William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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:Revelation Chapter 12
Signs are beheld above: the sources, principles, and agents in the coming crisis are seen on high. "There appeared a great sign in the heaven." The being seen in heaven shows that it is not a mere history of what takes place on earth, but a view given of God's purpose. Though seen above, the woman represented is to be Israel on the earth. The symbol is of the chosen people as a whole, for a future state of things which God means to establish here below. Utterly weak in herself, she was "clothed with the sun." Israel shall be invested with supreme authority on earth, long as she has been desolate and down-trodden by the Gentiles. "And the moon under her feet" intimates that the condition of legal ordinances (or, as some would regard it, derivative rule), instead of governing her as of old, shall be under her feet. How aptly the moon sets forth the reflected light of the Mosaic system to any thoughtful mind! What are feasts, new moons, or sabbaths to the Christian? In the millennium this will not be out of sight, as now under Christianity, but reappear: only when Jehovah is truly honoured as her husband, there will be manifest subordination, as may be seen in Ezekiel's prophecy.
More than this appears. "And on her head a crown of twelve stars." There will be the fullest administrative authority in man, not only for use but to adorn her. In short, whether it be supreme, derivative, or subordinate authority, all is now assured to her. Israel is therefore to be the manifest vessel of God's mighty purposes for the earth; and God here so looks at her and presents her to the prophet's eye. But this is not all. Another glory is here, greater than all; for "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." What could Israel do without Jehovah's Anointed, the Messiah? "She was with child, and crieth, travailing in birth, in pain to be delivered." It is not yet the day for joyous and triumphant accomplishment of the divine purpose, when before Zion travails she is to bring forth, and before her pain come, she is to be delivered of a man-child; as Isaiah proclaims to Israel in his last chapter. There is weakness and suffering yet, but all is secured, and the end pledged on high. Compare Micah 5:2-3, where, as here, the birth of Messiah (for the woman is the mother, not the bride) is connected with the future day of Israel's deliverance. Only in the Revelation is the man-child caught up meanwhile to God and to His throne, of which we have more to say in its place.
"And there appeared another sign in the heaven, and, behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads." It is Satan, but here invested with the form of the most determined and successful enemy that Israel ever had. For crushing as was the overthrow under Nebuchadnezzar, the Roman power trod down Jerusalem with a more tremendous and permanent tyranny. Besides, as the Roman Beast collided with Christ once, so must it be destroyed at His appearing. This therefore makes the unfolding of the double sign so much the more striking. Not that the deliverance is yet come; but Israel and the enemy are confronted before the prophet according to God's mind. What a mighty encouragement before Israel passes through the worst trouble!
The dragon has seven heads, as it is here said, or the completeness of ruling authority; and ten horns, not twelve, but at any rate an approach to it, in the instruments of the power wielded in the west. Man is never truly complete. God gave the woman twelve stars. The dragon has but ten horns. And this appears to look on to the last days; for the empire, whilst it possessed imperial unity, never had ten co-ordinate and subordinate kings, as the Beast will surely have before its judgment (Revelation 17:12; Rev 17:17). It is the dragon too we may say in purpose. But God would not allow that completeness of administrative power even in form which belonged to the woman. All will be in due order when the Lord Jesus takes the government of the earth into His hands in the age to come. "Verily I say to you, That ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The twelve apostles of the Lamb are destined to a special place of honourable trust.
"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth." Does not this imply that the third part is the distinctively Roman side of the empire? It was "the third part" we saw in the Trumpets, both in the four earlier ones and also in the sixth. This seems to set forth the western empire, or what was properly Roman. The Romans actually possessed, because they conquered, a great deal that belonged to Greece for instance, and Medo-Persia and Babylon. This last was far east; but the properly Roman part was western Europe. There the dragon's malignant influence was to be particularly felt, at least in those that filled the place of rulers. It "drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them unto the earth; and the dragon standeth before the woman that was about to bring forth, that he might devour her child as soon as she should bring forth." It is Christ above all that he dreads. The old serpent is the constant foe of Christ in the war of all time. "And she brought forth a man-child, who is about to rule [or, tend] all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne."
Some things call for explanation here. First, a notion prevails that the woman is the church. Many Christians have so conceived. A few words are sufficient to dispel the illusion, and do. How could the church be the mother of Christ? Viewed figuratively as a woman, the church is the bride of Christ (as we see in Rev. 19, 21, 22); whereas the Jewish body is truly represented as His mother. Christ, as man, came of the Jews after the flesh. And He plainly is the One here described as the Man-child. The same truth is evident in the scriptures, whether we take the Psalms or the Prophets. "Unto us," says Isaiah, "a child is born, a son is given." Again, in the second Psalm, we find that He who is honoured by God Himself as the Son is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. The Lord Jesus is the destined Ruler here prominent, as the woman is Israel in full corporate character for dominion on the earth. To the daughter of Zion shall come the first dominion, the kingdom to the daughter of Jerusalem, as Micah predicts.
It may be no small difficulty how to bring herein the birth of Christ. Observe then that here the Spirit of God is not proceeding with the course of the prophecy. For the seventh Trumpet brought in the end in a general way. It has been already explained that here we have supplemental matter of the highest moment. Another thing should be taken into account, that in this portion no date serves to fix the time when the birth of the Man-child takes place. But if emphatically timeless, why should the birth of the Man-child be introduced here, seeing that the Lord had been born, had lived, had died and gone to heaven long before? While introducing Israel according to His purpose, God in this striking manner rehearses it mystically, and combines it with His and our translation to heaven after the style of O.T. prophecy. The disclosure of God's covenant dealings with Israel in order to their eventual restoration furnishes the occasion. All are, as in this prophetic perspective, introduced here together, Christ being both the Bridegroom of the church, and the King of Israel and of all the nations, though only the last of these relationships suits this place save mystically.
God is not at all disposing the purposes before us as a question of time, but of connection with Christ their centre. The prophet is about to enter into the final scenes of the world; but before this is done, God's counsel is shown as to Israel. This brings forward the devil in his evil antagonism to that counsel; for it was assuredly what the adversary most of all dreaded. Scripture lets us see Satan invariably opposing Christ with greater tenacity of purpose and hatred and pride than any other. Recognising in Him the fatal bruiser of himself and the great deliverer of man and creation to God's glory, a constant and direct enmity on Satan's part to the Son of God is familiar throughout the Bible. But there is more than this: Satan sets himself against His connection with the now poor and despised people of Israel. Hence before God espouses the part of Israel, the fact is shown that Christ is caught up to Him and to His throne. Not a word drops about His life; not a word here about His death or His resurrection. This proves to us how mystical the statement is. Had it been an historical summary, we must have had those stupendous events on which depends all reconciliation with God for man and the universe. But all this is entirely passed over. Like the woman, the Man-child is viewed in God's purpose. The reason seems just this, that here is intimated, as in O.T. prophecy, how the Lord and His people are wrapped up in the same symbol. Just so, in a yet more intimate way, what is said about Christ applies to the Christian. Compare Isaiah 1:8-9, and Romans 8:33-35.
On this mystical principle then the rapture of the Man child to God and His throne involves the rapture of the saints in itself. The explanation why it could be thus introduced here depends on the truth that Christ and the church are one, and have the common destiny of ruling the nations with a rod of iron. Inasmuch as He went up to heaven, so also the church is to be caught up. "So also is Christ," says the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12, when speaking of the church; for we must naturally suppose the allusion is to the body rather than to the Head. Yet he does not say, so also is the church, but "so also is Christ." In a similar spirit this prophecy shows us the Male of might taken to heaven, entirely above the reach of Satan's malice. If this be so, it has a remarkable bearing on what has been already asserted as to the book. We here begin over again, with divine purposes and their unseen action and aims as the object of the Holy Ghost in this latter portion. It is a supplemental volume, revealing secret springs and the great agents, with mercies too, of the closing scenes.
This is strictly in order. The heavenly saints are above. It is now a question of preparing the earthly people, Israel, for their place here below. Put for heavenly and for earthly people all turns on Christ. Hence Christ being born of Israel, there is and ought to be first set forth that connection of His. Next is the devil's opposition to the counsels of God, and hindrance for the time being; which gives occasion to the Lord Himself taking His place in heaven, the church following Him into heaven, without a date to either, like a binary star. In short, the first portion of the chapter is a mystical representation of the Lord's relationship with Israel and of Satan's deadly antagonism; then the Lord's removal out of the scene to heaven, which gives room for God's binding up, as it were, with Christ's disappearance to heaven the saints' translation there. In this way the rapture of the Man-child is not brought in here historically, but in mystic connection; and the great agents are all in their place according to God's mind.
If this be borne in mind, the whole subject is considerably cleared. "She brought forth a man-child to rule all the nations with a rod of iron." There is no difficulty in applying this to the Man-child, viewed not personally and alone but mystically; and the less, because this very promise is made to the church in Thyatira, or rather to the faithful there. It will be remembered that at the end of Revelation ii. it was expressly said that the Lord would give to the overcomer power over the nations, and he should rule them with iron rod, broken to pieces like vessels of pottery, just as He Himself received of His Father. But where for the present is Israel? Hidden in the wilderness, yet preserved till God's public kingdom appears. "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should nourish her there a thousand two hundred [and] sixty days." The days are numbered for the tried; as elsewhere in the shortest form compressed for like purpose as to the Beast's reign.
In verse 7 is a new scene; and here from counsel we come much more to facts, though unseen by men on the earth. It is not God's counsels or principles viewed in His mind, but positive events; first of all from above, as later on we shall find consequent changes on the earth. The mystery of God awaits its term. Its completion will surely come. But even before His world-kingdom come, what a vast and striking change! Saints will no longer have to wrestle with the spirituals of wickedness in the heavenlies! Satan can never again play the part of accuser on high.
"And there came war in the heaven: Michael and his angels to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels, and prevailed not; nor was their place found any more in the heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent that is called Devil and Satan, that deceiveth the whole habitable world, was cast unto the earth; and his angels were cast with him. And I heard a great voice in the heaven, saying, Now is come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ; because the accuser of our brethren is cast down, that accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and loved not their life unto death. For this be glad, O heavens, and ye that tabernacle in them." It is evident that at this time persons are spoken of as being above who sympathise deeply with their suffering brethren on earth. Such is the incontestable fact. Who are they but those one with Christ, the Male of might? Compare Revelation 13:6. They anticipate from Satan's catastrophe the entire establishment of the kingdom, though three and a half times have yet to pass in fact. Satan has lost that access to the presence of God in the quality of accuser of the brethren which he had previously possessed; nor will he ever regain the highest seat of his power then lost, the pledge of ruin ever more and more irretrievable. He is no longer able to fill heaven with his bitter taunts and accusations of the saints of God. What a blessed change for them! What a relief to those on high!
"Woe," it is added, "to the earth and to the sea! because the devil hath gone down to you, having great fury, knowing that he hath a short season." This clearly connects the dispossession of Satan from his heavenly seat with the crisis of Jews and Gentiles at the end of the present age. We find here the hidden reason. Why should there be then such an unwonted storm of persecution? why such tremendous doings of Satan here below for a short time, the three years and a half before the close? Here it is explained. Satan cannot longer accuse above; accordingly he does while he can his worst below. He is cast down to earth, never to regain the heavens: a fact of deep import and of pregnant consequence. Again, he will be banished from the earth, as we shall find, into the bottomless pit by-and-by; and though he be let loose thence for a short time, it is only for his irremediable destruction; for he is cast then (not merely into the pit or abyss, but) into the lake of fire, whence none ever comes back.
Such is the revealed course of the dealings of God with the great enemy of men from first to last. How strange to fancy that such amazing events took place ages ago without the saints of God knowing it! From Rev. 4 there is a throne of judgment, not of grace; from Rev. 12 Satan has no longer access to heaven; and there is therefore no more room for wrestling against spiritual powers of wickedness in heavenly places. Our struggle against them is so characteristic of the Christian, that any interpretation of the Revelation is convicted of error, which assumes that it ceases while the church is on earth. The Epistle to the Ephesians must thereby be no longer applicable: a consequence necessarily flowing from the error, and as certainly false and impossible.
From verse 13 the history is pursued not from the heavens, but on the earth. "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the male. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might flee into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished shore a time and times and half a time from the serpent's face." Thus power is given to escape, rapid means of flight from Satan's persecution; not power to withstand Satan, and fight the battle out with him, but ample facility to hide from his violence. This is conveyed by the two wings of the great eagle - a figure of vigorous means to escape. The most energetic image of flight in nature is vividly applied to the case in hand
"And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a river after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the river." The endeavour to stir up impetuous action, excited by his craft to overwhelm the Jews, is vain; for "the earth," or what was then under settled government, "helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed that keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus." By these are meant such of the Jews as then are known for subjection to God and a certain witness of Jesus. If the woman represents a more general state of Israel, the remnant of her seed are the witnessing portion. The mass, or "the many" of the future as Daniel calls them, will be quite apostate. The Jews of that day will thus vary much. Even among the godly then some will be much more energetic and intelligent than others, as we see in Daniel 12. Satan hastens therefore, and sets himself to put down those chosen vessels in the testimony of Jesus, a testimony not so much of communion for the Christian, but distinctly in the spirit of prophecy.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.