We now enter upon the third group of visions (or, the fourth section of the book, if we include the epistles to the seven churches), which occupy chapters 12, 13, and 14, and close with the solemn scene of the harvest and the vintage (Revelation 14:14-20). The close of each series of visions is in harmony with their general intention, and, as such, affords a key to their meaning. The seals end in peace; the trumpets end in victory; the present visions end in harvest. We have been shown that toil and trouble shall end in rest and conflict in triumph; now we are to be shown that there is to be a harvest at the end of the world, when the fruits of the conflicting principles of life will have ripened, and when whatsoever a man hath sown that shall he also reap: and men will be seen as they are. This set of visions accordingly moves in a different plane from the earlier groups; starting from the same point as the others, it reviews the ground with a different purpose. It deals with the spiritual conditions of the great war between evil and good; it disrobes the false appearances which deceive men; it makes manifest the thoughts of men’s hearts; it shows that the great war is not merely a war between evil and good, but between an evil spirit and the Spirit of God: and that, therefore, the question is not only one between right and wrong conduct, but between true and false spiritual dispositions. Men look at the world, and they acknowledge a kind of conflict between evil and good; their sympathies are vaguely on the side of good; they admire much in Christianity; they are willing to think the martyred witnesses of the Church heroes; they think the reformers of past ages worthy of honour; they would not be averse to a Christianity without Christ or a Christianity without spirituality. They do not realise that the war which is raging round them is not a war between men morally good and men morally bad, but between spiritual powers, and that what the Gospel asks is not merely a moral life, but a life lived by faith in the Son of God, a life in which the spiritual dispositions are Godward and Christward. The Apocalypse, in this set of visions, unveils the spiritual aspects of the conflict, that we may know that the issue is not between Christianity and un-Christianity, but between Christianity and anti-Christianity. Hitherto we have seen the more outward aspects of the great war. Now we are to see its hidden, secret, spiritual—yes, supernatural aspects—that we may understand what immeasurably divergent and antagonistic principles are in conflict under various and specious aspects in the history of the world. Accordingly, we are shown the child encountered by the dragon, the woman in conflict with the dragon, the wild beast as the adversary of the lamb. We see no longer the battle under human forms, as the struggle for the possession of the Temple; but we see clearly and unmistakably the real issue which is being fought out, and we see the real spiritual work which the Church is designed to accomplish in the world. The motto of this section might well be, “He that is not with me is against me”—“He that gathereth not with me scattereth;” for only those who are truly with Christ will avoid falling under the yoke of one of the three enemies of Christ— the dragon and the two wild beasts animated and inspired by him.
A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.—All the lights of heaven are brought together here for a description which cannot fail to remind us of the picture of the Shulamite in the Canticles (Song of Solomon 6:10): “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners (or, the heavenly host)?” It is the picture of the bride, the Church. The beams of the divine glory clothe her; she has caught—like Moses—the radiance of her Lord, whose countenance was as the sun (Revelation 1:16); the moon is beneath her feet; she rises superior to all change, and lays all lesser lights of knowledge under tribute; she is crowned with a crown of twelve stars: the illustrious members of the Church (twelve being the representative number in Old Testament as well as New Testament times) form her crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ.
But there was to be opposition; the enemy is on the watch to destroy the likeness of Christ wherever it was seen.
Having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns (diadems) upon his heads.—This is the further description of the dragon. He is one, yet diverse; one, as an evil spirit; diverse, in the varieties of his power. The woman is hut one: but her foe is multiform; she has one trust to keep, one work to do, and can but fulfil it in her Master’s way: evil is bound by no law, regards no scruple, and exerts its power through any channel and by every means. Is there not also an assumption of divine similitude here in the use of the number seven? It is at least the representation of the great and world-wide power which he exercises as the prince of this world, whose kingdom is in much a parody of the true kingdom. The whole description should be compared with the account given of the beast in Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7; Revelation 17:10; Revelation 17:12. There the seven heads are explained as seven kings, and the heads here are crowned; the ten horns are also explained as ten kings. The sevenfold kingship and the tenfold power of the world are thus described as belonging to the dragon. The picture here, as the picture of the wild beast in Revelation 17, represents, as concentrated into a single hostile form, all the varying forces and successive empires which have opposed or oppressed the people of God, and sought to destroy their efforts for good: for all evil has its root in a spirit at enmity with God. Hence the dragon appears armed with all the insignia of those sovereignties and powers which have been animated by this spirit.
And the dragon.—Translate, And the dragon stands (not “stood”) before the woman who is about to bring forth, that whenever she has brought forth he may devour her child. The spirit of evil is represented as ever on the watch to destroy the first tokens of better things. Our minds go back to the hatred and fear of Pharaoh, setting a watch for the offspring of Israel and ordering their destruction; and even more are we reminded of the jealous hatred of Herod seeking the life of the infant Christ. It seems clear that it is on this last incident that the present vision is primarily built up; but its meaning is much wider than this. It shows us that evermore, as Herod waited to destroy Christ, the devil, the old spirit whose malignity wrought through the fears of Pharaoh and of Herod, is on the watch to destroy every token of good and every resemblance to Christ in the world. The mission of the Church is to bring forth in her members this life of Christ before men: the aim of the wicked spirit is to destroy that life. The same hostility which was shown to the infant Christ is active against His children: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.—The efforts of the evil one to destroy are thwarted; the child is snatched away and placed out of the range of the dragon’s power. The prince of this world might instigate Israel to take Jesus Christ and with wicked hands crucify and kill Him, but the eternal divine life of Him who had power to lay down His life and take it again, and whose years were for ever and ever, was beyond the reach of every hostile power; and after death and resurrection, Christ ascended up where He was before. But the vision is designed to assure us that, precisely because of this, so all life in Christ is beyond the power of the evil one, and that the forces hostile to good are powerless against that life which is hid with Christ in God. The Church may be as a weak, oppressed, and persecuted woman, but her faith rises up as a song from the lips of its members. “God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” The contest is between the man child and the dragon; and those who in heart and mind ascend to where Christ is know that the contest is not one of mere ideas, but a conflict between the Christ, who is with them always, though He has ascended, and all the powers of evil, which will be smitten down by the rod of His power.
Revelation 12:7And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,THE WAR IN HEAVEN.
(7) And there was war . . .—Translate, And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels. This is one of those passages which has ever been regarded as more or less perplexing. It has afforded material for many poetic fancies, and has been the occasion of much speculative interpretation. We shall fail to catch the spirit of its meaning if we insist upon detaching the passage from its context; and the more so that the structure of the chapter seems to give an express warning against doing so. The narrative of the woman’s flight into the wilderness is suspended that this passage may be inserted. Could we have a clearer indication of the anxiety of the sacred writer to connect this war in heaven with the birth and rapture of the man child? The man child is born; born a conqueror. The dragon is His foe, and the powers of the foe are not confined to the material and historical world: he is a power in the world spiritual; but the man child is to be entirely a conqueror. His rapture into heaven is the announcement that there, in the very highest, He is acknowledged victor; and His victory is won over the power of the dragon, the old serpent, whose head is now bruised. “The prince of this world cometh,” said Jesus Christ, “and hath nothing in Me.” “Now is the judgment of this world; now is the prince of this world cast out. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” Do we need more? There is mystery—unexplained mystery, perhaps—about this war in heaven, but there need be none about the general occasion referred to; it is the overthrow of the evil one by Christ: the death-blow given by the Lord of Life to him who had the power of death; it is the victory of Bethlehem, Calvary, and Olivet which is commemorated, and the effects of which are seen to transcend the sphere of the things seen. But why have we Michael and his angels introduced? This may be one of those unexplained mysteries referred to above. Some, indeed, think that this Michael is a designation of our Lord Himself, and of Him alone; but a consideration of the other passages in which Michael is mentioned (notably, Daniel 10:13, where Michael is called “one of the chief princes”) leaves this limited meaning doubtful, and almost suggests conflict among the spiritual hierarchies. It may, however, be the case that the name Michael—the meaning of which is, “who is like unto God”—is a general name applied to any who for the moment represent the cause of God in the great conflict against evil. It may thus belong, not to any one angel being, but be a kind of type-name used for the champion and prince of God’s people, and so employed in this passage to denote Him who is the Captain of our salvation.
Woe to the inhabiters . . .—Translate, Woe to the earth and the sea! (the words “to the inhabiters of” are not found in the best MSS.) because the devil is gone down to you, having great wrath, knowing (or, because he knoweth: his knowledge that his season of power is short is the reason of his great wrath) that he hath (but) a short season. The painful consciousness of defeat has roused a deeper and more obstinate rage. Sin, which blunts the conscience, blinds the reason, and drives men madly to attempt the impossible, or to rouse
“the unconquerable will
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.”
The woe to the sea and earth is simply a warning voice to all that, though the foe is overcome and death smitten, yet that he has power, quickened by defeat and fear, for a last struggle; and that therefore they need to be sober and vigilant against the adversary. His season is short. He may be active, sowing tares among the wheat and animating various hostile powers, such as the wild beasts of Revelation 13; but he has only a season: there is a limit to his power and the time of his power. “A little while “was the word our Lord used to denote His time of absence (John 16:16-22):” Behold, He comes quickly!”