b. The Theocracy. Christ. The Churches of the Wilderness, or Church of the Cross
1And there appeared [om. there appeared] a great wonder [sign (
)—ins. was seen] in [ins. the] heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2And she being with child cried [crieth], travailing in birth [om. in birth], and pained [tormented] to be delivered 3[bring forth]. And there appeared [was seen] another wonder [sign] in [ins. the] heaven; and [,] behold [,] a great red [
] dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and [ins. upon his heads] seven crowns [diadems] upon his heads [om. upon his heads]. 4And his tail drew [draggeth] the third part of the stars of [ins. the] heaven, and did [om. did] cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which [who] was ready to be delivered [about to bring forth], for to devour her child as soon as it was born [that, when she should bring forth, he might devour her child]. 5And she brought forth a man child [male son (
)] who was [is (
)] to rule [shepherdize] all [ins. the] nations with a rod of iron [an iron rod]: and her child was caught up [away (
)] unto [to] God, and to [to] his throne. 6And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath [ins. there] a place prepared of [by (
)] God, that [ins. there] they should feed [may nourish] her there [om. there] a thousand two hundred and threescore [sixty] days.
c. Establishment of the Church Triumphant in the Heaven of the inner Spirit-life on Earth. Freedom of the Invisible Church
7And there was [
] war in [ins. the] heaven: [,] Michael and his angels fought against [warring with] the dragon; and the dragon fought [warred] and his angels, 8and [ins. they] prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in [ins. the] heaven. 9And the great dragon was cast out [thrown down (
)], that [the] old [ancient] serpent, [ins. that is] called the [om. the] Devil, and [ins. the] Satan [or adversary], which deceiveth [that seduceth or misleadeth (
)] the whole world [inhabited world (
)]: he was cast out [thrown down] into [unto] the earth, and his angels were cast out [thrown down] with him. 10And I heard a loud [great] voice saying in [ins. the] heaven, Now is come [ins. the] salvation, and strength [the power], and the kingdom of our God, and the power [authority] of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast [thrown] down, which accused [that accuseth] them before our God [ins. by] day and [ins. by] night. 11And they overcame [conquered] him by [on account of] the blood of the Lamb, and by [on account of] the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives [life (
)] unto the [om. the] 12death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabited of [om. the inhabiters of] the earth and of [om. of] the sea! for [because] the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath [anger], because he knoweth that he hath but a [om. but a] short [little] time.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Here, manifestly, the beginning of the End commences, and, consequently, the second division of the Apocalypse. It begins with the heavenly pre-celebration of the victory over the Dragon—Satan—and over his representative on earth—the Beast, i. e., Antichrist. This precelebration is linked to the blast of the seventh Trumpet. A striking turn in the description is found in the fact, that the Spirit of prophecy does not make the seven-headed Beast appear immediately upon the blast of the seventh Trumpet, as the seven Trumpet-Angels emerged from the seventh Seal. In like manner, the vision of the seven Seals might not directly follow the picture of the seventh Church; nor, furthermore, can the seven Vials of wrath be immediately linked to the seven heads of Antichrist, and this irrespective of the fact, that these [the heads] constitute, in the first place, a unitous phenomenon. If it had been designed that the seven Thunders should be particularly set forth, they would have followed upon the seventh Trumpet, whilst the seventh Thunder would have been succeeded by the announcement of the Antichristian time. The sealing of the seven Thunders, however, necessitated a modification of the outward consequence of the septenaries; nor could the new Divine manifestations issue from the preceding bad human conditions, but could only follow them as judgments.
From the seventh Trumpet great or powerful voices proceed. Not one voice, but a chorus of voices—and those, mighty, voices—concordantly proclaim the great victory
This is, manifestly, an expression of the strongest assurance of victory, developed in the very face of the emergence of Satan and his Antichrist.
This assurance of victory in Heaven is also an assurance of victory in the spirit-realm of the Kingdom of God in this world, i. e., in the invisible Church. It is a fundamental feature of the Kingdom of God, that this assurance of victory has been in process of more and more glorious development from the Protevangel down to the consummation of the New Testament (1Jn_5:4). And, indeed, with the death and resurrection of Christ the victory is, in principle, decided, so that there is no longer question save as to the full development of the principle into the visible appearance.
But in what manner do the voices proclaim the victory? The kingdom of the world is become our Lord’s and His Christ’s, and He shall reign to the æons of the æons. The position of Christ toward God the Lord is economically modified here, because the kingdom relationship is involved (see 1Co_15:25-27). Since we must distinguish between a Kingdom of power, possessed by God from the beginning, and a Kingdom of His Spirit’s sovereignty in spirits, founded by His grace in Christ, to which, however, the kingdom of darkness stands opposed—an anarchy of spirits, under the lying power of Satan—the point in question here can be nought but the synthesis, already accomplished in principle, of the Kingdom of power and the Kingdom of grace. It is a Kingdom of God over the world, which is at the same time a Kingdom over hearts; or a Kingdom over hearts which, from the invisible Church, goes forth, in dynamic operation, through all the world, finally spreading through the worlds of space, as through the æons of time.
At the close appearing of this Kingdom, the kingdom of darkness is destroyed. With the mere announcement of this absolute Kingdom is conjoined the absolute thanksgiving of pious humanity in the evening of the world; pious humanity as, represented by the twenty-four Elders, the Presbytery of the Theocracy and the Presbytery of the New Testament Kingdom of God, both of which institutions have had so much to suffer from the oppressions of the kingdom of darkness. [See foot-note†, p.152.—E.R.C.]
They, lying upon their faces, rightly return thanks to God as the All-Ruler, Who now has taken to Himself—i. e., brought into full operation—His great power. In these words a grand theological revelation is contained. From the beginning of the world’s history, but, above all, in the humiliation of Christ, in His cross, and His cross-bearing Church, God has so greatly restrained His power, in the maintenance of the liberty, thereunto opposed, of moral agents, and in the service of love, as to make it seem as if He had laid that power aside. Now, however, that the seed of liberty has gradually matured, having sprouted up partly on the right hand side, partly on the left hand side, He can unchain His full majestic power, and He has begun His absolute royal rule.
The first mark of this turn in the current of affairs is peculiar; it has almost the aspect of a contradiction. The heathen [nations] have become wroth, it is declared; the power of darkness seems just now to be more than ever at liberty. But as, in the second Psalm, the strongly emphasized today marks the very date of the general rebellion against Jehovah and His Anointed as the date of the anointing and institution of His Son—as the date of the crucifixion of Christ became the date of His exaltation likewise—so it shall be at the time of the last great apostasy; even above the wrath of the heathen and simultaneously: with it, the revelation of the wrath of God appears. The wrath of God is destination to death (Exo_4:14; comp. Eze_12:24; Psalms 90). The suicidal death-choice of the old world, in its apostasy from the living God, brings the judgment of the Divine destination to death directly upon this old world. The living have become a prey to death; the dead, on the other hand, revive. The time of the dead, when it is their turn to have justice done them, has come; the retributive judgment must be held, in which God gives to His servants their reward, i. e., the final perfect and solemn restoration, which forms the antithesis to all the ignominy and sorrow of their historic life.
And here the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament saints are beautifully linked together; and with them, all the God-fearing, who have kept the name of God—their knowledge of God—sacred; all, both small and great, in the whole sphere of God’s Kingdom. For they all had to suffer from the destroyers of the earth—of Divine order on Earth, as well as of Nature and Earth in the literal sense.
But the time of compensatory retribution is likewise the time of punitory retribution: the destroyers of the Earth must themselves be destroyed.
The judgment is consummated amid the complete revelation of that idea of justice by which it is put in execution. Hence the Temple of God in the Heaven is opened, i. e., the radiant archetype of the Kingdom of God on Earth is revealed in its ideal and dynamical authority for mankind. The Ark of the Covenant in this Temple becomes visible; the heavenly rule [Norm] of the condemning law, as well as of the real redemption, is made known to all the world.
Nor is the radiant appearance all; it produces, as a vital phenomenon, in the richest manifestations of its powers, lightnings, or revelations of the Spirit; voices, or Divine words and thoughts; thunders, or lively stirrings of soul; earthquake, or convulsions of the old world; and a great hail, as a symbol of the conflict betwixt Heaven and Earth: fire and cold issue from the disclosure of the heavenly spirit-world at the end of the world.
And now the history of Antichristianity on Earth is prefigured by the history of it in Heaven. Here Heaven is manifestly the pure celestial sphere of spirit and of spirits, the background of all occurrences in that general history of the world which is visible to all. A great sign appears in this Heaven. A Woman, the Kingdom of God, modified by the feminine receptivity of the human mind, is seen. She makes her appearance in the unity of the Old Testament Theocracy and the New Testament Kingdom of Heaven; she is adorned with the sun of revelation; with the moon, as a symbol of nature, in its subserviency to the Kingdom of God (and also as symbolizing the change of times), under her feet; and a crown of twelve stars upon her head—the adornment of a plenary number of elect spirits appertaining to her. The Seer has deeply felt the conflict of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New, as is proved by the words: And she, being with child, crieth, etc.; the Lord’s people, together with Himself, have experienced these throes of the Messiah (see Joh_16:21). This sign is accompanied by another: Behold, a great fiery-red Dragon. In Heaven! how is this possible? Heaven is that realm of spirit and of spirits in which Christ overcame Judas (see the author’s Leben Jesu, Book ii., p. 1328), without the observation of mere historical men, in their external world; hence, it is the spiritual back-ground of worldly history. In this Heaven, the great red Dragon appears; the winged primeval serpent, at once serpent and swine; signalized as a monster, not only by the fiery hue of the murderer, but also by the seven heads, and especially by the disproportion between the seven heads, or the caricature symbol of holy intelligence—not to say of a Holy Spirit—and the ten horns or the symbols of worldly power; the heads only are adorned with diadems, thus making the worldly power appear as unauthorized might, obtained by artifice. Farther on, the Dragon, the ancient serpent (Genesis 3), is expressly called the Devil and Satan (Rev_12:9; Rev_20:2). These seven heads of the Dragon are not to be identified with the seven heads of the Beast, nor are they to be referred to historical shapes; they are seven spiritual deformities which ape the seven Spirits, or ground-forms of the Spirit.
It is declared concerning his first exertion of violence: His tail draggeth the third part of the stars of the Heaven, and cast them upon the Earth. This cannot be regarded as significant of the apostasy of a portion of the angels, since the angels of the Dragon are spoken of, further on, as still in Heaven.
The passage should rather be interpreted in accordance with Revelation 8, particularly Rev_12:10.
The third part of the spirits designed as light-bearers in the human Heaven are, by the violent oscillations of the demonic tail—overpowered, that is, by the impressions of apparently irresistible vivacity and might—swept from the Heaven of spiritual purity, and cast upon the Earth; made subservient to worldly-mindedness, in order to the more thorough transformation of God’s Earth (Psalms 93) into an Earth estranged from God. The preliminaries to the crucifixion of Christ were, in particular, the fruit of this act of the Dragon. Fallen stars constituted the government of Palestine and the majority of the Sanhedrin; even the Messianic hopes of the Jews were satanically empoisoned. In the face of Christ’s appearance, however, the machinations of the Dragon concentrate themselves; for Christ is the glorification of the personal God, of love in the love-kingdom of personal life, by means of an absolutely worthy personal conduct; Satan, on the other hand, is the seducer and accuser of men, who tends to sink the whole world in worldliness—to plunge the personal kingdom into the service of impersonal things, by means of the lying perversion of his own true creaturely essence into the semblance of a false divinity.
Shamelessly, therefore, the Dragon takes his stand before the Woman who is about to be delivered, that he may devour her child. Thus was the power of evil concentrated in Israel at the very moment when Christ, in respect of His historical descent from the eternal congregation of God, extending through the Theocracy and the Church, was about to be born.
But the new-born Child is a man—the Man, simply (Isaiah 9)—destined, in the words of the Old Testament (Psalms 2), to rule [shepherdize] the nations with a rod of iron; ordained to the government of the world in redemptive and judicial righteousness—for Satan, therefore, unattainable in His essence (Joh_14:30). His own name for Himself is the Son of Man, in the highest sense. Pilate calls Him the Man [
=Mensch, human being]. The vision calls Him the Man [Mann (
)], in the highest sense of the term. And here, in accordance with the spiritual, æonic aspect of the history, there is no special reference to the sufferings of Christ; His death itself forms a part of His elevation above every assault of Satan; hence it is declared: her Child was caught away to God and to His Throne. This exaltation (Php_2:6 sqq.) is at the same time the foundation of the Church Triumphant in Heaven and on Earth.
Of the Woman it is said, that she fled into the wilderness. She is the same who bore Christ—hence, the Old and New Testament Church in undivided unity. The wilderness, prepared for her by God as a place of shelter, exhibits a transformation similar to that presented by the cross. As the cross, from the tree of the curse, has become the symbol of salvation, so this wilderness, from being the abode of demons (Lev_16:22; Matthew 4; Mat_12:43), was changed into a refuge from the Arch-demon. This wilderness is the perfect New Testament renunciation of the world, which makes the Church on Earth, in respect of its invisible kernel, like unto the Church in Heaven. The entrance thereto is baptism into the death of Christ (Romans 6); its external form is asceticism; its security is courage for the cross; its verdant oases are the triumphs of the martyrs. The time of residence in this wilderness is modified after the measure of the New Testament trial-time; not in the form of the change of times (Rev_11:2), but in that of uninterrupted days’ works—twelve hundred and sixty days (Rev_11:3). In regard to the Woman herself, the notation of time is more obscure, less definite, and gloomier: a time, two times, a half time (Rev_12:14; Dan_12:7)—running, we may say, into apparently endless helplessness or destitution (Luk_18:1).
The succeeding scene is most wonderful. The theatre of this war in Heaven—a conflict marvellous when considered merely in the abstract—is, we believe, the spiritual and spirit world of the Church Invisible—not, however, the Heaven of Christ’s glory.
The nature of the conflict is equally remarkable: Michael and his angels (as the attacking party) war with the Dragon; but the Dragon also wars, and his angels (as the resisting party). We have shown elsewhere that the Archangel Michael is an image of Christ victoriously combatant. Christ is an Archangel in His quality of Judge; and He appears as Judge, not only at the end of the world, but also in the preservation of the purity of His Church (Act_5:1 sqq.; 1Co_5:1 sqq.). That Christ has His angels also—those that war with Him—not merely in the evening of the world, but from the beginning, is a fact which John has previously intimated in his Gospel (Joh_1:51); they are the principles and spirits which are with Him absolutely. And so the Dragon also has his angels, his assistants. Since the foundation of Christ’s Church, Christian and Antichristian principles have been warring with each other—primarily, in spiritual, intellectual and ethical forms (John 14 [John 15?]).
These battles are not simply central general combats, but a sum of great single conflicts. Michael wars; the angels war; the Dragon wars, and his angels. But, with them, he is defeated.
Why is it so concisely declared: they prevailed not? Be it observed, in the first place, that the principial victory of Christ has already taken place, and that the final historic victory cannot yet be intended. But Satan is totally defeated, in so far as respects the fact, that the New Testament Heaven, in its central essence, is thoroughly purged from him and his angels; in Heaven their place is no more found. That is, as the Church Triumphant is now established in Heaven, so, in correspondence with it, the Church on Earth has also a place that is purified from all Satanic essence—the sphere of pure Christian spiritual life, the communion of saints. Out of this Heaven, therefore, is cast the great Dragon, the ancient Serpent (the demonic seducer of Adam); the Devil and Satan, as the slanderer and enemy of mankind (Job 2), who has continually changed the conception: man is sinful and wicked—into the calumniatory sentence: he is fundamentally bad; and this, on account of his success in approving himself the seducer of the whole world.
When it is declared, that the whole Satanic troop is cast upon the Earth, in company with its leader, it cannot be necessary to apprehend the declaration in an astronomical or local sense. Expelled from the inner Church, Satan now directs his whole assault against the outer Church. The wheat of Christ’s field remains pure; but the field, as such, becomes impure: the enemy sows his tares amongst the wheat.
The foundation of the holy Church, the communion of saints, is an infinitely glorious achievement. A great voice pronounces the hymn of victory; it is a single, common triumphant consciousness of all the heavenly throng. Now there is founded, with Christ and through Him, a pure, eternal Heaven, which descends from Heaven to Earth. And with the pure Church, the New Testament Kingdom of Heaven is established, in which God reigns with three attributes: He has taken upon Himself the salvation—the perfect and final redemption from all evil; He has, further, taken to Himself the power over redeemed souls, and has called in the current of worldly affairs as co-operative in redemption (Romans 8); and, consequently, He has finally assumed the real Kingdom of His Spirit as a sovereignty over all good spirits. The attribute of Christ is, henceforth, the authority, the executive power (
). Such is the constitution of the Kingdom (Rev_11:15).
How all this has come to pass, is intimated in the following words. The negative term runs thus: the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God by day and by night. The temptations to despair, which Satan brought to bear upon the consciences of men, subsequent to his seduction of them into sin, are annihilated, throughout the whole realm of faith, by the sure and perfect peace of reconciliation (comp. 1Jn_3:20; Heb_2:15).
And they conquered him by [on account of] the blood of the Lamb, is the reason assigned for their victory; for it is upon the triumph of Christ that the triumphs of Christians are grounded. Their heart-victories, however, have become intellectual victories likewise, through the word of their testimony; and victories of their entire life, because they loved not their life unto death, when martyrdom was the price of adherence to the truth (Mat_16:24-25).
Therefore rejoice, ye Heavens, and ye that dwell (take up your abode)in them—such is the festal conclusion. Heaven spreads out into a plenitude of Heavens (Joh_14:2), and these Heavens become peopled with blessed conquerors.
A terrible contrast to the above is presented by the last words: Woe unto the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea. The danger is heightened for the world-church of external order and authority, as well as for the surging popular life and the fluctuations of society. For the Devil, as the poisoner of the truly historical powers, has made their common destruction his aim. He has great anger; the principle of demonic worldly-mindedness is excited—the more, as it is a final paroxysm, or because he knoweth that he hath little time.
The fact that the Heaven-picture continues to this passage, is proved, among other things, by the concluding hymn (Rev_12:10-12).
[ABSTRACT OF VIEWS, ETC.]
By the American Editor
[Elliott regards Rev_12:14 as setting forth the cessation of the Turkish woe—the period of cessation beginning with the battle of Lepanto, A. D. 1571, and extending to the peace (humiliating to Turkey) in 1791, between Turkey on the one side and Russia and Austria on the other. He connects this “second half” of the Turkish woe with the visions of Rev_10:1 to Rev_11:13, as follows: It was just after the “slaying of the third part of men” (Rev_9:18), i. e., the fall of Constantinople—and the ineffectiveness of the catastrophe to induce repentance (see p. 210, foot-note), that the Covenant Angel descended (Rev_10:1)—betokening the Reformation (see p. 218); and also it was just after the fall of the tenth part of the City and the seven Chiliads (Rev_11:13), i. e., the political earthquake following the Reformation (see p. 228), that the announcement of Rev_12:14 was made. (The beginning of this earthquake he places about A. D., 1569; the battle of Lepanto was fought A. D. 1571.) Rev_12:15-17 he interprets as a general Heaven-picture of the last time (including the establishment of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom), the development of the great events of this vision being deferred until after “the parenthetic Visions” in chs. 12–14.
Barnes regards the description of the events of the seventh Trumpet as closing with Rev 12:18 (Rev_13:1); the period extending to the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom, and the vision closing the series of visions beginning at Rev_5:1. He regards Rev 12:19 (Rev_13:2) as commencing “a new series of visions, intended, also, but in a different line, to extend down to the consummation of all things.”
Stuart: “One powerful and bitter enemy of Christianity is now, or is speedily to be, put down. The judgments of Heaven, which had been so gradually proceeding, and seemingly so slow, are immediately to be consummated. The triumph of Christianity over opposing and embittered Judaism is to be completed. ‘Their place and nation are now to be taken away.’ The progress of the Gospel can no longer be stayed by them.”
Wordsworth agrees with Barnes in regarding this section as closing the first series of visions, and with commentators generally, in regarding it as referring to the last time.
Alford: (Rev_12:14). “Transitional—The episodical visions of Rev_10:1-11; Rev_11:1-13 are finished; and the prophecy refers to the plagues of the sixth Trumpet, Rev_9:13-21. These formed the second woe, and upon these the third is to follow (Rev_12:15-17). But in actual relation and detail it does not immediately follow. Instead of it, we have voices of thanksgiving in Heaven, for that the hour of God’s Kingdom and vengeance is come. The Seer is not yet prepared to set forth the nature of this taking of the Kingdom, this reward to God’s servants, this destruction of the destroyers of the earth. Before he does so, another series of prophetic visions must be given regarding not merely the dwellers on the earth, but the Church herself, her glory and her shame, her faithfulness and her apostasy. When this series has been given, then shall be declared in its fullness the manner and the process of the time of the end.”—“Notice (1), that the seventh Seal, the seventh Trumpet, and the seventh Vial, are all differently accompanied from any of the preceding series in each case; (2) at each seventh member of the series (a) we hear what is done, not on earth, but in Heaven (chs. Rev_8:1; Rev_11:15; Rev_16:17); (b) we have it related in the form of a solemn conclusion (with slight variations),
ἐãÝíïíôï âñïíôáὶ ê
., chs. Rev_8:5; Rev_11:19; Rev_16:18 sqq.; (c) we have plain indication in the imagery or by direst expression, that the end is come, or close at hand, by (
) the imagery of the sixth Seal, and the two episodes preceding the seventh Seal, (
) the declaration, here
ἦëèåí ὁ êáéñὸò ôῶí íåêñῶí êñéèῆíáé
sounding from the Temple and the Throne on the pouring out of the seventh Vial; (3) all this forms strong ground for inference, that the three series of visions are not continuous, but resumptive; not indeed going over the same ground with one another, either of time or of occurrence, but each evolving something which was not in the former, and putting the course of God’s providence in a different light. It is true that the Seals involve the Trumpets, the Trumpets the Vials; but it is not mere temporal succession, the involution and inclusion are far deeper,” etc.
Lord: The seventh Trumpet is to be followed by 1. The assumption by the Redeemer of the dominion of the earth in a new and peculiar relation as its King, and the commencement of a visible and eternal reign. 2. The resurrection, and public adoption as heirs of the Kingdom, of all saints who have suffered the penalty of death; and the acceptance and reward of all living saints. 3. The destruction of the apostate powers, the Wild-beast, False Prophet, etc. This Trumpet is cotemporaneous with the seventh Vial (comp. Rev 12:19 with Rev_16:18 sqq.); the lightnings, voices, etc., denoting excitements, commotions, and revolutions among the nations, and the descent on them of judgments. The opening of the inner Temple and the exhibition of the Ark (Rev 12:19)(Rev_13:2), denote, probably, that the mysteries of the former administration are finished, and that thenceforth the reasons of the Divine procedure are to be understood.
Glasgow regards the prophecy of the period of the seventh Trumpet as contemplated in only Rev_12:15. This period he holds to begin with the Reformation and to extend “through all the period of the Vials.” “The Trumpet declares the Kingdom to be Christ’s, and goes on to announce the events by which all rebels are to be brought to submission or extinction.” The voices he interprets as “The voice of Jesus through the instrumentality of ecclesiastical voices. They are the voices of Luther, Zwingli—all the Reforming preachers.” He explains the expression: “His Christ’s,” as relating to the Church (see Expl. in Detail). Rev_12:16-17 describe a Heaven scene (at the opening of or throughout the period?); Rev 12:18 (Rev_13:1), an Earth scene at the beginning of the Reformation. Rev 12:19 (Rev_13:2), he refers to the day of Pentecost, when “Peter and the other apostles, by preaching, ‘opened the door of faith instrumentally!’ ” (See Expl. in Detail.)
[Elliott: With this section this author regards Part IV. of the Apocalypse as beginning, including chs. 12, 13, 14. This Part presents a “supplemental and explanatory history of the Rise, Character, and Establishment of the Beast from the Abyss, or Popedom; with its chief Adjuncts; and the contrasted Impersonation of Christ’s faithful Church.” The vision of this section be holds to be retrogressive. By the Travailing Woman he understands Christ’s true visible Church, in the heaven of political elevation (invested with Christ as the Sun of Righteousness; the moon, representing the civil authority, under her feet; the stars, ecclesiastical ministers, recognized as dignified authorities before the world); bringing forth with pain (the Diocletian persecution) a son who is to rule, etc., i. e., producing children who, united and multiplied into a nation, are to be raised to dominant political power; (this elevation being first accomplished under Constantine, to whom, according to Ambrose, was given the title “Son of the Church”). The Dragon he interprets as the Roman Empire as a persecuting power hostile to Christianity. He presents the following indications as to the time of the birth and effort to destroy: (1) not until after the close of the Second century, as it was then that the dragon was first used as a Roman ensign; (2) not until the time of Diocletian, as it was then that the diadem was first assumed as one of the imperial insignia; (3) the drawing by the Dragon of a third part of the stars of Heaven indicates that though he was still in the political heaven, his power was diminished to a third part of the Imperial power, and this occurred about A. D. 313, when in two divisions of the Roman Empire, Europe and Africa (under Constantine and Licinius), Christianity was in the ascendancy, but in the third, Asia (under Maximin), Christians were still exposed to persecution; (4) this was the period of the termination of forty weeks (280 prophetic days from Pentecost) of the Church’s gestation. The attempt to destroy he explains by (1) the persecution of Maxi min (see Gibbon II. 489); (2) the apostasy of Licinius, A. D. 323, and the following persecutions. The catching up of the child to God and His throne he regards as the elevation of Constantine, as an avowed Christian, to the undivided throne of the Roman Empire, and the consequent establishment of Christianity, after the defeat of Licinius at the battle of Adrianople, A. D. 323 (see Gibbon and historians generally). (For the explanation of the flight of the Woman, see the following abstract, p. 258.) The war in Heaven he regards as indicating the struggle of Paganism for re-elevation to political power under Licinius and Julian the Apostate, and the throwing down of the Dragon (or Satan, who inspired them) as the final downfall of Paganism, primarily in the defeat of Licinius, and finally in the death of Julian in the Persian War, A. D. 363. Rev_12:10-12 (1st clause) he interprets as the Church’s song of victory in the “symbolic Heaven of political elevation and power.” The last clause of Rev_12:12 he regards “as a detached and solemn notification by the dictating prophetic Spirit of some woe on the Roman Empire soon about to follow,” reference being had “primarily, to heretical persecutors within the Church and Empire; and, secondarily, to the Gothic scourge.”
Barnes agrees, in the main, with Elliott. His most important variations are as to—1. The adornment of the Woman: by the moon under her feet he understands “the ancient (Jewish) and comparatively obscure dispensation now made subordinate and humble; and by the twelve stars, “the usual well-known division of the people of God into twelve parts.” 2. The war in Heaven: he writes, “Another vision appears. It is that of a contest between Michael, the protecting Angel of the people of God, and the great foe, in which victory declares in favor of the former, and Satan suffers a discomfiture, as if he were cast from Heaven to Earth.”
Stuart interprets (1) the Woman as the Church (“not simply as Jewish, but in a more generic and theocratic sense, the people of God”) at the period of Christ’s birth; (2) the child as Christ Himself; (3) the dragon as Satan inspiring Herod, Judas and other persecutors; (4) the attempt to destroy as the massacre at Bethlehem and the other assaults on our Lord; (5) the catching up to Heaven as the Ascension; (6) the War in Heaven (the lower heaven, the air) as a struggle between good and bad spirits, “according to the usual popular modes of conception;” (7) “the words of the voice in Heaven (Rev_12:10 sqq.) are to be regarded mainly as anticipative of victory in respect to the future, grounded on a reminiscence of victory with regard to the past.”
Wordsworth regards Revelation 12 as a “Prophetic View of the History of the Church relatively to Rome” (Rev_12:1-12, relatively to heathen Rome). “The Woman in this vision is the Christian Church; she appeared in Heaven, for her origin is from above; she is clothed with the Sun, for Christ is the Sun of righteousness; she has the moon under her feet, because she will survive the changes of this world; she has on her head a crown of victory (
); the crown of twelve stars indicates the Twelve Apostles.” The Dragon is the Old Serpent, who is called in this Book the Dragon, see Rev_12:9; Rev_12:15-16, where the names Satan, Devil, Dragon and Serpent are interchanged; the Dragon is also described here as having Seven Heads, etc.; diadems are symbols of royally; horns are emblems of power (Luk_1:69); the number seven represents completeness, and combined with the number ten (ten horns), it connects this manifestation of the Dragon with the display of his power, as wielded by the fourth great Monarchy, that of Rome.” He refers the Male Son primarily to Christ, secondarily to the people of Christ; the rod of iron is Christ’s word, the Holy Scriptures, and by it the male children, the masculine spirits of Christ’s Church, are endued with power from Him to rule the nations and overcome the world.” (On the flight of the Woman see the Abstract on p. 261.) Concerning the war in Heaven, he writes: “St. John now reverts to an earlier period, in order to recite the antecedent history of the Dragon, and to explain the circumstances under which he was led to persecute the Woman, and he traces that history till it is brought down, in Rev_12:14, to the same point as in Rev_12:6, namely, to the escape of the Woman in the Wilderness; Satan is displayed as he was before his fail from Heaven.”
Alford regards the vision of this chapter “as introductory to the whole imagery of the latter part of the Apocalypse,” and holds that “the principal details of the present section (chapter) are rather descriptive than strictly prophetical.” By the Woman he understands “the Church, the Bride of God, and, of course, from the circumstances afterwards related, the Old Testament Church, at least at this beginning of the vision;” by the Dragon, the Devil (“he is
, perhaps for the combined reasons of the wasting properties of fire, and the redness of blood;” the seven crowned heads represent “universality of earthly dominion;” “the magnitude and fury of the Dragon are graphically given by the fact of its tail … sweeping down the stars of heaven”); by the child, “the Lord Jesus, and none other” (“the exigencies of this passage require that the birth should be understood literally and historically, of that Birth of which all Christians know;” (see also Expl. in Detail, Rev_12:5). Concerning the war, he writes: “The war here spoken of appears in some of its features in the Book of Daniel, Dan_10:13; Dan_10:21; Dan_12:1 (also Judges 9) … Satan’s being cast out of Heaven to the Earth is the result not of the contest with the Lord Himself, of which it is only an incident leading to a new phase, but of an appointed conflict with his faithful fellow angels led on by the Archangel Michael.” (See also Expl in Detail.) In conclusion he writes: “I own that I have been led … to think whether after all the Woman may represent, not the invisible Church of God’s true people, which under all conditions of the world must be known only to Him, but the true visible Church: that Church which in its divinely prescribed form as existing at Jerusalem was the mother of our Lord according to the flesh, and which continued as established by our Lord and His Apostles, in unbroken unity during the first centuries, but which, as time went on, was broken up by evil men and evil doctrines, and has remained, unseen, unrealized, her unity an article of faith, not of sight, but still multiplying her seed, those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus, in various sects and different countries, waiting the day for her comely order and oneness again to be manifested—the day when she shall ‘come up out of the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved;’ when our Lord’s prayer for the unity of His people being accomplished, the world shall believe that the Father has sent Him. If we are disposed to carry out this idea, we might see the great realization of the flight into the wilderness in the final severance of the Eastern and Western churches in the seventh century, and the flood cast after the Woman by the Dragon in the irruption of the Mohammedan armies. But this, though not less satisfactory than the other interpretations, is as unsatisfactory. The latter part of the vision yet awaits its clearing up.”
Lord. “The Woman is the representative of the true people of God; … her sunbeam robe, her station above the moon, and her crown of stars, bespeak her greatness, conspicuousness, and majesty; … her cry and labor to bear, denote the importunate desire and endeavor of those whom she symbolizes to present to the empire one who should, as their son, rise to supreme power, and rule the nations with an iron sceptre, etc.” “The great red Dragon symbolizes the rulers of the Roman Empire; the seven heads denoting the seven species of the chiefs of its ancient government; the ten horns the chiefs into which its western half was divided on its conquest by the Goths; … its sweeping its tail through the sky, dragging one-third of the stars, and casting them to the earth, represents its violent dejection of one-third of the Christian teachers from their stations by imprisonment,” etc. By the child he understands Constantine; and his being caught up to God and His throne he takes as denoting “both (1) that he was rescued in an extraordinary manner from the attempts of the Pagan Emperor to destroy him, and exalted to supreme power in the Empire; and (2) that he became in that station a usurper of the rights of God, and an object of idolatrous homage to his subjects.” “That the Woman fled into the desert, signifies that the people of God, wholly disappointed in their expectation of a more favorable rule from monarchs professing to be Christian and exposed to greater evils than they had suffered from their pagan persecutors, were compelled, in order to safety, to retire from the nationalized Church into seclusion.” (See also Abstract on p. 262). Concerning the war, he writes: “Michael and his angels are symbols of believers in Christ, who gain a victory by faith in His blood, by proclaiming His word, and by submitting to martyrdom rather than swerve from fidelity to Him. … Satan and his angels, on the other hand, symbolize antagonists of believers, who endeavor by contradiction to countervail, or by persecution to prevent, their testimony and to maintain the supremacy of idolatry. … The period of this war was the period of the persecutions by Diocletian, Galerius, Maxentius, Maximin, and Licinius; and the victory, that change of feeling that rendered persecution and paganism itself unpopular, prompted Constantine to espouse the cause of the Christians, and finally led to the rejection of paganism as the religion of the State.” “The chant (Rev_12:10) was uttered by the victors, and indicates that the Church was to regard … (the victory) as insuring the speedy Advent of Christ, and commencement of His millennial reign. The heavens summoned to rejoice are the new heavens, the symbol of the risen and glorified saints; … they who dwell in those heavens are the sanctified nations who are to live under their sway; … the land and the sea … denote the nations at rest and in agitation anterior to the establishment of that millennial kingdom.” “That the dejection of Satan and his angels was to be a woe to the earth, indicates that the decline of the pagan party into a minority was to exasperate its priests and rulers, and lead them to more violent measures, to overwhelm their antagonists, and reinstate themselves in authority.”
Glasgow regards the Woman as denoting the invisible Church; the Child, all the regenerated children of God, the assumption of the Child, the elevation of the members of the Church invisible to a heavenly status; the Dragon (“the seven headed monster, with his sixth head now fully developed ”), the heathen empire; the attemptto devour, the persecution of the Church begun, in a public and national sense, in A. D. 51, under Claudius, but in an indirect sense in Herod’s massacre of the babes; the flight (Rev_12:6, distinguished from that of Rev_12:14), the banishment of Christians in the first persecution, A. D. 51. The war he interprets as the intellectual and polemical warfare waged between Jesus (Michael) and His ministers (Quadratus, Aristides, Justin, etc.), and Satan and his ministers (Celsus, Porphyry, Diocletian, etc.), resulting in the dejection, i, e., the destruction of Pagan supremacy under Constantine. The hymn (Rev_12:10) he regards as that of Christians raised to the Heaven of ecclesiastical superiority; the woe (Rev_12:12) as implying that Satan instigated the pagan priesthood to resist Christianity to the utmost, and also that after Constantine, Arianism prevailed.
Auberlen. “Woman and Beast form manifestly the same contrast as in Daniel the Son of Man and the Beasts. … In both cases it is the human which is opposed to the bestial, only with Daniel in male, with John in female shape. Daniel beholds the Man, the Bridegroom, the Messiah; because he looks into the time when Christ shall reappear visibly and establish His Kingdom upon earth. John, on the other hand, within whose horizon lies, to speak at present only in a general way, the time before the second advent, beholds the Woman, the Bride, the Congregation of God in the world. He beholds her in the figure of a Woman, and this symbolism is not confined to the Apocalypses, but is a consummation of the whole usus loquendi of the Old and New Testaments. It begins in the Pentateuch … (for example Exo_34:15; Lev_17:7; Lev_20:5-6; Num_14:33; Num_15:39; Deu_31:16; Deu_32:16; Deu_32:21). We find a further development of this view in the writings of the Prophets … (Isa_1:21; Isa_1:1; Isa_54:1; Jer_2:2; Jer_2:20; Jer_2:23-25; Jer_3:1; Eze_14:23; Hosea 1, etc.). In the New Testament the same expression is used by John the Baptist (Joh_3:2-9 ). Thus from the very outset Christ is introduced in the place of Jehovah: in the time of fulfillment Jehovah became Jesus Christ, as His name manifests,
, the Lord. He Himself calls Himself the Bridegroom (Mat_9:15). … We meet the same view in the Apostolic Epistles (Eph_5:23-32, comp. with Genesis 2.) … All this the Apocalypse sums up in one word, Woman (Rev_12:1). The characteristic of woman, in contradistinction to that of man, is her being subject (Eph_5:22-24), the surrendering of herself, her being receptive. And this is in like manner the characteristic of man in his relation to God, and receiving from Him. … Humanity, in so far as it belongs to God, is the Woman; therefore it is said of Christ, the Son of the woman (Rev_12:5), that He is a Male-Son. True, He is born of a woman; …but at the same time, He is the Son of God, and as such His relation to the Church is that of Husband to Wife. … This is the simple meaning of the addition of male to son, apparently pleonastic. … Beside Him no man dare deny his receptive, woman-like position; for they who imagine to have life in themselves, who separate themselves from God, rise against Him, and, trusting to stand in their own strength, sink to the level of irrational beasts. The proud nature-strength of man is not of a manly, but of a beastly kind; it is nothing but the brute force of the beast. … The choice of symbols is (not) accidental or arbitrary, but based on the essential characteristics of Woman and of the beast. … Woman and Beast designate the Kingdom [Church] of God, and the kingdom of the world, not only in this or that period of their development in time; but also in general universality.” By the male-son, this commentator understands (as above) Christ; by the Woman, at the period of Christ’s advent, “the congregation of God in its Old Testament shape;” by her adornments—the sun, the supernatural Divine light borne by her; the moon under her feet, heathenism vanquished and conquered by her; the crown of stars, the twelve-fold division of Israel (continued in the twelve-fold New Testament shape, Rev_21:12). The wilderness he regards as indicating the heathen world whither the Church fled from Canaan; “the flight of the Woman into the wilderness is nothing else but the passing away of the Kingdom, [Church] of God from the Jews, and its introduction among the Gentiles: Mat_8:11-12; Mat_22:43; Act_13:46-47; Act_28:25-28.” (“The Acts of the Apostles gives us a grand comment upon this in the description it contains of the Church’s migration from Jerusalem to Rome. … The Church’s life is nourished by the kind ministrations from on high; she lives in the wilderness, even as Israel on manna from Heaven; … but though she finds no nourishment, yet she finds a refuge and an asylum in the Gentile world, even up to this day.”) Concerning the war in Heaven (Rev_12:7-12) he writes: “We cannot possibly find anything else but a description of the fact, known to us from other parts of Scripture … that the Prince of this world is judged by the completion of Christ’s work of reconciliation … There are three stages of the conflict of Christ and Satan. The first is the temptation of Christ in the wilderness; … (the second, the assault upon) those who were near Christ, in order to oppose the Saviour’s work; the third, in which the victory is consummated, is the sufferings and death, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. (What Paul expresses in Col_2:15, in a didactic form, John saw in a prophetic vision. The devil is now cast out of Heaven after the Son is raised to the throne of God, Rev_12:5. The Archangel Michael is appointed the executor of the judgment. For according to Dan_10:13; Dan_10:21; Dan_12:1, he, among the high angelic Princes, is the Angel to whom is entrusted the defence of God’s Church against the opposing powers in the invisible world of spirits.)” Rev_12:12 sqq. he regards as setting forth the second period in the history of Satan during which, having “lost his power and place in Heaven, and chiefly for this reason, because (
) he can no longer accuse men before God,” “he concentrates all his strength (by temptation and persecution) to ruin as many souls as possible.” (See also in loco.)—E. R. C.]
EXPLANATIONS IN DETAIL
Rev_11:15. Great voices.—Voices simple are prophecies. In view of the hasty movement of the Kingdom of Darkness toward the revelation of Antichristianity, Heaven is filled with the triumphant and prophetic presentiment that now the judgment upon the dark kingdom and, consequently, the appearance of Christ’s Kingdom, are near. “The question—to whom did these voices belong?—need neither be asked nor answered” (Düsterdieck). For various insignificant hypotheses on this subject, see Düsterdieck. This commentator also rightly discards the limitations of the circuit of the seventh Trumpet (Hengstenberg: it embraces Rev_12:15-17; Ebrard: Rev_12:15-17), and, in connection with others, maintains the proleptical import of the voices. On the other hand, the interpretation of the words:
In the Heaven, as indicative that John is still in Heaven, reposes upon a comprehensive misapprehension of the structure of the Book.
The kingdom of the world.—Simultaneously with the Satanic and Antichristian uprising, the imminent emergence of the Kingdom of Christ is decided (Mat_26:64; comp. Psalms 2.)—as beginning, however, with dynamical operations which are in constant process of development, and do not become perfectly apparent until the end, at the Parousia.
Is become our Lord’s.—Rapturous feeling of the Christian consciousness, in face of the apparent rule of the Beast who is about to come forth.
He shall reign.—See Dan_7:14.
Our Lord’s and His Christ’s.—Careful observation of the economical relation.
Rev_12:16-17, 18. The twenty-four Elders.—These, therefore, are distinguished from the voices; doubtless, however, as forming the concentrated acme of them. The prophecy concerning the Kingdom of God likewise assumes a stronger expression. First, in the circumstance that the Elders fell upon their faces (see Rev_4:10; Rev_5:8; Rev_5:14; Rev_7:11; Rev_19:4). The contemplation of the sublime, thrills us with a sense of our own littleness and nothingness; the adoring and admiring consideration of the sublime, triumphant Divine rule, in its moments of grandeur, casts angels and men upon their knees. In the twenty-four Elders we see, as ever, the elect representatives of the human race. [See foot-note†, p. 152.—E. R. C.]
The second element in which the prophecy of the Kingdom presents a stronger tinge, is the form of their adoration: they give thanks, in the loftiest assurance of spirit; they regard what is to come as already decided. “They give thanks, not because they regard themselves as participants in the great power and government of God (Hengstenberg), a conception which is as remote from the subject here as in Rev_12:15” (Düsterdieck). As remote, in the sense of hierarchical superiority, and as near, in the sense of humble co-heirship with Christ. Furthermore, the feeling that God is the All-Ruler assumes additional prominence, and the future of His consummate sovereignty has become present—hence the omission of
Because Thou hast taken, etc.—In the economy of grace, God had suffered human spirits to pursue their own way in liberty, emptying Himself, as it were, of His power, even to the semblance of impotency (Christ on the cross), that He might then make conquest of souls in this their liberty, and educate them to salvation. Now, however, this economy of salvation is ended, and God brings His whole authoritative sway into active and visible operation again.
Thirdly, there is a particular grandeur in the sign by which the Elders recognize the turning-point of the times. This sign consists in the fact that
The nations [Lange: heathen] were wroth.—In the very wrath of the revolt, the apostasy of the heathen—and also of the Christian peoples, which have, by apostasy, become heathen again,—the Seer—as, approximately, the singer of Psalms 2 (particularly in the to-day that exegetes have misunderstood)—perceives that the wrath of God is on the point of executing its judgment. Not only has He arisen “against the wrath of His enemies,” but in the very wrath of His enemies, the judgment of His wrath is revealed. Undoubtedly, however, the wrath of God first issues forth, in full revelation, in the Vials of wrath [or anger] which follow upon the wrath of the heathen under the domination of the Antichristian Beasts.
The time of the dead.—We understand this, not as significant of the judgment upon the awakened dead, Rev_20:12, with Düsterd., but as indicative of the satisfaction imparted to the pious dead by the judgment upon living transgressors (see Rev_6:10-11). This judgment is two-sided: first, it gives reward to all the servants of God, and that in all proportionate degrees: to Prophets, saints, even to simple God-fearing men—and not only the great, but also the small. This reward does not necessarily begin with the heavenly glory; the most affecting reward is satisfaction, vindication of honor, justification. Hence the second side of the judgment, the antithesis:
To destroy those who destroy the earth.—The latter expression recurs in Rev_19:2. It is in every respect highly significant, whether by earth we understand the theocratic Divine institution, or the basis thereof, the cosmos, which, in all points of its ideal destinations, is laid waste by the enemies of the Lord, even in the direction of an ungodly civilization.
to the Prophets only, apprehending
as a summary expression for the entire mass of the godly. The distinction of Bengel, adopted by Hengstenberg, accords better, however, with New Testament usage; namely, the servants of God and the God-fearing—by servants understanding the saints together with the Prophets. Nor must the antithesis, the small and the great, be confounded with the same antithesis in Rev_13:16; Rev_19:18—interior relations being contemplated here.
Rev 12:19 (Rev_13:2). And the Temple of God which was in the Heaven was opened.—Herewith begins the heavenly fulfillment of the preceding festal prophecies.
The Heavenly Temple is the archetype of the earthly Temple (see Exo_25:9; Exo_25:40); it is, therefore, the ideal Kingdom of God. The Church Invisible, then, begins to become visible; even the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies is seen. The meaning of this is, we believe: the ideal import of the holiness of the law and the truth of the redemption becomes a matter of Christian knowledge manifest to all the world. Hence, also, there proceed from this great ideal appearance lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and earthquake, and a great hail—all kinds of awakening and vitalizing convulsions of the spiritual world. They commence with lightnings, with grand radiations of new illumination, and close with a great hail, in which the grand conflict of hostile winds with the heavenly spring-wind in the spiritual atmosphere seems to be set forth. So far as the idea of the heavenly Temple, the heavenly Ark of the Covenant, etc., is concerned, we may remark that the Jewish axiom cited by Düsterdieck [see p. 150 and foot-note.—E. R. C.]