Revelation Chapter XII
The Background of Religious Intolerance
Verse 1 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: 2 And she being with child cried,
travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. 3 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.
An elucidation of this part of the chapter will
involve little more than a mere definition of the symbols introduced.
This may be given in few words.
"A woman," signifies a true church. (2
Corinthians 11: 2.) A corrupt woman is used to represent an apostate or
corrupt church. (Ezekiel 23: 2-4; Revelation 17: 3-6, 15, 18.) By parity
of reasoning, a pure woman, as in this instance, would represent the
true church. "The sun" here signifies the light and glory of
the gospel era. "The moon" is the symbol of the Mosaic period.
As the moon shines with a borrowed light derived from the sun, so the
former era shone with a light borrowed from the present. There they had
the type and shadow; here we have the antitype and the substance.
"A crown of twelve stars" appropriately symbolizes the twelve
apostles. "A great red dragon" represents pagan Rome. (See
comments under verses 4 and 5.) "Heaven" is the space in which
this representation was seen by the apostle. We are not to suppose that
the scenes here presented to John took place in heaven where God
resides, for they are events which occurred upon this earth. This vision
which passed before the eye of the prophet, appeared as if in the region
occupied by the sun, moon, and stars, which we speak of as heaven.
Verses 1 and 2 cover a period of time beginning just
previous to the opening of the Christian Era, when the church
was earnestly longing for and expecting the advent of
the Messiah, and extending to the full establishment of the gospel
church with its crown of twelve apostles. (Luke 2: 25, 26, 38.)
No symbols more fitting and impressive could be found
than are here employed. The Mosaic period shone with a light borrowed
from the Christian Era, even as the moon shines with light borrowed from
the sun. How appropriate, therefore, to represent the former by the
moon, and the latter by the sun. The woman, the church, had the moon
under her feet; that is, the Mosaic period had just ended, and the woman
was clothed with the light of the gospel sun, which had just risen. By
anticipation the church is represented as fully organized, with its
twelve apostles, before the man child, Christ, appeared upon the scene.
It was to be thus constituted immediately after Christ should begin His
ministry; and He is more especially connected with this church than with
that of the former period. There is no ground for misunderstanding the
passage; and hence no violence is done to a correct system of
interpretation by this representation.
Verse 4 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. 5 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. 6 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.
"Third Part of the Stars of Heaven."--The
dragon drew the third part of the stars of heaven. If the twelve stars
with which the woman is crowned, here used symbolically, denote the
twelve apostles, then the stars thrown down by the dragon before his
attempt to destroy the man child, or before the Christian Era, may
denote a part of the rulers of the Jewish people. That the sun, moon,
and stars are sometimes used in this symbolic sense, we have already had
evidence in Revelation 8: 12. Judea became a Roman province sixty-three
years before the birth of the Messiah. The Jews had three
classes of rulers--kings, priests, and the Sanhedrin.
A third of these, the kings were taken away by the Roman power. Philip
Smith, after describing the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans and Herod,
and its capitulation in the spring of 37 B.C., after an obstinate
resistance of six months, says: "Such was the end of the Asmonean
dynasty, exactly 130 years after the first victories of Judas Maccabaeus,
and in the seventieth year from the assumption of the diadem by
Aristobulus I." 
This allusion to the stars undoubtedly has also a
wider meaning, and is related to the truths emphasized in verses 7-9 of
this chapter. As a result of the conflict there brought to view, it is
evident that a third part of the angelic host, who joined with Satan in
his rebellion against the Ruler of the universe, were cast out of the
courts of glory.
"The Dragon Stood Before the Woman."--It
now becomes necessary to identify the power symbolized by the dragon,
and this can be done very easily. The testimony concerning the "man
child" which the dragon seeks to destroy, is applicable to only one
being that has appeared in this world, and that is our Lord Jesus
Christ. No other one has been caught up to God and His throne, but He
has been thus exalted. (Ephesians 1: 20, 21; Hebrews 8: 1, Revelation 3:
21.) No other one as received from God the commission to rule all
nations with a rod of iron, but He has been appointed to this work.
(Psalm 2: 7-9.)
There can certainly be no doubt that the man child
represents Jesus Christ. The time to which the prophecy refers is
equally evident. It was the time when Christ appeared in this world as a
babe in Bethlehem.
It will now be easy to find the power symbolized by
the dragon, for the dragon represents some power which attempted to
destroy Christ at His birth. Was any such attempt made? Who made it? No
formal answer to this question need be given to anyone who has read how
Herod, in a fiendish
effort to destroy the infant Jesus, sent forth and
slew all the children in Bethlehem from two years old and under. But who
was Herod? He was a Roman governor. From Rome Herod derived his power.
Rome ruled at that time over all the world (Luke 2: 1), and was
therefore the responsible actor in this event. Moreover, Rome was the
only earthly government which at that time could be symbolized in
prophecy, for the very reason that its dominion was universal. It is
not, therefore, without the most conclusive reason that the Roman
Empire is regarded by Protestant commentators
generally to be the power indicated by the great red dragon.
It may be a fact worth mentioning that during the
second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries of the Christian Era, next to
the eagle the dragon was the principle standard of the Roman legions.
That dragon was painted red, as if in faithful response to the picture
held up by the seer of Patmos they would exclaim to the world, We are
the nation which that picture represents.
Rome, as we have seen, attempted to destroy Jesus
Christ through the fiendish plot of Herod. The child who was born to the
waiting and watching church, was our adorable Redeemer, who is soon to
rule the nations with a rod of iron. Herod could not destroy Him. The
combined powers of earth and hell could not overcome Him. Though held
for a time under the dominion of the grave, He rent its cruel bands,
opened a way of life for mankind, and was caught up to God and His
throne. He ascended to heaven in the sight of His disciples, leaving to
them and us the promise that He would come again.
The church fled into the wilderness at the time of
the papacy was firmly established in 538, where it was nourished by the
word of God, and the ministration of angels during the long, dark, and
bloody rule of that power for 1260 years.
Verse 7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and His
angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8 and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9
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. 10 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.
11 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. 12
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
War in Heaven.--The first six verses of this
chapter, as has been seen, take us down to the close of the 1260 years
in 1798, which marked the end of the papal supremacy. In the 7th verse
it is equally plain that we are carried back into previous ages. How
far?--To the time first introduced in the chapter, the days of the first
advent, when with fiendish ingenuity Satan working through the power of
pagan Rome sought to destroy the Saviour of men; and also back beyond
that time to the very beginning of the great controversy between truth
and righteousness, when in heaven itself Michael (Christ) and His angels
fought against the dragon (Satan) and his angels. To prove that Michael
is Christ, see Jude 9; 1 Thessalonians 4: 16; John 5: 28, 29.
"Prevailed Not."--Thank God that in
that early conflict the archdeceiver was defeated. As "Lucifer, son
of the morning," with envy and hatred in his heart, he had
presumptuously led a host of disaffected angels in rebellion against the
government of God. But the Scripture says he "prevailed not,"
and "was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with
Centuries later at the time of Christ's first advent,
"the great dragon," "that old serpent called the devil,
and Satan," put forth a supreme effort in the guise of the great
red dragon, representing pagan Rome, to destroy the world's Redeemer.
Satan had looked forward to Christ's mission to this earth as his last
chance of success in overthrowing the plan of salvation. He came to
Christ with specious temptations, in hope of overcoming Him. He tried in
various ways to destroy Christ during His ministry. When he had
succeeded in laying Him in the tomb, he endeavored, in malignant
triumph, to hold Him there. But in every encounter the Son of God came
off triumphant; and He sends back His gracious promise to His faithful
followers: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in
My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in
His throne." Revelation 3: 21. This shows us that Jesus while on
earth waged a warfare, and ob-
tained the victory. Satan saw his last effort fail,
his last scheme miscarry. He had boasted that he would overcome the Son
of God in His mission to this world, and thus render the plan of
salvation an ignominious failure. Well he knew that if he was foiled in
this his last desperate effort to thwart the work of God, his last hope
had perished, and all was lost. In the language of verse 8, he
"prevailed not," and hence the song may well be sung,
"Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them."
Their Place Found No More in Heaven.--Satan
and the fallen angels had suffered a terrible defeat, which Christ
describes by saying, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from
heaven" (Luke 10: 18), and Peter tells us that these fallen angels
have been delivered "into chains of darkness to be reserved unto
judgment" (2 Peter 2: 4).
The hope which he had long cherished of overcoming
the Son of man when He took Himself our nature, had forever perished.
His power was limited. He could no more aspire to a personal encounter
with the Son of God, for Christ had vanquished him. Henceforth the
church (the woman) is the object of his malice, and he resorts to all
those nefarious means against her that would naturally characterize his
But hereupon a song is sung in heaven, "Now is
come salvation." How is this, if these scenes are in the past? Had
salvation and strength and the kingdom of God and the power of His
Christ then come? Not at all; but this song was sung prospectively.
Those things were made sure. The great victory had been won by Christ
which forever settled the question of their establishment.
The prophet then glances rapidly over the working of
Satan from that time to the end (verses 11, 12), during which time the
faithful "brethren" overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and
the word of their testimony, while his wrath increases as his time grows
It was Satan that moved upon Herod to put the Saviour
to death. But the chief agent of the archrebel in making war
upon Christ and His people during the early centuries
of the Christian Era was the Roman Empire, in which paganism was the
dominant religion. Thus, while the dragon primarily represents Satan, it
is in a secondary sense representative of pagan Rome.
Verse 13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast
unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man
child. 14 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. 15 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. 16
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. 17 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.
The Church in the Wilderness.--Here we are
once more carried back to the time when Satan became fully aware that he
had failed in all his attempts against the Lord of glory in His earthly
mission. Seeing this, he turned with tenfold fury, as already noticed,
upon the church which Christ had established. Then we have another view
of the church going into that condition here spoken of as being "in
the wilderness." This must denote a state of seclusion from the
public gaze, and of concealment from her foes. That church which during
all the Dark Ages trumpeted her lordly commands into the ears of
listening Christendom, and flaunted her ostentatious banners before
gaping crowds, was not the church of Christ; it was the body of the
mystery of iniquity.
The "mystery of godliness" was God
manifested here as a man; the "mystery of iniquity" was a man
pretending to be God. This was the great apostasy produced by the union
of paganism and Christianity. The true church was out of sight. In
secret places they worshiped God. The caves and the hidden recesses of
the valleys of the Piedmont may be taken as representative places, where
the truth of the gospel was sacredly cherished from the rage of its
foes. Here God watched
over His church, and by His providence protected and
The eagles' wings given her appropriately signify the
haste with which the true church was obliged to seek her own safety when
the man of sin was installed in power. The assistance of God was
provided her to this end. The like figure is used to describe God's
dealings with ancient Israel. By Moses He said to them, "Ye have
seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings,
and brought you unto Myself." Exodus 19: 4.
The mention of the period during which the woman is
nourished in the wilderness as "a time and times and half a
time," similar phraseology to that used in Daniel 7: 25, furnishes
a key for the explanation of the latter passage. The same period is
called in Revelation 12: 6, "a thousand two hundred and threescore
days." This shows that a "time" is one year, 360 days;
two "times," two years, or 720 days; and "half a
time," half a year, or 180 days, making in all 1260 days. These
days, being symbolic, signify 1260 literal years.
The serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood to
carry away the church. By its false doctrines the papacy had so
corrupted all nations as to have absolute control of the civil power for
long centuries. Through it Satan could hurl a mighty flood of
persecutions against the church in every direction, and this he was not
slow to do. (See reference to the terrible persecutions of the church in
remarks on Daniel 7: 25.) Millions of true believers were carried away
by the flood, but the church was not entirely swallowed up, for the days
were shortened for the elect's sake. (Matthew 24: 22.)
"The earth helped the woman" by opening its
mouth and swallowing up the flood. The Protestant Reformation of the
sixteenth century began its work. God raised up Martin Luther and his
colaborers to expose the true character of the papacy, and break the
power with which superstition had enslaved the minds of the people.
Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg; and
the pen with which he
wrote them, according to the symbolic dream of the
good elector Frederick of Saxony, did indeed span the continent, and
shake the triple crown on the pope's head. Princes began to espouse the
cause of the Reformers. It was the dawning of religious light and
liberty, and God would not suffer the darkness to swallow up its
The spell was broken. Men found that the bulls and
anathemas of the pope fell harmless at their feet, just as soon as they
dared exercised their God-given right to regulate their consciences by
His word alone. Defenders of the true faith multiplied. Soon there was
enough Protestant soil found in Europe and the New World to swallow up
the flood of papal fury, and rob it of its power to harm the church.
Thus the earth helped the woman, and has continued to help her to the
present day, as the spirit of the Reformation and religious liberty has
been fostered by the leading nations of Christendom.
War on the Remnant.--But the dragon is not yet
through with his work. Verse 17 brings to view another and a final
outburst of his wrath, this time against the last generation of
Christians to live on the earth. We say the last generation, for the war
of the dragon is directed against the remnant of the woman's seed, the
true church, and no generation but the last can truthfully be
represented by the remnant. If the view is correct that we have already
reached the generation which is to witness the closing up of earthly
scenes, this warfare against the truth cannot be far in the future.
This remnant is characterized by its keeping of the
commandments of God, and having the testimony of Jesus Christ. This
points to a Sabbath reform to be accomplished in the last days, for on
the Sabbath alone as pertaining to the commandments, is there a
difference of faith and practice among those who accept the decalogue as
the moral law. This is more particularly brought to view in the message
of Revelation 14: 9-12.
 Philip Smith, History of the World, Vol. III, p.