Revelation of John 12Observe here, 1. That by the woman we are to understand the Christian church in her militant state, called a woman, in regard of her weakness and dependency; as also in regard of her fruitfulness, she bringing forth many children unto God, which are borne upon her knees.
Observe, 2. This woman, the church, is said to appear in heaven,having her original from heaven, her conversation in heaven, her tendency towards heaven, and her dependency upon heaven.
Observe, 3. The woman described by her rare perfections, which are three; l. Clothed with the sun, that is adorned with those graces which Christ the Sun of righteousness has put upon her, and environed with the pure light of the gospel shining about her.
2. Having the moon under her feet, that is, the legal worship, according to some; the Christian church outshining now the Jewish state of imperfection, casting off and trampling under the yoke of the Mosaic dispensation.
Others by the moon understand the world, which is like the moon, full of spots, defiling and polluting, full of changes and alterations, the fashion of this world passeth away. 1Cor 7:31. It is never long in one garb; and her having the moon under her feet implies the church's being enabled by Christ to overcome and trample upon all the enjoyments and satisfactions of the world, and to despise all the affronts and insults of the world.
3. Upon her head a crown of twelve stars, that is, holding fast the pure doctrine of the gospel, first preached by the twelve apostles, and after them by succeeding ministers, which is as crown on the church's head.
Where note, That the apostles and all faithful ministers with them, are styled stars. As stars they shine before men, by the light of life and doctrine. As star they shine with a borrowed light, derived from the Sun of righteousness.
Again, as stars are in continual motion for the good of the universe, so are the ministers of the gospel for the good of the church; as stars, they shine in their own orb, attending the proper duty of their place and station: and as stars shine brightest in the cold winter nights, so do they in the times of affliction and persecution.
The church, typified by a woman, was described in the former verse by her rare perfections, in this verse by her weak and perilous condition; she cries like a woman in travail or delivery, to God in her prayers, to men in her apologies. The plain sense is this, "That the Christian church was possessed with an earnest desire to propagate the Christian religion throughout the world, and she earnestly cried to God to assist her therein, and strove with utmost endeavours to accompolish this her design; and was truly solicitous to see the success of her labours in the lives of her members." Many and sore have been the sick and breeding fits which the church has conflicted with by means of heretics and persecutors, which sometimes gave occasion to fear that she would certainly miscarry; but at last God sent her ease from heaven by the birth of a child, which caused the woman to forget all her sorrows; and the prayer of faith was then in the greatest activity, when the woman was found to be in the greatest extremity.
The church was described before: her arch-enemy, the devil, is described now: he is called a dragon for his subtility, a great dragon for his power, a red dragon for his fiery curelty. His seven heads denote his manifold subtilities, and mischievous contrivances, his devices and wicked imaginations against the church; his ten horns denote his vast power and great strength, both in himself and his members; also the number and power of his agents, who serve as horns to push and hurt the church.
His seven crowns upon his head denote his regal power, which he holds by usurpation, and his many victories and conquests which he obtains in the world, yet over none but those who are willingly overcome by him.
The whole of the description represents Satan as a powerful, subtle, cruel, victorious adversary. All which properties he discovers in the assault he makes upon the ministers of the church, called stars of heaven, which he endeavours to cast down to the earth; that is, to hinder their shining in the firmament of the church.
Hence learn, 1. What a mighty enemy the church has, fierce and fiery, red and bloody, full of craft and cruelty, of power and policy; and how deplorable her condition would by, if the Lord himself was not on her side.
Learen, 2. Who is prime author of all that curelty and bloodshed against the church of God, even the red dragon with its heads and horns, his ministers and agents: the greatest monarchs upon earth, if they gore and hurt the church, are the base heads and horns of this monstrous dragon.
That is, "Herod watched to destroy Christ as soon as he was born, Matt 2:1-12 so while the church was endeavouring to propagate Christianity and make converts to Christ, the dragon watched, intending to devour them." The devil's great design is to crush every good thing in the beginning, to nip grace in the bud, to kill the infant church in the cradle; he is therefore said to stand before the woman, to prevent all possibility of her child's escape. Behold his bloody cruelty! but though he stood before her, he had no power to hurt or touch either, mother or child: behold his powerful restraint!
Observe farther, The child's birth, preservation, and preferment.
1. Its birth, she brought forth a child, not children: to show the paucity of the church's members, and also their unity, they are all but one man child, make up all but one body, and the dragon's purpose was to devour all in one, and all at once.
2.Its preservation, the child is caught up to God, and to his throne; that is, heaven took it immediately into its care and protection, out of the dragon's reach, to his shameful disappointment.
3. Its preferment, it was to rule all nation's with a rod of iron; that is, with such severity, mixed with lenity, as was needful; the church shall prevail against all opposers.
Observe lastly, After the woman's delivery, her flight into the wilderness is set down, and her continuance for a long time, together with God's protection over her; a plain allusion to Elijah's flying into the wilderness from the rage of idolatrous and bloody Jezebel, and God's feeding him extraordinarily at the brook of Cherith.
From the woman's that is, the church's flying into the wilderness for a while, we learn, That the visibility of the church is not always conspicuous, to her enemies especially.
2. That it is sometimes lawful to fly in time of hot and bitter persecution: the woman fled into the wilderness.
3. In that the woman had a place, and food prepared for her, we learn God's provident care for his church in the day and hour of her greatest extremities; when she lurks and hides herself in obscurity. During the time of antichrist's reign, God will take care that some shall feed her with wholesome food, the doctrine of the gospel, that sincere milk of the word, to the intent that she may grow thereby.
By Michael and his angels, understand Christ, whose the angels are, and so much the name imports, Michael, that is, who like God; Christ is the likeness of his Father, his essential likeness. St. John in a vision beholds Michael and his angels combating with the dragon and his angels; yea, vanquishing and overcoming them. This may comfort the church under all her conflicts, that at length her Michael will finally prevail, and she in him.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the powerful preaching of the gospel, has weakened the kingdom of sin, Satan, and antichrist. His angels are his ministers, martyrs, and confessors; those particularly of the first ages, who, by their cries to God, and apologies to their rulers, by their holy lives, and patient deaths, did overcome their enemies. And thus Michael and his angels, Christ and his ministers, fought against the dragon and his angels, against Satan and his cruel instruments, who were so far from prevailing, that they lost ground continually; the Christians overcame them by their faith and patience. And the great dragon was cast down, he was by the preaching of the gospel deposed from being worshipped as a god, and his power was taken away.
From the whole note, 1. That though Michael, Christ alone, be able to overcome the dragon and all his angelic powers, yet for his own greater honour, and their greater confusion, he overcomes him and them by his ministers and faithful servants.
Note, 2. If Michael our prince be with us, Christ Jesus, the captain of our salvation, our leader, then, though the combat may be sharp, yet the victory is sure; for if he be for us, who can (successfully) be against us?
Note, 3. That Satan and his angels were cast out together; for of the devil and his instruments the lot shall be alike; they sin together, and they shall suffer together, and shall never be parted.
Lord, how dreadful will an imprisonment with devils and damned spirits be to eternal ages! To lie for ever with Satan in that mysterious fire of hell, whose strange property it is always to torture, but never to kill; or always to kill, but never to consume. The dragon was not only cast out of heaven with his angels, but both were cast down into hell, even into that lake which burns with fire and brimstone.
After Michael and his angels', Christ and his followers' victory over the dragon and his angels, over Satan and his instruments, here follows a solemn thanksgiving for the devil's downfall: the saints in heaven join with believers on earth in this song of confidence and triumph: when they speak of God, they say our God: and when they speak of the church below, they say our brethren: behold a sweet communion between the church militant and the church triumphant; indeed they constitute and make up but one church, one family, one household: the whole family of heaven and earth is but one.
Observe farther, Another name here given to Satan, the accuser of the brethren; he accuses them continually before God, and by his instruments before men; the primitive Christians were accused by their enemies to the magistrates as guilty of the most villanous practices in their religious assemblies: and behold the assuduity of Satan in accusing the saints day and night; but blessed be God, as Satan is a continual accuser, Christ is a continual mediator.
Observe again, How the saints overcame Satan.
1. By the blood of the Lamb; that is, by faith in his blood.
2. By the word of their testimony; that is, by their preaching, professing, and practising the word of God.
3. By their sufferings and martyrdom, they loved not their lives unto the death: that is, they loved not their lives so well but that they were willing to expose them to death, rather than renounce the cause of Christ, and desert their holy profession.
Observe lastly, After this great exultation and joy in heaven for the devil's downfall, here is a denunciation of woe to the inhabiters of the earth, and of the sea, upon that account; that is, to all earthly sensual men, whether they inhabit the continent, or any island in the sea; because the devil is come down full of rage, knowing that his time is short to execute his malice in.
Learn hence, 1. Who is the author of wrath, and malice, and revenge; and whose children they are that partake of that spirit and temper: the devil has great wrath; that is his character, and the very soul and spirit of the apostate nature.
Learn, 2. That something good may be learned from the evil one; Satan is very busy, doubly diligent, because his time is short; so should we be; our grave and coffin is at hand, our glass has but a little sand; since but a few leaves are remaining in the book of our lives unfilled up, it concerns us to write the closer, and the faster too: as Satan's time for mischief is short, so is our time for doing good.
Observe here, The incessant and restless malice of Satan and his instruments against the church; neither his fore-mentioned disappointment, his present foil and downfall, nor his fear of future destruction, could move him to desist: but, having attempted to destroy the church with the fire of persecution before, he endeavours to drown it with a flood of errors now. Diabolus mutat consilium, non deponit malitiam; the devil sometimes changes his methods in doing mischief, but never lays down his malice: he persecutes the woman, the church of Christ, after another manner, namely, by a flood of errors and heresies.
Observe, 2. The care that God took for his church's preservation from this fatal mischief also: to the woman were given the wings of a great eagle, for flight into the wilderness; that is, all means and ways of evasion, which God out of his care for his church provides for her safety and protection in the time of trouble: the church's flight in time of persecution is by no means to be censured or condemned, especially when God by his providence provides her wings, that is, gives her opportunity so to do.
Observe, 3. The place she flies into for safety, namely the wilderness, called her place, because prepared by God for her safety; here she is nourished, that is, hath spiritual food provided for her by God, and a number of faithful ministers are qualified for the feeding of her; for a time, and times, and half a time, that is, for a certain time determined by God, but altogether unknown to us; thus when the church meets with new distresses, God provides for her new deliverances.
Two things are here observable: a new danger, ver. 15 a renewed succour, ver. 16.
Observe, 1. A new danger; this is set forth, 1. By the author of it, the serpent; the former attempt against the church was managed by the wrathful dragon, this is contrived by the subtle serpent: open cruelty is more dreadful, but subtle policy is more dangerous: the cunning devil is a more dangerous: the cunning devil is a more mischievous enemy to the church of Christ than the raging devil; subtle Julian did the church more mischief than bloody Nero or Dioclesian.
Learn hence, That what mischief Satan cannot effect by open curelty, he will attempt against the church by subtle policy; when he fails as a dragon, he will try what he can do as a serpent.
2. Observe the matter as well as the author of this danger: The serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood, that is, a flood of errors, heresies, false doctrines, and corrupt opinions, cast out of the mouth of the corrupting seducers, endangering the very essence and being of the church of Christ, particularly the Arian heresy, which prodigiously overspread the world in its time. Heresy may fitly be compared to a flood; it is a corrupting and defiling flood, it is a swelling and increasing flood, it is a drowning and overwhelming flood.
Learn hence, That the serpent's flood of errors and false doctrines, is the worst and chiefest of the church's dangers. The serpent cast out a flood to carry away the woman.
Observe, 3. The church's seasonable relief and succour: The earth helped the woman by opening her mouth, and swallowing up the flood, which the dragon cast out of his mouth; by the earth some understand earthly ones, wicked men, who are said to help the woman, not intentionally, but eventually, by their greedy swallowing down those errors which come out of the dragon's mouth, hearkening to his lies, and believing his errors for truth's; others by the earth understand the kings and rulers of the earth understand the kings and rulers of the earth, helping the woman, by calling synods and councils to stem the tide, to dam this flood, and to condemn these errors and heresies, which by their overflowing endangered the church's ruin: the devil raised four abominable errors presently after the church had obtained peace, and there was a great concurrence of magistrates and ministers in confuting, censuring, and condemning the same, in and by their councils and synods.
1. The heresy of Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, this was condemned by the council of Nice, called by Constantine.
2. The heresy of Macedonius, who denied the personality of the Holy Ghost, condemned by a council at Constantinople, called by Theodosius the First.
3. The heresy of Nestorius, who asserted that Christ had two persons, as well as two natures, condemned by a council at Ephesus, called by Theodosius the Second.
4. The heresy of Eutyches, who confounded Christ's natures, making him to have but one nature, as well as to be but one person; this was condemned by the council of Chalcedon: thus the earth helped the woman; these four councils tended very much to the maintaining of the truth, and preserving the church from that flood of error and heresy which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
Observe lastly, The dragon's rage, verse 17. He was wroth with the woman, and made war with the remnant of her seed, that is, he was greatly enraged because the woman was extraordinarily helped, and his designs wonderfully disappointed: and when he saw he could not ruin the whole church, he resolves to attack some particular members of it, even such as keep the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Christ; that is, those who kept close to the scriptures, which contain the doctrine of faith, and testify that Christ is the only Saviour of the world.
Now from the dragon's making war with the remnant of the woman's seed, we learn how insatiable the blood-thirstiness of Satan and his instruments is, who when they had killed the witnesses before, and many others, yet can they not rest until they have killed this little remnant, and made themselves drunk with the blood of the saints; and never let Protestants expect any other or any better usage at the hands of Romanists, with whom this is a certain principle, that heretics in a nation are to be extirpated, root and branch, where it may safely be done; that is, when they are not too numerous, and the loss of one of our lives may not cost two of their own.
If any say that Papists are now become better natured, by being under the restraint of our laws, I wish them that they may never be tempted out of their humanity by advantages of power; and as Almighty God has once more delivered the neck of this nation from the pinchings of the Anti-christian yoke, may our sins never provoke him more to deliver us into the hands of those men, whose tender mercies are cruel. Amen.
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