Revelation 12:1. There appeared a great wonder in heaven; that is, in the church or kingdom of heaven below; for the church has long been called a woman, and a fruitful mother, the bride, and the Lamb's wife; a lovely metaphor to designate her graces, her glory and beauty.
Revelation 12:2. And she being with child cried out through pain, and was labouring to be delivered.
Revelation 12:3. Behold, a great red dragon. Dr. Peter Allix, a learned biblical writer, has some valuable thoughts on this subject. “The ancients allow,”
he says, “as St. Jerome acknowledges, that this chapter speaks of the fall of the Roman pagan empire; that the great dragon who had fallen from heaven, casting out of his month as it were a flood to destroy the church, signifies the heresies which the devil taught Arius and his followers, after that Constantine, [or rather Christ, and the holy seed] the man-child born of the woman, had been raised to the empire of the world, whose elevation threw down the dragon from the heaven where he was adored before that time. Indeed the fathers counted the first heresy to be that of Arius, which had several branches, as those of the Eudoxians, the Aetians, the Eunomians, &c., and which was condemned in the person of its author by the council of Nice, in 325.
The second heresy was that of Macedonius, bishop of Constantinople, condemned by the second general council in 381. The third was that of Nestorius, another bishop of Constantinople, who in a great measure revived the heresy of Paulus Samosatenus, bishop of Antioch, who lived in the middle of the third century. This heresy was condemned at Ephesus in 431. The fourth was that of Eutyches, abbot of a monastery in Constantinople, who asserted that the Word did not clothe itself with flesh, or assume human nature in the womb of the virgin; but that the Divinity, being turned into flesh, passed through the virgin, and was afterwards crucified, died, and was buried, and raised again on the third day. This the council of Chalcedon condemned in 451. Those ancient writers also teach, as we see from Theodoret, lib. 4. de hæret. fabulius, that the end of the world was to be expected as very near. This Theodoret asserts in another place in the same book, speaking of the forementioned person. It must be owned that Mr. Mede was much in the right in his notion of heresies, which were indeed the flood that was cast out of the mouth of the dragon. The interpretation is solid; and Rupertus, abbot of Duitz in the diocese of Colen, above six hundred years ago, took the first hint of it from St. Jerome. And Mr. Whiston did well to follow Mede. These heresies all arose in the eastern church: the west was also much concerned therein. So the devil left the east to come and bring desolation and confusion into the west, by corrupting the other part of the posterity of the woman in giving rise to antichristianism, which began upon the division of the western empire into ten kingdoms. The fathers, misled by a foolish tradition of the apocryphal writers, were of opinion that antichrist should not reign longer than three years and a half, and that the end of the world should immediately succeed his fall. We justly blame their credulity.
Revelation 12:5. She brought forth a man child. Probably Constantine the great, whose life the rivals of his throne made the greatest exertions to destroy. Constantine however could only be a figure of Christ, to whom the Father had given the rod of iron, that he might rule all nations. Psalms 2:7-12. The Greek ποιμαινειν comprises the double idea of ruling, as well as that of chastening with his rod.
Revelation 12:6. The woman fled into the wilderness, as is repeated in Revelation 12:14. This was remarkably the case during the sore persecution of the church. The christians fled to deserts, and lived on insects, herbs, and wild fruits. They began to love solitude, and on the return of peace, their brethren favoured those confessors, and suffered them to live alone. Hence arose the monastic habits which afterwards prevailed. The east, and then the west, were filled with solitaries. The reformed were called Hugonots, from John Hugon, of Swisserland, who first opened his house for worship. Those of France fled in all directions from the dreadful persecutions raised against them, and many of the refugees found protection in England.
Revelation 12:7. There was war in heaven, on the first revolt of fallen angels, as in the sacred text, and in Milton. And the great dragon, the old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world, was cast out. He is the prince; the other fallen angels are called dæmons in the gospel. Any fall from great splendour is called a fall from heaven, as in the apostrophe to the monarch of Babylon. How art thou fallen from heaven, oh Lucifer, son of the morning. Isaiah 14:12. In this war Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The phrase refers to Christ, who shall come in his glory, and all his holy angels with him. Matthew 25:31. This is repeated from Zechariah 14:5. Jehovah, my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. The etymon of the word מיכאל Michael, is given by Coccejus, qui est, ut Deus, who is, as God, and it must be understood of Christ, as Lord of angels and of men.
Revelation 12:10. I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, now is come salvation. This song gladdened all heaven, to see the accuser cast down. Every act of grace calls for a new song, for unceasing songs of praise. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.
Revelation 12:11. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. By this it was that all their sins were washed away, sins of which the enemy had accused them before God, as he had impeached Job. They also overcame by the word of their testimony, the word of truth, the shield of faith, which repels all the fiery darts of the wicked one. They vanquished his falsehoods by dying for Christ, being supported by that perfect love which casts out all fear. Believers, weigh and study these three grand points. The conquering armour, the triple shield, which covered them will cover you.
Revelation 12:13. When the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he renewed his persecutions of the woman under the ten kings, as he had done under the Roman dragon, the firstborn son of the great dragon; and he continued those floods of persecution for 1260 years.
Revelation 12:15. The serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood. The flood of Arianism, as Dr. Allix states; but after that age, many critics considered this flood to be the irruption of the northern nations, which coincides with all the trouble on the remnant of her seed.
The late Robert Carr Brackenbury, esquire, of Raithby Hall, Lincolnshire, sent me his ingenious essay on this chapter, which illustrates “the periphrasis of time, times and half a time, from the first edict of Constantine in the year 313, to the advanced state of the reformation in 1573, which was diffused far and wide, and when the northern states of Europe, with multitudes in the south, embraced the doctrines of the reformation, the whole of which period makes exactly the 1260 years.” The earth helped the woman. As Constantine helped the woman against the wars of Maxentius in Italy, and next against Licinius in Greece, so providence has raised up a Maurice in Saxony to defend Luther, and a Henry the eighth to defend the reformation in England. God can turn the hearts of kings as the rivers of the south.
That celebrated code, the French Constitution, was drawn by that great statesman, the ABBE SIEYES; and though it contain not a word of God, or of providence, yet the earth again helped the woman; the reformed were admitted into the national assembly; they were allowed to rebuild their churches, and their ministers received small salaries from the state.
This chapter is a sort of episode in the history, to show the constant war which the church has had with the devil. The woman is the church, the bride of Christ. She is a wonder in heaven, to see all her weakness contend with the dragon, and fly sooner than yield. She is clothed with the sun, with Christ in his virtues, wisdom, and righteousness. Her crown is irradiated with twelve stars, the holy apostles, surpassing all gems in lustre. The moon which wanes, a figure of all sublunary things, is under her feet. Yes, and she will forsake crowns and riches, and relatives sooner than forsake her chaste espousal to the Lord. She is a fruitful mother, ever travailing in birth to bring forth converts to righteousness.
The devil has an inveterate malice against this woman. He inspired the bloody red dragon of the pagan emperors and powers to destroy the church, as he sought to destroy Moses, and the Lord, at their birth. Constantine also, whose way to the throne was forced through many impediments, was born and crowned. And from our Lord's crucifixion to the conversion of Constantine was just two hundred and eighty years, the number of days during pregnancy, reckoning still a day for a year.
When the seven-headed beast with ten horns gradually gave his power to the two horned beast, then Satan influenced him to make war with the woman for twelve hundred and sixty days or years. So the woman has nearly always been kept in obscurity; for the dragon's tail drew the third part of the stars or kings of the earth, the two other parts being pagans and mahomedans. The ministry of Michael, and of all good angels, is employed to counteract the ministry of evil angels. Hence the servants of God overcame the pagan world, and now overcome the beast by the blood of the Lamb, which saves them from sin; and by the testimony of truth, which the wicked cannot stand. Therefore the heavens rejoice, and ascribe their salvation to God.