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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Revelation 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-17

THE MISSION OF CHRIST'S CHURCH AND ITS GREAT HINDERER

CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES

"IN the set of visions now before us, the Apocalypse unveils the spiritual aspects of the conflict, that we may know that the issue is not between Christianity and un-Christianity alone, but between Christianity and anti-Christianity. Hitherto we have seen the more outward aspects of the great war. Now we are to see its secret, hidden, spiritual—yes, supernatural—aspects, that we may understand what immeasurably divergent and antagonistic principles are in conflict under various and specious aspects in the history of the world" (Bishop Boyd Carpenter).

Rev . Woman.—Symbol of the kingdom of heaven. The Church conceived under the figure of the Virgin Mary, as mother of Messiah. Clothed with the sun, etc.—Compare Son 6:10. (Simcox thinks the Jewish Church, the ideal Israel, is meant.) Mystically treated, the work of the Church is to bring forth Christ to men, and never to be satisfied until Christ is formed in them. Exactly this its work is ever in the resistance of the devil, but in the assistance of God through His angels.

Rev . Red dragon.—A half mythical kind of serpent, combining strength, subtlety, and power to inspire terror, in doing malicious and evil work. As the woman is an ideal, so is the dragon; he is the personification of the subtle evils that afflict the Church, and hinder her from carrying through her mission. Seven heads and ten horns.—Implying that all kinds of unsanctified power are embodied in him, and represented by him.

Rev . Drew.—Draweth. Stars.—Represent leaders of men, men of prominent influence. These are led away by the subtleties of the evil power. Stood before the woman.—Figuring the intense keenness with which evil ever watches its opportunity. Some of the ideas here are evidently taken from the jealous schemes of Herod the Great, in connection with the infant Messiah.

Rev . Brought forth a man-child.—Refer tins both to Christ, and to the Spirit of Christ in the Church. Caught up unto God.—This seems to refer to the historical Christ.

Rev . Place prepared of God.—Compare flight of Virgin Mary to Egypt, which may be the suggestion of this.

Rev , War in heaven.—Nothing to do with Milton's fall of the angels. It is something happening since the Incarnation, and consequent upon it. Michael.—Dan 10:13; Dan 10:21; Dan 12:1. The special patron, or guardian angel, of the people of Israel. What we have here is a pictorial representation of the spiritual war actually being waged upon the earth. It is pictured in heaven in its completeness, and so we are cheered by the assurance that Michael is going to conquer. Compare the mission of pictorial prophetic anticipations in the Old Testament.

Rev . Old serpent.—Perhaps with allusion to Gen 3:1. Devil.—Adversary. Satan.—Deceiver. The two words suggest the power and subtlety of evil. "Satan is thrown down from the position which he is still holding, and cast upon the earth; and he it is who, in order to avenge himself, calls forth from the depths of the seas—that is, from the midst of the nations—Antichrist—his instrument for waging a final conflict against Christ."

Rev . Woe to the inhabiters of the earth—Simcox suggests that the idea may be this: "The Incarnation, as it broke the otherwise invincible power of sin, so made sin more deadly, if it remains in spite of Christ's coming." It certainly refers to the intenser features of the conflict of the Church with evil, when evil failed to destroy the power of the Son of God, even when it secured His death. The present fight with evil is altogether more subtle and more perilous than Christ knew, or waged, while He was actually on earth.

Rev . Persecuted the woman.—Which we have seen is the symbol of the Church in the world.

Rev . These figures have not been satisfactorily explained. Bishop Boyd Carpenter, treating the verses mystically, says: "By the flood, or river, we understand all great popular movements against Christianity: the earth swallows up all these; they diffuse themselves for a time but mother earth absorbs them all. The eternal laws of truth and right are ultimately found stronger than all the half-truths, whole falsehoods, and selfishness, which give force to such movements."

Rev . Remnant of her seed.—From attacking the Church as a whole, the power of evil turns more hopefully to deal with sections and individuals. Antichristianism has had its power on sects, parties, and persons, but it has failed in every attempt to ruin the one, universal, spiritual Church of Christ.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Rev

Victory over the Dragon.—To understand this text (Rev ), we must gain some general idea of the chapter to which it belongs. Bishop Boyd Carpenter is our best guide in the endeavour to find the spiritual meanings and suggestions of the book of Revelation. He points out that the book is not a continuous history, but a review of the great struggle between evil and good, made over and over again, from different points of view. The visions are in series. One set is connected with the "seals," another with the "trumpets." In this chapter a distinct set of visions is commenced. "It deals with the spiritual conditions of the great war between evil and good; it disrobes the false appearances which deceive men; it makes manifest the thoughts of men's hearts; it shows that the great war is not merely a war between evil and good, but between an evil spirit and the spirit of God, and that, therefore, the question is not only one between right and wrong conduct, but between true and false spiritual dispositions. Men look at the world, and they acknowledge a kind of conflict between evil and good; their sympathies are vaguely on the side of good; they admire much in Christianity; they are willing to think the martyred witnesses of the Church heroes; they think the reformers of past ages worthy of honour; they would not be averse to a Christianity without Christ, or a Christianity without spirituality. They do not realise that the war which is raging round them is not a war between men morally good and men morally bad, but between spiritual powers, and that what the gospel asks is not merely a moral life, but a life lived by faith in the Son of God, a life in which the spiritual dispositions are Godward and Christward. The Apocalypse, in this set of visions, unveils the spiritual aspect of the conflict, that we may know that the issue is not between Christianity and un-Christianity, but between Christianity and anti-Christianity." The chapter opens with the vision of "a woman clothed with the sun." It is the symbol of the bride, the Church of Christ. She is represented as suffering in child-birth. It is the symbol of the continual work of Christ's Church. That work is to bring forth Christ to men, and never to be satisfied till Christ is formed in them, until the Spirit of Christ, and the teaching of Christ, and the example of Christ, are received, loved, and obeyed, and men transformed into the same image, "even as by the Spirit of the Lord." But the work of the Church would not be unhindered. There would be constant opposition. The spiritual enemy would be ever on the watch, by subtle or by violent means destroying the likeness of Christ wherever it was seen. There appeared a dragon. "The dragon is that fabulous monster of whom ancient poets told, as large in size, coiled like a snake, blood red in colour, … unsatiable in voracity, and ever athirst for human blood." It is the emblem of the evil spirit, the devil, the perpetual antagonist of good, the persecutor of the Church in all ages. His many heads and horns and crowns suggest the manifold forms and phases of his malicious influence. This dragon is watching, and whenever the woman, the Church of Christ, brings forth any good, the dragon is as keen in his efforts to destroy it as Pharaoh was to kill the Hebrew male children, or Herod to slaughter the babes of Bethlehem. The vision of the man-child caught up to God reminds us that the Divine defence of all good is even more sure than the active enmity of evil. The flight of the woman brings before us the persecutions which the Church undergoes, because of her active effort to bring forth good. Then the vision changes, and we have pictured the great fight between Christ and the dragon, under the figure of Michael and his angels. This is to explain how it is the spirit of evil is so resolutely attacking the Church. He has attacked in vain the Church's Head and Lord. He has been conquered. He has been driven out. The "Prince of the world came to Christ, and had nothing in Him." So, turning aside from Christ, the dragon attacks Christ's Church. But there is every hope for the Church. That victory of Christ's means this: "Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ." The dragon may try to devour all the good brought forth by Christ's earth-bride, the Church. He will fail. The Church will overcome him, even as Christ has overcome him. The Church will overcome the dragon of each age, and of all ages, "by the blood of the Lamb," or because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of the testimony. Who is he that condemneth, when Christ hath died? What power can the accusations of the adversary have when the Lamb of God hath taken away the sin of the world? and when we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus? And their victory is, on their side, due to the firmness with which they stood to the word of their testimony, witnessing ever for Christ and truth, and not counting their lives dear unto themselves. Christ's martyrs are many more than those who die in prison, at stake, or on scaffold, for Him. "He may bid us die for Him; He does bid us live for Him. If we do not the one—the less—we may be quite sure that we shall never rise to the other—the higher and the more glorious." I would impress on you, therefore, that the conflict with evil is really a spiritual conflict, carried on within us. It is represented and illustrated by the conflict with outward evils which we see being waged in the large world-spheres. If we are Christ's, then the Christlike is being formed in us. We are bringing forth things which bear Christ's stamp. Good and right and gracious things are like our children. And just as there are perils surrounding infant life, foes and diseases watching to destroy this life, so the dragon watches every birth of goodness. We must accept the fact, but we will in no way be daunted by the fact, for we shall overcome because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of our testimony. The secrets of overcoming are our Inner Life, and our Open Confession.

I. Our inner life.—"Because of the blood of the Lamb." "Christ, who is our life." It is important that we notice how the child-figure is sustained. The Lamb is represented as being the Bride's husband, the Church's husband, and we are to think of His life as being in the Church's child. And it is this thought which gains expression in the figures of the text. It is quite a favourite figure with St. John, recurring again and again in his writings. That very striking sentence uttered by John the Baptist to his disciples, as he pointed to the young man, Jesus of Nazareth—"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!"—entered into the apostle's very soul, and gave him his best thoughts concerning Christ, especially when he learned how to get at the deeper, mystical meanings of the sentence. We may accept the figure of the Lamb as suggestive of the gentle, submissive, and loving character of Christ: but we cannot be satisfied with that only; neither John the Baptist, nor John the Apostle, nor any other Jew, could keep from the figure its associations of sacrifice. A lamb to take away sin must have meant, to them, a lamb offered as a sacrifice for the removal of sin. But there are still other ideas suggested when prominence is given to the "blood of the lamb." For the "blood is the life." Blood shed stands for life yielded. This the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews states for us in a very impressive manner. "For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." By the expression "the eternal Spirit" we are to understand the sovereign freeness of His own will; the voluntariness of His full self-surrender. We have, then, two supreme truths to receive. Christ's life is given to us: that is another truth, and the one we want for our text. Christ in you. Christ formed in you. This will at once suggest to us the meaning of this passage. We shall overcome that dragon who is ever ready to devour all the goodness we can bring forth by the virtue of the blood of the Lamb, the Christ-lite that is in us. But have we entered into this higher apprehension of Christ, who is our life? The apostle Paul could say, "I live, yet not I Christ liveth in me." That is the assurance of victory over all the forms, and all the powers, of evil.

II. Our open confession.—"The word of their testimony." Life only keeps healthy when it finds expression and exercise. The first suggestion of these words may be of martyrs, such as Polycarp, who, when importuned to blaspheme the name of Christ, answered, "Fourscore years have I served Him, and shall I now blaspheme my King and my Saviour?" At Eastbourne, near the pier, they show three iron stakes fixed firmly in the sand, now very old and rusty, and the one farthest out to sea very nearly rusted off. Round those stakes gathers a martyr-story. A father and mother and their little daughter, because of their religion, were tied to those stakes when the tide was out, and were told that, if they did not renounce their faith, they would be drowned by the rising tide. But they remained firm. The father, being the farthest out, was drowned first; then the mother; and then the priests gathered round the little girl, who was chained to the stake nearest the high-water mark, and told her, as the waves were dashing up around her, that if she would renounce her religion she would be saved. Sue said, "No, no, I will not deny my Saviour; I will die for Jesus; He died for me." That was the "word of her testimony," whereby she conquered the dragon. But much of our earth-struggle stops short of martyrdom. In firm standing by the right, in all earnest expressions of Christian energy and activity, we find our power to overcome. The "word of our testimony" may be said to include

(1) our firm resolve daily renewed, and

(2) our personal experience, which gives to our word the force that was in the words of the once blind man, when he said concerning his Healer, "Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." Look, then, once again at the points which have come out to view. Christ's Church is ever bringing forth goodness, as it were Child-Christs. The dragon of evil is ever on the watch to devour every Child Christ of goodness. If we save the child it can only be by the power of the Christ-life that is in us, and by the power of the testimony for Christ that we persistently make as the natural and proper expression of the Christ-life. That life of Christ in us is the assurance of our final triumph over all evil, and in anticipation of that full victory which is certainly coming, for which we wait and for which we pray, we sing in our souls, comfort one another, and say, "Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down." "And I saw," says St. John, "an angel coming down out of leaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand; and he laid hold of the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more."

SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES

Nature Serving Christianity.—"The earth helped the woman," who is regarded as the symbol of the Church of Christ. Nature helps Christianity in various ways. By—

I. Its grand revelations.—It reveals that there is—

(1) God;

(2) law;

(3) mediation;

(4) responsibility;

(5) mystery.

II. Its moral impressions—

1. Sense of dependence.

2. Reverence.

3. Contrition.

4. Worship.

III. Its multiplied inventions.—Men, by studying nature, have attained to the arts. There is

(1) merchandise;

(2) the Press;

(3) painting;

(4) music;

(5) government.—Dr. Thomas.

The War in Heaven.—The appearance of Antichrist is preceded by a combat waged in heaven (perhaps in the heavenlies or the spiritual spheres) between Michael, the champion of God, the representative of monotheism—that is the meaning of his name, "who is like unto God"—and Satan, the seducer of men, who entices them into idolatry, into that worship of imaginary beings which is, at bottom, only the adoration of Satan himself, and of his angels. This combat represents the final conflict between monotheism and Paganism. Satan loses his place in the celestial spheres, from whence he had been ruling over men's hearts, and making himself worshipped as God. He is cast down to earth; that is to say, his reign in the sphere of religion comes to an end. The diabolical superstitions of Paganism disappear from human society. But a certain degree of power is still left to this enemy in the terrestrial sphere. Only he cannot exert it directly; and, just as evil spirits require the body of those who are possessed as a medium for their action, so Satan needs a man wholly given up to him, to enable him to realise the plans of vengeance which he is revolving in his heart. And the coming of the Antichrist is the means which he employs for realising this threat.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 12:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/revelation-12.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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