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Barnes' New Testament Notes
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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 12 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER XII

ANALYSIS OF CHAPTER

THIS portion of the book commences, according to the view presented in the closing remarks on the last chapter, a new series of visions, designed more particularly to represent the internal condition of the church; the rise of Antichrist, and the effect of the rise of that formidable power on the internal history of the church to the time of the overthrow of that power, and the triumphant establishment of the kingdom of God. See the Analysis of the Book, part fifth. The portion before us embraces the following particulars:—

(1.) A new vision of the temple of God as opened in heaven, disclosing the ark of the testimony, and attended with lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail, Re 11:19. The view of the "temple," and the "ark," would naturally suggest a reference to the church, and would be an appropriate representation on the supposition that this vision related to the church. The attending circumstances of the lightnings, etc., were well fitted to impress the mind with awe, and to leave the conviction that great and momentous events were about to be disclosed. I regard this verse, therefore, which should have been separated from the eleventh chapter and attached to the twelfth, as the introduction to a new series of visions, similar to what we have in the introduction of the previous series, Re 4:1. The vision was of the temple—the symbol of the church—and it was "opened" so that John could see into its inmost part—even within the veil where the ark was—and could have a view of what most intimately pertained to it.

(2.) A representation of the church, under the image of a woman about to give birth to a child, Re 12:1,2. A woman is seen, clothed, as it were, with the sun—emblem of majesty, truth, intelligence, and glory; she has the moon under her feet, as if she walked the heavens; she has on her head a glittering diadem of stars; she is about to become a mother. This seems to have been designed to represent the church as about to be increased, and as in that condition watched by a dragon—a mighty foe—ready to destroy its offspring, and thus compelled to flee into the wilderness for safety. Thus understood, the point of time referred to would be when the church was in a prosperous condition, and when it would be encountered by Antichrist, represented here by the dragon, and compelled to flee into the wilderness; that is, the church for a time would be driven into obscurity, and be almost unknown. It is no uncommon thing, in the Scriptures, to compare the church with a beautiful woman. See Barnes "Isa 1:8".

The following remarks of Prof. Stuart, (vol. ii. 252,) though he applies the subject in a manner very different from what I shall, seem to me accurately to express the general design of the symbol: "The daughter of Zion is a common personification of the church in the Old Testament; and in the writings of Paul, the same image is exhibited by the phrase, Jerusalem which is the mother of us all; i. e. of all Christians, Ga 4:26. The main point before us is the illustration of that church, ancient or later, under the image of a woman. If the Canticles are to have a spiritual sense given to them, it is plain enough, of course, how familiar such an idea was to the Jews. Whether the woman thus exhibited as a symbol be represented as bride or mother depends of course on the nature of the case, and the relations and exigencies of any particular passage."

(3.) The dragon that stood ready to devour the child, Re 12:3,4. This represents some formidable enemy of the church, that was ready to persecute and destroy it. The real enemy here referred to is, undoubtedly, Satan, the great enemy of God and the church, but here it is Satan in the form of some fearful opponent of the church that would arise at a period when the church was prosperous, and when it was about to be enlarged. We are to look, therefore, for some fearful manifestation of this formidable power, having the characteristics here referred to, or some opposition to the church such as we may suppose Satan would originate, and by which the existence of the church might seem to be endangered.

(4.) The fact that the child which the woman brought forth was caught up to heaven—symbolical of its real safety, and of its having the favour of God—a pledge that the ultimate prosperity of the church was certain, and that it was safe from real danger, Re 12:5.

(5.) The fleeing of the woman into the wilderness, for the space of a thousand two hundred and threescore days, or 1260 years, Re 12:6. This act denotes the persecuted and obscure condition of the church during that time, and the period which would elapse before it would be delivered from this persecution, and restored to the place in the earth which it was designed to have.

(6.) The war in heaven; a struggle between the mighty powers of heaven and the dragon, Re 12:7-9. Michael and his angels contend against the dragon, in behalf of the church, and finally prevail. The dragon is overcome, and is cast out, and all his angels with him; in other words, the great enemy of God and his church is overcome and subdued. This is evidently designed to be symbolical, and the meaning is, that a state of things would exist in regard to the church, which would be well represented by supposing that such a scene should occur in heaven; that is, as if a war should exist there between the great enemy of God and the angels of light, and as if, being there vanquished, Satan should be cast down to the earth, and should there exert his malignant power in a warfare against the church. The general idea is, that his warfare would be primarily against heaven, as if he fought with the angels in the very presence of God, but that the form in which he would seem to prevail would be against the church, as if, being unsuccessful in his direct warfare against the angels of God, he was permitted, for a time, to enjoy the appearance of triumph in contending with the church.

(7.) The shout of victory in view of the conquest over the dragon, Re 12:10-12. A loud voice is heard in heaven, saying that now the kingdom of God is come, and that the reign of God would be set up, for the dragon is cast down and overcome. The grand instrumentality in overcoming this foe was "the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony;" that is, the great doctrines of truth pertaining to the work of the Redeemer would be employed for this purpose, and it is proclaimed that the heavens and all that dwell therein had occasion to rejoice at the certainty that a victory would be ultimately obtained over this great enemy of God. Still, however, his influence was not wholly at an end, for he would yet rage for a brief period on the earth.

(8.) The persecution of the woman, Re 12:13-15. She is constrained to fly, as on wings given her for that purpose, into the wilderness, where she is nourished for the time that the dragon is to exert his power—a "time, times, and half a time"—or for 1260 years. The dragon in rage pours out a flood of water, that he may cause her to be swept away by the flood: referring to the persecutions that would exist while the church was in the wilderness, and the efforts that would be made to destroy it entirely.

(9.) The earth helps the woman, Re 12:16. That is, a state of things would exist as if, in such a case, the earth should open and swallow up the flood. The meaning is, that the church would not be swept away, but that there would be an interposition in its behalf, as if the earth should, in the case supposed, open its bosom, and swallow up the swelling waters.

(10.) The dragon, still enraged, makes war with all that pertains to the woman, Re 12:17. Here we are told literally who are referred to by the "seed" of the woman. They are those who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ," (Re 12:11;) that is, the true church. The chapter, therefore, may be regarded as a general vision of the persecutions that would rage against the church. It seemed to be about to increase and to spread over the world. Satan, always opposed to it, strives to prevent its extension. The conflict is represented as if in heaven, where war is waged between the celestial beings and Satan, and where, being overcome, Satan is cast down to the earth, and permitted to wage the war there. The church is persecuted; becomes obscure and almost unknown, but still is mysteriously sustained; and when most in danger of being wholly swallowed up, is kept as if a miracle were wrought in its defence. The detail—the particular form in which the war would be waged—is drawn out in the following chapters.

Re 11:19. And the temple of God was opened in heaven. The temple of God at Jerusalem was a pattern of the heavenly one, or of heaven, Heb 8:1-6. In that temple God was supposed to reside by the visible symbol of his presence—the Shekinah—in the holy of holies. See Barnes "Heb 9:7".

Thus God dwells in heaven, as in a holy temple, of which that on earth was the emblem. When it is said that that was "opened in heaven," the meaning is, that John was permitted, as it were, to look into heaven, the abode of God, and to see him in his glory.

And there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament. See Barnes "Heb 9:4".

That is, the very interior of heaven was laid open, and John was permitted to witness what was transacted in its obscurest recesses, and what were its most hidden mysteries. It will be remembered, as an illustration of the correctness of this view of the meaning of the verse, and of its proper place in the divisions of the book—assigning it as the opening verse of a new series of visions—that in the first series of visions we have a statement remarkably similar to this, Re 4:1: "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven;" that is, there was, as it were, an opening made into heaven, so that John was permitted to look in and see what was occurring there. The same idea is expressed substantially here, by saying that the very interior of the sacred temple where God resides was "opened in heaven," so that John was permitted to look in and see what was transacted in his very presence. This, too, may go to confirm the idea suggested in the Analysis of the Book, part fifth, that this portion of the Apocalypse refers rather to the internal affairs of the church, or the church itself—for of this the temple was the proper emblem. Then appropriately follows the series of visions describing, as in the former case, what was to occur in future times: this series referring to the internal affairs of the church, as the former did mainly to what would outwardly affect its form and condition.

And there were lightnings, etc. Symbolic of the awful presence of God, and of his majesty and glory, as in the commencement of the first series-of visions. See Barnes "Re 4:6".

The similarity of the symbols of the Divine Majesty in the two cases may also serve to confirm the supposition that this is the beginning of a new series of visions.

And an earthquake. Also a symbol of the Divine Majesty, and perhaps of the great convulsions that were to occur under this series of visions. See Barnes "Re 6:12".

Thus, in the sublime description of God in Ps 18:7, "Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth." So in Ex 19:18, "And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke—and the whole mount quaked greatly." Comp. Am 8:8,9; Joe 2:10.

 

And great hail. Also an emblem of the presence and majesty of God, perhaps with the accompanying idea that he would overwhelm and punish his enemies. So in Ps 18:13, "The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice: hailstones and coals of fire." So also Job 38:22,23:—

 

"Hast thou entered into the treasures of snow?

Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail?

Which I have reserved against the time of trouble.

Against the day of battle and war?"

 

So in Ps 105:32:

 

"He gave them hail for rain.

And flaming fire in their land."

Comp. Ps 78:48; Isa 30:30; Eze 38:22.

 

Verse 1. And there appeared a great wonder in heaven. In that heavenly world thus disclosed, in the very presence of God, he saw the impressive and remarkable symbol which he proceeds to describe. The word wondershmeion—properly means something extraordinary, or miraculous, and is commonly rendered sign. See Mt 12:38-39 Mt 16:1,3-4; 24:3,24,30; 26:48; r 8:11-12; 13:4,22; 16:17,20; —in all which, and in numerous other places in the New Testament, it is rendered sign, and mostly in the sense of miracle. When used in the sense of a miracle, it refers to the fact that the miracle is a sign or token by which the Divine power or purpose is made known. Sometimes the word is used to denote a sign of future things—a portent or presage of coming events; that is, some remarkable appearances which foreshadow the future. Thus in Mt 16:3: "signs of the times;" that is, the miraculous events which foreshadow the coming of the Messiah in his kingdom. So also in Mt 24:3,30; Mr 13:4; Lu 21:7,11.

This seems to be the meaning here, that the woman who appeared in this remarkable manner was a portent or token of what was to occur.

A woman clothed with the sun. Bright, splendid, glorious, as if the sunbeams were her raiment. Compare Re 1:16; 10:1; see also So 6:10—a passage which, very possibly, was in the mind of the writer when he penned this description: "Who is she that looked forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"

And the moon under her feet. The moon seemed to be under her feet. She seemed as if she stood on the moon, its pale light contrasted with the burning splendour of the sun, heightening the beauty of the whole picture. The woman, beyond all question, represents the church. See Barnes on "Re 12:2".

Is the splendour of the sun-light designed to denote the brightness of the gospel? Is the moon designed to represent the comparatively feeble light of the Jewish dispensation? Is the fact that she stood upon the moon, or that it was under her feet, designed to denote the superiority of the gospel to the Jewish dispensation? Such a supposition gives much beauty to the symbol, and is not foreign to the nature of symbolic language.

And upon her head a crown of twelve stars. A diadem in which there were placed twelve stars. That is, there were twelve sparkling gems in the crown which she wore. This would, of course, greatly increase the beauty of the vision; and there can be no doubt that the number twelve here is significant. If the woman here is designed to symbolize the church, then the number twelve has, in all probability, some allusion either to the twelve tribes of Israel—as being a number which one who was born and educated as a Jew would be likely to use, (compare Jas 1:1) or, to the twelve apostles—an allusion which it may be supposed an apostle would be more likely to make. Compare Mt 19:28; Re 21:14.

{1} "great wonder" "sign" {d} "clothed" Isa 54:6 {e} "sun" Ps 84:11; Mal 4:2

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