Revelation 12
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
Chap. 12:1-17.] The vision of the Woman and the great red Dragon. On the nature of this vision, as introductory of the whole imagery of the latter part of the Apocalypse, I have already remarked at ch. 11. It is only needful now to add, that the principal details of the present section are rather descriptive than strictly prophetical: relating, just as in the prophets the descriptions of Israel and Judah, to things passed and passing, and serving for the purpose of full identification and of giving completeness to the whole vision. And a great (important in its meaning, as well as vast in its appearance) sign (σημεῖον, one of those appearances by which God ἐσήμανεν to John the revelations of this book, ch. 1:1) was seen in heaven (heaven here is manifestly not only the show-place of the visions as seen by the Seer, but has a substantial place in the vision: for below, ver. 7 ff., we have the heaven contrasted with the earth, and the dragon cast out of heaven into the earth. See more there), a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon (ἡ σελήνη = ἔχουσα τὴν σελήνην) beneath her feet (see Song of Solomon 6:10, which seems to be borne in mind), and on her head a crown of twelve stars (the whole symbolism points to the Church, the bride of God: and of course, from the circumstances afterwards related, the O. T. church, at least at this beginning of the vision. That the blessed Virgin cannot be intended, is plain from the subsequent details, and was recognized by the early expositors. The crown of twelve stars represents the Patriarchs. Victorinus’s comment is worth quoting: “Mulier.… antiqua Ecclesia est patrum et prophetarum et sanctorum apostolorum quæ gemitus et tormenta habuit desiderii sui usque quo fructum ex plebe sua secundum carnem olim promissum sibi videret Christum ex ipsa gente corpus sumpsisse.… Corona stellarum duodecim chorum patrum significat secundum carnem nativitatis, ex quibus erat Christus carnem sumpturus”), and [she is] (or, being) with child [and] crieth out in pangs and tormented to bring forth (the inf. τεκεῖν, of that which would be the result of the βασανίζεσθαι, has a parallel in Acts 7:19, ἐκάκωσεν.… τοῦ ποιεῖν, and in other places, see Winer, edn. 6, § 44. 4, but not without the art.). And another sign was seen in heaven; and behold, a great red dragon (interpreted below, ver. 9, to be the devil, the ancient serpent: see also vv. 13, 15. He is πυῤῥός perhaps for the combined reasons, of the wasting properties of fire, and the redness of blood: “rufus, ut homicida,” as the gloss, interl.: see John 8:44), having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems (the Dragon being the devil, these symbolic features must be interpreted of the assuming by him of some of those details in the form of the beast in ch. 13:1 ff., to whom afterwards he gives his power and his throne: in other words, as indicating that he lays wait for the woman’s offspring in the form of that antichristian power which is afterwards represented by the beast. At the same time, the seven crowned heads may possess an appropriateness of their own, belonging as they do to the dragon alone (the beast has the crowns on his horns, ch. 13:1). They may represent, as he is Prince of this world, universality of earthly dominion. The ten horns belong to the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7, 20). And his tail draggeth down the third part of the stars of the heaven, and cast them to the earth (so the little horn in Daniel 8:10, “cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.” The allusion here may be as in Catena, συγκατέβαλε γὰρ ἑαυτῇ πλείστων ἀγγέλων μοῖραν συναποστῆσαι πείσασα τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ πεποίηκε χθονίους τοὺς οὐρανίους, καὶ σκότος τοὺς λαμπροὺς ὡς ἀστέρας. The magnitude and fury of the dragon are graphically given by the fact of its tail, in its lashing backwards and forwards in fury, sweeping down the stars of heaven). And the dragon stands (not “stood.” The Commentators cite from Pliny H. N. viii. 3 of the dragon, “Nec flexu multiplici ut reliquæ serpentes corpus impellit, sed celsus et erectus in medio incedens”) before the woman which is about to bear, that when she has borne he may devour her child (this was what the devil instigated Herod the Great to do, who was the dependant of the Roman Empire. But doubtless the reference is wider than this: even to the whole course of hostility against the Lord during His humiliation: see below). And she bore a male (if ἄρσεν is neuter, and not to be written ἄρσενʼ, the expression is a solœcism, or rather a combination of genders, ἄρσεν going back from the masculine individual υἱὸν to the neuter of the genus) son, who shall rule (lit. shepherd, i. e. order and guide) all the nations with (ἐν of investiture, very nearly expressed by our instrumental “with,” which in its primitive meaning does but signify accompaniment) a rod of iron (these words, cited verbatim from the LXX of the Messianic Psa_2, and preceded by the ὅς of personal identification, leave no possibility of doubt, who is here intended. The man-child is the Lord Jesus Christ, and none other. And this result is a most important one for the fixity of reference of the whole prophecy. It forms one of those landmarks by which the legitimacy of various interpretations may be tested; and of which we may say, notwithstanding the contradiction sure to be given to the saying, that every interpretation which oversteps their measure is thereby convicted of error. Again, the exigencies of this passage require that the birth should be understood literally and historically, of that Birth of which all Christians know. And be it observed, that this rule of interpretation is no confident assertion of mine, as has been represented, but a result from the identifying use of words of the prophetic Scripture, spoken of Him, who will not suffer His honour to be given to another): and her child was caught up to God and to His throne (i. e. after a conflict with the Prince of this world, who came and tried Him but found nothing in Him, the Son of the woman was taken up to heaven and sat on the right hand of God. Words can hardly be plainer than these. It surely is but needful to set against them, thus understood, the interpretation which would regard them as fulfilled by the “mighty issue of the consummated birth of a son of the church, a baptized emperor, to political supremacy in the Roman empire,” “united with the solemn public profession of the divinity of the Son of man.” Elliott, iii. 24). And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath there a place prepared from (the source of the preparation being His command: see reff., and Winer, edn. 6, § 47, b) God, that they (the subject to the verb is left indefinite. In ver. 14 below, it is simply passive, ὅπου τρέφεται ἐκεῖ) may nourish her there for a thousand two hundred and sixty days (the whole of this verse is anticipatory: the same incident being repeated with its details and in its own place in the order of the narrative below, vv. 13 ff. See there the comment and interpretation. The fact of its being here inserted by anticipation is very instructive as to that which now next follows, as not being consecutive in time after the flight of the woman, but occurring before it, and in fact referred to now in the prophecy as leading to that pursuit of the woman by the dragon, which, as matter of sequence, led to it).

7 ff.] And there was war in heaven (we now enter upon a mysterious series of events in the world of spirits, with regard to which merely fragmentary hints are given us in the Scriptures. In the O. T. we find the adversary Satan in heaven. In Job 1:2Job 1:2Job 1:2, he appears before God as the Tempter of His saints: in Zec_3 we have him accusing Joshua the High-priest in God’s presence. Again our Lord in Luke 10:18 exclaims, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” where see note. Cf. also John 12:31. So that this casting down of Satan from the office of accuser in heaven was evidently connected with the great justifying work of redemption. His voice is heard before God no more: the day of acceptance in Christ Jesus has dawned. And his angels, those rebel spirits whom he led away, are cast down with him, into the earth, where now the conflict is waging during the short time which shall elapse between the Ascension and the second Advent, when he shall be bound. All this harmonizes together: and though we know no more of the matter, we have at least this sign that our knowledge, as far as it goes, is sound,—that the few hints given us do not, when thus interpreted, contradict one another, but agree as portions of one whole.

The war here spoken of appears in some of its features in the book of Daniel, ch. 10:13, 21, 12:1. In Jude 1:9 also we find Michael the adversary of the devil in the matter of the saints of God): Michael (“one of the chief princes,” Daniel 10:13: “your prince,” i. e. of the Jewish nation, ib. ver. 21: “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people,” ib. 12:1: “the archangel,” Jude 1:9: not to be identified with Christ, any more than any other of the great angels in this book. Such identification here would confuse hopelessly the actors in this heavenly scene. Satan’s being cast out of heaven to the earth is the result not of his contest with the Lord Himself, of which it is only an incident leading to a new phase, but of the appointed conflict with his faithful fellow-angels led on by the archangel Michael. The οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ in both cases requires a nearer correspondence in the two chiefs than is found between Satan and the Son of God) and his angels to war (the construction is remarkable, but may easily be explained as one compounded of (τοῦ) τὸν Μ. καὶ τοὺς ἀγγ. αὐτοῦ πολεμῆσαι (in which case the τοῦ depends on the ἐγένετο, as in ref.) and ὁ Μ. καὶ οἱ ἄγγ. αὐτοῦ ἐπολέμησαν. In the next clause, it passes into this latter) with the dragon, and the dragon warred and his angels, and they prevailed not, nor was even (οὐδέ brings in a climax) their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent (in allusion to the history in Gen_3. Remember also that St. John had related the saying of our Lord, that the devil was ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς), he who is called the devil and Satan, he who deceiveth the whole inhabited world, was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast with him (I would appeal in passing to the solemnity of the terms here used, and the particularity of the designation, and ask whether it is possible to understand this of the mere casting down of paganism from the throne of the Roman empire? whether the words themselves do not vindicate their plain literal sense, as further illustrated by the song of rejoicing which follows?). And I heard a great voice in heaven (proceeding apparently from the elders, representing the church (cf. τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἡμῶν): but it is left uncertain) saying, Now is come (it is impossible in English to join to a particle of present time, such as ἄρτι, a verb in aoristic time. We are driven to the perfect in such cases) the salvation and the might and the kingdom of our God and the power of His Christ (i. e. the realization of all these: ἡ σωτηρία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν being, as so often, that salvation which belongs to God as its Author: see reff. and cf. Luke 3:6): because the accuser (the form κατήγωρ, instead of κατήγορος, is rabbinical, קטיגור. They had also a corresponding term, סניגור, συνήγωρ, = συνήγορος, to designate Michael, the advocate of God’s people. See Schöttgen, vol. i. p. 1119 ff., where he accumulates extracts of some interest from the rabbinical books) of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth (the pres. part. of the usual habit, though that his office was now at an end) them before our God by day and by night (see, as above, the passage cited in Schöttgen). And they conquered him on account of the blood of the Lamb (i. e. by virtue of that blood having been shed: not as in E. V., “by the blood,” as if διὰ had been with the genitive. The meaning is far more significant; their victory over Satan was grounded in, was a consequence of, His having shed his precious blood: without that, the adversary’s charges against them would have been unanswerable. It is remarkable, that the rabbinical books give a tradition that Satan accuses men all the days of the year, except on the Day of Atonement. Vajikra Rabba, § 21, fol. 164. 3, in Schöttgen) and on account of the word of their testimony (the strict sense of διὰ with an accus. must again be kept. It is because they have given a faithful testimony, even unto death, that they are victorious: this is their part, their appropriation of and standing in the virtue of that blood of the Lamb. Without both these, victory would not have been theirs: both together form its ground): and they loved not their life unto death (i. e. they carried their not-love of their life even unto death: see reff.). For this cause (viz., because the dragon is cast down: as is shewn by the contrast below) rejoice, ye heavens and they that dwell (there is no sense of transitoriness in St. John’s use of σκηνόω: rather, one of repose and tranquillity (reff.)) in them. Woe to the earth and the sea (the construction is a combination of the usual accus. in exclamations, with οὐαί, which takes a dative), because the devil is come down (see above on ἄρτι ἐγένετο, ver. 10, on the impossibility of expressing the aor. in such connexions) to you (the earth and sea) having great wrath (the enmity, which was manifested as his natural state towards Christ, ver. 4, being now kindled into wrath), because he knoweth (so E. V., rightly, the participle carrying with it this ratiocinative force) that he hath but (in our language this “but” is necessary to shew that it is not the ἔχειν but the ὀλίγον which excites his wrath. In Greek this is made clear by the position of ὀλίγον) a short season (i. e. because the Lord cometh quickly, and then the period of his active hostility against the church and the race whom Christ has redeemed will be at an end: he will be bound and cast into the pit. Until then, he is carrying it on, in ways which the prophecy goes on to detail). And when the dragon saw that he was cast down to the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the male child (the narrative at ver. 6 is again taken up and given more in detail. There, the reason of the woman’s flight is matter of inference: here, it is plainly expressed, and the manner of the flight also is related. ἔτεκεν is not to be taken as pluperfect, still less as pointing to what was yet to take place; but is the simple historic tense, used for identification in again taking up the narrative). And there were given (in the usual apocalyptic sense of δοθῆναι, to be granted by God for His purposes) to the woman [the] two wings of the great eagle (the figure is taken from O. T. expressions used by God in reference to the flight of Israel from Egypt. The most remarkable of these is in ref. Exod., ἀνέλαβον ὑμᾶς ὡσεὶ ἐπὶ πτερύγων ἀετῶν καὶ προσηγαγόμην ὑμᾶς πρὸς ἐμαυτόν. So also in ref. Deut. But the articles are not to be taken as identifying the eagle with the figure used in those places, which would be most unnatural: much less must they, with Ebrard, be supposed to identify this eagle with that in ch. 8:13, with which it has no connexion. The articles are simply generic, as in ὁ κροκόδειλος ὁ χερσαῖος, Leviticus 11:29.

With these O. T. references before us, we can hardly be justified in pressing the figure of the eagle’s wings to an interpretation in the fulfilment of the prophecy, or in making it mean that the flight took place under the protection of the Roman eagles, as some have done), that she might fly into the wilderness (the flight of Israel out of Egypt is still borne in mind) to her place (prepared of God, ver. 6: so also in Exodus 23:20, ὅπως εἰσαγάγῃ σε εἰς τὴν γῆν ἣν ἡτοίμασά σοι), where she is nourished (there) (as God nourished Israel with manna in the wilderness, see Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 8:16, where ψωμίζειν is used) a time and times and half a time (i. e. 3½ years = 42 months, ch. 11:2 = 1260 days, ver. 6 and ch. 11:3) from the face of the serpent (ἀπό must not be joined, as some texts are punctuated, with πέτηται, but belongs, as in ref., ἔφυγεν … καὶ ᾤκησεν ἐκεῖ ἀπὸ προσώπου Ἀβ., to the last verb, τρέφεται: importing “safe from,” “far from,” “hidden from”). And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river, that he might make her to be borne away by the river. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth (reff.) and swallowed down the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth (in passing to the interpretation, we cannot help being struck with the continued analogy between this prophecy and the history of the Exodus. There we have the flight into the wilderness, there the feeding in the wilderness, as already remarked: there again the forty-two stations, corresponding to the forty-two months of the three years and half of this prophecy: there too the miraculous passage of the Red Sea, not indeed in strict correspondence with this last feature, but at least suggestive of it. These analogies themselves suggest caution in the application of the words of the prophecy; and in this direction. The church in the wilderness of old was not, as some expositors would represent this woman, the pure church of God: His veritable servants were hidden in the midst of that church, as much as that church itself was withdrawn from the enmity of Pharaoh. And, it is to be noted, it was that very church herself which afterwards, when seated at Jerusalem, forsook her Lord and Husband, and committed adultery with the kings of the earth, and became drunk with the blood of the saints. It would seem then that we must not understand the woman of the invisible spiritual church of Christ, nor her flight into the wilderness of the withdrawal of God’s true servants from the eyes of the world. They indeed have been just as much withdrawn from the eyes of the world at all times, and will continue so till the great manifestation of the sons of God. I own that, considering the analogies and the language used, I am much more disposed to interpret the persecution of the woman by the dragon of the various persecutions by Jews which followed the Ascension, and her flight into the wilderness of the gradual withdrawal of the church and her agency from Jerusalem and Judæa, finally consummated by the flight to the mountains on the approaching siege, commanded by our Lord Himself. And then the river which the dragon sent out of his mouth after the woman might be variously understood,—of the Roman armies which threatened to sweep away Christianity in the wreck of the Jewish nation,—or of the persecutions which followed the church into her retreats, but eventually became absorbed by the civil power turning Christian,—or of the Jewish nation itself, banded together against Christianity wherever it appeared, but eventually itself becoming powerless against it by its dispersion and ruin,—or again, of the influx of heretical opinions from the Pagan philosophies which tended to swamp the true faith. I confess that not one of these seems to me satisfactorily to answer the conditions: nor do we gain any thing by their combination. But any thing within reasonable regard for the analogies and symbolism of the text seems better than the now too commonly received historical interpretation, with its wild fancies and arbitrary assignment of words and figures. As to the time indicated by the 1260 days or 3½ years, the interpretations given have not been convincing, nor even specious. We may observe thus much in this place: that if we regard this prophecy as including long historic periods, we are driven to one of two resources with regard to these numbers: either we must adopt the year-day theory (that which reckons a day for a year, and consequently a month for thirty years,—and should reckon a year for 360 years), or we must believe the numbers to have merely a symbolical and mystical, not a chronological force. If (and this second alternative is best stated in an inverse form) we regard the periods mentioned as to be literally accepted, then the prophecy cannot refer to long historic periods, but must be limited to a succession of incidents concentrated in one place and lustrum either in the far past or in the far future. Of all prophecies about which these questions can be raised, the present is the one which least satisfactorily admits of such literal interpretation and its consequences. Its actors, the woman and the dragon, are beyond all controversy mystical personages: one of them is expressly interpreted for us to be the devil: respecting the other there can be little doubt that she is the Church of God: her seed being, as expressly interpreted to be, God’s Christian people. The conflict then is that between Satan and the church. Its first great incident is the birth and triumph of the Son of God and of man. Is it likely that a few days or years will limit the duration of a prophecy confessedly of such wide import? I own it seems to me that this vision, even if it stood alone, is decisive against the literal acceptation of the stated periods. Rejecting that, how do we stand with regard to the other alternative in its two forms? Granting for the moment the year-day principle, will it help us here? If we take the flight into the wilderness as happening at any time between the Ascension, a.d. 30, and the destruction of Jerusalem, a.d. 70, 1260 years will bring us to some time between a.d. 1290 and 1330: a period during which no event can be pointed out as putting an end to the wilderness-state of the church. If again we enlarge our limit for the former event, and bring it down as late as Elliott does, i. e. to the period between the fourth and seventh centuries, we fall into all the difficulties which beset his most unsatisfactory explanation of the man-child and his being caught up to God’s throne, and besides into this one: that if the occultation of true religion (= the condition of the invisible Church) was the beginning of the wilderness-state, then either the open establishment of the Protestant churches was the end of the wilderness-state of concealment, or those churches are no true churches: either of which alternatives would hardly be allowed by that author. And if on the other hand we desert the year day principle, and say that these defined and constantly recurring periods are not to be pressed, but indicate only long spaces of time thus pointed out mystically or analogically, we seem to incur danger of missing the prophetic sense, and leaving unfixed that which apparently the Spirit of God intended us to ascertain). And the dragon was wroth at the woman (on ἐπί with a dat. as applied to the object of mental affections, see ref. and note) and departed (from his pursuit of her) to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus (τὴν μαρτ. Ἰησοῦ as in ch. 6:9: see note there. Notice as important elements for the interpretation, 1) that the woman has seed besides the Man-child who was caught up to God’s throne (for this is the reference of τῶν λοιπῶν), who are not only distinct from herself, but who do not accompany her in her flight into the wilderness: 2) that those persons are described as being they who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus: 3) that during the woman’s time of her being fed in the wilderness, the dragon is making war, not against her, but against this remnant of her seed: 4) that by the form of expression here, these present participles descriptive of habit, and occurring at the breaking off of the vision as regards the general description of the dragon’s agency, it is almost necessarily implied, that the woman, while hidden in the wilderness from the dragon’s wrath, goes on bringing forth sons and daughters thus described.

If I mistake not, the above considerations are fatal to the view which makes the flight of the woman into the wilderness consist in the withdrawal of God’s true servants from the world and from open recognition. For thus she must be identical with this remnant of her seed, and would herself be the object of the dragon’s hostile warfare, at the very time when, by the terms of the prophecy, she is safely hidden from it. I own that I have been led by these circumstances to think whether after all the woman may represent, not the invisible church of God’s true people which under all conditions of the world must be known only to Him, but the true visible Church: that Church which in its divinely prescribed form as existing at Jerusalem was the mother of our Lord according to the flesh, and which continued as established by our Lord and His Apostles, in unbroken unity during the first centuries, but which as time went on was broken up by evil men and evil doctrines, and has remained, unseen, unrealized, her unity an article of faith, not of sight, but still multiplying her seed, those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus, in various sects and distant countries, waiting the day for her comely order and oneness again to be manifested—the day when she shall “come up out of the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved:” when our Lord’s prayer for the unity of His being accomplished, the world shall believe that the Father has sent Him. If we are disposed to carry out this idea, we might see the great realization of the flight into the wilderness in the final severance of the Eastern and Western churches in the seventh century, and the flood cast after the woman by the dragon in the irruption of the Mahometan armies. But this, though not less satisfactory than the other interpretations, is as unsatisfactory. The latter part of the vision yet waits its clearing up).

12:18-13:10.] The vision of the Beast that came up out of the sea. See Daniel 7:7, Daniel 7:8, Daniel 7:19-27, to which continual reference will be made in the Commentary. And he (the dragon) stood upon the sand of the sea (see Daniel 7:2, where the four winds of heaven are striving upon the great sea); and I saw out of the sea a wild-beast coming up, having ten horns (now put first, because they are crowned. The ten horns are found also in the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7) and seven heads, and upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads (notice the gen. ἐπὶ τῶν κεράτων and the accus. ἐπὶ τὰς κεφαλάς: the reason being probably, that the crowns are simply spoken of as in position on the horns, whereas the names were inscribed on the heads, and the preposition takes the tinge of motion belonging to the act of inscription) a name of blasphemy (whether (see digest) we read plural or singular, the meaning will be the same—on each head a name. The heads are (see for the interpretation ch. 17:9, 10, where it is given by the angel) Kings, in the widest acceptation of the word; Kings, as representing their kingdoms; not necessarily individual Kings (see as above):—the name or names of blasphemy, the divine titles given to those Kings, “Lord of the whole earth,” and the like: in the Roman form, “Deus” or “Divus.” Hereafter, when the great harlot succeeds to the character and symbolic details of the beast, this is carried yet further). And the beast which I saw was like to a leopard, and its feet as of a bear, and its mouth as the mouth of a lion (thus uniting in itself the three previous kingdoms of Daniel 7:4 ff., the first of which was like a lion, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard; and in consequence representing, not the Roman Empire merely, but the aggregate of the Empires of this world as opposed to Christ and His kingdom). And the dragon gave to it his might and his throne and great power (i. e. this beast, this earthly persecuting power, was the vicegerent and instrument of the devil, the prince of this world, and used by him for his purposes of hostility against the remnant of the seed of the woman). And (I saw) one from among his heads as it were wounded unto death (this seems to represent the Roman pagan Empire, which having long been a head of the beast, was crushed and to all appearance exterminated), and the stroke of its death was healed (in the establishment of the Christian Roman Empire. The period now treated of is the same, introduced here by anticipation, but hereafter to be described in detail, as that during which the woman sits on the beast and guides it. Very many Commentators have explained these seven heads as individual kings, and supposed the one who was wounded to death to be Nero, and these last words to allude to the idea that Nero would return from the dead and become antichrist. But this idea was certainly not prevalent in this form at the time when the Apocalypse was written. Tacitus merely relates, that there were many rumours about Nero’s death, “eoque pluribus vivere eum fingentibus credentibusque,” Hist. ii. 8, and that on the strength of this, a Pseudo-Nero arose in the East, Hist. 1. ii, “mota etiam prope Parthorum arma falsi Neronis ludibrio.” See also the citations from the Sibylline oracles, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus, in Düst.’s note. The first who mentions the idea of Nero returning from the dead, is Augustine, Civ. Dei xx. 19. 3, vol. vii. p. 686, in explaining 2Thessalonians 2:3 ff.: “quidam putant hoc (ver. 7) de imperio dictum fuisse Romano—ut hoc quod dixit, jam enim mysterium iniquitatis operatur, Neronem voluerit intelligi, cujus jam facta velut Antichristi videbantur. Unde non-nulli ipsum resurrecturum et futurum Antichristum suspicantur.” But it is observable that does not connect the idea with the Apocalypse. This is first done by Sulp. Severus, and completed by Victorinus, whose very words (“unum autem de capitibus occisum in morte et plaga mortis ejus curata est, Neronem dicit. Constat enim, dum insequeretur eum equitatus missus a senatu, ipsam sibi gulam succidisse. Hunc ergo suscitatum Deus mittet regem dignum dignis, et Christum qualem meruerint Judæi”) betray the origin of the idea having been from this passage itself). And the whole earth wondered after (pregnant construction for wondered at, as they followed, or gazed, after) the beast, and worshipped the dragon, because he gave the (or, his) power to the beast, and worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? And who is able to war with him (these words are a sort of parody, in their blasphemy, on ascriptions of praise to God: cf. besides reff., Psalm 112:5; Isaiah 40:18, Isaiah 40:25, 46:5; Jeremiah 29:20 (49:19); Micah 7:18: they represent to us the relapse into all the substantial blasphemies of paganism under the resuscitated Empire of Rome, and the retention of pagan titles and forms. I may remark, that nothing in those words finds any representative in the history of the times of the Pagan Empire)? And there was given to it a mouth speaking great and blasphemous things (so we read of the little horn in Daniel 7:8): and there was given to it power to work (more probably, as in former reff., than “to spend” merely: this meaning is indeed found in latter reff., but the places in Daniel seem to decide for us) forty-two months (the well-known period of the agency of antichrist = 3½ years = 1260 days: see Prolegomena, § v. 29 f.), and he opened his mouth (spoken, see reff., of the commencement of a series of discourses. These vv. 6, 7, in fact expand into detail that which ver. 5 gave compendiously) for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, which dwell in heaven (the apposition is strange, but if the καί must be omitted, the meaning is to enhance the enormity of the blasphemy by bringing out the lofty nature of God’s holy Name and dwelling-place. With the καί, the last clause would mean that he blasphemes them that dwell in heaven, i. e. the holy angels of God. To take this as still the meaning without the καί, is to introduce into the apocalyptic style an asyndeton which is not found in it). And there was given to it to make war with the saints (see Daniel 7:21) and to conquer them (see ch. 11:7, of which this is a wider statement): and there was given to it power over every tribe and people and tongue and nation (viz. universal empire). And all shall worship it (αὐτόν, though masculine, must be referred to the θηρίον, which has been now for some time spoken of as an agent, and not to an impersonation of it by a living king) who dwell upon the earth, (every one) whose (the change into the singular arises from resolving πάντες into its component individuals) name (οὗ … αὐτοῦ, the usual Hellenistic redundance: see reff.) is not written in the book of life of the Lamb which is slain from the foundation of the world (these last words are ambiguously placed. They may belong either to γέγραπται, or to ἐσφαγμένου. The former connexion is taken by Hammond, Bengel, Heinr., Ewald, Züllig, De Wette, Hengstb., Düsterd. But the other is far more obvious and natural: and had it not been for the apparent difficulty of the sense thus conveyed, the going so far back as to γέγραπται for a connexion would never have been thought of. See this remarkably shewn in the Catena: ὧν γέγραπται, ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου γέγραπται· οὕτω γὰρ δεῖ νοεῖν, οὐχ ὡς ἡ γραφὴ ἔχει· ὅτι μηδὲ ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου ἡ τοῦ ἀρνίου σφαγή. The difficulty however is but apparent: 1Peter 1:19, 1Peter 1:20 says more fully the same thing. That death of Christ which was foreordained from the foundation of the world, is said to have taken place in the counsels of Him with whom the end and the beginning are one. Ch. 17:8, which is cited by De W. as decisive for his view, is irrelevant. Of course where simply the writing in the book of life from the foundation of the world is expressed, no other element is to be introduced: but it does not therefore follow, that where, as here, other elements are by the construction introduced, that, and that alone is to be understood).

9, 10.] These verses bear various meanings, according to the reading which we adopt. If the rec. be taken, they express a consolation to the persecuted saints in the form of a jus talionis: the judgment of God will overtake the persecutors, and in that form in which their persecution was exercised. If we take the reading in the text, they form a prophetic declaration how it shall fare with the saints in the day of persecution, and declare also that in holy suffering of captivity and death consists their faith and patience. The latter appears to me, both from critical and contextual considerations, by far the more eligible. Thus we have what is so frequent in this book, an O. T. citation (see below): and all falls into its place in connexion with the victorious war of the beast against the saints: whereas the other declaration is at least out of place in the context. If any man hath an ear, let him hear (see reff. This notice is given to bespeak solemn attention to what follows, as warning Christians of their fate in the days of the beast’s persecution). If any one is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any to be slain (ἀποκτανθῆναι = εἰς τὸ ἀποκτανθῆναι) with (see reff. and note on ch. 6:8) the sword, that (i. e. it is necessary that: δεῖ, as the other reading supplies) he should be slain with the sword (so ref. Jer., “Such as are for death, to death: and such as are for the sword, to the sword: and such as are for the famine, to the famine: and such as are for captivity, to captivity:” cf. also Jeremiah 43:11 and Zechariah 11:9. As that was the order and process of God’s anger in his judgments on his people of old, so shall the issue be with the saints in the war of persecution which the beast shall wage with them). Here is (reff., viz. in the endurance of these persecutions) the endurance and the faith of the saints.

11-18.] The second wild-beast, the reviver and the upholder of the first. It may be well to premise a few remarks, tending to the right understanding of this portion of the prophecy. 1) These two beasts are identical as to genus: they are both θηρία, ravaging powers, hostile to God’s flock and fold. 2) They are diverse in origin. The former came up out of the sea: that is, if we go back to the symbolism of Daniel, was an empire, rising up out of confusion into order and life: the latter comes out of the earth: i. e. we may not unreasonably say, arises out of human society and its progress: which as interpreted by the context, will import its origin and gradual development during the reign and progress of the secular empire denoted by the former beast. 3) The second beast is, in its zeal and action, entirely subsidiary to the first. It wields its authority, works miracles in its support, causes men to make and to worship its image; nay, itself is lost in the splendour and importance of the other. 4) An important distinction exists between the two beasts, in that this second one has two horns like a lamb. In other words, this second beast puts on a mild and lamb-like appearance, which the other did not. But it speaks as a dragon: its words, which carry its real character, are fierce and unrelenting: while it professes that which is gentle, its behests are cruel.

And now I may appeal to the reader, whether all these requisites do not meet in that great wasting Power which arose, not out of anarchy and conquest, but out of men’s daily life and habits, out of and in the presence of the last form of the secular power, which was the Empire of Pagan Rome; I mean, the sacerdotal persecuting power, which, gentle in its aspect and professions, was yet cruel in its actions; which did all the deeds of the Empire, in its presence, which kept up its image, its laws, its formulæ, its privileges; which, coming in as it did by a corrupt and ambitious priesthood, deceived by its miracles the dwellers on earth, and by them maintained the image of the despotic secular power? Surely it is this Latin Christianity, in its ecclesiastico-secular form, not identical with, but as preparing the way for, the great apostasy, helping, so to speak, to place the woman on the beast, as in ch. 17, that is here depicted before us. It is this which, owing its power in the main to imposture and unwarrantably assumed spiritual authority, deserves best the name of the false prophet, expressly given to this second beast in ch. 19:20. Nor would I limit the interpretation, as has generally been done, by dividing off Pagan from Christian. Primarily, this second beast plainly sets forth the Pagan sacerdotal power; this it was that made the image of the Emperors, that compelled Christians to worship that image, that wrought signs and wonders by its omens and magic. But as the first beast, still subsisting, has passed into a so-called Christian Roman Empire, so has the second beast into a so-called Christian priesthood, the veritable inheritor of pagan rites, images, and superstitions; actually the continuators, nomine mutato, of the same worship in the same places; that of the Virgin for that of Venus, Cosmas and Damian for Romulus and Remus, the image of Peter for that of Jupiter Tonans: lamb-like in profession, with the names and appearances of Christianity, but dragon-like in word and act. And this was surely never more strikingly shewn than at the time when I am writing (Jan. 1860), when the Papal priesthood is zealously combining in the suicidal act of upholding the temporal power as necessary to the spiritual pre-eminence of their “Lord God the Pope.” So that I believe the interpretation of the second beast to be, the sacerdotal persecuting power, pagan and Christian, as the first is the secular persecuting power, pagan or Christian. I conceive the view which would limit it to the priesthood of Paganism (Hammond, Grot., Ewald, De Wette, Hengstb., Düsterd.) quite insufficient for the importance of the prophecy; while that of Elliott, al., which would limit it to the priesthood of the Papacy, fails notably in giving a meaning to its acts as here described, the making an image to the beast and causing men to worship it. And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth (see the preceding note), and it had two horns like a Iamb (i. e. like the two horns of a lamb: see ref. It is quite true that the absence of the article before ἀρνίῳ forbids the idea that a direct comparison is intended between this lamb-like beast, and the Lamb on Mount Sion: but it does not follow from this that no reference is made to that Lamb in the choice of the animal to which this beast is compared. I believe the choice is made to set forth the hybrid character of this second beast: see more below. The number may perhaps be of no special import, but merely inserted to complete the similarity: it, as a lamb has, had two horns), and it spoke as a dragon (here again we cannot doubt that the term is chosen on account of the dragon which has been before mentioned. It is no objection to this, that we do not hear of that dragon speaking (Düsterd.): the character of the animal explains what kind of speech is meant, and the acts of the dragon were of that kind. And as to this second beast, though its appearance and profession are sacerdotal, its words and acts are devilish. The whole description strongly recalls to our mind our Lord’s προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν ψευδοπροφητῶν, οἵτινες ἔρχονται πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων, ἔσωθεν δέ εἰσιν λύκοι ἅρπαγες, Matthew 7:15). And it worketh all the power (performs all the acts of authority) of the first beast in his presence (while the first beast is subsisting and beholding; and as the expression seems to shew, being in a relation to it of serving and upholding), and maketh the earth and those that dwell in it to worship (construction, see reff.) the first beast, whose wound of death was healed (this was formerly, ver. 4, described as the reason why the world wondered after the former beast): and worketh great miracles, so that (ἵνα depends on μεγάλα: “miracula magna, tam magna, ut” &c. So that ἵνα ποιῇ = ὥστε ποιεῖν. See Winer, edn. 6, § 53. 6, who as well as Düsterd. finds fault with Bengel for recognizing here a feature of St. John’s style. But Bengel only remarks “ἵνα frequens Johanni particula: in omnibus suis libris non nisi semel, John 3:16. ὥστε posuit:” and this is true and applicable to the case here in hand, where ὥστε would naturally have stood,—whatever may be the minute shade of difference between the force of ἵνα as connected with the previous words in various passages. We know that the Apocalypse is written in a laxer style and more faulty Greek than either the Gospel or the Epistles: what wonder, if the use of ἵνα epexegetic be carried further in it, and from its meaning of ideal purpose be extended to detail of matter of fact? Granting the two meanings to be even as far apart as Düsterd. insists, may we not say that the Writer who so often uses the one is just the person who, when writing less strictly, was likely to use the other?

As to the fact described, it is notorious enough that the great arm of support of the sacerdotal power, pagan and papal, has ever been the claim to work miracles) he even maketh fire to come down from the heaven to the earth in the sight of men (“hæc magi per angelos refugas et hodie faciunt,” says Victorinus, writing in the beginning of the fourth century, before yet the Empire professed Christianity. But it is probable that this special miracle is mentioned to recall the spirit and power of Elias, and shew how the false prophet shall counterfeit the true). And he deceiveth those who dwell on the earth on account of (the prep. expresses not the instrument, but the ground of the deceit: the imposture succeeds, because of …) the miracles which it has been given to him to work in the presence of the beast, ordering those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast (dat. commodi) who hath the stroke of the sword and lived (this part of the prophecy seems to describe the acts of the pagan sacerdotal power then presently to follow. See more below). And it was given to him to give breath (or, spirit; by inference, life) to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should even speak, and should cause (the regular subject to ποιήσῃ is the image, not the second beast) that as many as do not worship the image of the beast, shall be slain. The Seer is now describing facts which history substantiates to us in their literal fulfilment. The image of Cæsar was every where that which men were made to worship: it was before this that the Christian martyrs were brought to the test, and put to death if they refused the act of adoration. The words of Pliny’s letter to Trajan are express on the point: “cum præeunte me deos appellarent, et imagini tuæ, quam propter hoc jusseram cum simulacris numinum afferri, thure ac vino supplicarent, præterea maledicerent Christo, quorum nihil cogi posse dicuntur qui sunt revera Christian, dimittendos esse putavi.” Above he had said, “perseverantes duci jussi.” And if it be said as an objection to this, that it is not an image of the Emperor but of the beast itself which is spoken of, the answer is very simple, that as the Seer himself in ch. 17:11, does not hesitate to identify one of the ἑπτὰ βασιλεῖς with the beast itself, so we may fairly assume that the image of the beast for the time being would be the image of the reigning Emperor.

It is not so easy to assign a meaning to the giving life and speech to the image of the beast. Victorinus gives a curious explanation: “faciet etiam ut imago aurea Antichristo in templo Hierosolymis ponatur, et intret angelus refuga et inde voces et sortes reddat.” The allusion probably is to some lying wonders permitted to the Pagan priests to try the faith of God’s people. We cannot help, as we read, thinking of the moving images, and winking and speaking pictures, so often employed for purposes of imposture by their far less excusable Papal successors. And he (i. e. the second beast, more naturally than the image) maketh all men, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that they should give them (i. e. stamp on them. The subject to δῶσιν is left uncertain: it will naturally be understood to be, those whose office it is: see reff. It evidently is not as Düsterd., “that they impress on themselves:” nor does this at all follow from ch. 14:9, 11, 16:2, 19:20, 20:4, which he quotes to support it, but merely that they may refuse to receive it, and by receiving it become apostates from God) a mark (such a mark as masters set on their slaves, or monarchs on their soldiers, a brand, stamped or burnt in, στίγματα, see note on Galatians 6:17, and Grotius and Wetst. here. We read in 3 Macc. 2:29, of Ptolemy Philopater, that he ordered the Jews in Alexandria to be forcibly enrolled, τούτους τε ἀπογραφομένους χαράσσεσθαι καὶ διὰ πυρὸς εἰς τὸ σῶμα παρασήμῳ Διονύσου κισσοφύλλῳ. And Philo, de Monarch. i. § 8, vol. ii. p. 221, mentions idolaters who confessed their idolatry by ἐν τοῖς σώμασι καταστίζοντες αὐτὴν σιδήρῳ πεπυρωμένῳ πρὸς ἀνεξάλειπτον διαμονήν, οὐδὲ γὰρ χρόνῳ ταῦτα διαμαυροῦνται) on their right hand (στίγματά ἐστι τῶν στρατευομένων ἐν ταῖς χερσίν, Ælian. in Grot.) or upon (before, the fact of the mark being visible on the hand was prominent, and the gen. was used: now, that of the act of impression is, and the accus. is used) their forehead (i. e. in some conspicuous part of the body, that all may see it: or as Aug. Civ. Dei, xx. 9. 3, vol. vii. p. 674, “in fronte, propter professionem: in manu, propter operationem”), [and] that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except he who has the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name (τὸ ὄνομα κ.τ.λ. is in apposition with τὸ χάραγμα: it is in this that the mark consists: either in the name stamped in letters, or in the number of the name thus stamped, i. e. the number which those letters make when added together according to their numerical value. The practice of thus calculating the numerical value of the letters in names was widely prevalent: see the instances collected by Mr. Elliott, vol. iii. pp. 220 ff.: and more below.

This particular in the prophetic description seems to point to the commercial and spiritual interdicts which have, both by Pagan and by Papal persecutors, been laid on nonconformity: from even before the interdict of Diocletian mentioned by in his hymn on Justin Martyr (“non illis emendi quidquam, Aut vendendi copia: nec ipsam haurire aquam Dabatur licentia, antequam sacrificarent Detestandis idolis.” Mede, p. 511) through those of the middle ages (of which Mr. Elliott gives an example from Harduin vi. ii. 1684, in a canon of the 3rd Lateran Council under Pope Alexander III., “ne quis eos—scil. hæreticos—in domibus vel in terra sua tenere vel fovere vel negotiationem cum eis exercere præsumat”), down to the last remaining civil disabilities imposed on nonconformity in modern Papal or Protestant countries. For these last have their share in the enormities of the first and second beast in as far as they adopt or continue their practices.

With regard to the circumstance of the imposition of the mark, I conceive that with the latitude here given, that it may be the name or the number, and having regard to the analogy of the mark inscribed on the saints (ch. 7:1 ff.: cf. ch. 13:1), we need not be anxious to find other than a general and figurative interpretation. As it is clear that in the case of the servants of God no actual visible mark is intended, so it may well be inferred here that the mark signifies rather conformity and addiction to the behests of the beast, than any actual stigma impressed. Certainly we fail to recognize any adequate exposition of such stigma in the sign of the Cross as propounded by Mr. Elliott (iii. 236), or in the monogram on the labarum as succeeded by the Papal cross-keys of Bp. Wordsworth (Apocalypse, Appendix G: see also his note in loc.)). Here is wisdom (these words serve to direct attention to the challenge which follows: see ver. 10, where ὧδέ ἐστιν is similarly used): let him who hath understanding calculate the number of the beast (the terms of the challenge serve at once to shew that the feat proposed is possible, and that it is difficult. Irenæus’s view, that if St. John had meant the number to be known he would have declared it, and that of Andreas, ὁ χρόνος ἀποκαλύψει, are, it seems to me, excluded by these considerations. The number may be calculated: and is intended to be known): for (gives a reason why the calculation may be made) it is the number of a man (i. e. is counted as men generally count: not, as Bede, Grot., al., and recently Hofmann, Schriftb. ii. 637, the number belonging to an individual man: see against this the reff. which are decisive as to usage), and the number of it (the beast) is six hundred sixty-six (of all the hundreds of attempts which have been made in answer to the challenge, there is but one which seems to approach near enough to an adequate solution to require serious consideration. And that one is the word mentioned, though not adopted, by Irenæus, v. 30. 3, p. 330 (the passage cited in the Prolegg. § i. par. 7), viz. λατεῖνος (the diphthong ει being, as all critical students of the Greek text know, not only an allowable way, but the usual way, of writing the long i by the Greeks of the time): (λ = 30) + (α = 1) + (τ = 300) + (ε = 5) + (ι = 10) + (ν = 50) + (ο =70) + (ς = 200) = 666. This name describes the common character of the rulers of the former Pagan Roman Empire,—“Latini sunt qui nunc regnant,” Iren.: and, which Irenæus could not foresee, unites under itself the character of the latter Papal Roman Empire also, as revived and kept up by the agency of its false prophet the priesthood. The Latin Empire, the Latin Church, Latin Christianity, have ever been its commonly current appellations: its language, civil and ecclesiastical, has ever been Latin: its public services, in defiance of the most obvious requisite for public worship, have ever been throughout the world conducted in Latin: there is no one word which could so completely describe its character, and at the same time unite the ancient and modern attributes of the two beasts, as this. Short of saying absolutely that this was the word in St. John’s mind, I have the strongest persuasion that no other can be found approaching so near to a complete solution. See however the remarks on this subject in the Prolegomena, § v. par. 32, where I have after all thought it best to leave the matter in doubt).

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

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