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Bible Commentaries

William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation
Revelation 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-17

Chapter 10: the Woman, the Dragon, the Man-Child

And a great sign[The Greek word semeion, translated "sign" is used 77 times in the New Testament, and generally means an object set forth, or action done to accredit a person, or an utterance. Our Lord's miracles are thus often named (John 20:30); and those of the enemy also (Matthew 24:24 and Revelation 13:13-14). But the sense of the word here in Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:3, is to set forth in picture, the facts and counsels as they are before God. The woman thus shows God's counsels and plans concerning Israel and Christ, as regards rule on earth; and the dragon in the character he bears before God; and his hate of, and opposition to, God's plan to have Christ rule the earth. For the whole question, from chapter 10 to chapter 16, is, Who shall rule, Satan or God? God's Christ, or Satan's?] was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered.

That this woman represents Israel is evident, for:

1. The place in the prophecy is Israelitish: The two witnesses have been stationed at Jerusalem, where temple-worship is again going on.

2. The words, "sun," "moon," and "stars" immediately remind us of Joseph's dream, Genesis 37:9 -"Behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars made obeisance to me,"-a forecast of Israel, in the last days.

3. The Church cannot be spoken of in this language, for she was chosen "before the foundation of the world" and her glory is not at all describable in terms of this present creation. She has union with Him who has gone "far above all the heavens"; whereas this woman's connection is plainly with what we call the "solar system,"-that is, as viewed from earth.

4. That she is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a twelve-star crown, indicates the subjection of earth to her governmental glory: "The splendor and fullness of governmental authority on earth," belong, by God's sovereign appointment, to Israel: and the restoring of the Kingdom to Israel, under Christ, is the subject before us in this part of The Revelation 5:1-14. Israel is described in the prophets as travailing in birth; the Church never is (Micah 5:2-3; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 7:14).

5. Israel, not the Church, gave birth to Christ (Romans 9:1-33; Micah 5:1-15; Isaiah 9:6; Hebrews 7:14). In no possible sense did the Church do so. Seiss, generally very helpful, most strenuously asserts the Woman to be "the Church Universal"-whom he calls "the Mother of us all," etc. But this is a Romish relict, nothing else. The "church of all ages" is a pleasant theological dream, wholly unscriptural. No wonder Mr. Seiss proceeds to call the Child "the whole regenerated purchase of the Savior's blood," though how the Mother and the Child can be thus the same company, even the author's utmost vehemence fails to convince you! (Seiss: Lectures 26 and 28.)

6. It is very evident, and is most important to recognize, that this woman's real history is on earth, persecuted by the enemy. (See verses 13-16.) It is the sign that is seen in heaven, while her experience proceeds on earth. When seen as a "sign," we see God's glorious purposes regarding her,-heavenly purposes, but to enter upon them, she is seen in a process of earthly persecution.

7. The subsequent earthly history (Revelation 12:1-17) of the woman corresponds exactly with what other prophets tell us concerning the trouble of Israel in the last days.

8. The period of that trouble, as we see in Revelation 12:6, coincides also with the last of Daniel's seventieth week-The Great Tribulation of three and one-half years.

And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child. And she was delivered of a son, a man-child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God and unto his throne.

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days. In this second "sign," or symbolic vision, of this great passage we have: (1) The dragon, his greatness and murderousness; his regal form; perfect wisdom (seven heads) and almost perfect governmental power (ten horns) soon to be developed in the revived Roman Empire as the Beast of chapter 13; next, his fatal influence in drawing to their ruin a third of the angels; then his devouring enmity toward the child of the woman. (2) The birth of the Male-child destined to rule with iron-rod the nations, and the taking up to God and to His throne (for the then present) of the Child. (3) The flight for 1260 days of the woman to a divinely prepared protection, and her "nourishment" there.

Although, be it noted, he is here called "great" and "red" and a "dragon," in Ezekiel 28:1-26 he seems to be the highest creature ever made, the anointed one of the cherubim, "full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty," probably leading the worship of the universe. Even Michael, the archangel, "durst not bring against him a railing judgment," because he was of a higher order of being than angels-a "dignity" (Judges 1:8-9).

Moreover, he is seen as red. This is the color of murder and of blood. Our Lord says of him in John 8:44, "he was a murderer from the beginning"-awful history! Pride caused his apostasy; and utter hatred, deceit and violence continue his story, even after the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-8). [Let us remember, however, that although the Devil was a murderer from the beginning, yet God commands Ezekiel to take up a lamentation over him (Ezekiel 28:11-12). God "delighteth not in the death of any," although He will fulfill Revelation 20:10).]

Also, he is called a dragon. In this is a picture of the hideousness and horror that sin brings. Contrast the beauty in Ezekiel 28:1-26 with this shuddering word "dragon." This word is used only in The Revelation, and occurs thirteen times, twelve of these concerning Satan. ["The dragon figured prominently in ancient and medieval mythologies as an embodiment of evil principle. It has been superstitiously dreaded and even worshipped, as in China, where it is the imperial emblem. It is commonly represented as a large winged serpent, with a crested head and powerful claws. In classical mythology, a dangerous, often a supernatural serpent" (Standard Dictionary). "The Hebrew word tannin or tannim is rendered by Greek, Drakon in the Septuagint. It seems to refer to any great monster, either of land or sea, as in Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12; Lamentations 4:3" (Bib. Cycl. McClintock and Strong). It is striking that just as inner Buddhism names its deity Sheitan, although not allowing the name to be pronounced because of dread; so the dragon was worshipped under that form and name in Babylon and many other lands. This shows how God compels this world to acknowledge whom they serve! Doubtless Satan hates to be portrayed as a monster with great jaws and claws and serrated tail. But the dragon legends of the nations simply support the Word of God!]

If we compare him with the Beast of Revelation 13:1, we read: "A beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems." We find readily, the likeness to, and the distinction between, Satan and his final world-power developed, by Satan and headed up by the fearful man of Revelation 13:18. In the dragon the seven heads (complete wisdom, Satanic sagacity, and "the concentration of earthly power and wisdom in cruel despotic exercise") wear the diadems, while the ten horns, (since the head controls the horn which springs from it) set forth what will be the utmost form of his diabolical exercise of power. Now in Revelation 13:1, while the seven heads are there, it is the ten horns that wear the diadems. Satan, who is pictured in the dragon, has projected his plan of universal earth-rule by ten kings, who are to wear the crowns! He sees to that! It is the final form of the fourth world-power of Daniel 7:1-28. And how fearful the thought that the earth will, at that time, be so wholly given over to Satan (whom it chose instead of Christ) that the very dragon-form of seven heads and ten horns will appear in God's description of that revived Fourth Empire which is coming! Compare Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1.

Again we read concerning the dragon, that "his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." This seems a direct indication of that proportion of the angels of God who are perverted by him into utter ruin. As we read in Daniel 8:10; Daniel 8:24, of Satan's Christ, "It waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and some of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them"; and "he shall destroy the mighty ones (angelic beings) and the holy people" (Israel).

When we remember the hundred million angels, and millions upon millions after that, of Revelation 5:11, who remained true to God, we get some conception of the host, who by Satan's "traffic" (Ezekiel 28:16) were drawn away from the adoration of God to idolatry of this highest creature of His. The actual casting down of Satan's angels with him is recorded a little later in our chapter Revelation 12:7-9.

The dragon's desire is to devour the child, evidently knowing His destiny that He is to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. (Of course, this is Christ, and none other.) Satan has always known from Genesis 3:15 God's plan-that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. All Satanic activities are carried on under the double motive of ambition to rule and be worshipped, and, hatred toward the One whom God has chosen to take the kingdom Satan has usurped.

The dragon, then, is Satan (Revelation 12:9). We have here the beginning of the end of the great warfare between God and His adversary begun in Eden. There the Serpent beguiled the woman, and God declared He would put enmity between the Serpent and the Woman, and between her Seed, and his seed. Now her Seed is Christ, and none other, as Paul shows in Galatians 3:16. "Unto us a child is born" cries Isaiah (9:6, 7) "of the increase of whose government and of peace there should be no end," which is the exact subject before us in Revelation 12:1-17. Satan's enmity and jealousy was against Christ, who was to "rule all the nations": for had not Satan himself been their prince and god?

This scene in Revelation 12:1-17 (like Zechariah 9:9-10), looks only at Christ as coming Ruler, and disregards all other history. Just as Zechariah saw Him ride into Jerusalem, lowly and meek, yet Zion's King, and speaking peace to the nations, with dominion unto the ends of the earth, so with this passage (Revelation 12:5). Zechariah looked forward to His First Advent, John looks back to it: and both look on to His ruling-to the Second Advent. With Isaiah, Christ is the virgin-born Immanuel, the Child born who will have the government on His shoulder; Zechariah sees Him ride into Jerusalem upon the lowly ass-yet has Him ruling (making no mark of His rejection by Israel); John sees Him born unto Israel, despite the dragon's efforts through Herod, the chief priests, and Rome; and then caught up to God and to His throne, as One that shall rule all the nations with an iron rod (without considering how long He shall have to wait in heaven before He "receives the Kingdom").

It is necessary to remember that God emphasizes the fact in Revelation 12:1-17 that He is speaking in sign-language. Prophecy often speaks thus, noting desired facts, irrespective of chronological arrangement. So we have only to view those other Scriptures that concern the great end before us in Revelation 12:1-17, the setting forth of God's King in triumph (though having to wait upon God's throne) despite all Satan's malice, to see who this Man-child must be.

The Church is to be caught up "in the clouds" (1 Thessalonians 4:1-18); but it is nowhere said of her that she is "caught up unto God, and unto his throne." This place belongs alone to our Lord Jesus, according to Revelation 3:21. The Church will indeed share Christ's future throne, but He only sits on His Father's throne, "on the right hand of God."

To claim that the child is a victorious company of the Church, while the rest are pursued by the Devil through the great tribulation days, has, we are persuaded as its root, self-righteousness; as its fruit, division of the Body: and as its character, terrible blindness as to what God's sovereign grace is. "I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," said Paul.

"The things which are (the Church period), and the things which shall come to pass after these" (Revelation 1:19) is our Lord's division of this book; and we must not depart from it. Therefore, we are not looking for Church things in Revelation 12:1-17, but on the contrary, we have from chapter 11 in the testimony of the two witnesses, as well as in the measuring of the temple, and the designation of the city as that city where "their Lord was crucified," an indication that we are on Israelitish ground.

Now there are three scenes in Revelation 12:1-17 : First, Christ born to Israel, and ascended, despite the dragon, to await His destined rule of the nations; second, the casting out of Satan and his angels from all place in heaven, and the joy of the heavenly throng over this; third, the wrathful persecution of the Woman (Israel) and her Seed, and her divine protection for 1260 days-The great tribulation.

The woman flees to "the wilderness." If we do not understand prophecy, we make Israel's fleeing immediately consequent upon our Lord's ascension. But instead of this, we find the Jews in the Book of Acts long and steadfastly resisting and persecuting those who are really the godly remnant of Israel-those who had believed on Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.

Therefore, we must see between Revelation 12:5-6 of Revelation 12:1-17, the whole stretch of history from our Lord's ascension to the yet future Great Tribulation; for the woman is nourished under divine protection 1,260 days: the latter half of Daniel's seventieth week. [Historical interpretations of these 1,260 days, which seek to apply it to church history, simply reveal neglect or ignorance of, the great principle of prophetical interpretation to which we have referred. It is my profound and increasing conviction that "the historical interpretation" of The Revelation is not only wholly astray, but is a great stumbling block to the understanding of the book. It ignores our Lord's plain outline in Revelation 1:19 (See Greek or Revised Version, and follow the phrase "meta tauta" through the book).]

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying, 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, who accuseth them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.

Michael, as we know from Judges 1:9, is the archangel; (although other "chief princes" are there, Daniel 10:13). We also find from the last verse of Daniel 10:1-21, and the first verse of Daniel 12:1-13, that Michael has been assigned by God to care for the destiny of the Jewish nation, and that his special activity on their behalf will come at the time of "the great tribulation." He will "stand up" at the very time which we are now considering (Daniel 12:1-2).

We should be moved deeply at the former humility of the mighty archangel, in the Jude account, in his actions toward the very being he is now at last sent to war against, and to overthrow! Many of us are kept from preferment by our arrogant or critical attitudes toward those foes whom God has not yet cast down; to say nothing of our too ready tongues toward other saints and servants of our Lord. There is a great lesson for all of us in the example of Michael! "Before honor goeth humility."

Now, at last, the longsuffering of God permits the Devil and his fallen host to be cast out of any access to heaven whatever! The record states they are cast down to the earth, and of course, it means what it says. Satan's sphere will be "the earth and the sea." He will, evidently, be allowed his freedom on earth: and it will be "woe," both to the earth and to the sea. [] It will be well to remember the successive steps in Satan's judgment: 1. He is cast, as the "covering-cherub" as "profane" from the midst of "the stones of fire," that is, from his first place as leader, evidently, of the worship of God in heaven (Ezekiel 28:14-16). This, I have always felt, is what our Lord meant in Luke 10:1-42, "I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven." The brightness of this being would make his fall as "lightning." Also, the distance from his former glories, even to that "place in heaven" he now holds as the accuser, would be great and absolute. 2. He is cast down, here in Revelation 12:1-17, from whatever position he is allowed at present (as in Job 1:12; 1 Kings 22:21; Zechariah 3:1), to the earth. 3. He is cast into the abyss, in the center of the earth, at Christ's coming, and there spends 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3). 4. Upon being released at the Millennium's end "for a little season," and leading men again in desperate rebellion against God and His people, he is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone forever (Revelation 20:10).]

Upon the occasion of his casting down to earth, all his Scripture names are announced: "The great dragon … the old serpent" (his hideous character and malignant, poisonous deceit as God sees it) "he that is called the Devil (slanderer) and Satan (God's absolute adversary and ours), the deceiver of the whole world"-what a list! If, in the back yard of your home, were a den of rattlesnakes, headed by a king cobra, and they had been there all your life, hissing and threatening, and you should come home some evening to find that they had been at last utterly driven out, to return no more at all, would you not rejoice? So will heaven when the enemy and his host are cast out forever!

It is well to remember constantly that we who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ have an Advocate with the Father; and that it is, "if any man sin, we have an Advocate." Also, as in Peter's case (Luke 22:1-71) our Lord prays for us before Satan is even allowed to sift us! Also, that we have already been forgiven all our trespasses once and for all (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13) so far as the pardon of the Judge is concerned. There is now "no condemnation." It is the forgiveness of fellowship of which God speaks in 1 John 1:9, forgiveness by the Father of His child, not to be confused with the once-for-all act of the Judge.

It is very significant that Satan accuses the saints before God, as if by our sins or failures as saints we are brought up again into God's court (as all were, indeed in Romans 3:1-31). But it is with the Father that we have an Advocate, and He Himself, Jesus Christ, the Righteous, is the propitiation for our sins! No real believer's sins come up in judgment, to endanger his eternal safety (John 5:24 R.V.). They do not come in before God as Judge: they did so come at Calvary, and were all put away forever!

The accusation of the saints by the enemy may be a mystery to you, but God suffers it at present, so be patient. And reflect that Satan's accusations have never availed against one saint; that they drive the saints to dependence upon God; that they get rid of his self-confidence (as with Job and Peter); that they make to shine his choice of holiness and God and heaven as against all difficulties, and that faith through all, highly honors God and brings about the eventual utter overthrow of the enemy. "Know ye not that we shall judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3).

The "great voice" heard in Revelation 12:10 is that of the redeemed-it seems to me, all of them. They are those whose "brethren" have been the object of Satan's enmity and accusation. (It is, of course, only saints on earth that Satan accuses; those in heaven are entirely beyond it.)

The word "they" of Revelation 12:11 seems to indicate that this verse has to do with such saints as are still upon earth; although the verb is in the past tense-"overcame."[ Alford calls the present tense of accuseth "the present participle of the usual habit," and many excellent students believe that the word "overcame" has reference to those already in heaven. This may be true. Yet those saints still on earth also get the victory over the dragon, as we shall see, and their only path is to "love not their lives."]

The three elements of victory over Satan in any event are shown in Revelation 12:11 : (1) The ground of it-the blood of the Lamb; (2) the outward course of the victors-the word of their testimony; (3) the inward settled attitude of the victors-they loved not their life- unto death.

Now let us look at the opening words of this celebration in Revelation 12:10 : "Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ." How utterly idle is the discoursing of modernists and religious educationalists and social reformers about "the kingdom." Their talk is full of "the kingdom this" and "the kingdom that"; whereas our Lord Jesus has not yet taken His kingdom. It has not yet been given Him of the Father. We are not living in kingdom days, but in days when Satan is the prince of this world and the god of this age, also, when he is accusing the saints before God. Only those born again ever see the kingdom of God; and "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost"-wholly a separate thing from human arrangements and reforms! is the only form of the kingdom of God now.

Woe is announced to the earth and sea upon the Devil's going down; for he has "great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time."

Our Lord Jesus told us that there is no truth in the Devil; that is, he receives none, holds none, loves none; yet he knows that Scripture will be fulfilled and he will shortly be in prison in the abyss; though the knowledge is not a belief in the sense of controlling his life, bringing about any repentance.

And when the dragon saw that he was cast down to the earth, he persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child. And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.

The persecution, desperate and deadly, by the enemy of the nation of Israel is now before us-"the time of Jacob's trouble." Satan hates Israel: first, because they are God's elect royal people; next, because of that nation is Christ (Romans 9:5) who is to have the kingdom upon Satan's over-throw; and finally, because Israel is the perpetual proof before the eyes of men of the truth of the Scriptures and of the fact of Jehovah God.

But we find God rendering peculiar miraculous assistance in those terrible days to the real Israel, not those merely "of Israel" (Revelation 9:6). That is, the remnant of those last days, in the "time, times, and half a time"-the three and a half years of The Great Tribulation.

Armies are sent out "as a river" by the serpent to destroy Israel. These forces are swallowed up by miraculous cataclysms:-as an ancient army was completely obliterated by a sand storm. God will protect Israel. He will make the earth help His nation when Satan and man seek to overwhelm them. Forty years, once before, in a great and terrible wilderness, Jehovah sustained them!

Finally, unable utterly to destroy Israel, the dragon goes to make war with any other godly left on earth: "the rest of her seed that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus."

Now this is not the description of the Church of God, as we know. The Church is not under law, but grace; whereas these keep "the commandments of God" (that is, the Old Testament). They also keep and hold the testimony of Jesus" (that is, especially, the four Gospels). This is not "holding fast the Head" in heaven, as the Church does. It is, rather, a holding the truth that Jesus was the true Jewish Messiah and that He will come and have a kingdom shortly.

Dark, dark days, these! Let us thank God for the Gospel of grace and publish it everywhere while it is called today. The night cometh.

 


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Bibliography Information
Newell, William. "Commentary on Revelation 12:4". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wnc/revelation-12.html. 1938.

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