and growth of the Church in the period in which Constantine lived; some, in the Christianization of the State under Constantine, and the nationalization of the Church in the Roman Empire. Others take this child to be "the Valenses and Albigenses as sequestered from the pure worshippers generally." Some even suppose it to be the Nicene Creed, the Church of Rome, or only a revitalized or repristinated Christianity in general, at some period in the times long past. Hengstenberg says, "The man-child denotes the manly, vigorous aftergrowth, or fresh growth of the people of God." Durham says, "It is mystical Christ, who in his members is brought to a flourishing condition, and his Church set at liberty from persecution, and some of her sons exalted to an honourable condition." Alford says, "The man-child is the Lord Jesus Christ, and none other." Elliott says, we are to see in it "a baptized emperor, the son of Christ's faithful Church, elevated to the whole empire, to an avowedly Christian throne." Robertson (of Leuchars) says, "This Child is a collective expression, and takes in the whole brood of the Church under Paganism, and in spite of its efforts to hinder the same." Adam Clarke affirms, "The man-child mentioned in this verse is the dynasty of Christian emperors, beginning with Constantine's public acknowledgment of bis belief in the divinity of the Christian religion." "Matheetees" thinks, "The Child is the same body as the Great Multitude of chapter seven," which comes out of the great tribulation. Barnes says, "I understand the man-child here to refer to the Church in its increase under the Messiah, and the idea to be, that the Church was, at the time referred to, about to be enlarged, and that, though its increase was opposed, yet it was destined ultimately to assert a mild sway over all the world." By the male son, the editor of Lange On the Apocalypse understands "the 144,000" referred to in chapters seven and fourteen. And so we might go on quoting the most divergent and contradictory interpretations, guesses and conceits, not one of which rests upon any self-consistent method for understanding this Book.

How, then, are we to bring ourselves through this labyrinth? I answer, by simply following the straightforward, natural and self-indicated principles which have guided us in these expositions from the beginning. If these will not serve to bring us out with some good degree of satisfactoriness, it may as well be admitted first as last, that there are no means at present within the reach of man by which to arrive at any clear and assured understanding of what God here intended to make known to the Churches. Let us see, then, what these principles will do for us.

We have, I may venture to say, ascertained, that this image of the Woman clothed with the sun denotes the visible Church, the body of God's confessing people of all ages and dispensations. In one way or another, there is a somewhat general agreement with Vaughan, from Hippolytus and other of the Fathers, that "the Woman clothed with the sun, and having on her head a crown of twelve stars, is the Church of God; the Church, regarded as one whole from the days of Abraham, perhaps we may say, from the day of the Fall itself, under whatever dispensation placed, the patriarchal, the Israelite, or the Christian."[130]

[130] Lectures on Revelation of St. John, in loc.

It is also a most conspicuous particular in the description itself, that this mystic Woman is in the way of motherhood. Within her body, concealed from human view, but consciously to herself, there is a mystic seed, maturing for manifestation, to bring which to the birth is the one great object of his most intense anxieties.[131] This is one of the most marked and striking characteristics of the picture, and no application of it can be the true one which does not throughout answer to this travail and self-agonizing of the Church to bring forth this invisible seed into open day and proper life. The Woman being the entire Church, this seed, borne by her, and which she thus labours above all things safely to bring forth, cannot possibly be Constantine, or the State under him; nor the Christians within that State; nor the dynasty of the Christian Emperors of Rome; nor the fresh growth of the people of God in those days; nor the Valenses and Albigenses; nor the 144,000 sealed ones; nor the multitude out of the great tribulation; nor the nationalized Church of the Roman Empire; nor "the whole brood of the Church under Paganism;" nor any local, individual, particular, fractional, temporary or incidental thing in the great sweep of the Church's history. The reason is manifest. None of these things were in the Church, consciously to her, through all ages and dispensations. Neither did either or all of them constitute the one great and preeminent thing on the bringing forth of which all the universal Church's desires, aims, efforts and intensest self-agonizings were concentrated. Certainly, none of these things were present to the mind of the patriarchal and Jewish saints as the thing for which, above all else, they toiled and agonized; nor yet to the apostles and the great body of the Christian Church; no, not even in the particular times and localities to which these things relate. Never was the whole mind and energy of the Church thus anxiously preoccupied with any such bringings forth. And if the subject were not so sacred as to awe men from speaking out with regard to it as they do on other matters, they would laugh to scorn the floundering imbecilities which interpreters have shown in attempting to construe so definitely drawn a divine picture of the universal Church of God, with such trifles and local accidents of the ordinary history of earthly affairs, as are brought forward by Elliott, Faber, Clarke, Barnes, and the like. The declaring of Victoria the Empress of India, is not less the centre of the world's history, than these presentations of grave religious teachers are below the range of such a picture as that which God has here set before us of His universal Church.

[131] "The figurative phrases of pregnancy and travailing in birth-throes are applied, alike in ancient and modern languages, to the mind's full possession by any momentous truth or object of desire, and earnest longing to be delivered of it; whether in the announcement of that truth, or accomplishment of that object. Of scriptural examples refer to Isaiah 26:17; Isaiah 66:8, and Romans 8:22. Add Micah 5:3; Hosea 13:13; Psalms 7:1-17; Psalms 14:1-7; James 1:15"--Elliott's Horœ Apocalypticœ, iii, p. 24.

Still another landmark in the case is, that the birth here spoken of is not consummated before the period of the end of this age. Whatever earnests of it may have preceded, it is not fully accomplished till the day of judgment comes. It is here placed under the seventh trumpet, and the seventh trumpet is the last, with which the whole history of this present world comes to an end. Accordingly, this child is unborn until the period of the end is reached. We cannot, therefore, legitimately understand it of anything in the past history of the Church, or of anything that comes to its maturity and is outwardly manifested, anterior to the judgment times. This one particular in the presentation, so clear and conspicuous that we dare by no means ignore it, of itself utterly sweeps away four-fifths of all the commentation on the subject, as irrelevant, unallowable, and only clouding the truth intended to be exhibited. Any and everything, of whatsoever kind or character, which is born, matured and outwardly manifested, prior to the day of judgment, is not, and cannot be, this man-child; for he is not born, at least his birth is not fully accomplished, till the seventh trumpet sounds, and the end of the world is come.

With the way thus cleared, we are in position to inquire more directly, and to inform ourselves more surely, as to who this man-child is.

Let it be observed, then, first of all, that it is one of the accepted and necessary doctrines of common Christian Theology, that the Church of God exists, or is to be contemplated, in a twofold form: first, in the wide or general form of the whole congregation of those joined together in the confession of the Divine Word, and in the observance of the divine rites and ordinances; and second, in the narrower form, which embraces only those who are true believers, and are really the children of God; for "not all are Israel who are of Israel." In the one view, the Church is a visible body, made such by the having of an outward call of God, by joining in an external fellowship, and by the use of the outward means and instruments through which God collects and edifies His Church. This we call the visible Church, or the Church in that aspect of it in which it is recognizable by man, and becomes a subject of human history. It is the Church thus viewed, that is, the general congregation of God's confessing people, that is symbolized by this wonderful Woman. With this assembly, however, many are outwardly connected, whom the Holy Ghost has not regenerated, and who are not in reality the genuine children of God. A very great difference therefore exists between such members, and those who have fully entered into their calling, and become partakers of that spiritual renewal and enlightenment which makes them truly the children and elect of God. Which of the outward members of the Church are thus truly regenerated, cannot be fully and certainly distinguished by us. They are in the visible Church, and they are also as visible as others, with respect to their outward calling, fellowship, and observance of the Divine ordinances; but as to their inward estate and union with God, they are not certainly recognizable. The Church, as a visible body, knows that they are there; but just who they are, it does not know, and cannot now surely determine. And this inner and narrower circle of the professed people of God, we call the invisible Church; not because its members are not as visible as any others, nor yet as a Church separate and apart from the visible Church; but with respect to that feature in their case, that we cannot now see and certainly decide as to the fact of their being of the regenerate and elect.

Here then is a great, broad, and necessary theological distinction, as deeply rooted in the nature of the case, as it is in the plain teachings of the Scriptures. It is approved and accepted by all parties, as true of the Church in all ages, and under all dispensations.

Now, if this Woman is the visible Church, who can that divine seed which she carries and nurtures within her body be, but just these genuine children of God, whose characteristics are yet hidden, and who are only to be manifested at the great day, to wit, the invisible Church! Those who constitute the invisible Church are in the visible Church and for the present are still joined to the visible Church as a most important part thereof. They are her chief treasure. The visible Church exists for their begetment and nurture. Where she is, they are also. It is on their account she has all her trials, her anxieties, and her assaults of Satan. It is with them that she ever travails, and cries out, and agonizes herself, that they may be brought safely to birth and manifestation as the sons of God. The picture is as true and exact as it is beautiful, and as true of one age and dispensation as it is of another. Nor is there a single item in the whole case which does not go to strengthen the overpowering proof, that this is what we are to understand by this mystic Child. Look for a moment at a few additional particulars.

1. There is a peculiar manliness ascribed to this child. It is not only "a man child," as our English version renders the phrase, but more literally "a son, a male," or a son who is a male. There is special emphasis laid upon the masculinity. But this is in no way distinctive of Constantine. He was in no respect more conspicuously a male, or even in the higher sense a man, than many other notable sons of the Church. Moses, and David, and Solomon, and Daniel, and Zerubbabel, among the ancients, and Paul, and Peter, and Augustine, and Luther, and Gustavus Adolphus, among the men of our own dispensation, were in every respect as manly as he. Nay, the letter of the description is such as to prove that this child is collective and composite, the same as the mother, and likewise includes people of both sexes. The word (αρσεν) which means male, has the peculiarity of being in the neuter gender, and so applies to both men and women, and cannot apply to any one individual. We have a somewhat similar instance in 2 Timothy 3:6, where the apostle speaks of certain perverted religionists," which creep into houses and lead captive silly women" (γυναικαριά), that is, silly women of the neuter gender, and so women, or womenish ones, of both sexes. Sex, however, is not so much the subject of this αρσεν as the higher qualities of manhood common to both men and women. Such forms of speech lose all propriety except when construed with the implication that a body of persons is meant, and that this body includes women as well as men, and men as well as women. But it is a body at the same time distinguished throughout with a special masculinity, which knows no sex; that is, with the most manly of virtues, and the most vigorous and heroic of characteristics. This was not true of the Christians of the time of Constantine, of the Valenses, or of any other particular peoples who have been named in this connection, any more than of the genuine saints of God of any other time. Nay, we look in vain to the Christians of Constantine's day, or to those who lived under the dynasty of Christian Emperors after him, for exemplifications of this manliness at all special, or worthy to be compared with the heroism of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs which were before them, or with that of the great champions of the faith in more recent times. But if we understand here all God's saints, all who have been begotten of the Holy Ghost, of every age, then every letter of the narrative is realized to the full. Here are men and women, in multitudes upon multitudes, "of whom the world was not worthy," alike pervaded with the highest qualities of virtue, courage, self-denial and strength. They are all conquerors. They all have overcome the world, triumphed over the powers of darkness, won the race of faith, and through the grace of God possessed themselves of titles to everlasting crowns and honours. Their masculinity in these respects is unquestionable and most intense, whether they be men or women as to sex. Nor is this so true and characteristic of any people that have lived, or that shall live, as it is of the true children of God of all time. Here we find all the noblest and best of the race, and the embodiment of the highest virtue and wisdom that ever pulsated in the arteries of humanity. Here is the proper "man child," if ever there was or will be one upon earth.

2. This child "is to rule [shepherdize] all the nations with a rod of iron." He is to reign, with unrivalled and irresistible authority and power, over the world. He is to govern, discipline and control all the peoples of the earth, as a shepherd deals with his flock. To shepherdize with an iron sceptre, is to exercise a dominion which is inflexible, irrefragable, and that cannot be withstood. Strength, absoluteness and perpetuity of rule, is unmistakably indicated; and that rule is specifically said to be over "all the nations." It leaves none outside of it. It is universal. But none of this is strictly true, either of Constantine, or of the Christianized Roman Empire. Neither is it true of any king or state, in favour with God, in any period, from the beginning of the world till now. But it is true to the letter with respect to the regenerated and victorious children of God. Every one whom grace has called, is called to be a King. Every one redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, is the anointed heir of eternal regency. From the days of the ancient prophets, the divine promise has been, that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High." (Daniel 7:27.) Nor was this a mere Jewish notion, clothed in Oriental extravagance. It is spoken of in the New Testament in the plainest language. In the last words of Christ, and uttered from heaven after his ascension, the promise rings out to and through the Church of 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; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father." (Revelation 2:26-27.) Surely, the Roman State under Constantine was not the same as that glorious dominion given to the Saviour on account of his obedience unto death. If it was, then many have been robbed of their share in this promise; for it is made to every one that overcometh, and keepeth Christ's works to the end; which is the fact with regard to all saints of all ages, many of whom lived before there was a Roman empire, and others have lived since that empire passed away. How then could that promise have been fulfilled to these! Moreover, that same "power over the nations," and shepherdizing with a sceptre of iron, is still held out as part of the hope and reward of every victor for God. It must therefore be still future, and something different from a mere Christianized Caesarian dominion, which at best a very few of God's people ever possessed. Indeed there has never lived a manly saint, in any dispensation, who has not been called, anointed and predestined to the rulership here in question. How then can it be Rome's emperorship!

Those who profess to find the fulfilment of this picture in the times long past, are still constrained to admit, that the language touching the official destiny of this child falls in precisely with the second Psalm. And yet that Psalm refers particularly to the judgment time, and preeminently to Jesus Christ, that greatest Son, as well as Lord, of the Church, in whom and with whom all the blessed and holy who have part in "the first resurrection" shall "reign" and "judge" in a supernal and immortal administration, to which neither Constantine, nor the Valenses, nor any others ever yet attained. The description fits to the true saints of God of every generation, with the glorified Jesus at their head; but to none else.

3. This child is the special object of Satan's murderous malignity. It is on the child's account that he assails the woman, takes his station before her, and stirs up all his power to hinder and destroy. It is not so much she, as the child, that he is bent to devour. But he was no more malignant towards Constantine, or the dynasty of Rome's Christian emperors, or any of the Christians of that era, than against the people of God in any other age. The truth is that so-called Christian Rome has served his purposes about as well as Pagan Rome. But here is something peculiar, special, and against which all the malice of hell is aroused and concentrated. We can very well understand this, and the tremendous painting comes out in all its significance, when we see in this Child the universal body of God's saints. To devour these, or to stop these from reaching the kingdom, is ever the one great malignant intent of the Dragon. Their success is his defeat, Hence this intent of the unparalleled attempt to overwhelm them at the final extremity. He might destroy Constantine, and destroy Constantine's empire, as he has destroyed it, and destroy any one particular class or company of Christian confessors or peoples, and still the main object of his draconic enmity remain comparatively unharmed. There still would be representatives of salvation left; Christ would still have his army of saved ones; and the main intent of infernal malice would not be reached. But if Satan could destroy the whole body of the redeemed, or at the last thwart their exaltation to the authority and dominion for which they are destined, this would be an accomplishment to answer to the awful significance of the picture. From the intensity and specialness of the Dragon's murderous intent, we may thus read the certainty of a momentousness about this Child which nothing can adequately explain, but the fact that it represents the whole regenerated purchase of the Saviour's blood.

So, then, I take this Man Child, and know not how else it can be taken without a miserable emasculation of the whole representation, emptying it of every significance at all up to the subject, or demanded by the circumstances.

But what, now, are we to understand by this Child's Birth? for this is the crisis of the entire matter. All that precedes this looks to it, and all that comes after dates from it.

A man's birth is the most important event in his life. Everything that can come of him depends upon his being born. It is only by his birth that he comes into the possession of his own separate being. It is only by his birth that he begins to enter upon his proper life. Hence the birth of this child must needs be the chief event in all its history-the event on which its separate and proper existence as well as everything in its subsequent career depends. Without this birth it comes to nothing, and its entire being miscarries. And if it is the invisible Church, the whole body of true saints, that is represented by the Child, then this birth must refer to the very greatest and most momentous occurrence in the whole history of the redeemed, even that on which their proper existence and glory depends. What is there, then, in the revelations of God with regard to all His regenerated children, to answer to so significant and striking a figure as that of being born?

Remembering that it is under the seventh trumpet, which is the last trumpet, that this birth occurs, we are naturally conducted to the one only thing in all the everlasting career of God's saints to answer the description. But this one thing does answer it, and fills out every feature of it in absolute perfection.

Turn back to the Saviour's own great prophetic discourse, and see what he connects with this trumpet. The subject is His own coming and the end of the world. And we there read of mighty commotions in all the visible universe, and of the appearance of the sign of the Son of man in heaven; whereupon it is said, "He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:29-31.)

Turn also to Paul's great chapter on the subject, and hear what he writes about it: "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52.)

Turn again to his still more specific statements to the Thessalonians: "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.)

Or turn to the Apocalyptist's account of the seventh trumpet, and to the summary of its contents as proclaimed in the song of the gold-crowned Elders:

"And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven: We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, because Thou hast taken unto Thee Thy great power, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that Thou shouldest give reward unto Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Thy Name, small and great." (Revelation 11:15-18.)

These passages are decisive. They each speak of the great trumpet of Judgment-the last trumpet, and tell us of glorious things then to be fulfilled. They tell of God's elect, small and great, from one end of heaven to the other, all gathered together for their rewards, the dead from their graves, and the living from their places wherever they are, and every one "changed," from corruption to incorruption, from dishonour to glory, from weakness to power, from earthly to heavenly, and all "together" caught up into the regions above, to meet their Lord in the heavens. The occasion is the grandest and most momentous in all their history. It involves the greatest change in all their experiences, the goal of the intensest anxieties and most agonizing endeavours that ever occupied the thoughts and energies of the saints, and the sublimest transition in the form of their being to which the Scriptures refer. It is their first entrance upon that proper life which till then is only a matter of promise and hope, toward which there is a growing indeed, but which only then becomes fruition. It is the great point to which everything that precedes looks, and from which all that succeeds dates its beginning. In a word, it is their great and glorious Birth into immortality and eternal life; and the time of it is the time of the sounding of the last trump. Prior to then, the saints are indeed generated, begotten, quickened by the Holy Ghost, and full of prophetic yearning for what is beyond; but they are not yet born. They are still invisible, hidden, inclosed, restrained, disabled. They do not yet know what they shall be. They pulsate with a heavenly life, but it remains for them to be set free, to be "brought forth," to be "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." And that deliverance is only consummated when the last trumpet sounds, bringing with it "the adoption" for which we groan, to wit, "the redemption of our body."

A birth is a manifestation, a bringing to the light, the making visible of what was before invisible. And so the Scriptures repeatedly speak of "the manifestation of the sons of God," which in this present order of things is expected and yearned after, but which only takes place in connection with the sounding of the last trump. (Romans 8:19.) Malachi refers to that time when the Lord of hosts shall make up His jewels, and says, "Then shall ye discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not." (Malachi 3:17-18.) Isaiah (Isaiah 25:7-8) sings of a day when death shall be swallowed up of victory, and notes it as one of the glad concomitants, that then the covering shall be taken away. Paul, with unmistakable pointedness, writes to the Colossians (Colossians 3:4): "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." And hundreds of other passages, in all manner of forms, teach us how then for the first time it is to be demonstrated and shown who all are truly the regenerate children of God. Till then, this cannot be known with certainty. The child is as yet unborn; but then it shall come to the light, the saints shall be revealed with their Redeemer, and the sons of God shall be manifested.

For the present the true congregation of God's ransomed ones is invisible, but it is "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:5.)

Here, then, is a most momentous Birth. It is the greatest birth of all time. It is a birth to be experienced by the very parties whom we take to be symbolized by this mystic Manchild. And it is a birth which reaches its completion just where God has placed the picture of it, to wit, under the last trumpet. It answers every feature of the symbol, and without the slightest straining of Scripture or of history. It comports with the proper dignity and importance of the subject. It corresponds perfectly with every item and implication in the wonderful painting. And it looks to me like an attempt to browbeat the Revelation of God, not to accept it as the true and proper thing here to be understood.

And yet, there is still one other particular in the text which would seem to make it impossible to get away from this interpretation. The instant this Manchild is born, it is "caught away to God, and to His throne." We have just seen that it is the destiny of the saints to be kings. It is everywhere told us that they are to have crowns; that they are to sit on thrones; that they are to reign with Christ. Jesus says, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Revelation 3:21.) On this point there can be no question. This throne is not an earthly throne, like Caesar's, nor yet a mere moral influence, such as the saints already possess and wield: but a heavenly and divine throne, to which belongs a sceptre of iron, and a rulership which involves irresistible force and judical power, breaking to shivers whatsoever rises against it; even the mighty throne of Jesus Christ in his glory, which all his people are to share with him. And the time for this sublime coronation and investiture of the saints is the time of resurrection, the time of the last trump, the time of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. When Paul gave out his last farewell to the world, he said, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day," the day of judgment, and not before. (2 Timothy 4:8.) Peter writes to "the elect through sanctification of the Spirit," and says to them, "When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." (1 Peter 5:4.) Daniel 7:26-27 tells us specifically that the time when "the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom" is given to the saints, is the time when "the judgment shall sit," even that great judgment under which the final antichrist is finally destroyed. And as the birth of this Manchild synchronizes with, or is instantly followed by his coronation and enthronement in heaven, and the time of that coronation is specifically defined to be the time of resurrection, it is simply impossible to locate this birth anywhere else than at the resurrection time. And if the birth is thus positively located in the resurrection time, what can it be but that very resurrection change, by which all the genuine saints of God have their full birth into immortality and exaltation to their immortal crowns?

Nor does it at all militate against this view that some saints are raised, translated, or glorified in advance of others, and that the "change involved does not take place with the entire number at precisely the same instant." It is part of the Divine plan always to give forepledges and earnests of what is to come. There is in every instance some "first fruits" before the general harvest. So Christ was raised and glorified long in advance of the final redemption of his people, and many of the saints also arose with him. These were the preliminary specimens of what was to come long afterwards. So Enoch and Elijah were translated without tasting of death, as a sort of earnest of the promised translation of those who are alive and ready when Christ comes. All these are a part of the body denoted by the Manchild. They all belong to what is subsequently called "the first resurrection," to which "everything belongs that is raised to immortality before the last day."[132] And so we are taught, as Ambrose, and Luther, and Kromayer admit, that other particular resurrections and translations of certain eminent saints occur at intervals preceding the full completion of the glorified company. The very figure before us would indicate successive stages in the case. A birth is never so sudden a thing, but that some parts of the body appear before others. The picture is plainly meant to be a summary one. It is the symbol of the full consummation of the whole matter. In such a picture there is no occasion for the noting of minor distributions or details. It is enough to give the Birth and exalted destiny of the Child, without entering into the particulars of the presentations, which are sufficiently set forth in other places. And yet, even in so general and summary a picture, the fact, that not all belonging to the body come to the Birth at one and the same instant, is still not overlooked, nor precluded, but really involved.[133]

[132] Selnecker's Exp. of the Rev. of St. John and the Prophet Daniel, Jena, 1517; Revelation 20:5.

[133] We have had some of these earlier resurrections and translations of particular bands or companies, in the preceding portions of this book. One is given in the fourth and fifth chapters. (See pp. 96-105.) A translation of another special company is indicated in Revelation 7:9-17. And so there is another in chapter 14, and perhaps still others, before the process is finished, and the whole body of the glorified completed, as beheld in Revelation 20:4-6. All these, however, occur in the judgment period, and follow each other in such quick succession, that the more general passages on the subject take no special account of them, but grasp them into one and the same view. They are fully distinguishable only when we come to examine the Apocalyptic chart of the great fulfilment. Here, however, each comes in its proper order and place, though it is the whole of them together that makes up the Birth of the Manchild, and completes the glorious body of the Church of the first born in heaven. (Consult an article on the Successive Stages in the Removal of the Church, by Rev. E. E. Reinke, in Prophetic Times, vol. iv, pp. 56-63; also one by the author of these Lectures in the same volume, pp. 172-175.)

Behold, then, my friends, the dignity and glory of the Christian calling! Having put on Christ, we belong to a fellowship, for which the sublimest things are reserved! Living a life of faith on the Son of God, we are maturing for a wondrous accouchement! These wrappings and disabilities of time are soon to give place to the liberty and blessedness of a glorious immortality! Instead of these aches, and ills, and toils, and disabilities, and many anxieties, shall presently be the elastic vigour and untiring strength which we now see in the angels! Instead of these doubts, and fears, and contests with evil in and around us, there shall be accomplished redemption, beyond all further vicissitude or danger! And for these crosses shall come crowns of imperishable dominion with Jesus! It amazes and confounds me when I attempt to survey the astounding changes that await the faithful. I am overwhelmed with the sublimities of exaltation and power which are set before the poor sinful children of men in the Revelations of God.

We are often disheartened with our hardships and trials, and begin to think it too hard a thing for us to be Christians. Nature is so weak and depraved; there is such a burden in this incessant toil, and self-denial, and watchfulness, and prayer; the way is so steep, and narrow, and difficult; we are tempted again and again to give up. But when we think what the dear Lord has done for us, what glories he has set before us, what victories are to come to us, what princedoms and thrones in the great empire of eternity await us, and how sure is all if we only press on for the prize; we have the profoundest reason to rejoice and give thanks every day that we live, that such opportunities have been vouchsafed us, were the sufferings even tenfold severer than they are.

Blessed be God, for His holy Church! Blessed be God, that He has called us to be members of it! Blessed be God, that every faithful one in it is on the way to a glorious birthhour to immortal regency and power! Only let us see to it, that we rightly appreciate our mercies, and give the diligence to make our calling and election sure. And "the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

That clime is not this dull clime of ours;

All, all is brightness there;

A sweeter influence breathes around its flowers,

And a far milder air.

No calm below is like that calm above,
No region here is like that realm of love;
Earth's softest spring ne'er shed so soft a light,
Earth's brightest summer never shone so bright.

Those dwellers there are not like these of earth.

No mortal stain they bear;

And yet they seem of kindred blood and birth,--

Whence, and how came they there?

Earth was their native soil, from sin and shame,
Through tribulation they to glory came;
Bond-slaves delivered from sin's crushing load,
Brands plucked from burning by the hand of God.

Verses 7-11

For additional commentary on (the second part of) Revelation 12:12, see Revelation 12:12-17.

Lecture 29

(Revelation 12:7-12)


Revelation 12:7-12. (Revised Text.) And there came to be war in the heaven: Michael and his angels warred with the Dragon; and the Dragon warred and his angels, and they prevailed not, neither was even their place found any more in the heaven.

And the great Dragon was cast down, the Old Serpent, who is called the Devil and the Satan [adversary], he who seduceth [or misleadeth] the whole inhabited world: he was cast down into tike earth, and his angels were cast down with him.

And I heard a great voice saying in the heaven, Now is come the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the dominion of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down who accuseth them before our God by day and by night. And they conquered him by reason of the blood of the Lamb, and by reason of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life unto death. Therefore rejoice ye heavens, and ye that tabernacle in them.

From the earliest periods of the human race till now, its sublimest poets have occupied their sublimest numbers with pictures and descriptions of conflicts in the heavenly worlds, and battles of the gods. Contemporaneous with these dreams and songs, have also been the sneers and scoffs of the sceptic mind, ridiculing the idea, astonished that reasonable men should give entertainment to such fictions, no matter in what magniloquence arrayed. And it is


At first, that angel should with angel war,
And in fierce hosting meet, who wont to meet
So oft in festivals of joy and love
Unanimous, as sons of one great sire
Hymning th' eternal Father.

But much as any one may be disposed to doubt and question, there is a background of solid reality in the case. Since Homer wrote, and Deborah and Barak sung of the stars fighting in their courses, there has been an increasing revelation of the spiritual economies, and in it accounts of conflict and war involving all beings in all worlds. Especially, in the great and wondrous outcome and consummation of the affairs pertaining to our race, a momentous collision in the heavenly spaces is foreannounced, in which the highest and mightiest of created beings are to be the combatants. The seer of Patmos, in rapport with the divine Spirit and prescience, was shown it, and by command of God has put it on record for the instruction of the Church, as a sober and settled part of Christian anticipation and eschatological theology. And here, among other stupendous visions of what is to come to pass hereafter, he has written it down for our learning, that "there came to be war in the heaven: Michael and his angels warred with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels, and they prevailed not, nor was even their place found any more in the heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, who is. called the devil and the Satan (or adversary), he who seduceth (or misleadeth) the whole inhabited world, he was cast down unto the earth, and his angels were cast down with him."

Some have supposed this to be a mere poetical and exaggerated account of certain moral conflicts in the history of the Church on earth. Some take the Dragon to mean the Pagan Roman Empire; Michael, the Christian Roman Empire; Heaven, the throne of the Roman Emperors; and the war in Heaven, the different and opposing counsels of the adherents and supporters of the Pagan and Christian Roman Emperors. Others teach that we are not to understand it of any real transaction, but as a sort of summary of the prolonged antagonism between good and evil, which, to a lively poetic imagination, might seem as if the hidden principalities and powers were in actual war. But all such ideas pay very poor compliment to the inspiration claimed by the holy Apostle, to his capacity to write for the instruction of the Church, and to what he has by divine command put upon record as a veritable Revelation of the Lord Almighty. Having examined a long list of these symbolic and allegorical interpretations, and followed the processes by which their authors have tried to apply them, I have not found one which does not completely break down under the weight of its own cumbrous unfittingness. They each and all fail to explain the facts and relations of the record, and treat John as a half-demented sentimental old man, trying to make a grand poem out of a few dim anticipations touching the earthly fortunes of the Church, which could have been better told in one well-written chapter. They are, at best, the wild guesses of men who have never got hold of the real thread of the matter, whilst under the necessity of saying something. I take the holy Apostle as a fully inspired man. I take his Book, not as a crazy poem, but as a real Revelation. I take bis visions to be exactly what the Angel actually showed him, all truly and faithfully written as he was divinely directed to write them, and not fabrications of his own brain, draped according to his own doting fancy. I take all his terms and statements literally, except where he gives plain intimation that they are to be otherwise taken. I locate all in the time and place in which he locates it, and in the order in which he gives it, conditioned with this one fundamental consideration, that the entire Book is intended to give to the Church an apocalyptic chart of the outcome and consummation of all history, in connection with the coming again of the Lord Jesus. Accordingly, I take the text as it stands, as the account of a real commotion in the aerial spaces,-a violent collision among immortals-a literal "war in the heaven."--concerning which we are called to notice,





May God help us to consider these particulars as the solemnity and momentousness of the subject deserves!

I. Let us look, then, at the Forces marshalled. These are specifically described. On the one side, "Michael and his angels" are the warriors; on the other, "the Dragon and his angels."

Who, then, is Michael? Many answer, The Lord Jesus Christ, claiming that it would impinge upon the dignity and prerogatives of Christ to attribute all that is here implied to a mere angel, however exalted. But I do not find that those most inclined to this view are the most clear and decided in their recognition of the proper Deity of Christ. And though the Lord Jesus has His angels, there is nothing in that to prove that an archangel may not have angels as well. Satan has his angels, why may not Michael have them too? What if the name does mean, One like God? As a title of Christ, it would rather disprove than prove His proper Deity. There is also an unquestionable Godlikeness in all holy beings, which must be very exalted in those preeminent among the ministers of the throne. What if Michael is called a leader or prince of angels, and, by way of emphasis, the archangel?" We know from Daniel that there are other "chief princes" in the angelic world. Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:16) also refers to "an archangel" (see original) in a way which presupposes other archangels. The angel who communicated with Daniel calls Michael "one of the chief princes," which implies the existence of others of similar rank (Daniel 10:13). He also speaks of Michael as "holding with him," and not he with Michael, as the diction would be were Michael the same as The Son of God. What if he is "the great prince which standeth for the children of the prophet's people" in the time of their trouble? Michael is a great prince, and one whom the Jews have always acknowledged, whilst they rejected and crucified Christ, and nationally refuse to have Him for their prince. What if the bruising of the serpent's head, and the destruction of the works of the devil, and the spoiling of Satan's goods, are ascribed to Christ? Anything done by the agent is done by the principal; and that Christ has appointed angels to minister to the heirs of salvation, and to execute such parts of the grand administration as may be appropriately assigned to them, is part of the clear teaching of the Scriptures. The war in this case is plainly in behalf of the child which the mystic woman brings forth, and the Head and front of that composite child is Christ Himself. As part of the body fought for, He is thus distinguished from "Michael and his angels" who do the fighting, just as Michael is distinguished from the Divine Son in the Book of Daniel. What if the establishment of the reign and dominion of Christ is the result of this war? The general who conducts a campaign to victory is not therefore the king to whom the results of that success belong. In Christ's own explanation of some of these matters (Matthew 13:1-58) He says: "The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;" but He is no less the great Judge on that account, neither is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory a whit less His. "Michael the Archangel" was the disputant in the matter about "the body of Moses" (Jude 1:9); but it is there said of him that "he durst not bring against the devil a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee." This shows a clear distinction between Michael and the Lord, as well as a law and restraint upon Michael which pertains only to a creature and a subject, and not to the almighty Son of God, who had not yet then become incarnate. Jesus could say, "Get thee behind me, Satan," but Michael dared not speak thus. Besides, "Michael" is everywhere used in the Scriptures as a proper name, the same as Gabriel, or Jesus, or John; and occurring here the same as in all other places there would seem to be no more authority for making it mean the Lord Jesus than for making John mean Daniel, or Mary mean Martha. The Bible, indeed, abundantly speaks of the Angel of Jehovah, who plainly is none other than the only-begotten Son of God; but there is no proof that this Jehovah-Angel is ever called Michael. And as the name here is Michael, I know not by what right any one can take it as meaning any other than Michael, the created archangel, who is not less than five times referred to by this name in the holy Scriptures.[135]

[135] Michael is not to be identified with Christ, any more than any other of the great angels in this Book. Such identification here would confuse hopelessly the actors in this heavenly scene. Satan's being cast out of heaven to the earth is the result not of his contest with the Lord Himself, of which it is only an incident leading to a new phase, but of the appointed conflict with his faithful fellow-angels led on by the Archangel Michael."--Alford in loc. Bengel maintains the same view, and refers to Collado, Eglinus, Jonas Le Buy, Grotius, Cluver, Mede, Dimpelius, and others, as recognizing here the created angel named, and not a symbol of Christ.

According to the Jewish teachings Michael is one of seven Archangels, and the chief of the seven. In this the Christian Church has ever been disposed to concur. Hence the Church references to "Michael and all angels." Hence also, in the highest of all the Christian services from the beginning, "with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify God's glorious Name." And as the very chief of all angels, though himself one of them, Michael would have "his angels," though no less God's, just as a general-in-chief has his aids, officers, and soldiers, who nevertheless all belong to the king. He would also thus be the proper one to stand at the head of the grand Army of heaven, when called out in force to put down "the Devil and his angels." All the holy angels, therefore, with "Michael the Archangel" as their chief, constitute the sublime forces on the one side, marshalled for this "battle of the gods."

Nor need we be at a loss to identify those on the opposite side. The Scriptures abundantly assure us of the existence of great spiritual powers and principalities ever arrayed against human welfare, and who are the enemies of God and all good. Paul (Ephesians 6:11-12) tells us that we are continually exposed to assaults, surprises, and dangers from an unseen and most subtle confederation of spiritual agents; that there is a "devil," from whose "wiles" and agents we are in perpetual jeopardy; that our contest is not only with blood and flesh, but with "the principalities, the powers, the sovereigns of this present darkness, the wicked spirits in the aerial regions;" that there stands opposed to us, and to all good, a great malignant kingdom, a vast spiritual empire of evil. There are "angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation" (Jude 1:6). God never made an evil being; but He made angels, principalities, and powers capacitated for mighty joys and distinctions in His glorious domain, yet with free will, implied in the very creation of moral beings, which they could exercise for their everlasting weal or woe. Many have remained steadfast, to wit, "Michael and his angels." But some abode not in the truth, but revolted against the rule of Heaven, and became the unchanging enemies of God and His Kingdom. Among these is one of peculiar power and despicable preeminence, who drew his associates into his revolt, and ever stands as the head and leader of them. He is called The Devil, a name which the Scriptures, in the original, never use in the plural, and never apply to but one being. All others belonging to his wicked empire are "his angels," morally like him, but in place and position grouped around him, under his direction, agents of his imperial will. He is called "a prince," "the prince of this world," "the prince of the powers of the air," "the god of this world." And the same is here called "the great Dragon, the Old Serpent, the Satan, or Adversary, who seduceth or misleadeth the whole populated world." "The course of this world" is declared to be "according to" him. He, with his confederates, "rules in the darkness of this world," "blinding the eyes of them that believe not," "working in the children of disobedience," and leading men captive at his will. All apostates and false Christians are called his children, the tares of his sowing. The Man of sin, that Wicked, to whom the Scriptures impute such a terrible career of lawlessness and tyranny in the last period of the present world, is the incarnation of his spirit and evilness. The evil princes who had the sway over ancient Persia and Greece, and who withstood the good angels who communicated with Daniel, were his archons or world-lords, as Paul's word is. Demons[136] whoever they may be, also belong to the empire of the Dragon, but they are of a lower order,--the plebeians of this detestable confederacy.

[136] See my Uriel, pp. 237-240.

These, then, make up the opposing Forces in this battle.

II. Let us look now at the Occasion of the conflict. In the preceding verses we had the picture of a woman, glorious in her apparel, victorious in her position, royal in dignity, and travailing to bring forth a child destined to rule all nations. Before her stood the great red Dragon, bent upon devouring this child as soon as it should be born. We have seen, as Methodius also taught, that this woman represents the Church as a visible body, and the unborn child the invisible Church, which lies concealed in the visible, and consists of true saints only. We have further seen that the Birth to which the woman labours to bring the child, is the birth into immortality by resurrection and translation, otherwise called "the manifestation of the sons of God," which occurs when" the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise, and we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air," and to receive the promised crown of glory. And it is in immediate connection with this Birth of the man-child, and its being "caught away to God, and to His throne," that this "war in the heavens" comes on. Already in Daniel we are told that the time when Michael stands up for the sons of the prophet's people, is the time when everyone that is written in the book shall be delivered,-the time when many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake to everlasting life to shine as the firmament and the stars forever. It is this glorious exaltation of the saints that the devil and his angels have ever been most bent on defeating. For this they have been operating through all the ages, the Dragon ever standing before the travailing woman to destroy her seed. For this all the subtlety and power of hell are exerted, and are becoming the more intense as the resurrection time approaches. And no sooner are the graves of the saints about to open, and the true people of God to come forth into the honours and glories of immortality, than Satan stirs up all his power to prevent it, and thus arouses this commotion in heaven.

A prelude to this controversy, on a small scale, is referred to by Jude as occurring in connection with the body of Moses. There is reason to believe that Moses is not dead. He did indeed "die in the mount," according to the command of God; but he was seen alive in the days of the Saviour on the mount of the Transfiguration, seen "in glory," and hence in resurrection life. He must therefore have been raised again from the state of death,-raised in advance of the general resurrection of the saints, as Enoch and Elijah were translated before the general translation of God's waiting and watching ones at the coming of the Lord. And if we are at all warranted in this belief, the dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil "about the body of Moses," was a contention about his resurrection, the one standing up for the recovery of that body from death, and the other resisting. Thus we have the precise parties named in the text, and a fierce contest over the same thing in one individual case, which we have here in the case of the saints in general. It was the resurrection and glorification of Moses which was the subject of collision then, and it is the resurrection and glorification of the saints in general which is the subject and occasion of the war here. It is Michael again, joined now by all his angels, that here stands up in behalf of the true people of God emerging into resurrection life and glory; and it is the same Old Serpent, stirring up now all the power of his kingdom to hinder and prevent the sacred seed of faith from attaining their promised exaltation.

There is also every reason why the whole strength of the great adversary should be interposed to prevent this glorious coming forth of the children of God to immortal glory and power. With the dominion of death broken the whole empire of darkness breaks with it, the reign of hell is dissolved, and the victory of redemption is complete. With the curse of mortality and corruption thus swallowed up of life, the devil's sway is gone, his kingdom mutilated, and all his malignant hopes against the Church overwhelmed. To yield here without the most stubborn resistance would be to give up the aim of all his plans and endeavours since he first tempted man in Paradise, to let his whole empire collapse, to permit the chief power of bis dominion to go by default. Hence his rallying of all his forces. Hence bis most determined resistance just at this point. And hence this "war in the heaven."

III. Having thus identified the combatants and found the occasion of the conflict, we are also far on the way to a right apprehension of the Nature of the Battle. The beings engaged are all spiritual, and the region is "the heaven"-in the air-in the spaces above the earth. The battle therefore must needs be spiritual, and not physical. There is no taking of life-no killing-no bloodshed-no slaughter. Milton has ventured a description of it where he says:

Michael bid sound

Th' archangel trumpet: through the vast of heaven
It sounded, and the faithful armies rung
Hosanna to the Highest: nor stood at gaze
The adverse legions, nor less hideous joined
The horrid shock: now storming fury rose,
And clamour such as heard in heaven till now
Was never; arms on armour clashing brayed
Horrible discord, and the madding wheels
Of brazen chariots raged; dire was the noise
Of conflict; overhead the dismal hiss
Of fiery darts in flaming volleys flew,
And flying vaulted either host with fire:
So under fiery cope together rushed
Both battles main, with ruinous assault
And inextinguishable rage; all heaven
Resounded, and had earth been then, all earth
Had to her centre shook.

But Milton wrote from imagination, and drew his conceptions from earthly battlefields. True, all the strength of hell with heaven is measured; but it is moral, intellectual, spiritual strength. The cannonading is thought, argument, subtle accusation, and defence. It is the war of mind with mind, of malignant and hellish intellect inflamed with desperate hate and anger against the intellect, reason, and right of heaven, a war which has its type rather in some tremendous forensic battle, where giants of the law dispute and contend, each intent on the victory. This is indicated in all the incidents and circumstances of the case. Satan appears here in his old character of the seducer and accuser, in which he has been for so long misleading and perverting the world, making the wrong seem right, and the right seem wrong, inciting to misjudgment, ruinous passion, and all the deadly consequences of moral and spiritual obliquity. As he appeared among the sons of God in the history concerning Job, sneering at the virtues of that man of God, insinuating the unreality and sordidness of his piety, and insisting that a fair trial would prove him nothing but a hypocrite; so he appears with all his malignant forces in this case, accusing the saints, and God for proposing to do such sublime things for them, denying the reality of their virtues, the adequacy of the tests of their obedience and their right to be thus glorified.

Every saint of God embraced in this Man-Child was born a sinner, and by sin forfeited the favour of God and a blessed immortality. How can the Almighty be just and true to His nature, laws, and threatenings, and yet lift these people in honour and glory from their graves, receive them to His throne, and give them place in the heaven of His holy administrations? Here is the devil's strong point, with which he ever assails men, and with which he here assails all the celestial powers. His line of battle is shown in the statement that he accuses the brethren, the saints, by day and by night. The great thunder of his tremendous cannonading is, that these people are not fit for and not worthy of such honours; that God disowns His holiness, and casts dishonour on His throne by awarding to such a people such a portion and such a destiny; that all reasonable being and intelligence is set at nought and outraged by such a proceeding. This is "the dismal hiss of fiery darts," flying "in flaming volleys," and vaulting either host. Accusation, accusation-keen, daring, deep, and clamorous accusation, subtly insinuated, and with infernal rancour hurled, is the artillery which belches forth with all the desperate energy of hell. This is further shown beyond mistake in the statement as to how he and his hosts are vanquished. The record says they overcame him by means of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and their not having loved their lives to save them from death. Sinners indeed were all those who belong to the company of this mystic Child, and forever contrary is it to the nature and government of God to connive at sin, or to look with allowance upon iniquity; but these people are not therefore without a maintainable cause. An ample atonement has been made. A Lamb has bled, whose meritorious blood, weighed in all the strictness of eternal right, by which the carping malignity of hell itself is silenced, covers the whole amplitude of their deficiencies, and cleanses away all account of their sins. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died." "Blood of the Lamb!" This is the everlasting fortress of the saints; and this stands foremost of all the means by which the accuser and his hosts are driven back. But, sheltered under this by faith in Him who died for them, there is also some claim and show for works. Justified and forgiven men, who have no hope but in their Saviour's merit, may still have title to some consideration and reward for their fidelities. Having given their word of testimony for the Lord that loved them, and stood firm to it against an adverse world, living martyr lives, or dying martyr deaths, cheerfully resigning all that man counts dear for the sake of the truth they confessed, God is not unjust to forget the work and labour of love they have shown towards His name in ministering to His people and His cause. And thus Michael and his angels, standing up for the Lord's saints, conquer the accuser and his hosts by reason of the blood of the Lamb, and the worthiness that appears in what they have done and sacrificed for Him. The means of the victory disclose the nature of the conflict.

But the sternness and tenacity with which every inch is contested, and the dreadfulness of the determination with which the resurrection and eternal rewards of the saints is withstood when Heaven thus comes to the fulfilment of its covenants and promises, necessarily involves a "horrid shock," and "storming fury," and bray of clashing and conflict, which even the genius of a Milton was incompetent to set forth. Michael and his angels war with the Dragon, because wickedly set to prevent the fulfilment of God's promises to His people; and the Dragon wars, and his angels war; and "madding wheels of brazen chariots rage," in the terribleness of a collision such as "in heaven till now was never."

IV. I now come to say a word or two about the Issue.

As we would expect from such a contest, the Dragon is defeated. With all his skilled generalship and energy, and all the desperate fury of his hosts, the effort is fruitless. "They prevailed not." He might have known that this would be the result. But pride, depravity, and malice have wonderful power to blind the mind to reason and truth, and to give brazen hope even where there is not the slightest ground for hope. Satan has ever been so successful in the past, both in heaven among the angels, and on earth with the human race, and his proud daring is so unbounded, that he does not hesitate to believe that he can break even the decrees of Almightiness. So he attempts it. But every argument he urges is successfully met. Every accusation is answered. Every charge proved unfounded and false. He may deceive men, but he cannot impose his deceptions and subtleties on heaven. He cannot show a flaw in the foundations of God's covenant of eternal life to every true confessor of the Saviour's name. Every onset is adequately withstood. Every weapon he brings forth is shivered in his hands. Not all his own great genius, nor all the strength and determination of his hosts, is of any avail. The meritoriousness of the Blood of the Lamb is too much for him. The right and justice of reward to them who have stood to the faith even unto the giving up of life, are too mighty for him to overcome. He once drew with him a third of heaven, and succeeded in making himself "the god of this world;" but daring now to think to thwart the good purpose of Omnipotence, he finds only

Joyless triumphals of his hoped success,
Ruin, and desperation, and dismay.

With his failure comes conviction as a murderous accuser, falsifier, and deceiver. Foiled at every point he stands revealed to all heaven in all the devilish baseness of his true character, and all his hosts as the ministers and abettors of Satanic falsehood and the most hellish malignity. Such convicts can no longer be tolerated in the vicinage of heaven. Stunned and effectually repulsed by the infallible merits of the blood of the Lamb, the celestial forces pursue him to an utter rout. Henceforward neither he nor his angels are any more to have the liberty of the heavenly spaces. Henceforward "their place is not found any more in the heaven." With his defeat and conviction ejectment, complete ejectment, follows.

It may not be in every one's mind that the aerial regions, the air, the cloud-heavens, the spaces above the earth, are now the chief lurking-places of evil spirits. But so the Bible teaches. Paul says we wrestle not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, with wicked spirits in high places, literally "in the heavens," "in the aerial regions." (Ephesians 6:12.) Hence also Satan is called "the prince of the power of the air," more literally, "the prince of the aerial host," meaning wicked spiritual powers dwelling in the aerial heavens. (Ephesians 2:2.) Thus the Satanic confederation has its seat in the upper air-in the atmospheric heaven-in the spaces above and around our world. There they are permitted to have place up to the time of this war. But this base attempt results in their casting out and ejectment to the earth, preliminary to the shutting of them up in the fiery abyss. They not only fail to prevent the saints from reaching heaven, but displace themselves, with loss of power ever to return. To this also the Saviour had reference in bis answer to his disciples when they came rejoicing that even the demons were subject to them. As the kingdom then was drawing sensibly near, this great result of its coming was even then preliminarily begun. And looking onward to the end He said, "I saw, or was beholding, Satan as lightning fall from heaven." And so the words of Isaiah in describing the great oppressor's fall, also reach forward to, and include what is first realized in its fulness in connection with this war in heaven: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" It is therefore fact and not costume-reality and not poetic drapery-that the Dragon and his angels, when this vision comes to fulfilment, are ejected from the spheres which they have held so long, and find place there no more for ever.[137]

[137] "I would appeal in passing to the solemnity of the terms here used, and the particularity of the designation, and ask whether it is possible to understand this of the mere casting down of Paganism from the throne of the Roman empire? whether the words themselves do not indicate their plain literal sense, as further illustrated by the song which follows?"-Alford in loc.

And as a still further result, all heaven is filled with rejoicing. In mighty volume the triumphal song rings out: "Now is come the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the dominion of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren, who accuseth them before our God by day and by night, is thrown down. Because of the blood of the Lamb, and of the word of their testimony, and of their not holding life too dear to be given up to death, he is overcome. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that tabernacle in them!" Full salvation does not come so long as Satan's accusations are not finally disposed of. The power of the kingdom of God has its chief revelation in the dethronement of the Dragon, first in the heart, and then in the heavenly places. This is salvation, and this is the power of the divine kingdom and the dominion of Christ, when Satan's hold is broken, when his foul sway is overthrown, when he and his hosts are dislodged from their abodes, when he can no longer accuse and assail the saints or tyrannize over them. And when this great daring attempt to prevent their entrance into glory is vanquished, it is one of the gladdest events in time, and all holy beings thrill at the sight of its accomplishment. Verily, "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;" for it is the dislodgment of Satan from that heart. And when this great victory is achieved, and he and all his angels are forever cast out of all the upper localities, all heaven breaks forth with jubilations and sings with diapason power:

Hail, Son of the Most High, heir of both worlds,
Queller of Satan, on Thy glorious reign
Now enter, hasting complete redemption!
Thou didst defeat and down from heaven cast
The false attempter of Thy Father's throne,
And frustrated the conquest fraudulent;
He never more will dare to set his foot
In Paradise to tempt: his snares are broke:
A fairer Paradise is founded now
For Adam and his chosen sons, whom Thou,
A Saviour, comest down to re-instal,
Where they shall dwell secure, from sorrow free,
Of tempter and temptation without fear!

Such, then, is the story of this battle in the heaven.

Many cheering lessons, my friends, might we gather from this singular foreshowing; but I cannot dwell on them now. Suffice it to say that we here may see what friendly and sympathetic interest is felt for us in heaven; what mighty princes and courageous hosts stand ready there to espouse our cause and maintain our title to the glorious promises, when adverse powers assail, and prove too mighty for our feebleness; what blessed hopes are guaranteed if only we trust in Jesus and His atoning blood, and continue true to our confession of His name, ready to die rather than disown Him as our only Lord and hope.

Take courage, then, O Christian, and gladly labour on. Heaven is on thy side. The object of thy fond aims shall yet be thine. The kingdom comes. The Saviour's meritorious blood shall bring thee through in spite of all thy weaknesses and lamented sins. Thy works and sacrifices for thy Lord shall not be forgotten. Satan's accusations shall yet drop powerless at thy feet. And with the exulting hosts that sing his fall shall thy place and portion be.

Verses 12-17

For additional commentary on (the first part of) Revelation 12:12, see Revelation 12:7-11.

Lecture 30

(Revelation 12:12-17)


Revelation 12:12-17. (Revised Text.) Woe to the earth and the sea! because the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

And when the Dragon saw that he was cast down into the earth, he persecuted [or pursued] the woman which brought for the male [child]. And to the woman were given the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, to her place, where she is there nourished a time, times, and half a time, away from the face of the Serpent. And the Serpent cast from his mouth after the Woman water like a river, that he might cause her [to be] carried away by the river. And the earth helped the Woman; yea, the earth opened her mouth and drank up the river which the Dragon cast forth from his mouth. And the Dragon was enraged against the Woman, and went away to make war with the remainder of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and hold fast the testimony of Jesus.

The ejectment of Satan from heaven lodged him upon the earth. This is the final cleansing of the heavenly spaces from his foul presence. His revolt began in heaven, and the effectual overthrow of his power commences there. The victory over evil follows the order in which it came into existence. The earth was the last conquest of the Devil, and he is thus cast to the earth, here to await his further doom.

We would think that so signal a defeat in the heaven would cure him of his malignity, at least induce him to refrain from any further attempts against God and His people. But he is hopelessly depraved, and nothing but absolute force can quell his devil nature. There is no cure for a being so totally perverted. And his ejectment from heaven and confinement to the earth only angers him the more, and calls forth increased violence, inducing a state of things by far the worst that this world ever experienced.

That which hinders the full revelation of devilism now is the Holy Spirit of God, embodied in his Church and people; but that Spirit will not always strive with men. The birth of the Manchild into immortality takes out of the world the best material in it. Being made up of the truest and most devoted of God's saints, and being caught away to God, and to His throne, the earth is left minus the presence, prayers, activities, and moral forces of its holiest population. The removal of these faithful ones to their Lord is such a depletion of the spiritual power in earthly society, such a diminution of the salt of the earth and the light of the world, such a vacation of the most potent and active elements of good, as to give the field almost entirely to the Devil and his angels. And it is in punishment of the faithless and unbelieving ones "left," when the Manchild is caught up, that the Devil and all his are precipitated upon the earth, and circumscribed to it, here to act out the final scenes of his enraged malice, blasphemy, and spite. Hence, while heaven thrills with rejoicing over his defeat there, his ejectment to the earth commingles with the song of triumph a sad note of woe and pity for the dwellers here. "Woe to the earth and the sea! because the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time."

Everything in this record shows that it belongs to the very last years of this world's history. It is the judgment time; for it is the time of resurrection and translation-of the seizing away of God's holy and prepared people to Him, and to His throne. It is the time of the sounding of the seventh or last trumpet, which in the progress of the visions has here already pealed forth its clarion proclamations that the time of the end has come. It is the time when the gold-crowned Elders are giving thanks to the Lord God Almighty that He has taken to Him His great power to assert His sway, to give reward unto His servants the prophets, the saints, and them that fear His name, and to destroy the corrupters of the earth. It is the time when the Devil himself is convinced, and swollen with unwonted rage and fury because he sees and knows that but a few brief years remain till his reign is over and the abyss is his prison-house. But this "short time" must be improved to the utmost. The text tells us that when the Dragon sees himself thus cast to the earth, he begins to stir himself for further mischief. Milton has not inaptly described the case, where he makes the arch-fiend address his prostrate confederates, saying:

Princes and potentates,

Warriors, the flower of heaven once yours, now lost!
If such astonishment as this can seize
Eternal spirits; or have ye chosen this place,
After the toil of battle, to repose
Your wearied virtue, for the ease you find
To slumber here, as in the vales of heaven?
Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
T' adore the Conqueror, who now beholds
Seraph and cherub rolling in the flood,
With scattered arms and ensigns, till anon
His swift pursuers from heaven's gates discern
Th' advantage, and descending, tread us down
Thus drooping, or with linked thunderbolts
Transfix us to the bottom of the gulf?
Awake, arise, or be forever fallen!

We have seen that the mystic Woman, whose child is caught up to God and His throne, is the "sign" or symbol of the visible Church in its broadest sense, as an earthly and outward organization, the unborn Child being the invisible Church, in the narrower and truer sense of "the congregation of believers" those who are really begotten of God, and joined to Christ as the spiritual body of which He is the invisible Head. The bringing forth and catching away to heaven of the child, is not therefore the removal of the mother. She still continues on the earth, a visible body, though very greatly diminished and weakened by the birth and removal of the Child. This is very clearly exhibited in the vision; for when the Manchild is brought forth, separated from her, and caught up to God and His throne, the seer still beholds her on earth, fleeing into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, and where they nourish her a thousand two hundred and sixty days. The cause of her flight was not at first stated. The narrative was interrupted to relate the "war in the heaven," and the casting down of the Dragon and his angels. That being told, the narrative returns to the Woman and "the remainder of her seed," both of which are contemplated as still on the earth and the subjects of the Dragon's persecution. And so it is everywhere told us, that when the translation time comes, not all professed Christians will be "taken." The Saviour Himself has solemnly said, in so many words: "I tell you, in that night there shall be two in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken and the other left. Two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left." (Luke 17:34-36.) So again He speaks of professed servants of His, who say in their hearts, "My Lord delayeth His coming," and hence indulge themselves in uncharities, unwatchfulness, and worldly compliances, and so shall be overtaken in their unreadiness, cut off from the high honours of the faithful servants, and compelled to remain in the world to suffer here with hypocrites and unbelievers amid the sorrows of the great tribulation. (Matthew 24:42-51.) Hence, also, His special command to His people: "Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36); that is, be kept "from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world," after the waiting and ready saints have been "caught up to God and to His throne." (Revelation 3:10.) And those professed Christians who are "left" or "cut off" when the chosen ones are "taken," together with such as shall be recovered to a pious life and right faith amid the sorrows of the judgment time, will constitute the Woman and "the remainder of her seed" on earth, after the Manchild has made its ascension to glory.

And a hard time of it they will have. Then shall be "a time of distress, such as never was since there was a nation to that time." (Daniel 12:1.) "Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Matthew 24:21.) "For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled." (Luke 21:22.)

First of all shall be the "weeping and gnashing of teeth"--the self-crimination and disappointment-at having lost the first honours of the kingdom, and at being compelled now to unlearn the mistaken philosophy and theology in which they trusted, and to begin again as little children to learn the truth which they so unreasonably sneered at, neglected, or denounced. And a very sore grief this will be to them. To have had the whole matter so plainly before them in God's Word, and yet not to have seen it;--to have had so glorious a prize within their reach, and counted so hopefully on it, and now to find it lost and gone from them beyond recovery;--to have grown grey, venerable, and mighty in learning, in wisdom, and in championship for the Gospel, and yet not to have learned the simple practical truth of waiting, watching, and keeping in readiness for the coming again of the Lord Jesus,-and forever deprived now of place in "the Church of the firstborn," with nothing left to them but in sorrow and humiliation to make their way to the secondary places in eternity;--these shall be among the scorpion stings which too many, alas, will then have to endure! Had they but taken in what "watch the thief would come," they would have watched, and would not have suffered their house to be thus broken up.

Something of this, owing to a misapprehension which had been palmed upon them, was felt by the Thessalonian Christians in St. Paul's time. They were "shaken in mind," they were "troubled," they were in the deepest mental distress, because they were made to believe that the day of Christ (ενεστηκε) was then present, had arrived, was come; that the resurrection was "past already;" that the time for the rapture and glorification of the saints was here; whilst the blessings, joys, and honours which they as Christians connected with it were not realized. In other words, they thought themselves "cut off" and "left." Just as they were previously disturbed and sorrowing over their deceased friends as possibly disabled for the joy and glory to be realized at the Lord's coming, which they were so eagerly expecting, so now they were filled with perturbation and alarm, under the tidings that Christ had come and had not taken them. It was a deep, terrible, and soul-agonizing distress,-one which called forth the apostle's sympathy, and all the energy of his great spirit and strongest words to roll off the load from their hearts. But when that day has once come in literal truth, and all half-Christians, self-deceivers, and unfaithful and unwatching ones, have it flashed upon them that they are "left," there will be a worse shaking than these Thessalonians felt, with no apostle to come with better tidings to their relief. And though a hope of salvation may still remain to them in case of a prompt and earnest repentance, still, the Saviour says, "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

But this is not the worst. The Manchild being "caught up to God and to His throne," the period of Satan's great anger comes, and hence the most terrible persecutions. The Hinderer being removed, "then shall that Wicked be revealed, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10.) Then the great Dragon rages, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. He persecutes and pursues the Woman, as typified in the infamous proceedings of Antiochus Epiphanes in the Maccabean times. As the text clearly implies, and as more specifically set forth in the succeeding chapter, things shall be made so hot and oppressive to the Church that no Christians could live, except for the miraculous help of God. Weakened and depleted as the Woman is, she must flee, as of old time "it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled." The Dragon pursues her, as the avenger of blood while his heart was hot pursued the manslayer. The lament of Jeremiah will then reach its deepest pathos in the lips of God's people: "Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness." (Lamentations 4:19.) Then shall be the cry: "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my life: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind; and let the Angel of the Lord chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery; and let the Angel of the Lord persecute them. For without cause they have hid for me their net, in a pit which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. O Lord, keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me. Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord." (Psalms 35:1-28.) It is with reference to this very time that the Saviour himself says:

"Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." (Matthew 24:22.)

There can be no doubt that the centre of events and doings, as here contemplated, is Jerusalem. Already in the first part of the preceding chapter, we had the measuring of the temple, and its altar and worshippers, which presupposes their rebuilding, and God's taking possession of them again. This temple and altar, as Dr. Clarke admits, "must refer to the temple at Jerusalem." "The holy city" is named in connection as the locality, and the only earthly city so named in the Scriptures is Jerusalem. A partly Jewish and a partly Gentile population is distinctly recognized as having place in "the holy city" at that time. It is there that the Two Witnesses are slain and resurrected, even "where their Lord was crucified;" and the ministry of the Two Witnesses is contemporaneous with "the Beast," who kills them. And it is under his domination that the persecution and flight of the Woman occurs. Jerusalem, then, is certainly the centre of the field of contemplation in the text, and the point from which the flight of the persecuted Woman takes place. As the flight of the Christians to Pella in the time of the Roman invasion eighteen hundred years ago was centrally from Jerusalem, so it will be again under the final "prince that shall come," armed with that same iron power, to overrun the temple court and to "trample the holy city forty and two months."

Why does the Woman fly? Evidently because she cannot sustain herself or live without it. The persecution of the professed followers and worshippers of God is so severe and bloody as to compel them to fly in order to save their heads. It is the period of the dominion of the Beast as described in the chapter next succeeding; and there we are told that as many as will not worship the image of the Beast shall be beheaded; and that whosoever will not receive the mark of the Beast in the right hand or forehead, shall not be allowed to buy or sell. There will be no living under him without accepting him in the place of God and of Christ. And this Beast is the embodiment of the Dragon's rage against the Woman and such of her seed as still remains upon the earth. He has his power, and his seat, and his great authority from the Devil; and the known worshippers of Jehovah must then fly or die; there is no other help. It is a dreadful strait; but into it will all remaining Christians come when once the Hinderer is taken away, and the Manchild has been caught up to God. It was thus that Antiochus decreed that whosoever would not do according to his command, and totally abolish every vestige and observance of Jehovah's law should die (1 Macc. 1:41-50); and so, in yet fiercer vigour, shall it be under the Beast then.

But though such suffering and dread temptations and necessities come upon the unready ones after their more watchful and faithful brethren have entered the celestial apartments, they are not utterly forsaken. If true to their profession then God will help them by His own great power.

When Israel came out of Egypt God marvellously strengthened every muscle and invigorated every weakness. "There was not one feeble person amidst their tribes." Not a foot swelled, and not even a garment or a shoe waxed old for forty years. And when they came to the wilderness of Sinai, where God spoke to them from the flaming mountain, He said: "Ye have seen how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself." (Exodus 19:4.)

Again it was said: "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him." (Deuteronomy 32:11-12.)

And those same wings here appear again. "And to the Woman were given the two wings of the great eagle," that is, the special and direct help of God. In like miraculous manner the hand of the Lord was upon Elijah, enabling him to outrun the hasting chariot of King Ahab, even from Carmel to Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:46.) The sore trial is not lifted off, but miraculous assistance is given according to the occasion.

But whither does the Woman fly? When those wings were lent to Israel in the flight from the Dragon in Egypt they carried the people into the wilderness, even to Sinai. And here we have "the wilderness" again, as well as the same eagle's wings, and that very same wilderness of Sinai. Habakkuk, celebrating certain revelations of the Lord connecting with this very time, speaks of His coming from "Teman," the southern section of Idumea, and from "Mount Paran," which identifies with Sinai and its hills. (Habakkuk 3:1-19.) It is here called "her place"-a place belonging to her which God hath prepared for her. And, remarkable enough, this was the locality to which Moses fled for security from the wrath of Pharaoh,-to which Israel fled from the tyranny and rage of the Egyptians,-to which Elijah betook himself for refuge from the wrath of the bloody Jezebel,-to which the faithful Jews retired from the persecutions of the Syrian kings in the Maccabean times. (1 Macc. 2:28-31.) Having served as the place of shelter for God's faithful ones in so many instances, and on such marked occasions, it may well be called "her place,"-the one locality of all on earth prepared and consecrated as the desert asylum of God's persecuted people. It is further stated that there the woman is nourished. The idea is that of a miraculous feeding, and the past is prophecy of the future. It was there that God sent the manna to feed the fugitive thousands of Israel in the days of Moses. Elijah was miraculously fed by an angel, and received a meal from heaven, in the strength of which he went forty days, in his flight to this "mount of God."

The feeding of the Woman here, indicates the depth of her straits, and her utter helplessness in any resources of her own. She is in great need, and no amount of activity on her part can supply her with sustenance. But for some provision, answering to that made there for Israel of old, these poor distressed fugitives would all perish. But like the multitudes which followed Jesus into the desert place, she is fed in the wilderness; and there she is nourished for three and a half years, the entire term of the persecuting dominion of the Beast, far away from the face of the serpent. It is a sore thing to be chastised of the Lord; but it is a blessed thought that He will not forsake those who cleave to Him, and that His grace shall be sufficient for them that meekly trust in Him.

But even in her mountain retreat the Dragon's enmity and rage against the Woman continue. He is bent on destroying her if he can.

When Pharaoh-Necho went up with his armies against Babylon, Jeremiah exclaimed: "Who is this that cometh up like a flood, whose waters are moved as the rivers? Egypt riseth up like a flood, and his waters are moved like the rivers." (Jeremiah 46:7-8.) When Nebuchadnezzar came with his Chaldean forces against Tyre and Sidon, the Lord said, "Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing flood, and shall overflow the land, and all that is therein; then the men shall cry, and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl. At the noise of the stamping of hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands." (Jeremiah 47:2-3.) And so here, John beheld, "And the serpent cast from his mouth after the woman water like a river, that he might cause her [to be] carried away by the river." The interpretation is evident. Soldiers are despatched to assail and overwhelm her in her retreat, and to destroy her there where God is nourishing her. It is not "a flood," or a vast and universally devastating army, but "water like a river," a smaller expedition for one definite purpose, which keeps within its own track to the one end; to wit, the destruction of these fugitives lodged in the wilderness. It was thus a detachment of the Syrian army was sent after the faithful fugitives in the time of the Maccabees. (1 Macc. 2:31-38.) But it is a force sufficient for its purpose, in all ordinary calculation. It is more than the Woman in her own strength could possibly withstand. It would sweep her away-quench her existence in blood-if no help came to her relief. But man's extremity is God's opportunity. What saith the record? "The earth helped the Woman; yea, the earth opened her mouth and drank up the river which the Dragon cast forth from his mouth."

Exactly what sort of calamity befalls these armed forces of the Beast, we may not be able definitely to determine. When the hosts of Pharaoh, in mad pursuit of ancient Israel, were overwhelmed by the sea, the exulting song of Moses and his people was, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord! Thou stretchedst forth thy right hand, the earth swallowed them." (Exodus 15:11-12.) In this same wilderness, when God's anger was visited upon Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, for their rebellion against Moses and Aaron, "the ground clave asunder that was under them, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that pertained unto Korah, and all their goods: they, and all that pertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished." (Numbers 16:31-33.)

It is the region and time of miracle when this drinking up of the river which the Dragon sends against the woman occurs. It is the region and time when there is to be a renewal of wonders, "like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt." (Isaiah 11:15-16.) It is the region and time of great earthquakes and disturbances in the economy of nature. (Zechariah 14:4; Luke 21:25-26; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 11:19.) And there is reason to think that it is by some great and sudden rending of the earth that these pursuing hosts are arrested in their course, if not en masse buried up in the convulsion. At least, the object of their bloody expedition is thwarted. They fail to reach the Woman in her place of refuge. The very ground yawns to stop them in their hellish madness.

But though completely baffled in this attempt to destroy the Woman, the rage of the Dragon is not assuaged, but only burns the more fiercely. Compelled to desist from bis attempt to destroy her, he turns about to seek after the lives of such remnants of her seed as may be elsewhere found. "His plans turn to dust in his mouth; yet he is only angry, not penitent." Defeated beyond redress in this scheme, he abandons it; but only to enter upon a further war with every fraction of humanity still within his reach which may be found adhering to the commandments of God or the testimony of Jesus.

Two classes appear to be referred to. Abraham was promised a twofold seed: an earthly, likened to the sands of the sea; and a heavenly, likened to the stars of the sky. And from the beginning of the gospel there have always been two classes of believers: the Jewish and the Gentiles. So "the commandments of God" suggest to us God's older revelation by Moses, and the Law given through him: and "the testimony of Jesus" calls to mind the Christian profession. The allusion would, therefore, seem to be (1) to Jewish believers, the 144,000 of whom, described in chapter vii, are then still on the earth; and (2) Gentile, servants of God who hold fast the confession of Christ over against the prevalent abominations of the time. These are now sought out with desperate hate, wherever they may be, and proceeded against with determination to conquer them to the worship of the Beast, or, failing in that, to cut off the heads of all who refuse to yield. This is also the time during which the Two Witnesses are prophesying; and they, and those awakened by their witness, embracing both Jews and Gentiles, are specially noted in Revelation 11:7, as those against whom the Beast shall make war, and overcome them, and kill them.

It is not the organized Church which is the object of this new outbreak of the Dragon's wrath; for the Church as a visible body is in the wilderness beyond his grasp. According to the terms, this remaining portion of the Woman's seed consists rather of individual believers here and there, whose organic association with each other has been broken up, and who from the stress of the times no longer have their visible assemblies. Nevertheless, they are everywhere sought out, under the fell resolve to exterminate them from the earth.

The organs through which the Dragon puts forth all this bloody rage against the Woman and the remnants of her seed are described in the next chapter, and those that succeed it, where further details are given. I will not anticipate them here. At another time, God willing, I propose to enter upon them. Meanwhile, let us reflect a little over the subject-matter which has been engaging us tonight.

1. Note how dark is the outlook of the Church of Jesus with respect to this world! We wonder betimes at the smallness of its success, and the hard struggle it ever has for its existence. But why should we wonder? Think of the might of the Devil and his angels, of their malignity against it, and how deeply the whole world is in their possession. By reason of the depravity that is upon our race, every human being born is brought forth under Satan's dominion. We scarcely succeed in winning and training some to truth and holiness, till death comes and takes them away, leaving the same work to be gone over again and again continually, with the same result awaiting it every time. And while faithful ones are labouring, multitudes of their fellow-professors are a mere incubus on their exertions, hindering by their indifference and inconsistencies, whilst the great world continually opposes, and a universal depravity, inflamed of hell, perpetually fights against the calls and claims of heaven. Ever dreaming of victory to bring us the reign of righteousness and rest, we still find ourselves at the bottom of the hill, toiling to reach the unreachable summit. And how can we expect to ever it be otherwise as long as this present order of things lasts, seeing that Satan continues with ever-deepening malice and activity to the very end of the world, and that the last days are the wickedest and the worst! All that we can do is to work on, like Paul, if that by any means we may "save some."

2. Note the true source of dislike and hatred to the Church. There be many who think more of anything on earth than of the Church. They may consider it well enough to have its services when they die, but whilst they live they only neglect and despise it, and are only offended and enraged when its claims are pressed. They forget that this is the very spirit of the devil. There is nothing which Satan so much hates, which he so energetically opposes, which he persecutes to the end with such an unrelenting and undying rancour, or that he tries so hard to keep out of heaven and obliterate from the earth, as the Church. We are justly amazed at the intensity of his malice toward the mystic Woman and her seed, pursuing her with ever-increasing rage, even when God's judgments multiply upon him for it. And every one who dislikes, hates, or persecutes the Church and people of God, has in him the Devil's spirit, acts the Devil's will, and is one of the Devil's children.

3. Note what a lesson of rebuke and duty addresses itself to Christians from the Devil's example. He never rests from his murderous endeavours. He stops for no losses, succumbs to no adversities, desists for no hindrances, turns back from no encounters, and surrenders not even to the Almighty's judgments, so long as he has liberty to act or time in which to operate. His energy and activity increase the more as he sees and knows that his end is near. He does it out of wicked spite and mere evilness, and with no prospect but utter defeat and eternal damnation. And how should we, then, who claim to love God, and believe that everlasting crowns of glory and blessing are to be the reward of our fidelity, stand rebuked for our coldness in the presence of such an example! His day runs from the beginning to the end of time, yet he works incessantly to its last hour. Our day is measured by a few brief years, half of which is spent in infancy and sleep, whilst the whole may at any moment end in death; yet we fritter away our time and energies and opportunities as if no necessities were upon us, or as if we had no salvation to secure, no hell to escape, no God to serve, no heaven to win. Alas, alas, for such indifference! Brethren, look at the untiring energy of Hell for destruction, and learn wisdom for eternal life.

4. Finally, note the pressing need there is to keep ourselves awake and in readiness for the coming of our Lord. Over and over we are told that He shall come as a thief in the night-when men think not-when many of His own servants are saying and believing that it is not possible that He should come in their day-when the great multitude is counting on nothing but peace and safety. The day and the hour knoweth no man. And if that day should come upon us unawares, and find us unprepared, even though we should not be finally lost, these presentations show that terrible experiences await us. No wonder that the beneficent and loving Jesus should make it one of his most constant and most urgent admonitions, to watch and pray that we come not into these dreadful tribulations. As we value our peace, let us not then be indifferent to things so solemn.

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 12". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/revelation-12.html.
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