Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The woman clothed with the sun, and in travail, Rev 12:1, Rev 12:2. The great red dragon waiting to devour the child as soon as born, Rev 12:3, Rev 12:4. The woman is delivered of a son, who is caught up unto God; and she flees to the wilderness, Rev 12:5, Rev 12:6. The war in heaven between Michael and the dragon, Rev 12:7, Rev 12:8. The dragon and his angels are overcome and cast down to the earth; whereupon the whole heavenly host give glory to God, Rev 12:9-11. The dragon, full of wrath at his defeat, persecutes the woman, Rev 12:12, Rev 12:13. She flees to the wilderness, whither he attempts to pursue her; and he makes war with her seed, Rev 12:14-17.
Before I introduce the comment mentioned at the close of the preceding chapter, I think it necessary to state that the phraseology of the whole chapter is peculiarly rabbinical, and shall insert a few selections which may serve to illustrate some of the principal figures.
In Sohar Exod., fol. 47, col. 187, we find a mystical interpretation of Exo 21:22 : If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart - he shall be surely punished, as the woman's husband will lay upon him. "If men strive, i.e. Michael and Samael, and hurt a woman with child, i.e. the Israelitish Church, so that her fruit depart, hoc fit in exilio, he shall surely be punished, i.e., Samael. As the woman's husband, that is, the holy and blessed God."
There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun - That the woman here represents the true Church of Christ most commentators are agreed. In other parts of the Apocalypse, the pure Church of Christ is evidently portrayed by a woman. In Rev 19:7, a great multitude are represented as saying, "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his Wife hath made herself ready." In Rev 21:9, an angel talks with St. John, saying, "Come hither, I will show thee the Bride, the Lamb's wife." That the Christian Church is meant will appear also from her being clothed with the sun, a striking emblem of Jesus Christ, the Sun of righteousness, the light and glory of the Church; for the countenance of the Son of God is as the sun shineth in his strength. The woman has: -
The moon under her feet - Bishop Newton understands this of the Jewish typical worship and indeed the Mosaic system of rites and ceremonies could not have been better represented, for it was the shadow of good things to come. The moon is the less light, ruling over the night, and deriving all its illumination from the sun; in like manner the Jewish dispensation was the bright moonlight night of the world, and possessed a portion of the glorious light of the Gospel. At the rising of the sun the night is ended, and the lunar light no longer necessary, as the sun which enlightens her shines full upon the earth; exactly in the same way has the whole Jewish system of types and shadows has been superseded by the birth, life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession of Jesus Christ. Upon the head of the woman is: -
A crown of twelve stars - A very significant representation of the twelve apostles, who were the first founders of the Christian Church, and by whom the Gospel was preached in great part of the Roman empire with astonishing success. "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the Stars for ever and ever." Dan 12:3.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, etc. - This, when taken in connection with the following verses, is a striking figure of the great persecution which the Church of Christ should suffer under the heathen Roman emperors, but more especially of that long and most dreadful one under Diocletian. The woman is represented as Being with child, to show that the time would speedily arrive when God's patient forbearance with the heathen would be terminated, and that a deliverer should arise in the Christian world who would execute the Divine vengeance upon paganism.
There appeared another wonder - a great red dragon - The dragon here is a symbol, not of the Roman empire in general, but of the Heathen Roman empire. This great pagan power must have, therefore, been thus represented from the religion which it supported. But what is a dragon? An entirely fabulous beast of antiquity, consequently, in this respect, a most proper emblem of the heathen worship, which consisted in paying adoration to numerous imaginary beings, termed gods, goddesses, etc. The very foundation of the heathen religious system is mostly built upon fable; and it is very difficult to trace many of their superstitions to any authentic original; and even those which appear to derive their origin from the sacred writings are so disguised in fable as literally to bear no more resemblance to the truth than the dragon of the ancients does to any animal with which we are acquainted. But it may be asked why the Spirit of God should represent the heathen Roman empire as a dragon, rather than by anger other of the fabulous animals with which the mythology of the ancient Romans abounded. The answer is as follows; In the eighth chapter of the Prophet Daniel, God has represented the kingdom of the Greeks by a he-goat, for no other apparent reason than this, that it was the national military standard of the Grecian monarchy; we may therefore expect that the pagan Roman empire is called a Dragon on a similar account. In confirmation of this point it is very remarkable that the dragon was the principal standard of the Romans next to the eagle, in the second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries of the Christian era. Of this we have abundant evidence in the writings of both heathens and Christians. Arrian is the earliest writer who has mentioned that dragons were used as military standards among the Romans. See his Tactics, c. 51. Hence Schwebelius supposes that this standard was introduced after Trajan's conquest of the Daci. See Vegetius de Revelation Militari a Schwebelio, p. 191, Argentorati, 1806; and Graevii Thesaur., Antiq. Roman., tom. x., col. 1529. Vegetius, who flourished about a.d. 386, says, lib. ii. c. 13: Primum signum totius legionis est aquila, quam aquilifer portal. Dracones etiam per singulas cohortes a draconariis feruntur ad praelium. "The first standard of the whole legion is the eagle, which the aquilifer carries. Dragons are also borne to battle by the Draconarii." As a legion consisted of ten cohorts, there were therefore ten draconarii to one aquilifer; hence, from the great number of draconarii in an army, the word signarii or signiferi, standard-bearers, came at last to mean the carriers of the dragon standards only, the others retaining the name of aquiliferi - See Veget., lib. ii. c. 7, and his commentators. The heathen Roman empire is called a Red dragon; and accordingly we find from the testimony of ancient writers that the dragon standards of the Romans were painted red. We read in Ammianus Marcellinus, lib. xvi., c. 12, of Purpureum signum draconis, "the purple standard of the dragon." See also Claudianus in Rufinum, lib. ii., l. 177, 178. Pitiscus, in his Lexicon Antiq. Romans, and Ducange, in his Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis, sub voc. Draco, have considered this subject at great length, especially the latter writer, who has made several quotations from Claudianus, Sidonius, Prudentius, and others, in which not only the standard, but also the image of the dragon itself, is stated to be of a red or purple color. Of what has been said above respecting the dragon, this is then the sum: a huge fabulous beast is shown to St. John, by which some Great Pagan power is symbolically represented; and the Red dragon is selected from among the numerous imaginary animals which the fancies of mankind have created to show that this great pagan power is the heathen Roman empire.
Having seven heads - As the dragon is an emblem of the heathen Roman power, its heads must denote heathen forms of government. - See the note on Rev 17:10, where the heads of the beast are explained in a similar way. These were exactly seven, and are enumerated by Tacitus (Annal., lib. i., in principio) in words to the following effect: "The city of Rome was originally governed by kings. L. Brutus instituted liberty and the consulate. The dictatorship was only occasionally appointed; neither did the decemviral power last above two years; and the consular power of the military tribunes was not of long continuance. Neither had Cinna nor Sylla a long domination: the power of Pompey and Crassus was also soon absorbed in that of Caesar; and the arms of Lepidus and Antony finally yielded to those of Augustus." From this passage it is evident to every person well acquainted with the Roman history, that the seven forms of government in the heathen Roman world were,
1. The regal power;
2. The consulate;
3. The dictatorship;
4. The decemvirate;
5. The consular power of the military tribunes;
6. The triumvirate; and,
7. The imperial government.
It is singular that commentators in general, in their citation of this passage, have taken no notice of the triumvirate, a form of government evidently as distinct from any of the others as kings are from consuls, or consuls from emperors. For the triumvirate consisted in the division of the Roman republic into three parts, each governed by an officer possessed with consular authority in his own province; and all three united together in the regulation of the whole Roman state. Consequently, it differed entirely from the imperial power, which was the entire conversion of the Roman state from a republic to a monarchy.
And ten horns - That these ten horns signify as many kingdoms is evident from the seventh chapter of Daniel, where the angel, speaking of the fourth beast, says, that "the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise;" and in this view of the passage many commentators are agreed, who also admit that the ten kingdoms are to be met with "amid the broken pieces of the Roman empire." And it is evident that nothing less than the dismemberment of the Roman empire, and its division into ten independent kingdoms, can be intended by the angel's interpretation just quoted. If, therefore, the ten horns of Daniel's fourth beast point out as many kingdoms, for the very same reason must the horns of the dragon have a similar meaning. But the Roman empire was not divided into several independent kingdoms till a considerable time after it became Christian. In what sense then can it be said that the different kingdoms into which the Roman empire was divided by the barbarous nations are horns of the dragon? They were so because it was the Roman monarchy, in its seventh Draconic form of government, which was dismembered by the barbarians. For though the Roman empire was not completely dismembered till the fifth century, it is well known that the depression of the heathen idolatry, and the advancement of Christianity to the throne, elected not the least change in the form of government: the Romans continued still to be under subjection to the imperial power; and, consequently, when the heathen barbarous nations divided the Roman empire among themselves, they might very properly be denominated horns of the dragon, as it was by means of their incursions that the imperial power, Founded by the heathen Caesars, was abolished. Machiavel and Bishop Lloyd enumerate the horns of the dragon thus:
1. The kingdom of the Huns;
2. The kingdom of the Ostrogoths;
3 The kingdom of the Visigoths;
4. The kingdom of the Franks;
5. The kingdom of the Vandals;
6. The kingdom of the Sueves and Alans;
7. The kingdom of the Burgundians;
8. The kingdom of the Heruli, Rugii, Scyrri, and other tribes which composed the Italian kingdom of Odoacer;
9. The kingdom of the Saxons; and
10. The kingdom of the Lombards.
And seven crowns upon his head - In the seven Roman forms of government already enumerated, heathenism has been the crowning or dominant religion.
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven - It is not unusual in Scripture, as Dr. Mitchell observes, to call the hindmost of an enemy the tail, as in Jos 10:19 : Ye shall cut off the hindmost of them, which is literally in Hebrew, וזנבתם אותם "Ye shall cut off their tail." See also Deu 25:18. It is also observable that the word ουρα, in this verse, has been used by the Greeks in the same sense with the Hebrew word זנב already referred to. Thus ουρα στρατου, which we would translate the rear of an army, is literally the tail of an army. See the Thesaurus of Stephens, in loc. The tail of the dragon is therefore the heathen Roman power in its seventh or last form of government, viz., the imperial power; and is not, as Dr. Mitchell supposes, to be restricted to the last heathen Roman emperors. The heathen imperial power is said to draw the third part of the stars of heaven, by which has generally been understood that the Roman empire subjected the third part of the princes and potentates of the earth. But that this is not a correct statement of the fact is evident from the testimony of ancient history. The Roman empire was always considered and called the empire of the world by ancient writers. See Dionys. Halicar., Antiq. Romans lib. i., prope principium; Pitisci Lexicon Antiq. Roman., sub voc. imperium; Ovidii Fast., lib. ii. l. 683; Vegetius de Revelation Militari, lib. i. c. 1., etc., etc. And it is even so named in Scripture, for St. Luke, in the second chapter of his gospel, informs us that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that The Whole World should be taxed, by which is evidently meant the Roman empire. The whole mystery of this passage consists in the misapprehension of its symbolical language. In order therefore to understand it, the symbols here used must be examined. By heaven is meant the most eminent or ruling part of any nation. This is evident from the very nature of the symbol, for "heaven is God's throne;" they therefore who are advanced to the supreme authority in any state are very properly said to be taken up into heaven, because they are raised to this eminence by the favor of the Lord, and are ministers of his to do his pleasure. And the calamity which fell upon Nebuchadnezzar was to instruct him in this important truth, that the heavens do rule; that is, that all monarchs possess their kingdoms by Divine appointment, and that no man is raised to power by what is usually termed the chances of war, but that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." The meaning of heaven being thus ascertained, it cannot be difficult to comprehend the meaning of earth, this being evidently its opposite, that is, every thing in subjection to the heaven or ruling part. Stars have already been shown to denote ministers of religion; and this is more fully evident from Rev 1:16 of this book, where the seven stars which the Son of God holds in his right hand are explained to signify the seven angels (or messengers) of the seven Churches, by whom must be meant the seven pastors or ministers of these Churches. The resemblance of ministers to stars is very striking; for as the stars give light upon the earth, so are ministers the lights of the cause they advocate; and their position in heaven, the symbol of domination, very fitly betokens the spiritual authority of priests or ministers over their flocks. Hence, as the woman, or Christian Church, has upon her head a crown of twelve stars, which signifies that she is under the guidance of the twelve apostles, who are the twelve principal lights of the Christian world, so has the dragon also his stars or ministers. The stars therefore which the dragon draws with his tail must represent the whole body of pagan priests, who were the stars or lights of the heathen world. But in what sense can it be said that the heathen Roman empire, which ruled over the whole known world, only draws a third part of the stars of heaven? The answer is: The religious world in the time of St. John was divided into three grand branches, viz., the Christian world, the Jewish world, and the heathen and pagan world: consequently, as a dragon, a fabulous animal, is an emblem of a civil power supporting a religion founded in fable; it necessarily follows that the stars or ministers of the Jews and Christians cannot be numbered among those which he draws with his tail, as they were not the advocates of his idolatry, but were ministers of a religion founded by the God of heaven, and consequently formed no part of the pagan world, though they were in subjection in secular matters to the pagan Roman empire. The tail of the dragon therefore draweth after him the whole heathen world.
And did cast then to the earth - That is, reduced all the pagan priests under the Roman yoke. The words of the prophecy are very remarkable. It is said the tail of the dragon draweth, (for so συρει should be translated), but it is added, and Hath Cast then upon the earth, to show that at the time the Apocalypse was written the world was divided into the three grand religious divisions already referred to; but that the tail of the dragon, or the pagan Roman power under its last form of government, had brought the whole heathen world (which was a third part of the religious world in the apostolic age) into subjection previously to the communication of the Revelation to St. John. It is the dragon's tail that draws the third part of the stars of heaven, therefore it was during the dominion of his last form of government that Christianity was introduced into the world; for in the time of the six preceding draconic forms of government, the world was divided religiously into only two grand branches, Jews and Gentiles. That the sense in which the third part is here taken is the one intended in the prophecy is put beyond all controversy, when it is considered that this very division is made in the first and third verses, in which mention is made of the woman clothed with the sun - the Christian Church, the moon under her feet, or Jewish Church, and the dragon, or heathen power. Thus the heathen Imperial government is doubly represented, first, by one of the seven draconic heads, to show that it was one of those seven heathen forms of government which have been successively at the head of the Roman state; and secondly, by the dragon's tail, because it was the last of those seven. For a justification of this method of interpretation, see on the angel's double explanation of the heads of the beast, Rev 17:9 (note), Rev 17:10 (note), Rev 17:16 (note).
And the dragon stood before the woman, etc. - Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine, abandoned the absurdities of paganism, and treated the Christians with great respect. This alarmed the pagan priests, whose interests were so closely connected with the continuance of the ancient superstitions, and who apprehended that to their great detriment the Christian religion would become daily more universal and triumphant throughout the empire. Under these anxious fears they moved Diocletian to persecute the Christians. Hence began what is termed the tenth and last general persecution, which was the most severe of all, and continued nearly ten years; (see Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History of the Third Century); and as it was the Divine pleasure that, at this time, a great deliverer should be raised up in behalf of his suffering people, the woman, or Christian Church, is very appropriately represented as overtaken with the pangs of labor, and ready to be delivered. Before the death of Constantius, the heathen party, aware that Constantine would follow the example of his father, who so much favored the Christians, beheld him with a watchful and malignant eye. Many were the snares that, according to Eusebius, were laid for him by Maximin and Galerius: he relates the frequent and dangerous enterprises to which they urged him, with the design that he might lose his life. When Galerius heard of the death of Constantius, and that he had appointed Constantine his successor, he was filled with the most ungovernable rage and indignation, notwithstanding he did not dare to take any steps contrary to the interest of Constantine. The dread of the armies of the west, which were mostly composed of Christians, was a sufficient check to all attempts of that kind. Thus the dragon, or heathen power, stood before the woman, or Christian Church, to devour her son, or deliverer, as soon as he was born. See Dr. Mitchell's Exposition of the Revelation, in loc.
Rev 12:5 per Adam Clarke
And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne - In Yalcut Rubeni are these words: "Rachael, the niece of Methusala, was pregnant, and ready to be delivered in Egypt. They trod upon her, and the child came out of her bowels, and lay under the bed; Michael descended, and took him up to the throne of glory. On that same night the first born of Egypt were destroyed."
Rev 12:5 per John Edward Clarke
And she brought forth a man child - The Christian Church, when her full time came, obtained a deliverer, who, in the course of the Divine providence, was destined: -
To rule all nations - The heathen Roman empire,
With a rod of iron - A strong figure to denote the very great restraint that should be put upon paganism, so that it should not be able longer to persecute the Christian Church. The man child mentioned in this verse is the dynasty of Christians emperors, beginning with Constantine's public acknowledgment of his belief in the divinity of the Christian religion, which happened in the latter part of a.d. 312, after the defeat of the Emperor Maxentius.
And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne - A succession of Christian emperors was raised up to the Church; for the Roman throne, as Bishop Newton observes, is here called the throne of God, because there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
And the woman fled into the wilderness - The account of the woman's flying into the wilderness immediately follows that of her child being caught up to the throne of God, to denote the great and rapid increase of heresies in the Christian Church after the time that Christianity was made the religion of the empire.
Where she hath a place prepared of God - See on Rev 12:14 (note).
Rev 12:7 per Adam Clarke
There was war in heaven - In the same treatise, fol. 87, 2, on Exo 14:7, Pharaoh took six hundred chariots, we have these words: "There was war among those above and among those below, והמלחמה היתה חזקה בשמים vehammilchamaĥ hayethah chazakah bashshamayim, and there was great war in heaven." Of Michael the rabbins are full. See much in Schoettgen, and see the note on Jde 1:9.
The dragon - and his angels - The same as Rab. Sam. ben David, in Chasad Shimuel, calls סמאל וחיילותיו Samael vechayilothaiv, "Samael and his troops;" fol. 28, 2.
Rev 12:7 per John Edward Clarke
And there was war in heaven - As heaven means here the throne of the Roman empire, the war in heaven consequently alludes to the breaking out of civil commotions among the governors of this empire.
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon - Michael was the man child which the woman brought forth, as is evident from the context, and therefore signifies, as has been shown already, the dynasty of Christian Roman emperors. This dynasty is represented by Michael, because he is "the great prince which standeth for the children of God's people." Dan 12:1.
And the dragon fought and his angels - Or ministers.
And prevailed not - Against the cause of Christianity.
Neither was their place found any more in heaven - The advocates of the heathen idolatry were prevented from having any farther share in the government of the empire. The wonderful success of Constantine over all his enemies, and his final triumph over Licinius, correspond exactly to the symbolical language in this verse.
Rev 12:9 per Adam Clarke
That old serpent - The rabbins speak much of this being, sometimes under the notion of יצר הרע yetser hara, the evil principle, and sometimes Samael.
He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him - This is very like a saying in the book Bahir, in Sohar Gen., fol. 27, col. 107: "And God cast out Samael and his troops from the place of their holiness."
Rev 12:9 per John Edward Clarke
And the great dragon was cast out, etc. - By the terms Devil and Satan mentioned in this verse, Pareus, Faber, and many other commentators, understand literally the great spiritual enemy of mankind. But this view of the passage cannot be correct, from the circumstance that it is the dragon which is thus called. Now, if by the dragon be meant the devil, then use are necessarily led to this conclusion, that the great apostate spirit is a monster, having seven heads and ten horns; and also that he has a tail, with which he drags after him the third part of the stars of heaven. The appellations, old serpent, devil, and Satan, must, therefore, be understood figuratively. The heathen power is called that old serpent which deceived the whole world, from its subtlety against the Christians, and its causing the whole Roman world, as far as it was in its power, to embrace the absurdities of paganism. It is called the devil, from its continual false accusations and slanders against the true worshippers of God, for the devil is a liar from the beginning; and it is also called Satan, שטן, which is a Hebrew word signifying an adversary, from its frequent persecutions of the Christian Church. The dragon and his angels are said to be cast out, which is more than was said in the preceding verse. There mention is made of his being found no longer in heaven, or on the throne of the Roman empire, here he is entirely cast out from all offices of trust in the empire; his religion is first only tolerated, and then totally abolished, by the imperial power. This great event was not the work of a reign; it took up many years, for it had to contend with the deep-rooted prejudices of the heathen, who to the very last endeavored to uphold their declining superstition. Paganism received several mortal strokes in the time of Constantine and his sons Constans and Constantius. It was farther reduced by the great zeal of Jovian, Valentinian, and Valens; and was finally suppressed by the edicts of Gratian, Theodosius I., and his successors. It was not till a.d. 388 that Rome itself, the residence of the emperor, was generally reformed from the absurdities of paganism; but the total suppression of paganism soon followed the conversion of the metropolitan city, and about a.d. 395 the dragon may be considered, in an eminent sense, to have been cast into the earth, that is, into a state of utter subjection to the ruling dynasty of Christian emperors.
Rev 12:10 per Adam Clarke
The accuser of our brethren - There is scarcely any thing more common in the rabbinical writings than Satan as the accuser of the Israelites. And the very same word κατηγορος, accuser, or, as it is in the Codex Alexandrinus, κατηγωρ, is used by them in Hebrew letters, קטיגור katigor; e. gr., Pirkey Eliezer, c. 46, speaking of the day of expiation; "And the holy blessed God hears their testimony from their accuser, מן הקטיגור min hakkatigor; and expiates the altar, the priests, and the whole multitude, from the greatest to the least."
In Shemoth Rabba, sec. 31, fol. 129, 2, are these words; "If a man observes the precepts, and is a son of the law, and lives a holy life, then Satan stands and accuses him."
"Every day, except the day of expiation Satan is the accuser of men." - Vayikra Rabba, sec. 21, fol. 164.
"The holy blessed God said to the seventy princes of the world, Have ye seen him who always accuses my children?" - Yalcut Chadash, fol. 101, 3.
"The devil stands always as an accuser before the King of Israel." - Sohar Levit., fol. 43, col. 171. See much more in Schoettgen.
Rev 12:10 per John Edward Clarke
And I heard a loud voice, saying, - Now is come salvation, etc. - This is a song of triumph of the Christian Church over the heathen idolatry, and is very expressive of the great joy of the Christians upon this most stupendous event. The loud voice of triumph is said to be heard in heaven, to show that the Christian religion was now exalted to the heaven or throne of the Roman. empire. "It is very remarkable," as Bishop Newton observes, "that Constantine himself, and the Christians of his time, describe his conquests under the image of a dragon, as if they had understood that this prophecy had received its accomplishment in him. Constantine himself, in his epistle to Eusebius and other bishops concerning the re-edifying and repairing of the churches, saith that 'liberty being now restored, and that the dragon being removed from the administration of public affairs, by the providence of the great God and by my ministry, I esteem the great power of God to have been made manifest to all.' Moreover, a picture of Constantine was set up over the palace gate, with the cross over his head, and under his feet the great enemy of mankind, who persecuted the Church by means of impious tyrants, in the form of a dragon, transfixed with a dart through the midst of his body, and falling headlong into the depth of the sea." See Eusebius de Vita Constantini, lib. ii. c. 46; and lib. iii. c. 3, and Socratis Hist. Eccles., lib. i. c. 9. Constantine added to the other Roman ensigns the labarum, or standard of the cross, and constituted it the principal standard of the Christian Roman empire. To this labarum Prudentius refers, when speaking of the Christian soldiers, in his first hymn περι στεφανων,
Caesaris vexilla linquunt, eligunt Signum Crucis,
Proque ventosis Draconum, quae gerebant, palliis,
Proferunt Insigne Lignum, quod Draconem subdidit.
"They leave the ensigns of Caesar; they choose the standard of the cross; and instead of the dragon flags which they carried, moved about with the wind, they bring forward the illustrious wood that subdued the dragon."
When the apostle saw the woman in heaven, well might he call it, in the spirit of prophecy, a great wonder.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb - Here is given the reason why the followers of Christ prevailed at this time against all their adversaries. It was because they fought against the dragon in the armor of God. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb - by proclaiming salvation to sinners through Christ crucified, and by their continual intercession at the throne of grace for the conversion of the heathen world.
And by the word of their testimony - By constantly testifying against the errors and follies of mankind.
And they loved not their lives unto the death - They regarded not their present temporal estate, but even gladly delivered up their lives to the fury of their persecutors, and thus sealed the truth of what they spake with their blood.
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them - Let the Christians, who are now partakers of the present temporal prosperity, and advanced to places of trust in the empire, praise and magnify the Lord who has thus so signally interfered in their behalf. But it is added: -
Wo to the inhabiters of the earth, and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you - By the inhabiters of the earth are meant the people in subjection to the Roman empire; and by the sea, those parts of the Roman dominions appear to be intended that were reduced to a state of anarchy by the incursions of the barbarous nations. It is not without precedent to liken great hosts of nations combined together to the sea. See Eze 26:3. Here then is a wo denounced against the whole Roman world which will be excited by the devil, the father of lies, the heathen party being thus denominated from the method they pursued in their endeavors to destroy the religion of Jesus. See on Rev 12:15 (note).
Having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time - The Christian religion, the pagan party see with great regret, is rapidly gaining ground everywhere; and, if not timely checked, must soon brave all opposition.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth - When the heathen party saw that they were no longer supported by the civil power: -
He persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child - The heathens persecuted the Christian Church in the behalf of which Divine Providence had raised up a dynasty of Christian Roman emperors.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle - Του αετου του μεγαλου· Of The great eagle. The great eagle here mentioned is an emblem of the Roman empire in general, and therefore differs from the dragon, which is a symbol of the Heathen Roman empire in particular. The Roman power is called an eagle from its legionary standard, which was introduced among the Romans in the second year of the consulate of C. Marius; for before that time minotaurs, wolves, leopards, horses, boars, and eagles were used indifferently, according to the humor of the commander. The Roman eagles were figures in relievo of silver or gold, borne on the tops of pikes, the wings being displayed, and frequently a thunderbolt in their talons. Under the eagle, on the pike, were piled bucklers, and sometimes crowns. The two wings of the great eagle refer to the two grand independent divisions of the Roman empire, which took place January 17, a.d. 395, and were given to the woman, Christianity being the established religion of both empires.
That she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, etc. - The apparent repetition here of what is said in Rev 12:6 has induced Bishop Newton to consider the former passage as introduced by way of prolepsis or anticipation; for, says he, the woman did not fly into the wilderness till several years after the conversion of Constantine. But that there is no such prolepsis as the bishop imagines is evident from the ecclesiastical history of the fourth century; for the woman, or true Church, began to flee into the wilderness a considerable time before the division of the great Roman empire into two independent monarchies. The word translated fled is not to be taken in that peculiar sense as if the woman, in the commencement of her flight, had been furnished with wings, for the original word is εφυγεν. The meaning therefore of Rev 12:6 and Rev 12:14, when taken in connection with their respective contexts, is, that the woman began to make rapid strides towards the desert almost immediately after her elevation to the heaven or throne of the Roman empire, and in the course of her flight was furnished with the wings of the great eagle ἱνα πετηται, that she might Fly, into that place prepared of God, where she should be fed a thousand two hundred and threescore days. It is said here that the period for which the woman should be nourished in the wilderness would be a time, times, and a half; consequently this period is the same with the twelve hundred and sixty days of Rev 12:6. But in no other sense can they be considered the same than by understanding a time to signify a year; times, two years; and half a time, half a year; i.e., three years and a half. And as each prophetic year contains three hundred and sixty days, so three years and a half will contain precisely twelve hundred and sixty days. The Apocalypse being highly symbolical, it is reasonable to expect that its periods of time will also be represented symbolically, that the prophecy may be homogeneous in all its parts. The Holy Spirit, when speaking of years symbolically, has invariably represented them by days, commanding, e. gr., the Prophet Ezekiel to lie upon his left side three hundred and ninety days, that it might be a sign or symbol of the house of Israel bearing their iniquity as many years; and forty days upon his right side, to represent to the house of Judah in a symbolical manner, that they should bear their iniquity forty years, The one thousand two hundred and threescore days, therefore, that the woman is fed in the wilderness, must be understood symbolically, and consequently denote as many natural years. The wilderness into which the woman flies is the Greek and Latin worlds, for she is conveyed into her place by means of the two wings of the great eagle. We must not understand the phrase flying into her place of her removing from one part of the habitable world into another, but of her speedy declension from a state of great prosperity to a forlorn and desolate condition. The woman is nourished for one thousand two hundred and threescore years from the face of the serpent, The empires in the east and west were destined, in the course of the Divine providence, to support the Christian religion, at least nominally while the rest of the world should remain in pagan idolatry or under the influence of this dragon, here called the serpent, because he deceiveth the whole world. The words of the prophecy are very remarkable, The Christian Church is said to be supported by the eastern and western empires, two mighty denominations; and at the same time situated in the wilderness, strongly denoting that, though many professed Christianity, there were but very few who "kept the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Jesus Christ."
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood - The water here evidently means great multitudes of nations and peoples; for in Rev 17:15, the interpreting angel says, The waters which thou sawest - are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. This water, then, which the dragon cast out of his mouth, must be an inundation of heathen barbarous nations upon the Roman empire; and the purpose which the dragon has in view by this inundation is, that he might cause the woman, or Christian Church: -
To be carried away of the flood - Entirely swept away from the face of the earth. Dr. Mosheim, in the commencement of his second chapter upon the fifth century, observes "that the Goths, the Heruli, the Franks, the Huns, and the Vandals, with other fierce and warlike nations, for the most part strangers to Christianity, had invaded the Roman empire, and rent it asunder in the most deplorable manner. Amidst these calamities the Christians were grievous, nay, we may venture to say the principal, sufferers. It is true these savage nations were much more intent upon the acquisition of wealth and dominion than upon the propagation or support of the pagan superstitions, nor did their cruelty and opposition to the Christians arise from any religious principle, or from an enthusiastic desire to ruin the cause of Christianity; it was merely by the Instigation of the pagans who remained yet in the empire, that they were excited to treat with such severity and violence the followers of Christ." Thus the wo which was denounced, Rev 12:12, against the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea, came upon the whole Roman world; for, in consequence of the excitement and malicious misrepresentations of the pagans of the empire, "a transmigration of a great swarm of nations" came upon the Romans, and ceased not their ravages till they had desolated the eastern empire, even as far as the gates of Byzantium, and finally possessed themselves of the western empire. "If," says Dr. Robertson, in the introduction to his History of Charles V., vol. i., pp. 11, 12, edit. Lond. 1809, "a man was called to fix upon the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most calamitous and afflicted, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Theodosius the Great to the establishment of the Lombards in Italy, a period of one hundred and seventy-six years. The contemporary authors who beheld that scene of desolation, labor and are at a loss for expressions to describe the horror of it. The scourge of God, the destroyer of nations, are the dreadful epithets by which they distinguish the most noted of the barbarous leaders; and they compare the ruin which they had brought on the world to the havoc occasioned by earthquakes, conflagrations, or deluges, the most formidable and fatal calamities which the imagination of man can conceive." But the subtle design which the serpent or dragon had in view, when he vomited out of his mouth a flood of waters, was most providentially frustrated; for: -
The earth helped the woman - "Nothing, and indeed," as Bishop Newton excellently observes, "was more likely to produce the ruin and utter subversion of the Christian Church than the irruptions of so many barbarous nations into the Roman empire. But the event proved contrary to human appearance and expectation: the earth swallowed up the flood; the barbarians were rather swallowed up by the Romans, than the Romans by the barbarians; the heathen conquerors, instead of imposing their own, submitted to the religion of the conquered Christians; and they not only embraced the religion, but affected even the laws, the manners, the customs, the language, and the very name, of Romans, so that the victors were in a manner absorbed and lost among the vanquished." See his Dissertations on the Prophecies, in loc.
And the dragon was wroth with the woman - The heathen party, foiled in their subtle attempt to destroy Christianity, were greatly enraged, and endeavored to excite the hatred of the multitude against the religion of Jesus. "They alleged that before the coming of Christ the world was blessed with peace and prosperity; but that since the progress of their religion everywhere, the gods, filled with indignation to see their worship neglected and their altars abandoned, had visited the earth with those plagues and desolations which increased every day." See Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, cent. V., part 1, and other works on this subject.
Went to make war with the remnant of her seed - The dragon απηλθε, departed, i.e., into the wilderness, whither the woman had fled; and in another form commenced a new species of persecution, directed only against the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. See on Rev 13:13 of the following chapter (note) for an illustration of this remarkable passage.