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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

PERSONALITIES OF THE ANTICHRISTIC WAR, Revelation 12:1 to Revelation 13:18.

Satanic dragon and man child Christ, Revelation 12:1-6.

1. And In the opening of this chapter three representative beings appear on the scene. The man child, Christ; the mother; and the dragon, ready to devour the child. The grouping at once suggests the source whence the symbolism is drawn. We at once think of the virgin mother, the infant Jesus, and the murderous Herod. Yet the subsequent wilderness history of the woman shows that the virgin is here introduced as a symbol of the Church; that as Herod is not actually named, the dragon is truly the literal Satan, and that the man child is truly Christ. Yet the habiliments of the dragon show that he is Satan as representative of pagan Roman antichrist, and the man child is Christ as representative leader in the battle against antichrist. As the woman is symbol, and the Herod is symbol, so the man child is here symbol. Alford is right in insisting that “the man child is the Lord Jesus Christ and none other,” (not Constantine, nor any other Roman emperor;) but he is wrong in ignoring the plain fact, that both Christ and the dragon are here representatives of Christianity and paganism in the Roman world; that the battle here is truly between the two great causes, and that the overthrow of the dragon is the downfall of paganism.

As the beast of Revelation 13:1, is the specific antichrist of the New Testament, according to the apocalypse, so Gebhardt holds the dragon to be rather anti-god. This may in due degree be admitted. The paganism of the Old Testament, and even as it laps over into the New, is opposed not so much to Christ as to God. It supplies a rival, and denies the true divine existence. Yet, by another view, as Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Dispensation, so the anti-god is, through all ages, the lineal antichrist. See introductory note to 2 Thessalonians, chap. 2. We might, then, (and some of our readers may prefer the view,) reckon the contest with the dragon as part of the coming anti-christic war, and so reckon four rather than three “overthrows of antichrist.” Yet as the man child and the dragon are here presented as the two powers which, after this antecedent contest, are reserved in the background as the source, inspiration, and controllers of the manifest war, we prefer to consider this contest as preludial, introduced to show the genesis of the main war and to authenticate the personalities introduced in the next chapter as the combatants; thereby leaving but three main “overthrows.”

There appeared From the symbolic heaven, where the panorama was in action, the seer looks upward to a higher ethereal region, the atmospheric heaven, where the woman, and subsequently the dragon, appear; yet higher still, the third heaven, is the throne whither the child was caught up. Note Revelation 4:11.

Wonder Rather, sign, token, symbol, a phenomenon significant of some idea. So 1 Corinthians 14:22; Matthew 12:39; Matthew 24:3.

Sun In the gorgeous imagery investing the woman is truly to be seen a recognition of the unparalleled honour of the blessed virgin in becoming the mother of the Incarnate. Sad as is the error of the Romanistic adoration of her person, no reaction of thought should prevent our recognising the due honour which Scripture pays her. And one honour is, that she is clearly here the basis of the symbol of the Church in its struggle with paganism. Note on Matthew 1:18.

There is an apparent incongruity in the Church’s being here the mother of Christ and also, hereafter, the bride of Christ. But the two are to be separated in thought as different symbols. The maternal symbol of the Church is a specialty, terminating at a particular historic point. The bridal symbol comes from another region of thought, and extends into the final glorification.

Clothed with the sun ”Invested,” Newton well says, “with the rays of the sun of righteousness.”

The moon The symbol of sublunary change, over and upon which the ideal Church stands exalted.

Crown of twelve stars The twelve apostles, under whom she stands as the apostolic Church. The three orders of heavenly luminaries combine to do her homage. Robed with the sun, and crowned with the stars, she stands on the moon her silver pedestal. While each of these investments may have its symbolic import, the clustering of the whole is to render glorious the personified Church. The dragon, on the contrary, in a different hemisphere of the firmament, is clothed in no such glory, but equipped with symbols of power and fierceness.

Verses 1-17

IV. THE SEVEN TRUMPETS, Revelation 7:1 to Revelation 20:10.

Of the trumpets, the first four are mundane, or earthly; each of the four blasts draws down a judgment upon some creational point, as earth, sea, fountains and rivers; firmamental luminaries. It is the sins of men that draw down these bolts of wrath, rendering every point of creation hostile to our peace. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake,” (Genesis 3:17,) is the key-note. This sad status of humanity has existed through all past ages; but it is here represented to form a base from which the history of the renovation commences.

The first four the earthly trumpets are each brief as well as terrible; the spiritual, the fifth and sixth, expand into wider dimensions and rise to more spiritual interests; while the seventh trumpet rolls forth its series of events, through all the future scenes of retribution and redemption to the judgment.

Verse 2

2. Cried Even in her celestial exaltation the woman is writhing in womanly agony. Type of how divine a thing is human maternity! Science may find in it but an animal process of “evolution;” but as the incarnation showed what divinity there is in humanity, so the maternity of the incarnate shows what a divine type is stamped upon human birth.

Verse 3

3. Dragon Name and shape allude to the Edenic serpent. With this primitive serpent the present dragon is very expressly identified in Revelation 12:9, and again re-identified in Revelation 20:2. He is the personal Satan, Revelation 12:9, arrayed in the skin of the Roman empire. So Rome’s great predecessor, Egypt, Ezekiel 29:3, is a dragon: “I am against thee, Pharaoh, the great dragon that liest in the midst of its rivers.” Probably the physical reference is to the crocodile. In the second and third centuries of our era the dragon was adopted as a Roman ensign, and is thus described by Ammianus Marcellinus: “The dragon was covered with purple cloth, and fastened to the end of a pike gilt and adorned with precious stones. It opened its wide throat, and the wind blew through it; and it hissed, as if in a rage, with its tail floating in several folds through the air.” Elliott.

Red Fire-coloured, not blood-coloured; yet indicating both his slaughterous character and his hellish origin. The seven heads subsequently referred, physically, to the seven hills of Rome, (Revelation 17:9,) and politically to the seven great empires of which Rome is the sixth and seventh. Notes Revelation 17:10. It is clear that the dragon is here symbol of Roman paganism, as the woman is symbol of the Christianity that paganism would destroy. The ten horns refer, perhaps, basally, to the ten kingdoms into which the Roman empire immediately fell, analogous to the ten toes of Daniel’s image, and ultimately to the universality of modern nations. Notes Revelation 17:12-14. It is a remarkable inconsistency in Alford that he admits the symbolism of the woman as the Christian Church, and yet ignores that of her antagonist, the dragon, as heading the antichurch of antichrist. And yet it is notable how antithetically our seer places before us the two in position in Revelation 12:1-4, before he proceeds to narrate the action.

Verse 4

4. Third part of the stars Allusively based on the history of the fallen angels, and given here to magnify the dragon’s power.

Verse 5

5. Rule… iron A prediction taken from Psalms 2:9, and vividly quoted as fulfilled in Revelation 19:15.

Caught up… throne The resurrection, as well as the birth, is given not as literal history, but as the basis of symbol. The infant Jesus is exalted to the divine throne to symbolize that infant Christianity is to triumph, not only over paganism, but over all other opposing powers. In his note on Acts 1:1-2, Alford has beautifully shown (see our note there) that Christ’s ascension was an exaltation to rule as Head of the Church and Lord of the world. And the representative character herein of the man child is verified by Revelation 2:26-27: “He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.” While it is extreme for Elliott or Newton to identify the man child as being Constantine, it is not too much to say that according to this promise the man child on the divine throne does represent the triumph of Christianity over Roman paganism, in which Constantine was a principal figure. And thus the symbolic exaltation of the man child, of the two witnesses, and of the emparadised “souls” of Revelation 20:4, all signify the same thing namely, the victory of the cause by them represented.

Verse 6

6. Fled into the wilderness Commentators think that this is said in anticipation of Revelation 12:14; but the time-periods in both verses are not precisely identical. This verse tells what became of the woman while the firmamental fight lasts; Revelation 12:14 tells what, after the dragon’s fall. The two flights seem to be somewhat different. In this she fearfully flees; in Revelation 12:14 she is eagle-winged and flies. Note Revelation 12:14.

Verse 7

2. Firmamental war the dragon cast to earth, Revelation 12:7-17.

7. War in heaven These symbols are, doubtless, drawn from the holy tradition so often alluded to in Scripture, that Satan was once a heavenly angel and fell from his first estate. (Jude 1:6.) The traditional account is, of course, modified to suit the symbolical purpose.

Michael Mentioned in Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1, as “one of the chief princes,” and champion for the Jewish people against adverse powers. And as in the apocalypse Jerusalem is the Christian Church, and Jews are Christians, so Michael, “the archangel,” (Jude 1:9,) is champion for Christ and Christianity. He is not, as Hengstenberg claims, Christ himself. For in this scene Christ is the man child on the throne, and overcoming his adversary through “the archangel,” the heroic general of his forces. The signification of Michael’s name ”Who is like God?” suggests, not that he is God, but the champion and challenger for God; just as the parody, “Who is like the beast?” is not uttered by the beast himself, but by his admirers. The forces on both sides are angels. The dragon’s being in the firmamental heaven, means that he was ruling over the Roman world as the impersonation of paganism.

Verse 9

9. Great dragon was cast out As if with exultant feeling the seer reiterates the fact of his expulsion, giving his name in full, and making sure that we know that he is the very ancient devil. And when he emerges from his long concealment at Revelation 20:2, he is identified with the same list of titles.

Cast out into the earth From being a supreme ruler he is humbled to be an angry, groveling, earthly persecutor. Paganism ceased to be the religion of the Roman empire by the edict of Milan, under Constantine, A.D. 313, and its rites were prohibited by Theodosius the Great, A.D. 392. This was the completed downfall of the pagan dragon.

Verse 10

10. And a similar exultation rings through heaven.

A loud voice He hears the voice but knows not the utterer. Yet apparently it comes from the redeemed spirits of the previous martyrs under pagan supremacy, now in paradise; for Christians on earth are to them our brethren.

Now In the glad hour of the pagan dragon’s downfall. Sublime is their song even over an incomplete victory; for it is a special instalment of that salvation, strength, kingdom, power, which shall be terrenely exhibited in their reign on earth, (Revelation 20:4,) and consummated in Revelation 21:22. Thus far the pagan dragon had impeded their power; he has fallen from heaven, but survives, alas, on earth and sea. Revelation 12:12.

Accused them As Satan did Job. Satan suggested the accusation that Christians who opposed the pagan gods were atheists; charged them with atrocious crimes, and brought terrible persecutions upon them.

Verse 11

11. They overcame him For Michael’s victory was their victory; since they are the literal of whom the woman was symbol. And this victory on earth Christians won by faith in the blood of the Lamb, as well as by their unshrinking testimony against the idols and for Christ. They loved not ( or, as Alford well puts it, they carried their not-love of life) unto death They so persisted in not loving life as to attain martyrdom.

Verse 12

12. Rejoice, ye heavens As if these rejoicing martyr-spirits called for a joyful response from all their co-celestials, human or angelic. Woe to earth and sea (as the true reading is) since they are to be the scenes of the bestial war.

Devil is come down Paganism in its downfall is full of wrath, feeling that it has but a brief period for recovering the supremacy. That ended with the death of the Emperor Julian, A.D. 363.

Verse 13

13. Persecuted the woman We might have expected, that after the dragon’s expulsion from heaven the woman would be restored to her original place in the sky. That was still her right place; but the influence and power of the dragon, doubtless, it is, which really bring her to the earth until the war is over.

Verse 14

14. Two wings of a great eagle… wilderness There seems to be a double allusion here: to Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, and to the flight of the blessed mother of Jesus through the same wilderness to Egypt, as driven by Herod. Of the former, Jehovah said to Moses, approaching Sinai, Exodus 19:4, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” The woman came down from her high place in heaven, but it was on Jehovah’s wings, in order to be borne to a place of security as well as humiliation. Not that she is carried by the eagle; but the eagle’s wings are put on her, and she flies with them of herself, eagle-winged.

That she might fly in regard to the flight of the woman into the wilderness we may note, 1. That it was under fear of paganism, even after the pagan dragon was overthrown. Even under the Christianized empire, therefore, there was a powerful pagan influence repressive of a pure Christianity. This arose from two sources: First, The remains of pagan principle and practice in the national Church assuming the various forms of Mariolatry, wafer-worship, saint-adoration, pope-worship, and ritual. Second, The paganism of the nations of Northern Europe, who filled the atmosphere of the world with a pagan malaria. 2. The wilderness is at once the repressed power of the Church at home and her difficulty in struggling with the pagan nations of Europe for their conversion. 3. But her flying is mentioned twice, Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14. The first is a fleeing in fear, and refers to the humble and persecuted, yet spiritually-prospering, obscurity of the Church before the pagan downfall, and in anticipation of her 1260-day period. The second is a divine flying, with God-given wings, into the wilderness, with a divinely-provided nourishment. This alludes to the missioning of Christianity, especially northward, by which she not only, with obscure perseverance, converted the tribes that settled in Italy, but spread her power through the forests of central and northern Europe. Thus she fled from the dragon in fear; she flew to the wilderness, both spiritual and literal, of Europe with hope; she was divinely sustained, and was helped to prosperity and even victory by the very pagan earth. Yet the spirit and power of paganism contrived to overlie the Church, even after these victories, and her wilderness state remained through the “dark ages.” Though thus borne on eagles’ wings, yet her home is the wilderness. For Rome is still Babylon. Even after a Christian emperor was seated on the throne, a quasi-paganism was still able to struggle for ascendency, and at court a semi-pagan Christianity but too much prevailed. The pure Church, therefore, retired like raven-fed Elijah to the mystic wilderness.

For a time, and times, and half a time That is, for a season, (or year,) two seasons, and half a season; that is, three years and a half; or (Revelation 12:6) 1260 days. This 1260-day period appears five times in the apocalypse. The origin of this use of this period seems to be found in the famine in Israel in the time of Elijah, which our Lord in Luke 4:25, and James 5:17, fix at three years and a half. But this could only be an approximation; for a famine neither begins nor ends on an exact day. And similarly, when adopted as a measurement in prophecy, the events will be found in their nature equally gradual in their commencement and termination, and the number must be viewed as simply an approximation. A similar period is adopted by Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7.

Elliott and others maintain that these five passages in the apocalypse designate the same time and train of events. But plainly two of them (Revelation 12:14-15) designate the period of the dragon’s terrene troubling of the Church, and three of them (Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 13:5) the supremacy of the beast.

This dragon-period is the time after the firmamental overthrow of the dragon in which he oppresses the Church, Revelation 12:13; Revelation 12:17. That is, it includes the time of the power of paganism in and over the Church, after paganism had ceased to rule imperially supreme. And certainly, measuring from the downfall of paganism under the reign of Constantine, we find that an approximate 1260-year period will bring us to the Reformation. And the Reformation was the establishment of an anti-pagan Church. The Roman “beast” still sustained a paganism in his own domain, for his period of domination was yet continuing. But the reformed Church completely expelled paganism from her limits. Christianity became established beyond all danger in the Roman empire about A.D. 325; and in 1588 the defeat of the Spanish armada placed the permanence of the Reformation beyond question. Constantine published the edict of Milan, by which Christianity was freed from persecution, in 313; and 1260 years bring us to 1573, when Protestantism was in full possession of all those States that became permanently Protestant.

Verse 15

15. Water as a flood It cannot reasonably be denied that the antithetic terms water and earth are here figurative, as is the dragon. Water, as a figure, symbolizes the moving and unstable human populations; and earth, the steady and solid human state. The dragon, therefore, pouring from his mouth the water upon the woman, must signify paganism pouring a hostile horde upon the Christian communion; and the aid derived from the earth must designate the support of Christianity by the settled and civilized people. And so did pagan Europe pour her hosts of barbarians down upon Christianized Italy. And the Christianized earth so aided the Church as to secure her triumph over paganism.

Verse 16

16. Earth… swallowed up the flood Instead of barbarism swallowing up civilization, civilization conquered barbarism. Instead of paganism extinguishing Christianity, Christianity converted paganism. The Roman earth absorbed the barbarian peoples, and Christianity firmly walked over Europe and transformed it to a Christendom.

Verse 17

17. Dragon was wroth Paganism long maintained an angry and desperate struggle for supremacy.

War with… seed Who maintained the testimony of Jesus himself over wafer-worship and Mariolatry during the beast-period.

Dusterdieck denies that the woman is symbol of the Church; maintaining that this whole scene of chapter 12 is a picture showing who are the true adversaries of Christ, namely, Satan and his hosts. The woman, he argues, cannot be the Jewish Church, for, besides her apostolic twelve stars she laps over into the Christian ages even to the time of Constantine. Nor can she be the Christian Church; for who then are the remnant of her seed? To this argument Alford seems to succumb, and accept Dusterdieck’s view, and thereby enfeebles and disconcerts his whole scheme of interpretation.

Our answer to Dusterdieck’s dilemma is, that the woman is the anti-dragon or anti-pagan Church; the remnant of her seed is the anti-bestial or anti-papal Church. The woman, therefore, inclusively represents the ancient Jewish Church, from which Christ sprung, continued into the Christian Church in all its anti-pagan history and character. While the pagan dragon hoped, in his own undisguised person, to conquer her, he fought; but when he saw defeat before him he evoked the sea-beast (chap. 13) to be his substitute, and through him to war with the remnant of her seed the opponents of the pseudo-Christian beast until he reappears in his own person, Revelation 20:1. The Church, the woman, is, in successive generations, truly her own seed. The Church of to-day is the Church’s seed, and the Church of a later day is the remnant or rest of her seed. The seed against which paganism warred through the beast were the anti-papal successors to the anti-pagan Church.

We have a striking proof that the dragon was paganism in the opinion of Constantine himself. Eusebius gives us Constantine’s words: “That dragon has been expelled from the government of the world by the good providence of the supreme God and my instrumentality.” And before the vestibule of his own palace the emperor placed a cross over his own head, and the dragon beneath, thrust down into the abyss.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/revelation-12.html. 1874-1909.
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