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EVENTS AS GOD VIEWS THEM.
THE WOMAN AND THE MAN CHILD.
Revelation 12:1-2 . “ And a great sign was seen in the Heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and being with child she cried (being) in travail, and in pain to bring forth. ” We have already remarked that chapters 12, 13, and 14 form one connected prophecy. We regard this section as one of preeminent interest to prophetic students. An intelligent understanding of it will enable anyone of devout mind to grasp in the main the prophetic situation. What a sweep! From the birth of Christ (v. 5) till He treads the winepress of God’s wrath (Revelation 14:20 ) a sweep of two thousand years more or less! From the weakness of the infant to the manifestation of His almighty power in judgment. And this marvellous history is comprised in symbol and word within the compass of fifty-five verses.
1. “ A great sign was seen in the Heaven ,” not “ wonder , “as in the Authorised Version. A “wonder” is a surprise. A “sign” has a meaning, and points to a definite subject or object (Revelation 15:1 ). The adjective great is used six times in the chapter, which is one of great subjects. The first of these in order, but not in greatness, is a woman. The Man-Child is the pre-eminent subject of the chapter. The woman is not in Heaven actually, but on earth. The sign only is there. Why in “the Heaven,” for her greatness and sorrow are on earth? It is that God’s thoughts and purposes about her in His dwelling-place, “the Heaven,” might be known. It is history read and known in Heaven, in the light of God’s presence.
1. “ A woman clothed with the sun , and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” There are four representative women in the Apocalypse, each of whom is the expression of a corporate body of persons or a system. (1) Jezebel (Revelation 2:20 ), or the papal system. (2) The woman invested with the fulness of governmental authority (Revelation 12:1 ), or Israel. (3) The great harlot (Revelation 17:1 ), or the future, corrupt and apostate professing Church. (4) The Bride, the Lamb’s wife (Revelation 19:7 ), the Church glorified in Heaven. The celestial luminaries sun, moon, and stars are seen in their assembled glory. A complete system of government is thus presented. All authority supreme as the sun, derived and subordinate as the moon, and lesser lights and rulers as the stars, centre in the woman. She has, too, royal dignity, as the crown on her head signifies. But why twelve stars? The undoubted reference is to Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9 ), in which the future glory of Israel, of the twelve tribes, is symbolised. *It is not a safe principle to apply the symbology of the ancients to the interpretation of prophetic imagery. Owing to their numerous and dissimilar religious systems, in all of which hieroglyphic and symbol were largely employed, frequently in the expression of exactly opposite ideas, there can be no certainty in applying their symbology in the interpretation of that in the Bible. Scripture interprets itself. Every symbol in the Apocalypse may be intelligently understood by reference to other portions of the divine Word. The Bible does not need the borrowed light of the pagan world. It gives, but never borrows. On the numerals of Scripture the late Mr. W. F. Grant, of America, has ably written; Dr. Bullinger of this country, and the late Mr. E. C. Pressland, and others have contributed a good deal that is truly valuable in this department of Biblical knowledge. But the subject is by no means a new one, nor one confined in its elucidation to modern times. In all ages the science of numbers has engaged earnest minds in its study. Apocalyptic numerals have largely employed the thought and pen of theologians in all ages. The sacred number seven is without question the ruling number of the Apocalypse, occurring about fifty-three times. Its signification points to what is perfect or complete. This number is frequently broken up into three and four, the former directing attention to what is divine, the latter with what is connected with man at large, or generally that of universality. The numeral twelve, as employed in our text, and frequently elsewhere, denotes administrative rule in the hands of men, thus a civil or ecclesiastical polity, or the two combined, as in the true union of Church and State exhibited in Revelation 21:1-27 . Twelve is of very frequent occurrence in the Apocalypse. Amongst heathen nations this number was largely employed in administrative action. The history of China, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc., supplies abundant evidence in confirmation of our statement. The woman is invested with the splendour and fulness of governmental authority on earth, for although the sign is in Heaven the reality is to be witnessed here.
Revelation 12:2 . “ Being with child she cried (being) in travail, and in pain to bring forth. ” The woman has been before us as a queen, now we witness her as a mother. Her glory and majesty in the former relation, her suffering and pain under the latter designation (Jeremiah 4:31 ). Who is the woman? and who is the child? The woman is ISRAEL. The child is CHRIST. The larger number of expositors apply the vision of the woman to the Church. Now both Israel and the Church stand closely related to Christ Israel as the mother, the Church as the wife. If it is only seen that verse five applies to Christ, and in fact must and only refer to Him personally, all controversy is at an end. Israel, and not the Church, was the mother of the Messiah (Isaiah 9:8 ; Micah 5:2 ; Romans 9:5 ; Matthew 1:1-25 , etc.).
It may be difficult to reconcile the maternal anguish as applicable to Israel with the facts of the case when Christ was born. But however put together these things are in the wisdom of God, and seemingly contradictory (for when was the crying, the travail, and pain when the Messiah came into the world?), yet there is no real difficulty. The solution of the matter is contained in Isaiah 66:1-24 : “ Before she travailed she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child” (v. 7). The travailing and pain refer to Israel’s coming hour of trial, the Great Tribulation. But before that great event the Messiah, the Man-Child, is born. The prophet Micah confirms this in a clear and unmistakable passage. After referring to the birth of the Messiah (Micah 5:2 ), he adds, “Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth; then the remnant shall return unto the children of Israel” (Micah 5:3 ). The travail of the woman is at least two thousand years subsequent to the birth of the Messiah, and refers to her sorrow in the coming Tribulation. “Before she travailed she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a Man-Child.” It only remains to inquire: Why then is the travail of the woman put in juxtaposition to the birth of the Messiah? First, notice that the present lengthened period of Israel’s rejection, coming in as it does between the birth and the travail, is passed over in silence in the chapter before us; it is a parenthesis, the history of which is not given in prophecy, but found elsewhere of course. Second, it shows the deep interest which the Messiah takes in His people. He thought of the Tribulation, and made certain conditional provisions so as to lighten it many centuries ago (Matthew 24:15-28 ). Third, at the time in which our chapter has its place the nation is about to pass into its awful sorrow, and the object of going back in the history to the birth of Christ is to connect Him with them in it.
THE DRAGON AND THE WOMAN.
Revelation 12:3-5 . “ And another sign was seen in the Heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems; and his tail draws the third part of the stars of the Heaven, and he cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bring forth, in order that when she brought forth he might devour her child. And she brought forth a male son, who shall shepherd all the nations with an iron rod; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. ” The next remarkable sign is that of “a great red dragon.” Satan is here before us in his worst character confronting the woman. See verse 9, also Revelation 20:2 , in which the identity of the dragon with Satan is established without a doubt. Why is the dragon used as a symbol of Satan? Pharaoh, king of Egypt, in his cruelty to God’s people, and in proud and haughty independence of God, is termed “the great dragon” (Ezekiel 29:3-4 ). Nebuchadnezzar is similarly spoken of in respect to his violence and cruelty (Jeremiah 51:34 ). Gathering up the numerous Scripture references in the Book of Psalms, and in the first three of the greater prophets, to the crocodile, the sovereign of the seas, who is identified with the dragon, insatiable cruelty seems the main feature. The Egyptians regarded the crocodile, or dragon, according to their hieroglyphics, as the source and author of all evil, worshipped under the name of Typho. The colour of the dragon, red , denotes his murderous, bloodthirsty character. This is the first time in Scripture that Satan is directly spoken of as a dragon. The heathen monarchs, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, enslaved and oppressed the people of God, and, thus far acting in satanic power, merited the appellation of dragon. But at the time treated of in our chapter Satan is the prince of the world, its virtual ruler. The Roman power is the instrument through which he acts. Hence the title “great red dragon” can now for the first time be used of him.
3. “ Having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems ,” not “crowns,” as in the Authorised Version. What is said of the dragon here is also predicated of the Beast (Revelation 13:1-18 . l), only here the heads are encircled with the golden fillet, or diadem, the emblem in the East of arbitrary, despotic power; whereas the ten horns of the Beast are crowned. The heads in the one case; the horns in the other. The seven heads on the dragon must not be interpreted as the seven-hilled city of Rome. The dragon and the Beast are distinct, however closely related. The former is a spiritual power, the latter the historical world power. The seven crowned heads of the dragon refer to the concentration of earthly power and wisdom in cruel and despotic exercise. His ten uncrowned horns point to the future limits of the empire as distributed into ten kingdoms, the government of which he administers. If his heads are crowned there is no need for the horns to be. When we come to the actual history the ten horns or kings are crowned (Revelation 13:1 ). The simple thought is that the heads of the dragon are crowned, while his ten horns signify that his power is exercised administratively through the empire in its ten-kingdom form. The dragon represents the unseen force behind the empire; hence the diadems are on his heads, not on his horns. His heads are encircled with the golden fillet, or badge of royalty, as expressing his complete power and wisdom on earth, centred, however, in the Beast, the royal power then dominant on earth. He is the virtual ruler of the worldwide Gentile monarchy. He administers its government through its personal head “the little horn” (Daniel 7:1-28 ), who is but an instrument in his hands. The despotism and cruelty of the empire are due to the fact that Satan is behind it, governing it in the fulness of his power, and imparting his own character to it, one of undying hatred to God and to those who are His.
Revelation 12:4 . “ His tail draws the third part of the stars of the Heaven, and he casts them to the earth. ” We have had the deliberative power and wisdom of the dragon, “seven heads;” here we have in his tail the emblem of his soul-destroying influence; in other words, his lies (Isaiah 9:15 ). Satan is said to be a murderer and a liar. He murders the bodies, and ruins the souls of men. His power is in his head; his malignant influence in false and damnable teachings in his tail. The western part of the Roman earth, the scene above all others of Gospel light and privilege, seems intended in the expression, “the third Part,” so commonly met with in the Trumpets. “Stars of the Heaven” mean individual rulers set in outward relationship with God in positions and places of authority. These Christian rulers and teachers are caught in Satan’s snare, and believe the devil’s lies. “He cast them to the earth.” *The somewhat similar expression in Daniel 8:10 refers to eminent Jewish persons, and is the work of the king of the north in Palestine. What is before us here is the malignant work of Satan in Europe amongst eminent Christian persons. Their moral ruin is complete. Note the use of the present tense, “his tail draws,” not “drew,” as in the Authorised Version. His work is viewed as present.
Then we have the impressive spectacle of the dragon confronting the woman to “devour her child.” What a lurid light this throws on the history and circumstances connected with the birth of the Lord as detailed in Matthew 2:1-23 . It was not the woman nor Israel that was the special object of Satan’s hatred. It was not her, but her Seed which he wanted to destroy. In the early days of Genesis 3:15 the undying hostility of Satan to the woman’s Seed was first prophetically announced. In Matthew 2:1-23 that hatred is shown. But there only the human agents are seen. Now in the light of Revelation 12:4 we learn that the real instigator of the attempt to destroy the woman’s Seed was Satan, the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon. Herod, the vicegerent of the Caesar in Palestine, the representative of the Roman empire, was really Satan’s minister in his subtle attempt to compass the death of the Lord. Here the curtain is rolled aside, and Satan, not Herod, stands fully disclosed as the real murderous enemy of Christ. Herod was a true child of his father the devil (John 8:41 ; John 8:44 ). When his plans were frustrated he turned his cruel rage against the innocent male children in the fond hope that the infant Jesus might be sacrificed amongst the number.
Revelation 12:5 . “ She brought forth a male son. ” This somewhat singular expression does not mean mere distinction of sex. A worthier purpose is intended. The moment that Christ is born, unlike every other male child, universal dominion is conferred upon Him, He steps, so to speak, at once into the rights and glories of Messiah and the yet wider range of sovereignty as Son of Man (see Psalms 2:1-12 for the former; Psalms 8:1-9 for the latter).
5. “ Who shall shepherd *The kings of Israel are termed shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-31 ). David, Christ, and the Antichrist are so spoken of. all the nations with an iron rod. ” There is more than an allusion in these words to Psalms 2:9 . The ancient prediction is here reasserted, and that, moreover, on the very threshold of its accomplishment. The “iron rod” in the hand of the Shepherd of the nations is first laid on the guilty kings and peoples of the west (Revelation 19:1-21 ), then on those of the north and east (Isaiah 10:1-34 ; Zechariah 12:1-14 ; Zechariah 14:1-21 ). He breaks up the consolidated powers of earth, whether gathered against Himself or His people. He breaks the iron will of the nations. His hands grasp the reins of universal government, crushing to atoms every opposing power, shivering sceptres, and crashing crowns and kingdoms till kings and peoples bow before Him and own His sovereign sway. In that day of irresistible might and power, the overcomers, forming a body distinct by themselves, as it seems to us, shall be with Him (Revelation 2:26-27 ), associated with Him in His rule over the nations. What an exalted dignity! What an ennobling prospect! (see also 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ).
5. Next follows the rapture of the Child: “ Caught up to God and to His throne. ” This, of course, refers to the ascension, forty days after the resurrection. The fact is briefly stated by Mark (Mark 16:19 ), but is more fully and circumstantially related by Luke, the beloved physician (Luke 24:50-51 ; Acts 1:9-11 ). The nearest and highest place is His. It is sometimes said “The Church is included in the rapture of the Man-Child.” We think not. The ascension of Christ and our translation are always treated of as distinct events. His ascension is a mark of personal glory, one in which we cannot share. In truth the word “ascension” is never used of saints. We cannot find Scripture to warrant the assumption that the Church is embraced in the rapture of the Man-Child.
There are three statements in verse 5: (1) The birth of the Man-Child; (2) His destiny; (3) His rapture. Now there is nothing said here about His life and death. His birth and rapture are put together as if no period of thirty-three years separated the two events. Why is this? The reason is that in this chapter we have not history. The historical course of events must be sought for outside this portion of Scripture, which deals with things from God’s standpoint. The moral purpose and aim, as seen and interpreted in Heaven, is what we have in our chapter. The signs are in Heaven; the reality and history on earth. The object here is a twofold one. First, to connect the Messiah with Israel, at least with Judah about to enter her appointed hour of sorrow, Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7 ); second, to connect the Child with His marvellous destiny, the rule of all nations. Now both these are dependent on His birth, not on His life here, which is omitted, only the necessary links being given, viz.. His birth and ascension. To connect the Messiah with Israel and the nations His life is not needed, and thus it is passed over. It only remains to add that Christ is caught up to God and to His throne, where His claim as the Heir of all is allowed, if denied on earth. God and the throne shall make good that claim, and from thence Christ will pass on to the destined Inheritance in God’s time and way.
FLIGHT OF THE WOMAN.
Revelation 12:6 . “ And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has there a place prepared of God, that they should nourish her there a thousand two hundred (and) sixty days. ” What happened to the Man-Child, and what to the mother, might be supposed to be contiguous events. But it is not so, for just as we have a parenthesis of thirty-three years between the birth and rapture of the Child, so an interval of nigh two thousand years comes in between the rapture and the flight. In fact the whole history of Christianity bridges the time from the ascension of Christ till the woman flies into the wilderness. To make the present dispersion of Judah unto “the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12 ) to signify the flight of the woman into the wilderness is too absurd to need refutation. Some have, strangely enough, supposed a double flight, as verse 14, in which it is repeated comes after the war in Heaven. Now it is true that there is a break between the statement of the flight in verse 6 and its repetition in verse 14. But the object is to show why the woman had to fly. The dragon cast out of Heaven persecutes the woman, who is then providentially assisted in her flight from the face of her great enemy. The interrupted statement in verse 6 is resumed in verse 14. Between these verses we have the episode of the war in Heaven and the rejoicing consequent on its success. “The first six verses,” as another has said, “give us the complete picture.” Satan’s expulsion from Heaven is antecedent to the flight, and indeed is the immediate cause of her rapid journey. So that had to be explained in order to account for the flight into the wilderness. The force of the term “wilderness,” as also in Revelation 17:3 , signifies a condition destitute of natural resources, a place of isolation . The afflicted and sorrowing circumstances of Judah in the Tribulation may well be termed “wilderness.” It is the great day of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7 ), “when all faces are turned into paleness” (v. 6); the awful time sketched in detail by our Lord in His great prophetic discourse on the mount of Olives (Matthew 24:15-28 ; Mark 13:14-22 ; see also Revelation 13:1-18 , Revelation 17:1-18 ).
6. “ There a place prepared of God. ” Nourished “ there a thousand two hundred (and) sixty days.” The repetition of the adverb is not a mere “Hebraistic pleonasm,” as one has said, but is purposely intended to mark the definiteness of the place prepared for her, and where she is nourished or cared for. God provides for the woman both place and nourishment for 1260 days. The same period is expressed in briefer terms as months of thirty days each (Revelation 11:2 ; Revelation 13:5 ). But here the careful numbering of the days intimates the Lord’s tender interest in His sorrowing saints. He counts them up one by one, so to speak. These periods all refer to the last half week of prophetic sorrow, the closing period of Daniel’s years, 490 in all. The suffering Jews in Jerusalem (Revelation 11:1-19 ), and those outside (Matthew 24:16 ), form one body of Jewish witnesses. We gather, however, that those who witness in Jerusalem itself are probably all martyred, whereas those who escaped to the mountains from the various towns of Judah on the outburst of the persecution survive it. The martyred company of Judah are the harpers and singers on the sea of glass (Revelation 15:1-8 ). The preserved company of Judah, the brethren and companions of the slain, are those on Mount Zion with the Lamb *The martyred company is not numbered; those preserved are spoken of as 144,000, Revelation 14:3 . The 144,000 of Revelation 7:1-17 are a distinct company. The former is of Judah only, the latter of all Israel. (Revelation 14:1 ).
WAR IN HEAVEN.
Revelation 12:7-9 . “ And there was war in the Heaven: Michael and his angels went to war with the dragon. And the dragon fought, and his angels; and he prevailed not, nor was their place found any more in the Heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, the ancient serpent, he who is called Devil and Satan, he who deceives the whole habitable world, he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. ” The scene described in these verses is not spoken of as a sign. The presence of Satan in Heaven is a reality . A war there between the hosts of good and evil under their respective leaders, Michael and the Dragon, is most sure. The statement that Satan has a place in “the Heaven,” not in the immediate presence of God, is received with surprise by many and with incredulity by others; and it is deemed stranger still to speak of actual conflict in the place beyond all others of peace and rest, in the place of
“No midnight shade, no clouded sun,
But sacred, high, eternal noon.”
But when the vastness of the heavens is considered we cease to wonder. No child in the Father’s house, no saint there, need ever fear the conflict of contending hosts. But sin was conceived in the heart of Satan. Not content to occupy a creature’s place, although probably the highest of spiritual intelligences (Ezekiel 28:12-17 ), he aspired to the throne itself. He sinned. He morally fell from his exalted position. But he was not then cast down from the heavens. Other spirits are associated with him in his moral degradation. The blessings of saints are in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3 ), there also they sit, but in Christ (Ephesians 2:6 ). Others besides saints are in the heavenlies (Ephesians 3:10 ); and there our Christian conflict is carried on now (not after death or the Coming no warfare then) against wicked spirits (Ephesians 6:12 ). Now, however, the moment has come for his final expulsion from “the Heaven,” and the hosts of evil with him. He has to be cast down to the earth, then into the abyss, and finally into the lake of fire, not to reign, but to suffer eternally, the most abject and degraded of beings. The first step in the execution of judgment upon Satan is his forced dislodgment from above. It is the time and occasion referred to by the prophet Isaiah. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth” (Isaiah 24:21 ). Jehovah will mete out punishment to the sinning angels in their place “on high,” and to the mighty on earth as well. None, however exalted in rank and position, can escape.
But who is Michael ( who is like unto God )? This distinguished angel is named five times in the Scriptures (Daniel 10:13 ; Daniel 10:21 ; Daniel 12:1 ; Jude 1:9 ; Revelation 12:7 ). He seems to be the leader of the angelic hierarchy, as he is termed by Jude “ the archangel,” *Scripture does not speak of archangels , only of one, and that in two passages in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 4:16 ; Jude 1:9 ). The Pauline reference is to Christ, the true, real head of angelic power; the other by Jude speaks of that angelic created being who presides over the destinies of Israel. The only two angels who are specifically named are Michael and Gabriel. and in Daniel 10:13 , where Michael is first named, he is spoken of as “first of the chief princes” (see margin). In each of the five passages where his name occurs, and in their several contexts, the Jewish people are in question. Evidently he is the angel to whose guardian care the interests of Israel are committed. “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of Thy people ,” i.e. , the Jewish people (Daniel 12:1 ). The period referred to by the prophet is the same time beheld in vision by the Seer of Patmos. The Great Tribulation is to be entered upon. But Michael makes it his business to see that Israel does not perish. “He (Jacob) shall be saved out of it “ (Jeremiah 30:7 ). Michael is a militant angel. The contests between Persia and Babylon were to all appearance decided by the generalship and force of arms of the renowned Persian, Cyrus, the prophetically designated overthrower of the Babylonian monarchy and the deliverer of the Jewish people from their lengthened exile of seventy years (Isaiah 44:28 ; Isaiah 45:1-4 ), but it was not really so. The movements of nations, their wars, politics, and social policy are shaped and directed by higher and spiritual powers. There are angels, good and bad, who are constantly influencing men and governments, and of this chapter 10 of Daniel is a conspicuous example. Wars and strife on earth are but the reflex of opposing spiritual powers in the lower heavens. The invisible struggles between the powers of light and the forces of darkness are real and earnest (1 Samuel 16:13-15 ; 1 Kings 22:19-23 ), and by the influence of these spiritual beings the world is providentially governed. Angelic agency toward the saints of God on earth (Hebrews 1:14 ; Acts 12:1-25 ) is a generally admitted truth, but their action in determining the issue of battles and shaping national policy, and human interests generally, is not recognised as it ought to be. Of course all is under the wise, strong, and controlling hand of God. He is the supreme Arbiter in human life and history. In the chapter referred to (Daniel 10:1-21 ) Michael goes to the help of an unnamed angel who had wrought at the court of Persia for twenty-one days (v. 13). With the assistance of the archangel the destinies of Persia were directed, resulting in the two associated facts: Babylon the oppressor overthrown, and Judah the oppressed delivered. Michael, too, figures in the contest about the body of Moses. Satan sought possession of the body no doubt to ensnare Israel to worship it, as they did the brazen serpent (2 Kings 18:4 ). But no human hand dug the grave of Moses. Jehovah “buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6 ). Jude in a few energetic sentences informs us of the cause of dispute between Satan and Michael. Now the contest in our chapter in the Apocalypse is not one between two chiefs simply, as mentioned by Jude, but here the respective forces gather under their distinguished leaders. “Michael and his angels went to war with the dragon. And the dragon fought, and his angels.”
THE HEAVENS CLEARED.
The issue of the war between the contending spiritual hosts is in no wise a doubtful one. Satan and his angels are overthrown.
Revelation 12:8 . “ He prevailed not, nor was their place found any more in the Heaven. ” The dragon personally suffered an ignominious defeat, while the whole company of sinful angelic intelligences is for ever banished from “the Heaven.” On the return of the seventy disciples from their mission they tell their Lord, and that with joy, how “even the devils (demons) are subject to us through Thy Name.” That, however, was but the germ of full and final victory over the enemy and his power, and this the Lord prophetically announced when He immediately added, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven ” (Luke 10:17-18 ). Whatever the resistance offered to his expulsion from Heaven, his downfall will be effected completely and instantaneously like a flash of lightning. From the day that pride and lofty ambition entered his heart, for then he sinned, he has not only a place in Heaven, where he unceasingly accuses God’s saints, but He traverses the earth as well on his mission of mischief. He is the leader of the demon host, and of every form and kind of sinful, spiritual agency. The devil is a real person, not an influence, but a living spiritual being. The vision before us has its actual fulfilment in the midst of the prophetic week about the close of the first half. The treaty made between the Roman prince and the restored nation, or “the many,” i.e. , the mass of the people, is respected, and its terms observed for the half of the stipulated period of seven years (Daniel 9:27 ). But instigated by Satan, the Roman prince breaks the covenant in “the midst of the week.” The scene before us is preparatory to it, and, in fact, accounts for the last uprising of evil, civil and religious, on the earth. Cast down from Heaven, Satan takes possession of the doomed scene, and exerts his untiring energy in the ruin and destruction of all then standing for God. The war in Heaven results in the victory of Michael and his associated angels. The dragon and his angels are cast down, never to regain a heavenly position. Then Satan turns his baffled rage against the woman, or what represents her before God in testimony, i.e. , the Jewish remnant on the earth. The Tribulation (which in its range covers the whole prophetic area, but in its worst and severest forms of suffering especially affects Palestine) lasts the exactly defined period of 1260 days. We consider it clear, therefore, that the expulsion of Satan from Heaven and his downfall to the earth is on the eve of the Tribulation, and is really the procuring cause of it.
JUDGMENT ON SATAN.
There are three distinct stages in the judgment on Satan. First, he is cast down from Heaven to earth with his associated angels (v. 9); second, he is confined as a prisoner in the abyss for one thousand years (Revelation 20:3 ); third, he is consigned to eternal torment in the lake of fire (v. 10). The first two acts of judgment are executed by the instrumentality of angels; the third and final one is an exhibition of divine power irrespective of the agency employed to execute it, which is not named, The lake of fire! There the wail of anguish is never hushed, and the tear is never dry. No ray of light nor gleam of hope ever enters those caverns of eternal despair. Mind cannot conceive nor pen trace the horror of such a doom. Satan’s reign in the lake of fire is but the dream of the poet, and is without a shred of Scripture to support it. There he suffers not reigns the most degraded and abject of God’s creatures. How patient is our God, but how sure His threatened judgments! Satan after seven thousand years of active hatred against God, and of hostility to those who are His, is at length crushed, shorn of power and ability to work further mischief, and shut up with his angels to his and their “prepared” doom, “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41 ).
NAMES AND WORK OF SATAN.
The dragon is here viewed in relation to earth and the human race; hence these four names, as also in Revelation 20:2 , in the same order.
(1) “ The great dragon ,” so termed because of his remorseless cruelty. Legend and hieroglyphic paint the dragon as a monster in form and appearance outside the pale of the animal kingdom, a combination of superhuman craft and cruelty.
(2) “ The ancient serpent ” reminds us of his first and successful attempt to effect the ruin of the happy and innocent pair in Eden (Genesis 3:1-24 ). Subtlety, craft, deep cunning are characteristic features of Satan from the beginning of his history in connection with the race. He has ever been a murderer and a liar (John 8:44 ; 1 John 3:8 ). “The ancient ” serpent refers to his first historical connection with the race, and the title “serpent” *We are satisfied that Genesis 3:1-24 is a true and historical account of what actually took place. That Satan spoke through a real serpent seems unquestionable. There is no need of supposing, with Josephus and his learned translator, Whiston, that serpents along with other reptiles of a similar species had the faculty of speech before the Fall, but lost it consequent on its wicked misuse under the dominion of Satan. There are three remarkable instances in the Old Testament of the miraculous use of the lower animals: (1) Speech given to the serpent (Genesis 3:1-24 ); (2) a certain intelligence and speech granted to the ass ridden by Balaam (Numbers 22:21-30 ); (3) The great fish which swallowed up Jonah, answering to the voice of Jehovah in throwing up the repentant prophet on dry land (Jonah 2:10 ). We firmly believe in the exact historical accuracy of these narratives, which, moreover, are vouched for in the New Testament (see 2Co 11:3 ; 2 Peter 2:15-16 ; Matthew 12:40 ). The stater or piece of money in the mouth of the first fish caught by the hook (Matthew 17:27 ) is another instance of divine power and foreknowledge in support of the claim of the Creator over the works of His hands. The creation of the serpent species is stated in Genesis 1:24-25 ; Genesis 3:1 . The governmental curse pronounced on the reptile is noted in Genesis 3:14 . Its degradation even in millennial days is stated in Isaiah 65:25 . to his subtlety (2 Corinthians 11:3 ). Satan, needless to say, is a spirit and a real person.
“He who is called,” referring now to personal names, (3) “ Devil ,” and (4) “ Satan .” The two former titles are descriptive of character cruelty and subtlety; the two latter names, Devil and Satan, refer to the dragon as a person. The devil is an actual historical being, and in the Greek of the New Testament is used only in the singular. “Devils” should be “demons” (R.V.). As the devil, he is the accuser , the traducer , and tempter . As Satan, he is the open and declared adversary of Christ, the public enemy of God and of His people (see Job 1:1-22 ; Job 2:1-13 ; Zechariah 3:1-10 ; Matthew 4:1-25 ; Ephesians 6:11 ; 1 Peter 5:8 ).
The special work of Satan is next stated, and one to which his untiring energy is directed. He “deceives the whole habitable world.” The human instruments in effecting his purpose (Revelation 13:1-18 ), and God’s judicial judgment upon Christendom, i.e. , the habitable earth, are not here named. The prime mover in all is alone before us. By God’s permission Satan deceives all embraced within the prophetic scene (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 ), whoever may be the persons employed, or whatever the means used, Satan himself is the leader in luring on the world to its moral ruin. Christianity having been abandoned, God gives up in retributive justice the guilty and apostate Church, and the mass of Judah as well, to believe the lie of Satan, in presenting the Antichrist as Israel’s promised Messiah and king, backed up by signs of a miraculous character. The bait is eagerly swallowed. “The whole habitable world” is deceived thereby. Then , however, Satan keeps in the background; here in the light of Heaven he stands fully exposed. He was the unseen but spiritual and personal power behind Herod (compare v. 4 with Matthew 2:16 ). He is equally so in the judicial blinding of Christendom by his great satellite, the Antichrist, or second Beast of Revelation 13:1-18 .
Revelation 12:9 . “ He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. ” The threefold repetition of the verb cast out is meant to emphasise the fact of the ignominious expulsion of Satan and his angels from Heaven. Who these angels are is a question shrouded in mystery. All we know is that they constitute Satan’s militant host, and are cast out of Heaven with their distinguished chief. Satan can then no more enter God’s presence and accuse the saints to Him, nor can his poisonous breath ever again infect the holy atmosphere of the heavenly places. The heavens have to be cleared of evil as well as the earth, and the ground on which both spheres are to be purified and reconciled (Colossians 1:20 ) is the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:23 ). How complete, therefore, and far-reaching in its results is the blood of Christ!
Revelation 12:10-12 . “ And I heard a great voice in the Heaven saying, Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren has been cast out, who accused them before our God day and night; and they have overcome him by reason of the blood of the Lamb, and by reason of the word of their testimony, and have not loved their life even unto death. Therefore be full of delight, ye heavens, and ye that dwell (or tabernacle) in them. Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great rage, knowing he has a short time. ” “A great voice in the Heaven” heard by the Seer is that of the already risen (1 Corinthians 15:1-58 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18 ) and glorified saints. In a subsequent vision an angel addressing John says “ thy brethren” (Revelation 19:10 ); whereas it is here “ our brethren,” language unsuitable in the lips of an angelic being. In the doxology which follows “the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom” are announced as come . But that is as yet in anticipation. As a necessary and preliminary step to the accomplishment of the kingdom set up in displayed power Satan has been cast out of the heavenlies. “The prince of the power of the air ” (Ephesians 2:2 ) is a title henceforth lost to him for ever. The power of the kingdom having been so gloriously vindicated in Heaven all is announced there as “come,” although not actually so on earth.
The insertion of the definite article before each of the subjects named gives definiteness and force. “ The salvation” is not that of the soul now, nor even of the body at the Coming, but is a wide and comprehensive thought embracing the overthrow of the enemy and the deliverance of creation from its present thralldom and agony (Romans 8:21 ). “ The power” refers to the irresistible might which shall crush and grind to atoms all opposing authority whether satanic in the Heavens or human on the earth. Now it is the kingdom in patience , then it will be the kingdom in power . “ The kingdom” must be understood here in its largest extent, as embracing the heavens and the earth. The kingdom of the Father, and the kingdom of the Son (Matthew 13:41-43 ), respectively set forth the two main departments, heavenly and earthly, of the vast and universal kingdom of our God and of His Christ (see Psalms 2:1-12 ).
The casting out of Satan is an event almost second to none in those coming days of stirring interest. The ceaseless activity of “the accuser of our brethren” in denouncing the saints to God, whose ways afford him abundant cause of complaint and ground of accusation, is a solemn feature of what goes on above unseen by mortal eye. Thank God, we have in Christ, the Righteous One, an Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1-2 ), whose all-powerful intercession, founded on His sacrifice, maintains us ever before God, and renders the charges of the enemy nugatory and powerless. “The accuser of our brethren has been cast out.” Satan is completely vanquished and overthrown in the scene and seat of his power. Never again shall his accusations, just or unjust, be listened to in the court of Heaven.
We take it, therefore, that, as a result of the war in Heaven, the celestial regions are for ever freed from the presence of Satan and wicked spirits against whom our conflict, as Christians, is carried on (Ephesians 6:12 , R.V.). *“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 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.” “Lectures on the Apocalypse.” Dr. Seiss, vol. 2, page 362. “The prince of the power of the air ” must not be confounded with the title “The prince of this world .” As the former he heads the spiritual powers above, as the latter he heads the temporal powers on earth. The Lord having judged “the host of the high ones that are on high” it only remains to fulfil the second part of the prophetic utterance, “and the kings of the earth upon the earth” (Isaiah 24:21 ).
10. “ Our brethren. ” Who are they? If the voice in Heaven is that of the heavenly saints, then the brethren referred to would be saints on earth whom Satan accuses, fellow-saints with those in Heaven. These saints were overcomers in their severe conflict with evil. The machinations of Antichrist, and the wiles and even open hostility of the devil were powerless against men whose consciences had been purged by the blood of the Lamb, the holy and righteous ground, moreover, of their standing before God, and in virtue of which the accusations of Satan could not be entertained nor even listened to. There are two grounds stated for their victory over Satan. First, the blood of the Lamb which gave them boldness before God; second, their testimony to men. In this case it would be, of course, of a prophetic character. A third and supplementary statement is added, which shows that the martyr spirit was mighty in them, “and have not loved their life even unto death.” As “partakers of the heavenly calling” resurrection is assured them, for all saints who have died, or shall die, share in the blessedness of the first resurrection. The company here referred to are not yet seen raised, but wait for it. These martyrs are distinct from those who subsequently suffer under the Beast, i.e. , revived Rome.
Revelation 12:12 . “ Therefore be full of delight, ye heavens, ” that is for this cause, that Satan and his angels have been for ever ejected from Heaven. Rejoice, let gladness reign throughout the whole of the heavenly spheres. This is the only instance in the Apocalypse of the word “heavens,” otherwise it is invariably employed in the singular. But not the heavens alone are to share in the joy consequent on the victory of Michael, for it is added, “and ye that dwell (or tabernacle) in them.” The whole company of the redeemed and angels as well (for the heavens are their native region) are embraced in the call to rejoice. The word dwell or tabernacle is the same as in Revelation 7:15 ; Revelation 13:6 ; Revelation 21:3 .
12. “ Woe to the earth and to the sea. ” The Authorised Version wrongly inserts “the inhabiters of the earth.” The interpolation is uncalled for. This is not a denunciation of wrath, but a prophetic announcement of coming judgment on the earth , i.e. , on all settled and stable governments and peoples; also on the sea , i.e. , the restless and revolutionary part of the world. We have already referred more than once to the symbolic representation of earth and sea . *See remarks on Revelation 7:1 ; and on Revelation 8:7 . The former denoting what is fixed, the latter what is unstable . These terms may be used of either things, persons, or governments.
The cause of the prophetic woe on the world at large is next stated, “the devil has come down to you.” His expulsion from the heavens is a matter of jubilant praise above, his deportation to the earth will fill the whole scene under Heaven with sorrow, wickedness, and woe.
12. The “ great rage ,” or wrath, of Satan exceeds that of the nations (Revelation 11:18 ), inasmuch as the former is the prime mover and invisible leader. His rage in being for ever exiled from his heavenly place is intensified by the knowledge that he has before him but a short career on earth. Whether the devil knows the exact period allotted him before he is banished to the abyss we know not. This, however, Christians know, or at least should know, that Satan, when cast down, is permitted to rage against and persecute God’s saints on earth for 1260 literal days; after this a breathing space is granted, a lull in the storm which lasts for seventeen days and a half, the time during which the Beast, the apostate civil and imperial power, is itself the subject of special judgment under the Vials (Revelation 16:1-21 ), and therefore cannot persecute. These two denominations of time added make up exactly three years and a half, at the close of which the Lord appears, and Satan is confined in the abyss for a thousand years. This is the second stage in the judgment of the devil. The first was his casting down from the heavens. It only remains to execute the third, which is accomplished at the close of the kingdom reign, cast into the lake of fire, his eternal doom. Since the sphere of his operation is restricted to the earth, and Satan knows that his brief career must soon end in utter disaster to himself and his followers, spiritual and human, he gives himself in untiring determination to wreak his vengeance on the woman (Judah), the mother of the Man-Child, and this he is permitted to do during the last half of Daniel’s future prophetic week, less seventeen and a half days. This shortening of the days is what the Lord prophetically referred to in His Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:22 ).
THE DRAGON AND THE WOMAN.
Revelation 12:13-17 . “ And when the dragon saw that he had been cast out into the earth, he persecuted the woman which bore the male (child). And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished there a time, and times, and half a time, from (the) face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth behind the woman water as a river, that he might make her be (as) one carried away by a river. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was angry with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus. ” The deeply interesting episode of the war in Heaven (vv. 7-12) had to be introduced in order to account for the woman’s flight into the wilderness. Satan, baffled in his attempt to destroy the Man-Child, turns his rage against the mother (Israel). So long as he had a place in Heaven his fitting title was “the accuser” of the brethren, and chief, too, of the mighty spiritual host against which we war (Ephesians 6:12 ). But the war in Heaven is decisive so far as Satan and wicked spirits in the heavenlies are concerned. They are cast down; the heavens are for ever cleared of their presence. But on the completion and victory of the heavenly war the earthly contest begins. The issue of the former is an everlasting expulsion from the heavens; the issue of the latter will be the confinement of Satan in the abyss for a millennium.
The broken thread of history is then resumed (v. 13); the parenthesis (vv. 7-12) accounting alone for the flight of the woman. The dragon is on earth. He seeks to wreak his vengeance on Judah then restored to the land, and representing the whole nation before God, for as yet Ephraim, or the long lost ten tribes, has not come into view. In verse 6 the flight of the woman is mentioned, being repeated in verse 14. Persecution caused her to fly (v. 13).
Revelation 12:14 . “ There were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle. ” The insertion of the definite article, omitted in the Authorised Version, marks the definiteness of the action. Wings convey a double thought, namely, rapid motion and guaranteed protection . Both these are granted to the woman. Evidently the allusion to the wings of the eagle refers to Jehovah’s past care of His people and deliverance from then impending danger (Exodus 19:4 ; Deuteronomy 32:11-12 ). In the earlier reference the wings are attributed to Jehovah; here they are given to the woman. All in this part of our chapter is providential.
The symbolic force of the term wilderness into which the woman fled has been already considered. *See remarks on Revelation 12:6 . She has a place prepared of God, and can also count upon the exercise of divine care. In verse 6 the period of her isolation in the wilderness is counted by days, 1260, but here it is spoken of in more ambiguous terms as “a time (one year), and times (two years), and half a time” *“Seven times” (Daniel 4:16 ; Daniel 4:23 ; Daniel 4:25 ; Daniel 4:32 ); times are years. Seven years Nebuchadnezzar lived as a beast, i.e. , without heart or conscience to God, just what his and the succeeding empires became, beastly in character and action (Daniel 7:1-28 ). See also separate article, “The Celebrated Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.” (six months), in all three years and a half. This mode of reckoning is taken from Daniel 7:25 . We have months (Revelation 11:2 ; Revelation 13:5 ). days (Revelation 11:3 ; Revelation 12:6 ), and times (v. 14). All these variously expressed periods refer to the same time, the last half week of sorrow spoken of by the Hebrew prophet as the “midst of the week” (Daniel 9:27 ). When the period is spoken of as days the suffering saints are specially in view.
14. “ The face of the serpent. ” Nations and peoples in the time of Satan’s activity on earth fall under his malignant influence; are directed and controlled morally and politically. The former is that special form of evil referred to here, from which the woman is preserved. The dragon persecutes , the serpent ensnares .
Revelation 12:15 . “ The serpent cast out of his mouth behind the woman water as a river ” *For the force of the symbol see remarks on Revelation 8:10-11 . that she might be carried away by it. The devil here uses a certain power, or powers, which are under his influence to accomplish the destruction of the Jewish nation. God providentially frustrates the effort of the serpent. “And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth.” The settled governments of that day befriend the Jew, and providentially (how we know not) frustrate the efforts of the serpent. The means employed by Satan are rendered abortive, not by war, but in neutralising and circumventing Satan’s plans to destroy the people. This, we gather, is signified by the earth swallowing the river.
The failure rouses the ire of the dragon, and in his baffled rage he goes “to make war with the remnant of her seed,” i.e. , individual Jews who had not escaped when the Tribulation burst forth (Matthew 24:15-20 ). These individual and faithful witnesses are doubly characterised: “they keep the commandments of God” the great and distinguishing mark of a godly life, and one common to all believers at all times “and have the testimony of Jesus.” This, of course, is special, and refers to His coming in His kingdom. “The testimony of Jesus” in this book is prophetic in character. *See remarks on Revelation 1:2 . In the Gospels it is of a different nature one of grace and moral display.
REVIEW OF THE CHAPTER.
The last verse of the previous chapter intimates that Israel comes on the prophetic scene, but not as viewed on earth, although actually there. The sign is in Heaven, the first instance of the word in the Apocalypse (Revelation 12:1 ). The woman is not the Church, but Israel. The Church is the bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7 ). Israel is the mother of the Lord according to the flesh (Romans 9:5 ). The Male Son a singular expression is Christ, so called as He alone is the sum of human excellence, and by birth steps into the rights and dignities of Psalms 2:1-12 . Who but He could shepherd the nations with a rod of iron? Others through grace are associated with Him in the exercise of universal dominion (Revelation 2:26-27 ). But the Male Son *“The Man-Child is the Lord Jesus Christ, and none other.” Alford . can only refer to One, the embodiment of all masculine virtue.
The woman is represented as the possessor of all supreme earthly authority the sun. The pale and silvery moon, the queen of the night, is under her feet. She is royal in rank, too, for on her head reposes a crown in which is gathered up in grand display the fulness in earthly administration of all lesser powers twelve stars. This is Israel as God sees her; not what she is now, nor even what she has been, but it is “a great sign” of what awaits her in millennial times.
Another sign is then seen in “the Heaven.” A dragon, great , for he is the unseen yet mighty leader of the hosts of evil in the heavens and on earth; red because of his murderous character, delighting in bloodshed; with seven heads crowned with diadems signifying that the fulness of imperial, autocratic power is his; ten horns, the latter condition of the empire in its ten-kingdom form, but not yet in existence, so the horns are not crowned; then his tail in which his venom and deceit lie sweeps across the political horizon, and casts down to the ground, morally, of course, the sum of eminent persons in the western part of the empire.
The dragon is Satan the former denoting his character, the latter the personal opponent of Christ and adversary of the saints who is witnessed confronting with murderous purpose the woman in order to destroy her seed. He is baffled, for the Son is caught up to God. The life and even death of the Lord, rich as these are in fundamental truth and teaching, are passed over in silence. The ascension follows the birth, all between being regarded as a parenthesis.
Then the woman flees into the wilderness, and we meet with another and yet more lengthened parenthesis. Between the ascension of the Man-Child and the woman’s flight, yet future , the history of Christianity comes in. The great point to lay hold of is the connection between Christ and Israel , not Christ and the Church, hence the two omitted parenthetic periods: (1) between the birth and ascension; (2) between the ascension and the flight.
Then follows the interesting account of the war in Heaven, introduced here to show why the woman had to flee. Satan and his angels are for ever cast down from Heaven, which fact, along with the knowledge that his career on earth is of brief duration, rouses his anger against the mother ; previously his rage was directed against the Child . The means he employs to accomplish her ruin are in the providential ordering of God rendered ineffectual. Both the Son and the woman escape his vengeance. But individual God-fearing Jews become the objects of his murderous hate. *“To make war” (v. 17) implies every form of attack upon the bodies of the saints whether by persecution or war. Physical hurt and evil of every kind is referred to under the technical expression (see Revelation 11:7 ; Revelation 16:14 ; Revelation 17:14 ; Revelation 19:19 ).
So closes this wonderful chapter, in which are grouped perhaps the greatest events related in this marvellous book. It is a chapter second to none in its range of subjects, and goes further back in its historical grasp than any other portion of the book. Who but God could have furnished such a connected grouping of events?
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Scott, Walter. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25