Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
rev 12:1And a great sign was seen in heaven - Not only by St. John, but many heavenly spectators represented in the vision. A sign means something that has an uncommon appearance, and from which we infer that some unusual thing will follow. A woman - The emblem of the church of Christ, as she is originally of Israel, though built and enlarged on all sides by the addition of heathen converts; and as she will hereafter appear, when all her "natural branches are again "grafted in." She is at present on earth; and yet, with regard to her union with Christ, may be said to be in heaven, Eph 2:6. Accordingly, she is described as both assaulted and defended in heaven, Rev 12:4, Rev 12:7. Clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars - These figurative expressions must he so interpreted as to preserve a due proportion between them. So, in Joseph's dream, the sun betokened his father; the moon, his mother; the stars, their children. There may be some such resemblance here; and as the prophecy points out the "power over all nations," perhaps the sun may betoken the Christian world; the moon, the Mahometans, who also carry the moon in their ensigns; and the crown of twelve stars, the twelve tribes of Israel; which are smaller than the sun and moon. The whole of this chapter answers the state of the church from the ninth century to this time.
rev 12:2And being with child she crieth, travailing in birth - The very pain, without any outward opposition, would constrain a woman in travail to cry out. These cries, throes, and pains to be delivered, were the painful longings, the sighs, and prayers of the saints for the coming of the kingdom of God. The woman groaned and travailed in spirit, that Christ might appear, as the Shepherd and King of all nations.
rev 12:3And behold a great red dragon - His fiery - red colour denoting his disposition. Having seven heads - Implying vast wisdom. And ten horns - Perhaps on the seventh head; emblems of mighty power and strength, which he still retained. And seven diadems on his heads - Not properly crowns, but costly bindings, such as kings anciently wore; for, though fallen, he was a great potentate still, even "the prince of this world."
rev 12:4And his tail - His falsehood and subtilty. Draweth - As a train. The third part - A very large number. Of the stars of heaven - The Christians and their teachers, who before sat in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. And casteth them to the earth - Utterly deprives them of all those heavenly blessings. This is properly a part of the description of the dragon, who was not yet himself on earth, but in heaven: consequently, this casting them down was between the beginning of the seventh trumpet and the beginning of the third woe; or between the year 847 and the year 947; at which time pestilent doctrines, particularly that of the Manichees in the east, drew abundance of people from the truth. And the dragon stood before the woman, that when she had brought forth, he might devour the child - That he might hinder the kingdom of Christ from spreading abroad, as it does under this trumpet.
rev 12:5And she brought forth a man child - Even Christ, considered not in his person, but in his kingdom. In the ninth age, many nations with their princes were added to the Christian church. Who was to rule all nations - When his time is come. And her child - Which was already in heaven, as were the woman and the dragon. Was caught up to God - Taken utterly out of his reach.
rev 12:6And the woman fled into the wilderness - This wilderness is undoubtedly on earth, where the woman also herself is now supposed to be. It betokens that part of the earth where, after having brought forth, she found a new abode. And this must be in Europe; as Asia and Afric were wholly in the hands of the Turks and Saracens; and in a part of it where the woman had not been before. In this wilderness, God had already prepared a place; that is, made it safe and convenient for her. The wilderness is, those countries of Europe which lie on this side the Danube; for the countries which lie beyond it had received Christianity before. That they may feed her - That the people of that place may provide all things needful for her. Twelve hundred and sixty days - So many prophetic days, which are not, as some have supposed, twelve hundred and sixty, but seven hundred and seventy - seven, common years. This Bengelius has shown at large in his German Introduction. These we may compute from the year 847 to 1524. So long the woman enjoyed a safe and convenient place in Europe, which was chiefly Bohemia; where she was fed, till God provided for her more plentifully at the Reformation.
rev 12:7And there was war in heaven - Here Satan makes his grand opposition to the kingdom of God; but an end is now put to his accusing the saints before God. The cause goes against him, Rev 12:10-11, and Michael executes the sentence. That Michael is a created angel, appears from his not daring, in disputing with Satan, Jde 1:9, to bring a railing accusation; but only saying, "The Lord rebuke thee." And this modesty is implied in his very name; for Michael signifies, "Who is like God?" which implies also his deep reverence toward God, and distance from all self - exaltation. Satan would be like God: the very name of Michael asks, "Who is like God?" Not Satan; not the highest archangel. It is he likewise that is afterward employed to seize, bind, and imprison that proud spirit.
rev 12:8And he prevailed not - The dragon himself is principally mentioned; but his angels, likewise, are to be understood. Neither was this place found any more in heaven - So till now he had a place in heaven. How deep a mystery is this! One may compare this with Luk 10:18; Eph 2:2; Eph 4:8; Eph 6:12.
rev 12:9And the great dragon was cast out - It is not yet said, unto the earth - He was cast out of heaven; and at this the inhabitants of heaven rejoice. He is termed the great dragon, as appearing here in that shape, to intimate his poisonous and cruel disposition. The ancient serpent - In allusion to his deceiving Eve in that form. Dragons are a kind of large serpent. Who is called the Devil and Satan - These are words of exactly the same meaning; only the former is Greek; the latter, Hebrew; denoting the grand adversary of all the saints, whether Jews or gentiles. He has deceived the whole world - Not only in their first parents, but through all ages, and in all countries, into unbelief and all wickedness; into the hating and persecuting faith and all goodness. He was cast out unto the earth - He was cast out of heaven; and being cast out thence, himself came to the earth. Nor had he been unemployed on the earth before, although his ordinary abode was in heaven.
rev 12:10Now is come - Hence it is evident that all this chapter belongs to the trumpet of the seventh angel. In Rev 11:15-18, are proposed the contents of this extensive trumpet; the execution of which is copiously described in this and the following chapters. The salvation - Of the saints. The might - Whereby the enemy is cast out. The kingdom - Here the majesty of God is shown. And the power of his Christ - Which he will exert against the beast; and when he also is taken away, then will the kingdom be ascribed to Christ himself, Rev 19:16; Rev 20:4. The accuser of our brethren - So long as they remained on earth. This great voice, therefore, was the voice of men only. Who accused them before our God day and night - Amazing malice of Satan, and patience of God!
rev 12:11And they have overcome him - Carried the cause against him. By the blood of the Lamb - Which cleanses the soul from all sin, and so leaves no room for accusing. And by the word of their testimony - The word of God, which they believed and testified, even unto death. So, for instance, died Olam, king of Sweden, in the year 900, whom his own subjects would have compelled to idolatry; and, upon his refusal, slew as a sacrifice to the idol which he would not worship. So did multitudes of Bohemian Christians, in the year 916, when queen Drahomire raised a severe persecution, wherein many "loved not their lives unto the death."
rev 12:12Woe to the earth and the sea - This is the fourth and last denunciation of the third woe, the most grievous of all. The first was only, the second chiefly, on the earth, Asia; the third, both on the earth and the sea, Europe. The earth is mentioned first, because it began in Asia, before the beast brought it on Europe. He knoweth he hath but a little time - Which extends from his casting out of heaven to his being cast into the abyss.
We are now come to a most important period of time. The non - chronos hastens to an end. We live in the little time wherein Satan hath great wrath; and this little time is now upon the decline. We are in the "time, times, and half a time," wherein the woman is "fed in the wilderness;" yea, the last part of it, "the half time," is begun. We are, as will be shown, towards the close of the "forty - two months" of the beast; and when his number is fulfilled, grievous things will be. Let him who does not regard the being seized by the wrath of the devil; the falling unawares into the general temptation; the being borne away, by the most dreadful violence, into the worship of the beast and his image, and, consequently, drinking the unmixed wine of the wrath of God, and being tormented day and night for ever and ever in the lake of fire and brimstone; let him also who is confident that he can make his way through all these by his own wisdom and strength, without need of any such peculiar preservative as the word of this prophecy affords; let him, I say, go hence. But let him who does not take these warnings for senseless outcries, and blind alarms, beg of God, with all possible earnestness, to give him his heavenly light herein.
God has not given this prophecy, in so solemn a manner, only to show his providence over his church, but also that his servants may know at all times in what particular period they are. And the more dangerous any period of time is, the greater is the help which it affords. But where may we fix the beginning and end of the little time? which is probably four - fifths of a chronos, or somewhat above 888 years. This, which is the time of the third woe, may reach from 947, to the year 1836. For, The short interval of the second woe, (which woe ended in the year 840,) and the 777 years of the woman, which began about the year 847, quickly after which followed the war in heaven, fix the beginning not long after 864: and thus the third woe falls in the tenth century, extending from 900 to 1000; called the dark, the iron, the unhappy age. If we compare the length of the third woe with the period of time which succeeds it in the twentieth chapter, it is but a little time to that vast space which reaches from the beginning of the non - chronos to the end of the world.
rev 12:13And when the dragon saw - That be could no longer accuse the saints in heaven, he turned his wrath to do all possible mischief on earth. He persecuted the woman - The ancient persecutions of the church were mentioned, Rev 1:9, Rev 2:10, Rev 7:14; but this persecution came after her flight, Rev 12:6, just at the beginning of the third woe. Accordingly, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the church was furiously persecuted by several heathen powers. In Prussia, king Adelbert was killed in the year 997, king Brunus in 1008; and when king Stephen encouraged Christianity in Hungary, he met with violent opposition. After his death, the heathens in Hungary set themselves to root it out, and prevailed for several years. About the same time, the army of the emperor, Henry the Third, was totally overthrown by the Vandals. These, and all the accounts of those times, show with what fury the dragon then persecuted the woman.
rev 12:14And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place - Eagles are the usual symbols of great potentates. So Eze 17:3, by "a great eagle', means the king of Babylon. Here the great eagle is the Roman empire; the two wings, the eastern and western branches of it. A place in the wilderness was mentioned in Rev 12:6 also; but it is not the same which is mentioned here.
In the text there follow one after the other, The dragon's waiting to devour the child. The birth of the child, which is caught up to God. The fleeing of the woman into the wilderness. The war in heaven, and the casting out of the dragon. The beginning of the third woe. The persecution raised by the dragon against the woman. The woman's flying away upon the eagle's wings.
In like manner there follow one after the other, The beginning of the twelve hundred and sixty days. The beginning of the little time. The beginning of the time, times, and half a time. This third period partly coincides both with the first and the second. After the beginning of the twelve hundred and sixty days, or rather of the third woe, Christianity was exceedingly propagated, in the midst of various persecutions. About the year 948 it was again settled in Denmark; in 965, in Poland and Silesia; in 980, through all Russia. In 997 it was brought into Hungary; into Sweden and Norway, both before and after. Transylvania received it about 1000; and, soon after, other parts of Dacia.
Now, all the countries in which Christianity was settled between the beginning of the twelve hundred and sixty days, and the imprisonment of the dragon, may be understood by the wilderness, and by her place in particular. This place contained many countries; so that Christianity now reached, in an uninterrupted tract, from the eastern to the western empire; and both the emperors now lent their wings to the woman, and provided a safe abode for her. Where she is fed - By God rather than man; having little human help. For a time, and times, and half a time - The length of the several periods here mentioned seems to be nearly this: -
1 The non - chronos contains less than 1111 2 The little time 888 3 The time, times, and half a time 777 4 The time of the beast 666 1 The non - chronos extends from about 800 to 1836 2 The 1260 days of the woman from 847 - 1524 3 The little time 947 - 1836 4 The time, time, and half 1058 - 1836 5 The time of the beast between the beginning and end of the three times and a half