The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Revelation 12

Rev 12:1

Rev 12 is patterned on Israel's deliverance from Egypt:
  1. The dragon = Egypt (Ezek 29:3; Psa 74:13, 14; Isa 27:1; 51:9).
  2. The woman = Israel.
  3. The man child to be destroyed = Pharaoh's fiat against all male children (Exo 1:16).
  4. The child caught up to God = Israel at Sinai.
  5. "They overcame by the blood of the Lamb" = deliverance through the Passover Lamb.
  6. The woman in the wilderness = Israel in the wilderness (Ezek 20:32; Hos 2:14,19).
  7. Provided with food there = Manna given.
  8. Wings of the great eagle (the cherub of Rev 4:7) = "I bare you on eagles' wings" (Exo 19:4; Deu 32:11).
  9. "The dragon persecuted (= pursued) the woman = pursuit by Pharaoh's army.
  10. "The earth swallowed up the flood" = "The earth (ie. Red Sea quick sands) swallowed them up" (Exo 15:12).
"Since the woman is seen in heaven, she must represent Israel ('the daughter of my people') at a time before the nation was cast off and disowned by God. She is 'clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet.' These details are full of significance. Repeatedly, the Word of God associates the sun with the Messiah (Psa 72:17; 19:4,5; Mal 4:2; Isa 60:1-3), whilst the moon has special associations with the Law of Moses (eg the month and its special feast was decided by the moon; so also was Passover and the entire annual rota of Jewish Feasts; further, the moon derives its variable incomplete light from the sun -- if there had been no promised Messiah the Law would have been nugatory from the first day at Sinai).

"This woman is clothed with the sun -- her Messiah has been made manifest The moon is under her feet -- no longer need she be subject to it, to the Law contained in ordinances. Here then is Israel in its position of religious privilege after the Son of God has done his glorious work as Prophet and Sacrifice" (WRev).

TWELVE STARS: Reltd Israel (Gen 37:9-11; Jer 31:35,36).

CH: "As the sun represents the government, and the moon represents state religions, so the stars represent the princes of the realm (cp. Dan 12:3). There were 12 princes who ruled Rome since the establishment of the Imperial system by Augustus. They were the Emperors: 1. Augustus (AD 18), 2. Tiberius (37), 3. Caligula (41), 4. Claudius (55), 5. Nero (68), 6. Galba (68), 7. Otho (68), 8. Vittelius (69), 9. Vespasian (79), 10. Titus (81), 11. Domitian (96), 12. Nerva (98). These twelve princes, or stars, represented the authority of Rome, at the time the Apocalypse was given. Now John sees them gracing the 'stephan' upon the head of the woman, indicating that she had attracted to herself the authority of the state" (ApEp).

Rev 12:2

ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH: "Her child about to be born is to 'rule (shepherd!) all nations with a rod of iron.' The words are verbatim from Psa 2 (LXX). At first glance, then, the Man Child is the Lord Jesus Christ himself -- none other; for does not Revelation itself apply these very words to him in his glory (Rev 19:15)? But, then, it applies them also to those who are approved in Christ and deemed worthy to share his glory (Rev 2:26,27).

"Choice then must be made between these two interpretations. There is good reason to discard the first and seemingly more obvious, in favour of the other. This vision goes on to describe an attempt to destroy the Man Child after he has been brought forth. Now Psa 2, and especially the words, 'this day have I begotten thee', can apply only to Christ after his resurrection when he became 'the firstborn from the dead'; and after the resurrection no enemy could or did make any attempt to destroy him as in Rev 12:4.

"The man child, then, represents the early church, those in Christ born so to speak, out of the travail of the nation of Israel. Appropriately, in the vision, the mother never suckled the child!" (WRev).

(CH) "In 2Co 11:2, the Ecclesia is represented as a 'chaste virgin.' But early in the life of this virgin, trouble arose, and the seeds of error were implanted within her (Acts 15). It took the form that Christ was not sufficient, and that believers needed to observe the Law of Moses, as a means of justification. This Judaising heresy was vigorously opposed by Paul. But despite his efforts, the 'chaste virgin' became impregnated with error. The symbol before us answers to the requirements of nature. From conception to birth is a period of 280 days. On the prophetic basis of a day for a year, this represents 280 years.

"The Ecclesia was established at the preaching of Pentecost in AD 33. 280 years later, in the year 313, the wars of Constantine with the assistance of pseudo-Christians, had brought him to the supreme power, and the Church (but not the Ecclesia) was state-recognised. The man-child had been born of the seeds of error implanted at the very beginning" (ApEp).

Rev 12:3

DRAGON: = Egypt: Eze 29:3; Psa 74:13,14; Isa 27:1; 51:9. Cp Herod's attempts on Christ's life (Mat 2:1-16). (See Lesson, Leviathan; also see Lesson, Rahab (Egypt).)

SEVEN HEADS AND TEN HORNS: "Daniel's fourth beast (Dan 7:7,19), but with the added detail (not contradictory of Dan 7), that it has seven heads. In other words, besides its own, it has the six heads of the three preceding beasts. Or, seen another way, here are the great oppressors of Israel through the centuries -- Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Beast in the Last Days. The ten horns suggest the Last Day phase of human opposition to the Lamb and his people (Rev 17:12; Dan 2:44), a detail appropriate to the concluding section of this vision" (WRev).

CH: "Cp Rev 17:10. In this description we have both a topographical and political indication of the power referred to. It represents firstly the seven mountains upon which Rome is built, and secondly the 'seven kings' or forms of government by which it has been ruled. In Greek, the word 'king' relates both to the person and the government. The seven systems of government by which Imperial Rome was ruled were: Regal; tribunitial with consular authority; imperial; Gothic; consular; dictatorial; and decemviral" (ApEp).

TEN HORNS: CH: "Ultimately Rome was divided up into ten different nationalities, providing the foundation of modern divided Europe" (ApEp).

SEVEN CROWNS UPON HIS HEADS: CH: "This is an important indication of when the prophecy of this chapter would be fulfilled. It would be before the break-up of the Roman Empire into its ten divisions, for the crowns (authority) are found on the heads of the beast (ie, the forms of government that ruled the empire), and not upon the horns, which represent the divided state of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

"Ct this verse with Rev 13:1. There the crowns are placed on the horns and not the heads, indicating that the time of the fulfillment of Rev 13 was after the collapse of the empire" (ApEp).

Rev 12:4

A THIRD OF THE STARS: 1/3 of 12 stars in crown of v 1. One of 3 major overturnings of Israel. Perhaps 70 AD.

CH: "The head of the beast was in Rome, the tail of the beast in the east. In the west, Constantine was gathering his forces for a war to wrest power to himself. At this time, approximately AD 300, the Empire was divided into three sections, all of which submitted to the main authority of Rome. Constantius, the father of Constantine, had his headquarters in York, Britain, and his control extended over the western portion of the Empire.

"Unlike his co-rulers in the two Eastern divisions, he was tolerant towards Christians. At his death, the army proclaimed Constantine his successor in the imperial purple. It was the prerogative of the army to do so, and the appointment was in defiance of Galerius, the chief emperor. Galerius looked upon the elevation of Constantine in the West as presumption, though for purposes of policy, he accepted and endorsed the nomination. He viewed Constantine with the greatest suspicion, and far from acknowledging him as an equal, he delegated him to the fourth rank among the Roman princes. Meanwhile he made preparations to attack Constantine and invaded the West. Thus the pagan 'dragon' stood before the woman (Church) which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child Constantine, (for it was Christian support that finally brought him to power) as soon as it was born (v 4)" (ApEp).

AND FLUNG THEM TO THE EARTH: "At this time, the Roman Empire was divided into three main provinces: the West, the East and the Illyrian. There were six rulers over the united Empire: Galerius and Maximian ruled jointly as chief Emperors, and the four lesser rulers were Licinius, Maximian, Maxentius, and Constantine.

"In the west, under Constantine, Christianity was tolerated; in the East it was persecuted. But whilst the two chief Emperors continued, there was nominal peace. On the death of Galerius, however, Constantine prepared to attack Rome. He publicly proclaimed a policy of toleration towards Christians. He therefore gained there support. The Christians of the West, rejecting the teaching of the Master, prepared to take up arms to assist his cause.

"The Christians of the East formed a fifth-column influence in the heart of enemy territory. Maxentius prepared to resist Constantine, but in a series of remarkable victories against great odds (proclaimed by the clergy as miracles) Constantine, with the sign of the cross, marched steadily and triumphantly towards Rome.

"He was opposed in person by Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge where once again victory attended the arms of Constantine. Maxentius was drowned trying to escape, and Constantine entered Rome in triumph. The Catholics hailed him as their patron and supporter.

"Through this victory, Constantine now ruled in Rome, Maximian ruled in the Eastern division of the Empire, and Licinius ruled in Illyricum. The success of Constantine in 313 had been followed by a decree of toleration for Christians on his part, whilst Licinius had followed suit in Illyricum.

"This left Maximian as the champion of paganism. He boldly proclaimed his intention of overthrowing Christianity, and initiated a holy war by attacking Licinius. He shortly after this died, however, and Licinius annexed his territory, thus 'drawing the third part of the stars of heaven' to himself.

"He then repudiated his previous decree of toleration for Christians and assumed the mantle of the champion of paganism. Thus the 'dragon' again stood before the woman, and her man-child to destroy it. In the ultimate overthrow of Licinius, however the 'third part of the stars' that he had gathered to himself, were 'cast down to the earth' " (ApEp).

Rev 12:5

AN IRON SCEPTER: Wielded by Christ in Psa 2:9; 110:2; Isa 11:1,4; and secondarily by saints in Rev 2:27.

TO HIS THRONE: From which he comes to finish his work in Rev 19:11-15.

CH: "It was the support of nominal Christians that brought success to Constantine; they repudiated the teaching of Christ and flocked under the banner of Constantine to wield the sword on his behalf. 'What have Christians to do with the sword, and the Bishops to do at court?' was the protest of those who stood aside from the prevailing error... [The man-child was] not Christ (see Rev 1:1) but the first of the men of Sin referred to in 2Th 2:3. 'The first of the Christian Emperors was unworthy of that name till the moment of his death,' wrote Gibbon. He was immersed three days before his death (in 337) so that he could be sure that all his sins would be washed away.

"Though unbaptised, and glorying in the rites of paganism, he still assumed the character of Bishop and President at ecclesiastical councils, etc, and presumed to interrupt and adjudicate on matters of doctrine.

" 'Caught up unto God, and to his throne', he ascended the political and ecclesiastical heavens. His influence and authority paved the way for the emergence of the god of the earth (Dan 11:38; Rev 11:4) to whose throne (or Church) he ascended" (ApEp).

Rev 12:6

THE WOMAN FLED INTO THE WILDERNESS: "Having given birth to her son, she [ie, the 'Church'] fled from his influence, because having grown to power, he was prepared to destroy her to retain it. The woman represents the so-called Christian community (cp vv 16,17) that Constantine had used as a stepping-stone to power.

"His accession to power was followed by the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to all 'Christian' parties (Catholic or otherwise), for the son was yet too young to know its true mother. An event took place shortly afterwards, however, that forced Constantine to take sides.

"This is what is known as the 'African Controversy,' Contention between Caecilian and Donatus, bishops of Carthage, divided the church. Each declared that the other had apostasied during the period of persecution in Diocletian's reign, by delivering up the Scriptures to be destroyed. Constantine adjudicated in the matter, and declared himself in favour of Caecilian.

"This decision only aggravated the controversy. The Donatists separated from the main body of the church (for to the word 'ecclesia' it could no longer lay claim) and became anti-Catholic in their attitude. 'What has the Emperor to do with the church, what have Christians to do with kings, what have bishops to do at court?' became their battle cry. They refused to have any part or lot with the apostate state that had developed in the main body of the church.

"The Catholics on the other hand, excommunicated them. Having the ear of Constantine, they were able to secure legislation against them, and Donatists were refused political recognition. Donatus and his followers were excluded from the civil and religious communion of mankind (Gibbon). Politically they were 'in the wilderness' (v 14)" (ApEp).

TAKEN CARE OF: "Nourished" (RSV): Israel, fled into wilderness (Exo 16:32).

1,260 DAYS: See Lesson, 360-day year.

Rev 12:7

WAR IN HEAVEN: "Heaven" = Jerusalem (cp Rev 14:1; 7:15 with Rev 4:1, etc. See Rev 3:12; Isa 65:17,18; Heb 12:22,23; Rev 21:2,10).

MICHAEL AND HIS ANGELS: "There ensues in the end of the age a 'war in heaven' between Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels. Neither the man child nor the Lion of the tribe of Judah are participants. But the identification of these combatants is not easy. Many evince a strong disposition to understand Michael -- 'Who is like God?' -- as another representation of Christ himself. This is not impossible. Since the dragon is very obviously symbolic, and not literal, the same may well be true for the other protagonist.

"But over against this are three other considerations:

"If these considerations are deemed decisive, then interpretation of the war in heaven is not to be sought in the world of European politics (the kind of obsession which has bedevilled so many attempts to unveil the Apocalypse). In the Last Days the serpent-dragon is, as always, the embodiment of human opposition to the will of God in the world (see esp Rev 20:2,3). In this particular instance it may be possible to identify the 'heaven' where the conflict takes place as being Jerusalem -- this in accordance with a common Bible idiom which has suffered neglect by students of prophecy because of the afore-mentioned prepossession with political 'heavens and earth.' In a nutshell, what needs to be recognized is that, because the sanctuary of the Lord was in Jerusalem, the holy city is spoken of as 'heaven,' and the Holy Land is referred to as 'earth' (this latter item being well helped out by the familiar 'earth-Land' ambiguity which attaches to this word in both OT and NT)" (WRev). [See Lesson, "Land" or "earth"?]

So, then, the "war in heaven" has the effect of ridding the Holy City, Jerusalem, of its human, earth-bound enemies and oppressors!

CH: "Constantine fought in the name of Christ. He claimed to be fighting with the assistance of the Lord, and therefore assumed the status of Christ's representative on earth.

"Thus he stands in this verse as the representative Michael. He was successful in overthrowing the forces of paganism, and in that he typified the work of Christ. Christ as the antitypical Michael (Dan 12:1) is to destroy the Dragon (Rev 20:2,3), the pagan Christian world of today), even as Constantine did in his days.

"He evidently delighted to claim to be Christ's representative. A picture elevated over his palace gate portrayed him with a cross over his head, whilst beneath his own feet were his enemies under the semblance of a dragon cast into the abyss –- the very symbol by which he is represented in the Apocalypse" (ApEp).

Rev 12:8

THEY LOST THEIR PLACE: As in Dan 2:35, the war in "hvn" ends with image broken and scattered; little stone becoming a great mt (ie, mt of Lord's house) filling all "earth/Land of Israel".

Rev 12:9

THE GREAT DRAGON: "There is need to identify the twentieth-century dragon which is cast out so that the way is immediately open for proclaiming the establishment of Messiah's kingdom. 'Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.' The power of Rome very adequately fulfils the necessary First Century conditions -- that the dragon be a hater and persecutor of both Jews (the woman) and Christians (the man child). What dragon power is there in the Holy Land today, which is a hater of Jews and Christians?... There is every likelihood, from the standpoints of Bible prophecy and modern politics, that before long Israel will be overrun by their Arab enemies (helped, of course, on a massive scale, by Russia), and then there will be more than enough hatred and persecution of Jews... Just as converted Jews in the time of the apostles became, symbolically, the man child born of the woman, so also in the end of the age repentant Jews will fill the role of 'the rest of her seed which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ' " (WRev).

CH: "The wars of Constantine, in the cause of a pseudo- Christianity, resulted in the influence of paganism [the great dragon] being ejected from positions of authority in the empire. In the year 323, Constantine attacked Licinius and defeated him at the battle of Adrianople at Chrysopolis. Thus the last stronghold of paganism was overthrown. Licinius, who had previously agreed to religious toleration, ultimately as a political move, assumed the role of champion of paganism" (ApEp).

Rev 12:10

ACCUSER: Gr "kategoreo" = one who charges another in the assembly (agora), ie, "Satan", standing before God, to accuse Job (Job 1:9); High Priest Joshua (Zec 3:1).

"This was the feeling of the Catholics at the time. They still teach that the church comprises the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus when the church triumphed, it was as though the Kingdom was established in power.

"The work of Constantine typified the work of the Lord Jesus who will destroy the 'dragon' (modern paganism) and establish the true kingdom" (ApEp).

Rev 12:11

BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB: This is the last reference in the Bible to the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; here it is the overcoming blood, enabling believers to withstand the deceptions and accusations of the accuser and enemy. There are at least 43 references to the blood of Christ in the NT, all testifying to its great importance in the salvation and daily life of the believer. (It should go without saying, of course, that the literal blood of Christ was not some magical potion to be adored superstitiously, but that it is a Bible-based means of speaking of his sacrifice, with all that encompasses.)

Judas the betrayer spoke of it as "innocent blood" (Mat 27:4) and Peter called it "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1Pe 1:19). It is the cleansing blood in 1Jo 1:7 and the washing blood in Rev 1:5, stressing that it removes the guilt of our sins. Paul calls it the purchasing blood in Acts 20:28 and the redeeming blood twice (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14, cp Rev 5:9), thus declaring the shedding of his blood to be the very price of our salvation. Therefore, it is also the justifying blood (Rom 5:9) and the peacemaking blood (Col 1:20). Its efficacy does not end with our salvation, however, for it is also the sanctifying blood (Heb 13:12). There is infinite and eternal power in the blood of Christ, for it is "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb 13:20). The first reference in the NT to his blood stresses this "covenant" aspect. Jesus said, at the last supper: "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mat 26:28). Let no one, therefore, ever count the "blood of the covenant... an unholy thing" (Heb 10:29), for the blood of Christ -- Biblically understood -- is forever innocent, infinitely precious, perfectly justifying, always cleansing and fully sanctifying.

Rev 12:12

WOE TO THE EARTH AND THE SEA: Continued persecution of Jews in other lands -- even after "hvnly" Jerusalem is recovered from Gentile hands (cp v 17).

"It would seem from this that the reaction of Israel's enemies, thrust out of Jerusalem, is to intensify persecutions against Jews in the rest of the Land and in Gentile countries also wherever they can be got at in countries under Russian or Arab control. With Messiah established in Jerusalem, the Serpent is bruised in the head. Now 'he hath but a short time.'

"The people of Israel, for all their suffering and disappointment, are now nearer to the fulfilment of their destiny than they can believe possible. The second allusion (v 14) to the woman in the wilderness is markedly different from the first (v 6). In the first instance, she 'fled' into the wilderness. This was the dispersion of Israel after AD 70. In the second she flies as a bird, by virtue of the eagle's wings, which are given to her. This symbol of God's providence over Israel in the wilderness (Exo 19:4; Deu 32:11), even though an unbelieving people, indicates fairly clearly that this last tribulation of Israel is a divinely appointed discipline. Israel's distress in the Land and in ensuing captivity can last no longer than three and a half years" (WRev).

CH: " 'Earth' and 'sea' are used symbolically of people, in contrast to the heavens which relate to rulers. Among the people the last remnants of paganism still existed. These now became subject to opposition on the part of the Catholic powers which endeavoured to suppress the pagan 'moon' or ecclesiasticism under feet (v 1).

"Licinius, who stood as the champion of paganism, found some support among people but they supported him at their peril, for they called down upon themselves the opposition of the authorities over whom Constantine ruled" (ApEp).

Rev 12:13

THE DRAGON... PURSUED THE WOMAN: "Constantine first triumphed in the west, and then extended his power to the east. This aroused bitter antagonism between Christianity (the woman of v 1) and paganism. Wherever the latter retained power it persecuted the former. Meanwhile, Christianity became divided, the great majority supporting a state-sponsored church which had embraced many pagan ideas and teaching, and a minority opposing this unscriptural alliance of church and state and the incorporation of pagan ideas.

"This led to persecution, a paganised form of Christianity seeking to cruelly oppress the minority. Thus the woman (v 1) was persecuted by the pagans beyond the borders of Constantine's influence, and by a paganised form of Christianity within those borders" (ApEp).

Rev 12:14

THE TWO WINGS OF A GREAT EAGLE: (CH) "The eagle was a symbol of Rome (cp Deu 28:49). The wings represent the extremities of the Empire. It was in these extremities that the persecuted woman (religious community) sought a refuge" (ApEp).

A GREAT EAGLE: "I bare you on eagle's wings" (Exo 19:4; Deu 32:11). Or... wings of a stork.. to go to Shinar... a place prepared (Zec 5:7). The woman, who ceases herself to keep God's commandments (implied in v 17), reappears at last -- still in "wilderness", as great harlot (Rev 17:1,3).

SO THAT SHE MIGHT FLY TO THE PLACE PREPARED FOR HER IN THE DESERT: "This is Israel now disowned by God; fellowship with the divine has been withdrawn. Israel is in the wilderness of the nations, scattered, despised, unloved, persecuted. The wilderness has ever been the place of probation. It was, for Israel, after escape from Egypt. It was, for Moses, for Elijah, for Paul -- for Jesus himself. And now, once again Israel must face the testing of the wilderness -- a long-drawn-out trial, as it has proved, of nigh on two thousand years, and still their hearts remain hard as tables of stone" (WRev).

Rev 12:15

"A picture of a river losing itself in parched desert sands" (WRev 168).

Rev 12:16

(CH) "As the heavens represent the ruling powers, the earth represents the ruled. Among the latter were those who were prepared to fight for liberty of expression and belief on the part of persecuted Christians even though they might not subscribe to their doctrines.

"The Circumcellions of North Africa stood for political liberty. They opposed the oppressing, persecuting policy of Rome and stood in defence of the Donatists and those who held the Truth. The earth is represented as 'swallowing up the flood' which is characteristic of dry, sun-burnt earth. Circumcellions fulfilled the requirements of this symbol by taking up the sword, in defence of political liberty. Thus some relief was granted to the persecuted" (ApEp).

Rev 12:17

CH: "The dragon is the symbol of the civil or military authority of the Roman Empire. When Constantine came to power, the character of the dragon was changed from 'pagan' to 'christian.' When he extended his power east, he sought a more convenient situation for his growing Empire, and found it on the Bosphorus.

"Here he established a new capital which he named Constantinople. This became the headquarters of the military authority of the Empire, whilst Rome remained the centre of religious influence. Constantinople thus became the site of 'the mouth of the dragon' (Rev 16:13)...

"Three factions are referred to in this verse: the dragon, the woman, and the remnant of the woman's seed. The former is represented as attacking the two latter.

"The dragon represents the military authority of Rome; which had become 'Christian' in character. The woman now represents the section of the church that stood aside from the fusion of state and church that had taken place, and protested at the growing apostasy that had become evident.

"The third section are described as 'the remnant of the woman's seed', and they are said to be those who 'keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.' They thus represent the Ecclesia. Both Protestants and Ecclesia were persecuted by the Dragon –- the military authority of the (Roman) Empire" (ApEp).

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