H^4, chap. xii.1-12.
A Great Sign.
We now come, not only to the great central subject of the whole Book, but to the central pair of the seven Visions, and to the actual literary centre of the Book.
All this shows us that we are on the threshold of an important part of Scripture which relates to the actual Revelation or Unveiling of the glorious Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The whole section (chaps. xii. -- ) is not only Episodal in subject and Parenthetical in form, but is a good example of historical, or, rather, prophetic Hysterologia, by which the events, though written down later, took place earlier than those which immediately precede in historical narration. That is to say, we have in chaps. xii. -- a prophetic record of events which will take place before chap. vi., and will lead up to, and run parallel with, what is recorded in chaps. vi. --
Chaps. vi. -- thus give the exoteric (or outer) view of that portion of prophetic history; for the Beast and the False Prophet are on the earth all that time, as is clear from xi.7, where the Beast that ascendeth out of the abyss made war against the Two Witnesses. But how he came to be on earth we have not yet been told. The course of the prophetic record is therefore suspended, while we are taken back to a point prior to chap. vi., and in chap. xii. are given the esoteric (or inner) view of the same period, and told of the causes which shall lead up to the revelation of the Beast and the False Prophet. Chap. xii. occupies much the same position with regard to chaps. xiii. to end; as chaps. iv. and v. do to chaps. vi. --
First, the war takes place in heaven, and the Devil is cast out into the earth. Then |he| stands on the sand of the sea (xiii.1 RV.), and John sees these two awful beings coming up -- the one from the sea, and the other from the earth. There is no record of their doings except in chap. xiii., and what may be gathered from the judgments directed against them and their followers recorded in chaps. vi. -- and other Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The Structure shows that the Woman and the Dragon are the two great subjects of the Vision, the |Man-child| occupying only one verse (the sixth).
H4, xii.1-12. The Fourth Vision |in Heaven.|
A Great Sign
H^4 A xii.1-. A great Sign in heaven.
B a -1-5. The Woman and the Dragon.
b 6. The Woman's flight.
c 7-9. The War in
A 10-12. A loud Voice in heaven.
With this structure should be compared that of the following scene |on Earth| (E^4), with which the part marked |W| (xii.13 -- 1-) exactly corresponds.
xii.1-. And a great sign was seen in heaven:] Here, at length, for the first time in this Book, we have a |Sign.| The word is (...) (semeion) a sign; not (...) (teras) wonder. We are thus warned at the outset that we are not to take this literally, but to see in it a |sign| of something else. Thus does the Holy Spirit guide us as to what is literal and what is not. What it is that is signified by the Sign we must learn from the Scripture itself. If we are thus warned that we are to treat this as a |sign,| we may assuredly gather that, when we are not so cautioned, we are not to treat the things in this Book as symbols, but as literal facts and events.
It is not only a Sign, but it is |a great sign,| as important in its significance as it was vast in its appearance. It represented something remarkable in itself and momentous in its teaching.
The Sign itself is described in |a|, verses -1-5. The following is the structure: --
a, xii.1-5. The Woman and the Dragon.
a d e xii.1-. A great sign in heaven.
f -1. The Woman.
g 2. The travail of the Woman.
d e 3-. Another sign in heaven.
f -3, 4-. The Dragon.
g 5. The travail of the Woman.
xii. -1. A woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:] This at once takes us back to Gen. xxxvii. It is the only scripture in the whole Bible where we have anything corresponding to this sign. There we read of Joseph (verse 9): |he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said, Behold! I have dreamed a dream more; behold, the sun, and the moon, and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, what is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I, and thy mother, and thy brethren indeed come to bow ourselves to thee, to the earth| (Gen. xxxvii.9, 10). Joseph thus saw a similar |Sign,| and both he and his father Jacob understood it at once, and interpreted it correctly, as the sequel shows.
Now, when we have such a scripture as this, why go out of our way to seek for another explanation outside scripture altogether. That the same twelve stars are referred to in Genesis is clear, because Joseph himself made the twelfth. Here we have the earliest reference to the twelve signs of the Zodiac. These are the only |twelve stars,| or asterisms, in the heavens. There are the |seven stars| meaning the seven planets; but the twelve stars can mean only the twelve signs (or stars) of the Zodiac, thus embracing the whole heavens.
The heathen nations, being ignorant of the written word of God, did not know the primitive truth preserved by the Antediluvian Patriarchs in the signs and constellations of the heavens before it was written down by God through Moses in |the scriptures of truth.| Hence, the nations preverted it, and overlaid it with their own vain imaginations. This was the origin of the old Greek mythology; and before that, of the various ancient mythologies of Babylon and other nations. Those mythologies were not invented by those nations, but they were the corruption of primitive truth after that truth had been forgotten.
As Rom. i, 20, 21 declares, they were |without excuse,| for the invisible things of God were clearly seen and understood by the things that are made. They heavens declared His glory and spoke of His purposes. This is what Rom. i.19-23 refers to.
The Patriarchs had, long before the times of Jacob and Joseph, so mapped out the heavens, as to preserve the great foundation promise and prophecy of Gen. iii.15, by making arbitrary configurations of the stars.
That this is no mere conjecture is shown by an important article in The Nineteenth Century magazine (for Sep., 1900), by Mr. E.W. Maunder, of the Greenwich Observatory, on |The Oldest Picture Book of all.| He says: |There are some indications, which seem to have escaped notice hitherto, by which we may fix, roughly at least, the date of certain other constellations than those of the extreme South. These are the twelve commonly known as the Signs of the Zodiac, and which, beyond all controversy, were planned in order to mark out the Ecliptic. The division of the Zodiac into twelve signs in one of very great significance... Now this perhaps was the most difficult discovery which up to the present date has yet been made in Astronomy.|
|The interdependence of so many of the designs, and the fact that the sphere is thus manifestly the work of a single authority, furnish reasons for thinking that it was intended to be of the nature of a document. An examination of the individual forms supports this conclusion.| ... Again, he says: |We are sure that the Zodiac is not later than 1800 B.C., and does not date further back than 4400 B.C.|
He sums up the article by saying that |this oldest picture book of all was designed nearly 5,000 years ago| and that |Many of the constellations, then, were mapped out to express the religious belief of their designers. No doubt the others, of which at present we have no explanation, had just the same purpose.
Mr. Maunder says also that the religion of those who designed the Zodiac and mapped out the Constellations |involved the erection of altars and the rite of sacrifice. They were acquainted with the stories of the Fall and the Deluge, substantially the same as those preserved to us in the early chapters of Geneses, and they devised many of the constellations to give appropriate and permanent record of them.|
The italics are our own, and the parts thus marked confirm our conclusions, on the highest authority; while the date assigned places its origins far beyond the domain of heathen mythology, and throws great light on Psalm xix.
All readers of that Psalm are struck with the fact that the first part is about the Heavens, and that then, in verse 7, there is a sudden and abrupt transition to the written Word.
This is explained by the fact that the reference is, in the first part, to the primitive truth witnessed to by the Sun and Stars in the heavens (an expansion of Gen. i.14, 15); and in the second part the reference is to the written Word of God recorded in |the Scriptures of Truth.|
For some 2,000 years before Moses, the heavens declared the glory of God; and not only showed His handiwork, but from day to day uttered speech, and from night to night showed knowledge.
True, there was no speech nor language; their voice was not heard; and yet, their |line| (i.e., their inheritance, or sphere of teaching) is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them (i.e., in the heavens) hath He set a Tabernacle (or dwelling) for the Sun (i.e., the path of the sun through the signs of the Zodiac, called the |Ecliptic|) which the sun never leaves, but goes forth from one end of the heaven to the other, performing his annual circuit. See the whole of Ps. xix. But these |words,| and this |knowledge,| after they were written down in Scripture, naturally fell into disuse, and in time were forgotten; and afterwards were overlaid by the traditions of men. If Moses wrote by the time of the Exodus, this would give about 1491 B.C., for the date of the books of the Pentateuch, and thus leave mankind for some 2500 years without the Word of God written. Thus, for all that long period, the Heavens would be showing their knowledge, and sending forth their words to the ends of the earth, and preserving the great primeval promise and prophecy of Gen. iii.15 alive in the hearts of God's people; making known the Coming one who, though bruised in the heel, should finally crush the serpent's head.
These twelve stars, therefore, were the Zodiacal signs, which are thus associated with Israel in the persons of Jacob, and the twelve Patriarchs. These constituted and represented the whole nation in embryo. Their presence here in Rev. xii. tells us that God is about to reveal His own truth, write folly on all devices of the heathen, expose their false use of His own handiwork; and, as He smote |the gods of Egypt| when He delivered Israel from thence (Jer. xliii.12, 13; xlvi.20), so, when He is about to deliver Israel again, He will execute His judgment on the gods of the heathen, by showing that their perversions of His primal promise will not affect its fulfilment; but all their mythological gods shall be helpless and useless to deliver them out of His hand.
Again we ask, Why introduce the Church here? Alford says |the whole symbolism points to it.| On the contrary, the only like symbol in the whole Bible connects this woman, thus arrayed, with Israel. What has the Church got to do with Gen. xxxvii.? Are we to look for the Church there? If not, then why look for it here, in Rev. xii. Jacob, his wife and his twelve sons, may well be taken as a most fitting interpretation of the sign of the sun, moon and twelve stars: but the Church has no connection whatsoever with these.
Further, Israel is again and again compared to a woman, and a married woman, in the Old Testament (Is. liv., etc.). Also, in her time of rejection, to a widow (Is. xlvii. Lam. i.1. Luke xviii.); and a divorced woman (Is. l. Jer. iii.); but not so the Church. Nor can what follows be anywhere properly understood of the Church.
xii.2. And being with child she crieth out, being in travail, and being in pain to bring forth] When could this ever be spoken of the Church? What is the Church's travail? And what is the man-child which the Church brings forth?
On the other hand, this |sign| exactly expresses the position and condition of the true Israel all through the history of the nation.
The promise of Gen. iii.15, as to the coming |seed| of the woman to crush the head of the great Dragon, was fundamental to the ground of Israel's faith.
This chapter, therefore, takes us back to the beginning of evil wrought by Satan, and carries us right forward to the great crises of human history. It shows how |the mystery of God| and |the mystery of Iniquity| will be finished; and take some 6,000 years to work out.
The birth of that |seed| became, therefore, the object of Israel's hope; the subject of Israel's prophets; and the |joy| of Israel's mothers when a man was born into the world (John xvi.21).
The |sign| of the travailing woman, and her being in pain to be delivered, signifies the expectant attitude of Israel -- de jure, if not de facto. The promised seed was meant to be the one great hope of the nation; to which everything pointed and of which everything testified.
The first sign of the Zodiac was a permanent and constant reminder of this great primeval promise and prophecy.
VIRGO is always represented, in all the ancient Zodiacs, with a branch in her right hand. That branch has come down to us, with the name of the star, which is of the first magnitude, Tzemech. This is the Hebrew (...), which means |branch,| and is used of Christ, the promised seed, in Jer. xxiii.5, 6 (signifying the |King,| of Matthew); in Zech. iii.8 (signifying the |Servant,| of Mark); in Zech. vi.12 (signifying the |Man,| of Luke); and in Isa. iv.2 (signifying the |Lord,| or Jehovah, of John). As these prophecies of the coming seed, under the name of |the Branch,| were read in the Scripture, it would be impossible not to connect them with this first great |sign| of the Zodiac. And until those Scriptures were written, this sign in the heavens told of the coming seed, |the Branch of Jehovah.|
Of the great Creator it is written (Ps. cxlvii.4, RV.):
|HE telleth the number of the stars,
HE giveth them all their names.|
And this name Tzemech is inseparably connected with the Divine omniscience of Him who created and named the stars; and gave and fulfilled the promise.
In like manner the constellation of |THE WOMAN AND CHILD| was set as the first of the three constellations which are assigned to the sign |Virgo.| It is found in the most ancient Zodiacs, notably that from the Temple of Denderah, in Egypt. It dates from at least 2,000 B.C., and may be seen to-day at the Louvre, in Paris (whither it was taken in 1821). The Hebrew name of this constellation of |the woman and child| was called Koman, which means the desired or longed for. It is from the Hebrew (...) (kahmah) to desire, which occurs only in Ps. lxiii.1: |My flesh longeth for Thee.| It is akin to (...) (chamad) to desire (Ps. xix.10. Isa. liii.2. Hag. ii.7, &c.). We have the word komah used by the Holy Spirit in this very connection in Hag. ii.7: |The DESIRE of all nations shall come.|
|The woman and child| was, therefore, part of the primeval truth revealed to man as a sign of Him who was to be the object of this desire.
That it was ancient is testified by Albumazar (or Abu Masher, an Arabian astronomer, who wrote in the eighth century. He says: |There arises in the first Decan (as the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians, and the two Hermes and Ascalius teach), a young woman, whose Persian name is ADRENEDEFA, a pure and immaculate virgin, holding in the hand two ears of corn, sitting on a throne, nourishing an infant in the act of feeding him, who was a Hebrew name (the boy, I say), by some nations called IHESU, with the signification IEZA, which we in Greek call CHRISTOS.|
This is, as we have said, the testimony of the ancient Zodiacs; otherwise this constellation was altered and corrupted in the third century B.C. by Conon, an astronomer of Alexandria (B.C.283-222). Even Shakespeare refers to |the good boy in Virgo's lap.| So that the fact has not been lost, though the name of the constellation has been changed.
But long before the constellation had been changed, its real signification had been lost and perverted.
Naturally, when the promises and prophecies had been written down in the Scriptures of Truth, the meaning of the signs and constellations, and the very names by which God had called the stars, would fall into disuetude and became gradually forgotten. This would lead to the easy perversion of their meaning by those nations who did not possess the Word of God. Hence this constellation of the |woman and child| passed into the Babylonian and Egyptian mysteries under the names of |Isis and Horus|; and thence, from the pagan mysteries, the picture passed into Romanism, with many other symbols and doctrines.
Indeed, so closely is Romanism allied to Paganism, of which it is the outcome, that those who do not see the difference between Paganized Christianity and Bible Christianity, draw the false conclusion that Romanism is merely a corruption of Christianity, whereas it is little more than Christianised Paganism.
Hence it was that, the real meaning of |the woman and child| having been lost, the symbol was Paganized, and we are told that representations of it as being |Isis and Horus| were so common (long prior to Christianity), that |there was not a house or a crossway where it was not found.|
Many of these Pagan symbols, rites, and ceremonies were brought into |Christianity| by the Greek Fathers, who were converts from Paganism, and had not lost their teaching and training.
What we have here, therefore, in Rev. xii. is the fact that God is going right back to the beginning, and in spite of all the opposition of Satan and the perversion of Primitive Truth by Paganism, He is showing us His purpose in this closing book of Inspiration, which is to take us back to the causes of the great Apostacy, and onward through the great Apostacy, which is close upon us, to its final confusion and destruction.
This is why we have, here, His vindication of those |Signs| by which He first promulgated His great primeval promise, and His own Revelation as to its final accomplishment in the crushing of the serpent's head.
It is clear, so far, that the woman is the |sign| of Israel, viewed as representing the nation as a whole. Israel is thus personified, with the marks which characterise the nation in its constitution and in its hope.
Having thus given the great |sign| of the |woman,| we next have |another sign in heaven| -- the woman's enemy.
xii.3. And another sign was seen in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems.] This |sign| also is seen |in heaven,| and we are not left in any doubt as to what it signifies. Verse 9 explains to us that |the great red dragon| is |that old serpent called the Devil (Slanderer) and Satan (Adversary).| He has seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. These are the |signs| of the universality of earthly dominion: for Satan is the |prince of the power of the air| (Eph. ii.2), |the prince of this world| (John xii.31; xiv.30; xvi.11). As such, the Lord did not dispute his claim (Luke iv.5-7). His colour is the colour of fire, and of blood. This is a |sign| of his cruelty and blood-thirstiness (John viii.44.1 John iii.12), and of the war which he makes |in heaven| and |on earth.| The heads and horns and crowns are manifestly the |sign| of earthly power, gathered up in himself: for to whomsoever he will he gives or delegates it (Luke iv.6, 7; chap. xiii.2). Thus briefly is the authority and power of the woman's enemy set before us.
xii.4. And his tail draggeth down the third part of the stars of heaven, and he cast them to the earth:] Here we have further details concerning this |sign.| The |woman,| as we have seen, is the |sign| of the Jewish nation as a whole; and the object and action of the Devil could not be more clearly stated.
We are again taken back to the beginning of things; even to Satan's first rebellion, and to the angels who fell with him. This is surely the |sign| of Satan's power among the angels; as the heads and horns are a |sign| of his power among men on the earth. It seems clear from this that the third part of angels followed him in his great rebellion.
and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to bring forth, that when she should bring forth he might devour her child] Here we have a sign indeed; far beyond any mere passing event; or, even far beyond what Alford suggests, |the whole course of hostility against the Lord during His humiliation.|
We believe it goes much further back than this. These two Signs take us back to events which date |from the foundation of the world|; and do not go beyond the question of the Government of the Earth, which the Dragon has usurped since the creation of man.
The verb is |stands,| not |stood.| It refers to a continuous act, and not to a mere passing event.
The moment the word went forth that the seed of the woman should one day finally crush the serpent's head, that old serpent, the Devil and Satan, took his stand before the woman in order to destroy her seed as soon as it should be brought forth.
Satan's object, from the going forth of that prophecy, was to prevent that |seed of the woman| from ever coming into the world. He does not mean to be crushed if he can prevent it, and hence it is that, just was we are about to be told of the serpent's doom and how it is brought about, we are thus reminded of the fact, and told how he took his stand so as to prevent His coming at all; or to bruise His heel, if He should come.
He has used, of course, various instruments and agents, and while these have had their own respective objects and motives, Satan's object has been one -- and one only -- and this has formed
THE GREAT CONFLICT OF THE AGES.
We see the first great attempt in Gen. vi.2, when Satan strove to corrupt the whole of mankind. He succeeded so far, that only one family was uncontaminated. That is the meaning of the |perfect in his generation| in Gen. vi.9. (...) (tahmim) means without blemish, especially as to pure descent, or blood (Ex. xii.5; xxix.1, etc.). It refers to genital perfection. So vast was the corruption from the irruption of evil angels (2 Pet. ii.4-7. Jude 6-8), that the whole race had to be destroyed. Noah and his three sons were alone pure from the awful defilement.
Nothing but Divine interposition saved the race and reserved mankind from a total overthrow. In Hem, the line of the |the seed of the woman| was continued, and the promise of Eden was preserved.
The second great attempt was made in Exod. i. to destroy the male children of Israel at their birth. Pharaoh's object was to prevent the increase of the people, so that they might not get up out of Egypt. Satan's object was to destroy the male line altogether, and thus make the birth of |the seed of the woman| impossible.
Again Divine interposition defeated Satan's plans. It was a spiritual conflict in which Heaven and Hell were taking part all along. It is the same conflict which we see here in Rev. xii. But it is written, |He taketh the wise in their own craftiness| (Job v.13), and what Pharaoh had said with Egypt's |wisdom| (Ex. i.10) was frustrated by a baby's tear (Ex. ii.6): for when Pharaoh's daughter opened the ark of bulrushes, |she saw the child, and behold the babe wept. And she had compassion on him.| Thus, Pharaoh's wisdom was made to end in having to board, lodge, bring up, and educate the very man who accomplished the very object Pharaoh had striven to prevent; for Moses delivered the nation out of his hand, and God overthrew his armies in the Red Sea.
We see another very special and determined attempt of Satan to break up the Royal Line, by which the seed of the woman was to come, in 2 Chron. xxi., xxii.
On the death of Jehoshaphat, his son Jehoram, made a beginning (to serve his own purposes, of course). He |slew all his brethren with the sword| (2 Ch. xxi.4). So the Royal Line was reduced to himself -- one life.
But he had children; and of these, we read that the Arabians came up against Judah, and slew all his sons, |so that there was never a son left him, save Ahaziah, the youngest of his sons| (2 Chron. xxi.17). Mark the emphasis put by the Holy Spirit on this solemn fact. That they were slain, is clear from 2 Chron. xxii.1.
Ahaziah was then the only lineal descendant of the Royal Line of the seed of the woman, through David, Abraham, and Shem. But Ahaziah had children. These, in their turn, were slain by Athaliah. She evidently left them all for dead, for it says (2 Chron. xxii.10) she |destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah.| That is what she meant to do, and would have done had not God again Divinely interposed and rescued the infant |from among the king's sons that were slain| (2 Chron. xxii.11). For six years all the hopes of God's people rested on that one life. All the faithfulness of God depended on the life of that one babe. While Jehosheba, the wife of the high priest, was hidden, with the child, in one of the chambers of the House of God, her husband, Jehoiada, was going about among the people testifying and saying, |Behold, the kings' son shall reign, as the Lord hath said, of the sons of David.| That was the burden of the testimony -- the faithfulness of Jehovah. And nothing but the Divine interposition frustrated the designs of Satan (and the plans of Athaliah) from succeeding in cutting off the Line by which the seed of the woman was eventually to come into the world.
In the book of Esther we see another attempt on the part of Satan to destroy the whole nation; and not merely the males, or the seed royal. He used Haman's pride as the secondary cause. But again a small thing was used to frustrate the design of |the Jews' enemy.| A sleepless night: that was all; but it was enough (Est. vi.1). And again Satan was defeated.
But he still |stood before the woman ready to devour her child as soon as it should be born.| And at length the hour came when the seed of the woman entered into the world.
Herod was used this time; and having ascertained the place (Bethlehem) from the Scribes (Matt. ii.4), and the time when the star appeared from the wise men (Matt. ii.7), he slew all the babes in Bethlehem under two years of age, and thought he had devoured the seed of the woman. But again Heaven interfered and defeated his plans.
The suggestion of Satan that Christ should throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple (Matt. iv.6); the attempt of the people of Nazareth to cast Him down from the brow of the hill (Luke iv.29); the two storms on the Lake (Matt. viii.24 and Mark iv.37; Luke viii.23), were all so many attempts of Satan to devour this man-child. And when he saw Him on the cross, and laid in the sepulchre, and the stone sealed, and the watch set, he thought he had his prey within his grasp. But again Heaven interfered. |God raised Him from the dead,| and the child was |caught up to God and His throne| (Rev. iii.21). But we are anticipating.
xii.5. And she brought forth a son, a male (i.e., a man-child), who is about to rule all the nations with a rod of iron:] The word rendered male is (...) (arsen), and is the neuter gender. It is therefore of no sex, and is most appropriate here. It is He of whom it is specially prophesied that He should rule the nations with a rod of iron. Ps. ii.9.
And her child was caught away to God, and to his throne.] This, again, is emphatically true of Christ (see Rev. iii.21). But it is not true of the Church of God. We are to be |called on high| by a special calling; and our bodies made |like unto His most glorious body| (Phil. iii.14, 20, 21).
Moreover, this calling will be all at once; and not |born.| Each member of the Body of Christ is created, and is |a new creation in Christ Jesus.|
It seems a pity, almost, to have our minds disturbed by alluding to other common interpretations; but it is well for our readers to have the opportunity of judging for themselves, and of seeing the vagaries of expositors. We are asked to believe, for example, that the man-child is |a baptized Emperor, the son of Christ's faithful [!] church, elevated to the whole Empire, to an avowedly Christian throne| (Elliott).
Adam Clarke affirms that it is |the dynasty of Christian Emperors, beginning with Constantine.| Some see |the Valenses and Albigenses as sequestered from the pure worshippers generally.| Others believe it is |the Nicene Creed|!
We thus see what come of not |rightly dividing the word of truth|; and of interpreting of one dispensation that which properly relates to quite another.
This is the end of the second sign, and there is a break in the continuity.
xii.6. And the woman fled into the wilderness where she hath a place prepared there by God, that there they should nourish her a thousand two hundred and sixty days.] This is said by way of anticipation: for the war in heaven occurs before the flight of the woman, and, indeed, leads to that flight. This flight, therefore, is consequent on the war, and not on the catching up of the child to God and His throne. This is clear from verse 14.
c., xii.7-9. The War in Heaven.
xii.7. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels,] The various reading here is abundantly attested by the best codices, and cannot be rendered as in the AV. Tregelles renders it baldly, |Michael and his angels to war.| We have supplied the word |going forth,| as in RV. This is absolutely necessary to make English. This reveals the fact that the initiative will be taken by Michael, and not by the Dragon: a very important point in the interpretation. The time has come in the Divine counsels for this great event of the ages. Satan, who has hitherto had access to the heavens is at length to be cast out.
We are not to think of Heaven as consisting of one place. The word is so often used in the plural, that, though we are not free to adopt the teachings of Jewish tradition, yet we are to think of many (it may be) different spheres. As the heavens are |higher than the earth,| so we may look on them as being larger than the earth. And as the earth is divided into various countries and states, so may heaven have its various divisions. In one of them these mighty spiritual forces set themselves in battle array.
On the one side we have Michael, who is elsewhere described as |one of the chief princes| (Dan. x.13); |your prince,| i.e., of Israel (Dan. x.21); |the great prince which standeth for thy (Daniel's) people| (Dan. xii.1); |the archangel| (Jude 9). He it is, with his heavenly hosts, who makes war against the dragon, and not the dragon who makes war against the man-child (as is so often stated). He does not do this at all, but makes war against the woman (verse 13); and that war is made on earth and not in heaven. So that the interpretation of this, as meaning Satan's opposing the rapture of the church, falls to the ground. The church will be removed long before these judgment scenes commence; and is therefore not to be looked for in any place in this chapter.
On the other side we have the Beast of chaps. xiii. and xvii. In Daniel ii. we have these powers in their earthly, human, mortal, successive and historical form. But in Daniel vii. and in the Apocalypse, we have the superhuman revival and contemporaneous concentration of them in the Beast.
The Dragon's dominion covers all the powers and governments of the world, which are here seen included in and controlled by one being -- the Dragon. The sovereignty of the world is about to become the sovereignty of our Lord and of His Christ, as we have just heard it announced |in heaven| (xi.15). We are here shown the source and the embodiment of his sovereignty. This is why the prophecy is suspended just at this point. It is in order to explain to us what this sovereignty is, whence it comes, and whither it goes. All is here gathered up into one head.
In 2 Thess. ii. we find further information as to the rise of this final embodiment of Satanic power. There we are clearly told that the revelation of that awful being has an appointed season. He cannot arise before his time. We are told why and how this is. In Rev. xii. we have the events which lead up to that revelation, and in Rev. xiii. we have the actual manifestation of the Beast himself.
2 Thess. ii. therefore forms an important link when studied in connection with Rev. xii. There we learn that the Beast could not be manifested on earth as long as he (masculine) now holdeth fast [to his place in the heavenlies, Rev. xii.7]. He will hold it fast until he be cast out. This casting out is described in Rev. xii., and we are here told exactly how it will take place, and what will be its causes and consequences. When Paul wrote, worldly power was then being used, and has all along been used by Satan for the accomplishment of his secret purposes; and it is still thus working, but here (in Rev. xii.) we see it come to a head, and Satan is about to openly manifest it. Meantime, |Ye know what (neut.) holdeth him (the lawless one) fast, that he (the lawless one) may be revealed in his time.| Paul could write thus to the church of the Thessalonians, for he had previously told them and they knew; but we do not know. All we know is that it cannot be a person who holds the lawless one fast, for the word is in the neuter gender. It can only be a place, and we suggest that it is (...) (to phrear) the pit of the Abyss, Rev. ix.2, out of which he is to ascend. In any case, the popular view cannot be correct, which takes it of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit |hold fast| (1 Thess. v.21) in order that the lawless one may be revealed in his appointed time? This idea arose from a wrong translation of the verb (...) (katecho), which means to hold something fast.
We have given all the occurrences of this word in a note on the previous page, so that our readers can judge for themselves. That wrong translation of both the AV. and RV. arises from ignoring the fact that the verb is transitive, and must have an object. Something must be held fast. Further confusion is also introduced by not preserving the important difference between the genders, which is neuter in verse 6 (|THAT which holds him fast|), i.e., the Pit of the Abyss; and masculine in verse 7 (|HE who holds something fast,| i.e., his position in the heavenlies, etc.
Having regard to these four facts --
(1) The meaning and usage of the verb;
(2) The fact that it is transitive;
(3) The distinction between the two genders in verses 6, 7; and (4) The undoubted idiom in verse 7 -- cast out, it is clear that 2 Thess. ii.6, 7 has suffered much at the hands of translators, and needs to be entirely recast.
At the first advent the announcement was made |on earth, peace.| But now, at the time of the Second Advent, it is |in heaven, war|; for the Dispensations have changed.
At the return of the remnant from Babylon, Satan was present to resist the restoration of the Nation (Zech. iii.2), and was rebuked. So it will be again when the great restoration is about to take place: but war will be declared against him.
The mystery connected with this conflict is easy to faith, though hard for reason. A little insight is given into these spiritual realities in such passages as Job i. and ii.1 Kings xxii.19-22. Eph. vi.11, 12. Jude 6.
Milton has described this war, but he only drew on his imagination, which was limited by earthly battlefields. This war is wholly different in its occasion, its scenes, its combatants, and its weapons. This war has its foreknown and therefore its foretold ending.
xii.8. And they prevailed not; nor was even their place found any more in heaven.] The great object with which that war is waged will be accomplished.
9. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent; who is called the Devil, and Satan, he who deceiveth the whole world: he was cast down unto the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.] There can be no doubt as to whom this |sign| refers. By four names is he defined, so that we might make no mistake. And yet, it will hardly be believed that, in spite of this, there are interpreters who maintain that it means the |Pagan Roman Empire,| and Michael is the |Christian Roman Empire.| There are others who understand it of no real war at all, but only a prolonged antagonism between good and evil. How refreshing to come back to the Word of God, and believe that we have there the climax which the Lord Jesus, looking forward to the result of His |sufferings,| in |the glory| that should follow, already foresaw with His spiritual prophetic vision in Luke x.18, and said: |I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.|
A., xii.10-12. The Loud Voice in Heaven.
Each of these visions seen in heaven are marked by heavenly voices and utterances. We have one in this Vision. The Structure is as beautiful as it is simple. The subjects of the utterance are two:
(1) Rejoicing in heaven;
(2) Woe to the earth;
and between them there is a call for universal rejoicing.
A, xii.10-12. The Loud Voice in Heaven.
A h k 10-. Rejoicing in heaven.
l -10, 11. Reasons.
i 12-. Call to rejoice.
h k -12-. Woe to the earth.
l -12. Reason.
xii.10. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,
|Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ: because the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night. (11) And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death. (12) Therefore Rejoice, ye heavens, and ye who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and to the sea! because the devil is come down to you, having great fury, knowing that he hath but a short season.|]
This is the song of victory sung in heaven. It will be sung by those who will have been caught up to heaven out of |the great Tribulation.| (Ch. vii., xiv., xv.) For they speak of |our brethren.| |Now is come| is the shout of triumph which celebrates, by anticipation, the results of Satan's being cast out of heaven. This is the first step arising out of Heaven's declaration of war. The emphasis is on the pronoun |they,| in verse 11, for they who overcame on earth now call on all heaven to rejoice over the wondrous victory. When the fruits of this heavenly victory are fully reaped on earth, then there will be others to call for the new songs, which are already written down for the singers in Ps. xciii. -- , xcviii., cxlix. This call to rejoice finds its echo in the final song of triumph in Rev. xix. But all is traced up to and grounded on the infinite merits of |the blood of the Lamb|: and the wonderous efficacy of His atonement.
Again, we see that the Church cannot be here, for no one can accuse the Church before God. See Rom. viii.33.
We shall be indeed surprised if our readers are able to see, as the cause of that heavenly outburst of joy, the mere |casting down of paganism from the throne of the Roman Empire.|
The result of that was blessing to the world.
The result of this is |woe to the earth.| (verse 12)!
But such a difference as this does not count with the expositors of this Book. Nor does the fact that the result of that conflict has gone on for centuries, in which the whole Reformation period is included; while this is to last for a very brief period -- one of many great events occurring in the last 3 1/2 years.
When Satan is cast down, |he hath but a short time,| which is definitely stated to be 3 1/2 years, during which he is wroth with the woman, and makes war with the remnant of her seed (xii.14-17).
This |Woe| is the last of a series of three (viii.13); and must, therefore, be subsequent to the first two, which at this stage will have passed (xi.14). The third is proclaimed in chap. xii.12, and consists of the casting out of Satan.
This conclusively shows that, though the Vision of ch. xii. is anticipative, the actual casting out cannot take place till the middle of the last of the seventy weeks (Dan. ix.27). The Beast will be reigning on the earth during the first half of this week (Rev. vi. -- xi.); but, in his human and mortal form; and acting |peaceably| (Dan. xi.21). But now, in the middle of the week, the crisis or |Third Woe| comes (xii.12). Satan is cast out. The Beast, having received his |deadly wound,| reappears in his superhuman form, and |makes war with the saints| (xiii.7). This last half of the week is |the great and terrible day of the Lord.| But this brings us to the next, the Fourth Vision |on Earth| (xii.13 -- xiii.18).