The Book of Revelation, Chapter 12

Revelation 12  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 10
EV 12{This chapter really commences with the last verse of that preceding. The temple of God was opened in heaven, and in it the ark of His covenant is seen. This indicates at once that Israel is coming into view, and that God is about to renew His dealings with His people on the basis of His everlasting covenant. But signs of judgment-lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail are connected with this scene; for it is in judgment that God will proceed to establish His covenant and restore His people to His favor and blessing-judgment upon His enemies, and also upon His people. (See Psa. 83; 94; 97 Isa. 66; Zech. 12-14, &c) There are thus here judgments proceeding from above, and convulsions below, which will precede the making of the new covenant with the house of Israel of which Jeremiah speaks. (Chapter 31:31) Unmingled blessing will follow.
Coming to the chapter itself, we find in it "a brief but all-important summary of the whole course of events, viewed, not in their instruments on earth or the judgment of these, but the divine view of all the principles at work, the state of things as revealed of God." This important and comprehensive sentence, if rightly understood, will unfold to the reader the means of solving all the symbols of the chapter. It may further assist, if it is pointed out that the sphere of these "wonders" and visions is "in heaven." (See vv. 1, 3, 7, 10) First seen there, and seen according to God, divine intelligence will be possessed for the exposition of the events on earth which the visions shadow forth.
In the first place, " There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered." (vv. 1. 2) There is no difficulty whatever in identifying the woman with Israel, but Israel as it appears in the purpose of God. It must be remembered also that Jerusalem is often taken in Scripture as the expression of the people, and hence it is that she is continually regarded as the earthly bride. But when so viewed, it is always as standing for the whole nation. (See Gal. 4:2525For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. (Galatians 4:25); Isa. 49:13-2613Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. 14But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. 15Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. 16Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. 17Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee. 18Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth. 19For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away. 20The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell. 21Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been? 22Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. 23And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me. 24Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? 25But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. 26And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob. (Isaiah 49:13‑26)) Three things mark her. First, she is clothed with the sun. The sun, as has been seen before, is an emblem of the fount of all authority, in accordance with the place assigned to it in creation. It is the "greater light to rule the day." (Gen. 1) Israel therefore is here seen as invested with supreme authority. Even in the days of the kingdom, God dwelt between the cherubim: it was there in the temple that He had His earthly throne; and in the days yet to come Messiah's throne will be in Jerusalem, and from thence He will govern the nations upon earth. (Isa. 60) Secondly, the moon is under her feet. Two things characterize the moon; she is the lesser light to rule the night, and her light is derived and reflected from the sun. We are therefore plainly pointed back, by this symbol, to the glory possessed by Israel under the first covenant. All the light she had in former days, and there was no light elsewhere upon earth, was derived from the presence of Jehovah in her midst, and from the sacred oracles committed to her care. The moon thus fittingly symbolizes this her past glory, and is now seen, in the presence of the splendors of the sun (compare Isa. 60:2020Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. (Isaiah 60:20)) as under her feet. Finally, she is crowned with twelve stars; that is, she has also the glory of perfect administration in man, which is the symbolic significance of the number twelve. Our Lord thus said to His disciples, " Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:2828And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)) It is needless to add that Israel has never yet corresponded on earth to this divine portraiture; but "in heaven" God has always seen her arrayed in this perfect beauty. So in the wilderness of old, whatever the state of things in the camp, the seven lights of the golden candlestick were ever burning in their perfection, and the twelve loaves of the continual shewbread, covered with their pure frankincense, were at all times duly ordered, in the holy place before the Lord. It is an immense encouragement to turn away from the actual state of things, whether in Israel or the Church, and to contemplate both the one and the other as they are seen in all their perfection in the purposes of God. (Compare Num. 23;24)
We have next the circumstances of the woman-travailing in birth; but before the birth of the man-child another wonder is seen in heaven: " Behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born." (vv. 3, 4) This dragon, the enemy of God and His Christ, is declared to be "that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan" (v. 9); but he is viewed here as identified with the revived Roman empire. This is seen in two ways: his color is red, not purple, which is specially the imperial color, but red here because presented under a persecuting, sanguinary aspect; and he has seven heads and ten horns, the same as the beast in the next chapter. (v. 1) It is, moreover, distinctly declared that "the dragon gave him [the beast] his power, and his seat, and great authority." (Chapter 13:2) Here therefore the source is unveiled, and Satan himself is presented as possessing all that he afterward bestows upon man in government. (Compare Luke 4:5-75And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. 7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. (Luke 4:5‑7)) The seven crowned or diademed head are forms of power, and, taking the number seven in its usual significance, it will portend that as to these there is completeness. But he has only ten horns, administrative instrumental powers, and, since twelve is the number of perfect government in man, he is, as to these, incomplete. The next thing stated is that his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the ground. That is to say, in his progress, or march, to supremacy on the earth in the form of the Roman empire, his masterpiece of craft and energy in the last half-week, he overthrows, casts down, all the subordinate powers that had existed in the area of the " third part," in order to substitute the absolute power and despotism of the imperial head, as seen in the first beast of the next chapter.
All this description is introductory to the position of the dragon here exhibited: he stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. We thus learn that Satan knew of the promised seed, the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent's head, of the expected advent of David's Son and David's Lord, the One who would reign until all enemies should be subdued; and that, in his enmity to God and man, he lay in wait to destroy the true Heir as soon as He might appear. In the gospels we have the record of the manner in which he sought to compass his ends. Through Herod he sought to destroy the child Jesus; in the wilderness he attempted to allure Him from the path on which He had entered; he stirred up and evoked the bitter hate of the scribes and Pharisees to accomplish his purpose; and, finally, he succeeded in banding together Jew and Gentile, all the factions of Judaism with their oppressors, high and low, rich and poor, every form of earthly power, and the Object of his malice was condemned to die, and was crucified. Apparently the dragon had devoured the Child; but, as every believer knows, what seemed to be his triumph became the means of his everlasting disgrace and defeat. It was God who had triumphed, having made the wrath of man to praise Him, and having bound the "dragon" to the chariot wheels of His eternal purposes of grace and mercy in and through the redemption wrought out by means of the death of His beloved Son.
The frustration of Satan's object is now related: "And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne." (v. 5) How entirely all here concerns the earth is seen from the fact, that no mention whatever is made of the church period: the kingdom alone is specified. If Christ is born, it is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, according to Psa. 2 and 110. The cross is not even mentioned, although we know it preceded His being caught up unto God and to His throne.
Christ then has now been born into the world, and, Satan having proved his powerlessness against the Lord's Anointed, He has been caught up, raised from the dead, and has been set in the place of power at God's right hand. The next verse goes on to a time after the church period-the last half-week of prophecy, which immediately precedes the introduction of the kingdom of Christ on the earth. Not only therefore is Christ in this scene on high, but the Church also, if not mentioned, has been caught up; and this is proved, as will afterward be explained, by verse 10. In the mind of God then the Church is included in Christ being caught up, seen, as it were, in Him; so that now, as pointed out (and the reader should pay especial attention to it), Christ has the Church with Himself above. The heavenly saints are thus, even as Christ was, snatched away from Satan's rage; for in truth he was and is as powerless against them as against Christ Himself. (See Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18); Rom. 8:31-3931What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31‑39))
The Child was caught away, but the woman was left behind, and, as so left, is also exposed to Satan's enmity. Hence "she fled into the wilderness, where she hath, a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." (v. 6) The woman it must be remembered is Israel-Israel as seen in the purposes of God; and Satan, having been disappointed in his rage against Christ, turns only all the more fiercely against God's beloved people. But God cares for Israel, even as He had cared for the "Man-child;" and in His providence He watches over, protects, provides for, and sustains her. Like Elijah of old, she is screened from observation in a place prepared for her in the desert, and as miraculously fed during the whole period of Satan's unchecked domination in and through the Roman Empire-the 1260 days.
Another scene in heaven is next recorded: " And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven." (vv. 7, 8) That Satan has access into the "heavenly places" is revealed in several scriptures (see especially Eph. 6:1212For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)); and we also know that he even acts there in opposition to the people of God. (Job; Zech. 3:11And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. (Zechariah 3:1); Luke 22:31,3231And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:31‑32)) It would seem that he takes up there what has been aptly designated an anti-priestly position; that is, instead of interceding for he accuses the saints, in order to deprive them of blessing and to secure their ruin. It is evident also from this scripture that he has an army of evil angels at his service. Michael and his angels fight against the dragon. The reason that Michael appears on the scene is that Israel is in question as the object of Satan's hostility; for, as we learn from Daniel, Michael is the angelic prince of God's ancient people. (Dan. 10:2121But I will show thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince. (Daniel 10:21)) He is " the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people." (Chapter 12:1) In Jude he is termed the archangel, and there also he is " contending with the devil," when disputing with him about the body of Moses. As no other archangel is named it would appear that he is the angelic chief; and, from what has been gathered from the Book of Daniel, that his special service is to frustrate the devices of Satan against Israel. This will explain the "war" in heaven as described in our scripture. There could be but one issue to it; and thus " the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan," the evil spirit that deceiveth the whole habitable world, of which he is the prince and the god. He " was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (v. 9) He loses now forever his place in the heavens; and henceforth the scene of his activities is bounded by the habitable world, where he is still permitted, in pursuance of the divine purposes, to be a test for man, until the moment decreed for his own eternal doom.
His expulsion from heaven is celebrated by a loud voice, which John heard, " saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night." (v. 10) This loud voice in heaven explains two things; first, that the expulsion of Satan and his angels from heaven was connected with, and preliminary to, the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth, such being the import, we apprehend, of the words, "Now is come," &c.; and secondly, it gives the justification of the interpretation that the Church is regarded as caught up together with the Man-child; for the voice speaks of our brethren whom Satan had accused night and day before God.
The next verse reveals the secret and means of their victory over Satan's efforts. They overcame him by reason of the blood of the Lamb, that precious blood by which they had been redeemed, which had answered all God's claims, and which had made them whiter than snow. Satan could not therefore sustain his accusations, and God could not righteously listen to them, for He beholds no iniquity in those who are under the efficacy of the blood of Christ. The weapon of their conflict was the word of their testimony, the irresistible sword of the Spirit; and their courage was displayed in the fact that they loved not their lives unto the death. So Paul, with the prospect of martyrdom before him, had a desire to depart to be with Christ, which he esteemed to be very much better. What could Satan do with one who had no more conscience of sins, who was armed with the sword of the Spirit, and whose hopes were all outside of this world?
This passage is interesting in another way. The Church has been caught up; the Jewish remnant who will come into the place of testimony after the church period is distinguished in the last verse of our chapter, so that these victors, the " our brethren " of verse 10, mark a third class. They are the saints who suffer martyrdom after the rapture of the Church, and before the appearing of Christ, who, besides those indeed who "had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands," will be added to the first resurrection (chap. 20: 4), and who, therefore, are regarded as heavenly saints-saints of the heavenly places.
The casting of Satan out of heaven produces joy in heaven; but it is woe to the earth and the sea; for, expelled from heaven, he rages all the more violently, and as knowing " that he hath but a short time." (v. 12) The first object of his wrath is the woman which brought forth the Man-child, on the principle that whatever is God's special object excites his special malice. Verse 14, we judge, is but a restatement, with additions, of verse 6; but we learn now that God gives to the woman the means of escape.
For the Christian it is, " Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," but for the "woman," having no power of resistance, flight, and means for it, as symbolized by the " two wings of a great eagle," are divinely ordered. (Compare Matt. 24:15-21) Hidden thus in the wilderness, she has "her place," and is nourished, divinely sustained, " for a time, and times, and half a time" (that is, three years and a half, or 1260 days), "from the face of the serpent." (v. 14) The serpent, baffled in his object, "cast out of his mouth water as a flood" to overwhelm the "woman"; but the "earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth." (vv. 15, 16) This symbolism is simple. "Water as a flood," or river, sets forth a disturbed state of the nations, but flowing onward in some special course. The earth, on the other hand, is a figure of organization or ordered government. There was, therefore, a movement of the nations, instigated by Satan, towards the destruction of the "woman," or Israel; but this movement is arrested, under God's providential hand, by the ordered governments of the world, and Israel is secured. Once more baffled, the dragon, "wroth with the woman," goes "to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." (v. 17) These are the individual Jews who compose the remnant, the remnant of the Psalms who will be found in Jerusalem and Judea during the last half-week (see Matt. 24), and who are marked by keeping the commandments of God, and having the testimony of Jesus; that is, the spirit of prophecy. (See chap. 19: 10) They are, therefore, on Old Testament ground, and are characterized by Jewish feelings and Jewish hopes. Such will be the testimony of the remnant of the last days before the return of Christ in glory.
E. D.