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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 12

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-17



Revelation 12:1-17.

THE twelfth chapter of the Revelation of St John has been felt by every commentator to be one more than usually difficult to interpret, and that whether we look at it in relation to its special purpose, or to its position in the structure of the book. If we can satisfy ourselves as to the first of these two points, we shall be better able to form correct notions as to the second.

Turning then for a moment to chap. 13, we find it occupied with a description of two of the great enemies with which the Church has to contend. These are spoken of as "a beast" (Revelation 13:1) and "another beast" (Revelation 13:11), the latter being obviously the same as that described in Revelation 19:20 as "the false prophet that wrought the signs" in the sight of the former. At the same time, it is evident that these two beasts are regarded as enemies of the Church in a sense peculiar to themselves, for the victorious Conqueror of chap. 19 makes war with them, and "they twain are cast into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone."* This fate next overtakes, in Revelation 20:10, "the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan," so that no doubt can rest upon the fact that to St. John’s view the great enemies of the Church are three in number. When, accordingly, we find two of them described in chap. 13, and chap. 12 occupied with the description of another, we are warranted in concluding that the main purpose of the chapter is to set before us a picture of this last. (* Revelation 19:20)

Thus also we are led to understand the place of the chapter in the structure of the book. We have already seen that the seven Trumpets are occupied with judgments on the world. The seven Bowls, forming the next and highest series of judgments, are to be occupied with judgments on the degenerate members of the Church. It is a fitting thing, therefore, that we should be able to form a clear idea of the enemies by which these faithless disciples are subdued, and in resisting whom the steadfastness of the faithful remnant shall be proved. To describe them sooner was unnecessary. They are the friends, not the enemies, of the world. They are the enemies only of the Church. Hence the sudden transition made at the beginning of chap. 12. There is no chronological relation between it and the chapters which precede. The thoughts embodied in it refer only to what follows. The chapter is obviously divided into three parts, and the bearing of these parts upon one another will appear as we proceed.

"And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them into the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman that was about to be delivered, that when she was delivered he might devour her child. And she was delivered of a son, a man-child, who as a shepherd shall tend all the Rations with a scepter of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days (Revelation 12:1-6)."

In the first chapter of the book of Genesis we read, "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also."1 Sun, and moon, and stars exhaust the Biblical notion of the heavenly bodies which give light upon the earth. They therefore, taken together, clothe this woman; and there is no need to search for any recondite meaning in the place which they severally occupy in her investiture. She is simply arrayed in light from head to foot. In other words, she is the perfect emblem of light in its brightness and purity. The use of the number twelve indeed suggests the thought of a bond of connection between this light and the Christian Church. The tribes of Israel, the type of God’s spiritual Israel, were in number twelve; our Lord chose to Himself twelve Apostles; the new Jerusalem has "twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel."2 (1 Genesis 1:16; 2 Revelation 21:12)

But though the light is thus early connected with the thought of the Christian Church, and though the subsequent portion of the chapter confirms the connection, the woman is not yet to be regarded as, in the strictest sense, representative of that community or Body historically viewed. By-and-by she will be so. In the meantime a comparison of Revelation 12:6 with Revelation 12:14, where her fleeing into the wilderness and her nourishment in it for precisely the same period of time as in Revelation 12:6 are again mentioned, together with what we have already seen to be a peculiarity of St. John’s mode of thought, forbids the supposition. The Apostle would not thus repeat himself. We are entitled therefore to infer that at the opening of the chapter he deals less with actual history than with the "pattern" of that history which had existed from all eternity in the mount. Hence also it would seem that the birth of the child, though undoubtedly referring to the birth of Jesus, is not the actual birth. It, too, is rather the eternal "pattern" of that event. Similar remarks apply to the dragon, who is not yet the historical Satan, and will only be so in the second paragraph, at Revelation 12:9. The whole picture, in short, of these verses is one of the ideal which precedes the actual, and of which the actual is the counterpart and realization.

The resemblance, accordingly, borne by the first paragraph of this chapter (Revelation 12:1-6) to the first paragraph of the fourth Gospel (John 1:1-5), is of the most striking kind. In neither is there any account of the actual birth of our Lord. In both (and we shall immediately see this still more fully brought out in the apocalyptic vision) we are introduced to Him at once, not as growing up to be the Light of the world, but as already grown up and as perfect light. In both we have the same light and the same darkness, and in both the same contrariety and struggle between the two. Nor does the comparison end here. We have also the same singular method of expressing the deliverance of the light from the enmity of the darkness. In John 1:5, correctly translated, we read "The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness overcame it not," the thought being rather negative than positive, rather that of preservation than of victory. In the Apocalypse we read, And her child was caught up unto God, and unto His throne, the idea being again that of preservation rather than of victory.

Such is the general conception of the first paragraph of this chapter. The individual expressions need not detain us long. The woman s raiment of light has been already spoken of. Passing therefore from that, it need occasion no surprise that He who is Himself the Giver of light should be represented as the Son of light. God "is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."1 Jesus, as the Son of God, is thus also the Son of light. No doubt the conception is continued even after we behold the woman in her actual, not her ideal, state. Jesus is still her Son.2 Yet there is a true sense in which we may describe our Lord not only as the Foundation, but also as the Son, of the Church. He is "the First-born among many brethren,"3 the elder Brother in a common Father’s house. He is begotten by the power of the Holy Spirit4; and they that believe in His name are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."5 So close indeed in the teaching of St. John is the identification of Christ and His people, that whatever is said of Him may be said of them, and what is said of them may be said of Him. Human thought and language fail to do justice to a relation so profound and mysterious. But it is everywhere the teaching of the beloved disciple - in his Gospel, in his Epistles, in his Revelation although the Church may not fully understand it until she has lived herself more into it than she has done. Her "life" will then bring her "light."6 (1 1 John 1:5; 2Comp. Revelation 12:17; 3 Romans 8:29; 4 Matthew 1:20; 5 John 1:13; 6Comp. John 1:4)

The dragon of the passage is great and red: "great" because of the power which he possesses; "red," the colour of blood, because of the ferocity with which he destroys men: "He was a murderer from the beginning;" "Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother;" "And I saw the woman" (that is, the woman who rode upon the scarlet-coloured beast) "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus."1 The dragon has further seven heads, - seven, the number of completeness, so that he possesses everything to enable him to execute his plans; and ten horns, the emblem at once of his strength and of his rule over all the kingdoms of the world. Upon the heads, too, are seven diadems, a word different from that which had been employed for the woman’s "crown" in the first verse of the chapter. Hers is a crown of victory; the diadems of the dragon are only marks of royalty, and may be worn, as they will be worn, in defeat. The dragon’s tail, again, like the tails of the locusts of the fifth Trumpet and of the horses of the sixth, is the instrument with which he destroys2; and the third part of the stars of heaven corresponds to "the third part" mentioned in each of the first four Trumpets. The figure of casting the stars into the earth is taken from the prophecy of Daniel, in which it is said of the "little horn" that "it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them."3 (1 John 8:44; 1 John 3:12; Revelation 17:6; 2 Revelation 9:10; Revelation 9:19; 3 Daniel 8:10)

The dragon next takes up his position before the woman which was about to be delivered, that when she was delivered he might devour her child; and the first historical circumstances to which the idea corresponds, and in which it is realized, may be found in the effort of Pharaoh to destroy the infant Moses. Pharaoh is indeed often compared in the Old Testament to a dragon: "Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength: Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters;" "Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself."1 The power, and craft, and cruelty of the Egyptian king could hardly have been absent from the Seer s mind when he employed the figure of the text. But he was certainly not thinking of Pharaoh alone. He remembered also the plot of Herod to destroy the Child Jesus.2 Pharaoh and Herod men quailed before them; yet both were no more than instruments in the hands of God. Both worked out His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge."3 (1 Psalms 74:13; Ezekiel 29:3; 2 Matthew 2:16; 3 Acts 2:23)

The child is born, and is described in language worthy of our notice. He is a son, a man-child; and the at first sight tautological information appears to hint at more than the mere sex of the child. He is already more than a child: he is a man. There is a similar emphasis in the words of our Lord when He said to His disciples in His last consolatory discourse, "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but when she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for the joy that a man is born into the world."* From the first the child is less a child than a man, strong, muscular, and vigorous, who as a shepherd shall tend all the nations with a scepter of iron. Strange that we should be invited to dwell on this ideal aspect of the Son’s work rather than any other! No doubt the words are quoted from the second Psalm. This, however, only removes the difficulty a step further back. Why either there or here should the shepherd work of the Messiah be connected with an iron scepter rather than a peaceful crook? The explanation is not difficult. Both the Psalm and the Apocalypse are occupied mainly with the victory of Christ over His adversaries. His friends have already been secured in the possession of a complete salvation. It remains only that His foes shall be finally put down. Hence the "scepter of iron." Strange also, it may be thought, that in this ideal picture we should find no "pattern" of the life of our Lord on earth, of His labors, or sufferings, or death; and that we should only be invited to behold Him in His incarnation and ascension into heaven I But again the explanation is not difficult Over against Satan stands, not a humbled merely, but a risen and glorified, Redeemer. The process by which He conquered it is unnecessary to dwell upon. Enough that we knew the fact. (* John 16:21)

The woman’s child being thus safe, the woman herself fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, and where she shall be nourished by heavenly sustenance. Thus Israel wandered forty years, fed with the manna that fell from heaven and the water that flowed from the smitten rock.1 Thus Elijah fled to the brook Cherith, and afterwards to the wilderness, where his wants were supplied in the one case by the ravens, m the other by an angel.2 And thus was our Lord upheld for forty days by the words that proceeded out of the mouth of God.3 This wilderness life of the Church, too, continues during the whole Christian era, during the whole period of witnessing.4 Always in the wilderness so long as her Lord is personally absent, she eats heavenly food and drinks living water. (1 1 Corinthians 10:3-4; 2 1 Kings 17:6; 1 Kings 19:5; 3 Matthew 4:4; 4 Revelation 11:3)

Such is the first scene of this chapter; and, glancing once more over it, it would seem as if its chief purpose were to present to us the two great opposing forces of light and darkness, of the Son and the dragon, considered in themselves.

The second scene follows: -

"And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels: and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the devil, and Satan, the deceiver of the whole inhabited earth: he was cast down into the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. And I heard a great voice in 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 is cast down, which accuseth them before our God day and night And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and ye that tabernacle in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea! because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short season (Revelation 12:7-12)."

If our conception of the first six verses of the chapter be correct, it will be evident that the idea often entertained, that the verses following them form a break in the narrative which is only resumed at Revelation 12:13, is wrong. There is no break. The progress of the thought is continuous. The combatants have been set before us, and we have now the contest in which they are engaged. This consideration also helps us to understand the personality of Michael and the particular conflict in the Seer’s view.

For, as to the first of these two points, it is even in itself probable that the Leader of the hosts of light will be no other than the Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The dragon leads the hosts of darkness. The Son has been described as the opponent against whom the enmity of the dragon is especially directed. When the war begins, we have every reason to expect that as the one leader takes the command, so also will the other. There is much to confirm this conclusion. The name Michael leads to it, for that word signifies, "Who is like God?" and such a name is at least more appropriate to a Divine than to a created being. In the New Testament, too, we read of "Michael the archangel"1 - there seems to be only one, for we never read of archangels2 - and an archangel is again spoken of in circumstances that can hardly be associated with the thought of anyone but God: "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God."3 Above all, the prophecies of Daniel, in which the name Michael first occurs, may be said to decide the point. A person named Michael there appears on different occasions as the defender of the Church against her enemies,4 and once at least in a connection leading directly to the thought of our Lord Himself: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of Thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time Thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever."5 These considerations justify the conclusion that the Michael now spoken of is the representative of Christ; and we have already seen, in examining the vision of the "strong angel" in chap. 10, that such a mode of speaking is in perfect harmony with the general method of St. John. (1 Judges 1:9; 2Brown, The Book of Revelation, p. 69; 3 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 4 Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; 5 Daniel 12:1-3)

Light is thus thrown also upon the second point above mentioned: the particular conflict referred to in these verses. The statement that there was war in heaven, and that when the dragon was defeated he was cast down into the earth, might lead us to think of an earlier conflict between good and evil than any in which man has part: of that mentioned by St. Peter and St. Jude, when the former consoles the righteous by the thought that "God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment,"1 and when the latter warns sinners to remember that "angels which kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, He hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day."2 The circumstances, however, of the war, lead rather to the thought of a conflict in which the Son, incarnate and glorified, takes His part. For this "Son" is the opponent of the dragon introduced to us in the first paragraph of the chapter. "Heaven" is not so much a premundane or supramundane locality as the spiritual sphere within which believers dwell even during their earthly pilgrimage, when that pilgrimage is viewed upon its higher side. And the means by which the victory is gained - for the victors overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony - distinctly indicate that the struggle referred to took place after the work of redemption had been completed, not before it was begun. (1 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Judges 1:6)

Several other passages of the New Testament are in harmony with this supposition. Thus it was that when the seventy returned to our Lord with joy after their mission, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject unto us in Thy name," He, beholding in this the pledge of His completed victory, exclaimed, "I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven."1 Thus it was that when charged with casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, our Lord pointed out to His accusers that His actions proved Him to be the Conqueror, and that the kingdom of God was come unto them: "When the strong man fully armed guardeth his own court, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him his whole armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils."2 To the same effect are all those passages where our Lord or His Apostles speak, not of a partial, but of a complete, victory over Satan, so that for His people the great enemy of man is already judged, and overthrown, and bruised beneath their feet: "Now is a judgment of this world now shall the prince of this world be cast out;" "And when He" (the Advocate) "is come, He will convince the world of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged;" "Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage;" "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;" "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but He that was begotten of God keepeth him, and the evil one toucheth him not."3 (1 Luke 10:17-18; 2 Luke 11:21-22; 3 ; John 13:31; John 16:11; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18)

In passages such as these we have the same thought as that before us in this vision. Satan has been cast out of heaven; that is, in his warfare against the children of God he has been completely overthrown. Over their higher life, their life in a risen and glorified Redeemer, he has no power. They are forever escaped from his bondage, and are free. But he has been cast down into the earth, and his angels with him; that is, over the men of the world he still exerts his power, and they are led captive by him at his will. Hence, accordingly, the words of the great voice heard in heaven which occupy all the latter part of the vision, words which distinctly bring out the difference between the two aspects of Satan now adverted to, - (1) his impotence as regards the disciples of Jesus who are faithful unto death: Rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them; (2) his mastery over the ungodly: Woe for the earth and for the sea! for the devil is gone down unto you in great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short season. Although, therefore, the fall of the angels from their first estate may be remotely hinted at, the vision refers to the spiritual contest begun after the resurrection of Jesus; and we ask our readers only to pay particular regard to the double relation of Satan to mankind which is referred to in it: his subjection to the righteous and the subjection of the wicked to him. One phrase only may seem inconsistent with this view. In Revelation 12:9 Satan is described as the deceiver of the whole inhabited earth, for that, and not "the whole world," is the true rendering of the original.1 "The whole in habited earth" cannot be the same as "the earth." The latter is simply the wicked; the former includes all men. But the words describe a characteristic of Satan in himself, and not what he actually effects. He is the deceiver of the whole inhabited earth. He lays his snares for all. He tempted Jesus Himself in the wilderness, and many a time thereafter during His labors and His sufferings. The vision gives no ground for the supposition that God’s children are not attacked by him. It assures us only that when the attack is made it is at the same instant foiled. There is a battle, but Christians advance to it as conquerors; before it begins victory is theirs.2 (1Comp. R.V. {margin}; 2Comp. 1 John 5:4)

One other expression of these verses may be noted: the short season spoken of in Revelation 12:12. This period of time is not to be looked at as if it were a brief special season at the close of the Christian age, when the wrath of Satan is aroused to a greater than ordinary degree because the last hour is about to strike. The great wrath with which he goes forth is that stirred in him by his defeat through the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. It was roused in him when he was "cast into the earth," and from that moment of defeat therefore the "short season" begins.

The third paragraph of the chapter follows: -

"And when the dragon saw that he was cast down into the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus; and he stood upon the sand of the sea (Revelation 12:13-17, - Revelation 13:1 a)."

We have already seen that the woman introduced to us in the first paragraph of this chapter is the embodiment and the bearer of light. She is there indeed set before us in her ideal aspect, in what she is in herself, rather than in her historical position. Now we meet her in actual history, or, in other words, she is the historical Church of God in the New Testament phase of her development. As such she has a mission to the world. She is "the sent" of Christ, as Christ was "the sent" of the Father.* In witnessing for Christ, she has to reveal to the children of men what Divine love is. But she has to do this in the midst of trouble. This world is not her rest; and she must bear the Saviour’s cross if she would afterwards wear His crown. (* John 20:21)

Persecuted, however, she is not forsaken. She had given her the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, unto her place - the place prepared of God for her protection. There can be little doubt as to the allusion. The "great eagle" is that of which God Himself spoke to Moses in the mount: " Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you unto Myself;"1 and that alluded to by Moses in the last song taught by him to the people: "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, and there was no strange god with him."2 The same eagle was probably in view of David when he sang, "How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings;"3 while it was also that on the wings of which the members of the Church draw continually nearer God: " They mount up with wings as eagles."4 To the woman then there was given a "refuge from the storm," a "covert from the heat," of trial, that she might abide in it, nourished with her heavenly food, for a time, and times, and half a time. Of this period we have already spoken. It is the same as that of the three and a half years, the "forty-two months," the "thousand two hundred and threescore days." It is thus the whole period of the Church’s militant history upon earth. During all of it she is persecuted by Satan; during all of it she is preserved and nourished by the care of God. At first sight indeed it may seem as if this shelter in the wilderness were incompatible with the task of witnessing assigned to her. But it is one of the paradoxes of the position of the children of God in this present world that while they are above it they are yet in it; that while they are seated "in the heavenly places" they are exposed to the storms of earth; that while their life is hid with Christ in God they witness and war before the eyes of men. The persecution and the nourishment, the suffering and the glory, run parallel with each other. One other remark may be made. There is obviously an emphasis upon the word "two" prefixed to "wings." Though founded upon the fact that the wings of the bird are two in number, a deeper meaning would seem to be intended; and that meaning is suggested by the fact that the witnesses of chap. 11 were also two. The protection extended corresponds exactly to the need for it. The "grace" of God is in all circumstances "sufficient" for His people.5 No temptation can assail them which He will not enable them to endure, or out of which He will not provide for them a way of escape.6 Therefore may they always take up the language of the Apostle and say, "Most gladly will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the strength of Christ may spread a tabernacle over me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."7 (1 Exodus 19:3-4; 2 Deuteronomy 32:11-12; 3 Psalms 34:7; 4 Isaiah 40:31; 5 2 Corinthians 12:9; 6 1 Corinthians 10:13; 7 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The woman fled into the wilderness, but she not permitted to flee thither without a final effort of Satan to overwhelm her; and in the manner in which this effort is made we again recognize the language of the Old Testament There the assaults of the ungodly upon Israel are frequently compared to those floods of waters which, owing to the sudden risings of the streams, are in the East so common and so disastrous. Isaiah describes the enemy as coming in "like a flood."1 Of the floods of the Euphrates and the destruction which they symbolized we have already spoken; and in hours of deliverance from trouble the Church has found the song of triumph most suit able to her condition in the words of the Psalmist, "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth."2 The main reference is, however, in all probability to the passage of Israel across the Red Sea, for then, says David, calling to mind that great deliverance in the history of his people, and finding in it the type of deliverances so often experienced by himself, "the sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. ... In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God. ... He sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters."3 (1 Isaiah 59:19; 2 Psalms 124:2-6; 3 Psalms 18:4-16)

The most remarkable point to be noticed here is, however, not the deliverance itself, but the method by which it is accomplished. To understand this, as well as the wrath of Satan immediately afterwards described, it is necessary to bear in mind that twofold element in the Church the existence of which is the key to sc many of the most intricate problems of the Apocalypse. The Church embraces both true and false members within her pale. She is the "vine" of our Lord’s last discourse to His disciples, some of the branches of which bear much fruit, while others are only fit to be cast into the fire and burned."1 The thought of these latter members is in the mind of St. John when he tells us, in a manner so totally unexpected, that the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. He is thinking of the nominal members of the Church, of the merely nominal Christianity which she has so often exhibited to the world. That Christianity the world loves. When the Church’s tone and life are lowered by her yielding to the influence of the things of time, then the world, "the earth," is ready to hasten to her side. It offers her its friendship, courts alliance with her, praises her for the good order which she introduces, by arguments drawn from eternity, into the things of time, and swallows up the river which the dragon casts out of his mouth against her. When Christ’s disciples are of the world, the world loves its own.2 They are helping "the earth" to do its work. Why should the earth not recognize and welcome the assistance given it by foolish foes as well as friends? Therefore it helps the woman. (1 John 15:5-6; 2 John 15:19)

But side by side with this aspect of the Church which met the approbation of "the earth," the dragon saw that she had another aspect of determined hostility to his claims; and he waxed wroth with her. She had within her not only degenerate but true members, not only worldly professors, but those who were one with her Divine and glorified Lord. These were the rest of her seed, which keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus. They were the "few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments,"l "the remnant according to the election of grace,"2 "the seed which the Lord hath blessed."3 Such disciples of Jesus the dragon could not tolerate, and he went away to make war with them. Thus is the painful distinction still kept up which marks all the later part of the Apocalypse. The spectacle was one over which St. John had mourned as he beheld it in the Church of his own day: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that not all are of us. Little children, it is the last hour."4 It was a spectacle which he knew would be repeated so long as the Church of Christ was in contact with the world; and he notes it now. (1 Revelation 3:4; 2 Romans 11:5; 3 Isaiah 61:9; 4 1 John 2:18-19)

One other point ought to be noticed in connection with these verses. The helping of the woman by the earth seems to be the Scripture parallel to the difficult words of St. Paul when he says in writing to the Thessalonians, "And now ye know that which restraineth to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way."* This "restraining" power, generally, and in all probability correctly, understood of the Roman State, is "the earth" of St. John helping the woman because it is helped by her. (* 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7)

We have been introduced to the first great enemy of the Church of Christ. It remains only that he shall take up his position on the field. The next clause therefore which meets us, and which ought to be read, not as the first clause of chap. 13, but as the last of chap. 12, and in which the third person ought to be substituted for the first, describes him as doing so: And he stood upon the sand of the sea, upon the shore between the earth and the sea, where he could so command them both as to justify the "Woe" already uttered over both in the twelfth verse of the chapter. There we leave him for a time, only remarking that we are not to think of ocean lying before us in a calm, but of the restless and troubled sea, raised into huge waves by the storm-winds contending upon it for the mastery and dashing its waves upon the beach.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/revelation-12.html.
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