Of the Red Dragon with Seven Heads fighting with Michael about the new-born Child.
The first vision of the little book, of which we treated in the eleventh chapter, ran through the whole Apocalyptical course, from the beginning to the end, and that, as we elsewhere observed, to point out its connexion with the seals and trumpets. Now to that vision the remaining prophecies of the same interval, and of the affairs of the Church are to be accommodated, in order to complete the system of the little book. Of which, |the war of the red seven-headed dragon with Michael,| comprises the same period as the measured court of the ecclesiastical state, in which the dragon, inhabiting the Roman empire, raged with dire persecutions against the Church with child, and travailing to bring forth Christ as king over the Roman world, and for nearly three hundred years waged war against the Spirit of Christ, powerfully operating in his servants. But the woman at length, after throes in delivery, spoliations, and butcheries, gave birth to such a Christ , brought forth a King |who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron,| and the dragon, being dispossessed of the Roman throne, |there was| in that world |salvation and power, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.|
This summary of the whole matter being premised, for the sake of clearness, let us come to the particular explanation of the text.
|And a great sign (he says) was seen in heaven,| whither John was called in the beginning to behold, and where he had seen all the foregoing visions. I do not think any other sense of this circumstance is to be sought for. For it is manifest even from the end of the preceding chapter, that John had hitherto beheld what passed in heaven. |A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.| A sign, and a very beautiful image of the primitive Church in a state of pregnancy, resplendent on all sides with the faith of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, and treading under her feet the elements of the world, (whether the shadows of the Law, or the darkness of Gentile superstition;) glittering, lastly, with the insignia of apostolical origin. Many are inclined to consider the moon as a symbol of terrestrial and mutable things, which the Church of Christ looks down upon as beneath her. Though this may be true, yet never, I believe, in the whole Scripture, is the moon celebrated under this allusion. But the interpretation of prophetic symbols is not readily to be sought for elsewhere, but in those properties, by which, in some place or other, Scripture bears testimony to it. Now it is certain that most of the feasts on which they performed their holy rites, in typical worship, were described according to the changes of the moon; as the new moons, the passover, pentecost, the feast of tabernacles; nay, that the calculation of the whole ecclesiastical year, depended on its revolution. To which, perhaps, that passage in the 104th Psalm, v.19, may refer: |He appointed the moon for seasons,| ltvdym that is, for feasts. Why, then, may not the symbol of the moon be referred to the Mosaic worship? which the Church, in truth, by the revelation of Christ, beholds as prostrate, and placed under her feet; according to that observation of the apostle to the Colossians, ch. ii. v.14, in which he asserts that |Christ had blotted out the hand-writing of ordinances which was against us, and had taken it away, having nailed it to his cross.| Moreover, as God may be said to have created the sun as the greater luminary, for the dominion of the day, and the moon, the lesser luminary, for the dominion of the night, why should not the symbol of the moon, appointed to the presidency over the night, signify what is the display of the power of darkness, or blindness, that is, the worship of Satan and his demons in idols? So that indeed the whole matter may be transferred to baptism, in which the Church, illuminated, and from thenceforth to be clothed with Christ, tramples under foot the worship of idols, with a renunciation of Satan and his angels, his service, and his pomps. For all these things the ancient formula of renunciation expressly contained; and besides, the abjurors turned to the West, as to that part of heaven from whence the night arises, as, on the contrary, the professors of faith in Christ, and in the true Triune God, turned to the East, as the quarter from whence the sun, after the night has passed away, brings back the day. (Dionys. Arcop. de Hierarch Eccles. ch. ii. Cyril Hierosol. Catech. i. Mystagog. -- Greg. Nazian. Orat. xl. -- Hieron. to ch. vi. -- Amos. Ambrosius. Of those who are initiated into Mysteries, ch. ii.) Moreover, with a regard to the same figure (as was also observed above), the duration of the apostasy, or of Christianity defiled by idols, is described by months, according to the motion of the moon, but that of the woman and the witnesses persevering in the faith of Christ, by years and days, with reference to the motion of the sun. To which interpretation I should in preference accede, I am somewhat in doubt, and whether to one only, or to both. In truth, the apostle to the Galatians, ch. iv. seems to call both, as well the Mosaic tutorship as the worship of Gentile idols, promiscuously the elements of the world, and the Church of Christ rejoices that both are subdued under her feet. Let the reader use his own judgment.
|And being with child, she cried out in pain, and labouring to be delivered.| The Church, whenever she is regarded universally and abstractedly as an imaginary person, is a mother, but when with respect to individuals, who are produced in her continually, she has offspring which she is said to bring forth to God. This is so obvious in the prophets, that it is unnecessary to add a word more respecting it. Vide Ezekiel, ch. xvi. to v.21, also ch. xxiii. v.4, Isa. ch. liv. Hosea, ch. ii. v.4, 5. The allegory, then, is not to be disturbed by the unreasonableness of any one, because he would distinguish the mother from her offspring, which, however, in another sense, coalesce in one and the same Church. Kimschi on Hosea, ch. ii. v.2, 3, |The synagogue or congregation is compared to a mother by way of universality, but the several individuals to children.|
Those pains and torments on account of which the woman in childbirth cried out, were those severe persecutions which the primitive Church endured at the time of her delivery. For it is well known that tribulations and distresses are compared to the pangs of childbirth. Whence those words of Isaiah, ch. lxvi. v.7, |Before she travailed she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a male child.| The Chaldee has this paraphrase: |Before tribulation come upon her, she shall be redeemed; before trembling come upon her as the pains of a woman in labour, her King shall be revealed, that is, the Messiah.| But Jeremiah himself interprets this image, ch. xxx. v.6, 7, |Ask now and see, if a man do travail with child? Wherefore do I see every man with his hand on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! because that day is great, and there is none like it. It is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.| See also what our Saviour calls hodinas, Matt. ch. xxiv. v.8, 9, Mark, ch. xiii. v.9, |These are the beginning of sorrows,| odinon, &c.
|And there appeared another sign in heaven, and, behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns; and upon his heads seven crowns. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them upon the earth.| This is the sign or image of the heathen Roman empire worshipping the dragon; inasmuch as his emblems universally are seven heads and ten horns; seven heads both on account of the seven hills on which the city was built, and on account of the seven orders of kings or dynasties which would successively rule the empire of that city; but the ten horns are so called on account of the ten kingdoms, which were to rise in the time of its last head (upon which they grew,) which interpretation is not mine, but that of the angel, ch. xvii. where there will be a more convenient opportunity of treating on these matters, if any thing requires to be added. In the mean time, another character of the Roman empire is here subjoined, for it is said to have drawn |a third part of the stars of heaven with its tail, and cast them on the earth;| that is, to have subjected a third part of the princes and dynasties of the world to its empire. For so much, namely a third part of the globe known in the age of John, the Roman dominion circumscribed within its boundaries,
Now the tail, according to the doctrine of the Indians in Achmet, generally signifies attendants and followers of power, Apot.152; but what more the tail of the serpent may imply, will be seen *by-and-by. And these, indeed, were the characters of the Roman empire universally; but the representation of a dragon determines the worshipper of the dragon and the enemies of the woman's seed specifically, that is, as heathen, and the adversary of the Christian name; and since he is red likewise, it points him out as cruel, and crimson with the blood of the saints. Add that, under the type of a dragon, reference seems to be had to Pharaoh, the dire and malignant enemy of the ancient synagogue, travelling in Egypt, as the Roman of the Christian Church in childbirth. For he also, in a similar manner, and on the same account, is clothed with the image of a dragon, Psalm lxxiv. v.13, 14, |Thou hast divided the sea by thy strength. Thou hast broken the heads of the dragons, (that is, of the Egyptians) in the waters. Thou hast broken the heads of Leviathan (Chaldee, of Pharaoh). Thou hast given him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.| Isaiah, ch. li. v.9, |Awake, awake! put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?| Ezek. c. xxix. v.3, |I am against thee, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon.| In all these passages the Hebrew word is r which the Septuagint, Symmachus, and Jerome, interpret the dragon; and, indeed, the Syrian interpreter always calls the dragon in the Apocalypse by the same word. For the confirmation of which, Drusius says, that it is the Arabic language in which the dragon is called Thennin. And Exod. ch. vii. |Aaron threw down his rod before Pharaoh, and it became ltphyn a serpent, or dragon:| It signifies, indeed, elsewhere, a whale or grampus, but then as a marine dragon, whose form in some respects it resembles. But why, you will say, is so much stress laid upon this word? Why, in order to show that in the resemblance which Satan first abused, in subverting Adam, it is the custom of the Holy Spirit, under the type of that disgraced and accursed animal, to designate the kingdoms infested by the devil, and hostile to his church, the seed of the woman.
|And the dragon stood before the woman, who was about to be delivered, that when she should bring forth, he might devour her child.| That is, as Pharaoh did to the ancient Israel springing up in Egypt, and as afterwards Herod did to Christ, the Son of Mary, our Lord, so the Roman dragon laid wait for the mystic Christ, whom the Church was about to bring forth, that he might oppress him immediately after his birth.
|And she brought forth a male child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron| (or an iron sceptre). That is, she brought forth a mystic Christ, or Christ formed in his members, not the Son of Mary, but of the Church, according to that of the Apostle to the Galatians, c. iv. v.19. |My little children, of whom I travail in pain again, till Christ be formed in you.| For since the words are a periphrasis of Christ, it is necessary that some Christ should be intended by them, as in the prophetic types is frequently the case, not truly, but analogically spoken; |who,| says he, |was to rule all nations with an iron sceptre,| that is, with power produced by the force of iron, or war, as he was about to have dominion over those who were not originally his citizens, but either enemies, or foreigners, whom it would be necessary to subjugate before he governed. The words are taken from Ps. ii. v.9. not according to the present Masoretic reading, but the ancient one of the Septuagint, and of the apostles. Of which authors, I think I can collect, that this is the meaning, from c. xix. v.15. where in like manner as in the Psalm, they are applied to Christ our Lord, to whom they primarily belong. |Out of his mouth,| says he, |went a sharp sword, that with it he might smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.| Here the words are applied to the mystic Christ, or the Christian man, the offspring of the church among the Gentiles, who is represented under the type of Christ his Head, and to whom the Lord promises that he would sometime give a power of a similar nature with his own, under the name of the Church of Thyatira. |He that overcometh,| says he, |and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will 1 give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to pieces; as I also have received of my Father.| It will be some assistance here, to attend to the words of Andrew, in which, according to the opinion of Methodius, he comments upon this place. |The Church,| says he, |without intermission, by those who are initiated in baptism, generates Christ, as to be formed in them, to the complete fulness of spiritual growth. The male child is the people of the church, by whom Christ, as God, by the hands of the Romans, strong as iron, rules the nations.| He alludes to the type of the fourth kingdom in Daniel, in which I do not agree with him, (for how could David have alluded to that?) otherwise he is not wide of the mark, as will soon appear.
|And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.| A hendiadys for the throne of God. The son of the woman was caught up to the throne of God, that is, was elevated to the Roman throne, where, with that power with which it was declared that he was about to rule, he did rule the nations. Christ, the Son of Mary, was indeed truly raised to the throne of God; but the mystical, or supposed Christ, whom the apostolical Church brought forth analogically, since the throne of the higher powers is, as the apostle calls them, Rom. c. xiii. the throne of God, the terrestrial heaven. |For there is no power,| says he, |but of God.| Whence, in the divination of dreams, |If any one should appear in a dream to be carried up into heaven,| they interpret it of a royal exaltation. It is well known, likewise, in the sacred language, that magistrates are called 'lhym, that is, gods. |God standeth in the congregation of the mighty, he is a Judge among gods.| Ps. lxxxii.1. |I have said ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High.| v.6. As those then are said to sit in the seat of Moses, who teach the doctrine delivered by Moses; so those may be said to sit on the throne of God, who exercise his functions in the earth. When, therefore, the offspring of the apostolical Church is said to be caught up, or taken to the throne of God, it is the same thing as to be elevated to such a height, as to sit as it were next to God, which, I say, is true of royal eminence. Now this was fulfilled, when the Christians under Constantine the Great, and his successors, became possessed of power, after the Dragon was cast out.
But you will say, since the mystic Christ is said to be appointed to rule the nations over which he presided, in the same manner as Christ the Lord, with an iron sceptre, in what warfare, or by what battles (if this be the signification of the iron sceptre), did the offspring of the apostolic Church subjugate to himself the Roman world? I answer, by a double warfare. The first, spiritual, wonderful, and divine, against demons, the princes and gods of this world, which, indeed, with an army of celestial angels fighting with him against his enemies, he manfully waged, of which we shall treat in the sequel; the second, strictly corporal, when he had just attained the throne, which so many illustrious victories prove partly of Constantine over Maxentius, Maximinian, and Licinius; partly of Theodosius the Great against others, as well as Eugenius and Arbogastes, the standard-bearers of demons, before the contumacy and pride of the Gentile worshippers of the Dragon, rebelling against Christian government, was fully broken, subdued, and laid to rest.
But before we leave this subject, one thing still remains to be observed, namely, that not immediately as the offspring of the woman was brought forth, was he raised to the throne of God, but as soon as he came to maturity in the kingdom. Therefore she is said to have brought forth a son, who was to rule, that is, not immediately, but when he came of age. As Christ, the Son of Mary, our Lord, (to whose image this mystic Christ, the offspring of the Church, is in all things conformed), was in like manner, not as soon as he was born, but when he had arrived to a proper age, raised to the throne of God, and took possession of the kingdom, there to sit till he had reduced his enemies under his footstool.
|And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she bath a place prepared for her by God, that they should nourish her there, one thousand two hundred and sixty days;| of which, as it is afterwards repeated, and somewhat more fully described, we will defer the explanation to that place.
|And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels: And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.| It was said, that the mother having brought forth, as soon as her child was safe, escaped the snares of the dragon. But how it came to pass, that he who had so diligently watched her, should yet have failed in his attempt, now at length begins to be related. We learn that this happened by the aid, and under the auspices of Michael, who went strenuously to oppose the dragon, as he lay in wait; and when at length he became his superior, threw him down from heaven to earth. Thence the son of the woman not only escaped unhurt, but was raised to the throne of God, and she withdrew into a secure place from the fury of the dragon. |And there was war in heaven.| Namely, while the woman was bringing forth, not after she had brought forth, as many suppose. For it is certain from v.14. that this war was carried on before the flight of the woman into the wilderness. But the woman did not flee into the wilderness before she had brought forth, and before her son was caught up to the throne of majesty, v.5 and 6. |Michael and his angels fought with the dragon,| not alone, but with the assistance of the martyrs and confessors of Christ their King, by whose grace they fought; of whom, therefore, it will soon be sung in the hymn of victory, that |they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and for the word of his testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the end;| which cannot be said of angels only. |And the Dragon fought, and his angels,| that is, demons, with the assistance likewise of their worshippers, the Roman tyrants and their ministers.
But who, you will ask, is Michael? Not, I think, Christ himself, but, as it appears from Daniel, unless I am mistaken, one of the chief princes, or seven archangels, nay, the first, c. x. namely, that great angel, who is said by the same author, to stand up on the part of the people of God, c. xii.; and whom, therefore, Christ, the great General in chief, and the King alike of angels and men, employed in opposition to the fury of Satan and his followers against his people. For the angels are sent forth for the salvation of those who are the heirs of God,| Heb. c.1. and who protect and defend them according to a mode of acting secret and unseen, against evil spirits, who operate on such men as are enemies of God, and his Christ, although they do not appear in a visible shape. So in this war, in which we are treating of the primitive Church of Christ against the Roman worshippers of the dragon, the angels took part under Michael their leader, either by confirming the holy martyrs and confessors of Christ against the threats and power of tortures, and in diminishing their pains in their last agonies, and sometimes taking away entirely even the sense of pain; or by breaking and debilitating the attacks of their spiritual adversaries, and by throwing in the way of their persecutors, who acted under their influence, sometimes obstacles, and impediments, arising on a sudden, and so stifling their attempts; sometimes by infusing terrors and other alienations of mind, so that suddenly desisting from their undertakings, they even unwillingly granted to the Church a truce, and breathing time; until at length, after a war of three hundred years, when Christ saw that his people were sufficiently tried, and he determined to give a full victory to his angels, when the offspring of the woman was placed on the imperial throne, and the Christians were possessed of power, the kingdom of the devil being vanquished, fell with a wonderful ruin. For this is what he says, -- |The devil prevailed not, neither was a place found for him any longer in heaven;| that is, routed and chased with all his forces, he was cast out of heaven, (|Prevailed not,| is a Hebraism, of which hereafter.) |And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent which is called the devil, and Satan, who deceived) the whole habitable world;| (that is, impels it to idolatry, and had hitherto been seated in the Roman empire;) |he was cast out to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.| That is, he, with all his demons, hitherto worshipped as gods, were hurled down from the summit of divinity in which they gloried, to the depth of execration and contempt. As what we read to have been done formerly in the liberation of Israel from the tyranny of the Egyptian Pharaoh, to whom the dragon bears a resemblance, that |God executed judgment on all the gods of the Egyptians,| (Ex. c. xii. v.12; Num. c. xxxiii. v.4,) the same found a place here likewise, at least, according to the words. The Jews have a tradition, that it took place there likewise. Vide both Targums, R. Salomon, R. Aben Ezra, with R. Moses, Ben Nachman, &c. Nor is there ground for any one to pervert the clear words of Scripture to any other sense, especially since Isaiah appears to allude to it, c. xix. v.1.
|Prevailed not,| for was conquered, is a Hebrew figure, as I observed; by which adverbs of denying signify the contrary of that to which they are applied. As in this very vision it is said a little farther, |They loved not their lives unto the end;| that is, they reckoned their lives of no account, or they gave them up for Christ. For this mode of speaking among the Hebrews is not diminution, but augmentation. So Prov. c. xii. v.3, |A man shall not be established by wickedness;| that is, he shall be utterly removed and eradicated. Id. c. x. v.2, |The treasures of wickedness profit not;| that is, they are hurtful, they are destructive. Id. c. xvii. v.21, |The father of a fool shall not rejoice;| that is, he shall be affected with sorrow. And 1 Cor. c. xvi. v.22, |If any one love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema;| that is, whoever hates and curses him. Vide Burtorf Thesaur. Gramm. lib.2, c. xix. So here, -- the dragon and his angels prevailed not, is the same as they were completely overcome.
But I have already given a fuller history of this victory in the interpretation of the sixth seal. with which this fall of the dragon contemporises; nay, it is the subject of that seal, as far as it regards the remarkable change of the Roman empire. But what 1 have said of the offspring of the woman placed on the imperial throne, and of the Christians then possessed of power, is clear and manifest from the song of triumph which is subjoined -- |And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, 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, who accused them before our God day and night.| -- |And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life unto the death.| Which words, as they are very clear, and delivered without any veil of allegory, so they are a key to the interpretation of the whole vision. For, from hence it may be clearly perceived, in the first place, what the elevation of the offspring of the woman to the throne of God would be, namely, the introduction of |salvation and might, and the kingdom of God, and the power of his Christ,| to the Roman throne; and likewise by the conquest of what enemy, he should come to the kingdom; namely, by the overthrow of that accuser, who calumniates and traduces the brethren clay and night before God; and lastly, what kind of forces Michael and his angels should employ in this battle against the dragon and his satellites, namely, the holy martyrs and confessors, |who overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of his testimony, because they loved not| (that is, they gave up) |their lives unto the death.| And, indeed, it is utterly impossible that the elevation of the offspring of the woman, the overthrow of the dragon, and the introduction of the kingdom of God, and of his Christ, should not correspond with one and the same event, since the flight of the woman into the wilderness begins from all as from one termination of affairs. But why is Satan here called by the name of Kategoros, or Accuser? It is to be understood that this arose from the usage of the Hebrews, by whom he was anciently called by the same name, which they made their own. For they call him qtgvr, Kategor. R. Juda, in the book Musar, as cited by Drusius, says, Kategor is Satan, the wicked adversary or calumniator, who is an adversary to man, and calumniates him before the blessed Creator. Maimonides in Pirke Avoth, (where in a sentence of R. Eliazar, both this, and the word Paraclit of a contrary signification, likewise derived from the Greek, occur,) says, He is called Paraclit, Parakletos, or the Intercessor, who intercedes with the King, for a good blessing for man; the opposite to whom is Kategor; for he it is who traduces man to the king, and endeavours to destroy him. And, indeed, if ever Satan deserved the name of accuser or calumniator on any other occasion, strictly deserved it during the time of this childbirth, and the war attending it. Witness the many calumnies and reproaches with which the dragon-worshippers overwhelmed the Christians, during this whole time, objecting to them Thyestoean feasts, Edipodian incests, adultery, promiscuous concubinage, homicides, conspiracies against princes, pestilence, famine, fires, and whatever public calamity took place. But there rather appears here to be a reference to the book of Job, where Satan, by calumniating and accusing him, was the cause of Job's being permitted by God to be proved by him with temptations and tribulations. Which here, likewise, the Holy Spirit intimates, was done by him after his accustomed manner. The intelligent reader will understand what I mean. Then follows in a song of triumph -- |Wherefore rejoice, ye heavens! and those who dwell therein,| (that is, holy angels, and blessed spirits, by whose exertions this victory has been obtained.) |Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea,| (that is, to the terrene world,) |for the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, (and therefore prepared to contrive some new mischief,) knowing that he hath but a short time.|
For though from the time when he was cast down by Constantine the Great, from the Roman throne, the worship of the dragon continued for a short space among the people; yet when he foresaw that not long after he should be expelled likewise, and that the whole Roman world would be sprinkled with the baptism of Christ, in the progress of events; being wholly inflamed with anger and fury, he took counsel how he might bring the victory of the Church into hazard, by whatever means he could employ; and if lie should fail in the attempt, even when cast out, he might subvert it by some new contrivance. In both of which designs we shall see that the most wicked spirit was not wanting to himself.