Matthew Poole's 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 12:1,2 A woman clothed with the sun travaileth,
Revelation 12:3,4 A great red dragon standeth ready to devottr her child,
Revelation 12:5,6 She is delivered, and fleeth into the wilderness,
Revelation 12:7-9 Michael and his angels fight with the dragon, who is
cast out of heaven with his angels.
Revelation 12:10-12 The victory proclaimed in heaven.
Revelation 12:13-17 The dragon, cast down to the earth, persecuteth the woman.
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: I see no reason to doubt, but that John was all this while in heaven, whither he was taken up, Revelation 4:2, where he saw in a vision a great wonder, or a most remarkable thing.
A woman clothed with the sun; I find all valuable interpreters agreeing, that this woman represented the church, well enough compared to a woman;
1. As she is the spouse of Christ (though here expressed as his mother).
2. As the woman is the weaker sex, and the church hath always been the weakest part of the world.
(I look upon the interpretation of it by popish authors, with reference to the virgin Mary, as very idle; for when did she flee into the wilderness? When was she with child, and pained to be delivered?) Interpreters also are as well agreed, that by the sun, with which she is said to be clothed, is meant Christ, called the Sun of righteousness, Malachi 4:2, and he who giveth light, Ephesians 5:14; and believers (of whom the church consists) are said to have put on Christ, Romans 13:14 Galatians 3:27.
And the moon under her feet: by the moon, most understand the world, by reason of its mutability and uncertainty, which the church of Christ despiseth, and hath under her feet, minding heaven and heavenly things. But Mr. Mede rather understands it of the Jewish worship, which, as to its times, was much directed by the moon; which hand-writing which was against us (the apostle tells us, Colossians 2:14) Christ took away, nailing it to his cross; so as the gospel church hath it under her feet. The apostle calls them carnal ordinances, Hebrews 9:10, and the rudiments of the world, Colossians 2:20, yea, beggarly elements, Galatians 4:9.
And upon her head a crown of twelve stars; the ministry of the gospel, preaching and building upon the true foundation, the doctrine of the prophets, and twelve apostles, which is the honour of any church.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.Being with child; not with Christ considered personally, who was long before brought forth by the virgin Mary, but with the truth, and gospel of Christ, or with Christ mystical.
Cried; desiring to bring many children to the kingdom of Christ; or to bring forth Christ in the souls of others: of this burden and labour she desired
to be delivered. The phrase is judged to signify both the primitive church’s desire to propagate the gospel, and also her many sufferings for that endeavour.
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 there appeared another wonder in heaven; there appeared to John, being yet in his vision, another amazing sight, which was a sign or type of something differing from what it appeared like.
And behold a great red dragon: see Revelation 12:7,9,17. Most judicious interpreters, by the great red dragon, understand the Roman emperors that first persecuted: the Christian church, of which Claudius was the first; yet some understand it of the devil, the old serpent; but the most and best interpreters understand it of the pagan emperors, by whom the devil did this work, called a great dragon, because of the vastness of that empire; a red dragon, for their cruelty against the Christians.
Having seven heads; the Holy Ghost, Revelation 17:9, hath expounded these seven heads, by seven mountains. The
ten horns are thought to signify the ten provinces belonging to that empire, the governors of which ruled like ten kings. It is expounded by
ten kings, Revelation 17:12. Strabo tells us, that Augustus Caesar divided the whole empire into twenty provinces; ten of which, being more quiet, he gave to the people to govern, the other ten he reserved to his own government. The seven crowns are expounded by seven kings, Revelation 17:10, of which we shall speak more when we come so far.
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.The tail of the red dragon signifies his followers, his civil and military officers, whosoever were by him employed to execute his commands. By the stars, here, are either meant the ministers of the Christian church, or the professors of it.
And did cast them to the earth; turning them out of their places and stations, making them as useless as he could.
And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born; that is, before the church that was ready to propagate itself, watching upon her increase to devour them. I take this to be a much more probable sense than theirs who understand it of Constantine; for I know not, with reference to him, who should be understood by the red dragon. Mr. Mede hath ingeniously observed, that Pharaoh was a type of this red dragon. He is resembled by a dragon, Psalm 74:13,14 Isa 51:9 Ezekiel 29:3, and watched upon God’s ancient church to destroy it, as the pagan emperors did upon the Christian church.
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.By this man-child some understand Constantine the Great; others understand Christ mystical, or many children brought forth unto God. As the Jews multiplied, do Pharaoh what he could to destroy them, so the church increased, notwithstanding all the malice and rage of her enemies. Interpreters accordingly are divided concerning the person or persons here spoken of, that should
rule all nations with a rod of iron. It was prophesied of Christ, Psalm 2:9, that he should break the nations with a rod of iron. It is applied to the servants of Christ, who overcome, and keep Christ’s words to the end, Revelation 2:27. So as it is here applicable to believers, whom the church should bring forth, who shall judge the world, as the apostle tells us; and I had rather thus interpret it, than concerning Constantine the Great.
And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne: these words are something hard to be interpreted. To interpret it of Christ’s being taken up into heaven, is to turn a mysterious prophecy into a plain relation, or history of things past. To interpret it concerning Constantine the Great, seemeth very hard; for how was he, more than any other Christians, caught up unto God, and to his throne? If we say, when he died; so are they: if we say the imperial throne is here understood by God’s throne, it seemeth to me very hard; for although of magistrates God saith, I have said, Ye are gods, yet their thrones are never called God’s throne. I had rather give this phrase a more general interpretation, viz. God took this offspring of the woman into his royal protection, so as the dragon could not devour it, it was out of his reach.
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 the woman fled into the wilderness: as the Israelites, when they fled from Pharaoh, went into the wilderness; and Joseph, watched upon by Herod, fled into Egypt; so the church did hide herself during the antichristian persecutions, every one shifting for themselves as well as they could.
Where she hath a place prepared of God; God provided for them in some more obscure places.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,And there was war in heaven: by heaven, in this place, doubtless is meant the church of God; and supposing that the pagan emperors are to be understood by the dragon, ( which is pretty generally agreed), there can be no great doubt, but by this war in heaven, is to be understood those persecutions which the primitive church endured between the years 64 and 310.
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: the two parties were the pagan emperors, and their officers, and party, and Michael and his angels. But who is here meant by Michael and his angels? Some, by this Michael, understand a principal angel called the archangel, Judges 1:9, one of the chief princes, Daniel 10:13. Others, by Michael here understand Christ himself, who, they think, is understood by Michael, Daniel 12:1. The matter is not much; it is most certain that the battle is not ours, but Christ’s. It is as certain that Christ exerciseth his power by his angels, and that they have a ministration about his church. The meaning is no more than this, that Christ and his party opposed the pagan persecutors and their party.
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.The pagans were at length routed in this battle; the Christians overcame them by the preaching of the gospel, and by their faith and patience; and paganism found no place within the same territories where the church was. This was fulfilled in the time of Constantine the Great, who altered the face of the Roman empire; and more eminently in the time of Theodosius, about the year 380.
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 the great dragon was cast out; the dragon mentioned Revelation 12:3, which typified the pagan emperors. In casting them out,
the devil who influenced them, was cast out, who is here called the
old serpent, with reference to the form in which he seduced Eve, as well as his malignity to man.
The devil, that is, the accuser of the brethren, (of which we have an instance in Job 1:1-22),
and Satan, which name he hath from his opposition to Christ and all Christians.
Which deceiveth the whole world; by seducing them to idolatry and superstition.
He was cast out into the earth; cast down from his former state.
And his angels were cast out with him; the instruments he used in persecuting the church, were put out of power. Mr. Mede understands it of the demons which the heathens worshipped as inferior gods. John, being in his trance still, thought he saw a great red dragon, (which he judged to be the devil), and Christ, or the good angels, fighting with and overcoming him; and that he saw the devil, and those evil angels assisting him, thrown down to the earth. This prophetically and typically signified; that though the Roman emperors, being pagans, should persecute the church upwards of three hundred years, yet they should be overthrown, and paganism, with all its idolatry and superstition, should be rooted out; which occasioned a great deal of glory to God from the praises and thanksgivings of his people, expressed in the next three verses.
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 I heard a loud voice saying in heaven: John undoubtedly heard this voice as in the third heaven, whither he was caught; but it is not only expressive of the joy and satisfaction which the glorious angels and glorified saints had, upon their knowledge of what was done upon the earth, but prophetical of the great joy which should be over all the church, upon Constantine’s stopping the persecution. and restoring peace to the church, by casting out all pagan idolatries and superstitions.
Now is come salvation; temporal salvation, and deliverance from persecutors.
And strength; now God hath showed himself a strong and mighty God.
And the kingdom of our God; and the King of kings, who reigneth over all the earth.
And the power of his Christ; now Christ hath shown his power.
For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night; for the devil, who incessantly accuseth the saints, is overcome. Two things are here observable:
1. That the holy angels call the saints brethren.
2. That the accusers of Christians, for their piety towards God, are of their father the devil, for his works they do.
Informers show who is their father, by accusing others, by murdering the servants of God; they differ no more than as elder and younger brethren, both are children of the same father.
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.And they overcame him; Michael and his angels, mentioned Revelation 12:7, overcame the dragon and his angels: the Christians overcame the pagans.
By the blood of the Lamb: some translate dia here, propter, because of, as denoting the meritorious cause, which is true; for Christ’s blood was both the meritorious and exemplary cause of their victory. But this will not agree with the usage of the term in the next words. Others therefore rather choose to translate it, by, as denoting the efficient cause, whether principal (as was the blood of the Lamb) or instrumental.
And by the word of their testimony; as was their preaching, and professing the gospel.
And they loved not their lives unto the death; and by their patient bearing the cross, not shunning the danger of death, that they might preach Christ, and own his truths, and live up to the holy rule of his gospel.
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.Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them: he calls to the angels and saints again to rejoice; some think, to the church also: these tell us, that
the inhabitants of the earth, and of the sea, in St. John’s writings, always signify the enemies of the church, earthly, carnal men.
For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath; the devil now being divested of the power he exercised against the church, will fall upon you; for though he principally hateth the saints, as most opposite to him, yet he is the common hater of mankind.
Because he knoweth that he hath but a short time; and he hath but a little time to execute his malice, he shall shortly be confined to the bottomless pit. It is hard to say whether here be intended all in general, or the worser part of the world only; for great judgments after this came upon the whole Roman empire by the Goths and Vandals, and upon the church by the Arians, and by antichrist, of whose rise we shall read in the next chapter.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth; when the devil saw that he could not uphold his kingdom by paganism, nor further execute his malice by pagan emperors, but was wholly routed and overcome, as to that power.
He persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child; to let us know that he retained his malice, though he had lost his former power, he goes on in pursuing the church of God to its ruin, only doth it in another form; heretofore in the form of a pagan, now under the pretence of a Christian; by heretics, the spawn of Arius and Photinus, (who were before this time), and by Pelagius, Nestorius, and Eutyches, who all were between the years 400 and 500, and by antichrist, the beast we shall read of, Revelation 13:1, with seven heads and ten horns.
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 to the woman; to the sincerer part of Christians, represented by the woman, Revelation 12:1, and by the temple, and altar, and them that worship therein, viz. in the oracle where the altar stood, Revelation 11:1.
Were given two wings of a great eagle: the eagle being the ensign of the Roman empire, and Theodosius having two sons, Honorius and Arcadius, between which he divided the empire, making Honorius the emperor of the west, and Arcadius of the east, leadeth some very judicious interpreters to expound this passage of the providence of God (by this division of the empire about the year 390) in some measure securing his church from the great troubles that presently ensued. For in the year 411, Alaricus king of the Goths took Rome, and continual troubles so ensued, that by the year 480 the western empire was quite extinguished, ending in Augustulus, who, because of his manifold afflictions, is supposed to be the star mentioned Revelation 8:10,11, called Wormwood, who fell upon the sounding of the third trumpet.
That she might fly into the wilderness: by the wilderness is here undoubtedly meant some places which were like a wilderness for solitariness, where the church might have some rest.
Into her place; the place said to be by God prepared for the church, Revelation 12:6.
Where she is nourished; where God hid, and protected, and provided for his people a certain time, expressed in the next words. I know not whether we need be so critical or no, or whether it be not safer to expound all the foregoing words more generally, viz. that God graciously provided for his people hiding-places against the storm now coming upon the whole Roman empire, bearing them, as it were, on eagles’ wings, as he did his old Israelites when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. It is the very phrase used by God, Exodus 19:4.
For a time, and times, and half a time: it is apparent, that the same space of time is here meant that is mentioned Revelation 12:6, and called a thousand two hundred and threescore days. Most interpreters agree, that it signifieth three years and a half, consisting each of them of three hundred and sixty prophetical days, that is, years; for although we count three hundred and sixty-five days to the year, (and there are strictly so many, besides some odd hours), yet anciently they counted but three hundred and sixty, leaving out the five odd days, as we do now the odd hours and minutes, which in four years make up an odd day, which makes every fourth year leap year. Now three times three hundred and sixty make up a thousand and eighty, to which add one hundred and eighty for the half year, it makes just a thousand two hundred and sixty, the number of days mentioned Revelation 12:6. If any inquire why what was expressed by one thousand two hundred and sixty days there, is thus expressed here? It is answered: To make this comport with the prophecy of Daniel, Daniel 7:25 12:7, where it is thus expressed.
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 serpent; the devil, the old serpent, mentioned Revelation 12:9, being able no longer to execute his malice as a dragon, by the civil power of the heathen emperors, tearing Christians in pieces, but discerning the church secured by the special providence of God, went to work another way.
Cast out of his mouth water as a flood; corrupting the judgments of several persons, who, out of the abundance of error in their hearts, preached corrupt doctrine. Such were the followers of Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, Pelagius, &c. The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, Proverbs 18:4. The mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things, Proverbs 15:28.
That he might cause her to be carried away of the flood; on purpose to ruin the church: and, indeed, such were the ill effects of these heresies, that he who is but meanly versed in the history of the fifth age, will see reason to adore the providence of God, that the Roman emperors, upon the sight of them, did not again turn pagans, and add their force to the malice of these pretended Christians against the sincerer part of the church.
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 earth helped the woman: there are divers notions here of the earth; to me theirs seemeth most probable, who understand by the earth the Goths and Vandals, &c., who, Anno 410, invaded the Roman empire, and gave it continual trouble, till they had put an end to the western empire, Anno 480. By whose continual contests with the subjects of the Roman empire, the church enjoyed some quiet in the exercises of religion; and though all this while they were troubled by the broods of Arians, Pelagians, Nestorians, and Eutychians, yet they could do them no great hurt; and the church had a liberty to condemn them by the second and third general councils; in which, it is probable, there were many too that deserved no better name than the earth.
And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth; but yet they served, in a great measure, to swallow up that flood of heresies which the devil threw out of his mouth by these heretics.
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.And the dragon was wroth with the woman: the devil hath been defeated in two designs against the whole church; he could not wholly root it out by the ten persecutions under the Roman emperors, nor by the water thrown out of his mouth, pestilent doctrines which he influenced some to broach; but he was angry still, his rage was not extinguished.
And went to make war with the remnant of her seed; he gives over his design to ruin the whole church, as not practicable, but resolves to do all the mischief he could to the remnant of her seed, to particular Christians; those especially, which kept closest to the doctrine of faith, called here
the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to the rule of a holy life, which is meant by keeping
the commandments of God. Hence antichrist’s rage hath not been against Christians in general, as was the pagans’, but only against such Christians as he hath not been able to bring over to him, in a compliance with his corruptions in doctrine, worship, and discipline.