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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 12

 

 

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Verses 1-17

IN VERSES Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:3 of chapter 12 we should substitute “sign” for “wonder.” Two signs appeared in heaven, but that which they signified transpired on earth. The woman we judge to be Israel. She is invested with sun, moon and twelve stars, symbols of authority, for it is through Israel that the Divine authority will at last be made effective on earth. Clearly then we view Israel ideally, according to that which is in the purpose of God, and therefore in a light which up to the present has only been realized in that small part of the nation that we speak of as the godly remnant, and even there only imperfectly. Out of that godly remnant the Man-child sprang.

The second sign was that of the great red dragon. The woman had the symbols of heavenly authority: he had not that, but he was invested with heads and horns and crowns—really “diadems,” the symbols of royal estate—which indicated the wielding of immense power in the earth. Here, then, we have Satan, but clothing himself in the pomp and greatness of the fourth great world-empire of Daniel 7:1-28; that is, the Roman. There is, however, the further feature that his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven; an allusion, it would appear, to Isaiah 9:15. We have “the prophet that speaketh lies” in the latter part of Revelation 13:1-18, and he seduces and draws after him a third part of the lesser luminaries, who should shed light on the earth, and in result they apostatize from the position in which originally they were set.

Who shall occupy the throne? Judging as the world does, there would seem to be only one answer. What more helpless than a man-child newly born? What more vigorous and powerful than a great red dragon? Yet ultimately it is the Child who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. The devil is set to frustrate if possible the purpose of God; and hence through the dragon he was prepared to devour the Child as soon as born.

The sign appeared in heaven before the gaze of John, but historically the thing signified took place at Bethlehem soon after our Lord was born. Divine action frustrated the dragon’s design. The action is described here as, “her Child was caught up unto God, and to His throne.” The life of our Lord, His death and resurrection are passed over in silence. There may also be here an allusion to Micah 5:3, where Israel travails and brings forth Christ in a mystical sense—Christ at last recognized and acknowledged in the hearts of the remnant—only one could hardly speak of that being followed by the catching up to God and His throne, but rather by Christ seating Himself on His own throne of glory. The design of Satan as the devourer of the Man-Child is defeated.

This being so, the dragon turns his attention to the woman, and in this the sign carried us on to things yet to come at the extreme end of the times of the Gentiles. The true Israel of God will not be called upon to resist the dragon but to flee to a place of no human resources where she will be under Divine protection and care for the stated period. Elijah, we may remember, fled into the wilderness to a place ordained of God, and later to Zarephath, and in both places was miraculously fed, and the time of trial for him lasted three and a half years. Now the 1,260 days of our verse is exactly 3 years, according to Jewish reckoning. This same period appears again as “a time, and times, and half a time,” in verse Revelation 12:14, and we have had it already in chapter 11, as 42 months as well as 1,260 days. It is doubtless the fateful latter half of Daniel’s 70th week (see Daniel 9:27).

We have had signs in heaven; now in verse Revelation 12:7 we have “war in heaven.” To some it may be a strange thought that the heavens, in part at least, have been polluted by the presence and action of Satan, but the first chapter of Job should have prepared us for this. Then again, Daniel 10:10-21, gives us a glimpse of angelic powers in the heavens acting both for and against saints of God on earth. In that passage we have mentioned, “Michael, one of the chief princes,” spoken of elsewhere as the Archangel, and in Daniel 12:1 he is spoken of as “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people.” Here again, where the Israel of God are in question, Michael appears with his angels, and Satan and his angels are cast out of heaven to the earth. Their place in heaven is finally lost, as verse Revelation 12:8 indicates.

Verse Revelation 12:9 is very striking. The great dragon, though externally bearing marks which identify him with the Roman Empire, yet personally is Satan. This terrible spirit of evil, like so many human criminals, has several aliases: he is the devil, and also the old serpent of the Garden of Eden. He is also the deceiver of mankind, either directly or through his agents—in this book he is spoken of in this character seven times, the first occurrence being in this verse. In deception he is a practised hand. He deceives the whole world, and Matthew 27:63 shows how effectively he did it with some of the most religious men the world has ever seen. He deceived them into regarding the One who was the truth as “that deceiver.”

In Luke 10:18, the Lord Jesus used the past tense, “I beheld,” in announcing prophetically this great event, yet future; just as Daniel said, “I beheld till... the Ancient of days did sit,” and other prophets spoke similarly, using the past tense in describing things to come. It is an event of far-reaching import as verse Revelation 12:10 indicates. Heaven sees in it the presage of the complete establishment of the kingdom and power of Christ, and the complete overthrow of the adversary. Moreover it will bring to an end an evil work in which he delights at the present moment; that of accusing the saints before God, as also is illustrated in the first chapter of Job. His work in this is incessant—day and night. Those whom he accused heaven acknowledge as “our brethren.” There is no need for saints to accuse each other before God. This is done most efficiently and incessantly by Satan.

But here certain “brethren” are specially in view. They overcame him and his accusations, firstly by the blood of the Lamb. In a judicial sense nothing but that could meet the accusations, as we all know right well. But secondly, on practical lines they overcame by adhering to the word of their testimony, even unto death. Like their Master, only in a lesser sense, their death was not their defeat but their victory.

The heavens rejoice at the ejection of the devil, but his fall means woe to the earth and the sea; that is, as we understand it, to men generally whether in nations of comparative stability or in restless, unsettled communities. The devil will realize that since he could not maintain his footing in heaven, he will not be able to maintain it upon earth. His time is short and this stirs him up to great wrath, which, as he cannot vent it directly upon God, he will upon all that represents Him on earth. The godly remnant symbolized by the woman, become the special object of his persecuting hatred.

Let us not fail to notice, and put together, the four characters in which the devil appears in this chapter—verses Revelation 12:4, Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:10, Revelation 12:13. As regards Christ, he was the devourer: as regards the world, the deceiver: as regards the brethren, the accuser: as regards saints in testimony on earth, the persecutor. Before he is dealt with in unsparing judgment his malign character is fully revealed.

His persecution of the woman is going to fail. That the woman had a place of refuge, prepared of God, was mentioned in verse Revelation 12:6 : we now find that by means of an extraordinary sort she will be enabled to flee, as verse Revelation 12:14 indicates. The effort of the devil to hinder her is frustrated by more ordinary means, according to verse Revelation 12:16. It would appear from verse Revelation 12:17 that while the majority of the God-fearing will be thus miraculously protected, there will be others who do not flee and so are specially a target for his animosity. They are marked by obedience, and they have “the testimony of Jesus.” They are called to a special place of testimony, whilst the mass are to flee, as indeed the Lord Himself had indicated in Matthew 24:15-21.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 12:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-12.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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