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This chapter commences another series of revelations. Again St. John returns to the beginning, and traces the spiritual history of the Church and the Christian in their warfare with Satan. But the visions which now follow are somewhat different in character from those already related, inasmuch as the conflict is now described rather as between the powers of heaven and hell than between the individual Christian and his oppressors. As with the other visions, so here, the recital seems calculated to support the suffering Christian in his trials, since the overthrow of the powers of darkness is foretold; and the whole series culminates in an account of the final abasement of the devil, and the exaltation of the Church and the bliss of heaven.
The following analysis will help to make clear the relation of the several parts of the vision.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE ENMITY BETWEEN CHRIST AND THE WORLD. (Revelation 12:7-13.)
II. THE PROGRESS OF THE WARFARE.
1. The assaults of the devil.
(1) The dragon's direct attacks on Christ (Revelation 12:1-7 and Revelation 12:13-17).
(2) On the Church by means of the wild beast (Revelation 13:1-10).
(3) On the Church by means of the two-horned beast (Revelation 13:11-18).
2. The overthrow and punishment of the devil. (Revelation 20:1-10.)
(1) The fate of the dragon (Revelation 14:7).
(2) The fate of the wild beast (Babylon) (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:1-18.; Revelation 18:0.; Revelation 19:19, et seq.).
(3) The fate of the two-horned beast (Revelation 14:9; Revelation 19:19, et seq.).
3. The victory of the faithful. (Revelation 14:13; Revelation 19:1-10; Revelation 21:1-27.; Revelation 22:0.)
And there appeared a great wonder; and a great sign was seen (Revised Version). This sign consists of the whole of the appearances, the account of which is contained in this verse and the following one. The vision is thus plainly declared to be figurative (cf. the use of the corresponding verb in Revelation 1:1). In heaven. Though the scene of the vision opens in heaven, it is immediately afterwards transferred to the earth. It is doubtful whether any particular signification is to be attached to the expression, though Wordsworth notes concerning the Church, "For her origin is from above; hers is the kingdom of heaven." And Bengel, "The woman, the Church, though on earth, is nevertheless, by virtue of her union with Christ, in heaven." A woman. The woman is undoubtedly the Church of God; not necessarily limited to the Christian Church, but the whole company of all who acknowledge God, including the heavenly beings in existence before the creation, as well as creation itself. The figure is found both in the Old Testament and in the New. Thus Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah 54:6, "For thy Maker is thine Husband ... For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved" (cf. also John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32). Clothed with the sun. The whole description is intended to portray the glory and beauty of the Church. Most of the ancient commentators give particular interpretations of the symbols employed. Thus the sun is believed to represent Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. Primasius quotes Galatians 3:27, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." And the moon under her feet. This is interpreted as showing the permanent nature of the Church; she treads underfoot the moon, the symbol of changing times and seasons. It is thought that a reference is thus intended to the futility of the endeavours made to subvert the Church (cf. Song of Solomon 6:10). Others variously interpret the moon of
(1) the Mosaic Law;
(2) the irreligion of the world;
(3) the Mohammedan power.
But the figure is probably intended simply to enhance the beauty of the vision, and to portray the exceeding glory of the Church. We may also imagine the symbol to denote stability of existence in the midst of change of outward appearance, as the moon is ever existent and ever reappearing, though obscured for a time. And upon her head a crown of twelve stars. This image immediately suggests a reference to the twelve apostles of the Christian Church, and the twelve tribes of the Jewish Church. Wordsworth observes, "Twelve is the apostolic number, and stars are emblems of Christian teachers." In like manner the Jews were accustomed to speak of the minor prophets as "the twelve." The crown is στέφανος—the crown of victory—the idea of which is prominent throughout the vision.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. The present, "crieth," κρὰζει, is found in א, A, P, Coptic, Andreas in a et bav., etc.; the imperfect, ἐκράζεν, is read in C, Vulgate, 7, 8, 31, etc., Andreas in c et p, Primasius; the aorist, ἐκράζεν, in B, twelve cursives (cf. the words of our Lord in John 16:21, John 16:22). A similar image occurs in Isaiah 26:17; Isaiah 66:7, Isaiah 66:8; Micah 4:10. The trouble which afflicted the Jewish Church, and the longing of the patriarchs for the advent of the Saviour, are here depicted. So also St. Paul, encouraging the Romans to bear patiently their sufferings, says, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and there was seen another sign in heaven (Revised Version). (See on Revelation 12:1.) The appearance seen is not a representation of the devil as he actually is, but the sign—the dragon—is figurative and descriptive of the particular characteristics now about to be exhibited. In heaven—most likely merely in the space above, where he could be easily seen. Wordsworth, however, says, "Because the power here represented assails the Church, the kingdom of heaven." And behold a great red dragon. His identity is established by Revelation 12:9, where he is called "the great dragon, the old serpent, the devil, Satan, the deceiver.'' Red; no doubt to enhance his terrible appearance; suggestive of his murderous, destructive character. "Dragon" (δράκων,) in the New Testament occurs only in this book. In the Old Testament the word is of frequent occurrence. In the LXX. δράκων is used seventeen times to express the Hebrew tannin (a sea or land monster, especially a crocodile or serpent); five times it stands for leviathan; twice it represents kephir (young lion); twice nachash (serpent); once ‛attud (he-goat); and once pethen (python). Tannin (singular) is always rendered by δράκων except in Genesis 1:21, where we find κῆτος; but twice it is corrupted into tannim (viz. Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2). The latter word, tannim, is the plural of tan (a jackal), and is found only in the plural; but once it is found corrupted into tannin (Lamentations 4:3). There is no doubt as to the signification of the appearance. The dragon, is, in the Old Testament, invariably a symbol of what is harmful, tyrannous, murderous. It is a hideous, sanguinary monster, sometimes inhabiting the sea, sometimes the desolate places of the earth, always "seeking whom it may devour." In some passages it refers to Pharaoh (Psalms 74:13; cf. Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2); in others it is a type of what is noxious or desolate (Job 7:12; Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:13; Psalms 44:19; Jeremiah 9:11, etc.). In Isaiah 27:1 we have the combination, "leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent;… the dragon that is in the sea." Having seven heads and ten horns. The description of the beasts in Revelation 12-17, is evidently derived from the vision of Daniel (7.), although the details differ. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the interpretation generally should follow the same lines as that applied to the Old Testament symbols, with which the writer was so familiar. The appearances described in Daniel are universally considered to typify various worldly powers which oppressed the Church and nation of the Jews. Similarly here the symbolism seems intended to portray the opposition of the devil to the Church of God, working through the power of the world. The heads and horns are both declared in Revelation 17:10, Revelation 17:12 to typify kingdoms—in what way we shall presently see (Revelation 17:10). The numbers seven and ten are both symbolical of completeness (see Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3). We have, therefore, in this picture of the dragon, the idea of the full and complete power of the world arrayed on earth against God and his Church. This power, connected with and derived from the devil, the prince of this world (John 12:31), is often alluded to by St. John as being opposed to, or in contrast with, the godly (see John 7:7; John 14:17; John 15:1-27.; John 16:0.; John 17:0.; 1 John 2:15; 1Jn 3:13; 1 John 5:4, etc.). And seven crowns upon his heads; seven diadems (Revised Version). That is, the kingly crown, the symbol of sovereignty, worn by the dragon to denote his power as "prince of this world." The word διαδήματα is found in the New Testament only here and Revelation 13:1 and Revelation 19:12. It is not the στέφανος, the crown of victory worn by the saints (see Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 6:2, etc.). No account is given of the disposition and arrangement of the heads, horns, and diadems; nor is it necessary. The seven crowned heads signify universal sovereignty; the ten horns, absolute power. Probably those to whom St. John wrote understood the symbol as referring specially to the power of heathen Rome, which was at that time oppressing the Church; but the meaning extends to the power of the world in all ages (see on Revelation 13:1).
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth; draweth (Revised Version). Not the stars with which the woman is crowned (see Revelation 12:1), but other stars. In describing the vast power of the devil, St. John seems to allude to the tremendous result of his rebellious conduct in heaven, in effecting the fall of other angels with himself (Jud John 1:6). The seer does not here interrupt his narrative to explain the point, but returns to it after verse 6, and there describes briefly the origin and cause of the enmity of the devil towards God. The third part (as in Revelation 8:7, et seq.) signifies a considerable number, but not the larger part. And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born; which was about to be delivered, that when she was delivered, he might devour her child (Revised Version). A graphic picture of what is true of Christ himself of the Church, both Jewish and Christian, and of every individual member of the Church. This is another example of the personal history of Christ being repeated in the history of his Church. The devil, in the person of Herod, attempts to prevent the salvation of the world; through Pharaoh he endeavours to crush the chosen people of God, through whom the Messiah was to bless all the earth; by means of the power of Rome he labours to exterminate the infant Church of Christ.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; a son, a male—the Greek υἱόν, ἄρσεν, renders it emphatic—who is to rule, as in the Revised Version; to rule, or to govern as a shepherd (cf. the verb in Matthew 2:6). This reference and Psalms 2:9 leave no doubt as to the identification of the man child. It is Christ who is intended. The same expression is used of him in Revelation 19:1-21., where he is definitely called the "Word of God." And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. The sentence seems plainly to refer to the ascension of Christ and his subsequent abiding in heaven, from whence he rules all nations. The seer, perhaps, wishes to indicate at once the absolute immunity of Christ from any harm proceeding from the power of the devil, whose efforts are henceforth directly aimed only at the Church of Christ. Satan still hopes to injure Christ through his members. As remarked above (see on Revelation 19:4), what is true of the personal history of Christ is often true of his Church and of his true members. And thus some have seen in this passage a picture of the woman, the Church, bringing forth members, to devour whom is Satan's constant purpose, but who in God's good time are taken to his throne to be near himself.
And the woman fled into the wilderness. As with Christ, so with his Church. His great trial took place in the wilderness; so the trial of the Church occurs in the wilderness, by which figure the world is typified. It is generally pointed out that this verse is here inserted in anticipation of Revelation 12:14. We prefer rather to look upon it as occurring in its natural place, the narrative being interrupted by Revelation 12:7-13 in order to account for the implacable hostility of the devil. Where she hath a place prepared of God. א, A, B, P, and others insert ἐκεῖ as well as ὅπου, "where she there hath," etc.—a redundancy which is an ordinary Hebraism. Though the Church is "in the world," she is not "of the world" (John 17:14, John 17:15); though the woman is in the "wilderness," her place is "prepared of God." The harlot's abode (Revelation 17:1-18.) is in the wilderness, and it is also of the wilderness; it is not in a place specially prepared of God. That they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and three score days. The sense is the same as in Revelation 12:14, "that she should be sustained there." The interpretation of the 1260 days, or 3.5 years, coincides here with that adopted in Revelation 11:2. It describes the period of this world's existence, during the whole of which the devil persecutes the Church of God. As Auberlen points out, this is, in Revelation 13:5, declared to be "the period of the power of the beast, that is, the world power." (For a discussion of the whole subject of this period, see on Revelation 11:2.)
Revelation 12:7, Revelation 12:8
And there was war in heaven. The passage Revelation 12:7-13 is an interruption of the narrative of the persecution of the woman by Satan. It is caused, apparently, by a desire to account in some degree for the relentless hostility of the devil towards God and his Church. Two explanations of the passage may be referred to.
(1) Revelation 12:7-13 relate to the period anterior to the Creation, concerning which we have a slight hint in Jude 1:6. This, on the whole, seems to agree best with the general sense of the chapter, and to present fewest difficulties. Thus:
(a) It accounts for the insertion of the passage (see above).
(b) The war is directly between the devil and Michael, not between the devil and Christ, as at the Incarnation and Resurrection.
(c) Jude 1:8 and Jude 1:9 seem to require a more literal interpretation than that which makes them refer to the effects of Christ's resurrection.
(d) It was not at the period of the Incarnation that the scene of Satan's opposition was transferred to the earth, as described in Jude 1:12.
(e) The song of the heavenly voice may be intended to end with the word Christ (Jude 1:10), and the following passages may be the words of the writer of the Apocalypse, and may refer to the earthly martyrs (see on Jude 1:10).
(f) This attempt of the devil in heaven may be alluded to in John 1:5, "The darkness overcame it not" (see also John 12:35).
(2) The passage may refer to the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, and the victory then won over the devil. This interpretation renders the whole passage much more figurative.
(a) Michael is the type of mankind, which in the Person of Jesus Christ vanquishes the devil.
(b) Subsequent to the Resurrection Satan is no more allowed to accuse men before God in heaven, as he has done previously (see Job 1:1-22.; Job 2:0; Zechariah 3:1; 1 Kings 22:19-22); he is thus the accuser cast down (John 1:10), and his place is no more found in heaven (John 1:8).
(c) The earth and sea represent the worldly and tumultuous nations. Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of the second view is found in Luke 10:18 and John 12:31. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; Michael and his angels [going forth] to war with the dragon (Revised Version). Alford explains the infinitive phrase as compounded of the genitive τοῦ and depending upon ἐγένετο. Michael (לאֵך־יםָ) signifies, "Who is like to God?" We may compare this with the cry of the worldly in Revelation 13:4, "Who is like unto the beast?" In Daniel, Michael is the prince who stands up for the people of Israel (Daniel 12:1-13. l; Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21). Michael, "the archangel," is alluded to in Jud Daniel 1:9 as the great opposer of Satan. St. John, perhaps borrowing the name from Daniel, puts forward Michael as the chief of those who remained faithful to the cause of God in the rebellion of Satan and his angels. The angels of the dragon are the stars of verse 4, which he drew with him to the earth, and possibly the reference to this event in verse 4 gives rise to the account in verses 7-13. Some commentators interpret the war here described as that between the Church and the world. Michael is thus made to be symbolical of Christ, and some have no difficulty in indicating a particular man (such as Licinius) as the antitype of the dragon. And the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. The Greek is stronger, not even their place, etc. Οὐδέ is read in א, A, B, C, Andreas, Arethas; οὔτε is found in P, 1, 17, and others. So complete was the defeat of Satan that he was no longer permitted to remain in heaven in any capacity.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; cast down (Revised Version); the whole inhabited earth. "The dragon:" so called, because he is the destroyer (see on Revelation 12:3). "The ancient serpent," as he was revealed in Genesis 3:1-24. So in John 8:44 he is "the destroyer from the beginning." "The devil" (Διάβολος) is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Satan, נמָשָׂ, "the accuser, the adversary;" reference is made in John 8:10 to the signification of the name, "The Deceiver." Wordsworth says, "The deceits by which Satan cheated the world in oracles, sorcery, soothsaying, magic, and other frauds, are here specially noticed. These were put to flight by the power of Christ and of the Holy Ghost, in the preaching of the gospel by the apostles and others in the first ages of Christianity. Our Lord himself, speaking of the consequence of the preaching of the seventy disciples, reveals the spiritual struggle and the victory: 'I was beholding Satan as lightning fall from heaven' (Luke 10:17, Luke 10:18)." He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him; cast down to the earth, etc. (Revised Version). "To the earth" in a twofold sense:
(1) the phrase is a description of the loss of dignity and power on the part of Satan, in being cast to earth as opposed to heaven;
(2) earth is the scene of his future operations, where he may still in some degree sustain the struggle against God.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven. The "great voice" is characteristic of all the heavenly utterances (cf. Revelation 5:2; Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:10; Revelation 16:17, etc.). The personality of the speaker is not indicated. From the following chorus the voice would seem to proceed from many inhabitants of heaven. Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; the salvation and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ (Revised Version). The Revised Version marginal reading may also be noticed, Now is the salvation … become our God's, and the authority [is become] his Christ's. The heavenly inhabitants celebrate the triumphant confirmation of God's supremacy, which has been vindicated by the defeat and expulsion of the rebellious hosts. "The salvation of God" (σωτηρία) is that which proceeds from him; "that salvation which belongs to God as its Author" (Alford); cf. Revelation 7:10; Revelation 19:1. "The authority of his Christ" is first manifested in heaven; Satan is cast down to the earth, and here again at a subsequent epoch the authority of Christ is displayed, and another victory won over the devil. This seems to be the conclusion of the heavenly song. As before stated (see on Revelation 19:7), the three and a half verses now concluded seem to relate to a period previous to the creation of the world. It seems equally probable that the following two and a half verses refer to those earthly martyrs and suffering Christians for whom this book is specially written. These two views can be reconciled by supposing the song of the heavenly voice to cease at the word "Christ" (Revelation 19:10); and then the writer adds words of his own, as if he would say, "The cause of the victorious song which I have just recited was the fact that the devil was cast down, the same who is constantly accusing (ὁ κατηγορῶν) our brethren. But they (our brethren) overcame him, and valued not their lives, etc. Well may ye heavens rejoice over your happy lot, though it means woe to the earth for a short time." For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. The one accusing them (ὁ κατηρορῶν); not the past tense. Satan does not cease to accuse, though he may not do so with effect, since he may be overcome by the "blood of the Lamb." The heavenly beings are henceforth beyond his reach. He can yet accuse men—our brethren—says St. John; but even here his power is limited by the victory of the death and resurrection of Christ referred to in verse 5. "Accuser" (κατήγορος) is found in א, B, C, P, Andreas, Arethas. The form κατήγωρ, found in A, is rather the Targumic and rabbinic corruption of the word רוגיטק, than the Greek word itself. "Of our brethren," the saints and martyrs (see above); "is cast down" (or, "was cast down") from heaven.
And they overcame him (cf. the frequent references to those who overcome, and the promises made to them, Revelation 2:1-29.; Revelation 3:0.; Revelation 21:7, etc.). The reference "they" is to "our brethren," the accused ones of Revelation 12:10. By the blood of the Lamb; because of the blood, etc. (Revised Version). That is, "the blood of the Lamb" is the ground or reason of their victory, not the instrument. So in Revelation 1:9, "1 John … was in the island called Patmos, because of the Word of God (διὰ τὸν λόγον)" (cf. Revelation 6:9). Winer agrees with this view of the present passage, against Ewald and De Wette. "The Lamb," who was seen "as it had been slain" (Revelation 5:6)—Christ. And by the word of their testimony; and on account of the word, etc. The one phrase is the natural complement of the other. "The blood of the Lamb" would have been shed in vain without the testimony, the outcome of the faith of his followers; that testimony would have been impossible without the shedding of the blood. And they loved not their lives unto the death; their life even unto death. That is, they valued not their life in this world, even to the extent of meeting death for the sake of giving their testimony. There is no article in the Greek, merely ἄχρι θανάτον; so also in the same phrase in Acts 22:4. The article of the Authorized Version in Acts 22:4 is probably derived from Wickliffe's Bible; that in the present passage, from Tyndale's.
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them; O heavens (Revised Version). Κατοικοῦντες, "that dwell," is read in א, 26, 29, 30, 31, 98, Andreas, Vulgate, Primasius, Memphitie, Armenian. The Revisers have followed the common reading of σκηνοῦντες, "tabernacled," which is found in the majority of manuscripts. Alford observes, "There is no sense of transitoriness in St. John's use of σκηνόω, rather one of repose and tranquillity (cf. Revelation 7:15)." Κατασκηνοῦντες is found in C. So in Revelation 13:6 the abiding place of God is called his tabernacle. These are the words of the writer (see on Revelation 13:10). The cause for this rejoicing has been given in Revelation 13:9; the devil having been cast out, those in heaven enjoy absolute immunity from all harm which he can work. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! Woe for the earth and for the sea! (Revised Version). A few cursives give τοῖς κατοίκουσιν, "to the dwellers." The influence of the devil works woe to the whole world—to the human inhabitants, to the animal and vegetable life of the earth which was cursed for man's sake (cf. Genesis 3:17). For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time; or, came down (aorist). "A short season" (καιρός) in which to exist in the world. His wrath, kindled by his ejectment from heaven, is the greater because of the comparative shortness of his reign on earth. This "short season" is the period of the world's existence from the advent of Satan till the final judgment. It is short in comparison with eternity, and it is frequently thus described in the New Testament (Romans 9:28; 1 Corinthians 7:29; Revelation 3:11, etc.). It is the "little time" of Revelation 6:11; the "little season" of Revelation 20:3, during which Satan must be loosed. Here ends the digression descriptive of the struggle in heaven before the creation of the world, and the following verses take up and continue the narrative which was interrupted after Revelation 20:6.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. (For an explanation of the characters here alluded to, see on the previous verses.) The devil, defeated in his attempts against God in heaven, and foiled in his attack upon the man child—Christ Jesus (see Revelation 12:5), now directs his efforts against the woman—the Church. The interpretation must not be confined to one peculiar form of evil which assails the Church, but must include all—the bodily persecutions with which those to whom St. John wrote were afflicted, the heresies which arose in the Church, the lukewarnmess of her members (Revelation 3:16), and all others.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle. "The two wings of the great eagle" is found in most authorities, though א omits both the articles. The symbol of the eagle is a common one in the Old Testament, and this may account for the presence of the article. The escape of the Jewish Church from the power of Pharaoh, and her preservation in the wilderness, are referred to under a like figure (see Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11, "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself"). The natural enmity between the eagle and the serpent is alluded to by Wordsworth (Wordsworth, in loc., where see a full exposition of the symbolism here employed). "The two wings" may typify the Old and New Testaments, by the authority of which the Church convicts her adversaries, and by which she is supported during her period of conflict with the devil. That she might fly into the wilderness, into her place. The reference to the flight of Israel from Egypt is still carried on. "Her place" is the "place prepared of God" (Revelation 12:6). The Church, though in the world, is not of the world (see on Revelation 12:6). Where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. Still the history of Israel is borne in mind. As the chosen people were nourished in the wilderness, so the Church of God is sustained in her pilgrimage on earth. The redundant δπον ἐκεῖ, "where there," follows the analogy of the Hebrew (see on Revelation 12:6). "The time, times, and half a time," is the period elsewhere described as 42 months, 1260 days, 3.5 years. It denotes the period of the existence of this world (see on Revelation 11:2). The expression is taken from Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7. By this verse and Daniel 12:6 is established the identity of the two expressions—1260 days, and the time, times, and half a time (i.e. one year + two years + half a year). The plural καιροί is used for "two times," as no dual occurs in the Greek of the New Testament. The construction, "nourished from the face" (τρέφεται ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ ὄφεως), is built upon the analogy of the Hebrew. The "serpent" is the "dragon" of Daniel 12:13 (cf. Daniel 12:9, "the great dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan"). The two words are used as convertible terms (cf. verse 17, where he is again called "the dragon").
And the serpent cast out of his month water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood; cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river … carried away by the river. A flood, in the Old Testament, has several significations. It frequently expresses overwhelming misfortune. Thus Psalms 69:15, "Let not the waterflood overflow me;" Psalms 90:5, "Thou carriest them away as with a flood" (cf. also Daniel 9:26; Daniel 11:22; Isaiah 59:19; Jeremiah 46:7; Amos 9:5, etc.). The flood is typical of every form of destruction with which the devil seeks to overwhelm the Church of God. At the period of the writing of the Apocalypse, it plainly symbolized the bitter persecutions to which Christians were subjected; but its meaning need not be limited to this one form of destruction. Thus all those writers are correct, so far as they go, who interpret the flood of the Mohammedan power, of heresy, of the Gothic invasion, etc.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth; swallowed up the river (Revised Version). "The earth" frequently, but not invariably, in the Revelation signifies "the wicked." It is doubtful, therefore, how far the figure here employed should be pressed. What is certain is that the writer intends to express the idea that the Church is preserved in a wonderful and even miraculous way from the efforts of the devil. Further than this we cannot proceed safely. Possibly we may see in the passage an allusion to the world embracing Christianity, by which the instrument of Satan's ill will became a defence to the Church; though an earlier period and earlier deliverances seem more likely to be intended (such as the conversion of St. Paul); for after endeavouring to destroy the woman at one stroke, the dragon proceeds to war with her seed. The words recall another incident in the history of the Israelitish flight from Egypt and sojourn in the wilderness, viz. that of the destruction of Korah and his company; though, of course, the nature of the incidents is not the same in both cases.
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed; waxed wroth … went away to make, etc. (Revised Version). Having failed to prevent the mission of' the man child—Christ Jesus—and having been foiled in his attempts to overwhelm the Church of God, Satan proceeds to attack the individual members of the Church—the seed of the woman. The method by which he endeavours to do this is related in the following chapters. Wordsworth points out an analogy between the means which Satan employs to destroy the Church as described here, and those described in the seals. The "rest of her seed" (Revised Version) signifies all the children of the woman, excluding the man child of Revelation 12:5. All members of the Church of God are thus referred to, those who are brethren of Christ (cf. Hebrews 2:11, "For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren"). Which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (nearly all manuscripts omit "Christ"); hold the testimony (Revised Version). This plainly points out who are the "rest of the seed"—they are those who are God's faithful servants. We may see in the description a reference to the Church of God, both Jewish and Christian. The members of the Jewish Church were they to whom "the commandments of God" were specially revealed, and Christians are they who specially "hold the testimony of Jesus." (For an explanation of the latter phrase, see on Revelation 1:2.)
We have now reached another stage in the history of the warfare carried on by the devil against God. Revelation 12:7-12 of this chapter describe the origin of the hostility of Satan towards God; Revelation 12:4 and Revelation 12:5 relate the attempts of the devil to destroy Christ and to thwart his mission; Revelation 12:13-16 refer to the attacks of Satan upon the Church of God, by which he hoped to destroy it as a whole, before there was time for the "seed" to spring up. Having failed in every attempt, the dragon now sends other agents by whom he hopes to destroy the individual members of the Church—the other seed of the woman—the brethren of Christ.
The foes of God and of his Church.
"That old serpent." In previous chapters of this book there have been hints of sundry evil forces which would at divers times harass the Church of God. Who they would be, or what, or how they would work, has not yet been shown to us. This is done, however, in chapters which we have yet to consider. Of them there are several. Of each one we have a representation in the form of allegory or parable. In this chapter the first of them is shown us. We can be in no doubt as to who it is that is intended; nor is there any very great difficulty about the main features of the sketch, however obscure some of the minor details may be. The enemy is the devil. The object of his rage is the faithful Church, represented under the symbol of "a woman, clothed with the sun," etc. When we find, too, that this woman brought forth a man child, who is sought to be devoured as soon as born; who is, in spite of all, caught up to God and to his throne, from which seat of power he is to rule the nations as with a rod of iron;—we have very distinctive marks pointing unmistakably to our Lord. The enemy, failing to devour him, persecutes the woman, and lulling in his designs against her, he goes on to war with the remnant of her seed. But, as the chapter shows, in every instance the evil one rushes on only to his own defeat. So that this chapter contains a parable of glorious meaning, as it sets forth the working of Satan against the Church of God. His present work is to make war against those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Why should he select these as the objects of his attack? Why? Because others are doing his work for him! He disturbs himself only about his disturbers. He has little need to look after others. Let us, then, try, in the light of this chapter, to look our foe full in the face, and to find out what he is, what he can do, and what he cannot. Our subject, then, is—our foe, as sketched by a Divine hand.
I. OUR FOE IS A PERSONAL ONE. (Revelation 12:9.) It would be of little avail to say that the personality of the evil one cannot be decided from such a chapter as this; for the allusions to Satan elsewhere are so numerous and so varied that they shut us up to the conviction of his personality; i.e. that he is a distinct being, with a will, plan, and pro-pose of his own, moving in "the heavenly places," i.e. in the realm of spirit. We often find the personal pronouns used concerning him (John 8:44). The names and epithets applied to him indicate the same. The name "the devil" means "the slanderer." He is represented in Scripture as slandering God before men, and as slandering men before God. The apostle speaks of him as "going about seeking whom he may devour." Nor can there be a doubt that we are taught by our Lord and his apostles that to Satan's pernicious agency much of the evil in the world must be traced. Let us remember our Lord's conflict with him.
II. HE IS AN OLD ONE. "The devil sinneth from the beginning" (1 John 3:8; John 8:44). He first sinned in heaven, and was cast out from thence ere he came to deceive the whole world. Then he tempted Adam in Eden. He came into conflict with our Lord. He hindered apostles in their work (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He has been counterplotting the sowings of the Son of man for eighteen hundred years (Matthew 13:39). And he is at work still. We well know, indeed, that there is one difficulty which often presses upon thoughtful minds. It is this: Can it be that God should let one being have such tremendous power for evil? Now, although the devil's power is not so great as stone people seem to think it to be, we confess that it would be a very great relief to us if we felt warranted in saying, No. But there are three remarks which have to be set over against this question.
1. Whatever evil is in the world is here, whether there be a devil or no. And if evil is only a spontaneous product of man himself, then human nature is much worse than the Bible declares it to be.
2. But if we grant that some of it comes from outside, it is then merely a question whether the outside evil is led on by one single force, or by an indefinite number of agents, organized or unorganized.
3. If we accept the doctrine of the unity of leadership in the forces of ill outside earth, the difficulty is merely one of degree, not of kind; e.g. if one pope can by his will move his organized forces at any part of the world, why may not a like power be, for aught we know, outside the limits of this globe?
III. HE IS A DARING ONE. The flashes of light which we get on this point in Scripture are many. Michael and his angels. Our Lord. Peter. Judas. In heaven. In Eden. In the desert. At the last Supper. In Gethsemane. He carefully selects those on whom he will try his temptations. The greater the object, the fiercer the onset. If a man stands up for Jesus, Satan will desire to have him, that he may sift him as wheat. It is a far greater thing to bring an eagle to the ground than a sparrow. It is a vaster achievement to batter a fortress than a hut. And the greater our influence, and the higher our standing in the Church, the more fiercely will the evil one assail us.
IV. HIS ATTEMPTS ARE OFTEN FAILURES. (Revelation 12:8, "The dragon warred and his angels, and they prevailed not.") It is a relief to find that it is so; and that the evil one's most daring attempts have been the signal for most humiliating failures. The supreme illustration of this is his onset upon our Lord in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). From heaven he was cast out, and even on this earth he is an outcast still (Revelation 12:9-11). His power in far off realms is at an end. His pride was his condemnation. He was overpowered by a Greater, when Jesus died. "Now is the prince of this world cast out" (John 12:31). And already, in prospect of his complete, utter, and final defeat, is the heavenly song begun, "Now is come the salvation," etc. (Revelation 12:10, Revelation 12:11). It is no wonder that we go on to read that—
V. HE IS AN ANGRY FOE. (Revelation 12:12, "He has great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.") In what way this has been revealed to the evil one, we do not know; but we shall do both ourselves and Scripture a wrong if we refuse to let this thought bring us its appropriate inspiration and comfort. Truly it is good to know that the end of his power is foreseen.
VI. HE IS A MALICIOUS ONE. (Revelation 12:13.) If defeated in one scheme, he tries another. It cast out of heaven, he will plague the earth. "He worries whom he can't devour." And as he prevailed not against the Lord of the Church, he persecutes the Church of the Lord. He has long been engaged in plotting schemes against the people of God, desiring to have them, that he may sift them as wheat.
VII. HE IS A WATCHFUL AND CRAFTY ONE (Revelation 12:4, Revelation 12:13, Revelation 12:15), varying his methods according to the case in hand. "We are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians 2:11). We have to contend against "the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). He is active, too, in executing his plans. The whole of this chapter is one lengthened sketch, in symbol, of the manifold forms of his activity. And perhaps we are hardly prepared to see how varied are his methods of work, until we collect the several hints scattered throughout the Word of God. In the world at large he counterplots the sowing of the Son of man (Matthew 13:38,. Matthew 13:39); he deceives by powers, and signs, and lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:10); in a city like Pergamos he sets up his throne (Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:13); he collects his followers in a synagogue of his own (Revelation 2:9); he preys on the body, inflicting dumbness on one (Mark 9:17), and binding another for eighteen years (Luke 13:16); he casts some of the saints into prison (Revelation 2:10), and hinders apostles in their work (1 Thessalonians 2:18); he inflicts on Paul a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7, 2 Corinthians 12:8), and goes about in search of prey (1 Peter 5:8), in a constant state of unrest (Matthew 12:43); he lays snares for the ungodly (2 Timothy 2:26); causes many to turn aside after him (1 Timothy 5:15); he puts it into the heart of Judas to betray his Master (John 13:2), and leads Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3); if men are just coming to Jesus, he throws them down and tears them (Luke 9:42); and while the Word is being heard, he stealthily takes it out of the heart, lest they should believe and be saved (Luke 8:12). So terrible is the tale of his deceit that we are ready to give up heart, till we note—
VIII. HE IS A CIRCUMSCRIBED FOE. This chapter tells us of three limits put to him and to his power.
1. One, of space. He is cast down to earth. He is "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
2. A second, of time. "A time, and times, and half a time." The same mysterious period of twelve hundred and sixty days, during which the witness bearing is to go on, and the beast (Revelation 13:1-18.) is to continue.
3. There is yet a third limit, that of force (Revelation 12:16, "The earth helped the woman," etc.). Nothing can be plainer than that in this chapter we are shown the cheering fact that the evil one cannot have it all his own way. If his work counterplots the good, none the less surely does the good counteract him. He is mighty; but there is a Stronger than he. We are taught in Scripture that there are five ways by which his power is restricted and his intention foiled.
(1) There is providential dispensation (Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14, Revelation 12:16; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
(2) There is angelic ministry (Revelation 12:7).
(3) There is the direct exertion of Christ's commanding word (Matthew 17:18).
(4) There is the counteracting power of Divine grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).
(5) There is the intercession of our Redeemer (Luke 22:31, Luke 22:32).
IX. HE IS A FOE WITH WHOSE DEVICES WE HAVE TO RECKON IN FIGHTING THE BATTLE OF LIFE. (Revelation 12:17.) Note:
1. He is one at whom we cannot afford to laugh, and whose existence we cannot afford to deny. Nothing gives the enemy such leverage as the denial of his existence. It is the very lie he loves to put into our mouths. The only "father," surely, who loves his children to disown his existence.
2. He is a foe before whom we need not quail. While we may not laugh in careless indifference, we need not cower in fear. Life is not so easy as if there were no devil to fight; it is not so hard but that we may ensure his defeat.
3. He is a foe to whom not an inch of room should be given (Ephesians 4:27). Let us ever be wary lest he get advantage over us; and let us swear eternal enmity to him and all his works.
4. He is a foe for whose onsets we should prepare, by a survey and appropriation of heavenly forces. We stand between two opposing agencies—the Spirit of God on one side, and the devil on the other. Let us not grieve the Spirit by toying with the devil.
5. He is a foe on whose ultimate defeat and complete discomfiture we may surely and confidently reckon if we look to Jesus. "Greater is he that is for us," etc. Our Lord hath overcome him for us, and in his strength we shall overcome too. And we shall be better and stronger Christians for having had such a foe to fight. Not only is it the battle that tries the soldier, but that makes him. We have, however, not just one skirmish, and then peace. Oh no! "Patient continuance in well doing." Daily fighting, daily praying, daily victory, till the end.
"The land of triumph lies on high;
There are no foes t' encounter there!"
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The Church in the wilderness.
This Revelation 12:6 is repeated in Revelation 12:14, as if calling special attention to the facts which it declares. But it cannot be understood, nor its lessons learnt, until sundry questions are asked and answered.
1. Who is the woman told of? She is the same as we read of in Revelation 12:1, where she appears, not in distress, humiliation, and fear, fleeing with all speed from her dreaded foe, as is the case in this Revelation 12:6; but in all august splendour, with radiant vestments and starry crown, with the moon as her footstool, and the glory of the sun shining upon her. But who is she? "The blessed Virgin Mary," answers the whole Catholic world without a moment's hesitation; and in innumerable paintings and sculptures, sermons and songs, they have so set her forth as she is represented here. And that there is no reference to the nativity and incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ in this chapter, he would be a bold man who would affirm; but that the mother of our Lord is mainly, and, much more, exclusively meant, we cannot think. What is further said concerning her is impossible as applied to the virgin mother. But, without question, Mary, "the handmaid of the Lord," was a true and beautiful type of that queenly woman who is portrayed in the opening verses of this chapter. And that woman is none other than the Church of God, she of whom it was so often said, "Thy Maker is thy Husband;" "Behold, I am married unto thee." And in this very book how often we read of" the Bride, the Lamb's wife"! Of that faithful Church of God under the ancient dispensation, Christ, according to the flesh, came. "Born of a woman, made under the Law."
2. What is meant by the "travail" of the woman at the hour of her child's birth? The sweet story of Christmas is indeed pointed at here; but much more than that. Are we not reminded of those words of Isaiah, "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth children;" and of St. Paul's words to the Galatians, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you"? And so did the ancient Church, with much spiritual travail, in earnest trust and fervent prayer, in patient hope, "waiting for the consolation of Israel," give birth to the Christian Church, of which Christ himself was the Head and Type and Lord. And then:
3. Who is, or what is, the great red dragon—that portentous monster whose hideous portrait and purpose are here revealed? Who is that who is as Pharaoh, watching for the birth of Israel's babes, in the far off evil days of their bondage in Egypt, that he might destroy them; or as Herod, inquiring diligently concerning the birth of the holy Child Jesus, that he might murderously rid himself of the possible rival "King of the Jews,"—who is meant here? And surely not Herod, nor, exclusively, Nero or Rome, but the prince of this world, Satan, the old serpent, the devil—he and none other—is the "great red dragon." "Red, as the colour of fire and as the colour of blood. Red, as the emblem of the waster and destroyer, as the emblem of him who 'was a murderer from the beginning.'" The dragon is that fabulous monster of whom ancient poets told as "huge in size, coiled like a snake, blood red in colour, or shot with changing tints," insatiable in voracity and ever athirst for human blood. In Psalms 91:1-16. it is linked with "the lion and adder, and the young lion"—all which, together with the dragon, God's servant should "trample underfoot." Fit emblem, therefore, for that cruel, bloodthirsty, and persecuting power with which Christ's Church has so often had to contend. Its variety of assault is told of by the "seven heads;" its huge strength, by the "ten horns;" its exalted authority amidst men, by the "seven diadems;" and its arrogant and audacious dominance, by "the tail which drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them down to the earth." Such is the Church's adversary, the devil, who, in St. John's day, assumed a form which justified this horrid portraiture, but who, in whatever form he may assume, from whichever of his "seven heads" his attack may spring, is ever, in spirit, purpose, and aim, one and the same, always and everywhere. We need not linger on the next question:
4. Who is the child that was born? That the Lord Jesus Christ is meant is, we think, incontestable; but as it is not of his life and ministry that this vision mainly tells, but of that Church in which and for which he was born, his sojourn and sufferings here are passed over. Only his entrance into and departure from this world are spoken of, and we are bidden contemplate him not here, but at the right hand of God, whither he ascended after his work on earth was done. But "the woman," and not her child, lingers here, exposed to the cruel assaults of her dread foe until the twelve hundred and sixty days, the period of time which we find so perpetually mentioned in this book, and which equals the three years and a half, the half of the complete number seven, and therefore type of a period not complete, but brief and broken,—until this time be done, the woman—the Church—must remain in the wilderness to which she has fled, or, rather, has been borne of God (verse 14), and where she is sheltered from the power of her dread foe, and nourished by the ministers of God. It now only remains to ask:
5. What is this wilderness which is spoken of here? And the reply is that it is a type of the condition of the Church until the twelve hundred and sixty days, the time allotted for the Church's trial, be accomplished. And concerning that condition we would now speak—of its privations and perils, but, most of all, of its privileges.
I. ITS PRIVATIONS. No doubt there are these; the very name of "wilderness" indicates that there would be. We cannot have the good things of the world—"the flesh pots of Egypt"—and the good things of Christ too. We have to make choice between them. Making the best of both worlds is generally, if not always, a very doubtful procedure, though not a few professed Christians are forever attempting it. "How hardly shall they that have riches"—the specially good thing of this world—"enter into the kingdom of heaven!" So said our Saviour, and all experience confirms his word. For such things are but hindrances and impedimenta, that do but render our way through the wilderness yet more difficult, where it was difficult enough before. It is told of a great cardinal how, when in his last illness, he had himself wheeled into his sumptuous picture gallery, and as he wistfully looked at one art treasure after another, he said to a friend who was with him, "Ah, these are the things that make it hard to die!" No doubt it is so; and hence we are bidden go by the way of the wilderness, so that we may escape the besetments that would otherwise delay our progress. Nor may we look for rest here. The pilgrim may never here say to his soul, "Soul, take thine ease." Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. There were Elims and other "quiet resting places" where, once and again, Israel was permitted to relieve the stress and strain of their long pilgrimage; but the common characteristics of their life was that of pilgrims, and their forty years' sojourn in the wilderness are spoken of, not as rest, but as their "wanderings." And, indeed, the providence of God is ever busy to prevent his people from settling down here as if it were their rest. Hence the disquiet and trouble, the "black care" which enters every abode—the palatial as well as the poorest; the loss and bereavement, all that which the Bible calls the "stirring up the nest,"—all is for the purpose of reminding us that this is not our rest, and to induce us—so slow, generally, to be induced—to seek the better country, even the heavenly one. Oh that men would remember this, and reckon on all these things as the necessary, indispensable, and salutary, if severe, conditions of our present lot! They would then be far less hard to bear, and would more readily fulfil their mission, and serve as a spur to urge us forward in the heavenly road. And there are also—
II. PERILS BELONGING TO THIS PILGRIMAGE. One we have now glanced at—the persistent temptation to make the wilderness a home; to so bring the world into the Church, as that the Church itself should become a world; so to mingle the worldly with the religious life, that the latter should partake more of the former than the former of the latter. This is no imaginary peril, but one actual and visible, and yielded to in cases not a few. And another is the failure of faith. Ah, what trouble came to Israel of old from this one fatal fountain! Their miserable record of sinning and repenting, which went on almost from the day they left Egypt till the day they entered Canaan, caused that all that time should be branded with the reproachful name of "the day of provocation in the wilderness." And it was all owing to their persistent unbelief. And the like peril exists still. Without doubt the difficulties of unbelief are greater than those of faith; but these latter are so great and pressing, oftentimes, that faith well nigh suffers shipwreck. It is easy, comparatively, for the comfortable and well to do, in whose even tenor of life little occurs to raffle or disturb, much less distress—it is easy for such to say fine things about faith, and to censure and condemn those for not believing whose whole life is one long trial of faith; but let those who thus condemn be themselves likewise tried, and then it is probable that their condemnations will gradually change into comprehension, and that into sympathy with, and that into actual sharing of their brothers' unbelief. Yes, this is a real peril of our wilderness condition, and it is one which, if we do not conquer, it will conquer us. It is this which gives force to another peril—the temptation to go back to Egypt, to return to the world which we have avowedly forsaken. Israel was on the point of doing this, and often looked longingly back to the lives they had left. And some yield to it. How many are there who apostatize—leave the Church of Christ, and become, to all intents and purposes, what they were before they entered it, if not worse! Such are some of the perils of the wilderness, from all which may God in his great mercy deliver us! But—
III. THE PRIVILEGES and blessings of the wilderness condition are far more than either its privations or perils. Look back to that ancient record which tells of God's favour to Israel when they were in the wilderness, for the types of the like favour which he shows towards his people now.
1. Think of their security. The free air of the wilderness played upon them instead of the stifling heat of the valley of the Nile. They were on the high mountain plateau of Sinai, wandering over its grassy Alps, on which their flocks and herds freely fed, and over which the mountain breezes played. And they had seen their enemies dead on the seashore; they had no longer any fear of them. Their bondage was over, and they were free. And if we be the Lord's redeemed people, and have trusted in Christ our Passover, who was sacrificed for us, if we be of that blood besprinkled band, then we, too, are free. The guilt of sin, the tyranny and torture of sin, torment us no more. Ours is "the glorious liberty of the children of God," and we stand fast in "that liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free."
2. Unfailing sustenance, too, was theirs, and is ours. He fed them with angels' food; he gave them bread from heaven to eat. The manna fell morning by morning, and they all drank of the water from the smitten rock, which, for its perpetual, flee, full flowing streams, was so fit a type of Christ, that St. Paul says of it, "which rock was Christ." The antitype of all this in the spiritual sustenance—the bread of life, the water of life, the communion of his body and blood, and the manifold means of grace—are manifest, and his people know them, and rejoice in them day by day.
3. Guidance, too, was theirs. The pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night,—"so it was always." And he guides us by his counsel. His Word is "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path." By the promptings of his Holy Spirit, by the indication of his providence, he causes us to "know the way wherein we should walk," and makes "plain our path before our feet." None who seek that miss it; for those who "commit" their "way unto the Lord," he does "bring it to pass."
4. Instruction, moreover, was given Israel. God gave them his holy Law. To them were committed "the oracles of God." And so likewise to us, in his Word, the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make us "wise unto salvation."
5. Nor must we forget that great privilege—the presence of God with them. God "tabernacled amongst them." In that sacred tent, hovering over the ark of the covenant, rested the cloud of glory, the visible sign of him who "dwelt between the cherubim." St. John teaches us that this was the type of the yet more blessed fact, the incarnation of him who was "made flesh and tabernacled amongst us," and who now, by his Spirit, is with us evermore. In our hallowed moments of communion do we not know that he is with us? Cannot we see his face, hear his voice, feel the touch of his hand, behold the radiance of his countenance? It is so, and we know it.
6. Finally, they had a bright, sure, and ever-nearing hope of the rest God had promised them. Every day brought them "a day's march nearer home." More surely is this true of us than it was of Israel. For they were made, for their unbelief, to turn back and go over the way again, which can hardly be said of us. And ours is no earthly Canaan, but the heavenly rest, the "inheritance of the saints in light."
CONCLUSION. Shall, then, the privations or perils of the wilderness make us think lightly of these wondrous privileges; much less shall they make us abandon them? Ah no! Gladly will we bear all that now may pain or distress, comforted—as surely we ought to be—by the presence, the promise, and the power of God.—S. C.
The holy war.
"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb," etc. Without attempting to identify "Michael and his angels," or "the dragon and his angels," or the "heaven" where no longer "place" was "found any more" for them; nor attempting to explain exactly what is meant by the dragon being "cast out into the earth," or how he "accused" the "brethren... before our God day and night" -- what all this means none know; but we may take the text as telling of that holy war which all Christians have to wage, and of the weapons whereby they overcome. Note—
I. THE PEOPLE WHO OVERCAME. Those spoken of:
1. Stand for the whole Church of God, the whole company of the redeemed. "There is no discharge in this war." Not one will be in glory by and by who has not waged, who has not won, this holy war. We, as they, must take our part. And:
2. They did as we must. We paint fancy pictures of the saints in glory, as if they were beings different from ourselves, and had never known the strain and stress of life as we know them. But they did know it all. Christ, our Lord, was "in all things made like unto his brethren," and therefore all of them have the common characteristics of this warfare upon them. Only:
3. The lot of those specially referred to here was harder than ours. Had St. John lived in our days of quiet ease, when persecution, much less death, for Christ's sake is a thing unknown or most rare, he would hardly have used imagery of so tremendous a kind as he has here. But it was because the trial was so terrible for all those "who would live godly in Christ Jesus," the foe so fierce and cruel and strong in those dreadful days during which St. John wrote, that imagery so vivid, startling, and terrific is made use of. But it would be affectation if we were to say our lot today is as theirs was in St. John's day. How much more, then, may God require from us than from them! Will he obtain it?
4. In this holy war they all fought. It was not merely appointed for all, but accepted by all of them. They did not refuse or retreat from it. That was not their way. Like as the brave little drummer-boy, when captured by the French army, was bidden sound the "retreat," he replied that he did not know how to, for the British army never retreated; so may it be said of every true soldier of Christ's army—they never retreat.
5. And they overcame. "Oh, remember the slaves of sin are not the children of God. If Satan has dominion over you, you are not in Christ Jesus. Where the ark of the Lord is, Dagon must fall upon his face and be broken. 'That which is born of God overcometh the world.' Are we, then, resisting? are we conquering? Do not let us deceive ourselves. If sin is our master, we perish. Grace must reign in us, or we are wretched indeed. Holiness is not a luxury for the few, it is a necessity for all."
II. THE POWER IN VIRTUE OF WHICH THEY OVERCAME. It is said that this was:
1. By the blood of the Lamb, i.e. in virtue of, on account of, on the ground of, that blood. Now this is so because the blood of the Lamb is:
(1) The basis of our peace. There must be steady standing ground if a man is to fight. The engineer is very careful to have firm foundation for his work. And if we are to contend in this warfare, our souls must be at peace in regard to our acceptance with God. The torture of doubt and the torment of fear will be fatal to our accomplishing aught worthy of the name. We must have peace with God; and we have this only in virtue of Christ's atoning sacrifice.
(2) The antidote of our sin. Many think the doctrine of full, free forgiveness through the blood of Christ a doctrine that encourages men in sin. They argue that what is so freely forgiven will be freely incurred. The elder son in the parable thought it was scandalous that his young ne'er do well of a brother should be so freely forgiven by his father, and so "he was angry, and would not go in." And there have ever been people who have thought this. But we appeal to the records of the Church. Who have been the most faithful, the most pure, the most Christ like? Has it not been they who have clung, like Paul did, to this blessed truth with all their hearts? And we appeal to experience. Is it not the memory of our crucified Lord that is mighty to the purification of the heart? Can the recollection of his love and the love of sin abide together? It is impossible. So does the blood of Christ cleanse us from all sin.
(3) Worketh in us patience. How this is needed, in such a warfare as that which the much tried believer has to wage, is evident. Blessed is he that endureth. But what an aid to such patient enduring is found in the example of our Lord! We think of him in all his holy meekness; how "as a sheep before her shearers is dumb," etc. And as we contemplate that perfect pattern of patient enduring of wrong, how our own trials and sorrows become little, and less and less in comparison with his!
(4) The inspiration of our love. "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself," said Napoleon, "founded great empires; but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for him." Thus does the blood of the Lamb become to us a power indeed, in virtue of which we overcome.
2. The word of their testimony. This is joined on to that which we have but now spoken of. For the blood of the Lamb, unseen, unbelieved, unaccepted, will do no one any good, will aid no one to overcome; but it is when that blood is seen, believed, accepted, and confessed by the word of their testimony, the open avowal, the good confession—then, in virtue of this, the Father confesses them. In response to the word of their testimony goes forth the word of his power, and they become mighty through God. Committing ourselves to any course, breaking down the bridges, burning the ships that would help us to retreat—such conduct greatly strengthens purpose and resolve. And so, when by spoken word of testimony for Christ we have committed ourselves to follow and serve him, the very fact that we have done this strengthens us and gives us fresh force for his service. Both by way of Divine reward, and by way of natural consequence such word of testimony Would help to overcome.
III. THE PROOF OF THE OVERCOMING. "They loved not their lives unto the death." They went on resisting, when not only it involved much suffering and distress, but even when it involved death itself. That is the meaning. And what proof of overcoming is there comparable to this? As at Waterloo, when the English forces endured, all that long summer Sunday, the fierce and incessant cannonading of the French, together with their repeated charges, led as they were by the most famous of the marshals of France, what did such endurance show but that they were not to be conquered? And so the resistance told of in Christ's holy war—the loving "not our lives unto," etc.—this shows that we are not to be conquered, but will conquer, will overcome. If we see a man swerve, and edge back, and shift his ground, and retreat, that is not a proof of victory, but vanquishment. But he who is steadfast, immovable, even though death threaten, neither sin nor Satan will ever conquer him. Are we giving this proof of our really belonging to the number of the overcoming ones? When the adversary assails us, as we know he does, do we or does he gain the victory—which? Let us not think that there is any other proof of our being victors at last beside this one of our being, in the main, victors now. It will not do to rely on anything else, however specious, however plausible, however popular. It is in the overcoming now that we have the evidence that we shall be victors at the end. And that we may now overcome, let us draw near unto our crucified Lord, and come under the influence of his unspeakable love. And confess him. So shall our text then become true of us, as God grant it may be of us all!—S. C.
Satan's rage so great because his time so short.
"The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath," etc. The text—
I. ASSUMES THE EXISTENCE OF SATAN. Many question the reality of any such being, but:
1. We may ask—Why should it not be?
(1) We ascribe all effects to given causes. Instinctively we do this. A child hears a noise, and at once looks round to find out the cause.
(2) And we see many evil effects, sad, dreadful ones, and we are therefore led to look for their cause.
(3) The same argument that tells against the existence of the evil one tells equally against the existence of One who is the All good, that is, God. If there be no prince of evil, there is no "Author and Giver of all good." If it be said our own nature is sufficient to account for all the evil we find, then it may be said our own nature is sufficient to account for all the good we find.
(4) It is not sufficient to say that evil is the mere absence of good—a negative, not a positive quality. That only pushes the question further back, and leads us to ask—Why should the absence of one quality cause such wretchedness in those surroundings which it has left? If the earth had not been made incapable of light apart from the sun, there would be no darkness. Darkness, therefore, and evil also, require a cause, are a distinct creation.
2. The Bible affirms such existence. Take but one instance out of the many affirmations of this truth. Our Lord taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." He had just come away from fearful conflict with that evil one, and therefore bids us thus pray. If our Lord's words, and those of his apostles, do not teach the personality and real existence of Satan, then no language could be devised that would teach it
3. And it is good news—a gospel. For evil being summed up in a person, in one head, destroy that, as it shall be destroyed, and evil ceases to be (cf. story of the Roman emperor, who wished that all Rome had but one neck, that he might destroy it at a blow; in a very real sense it is thus with the kingdom of evil). Satan broke as a wolf into the fold—he has no rightful inherent place therein—and he can be driven forth, or destroyed by the good Shepherd, and will be.
II. TEACHES US THAT THE POWER OF SATAN IS LIMITED. It would be dreadful to think otherwise. In dark moments men are tempted so to think. Pessimism so thinks. And it may be asked—Why should not evil be eternal as well as good? The whole doctrine of evolution is against it. We see perpetually the lower forms of life giving place to the higher, the less good to the better. It is thus in all departments of life. The fittest survives. The unfit disappears. Therefore we believe in the limit taught by the text. The whole Bible asserts it. To teach it is almost the Bible's raison, d'etre. And whilst on the most reasonable hypothesis—that our life here is but a school, an education—we can explain, at least to a large extent, the presence of evil in its varied forms, notwithstanding, and even because, infinite wisdom and power and goodness are at the head of all things; but if the devil be head of all, then there is no accounting for the much and manifold good that we know exists and increases day by day. Believing, therefore, that beneficence reigns, evil must have an end.
III. EXPLAINS THE VIRULENCE OF EVIL EXISTENT AMONGST MEN. It says it is because Satan is in "great wrath, knowing that," etc. Such representation is in keeping with the malignant character which the Bible ever attributes to, and which must belong to Satan. See in the Gospel narratives, when commanded to go forth from those he had taken possession of, with what violence he maltreats them, throwing them down, tearing them, casting them into convulsions, etc. It is that which Satan would and does do. And in Christian experience there is the counterpart of this (cf. Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress ').
IV. LEADS US TO ASK—WHEREFORE ARE WE TOLD ALL THIS? It was and is:
1. To prevent dismay, bewilderment, and despair. One can understand how not a few would be, for many yet are, fastened upon by these foes of faith.
2. To inspire hope and courage, patience and trust. How calculated to render us this high service these teachings are!
3. That we may tell them to others. Many yet are sitting in the land of darkness and the shadow of death, not knowing that he hath come who shall destroy "death, and him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil." "Go, preach my gospel, saith the Lord."
4. To set us on our guard, and to make us more heedful of the commands of Christ, the Captain of our salvation, in whom abiding, neither death nor hell can work us harm.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
It has been wisely said, "The Revelation of St. John gives no regularly progressive disclosure of the future, advancing in unbroken series from beginning to end; but it falls into a number of groups, which, indeed, supplement each other, every successive vision giving some other aspect of the future, but which are still formally complete in themselves, each proceeding from a beginning to an end." We have but just heard the accents of the shout of final triumph. Now we are thrown back again to scenes of strife, and conflict—the prevailing condition until the end cometh. This section is preparative. The agents in the great strife are set before us in symbolical form—"signs." The things signified it behoves us to seek to know.
I. THE FIRST IS THE SIGN OF "A WOMAN ARRAYED WITH THE SUN, AND THE MOON UNDER HER FEET, AND UPON HER HEAD A CROWN OF TWELVE STARS." In this we are to see a symbolical representation of the Zion of God—the Church; not the Christian in contradiction to the Jewish; but the true Israel of God—under the Old and perpetuated in New Testament times. Not an unfamiliar figure of both Old and New Testaments to represent the Church as a woman, whether a bride or a mother (Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah 54:6; Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:9). Is the sun that glory of God which now lightens the holy city; and the moon the previous, the lesser light which ruled the comparative night before the morning star appeared? The crown of the Church is ever the twelve tribes supplanted by the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
II. THE SECOND SIGN IS THE MAN CHILD BORN OF THE WOMAN. Christ in his human nature, born of that Church which for so long before his coming endured the pangs of travail. From the bosom of the people of God, Christ according to the flesh came. This is he of whom it is declared, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me … thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron."
III. THE THIRD SYMBOL OR SIGN IS "A GREAT RED DRAGON, HAVING SEVEN HEADS AND TEN HORNS, AND ON HIS HEADS SEVEN DIADEMS." The interpretation of this is given explicitly in verse 9. The seven heads may fitly represent the multiplied worldly powers which the evil one brings against Christ and his Church, and in the ten horns may be hidden a reference to that great world power which, in the days of St. John, sought, as the agent of Satan, to destroy the Church of Christ. The whole scene is expressive of the great powers which from the beginning wage war with the Lamb.
IV. A FOURTH SIGN IS FOUND IN THE ATTITUDE OF THE RED DRAGON BEFORE THIS WOMAN, SEEKING TO DESTROY HER CHILD, But the Divine care defends him, and the woman flees into the wilderness—"a place prepared," and that "they may nourish her."
Let the whole for our instruction resolve itself into a teaching concerning:
1. The habitual antagonism of the great powers of evil to him who is the Church's Lord and Son. The whole book portrays the strife between the great antagonistic powers—light and darkness, sin and holiness, Christ and Satan—"the proper factors of history." This vision is, for us, one of warning and admonition. We learn the conditions on which we hold life. Our hearts are the battleground, and for dominion over them the two forces contend. Our duty is plain.
2. The Divine care for the Church. The "wilderness" is not a place of danger, but of safety. The city, with its corruption, is the deadly place. True, the wilderness affords not luxury; but luxury is danger. In the wilderness the Church is fed and nourished. God has prepared the conditions of safety for his Church during the times of the great strife which is afterwards to be detailed. Then let the lowly disciple have both faith and hope. The Lord will defend him in the day of battle, and will nourish him unto eternal life.—R. G.
War and triumph.
The heavenly things ("in heaven") are again represented by a battle—a war. There is ever contention on the earth between those forces that are evil and those that are Divine. The history of the human race is the history of an undying struggle—a struggle between the heavenly and the earthly elements; the good and the bad; the flesh and the spirit. Here the whole contending forces are leagued under two great captains, "Michael" and "the dragon." "Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon;" and "the dragon warred and his angels." There is no difficulty in deciphering their names. "Michael" is the angel of the Lord—"Who is like God." It is he who enters "the strong man's house, and spoils his goods;" he that "brings to nought him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil;" he who "was manifested for this purpose, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Yea, it is he, the "King of kings and Lord of lords." And the dragon is expressly affirmed (Revelation 12:9) to be "the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan." This scene is the central scene of the entire book, and represents the ceaseless strife. The issue is not doubtful. For the comfort of the Church, in all ages of her strife, "the great voice in heaven" proclaims "the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ." The struggle is elsewhere depicted. Here is the simple word of triumph.
1. "They [the dragon and his angels] prevailed not."
2. They were cast out: "Neither was their place found any more in heaven."
3. They were utterly routed: "The great dragon was cast down," "and his angels were cast down with him."
4. The triumphant reign of the Redeemer follows: "Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ." The words of the great chorus rise to our lips, "And he shall reign forever and ever."
5. The accuser is silenced: "Who is he that condemeth?"
6. The triumph is traced to its true source.
(1) "They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and
(2) because of the word of their testimony;" and
(3) because of their entire self devotion: "And they loved not their life even unto death."
7. The consequent heavenly jubilation: "Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them." Truly he is blessed who reads and understands these words. Herein the final triumph of the heavenly over the earthly, the sensual, the devilish, is distinctly depicted and undeniably affirmed.—R.G.
Safety in Satanic persecution.
The anticipated defeat—a defeat already effected in the Divine counsels—excites the wrath of the dragon, who reads assuredly his own condemnation and subjugation in that "blood of the Lamb" which the hands of his own "cruel and wicked" ones shed. The time of his power is limited; it is "a short time." Satan will rage his hour, and persecute the woman. Thus we are brought back to the earlier part of the vision, and we behold—
I. THE SATANIC PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH OF GOD. John is speaking out of the depths to the Church in all ages, during which the same virulent spirit shall vent itself. How often has the little flock had to look upon these words, when the ravenous wolf has scattered and devoured and torn! It must needs be that persecutions come. The heavenly spirit meets with so great an opposition in the earthly, that there can be no concord. The great promise made to the demand, "What shall we have therefore?" closes with the dread announcement—"with persecutions." It is ever so; but not only so.
II. THE DIVINE. PROTECTION OF THE PERSECUTED CHURCH. The Lord provides for his own: "Not a hair of your head shall perish." The safety of the Church is represented by her dwelling and nourishment in the wilderness. The persecuted Church flies unto her place. God has prepared for her a place of safety. She flies with wings he too has given. Ah! he "bears on eagles' wings" as of old. He has provided a place—rather a condition, or state—on earth, for his own. It is one of endurance. It could not be one of luxurious self-indulgence, which the city life would represent. "They loved not their lives." It is a condition of suffering, of denial, and privation. They take up the cross. The words are so interwoven with our common speech, that the figure is become familiar to us all. But God "nourishes" his people in their wilderness life. He feeds them with manna—bread from heaven. He leaves not, neither does he forsake them. The old words come to our thoughts: "They shall dwell safely in the wilderness;" "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her;" "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" It is the place of discipline and training and hardship, of testing and putting to the proof. But it is the place of blessing. Through it he leadeth his people like a flock. He goeth before them, and is their Rearward—their Defence and Salvation. He will safely and gently lead them even to the land of promise. The wilderness days shall end. There is a limit. It is but for "a time, and times, and half a time."—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Social Christhood and social fiendhood.
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven," etc. What strange objects the human imagination can create, or in a passive state receive! What a remarkable dream or vision this is of the apostolic hermit on Patmos! "A woman arrayed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars around her head, brings forth a man child. A huge scarlet dragon with ten horns and seven diademed heads, whose tail sweeps after it the third part of the stars to the earth, stands before her to devour the child the moment it is born, since the child is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. But the child is snatched up to the throne of God, and the woman flies into the wilderness, where she is nourished for twelve hundred and sixty days." I shall take this strange creature of the imagination as I have taken the other visions—not to represent things of which we know nothing, but to illustrate some important realities with which we are more or less acquainted. There are two subjects here—
(1) social Christhood, and
(2) social fiendhood.
I. SOCIAL CHRISTHOOD. By "social Christhood" I mean the existence of Christ in a human society, or in a community of men. I use this language in preference to the term "Church," for that term now, alas! seldom represents Christhood, but often the reverse. The expressions in the Episcopal community, "our Church," and, in the Nonconformist domain, "our Churches," are, alas! far enough from representing Christ, either in his doctrines, ethics, or spirit. Self-sacrificing love is the essence of Christhood; but where do we find that, either in "our Church" or "our Churches"? Christhood is peace, eternal antipathy to all anger, resentment, ambition, war. But "our Church" gives war a sanction, a licence, a blessing. The word "Church," therefore, in its conventional sense, I repudiate as a calumny on Christ. Using this vision, therefore, to illustrate social Christhood, two remarks are suggested concerning the society or community in which Christ lives and works.
1. It is glorious. "A woman clothed [arrayed] with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" (Revelation 12:1). It is encircled with the solar beams of Divine truth. Beneath the feet is the world. It treads down all worldliness in its spirit and aims. Around its brow, as a peerless diadem, are twelve stars. The true Church as a community of Christly men—Christly in idea, spirit, and pursuit—is the most glorious object under the grand heavens. It reveals more of God than all the globes that roll through immensity. It is a glorious Church. The conventional Church is a crawling sycophant; the true Church is a crowned sovereign.
2. It is multiplying. "She being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered" (Revelation 12:2). The true Church is not sterile or barren, but otherwise; it is fecundant and multiplying. Three remarks are suggested concerning its offspring:
(1) It is brought forth in pain. "In pain to be delivered." "All life," it has been said, "dawns in anguish, according to the fiat (Genesis 3:16)." There is an anguish of the Church which Christ laid upon her; it is the law of her life that she must bring forth Christ to the world, but she cannot work deliverance without knowing suffering. Paul speaks of himself as "travailing in birth." Who knows the anguish of those earnestly engaged in endeavouring to form Christ in men, and to bring him forth? What is genuine, personal religion but Christ in men, working within them to "will and to do his own good pleasure"?
(2) It is brought forth to govern. "And she brought forth a man child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Revelation 12:5). Every Christly convert is a ruler—is born to rule. Servility and flunkeyism in all its forms are foreign to its instincts and spirit. His instincts and bearing are imperial. All the offspring of the true Church are kings as well as "priests unto God."
(3) It is destined for Divine fellowship. "And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne" (Revelation 12:5). Whatever might be the trials of the truly Christly, here is the end. Sublime destiny this. "God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Though the mother had in her trials and persecutions to flee unto the "wilderness," even there she was secure. "She had a place prepared of God."
II. SOCIAL FIENDHOOD. Not only is there a society on earth in which Christ is, but there is a society in which the devil is. "And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads," etc. There is as truly a social fiendhood as there is a social Christhood. The "great red dragon," the old serpent, the "prince of the power of the air," works in the children of disobedience everywhere. Two facts are suggested by the highly symbolic and probably uninterpretable description here given of this fiend in human society.
1. His possession of enormous power.
(1) Enormous power of intellect. "Seven heads." The devil has a larger amount of human intellect at his command than Christ; sevenfold, peradventure, more.
(2) Enormous power of execution. "Ten horns." Horns are the emblems of force. How mighty is the devil amongst men! He works in all the navies and armies of the world.
(3) Enormous power of empire. "Seven crowns [diadems] upon his heads." The human world abounds with chiefs and princelets, and kings and queens; but in how many is there Christhood? The "great red dragon" seems to master most, if not all; the "kingdom of Satan" is all but worldwide.
(4) Enormous power of mischief. "And his tail drew [draweth] the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." There are stars in the moral firmament of the human soul, stars of social love, of reverent piety, of moral intuition, of spiritual insight, of infinite worship. These stars Satan sweeps away, and leaves us to grope our way in nocturnal gloom. Where are these stars seen in the political management of England today? Truly we are walking in darkness and have no light. £
2. His determined antagonism to Christhood. It is said, "The dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born." It is against Christ in his true Church, Christ in his few but multiplying progeny, that this "great red dragon" stood.
CONCLUSION This determined and active antagonism between social Christhood and social fiendhood is a commentary on the old text, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." It explains, moreover, all domestic conflicts, all political battlings, and national wars. Evil and good are at war on this earth. This is the grand campaign, inspiring and explaining all other feuds.—D. T.
The great campaign.
"And there was war in heaven," etc. There is undoubtedly "war in heaven"—in the heaven of our being. War in the soul individually, war in the soul collectively, war within and war without. We "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of this world; against wickedness in high places." The vision brings to our notice the contending armies and the contending issues.
I. THE ARMIES IN THE CONTEST. Who are the armies? "Michael and his angels fought [going forth to war] against the dragon; and the dragon fought [warred] and his angels" (Revelation 12:7). Many expositors will tell us all about Michael and the dragon and their angels, but I cannot. I take them as the ever acting representatives of good and evil. Both have their leaders, their Michaels, and their dragons with their respective followers or angels. Christ and his disciples represent the one. He is the "Captain of salvation;" all iris disciples are enlisted as his soldiers, they are inspired with his purpose and fight under his banner. The "dragon," called the devil and Satan, and his votaries, represent the other. There is not a man who breathes who is not actively engaged in one or other of those armies. The grand question to determine is, "Who is on the Lord's side?"—the side of moral reality, right, and benevolence. "He that is not with me is against me."
II. THE ISSUES OF THE CONTEST.
1. The one army was utterly discomfited. What became of them? "And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven" (Revelation 12:8). The prince of this world is cast out. A Stronger than he has entered the palace, and he is overcome, and "hath taken from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divided his spoils."
"Him, the Almighty power
Hurl'd headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition; there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms."
2. The other army was sublimely triumphant. Observe:
(1) The triumphant song. "And I heard a loud [great] voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength [power], and the kingdom of our God" (Revelation 12:10). The celestial paean proclaims the deliverance of man, the reign of God, and the adoration of Christ, and portrays in graphic delineation the miserable victim as the "accuser of our brethren before God day and night" (Revelation 12:10).
(2) The triumphant weapons. How was the victory won?
(a) By the life of Christ. "The blood of the Lamb." What meaneth this?
(b) By the Word of truth. "By the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11). The Divine Word is the all-conquering sword.
(c) By self sacrificing love. "They loved not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11). Self sacrificing love is the inspiring spirit in this warfare. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20).
CONCLUSION. Evil on this earth, though it is strong, has the multitude and the empire on its side. Although it has lived long, won victories, and is active and vigorous to this hour, it will not live forever. Its doom is sealed, its head is bruised, its limbs are withering, and its death approaches. What Christ himself saw will one day be witnessed by an adoring universe. "I saw Satan fall like lightning," etc.—D.T.
Moral conquest won through Christ.
"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb." It is trite, but ever solemnly true, to say that life is a combat. Moral antagonists of the soul meet us everywhere in all departments of life, circles of society, spheres of action. Nay, they rise up within us. These can be only overcome by the "blood of the Lamb," that is, by the self-sacrificing life of Christ.
I. IT IS THROUGH HIS BLOOD (OR LIFE) THAT WE GET OUR ANTAGONISM TO MORAL EVIL ROUSED. Where do we learn the turpitude, the enormity, the ruinousness of sin, as we learn it in the cross? There, indeed, "sin appears exceeding sinful," When we are enabled to look upon it in the light of that cross, the whole soul rises in determined opposition to it.
II. IT IS THROUGH HIS BLOOD (OR LIFE) THAT WE GET OUR WEAPONS SUPPLIED. What are the weapons with which evil is to be restored?
1. A clear knowledge of the right. It is by right alone that wrong can be put down. His life was the intelligible embodiment, and the all-convincing demonstration of moral right.
2. An inflexible love for the right. Right as an idea is no weapon. But right as a love becomes a triumphant implement in this warfare.
III. IT IS THROUGH HIS BLOOD (OR LIFE) THAT WE GET OUR COURAGE INSPIRED. In this warfare we require a courage unflagging and invincible—a courage impelling us to fight, even to the death. Whence cometh this? Only from Christ. His self-sacrificing spirit is the soul of all true courage.—D.T.
The defeatability of the devil.
"Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!" etc. This portion of John's vision illustrates four facts of great importance and of vital interest to all men.
I. THAT MIGHTY AS IS THE MASTER FIEND OF EVIL, HE IS NOT PROOF AGAINST DEFEATS. "Therefore rejoice, ye [O] heavens, and ye that dwell in them" (verse 12).
1. Here is a defeat implied. The efforts of this matchless fiend, however wisely directed and mightily wrought, are evermore exposed to failure. There is nothing permanent in error, there is no stability in wrong. All systems untrue to fact and unrighteous in principle are but houses on the sand of time. The laws of the universe flow in ever-increasing volume against wrong. The devil is truly a defeatable agent; he has no power over those who are prepossessed with goodness. "The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me." The command is, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." As light extends and virtue grows, all schemes of wrong, political, social, and religious, crack to pieces and tumble to ruin.
2. Here is a defeat righteously exultable. "Rejoice, ye heavens." In whatever heaven this defeat is witnessed, whether in the individual soul or in the social circle, it is a reason for rejoicing. In every error corrected, in every prejudice crushed, in every unholy purpose broken, in every impure impulse conquered, there comes to the soul the command, "Rejoice, ye heavens." It is the joy of the prisoner quitting his cell, of the patient returning to health.
II. THAT GREAT AS HIS DEFEATS MAY BE, THEY DO NOT QUENCH HIS ANIMOSITY. "Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." Hunted from one arena, he enters another, flaming with indignation, and the more so as he feels that his time for work is shortening. "He hath but a short time." "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none." He is "a roaring lion, going about seeking whom he may devour." As every defeat enfeebles his power, contracts his reign, and decreases his opportunities, his malign nature becomes more intense in hatred. Like the ravenous beast of the desert, his failure to fasten his tusks in one victim whets his appetite for another. Evil is insatiable.
III. THAT HIS ANIMOSITY IS ESPECIALLY DIRECTED AGAINST THE TRUE CHURCH. "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child" (verse 13). Let the woman stand as an emblem of the true Church, or Christly men collectively, and we have before us a picture of the mighty fiend tormenting it and its progeny. We read that "the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood [river] after the woman" (verse 15). And again, "The dragon was [waxed] wroth with the woman, and went [away] to make war with the remnant [rest] of her seed" (verse 17). What on this earth doth he hate most and yearn to crush? Not politics, learning, commerce, science, literature, art. None of these as such, but the Christly in men. Wherever the Spirit of Christ is, the spirit of tenderness, humility, self-sacrificing love, this he hates and seeks to destroy. On such he "pours out water as a flood," that he may "cause them to be carried away of the flood [stream]." Who shall say what he pours forth from his mouth? False accusations, pernicious errors, social persecutions, etc.
IV. THAT THE TRUE CHURCH, EVEN IN TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES, IS UNDER THE SPECIAL PROTECTION OF HEAVEN. "And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent" (verse 14). Notice:
1. The Church is in the wilderness. "That she might fly into the wilderness." The home of Christly men on this earth has always been more of a wilderness than a Canaan—intricate, dangerous, gloomy.
2. Though in the wilderness, it has enormous privileges.
(1) It is endowed with heaven-soaring power. "To the woman were given two wings of a great eagle." It is endowed with soaring instincts and faculties. Like the eagle, the Church has the power to rise from the earth, penetrate the clouds, and bask in azure. "It can mount up on wings as eagles."
(2) It has the whole earth to serve it. "And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth," etc. (verse 16).—D.T.
Nature serving Christliness.
"The earth helped the woman." By common consent "the woman" here means redeemed humanity, or the children of God collectively, or, in other words, what is called the Church.
1. Her appearance is wonderful. "Clothed with the sun."
2. Her progeny is wonderful. "She brought forth a man child."
3. Her antagonist is wonderful. The devil is the great enemy of redeemed humanity, and the description given of him indicates that he is a being of stupendous force and malice.
4. Her influence is wonderful. Supernatural beings engage in fierce conflict on her account. There was war in heaven. The subject here is Nature serving Christliness. The earth—nature—"helped the woman"—embodied Christianity. Nature helps Christliness in various ways.
I. BY ITS GRAND REVELATIONS. Nature reveals all the grand subjects that constitute the very foundation of Bible discoveries.
1. There is God. All nature proclaims, not only his existence, hut his personality, unity, spirituality, wisdom, goodness, power.
2. There is law. Every part is under the rigorous reign of law. Any infraction of nature's laws carries penalties.
3. There is mediation. The principle of mediation runs through all nature. One element, one agent, one being, everywhere serving another.
4. There is responsibility. In the human world men are everywhere recognized as responsible, men everywhere feel their responsibility.
5. There is mystery. There is a haze over all nature. Every part has arenas which no intellect can penetrate. The whole universe seems to float on the dark sea of mystery. Now, all these subjects which we find in nature we find also in the Bible. Hence nature comes, also, to illustrate the meaning of the Bible and confirm its truth. It is a grand parable. Hence "the earth helps the woman."
II. BY ITS MORAL IMPRESSIONS. Nature is suited to make impressions upon the earth corresponding exactly with those which Christianity essays to produce.
1. The sense of dependence. How infinitesimally little man feels beside the great hills, confronting the ocean billow, and under the awful stars! Amidst the majesty of Nature's appearances he feels himself to be nothing, and tess than nothing. He feels borne along as a straw upon the resistless flood of destiny.
2. Reverence. How great does God appear in nature, in the minute as well as the vast! "An undevout astronomer is mad." There is a spirit in nature that seems to say to every thoughtful soul, "Take thy shoes from off thy feet," etc.
3. Contrition. The streams of Divine goodness seem to well up from every blade, flow down on every ray, beat in every wave of air, and are vocal with reproof to guilty man for his ingratitude and disobedience towards his Maker.
4. Worship. In reason's ear a thousand voices speak to man. "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, sing forth the honour of his Name." Now, these are just the impressions that the gospel aims to produce; and thus nature serves Christianity by endeavouring to produce the same spiritual results; and in this way, again, "the earth helps the woman."
III. BY ITS MULTIPLIED INVENTIONS. Men, by studying nature and employing its laws, elements, and forces for their intellectual and temporal uses, have attained those arts which are highly conducive to the advancement of Christianity.
1. There is merchandise. Trade brings the remotest nations together in a common interest. The means for exporting commodities are available for exporting the Word of God.
2. There is the press. The press is an invention of nature, and an invention which is admirably suited to advance Christianity. It has already borne the gospel to the most distant part of the earth.
3. There is painting. The art by which man transfers the forms of nature, and embodies his own conception of beauty on the canvas. By this noble art the scenes and characters of the Bible, and even our blessed Lord himself, are brought with a vivid reality under the notice of men.
4. There is music. The magic art which catches the floating sounds of nature and weaves them into strains of melody that stir the deepest feelings. Never does truth come with such strange majesty to the heart as when it comes floating on the wave of melody.
5. There is government. Government is of the earth, earthy; but it helps Christianity. The Roman government, in the first ages, did it good service, and all civil governments that keep to their true province serve it now.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany