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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Revelation 12

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. XII.

A woman clothed with the sun, travaileth: the great red dragon standeth before her, ready to devour her child. When she is delivered, she fleeth into the wilderness. Michael and his angels fight with the dragon, and prevail. The dragon, being cast down unto the earth, persecuteth the woman.

Anno Domini 96.


Verse 1

Revelation 12:1.— We come now to a second representation of the same third period of prophesy; that is, a state of the church and world, in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, or while the woman, who fled into her place in the wilderness, was nourished there for a time, and times, and half a time. See Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14. As the former representation, Revelation 11 in which the witnesses were to prophesy, shewed that true religion should be preserved among a few faithful confessors, though in a constant state of severe persecution; so this represents the state of the church, under the figure of a woman persecuted so as to fly into desart places to hide herself, yet preserved and fed there, notwithstanding all the endeavours of a furious serpent, ready to destroy her. This plainly describes an afflicted and persecuted state of the church in general, during this period; in which false and idolatrous worship will greatly prevail, and the faithful profession of the true religion will expose men to great danger. That, however, still the true worshippers of God should be preserved, though in an obscure state, and be enabled, notwithstanding all opposition, to keep and maintain the truth unto the end. Bishop Newton observes, that most of the best commentators divide this book of Revelation into two parts;—the book sealed with seven seals, and the little book. But it happens unluckily, that, according to their division, the lesser book is made to contain as much, or more than the larger; whereas, in truth, the little book is nothing more than a part of the sealed book, and is added as a codicil, or appendix to it. We would also (continues the Bishop,) divide the Revelation into two parts, or rather the book so divides itself: for the former part proceeds, as we have seen, in a regular and successive series, from the apostle's days to the consummation of all things. Nothing can be added, butit must fall somewhere or other within the compass of this period: it must, in some measure, be a resumption of the same subjects; and this latter part may most properly be considered as an enlargement and illustration of the former. Several things which were only touched upon, and delivered in dark hints before, require to be more copiously handled, and placed in a stronger light. It was said, that the beast should make war against the witnesses, and overcome them: who, or what the beast is, we may reasonably conjecture indeed, but the apostle himself will more surely explain. The transactions of the seventh trumpet are all summed up and comprised in a few verses; but we shall see the particulars branched out, and enlarged into as many chapters. In short, this latter part is designed as a supplement to the former; to complete what was deficient, to explain what was dubious, to illustrate what was obscure: and as the former describes more particularly the destinies of the Roman empire, so this latter describes more especially those of the Christian church.

A woman, clothed with the sun, It was a well known custom, at the time of this prophesy, to represent the several virtues, and public societies, by the figure of a woman in some peculiar dress; many of which are to be seen on the Roman coins. In particular, salus, the emblem of security and protection, is represented as a woman, standing upon a globe,to represent the safety and security of the world under the emperor's care. The consecration of the Roman emperors is expressed on their coins by a moon and stars; to signify, a degree of glory superior to any on earth. Never was any image more expressive of honour and dignity than this in the vision before us. To stand in the midst of a glory, made by the beams of the sun, and upon the moon, as above the low condition of this sublunary world,—and to wear a crown set with the stars of heaven, as jewels; is something infinitely more sublime than any thing whereby antiquity has represented its societies, its virtues, or deities. The reader may further observe in this representation, if he please, with Mr. Mede, the church shining round about, by the faith of Christ the Sun of righteousness; treading under foot the rudiments of the world, whether Jewish shadows, or Gentile superstitions; and glorious, with the ensigns of the apostolical offspring. Or, he may consider, with Mr. Waple, that the apostolical doctrine is the chief ornament, crown, and glory of the church. But, however he shall choose one or other of these more particular allusions, this will remain a sure general meaning, That the blessings of true religion, in the revelation of Jesus Christ, as taught by his apostles, that is, of the true Christian faith, deserve the highest esteem and honour, however they may be despised by the world. See on Revelation 12:6.


Verse 2

Revelation 12:2. And she being with child cried, &c.— And she crieth in sorrow and travail, having a child to bring forth. The metaphor of a mother blessed with a fair posterity, is very proper to represent the public happiness, by an increase both of numbers and strength. It is an easy figure to consider the church as a mother, and the converts to truth and righteousness, the true worshippers of God, as her children. See on Revelation 12:6.


Verse 5

Revelation 12:5. And her child was caught up, &c.— Grotius, with great probability, thinks that these expressions allude to the preservation of Joash, in the time of Athaliah's usurpation, when she put to death all the rest of the royal family; 2 Kings 11.


Verse 6

Revelation 12:6. And the woman fled Bishop Newton, explaining this and the foregoing verses, observes, that St. John resumes his subject from the beginning, and represents the church, Revelation 12:1-2 as a woman, and a mother bearing children unto Christ. She is clothed with the sun;—invested with the rays of Jesus Christ, the Sun of righteousness; having the moon, the Jewish new moons and festivals, as well as all sublunary things, under her feet; and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; an emblem of her being under the light and guidance of the twelve apostles. And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, &c. St. Paul has made use of the same metaphor, and applied it to his preaching and propagating the gospel in the midst of persecution and tribulation, Galatians 4:19. But the words of St. John are much stronger, and more emphatically express the pangs and struggles which the church endured from the first publication of the gospel, to the time of Constantine the Great; when she was in some measure eased of her pains, and brought forth a deliverer. At that time (Revelation 12:3.) there appeared a great red dragon, &c. This is a well known symbol of the Devil and Satan, and of his agents and instruments. We find the kings and people of Egypt, who were the great persecutors of the primitive church of Israel, distinguished by this title in Psalms 74:13. Isaiah 51:9. Ezekiel 29:3 and with as much reason and propriety may the people and emperors of Rome, who were the great persecutors of the primitive church of Christ, be called by the same name, as they were actuated by the same principle; for that the Roman empire was here figured, the characters and attributes of the dragon plainly evince. He is a great red dragon; and purple, or scarlet, was the distinguishing colour of the Roman emperors, consuls, and generals; as it has been since of the popes and cardinals. His seven heads (as the angel, ch. Revelation 17:9-10 explains the vision,) allude to the seven mountains upon which Rome was built, and to the seven forms of government which successively prevailed there. His ten horns testify the ten kingdoms into which the Roman empire was divided; and the seven crowns upon his heads, denote that at this time the imperial power was in Rome,—the "high city, seated on seven hills, which presides over the whole world," as Propertius describes it, lib. 3: eleg. 11: ver. 57. His tail also, Revelation 12:4 drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth; that is, he subjected the third part of the princes and potentates of the earth; and the Roman empire, as we have shewn before, is represented as the third part of the world. He stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered, to devour her child, &c. and the Roman emperors and magistrates kept a jealous eye over the Christians from the beginning. As Pharaoh laid snares for the male children of the Hebrews, and Herod for the infant Christ, the Son of Mary; so did the Roman dragon for the mystic Christ, the son of the church, that he might destroy him even in his infancy. But notwithstanding the jealousy of the Romans, the gospel was widely diffused and propagated, and the church brought many children unto Christ, and in time such as were promoted to the empire. She brought forth a man child, &c. Revelation 12:5. As the word rendered child, properly signifies a son, it could not possibly signify any thing but a male; but the addition of the word man or male to it, might be intended to express the vigorous constitution of the child, and what may be called a masculine form, which may or may not be ascribed to the male sex. It was predicted that Christ should rule over the nations, Psalms 2:9 but Christ, who is himself invisible in the heavens, ruleth visibly in the Christian magistrates, princes, and emperors: it was therefore promised before to Christians in general, ch. Revelation 2:26-27. He that overcometh, &c. But it should seem that Constantine was here particularly intended, for whose life the dragon (or Galerius,) laid many snares; but he providentially escaped them all, and, notwithstanding all opposition, was caught up to the throne of God;—was not only secured by the divine protection, but was advanced to the imperial throne, called the throne of God; for, there is no power but of God, &c. Romans 13:1. He too ruled all nations with a rod of iron, for he had not only the Romans, who before had persecuted the church, under his dominion, but he also subdued the Scythians, Sarmatians, and other barbarous nations, who had never before been subject to the Roman empire. And Spanheim informs us, that there are still extant medals and coins of Constantine with these inscriptions, "The subduer of the barbarous nations;"—"The conqueror of all nations;"—"Every where a conqueror;" and the like. What is added in this verse, of the woman's flying into the wilderness, &c. is said by way of prolepsis, or anticipation; for the war in heaven between Michael and the dragon, and other subsequent events, were prior in order of time to the flight of the woman into the wilderness: but before the prophet passes on to a new subject, he gives a general account of what happened to the woman afterwards, and enters more into the particulars in their proper place.


Verses 7-12

Revelation 12:7-12. And there was war in heaven, &c.— It might reasonably be presumed, that all the powers of idolatry would be strenuously exerted against the establishment of Christianity, and especially against the establishment of a Christian on the imperial throne; and the struggles and contentions between the Heathen and Christian religions are represented by war in heaven, between the angels of darkness and the angels of light, Michael the archangel being at the head of the latter. Michael and the good angels were the invisible agents, under the great Jehovah, on one side, and the devil and his angels were on the other. The visible actors in the cause of Christianity, were the believing emperors and the ministers of the word,—the martyrs and confessors; and the supporters of idolatry were the persecuting emperors and heathen magistrates, together with the whole train of priests and sophists. This contest lasted several years, and the final issue of it was, (Revelation 12:8-9.) that the Christian religion prevailed over the Heathen. Our Saviour said, upon his disciples casting devils out of the bodies of men, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven, Luke 10:18. In the same figure Satan fell from heaven, and was cast out into the earth, when he was thrust out of the imperial throne: and his angels were cast out with him, Revelation 12:9. Not only all the heathen priests and officers, civil and military, were cashiered; but their very gods and demons, who before were adored, became the subjects of contempt and execration. It is very remarkable, that Constantine himself, and the Christians of his time, described his conquest under the same image; as if they had understood that this prophesy had received its accomplishment in him. Moreover, the picture of Constantine was set up over the palace-gate with the cross over his head; and under his feet the great enemy of mankind, who persecuted the church by the means of impious tyrants, in the form of a dragon, transfixed with a dart through the midst of his body, and falling headlong into the midst of the sea; in allusion, as it is said expressly, to the divine oracles in the books of the prophets, where the evil spirit is called the dragon, and the crooked serpent. Upon this victory of the church, there is introduced, Revelation 12:10, a triumphant hymn of thanksgiving for the depression of idolatry, and the exaltation of the true religion. It was not by temporal means of arms that the Christians obtained this victory, (Revelation 12:11.) but by spiritual; by the death of their Redeemer; by their constant profession of the truth, and by their patient suffering of all kinds of tortures, even unto death; and the blood of the martyrs has been often called the seed of the church. This victory is matter of joy and triumph to the blessed angels and glorified saints in heaven (Revelation 12:12.): but still new woes are threatened to the inhabitants of the earth. For though the dragon was deposed, yet was he not destroyed; though idolatry was depressed, yet was it not wholly overthrown: there were still many Pagans intermixed with the Christians, and the devil would excite fresh troubles; because he knoweth that he hath but a short time; that is, it would not belongbeforethepaganreligionwouldbetotally abolished, and the Christian religion prevail in all the Roman empire. The expression, Revelation 12:10 of the accuser of the brethren, &c. is taken from Job and Zechariah; where the scriptures, speaking after the manner of men, represent Satan as accusing good and pious men before God. This he does by aggravating their faults and imperfections, and by exciting wicked men to raise false accusations against them; as was notoriously done against the primitive Christians. Mr. Daubuz observes, that the accuser, according to the custom of the Eastern nations, and in some cases by the law of Moses, was appointed to be the executioner. See Deuteronomy 13:9. So that when the church is no longer in danger of persecution for the profession of Christianity, Satan is said to be thrown down, as having lost the power of accusing and executing such as make open profession of it.


Verses 13-17

Revelation 12:13-17. And when the dragon saw, &c.— When the dragon was thus deposed from the imperial throne, and cast unto the earth, he still continued to persecute the church with equal malice, though not with equal power. He made several attempts to restore the pagan idolatry in the reign of Constantine, and afterwards in the reign of Julian; he traduced and abused the Christian religion, by such writers as Hierocles, Libanius, and others of the same stamp and character; he rent and troubled the church with heretics and schisms; he stirred up the favourers of the Arians, to persecute and destroy the orthodox Christians. But the church was still under the protection of the empire, (Revelation 12:14) and to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle;—as God said to the children of Israel, "Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle's wings," &c. Exodus 19:4 so the church was supported and carried, as it were, upon an eagle's wings. But the similitude is the more proper in this case; an eagle being the Roman ensign, and the two wings alluding probably to the division that was then made of the eastern and western empire. In this manner was the church protected, and these wings were given, that she might fly into the wilderness,—into a place of retirement and security, from the face of the serpent;—not that she fled into the wilderness at this time, but several years afterwards;—and there she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time; that is, three prophetic years and a half; which is the same period with the thousand two hundred and threescore days or years before mentioned, Revelation 12:6. So long the church is to remain in a desolate and afflicted state, during the reign of antichrist; as Elijah, while idolatry prevailed in Israel, was secretly fed and nourished three years and six months in the wilderness; 1 Kings 17; 1 Kings 18. Luke 4:25-26. But before the woman fled into the wilderness, the serpent cast out of his mouth water, &c. Revelation 12:15 with intent to drown, or wash her away. Waters, in the style of the Apocalypse, ch. Revelation 17:15 signify people and nations; so that here was a great inundation of various nations, excited by the dragon, or the friends and patrons of the old idolatry, to oppress and overwhelm the Christian religion. Such appeared plainly to have been the design of the dragon, when Stilicho invited the barbarous Heathen nations, the Goths, Alans, Suevi, and Vandals, to invade the Roman empire, hoping to raise his son Eucherius to the throne; who, from a boy, was an enemy to the Christians, and threatened to signalize the beginning of his reign with the restoration of the Pagan, and the abolition of the Christian religion. Nothing indeed was more likely to produce the ruin and utter subversion of the Christian church, than the irruptions of so many barbarous Heathen nations into the Roman empire. But the event proved contrary to human appearance and expectation; the earth swallowed up the flood; (Revelation 12:16.) the barbarians were rather swallowed up by the Romans, than the Romans by the barbarians; the Heathen conquerors, instead of imposing their own, submitted to the religion of the conquered Christians; and they not only embraced the religion, but affected even the laws, the manners, the customs, the language, and the very name of Romans. This course not succeeding according to probable expectation, the dragon did not therefore desist from his purpose, (Revelation 12:17.) but only took another method of persecuting the true sons of the church, as we shall see in the next chapter. It is said, that he went to make war with the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments, &c. which implies that at this time there was only a remnant; that corruptions were greatly increased, and "the faithful were minished from among the children of men."

Inferences and REFLECTIONS.—Whatever concealed and unknown wonders may be intimated in some parts of this grand and aweful vision, in others it contains very obvious and important instructions.—While we are beholding this emblematical representation of the Christian church, let us adore the great original Sun of righteousness, who has decked her with his glorious beams, and will at length cause every faithful member of this blessed society, to shine forth as the Sun in his Father's kingdom. And let us be desirous of treading this changeable and uncertain world under our feet. Let us thankfully own the hand which has crowned the church with the apostles, as with a diadem; and, taught by their precepts, and inspired by their example, let us prepare ourselves for that sacred war, to which we are called, the war against the devil and his confederate hosts. It is, indeed, under a very formidable type that he is here represented:—his cruelty, his subtilty, his experience in all the arts of destruction, are painted out with dreadful propriety, in the old serpent, the great dragon; but, formidable as his violence, or artful and potent as the confederacy of infernal spirits may be, here is a victory gained over him, which calls for the congratulation of all the armies of the Lord: the dragon and his angels are cast out; the saints are enabled to triumph over him, feeble and impotent as they are. But, in what way are they able to overcome him? It is by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. Instructive and edifying admonition! Let this be our confidence, even the banner of the cross, the blood of the Saviour, who died upon it; and, in this signal, we shall come off conquerors too; faith in him shall be our shield; the word of God shall be our sword, the sword of the Spirit; and Satan, thus resisted, shall flee before us, (James 4:7.): thus, vain will be the floods of temptation, which he may attempt to throw out of his mouth, to debauch our principles, or practices; they shall be entirely swallowed up. And though the church be for a while in the wilderness, it shall be happily sheltered, and tenderly nourished, even all the faithful saints of God, till the time which he has appointed for its triumph. In the mean while, however the sons of malice, under the instruction and influence of the great accuser of the brethren, may defame them: however persecution may attack and harass them; let them be courageous and undaunted, not loving their lives even to the death, in the cause of Christ; for then they shall rise again to certain victory and glory; nor shall death bring down their heads so low, as to render them unworthy of wearing a crown of life.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Revelation 12:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/revelation-12.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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