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The Vision of the Church
Summary —The Vision in Heaven. The Woman Clothed with the Sun. Her Offspring. The Great Red Dragon. The Conflict in Heaven. The War on the Woman's Seed. Her Seed Caught Up. Her Flight into the Wilderness. The Flood Cast by the Dragon. The Earth Helping the Woman.
I believe that the first series of visions ends with chapter 11, verse 18. The book would be complete if it ended there. This series shows the judgments inflicted upon the great opposing powers which persecuted the Church, or in any way affected its history. There is portrayed first the overthrow of the great secular power which occupied the world as known to the apostles, and then follows a symbolism which foretells the opposition from a great spiritual power, a wicked city, which is finally overthrown by the exaltation of the Witnesses, and this inaugurates the seventh trumpet, and the final triumph of Christ.
The second series of visions, in part, goes over the same ground. Its purpose, however, is to portray more fully the fortunes of the true church, its struggles with anti-Christ, the final overthrow of this wicked spiritual power, and in inauguration of the era of universal righteousness and peace.
Chap. 11:19. In my comment on this verse under the preceding chapter I have said that it ought to belong to the 12th chapter. The reader will observe that the language with which the first series opens in Rev. 4:1, is quite similar to the opening words of the verse that begins the second series. “I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven” is the opening sentence of the prophecy (chap. 4:1), language which implies that the secrets of heaven are to be revealed. In chap. 11:19, it is said that “The temple of God was opened in heaven.” Even the Ark of the Testament in its most secret place is brought to view. There is to be a revelation of facts connected with the temple of God. We have already shown that the reference is, not to the Jewish temple, which no longer existed, but to the spiritual temple, the Church of Jesus Christ. Its door is opened; its history is foretold; the visions now beheld will relate to its fortunes, sorrows, trials, triumphs. Its history will be traced until it reaches its heavenly destiny. This is symbolized by the fact that the holy of holies, the type of heaven itself, is seen. The thunders, earthquake, etc., foreshadow the commotions, revolutions and judgments which will take place in the fulfillment of the symbols.
1, 2. A woman clothed with the sun. A woman is used as a symbol many times in the Scriptures. “Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh.” (Isa. 62:11.) Here the reference is to the Church. Again Paul (Gal. 4:31) says, “Ye are not the children of the bond woman, but of the free woman.” All are agreed that here the free woman represents the Church. Again (Rev. 21:2), John sees the New Jerusalem descending adorned as a bride to meet her husband. The bride, the Lamb's wife, here and in the ninth verse, indeed in every place spoken of, is the Church. Once more: Paul speaks of Jerusalem, the mother of us all, alluding again to the Church. This symbol, then, is a common one to represent the Church, and we are justified in declaring that to be its meaning in this passage. The fact that she is clothed with the sun symbolizes the fact that the true Church shines with the light of the sun of righteousness. The moon under her feet represents the Old Testament, or dispensation, which shone by a reflected right and is subordinate to the New Covenant of the Church. The crown of twelve stars is explained by the twelve apostles, lights of the Church and a crown of glory to it. 2. She being with child cried. Again we must let the Scripture explain its own meaning. “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” (Isa. 66:8.) The travail of Zion causeth an increase. See also Isa. 54:1 and 49:20, where the same figure is used. The state of the woman therefore implies a Church in sorrow, a suffering Church, but out of whose suffering there cometh an increase of the saints. It is a period when the saints are multiplied in the midst of persecution.
3, 4. Behold a great red dragon. Another wonder is seen, also in the sky, a great serpent-like figure, red, with seven heads and ten horns. This figure, we learn from verse 9, is a devilish manifestation. The devil uses it for his purposes. The red color implies a persecuting power. The seven heads are explained in 17:9, where the seven-headed beast appears again, to be seven mountains, and also seven kingdoms; the ten horns are there said to be ten kingdoms which did not yet exist. We have also this monster appearing substantially in Dan., chapter 7. I will discuss it more particularly in chapter, but will here say that there is little doubt that it represents the persecuting powers of the earth which have opposed God and his Israel; the great world powers arrayed against God. This world power appears as Pagan Rome in the persecution of the Woman; the Church. The dragon was the standard of Pagan Rome in the third century, as testified by many ancient writers. 4. And his tail drew a third part of the stars. This may indicate the great power of the dragon. Perhaps it has a more particular meaning. We have found under the 8th and 9th chapters that the old Roman world was divided into three parts, that the term third part was used of these divisions. In the early part of the fourth century, when the great triumph of Christianity over Paganism was about to be realized, the Roman world shows this division; in two parts toleration is shown; in the remaining third part there is the most bitter persecution, and finally the ruler of this part, Maximus, enters upon war with Constantine with the vow that if successful he will restore everywhere the old Pagan religion. This may be symbolized. And the dragon stood before the woman. This symbolizes an effort to destroy the saints, the seed of the woman, the children of the Church.
5. And she brought forth a man child. If the reader will turn to verse 17 he will learn that the remnant of the woman's seed is “those who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The offspring of the woman, the “woman's seed,” then refers to the saints. The man child is a symbol of the faithful members of the Church. But how shall they rule all nations with a rod of iron. The Greek says “rule as shepherds with a rod of iron.” This implies a firm and permanent, but tender and loving rule, not a stern rule. In 2:27 it is promised that whosoever overcometh shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. In 19:15 the same thing is stated of the Word of God. This is accomplished through the saints. They shall yet possess the earth. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. The kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ. The man child, the woman's seed, the saints, shall have a complete, an undisputed, a resistless dominion. And her child was caught up. This figure always means a glorious exaltation. It signifies that God will protect the saints and give them victory. This was probably fulfilled when Christianity triumphed over Paganism in the fourth century.
6–9. And the woman fled into the wilderness. The flight into the wilderness is alluded to again in verse 14. There it belongs in order. Under that verse the meaning will be more fully considered. 7. And there was war in heaven. The woman had been seen in heaven, and there she is seen to be assailed. She has, however, a champion who fights her battles. It must be remembered that Michael, the woman, the man child, the dragon, the conflict, and the casting down of the dragon are all symbols. This symbolism indicates the defeat of the dragon in his attempt. He is not only vanquished, but humiliated, “cast down.” The first mighty attempt of Satan to “abolish the Christian name from the earth,” signally fails. We have already written enough to show the reader that this represents the facts of history. Pagan Rome, the dragon, struck at the heart of the Church. Blood flowed in rivers, the blood of the saints, but the grandeur of their lives and the heroism of their deaths struck fear and conviction to the hearts of their enemies. Each martyr called forth an army who were ready to die for Christ. God exalted the man child, caught it to his bosom, protected it, and Pagan Rome went down. The dragon prevailed not. Baffled, he is cast to the earth.
10–12. Now is come salvation, etc. We have next the songs of triumph sung 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,” etc. These songs of triumph are always heard when the symbolism portrays any great triumph of righteousness. See 7:12; 11:15. The triumphant songs here seem to exult over the overthrow of Paganism in the fourth century. 11. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. This shows how the victory indicated in verse 8 was won. It was won by the blood of Christ and the faithfulness of the saints. “They loved not their life even unto death.” They were willing to give their lives for Christ. 12. Woe for the earth and for the sea. Not an imprecation but a prediction. Satan, cast down, will take another form to do his wicked work.
13, 14. The dragon … persecuted the woman. In some other form, not as a Pagan power defying Christ, but perhaps garbed as an angel of light, he still persecuted the woman. 14. There were given two wings, etc. The meaning is that means were given to the persecuted church to flee into the wilderness, into a place where she would be hidden from view. The Church would disappear from sight. There she would be a time, and times, and half a time, or a year, two years and half a year, three and half years, forty-two months, 1260 days. See verse 6 above, and 11:2, 3. This period we found under chapter 11 to begin in a.d. 533, and to extend to about the close of the last century.
15–17. And the serpent cast out … a flood. He resorted to persecutions in order to drive the true Church off of the face of the earth. 16. The earth helped the woman. In some way the flood of persecution was so hindered that it failed to accomplish the object. I believe this refers to the hindrances often interposed by secular powers to stay persecution. The Hussites protected themselves under Zisca by force of arms; the German princes protected Luther; the edict of Nantes gave French Protestants a rest. These were times when “the earth” drank up the flood. 17. And the dragon waxed wroth. Was angry at his defeat. He continued the warfare by asking to destroy the woman's seed. I believe that this vision reveals the persecution of the true Church, first by Pagan, and then by Papal Rome, a persecution that results in the apparent disappearance of the true Church from the earth. Though not visible to the eye of the historian during this period, yet the true Church, fed of God, survives in the hearts of the hidden and persecuted saints. The period of her exile began about 533, in the reign of Justinian, and ends about the beginning of the nineteenth century. Before the end of the period, the Divine measure, the reed of the apostles, was used to measure the temple, altar and worshipers, and, as the result, over three-fourths of a century ago, the true Church began to appear as a visible body, once more in the world.
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