In chapter 9 the two next or fifth and sixth Trumpets are described with minute care, as indeed these are two of the Woe-trumpets. There remains the third Woe-trumpet, the last of the seven, which is set forth at the end of Rev. 11, and brings us the closing scene in a general way to the end.
The first of the Woe-trumpets consists of the symbolic locusts led by the ominous Apollyon, to whom was given, as its angel, the key of the abyss. For that they are not to be understood of the literal insects is clear, if only for this reason, that these are expressly said not to feed on that which is the natural food of locusts. The well-known creature, with most portentous qualities and powers added, becomes the descriptive sign of these marauders from the abyss. They were to injure not the vegetable realm, but man expressly, and from a source not human but diabolical. It is a darkening and tormenting evil let loose from the pit on the unsealed (those of Israel who had no such favour from God), not on what they valued merely but on themselves, by instruments boasting a righteous commission from God (for they had upon their heads as crowns like gold), yet not even men in their true place, but weakly subject. For they had the hair of women, if the faces of men. They were given such power as the scorpions have; and their object for a torment of five months was the men who lacked the seal of God on their foreheads. And the envenomed sting produced such anguish that men preferred death but found it not. How graphic the picture of this scourge from the abyss! Like horses were they prepared for war, their teeth as those of lions, their breastplates as of iron, and the sound of their wings as of chariots of many horses running unto war. Thus were combined a darkening influence from beneath to shut out heavenly light and healthful means with aggressive force of imposing character and a tormenting power as of a false prophet; “for the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail”; and these have tails like scorpions, and their power is in their tail. As their breasts were steeled against all force to pierce them, so were they led by a king who tells the tale of the enemy behind all.
“And the fifth angel sounded trumpet: and I saw a star out of the heaven fallen unto the earth, and there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss. And he opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit as the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun was darkened and the air from the smoke of the pit. And out of the smoke came forth locusts unto the earth, and to them was given power [or, authority] as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was said to them that they should not injure the grass of the earth nor any green thing nor any tree, but the men which [
οἵτινες] have not the seal of God on their foreheads. And it was given to them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and their torment [was] as a scorpion’s torment when it striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death and shall in no way find it; and they shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them. And the likenesses of the locusts [were] like horses prepared for war; and upon their heads as crowns of gold, and their faces as men’s faces; and they had hair as women’s hair; and their teeth were as of lions. And they kind breastplates as iron breastplates, and the sound of their wings [was] as the sound of chariots of many horses running unto war. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings; and their power was in their tails to injure men five months. They have a king over them, the angel of the abyss, his name in Hebrew Abaddon, and in the Greek he hath a name Apollyon [destroyer].
“One woe is past; behold, there come two woes more after these things.” Here too is a revealed “pause of judgment.”
To another remark your attention is called, that the first Woe-trumpet answers in the way of contrast to the hundred and forty-four thousand that were sealed out of Israel; as the second Woe-trumpet (namely, that of the Euphratean horsemen) answers by a similar contrast to the countless multitude out of the Gentiles. As some perhaps may consider this contrast vague and indefinite, let us endeavour to make the meaning plainer. It is expressly said that the locusts of the vision were to carry on their tormenting, scorpion-like devastations, except on those that were sealed. Here then is an allusion clearly to those whom God set apart from Israel in Revelation 7; and this is at issue with the hypothesis of parallel series of judgments; for it is under the fifth Trumpet we are told of the unsealed, whereas it is in the parenthesis of the sixth Seal that the sealing was effected.
On the other hand, in the Euphratean horsemen we see far more of aggressive and destructive power, though there is also serpent-like torment. But torment is the main characteristic of the locust Woe; the horsemen Woe is more distinctively the onward progress of aggressive power portrayed in energetic colours. They fall on men and destroy them; and here “the third” reappears. According to the force given already, this would imply that the Woe falls on the Gentiles indeed, more particularly on the western empire, from the east Their “mouth” is characteristically prominent, and not their tails only as in the locust judgment. “And out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone.” Even the tails are not compared to scorpions but to serpents having heads, not so much a tormenting stroke as deliberate Satanic purpose. Their breastplates are not as iron but of fire and jacinth and brimstone, savouring of the very lake of fire.
“And the sixth angel sounded trumpet; and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar that [is] before God, saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed that were prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they might kill the third of men. And the number of the armies of the cavalry [was] twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those that sat upon them, having breastplates of fire and jacinth and brimstone; and the heads of the horses [were] as lions’ heads, and out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three strokes were the third of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails [are] like serpents, having heads, and with them they injure. And the rest of the men who were not killed with these strokes repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries [or, drugs], nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
Here a voice from the four horns of the golden altar (and how significant that it should come from thence!) summons a swift and overwhelming and destructive host from the east to slay men of the western empire. For it is not “torment” now but death, though not without Satan’s power of deceit as in the preceding Woe. In their inflictions a time limit appears, first a short term followed next by a longer one. There was also a term in the preceding Woe, as indeed they are evidently allied, though with notable points of difference. Here too, as the summons came from the four horns of the altar of intercession, so it was to the four angels that were bound at the great river, which was the boundary of the eastern powers. It was sweeping indeed.
It seems that these two Woes represent what will be verified in the early doings of the Antichrist in Judea, and of the Assyrian or eastern leader. The first or the locust raid consists of a tormenting infliction. Here accordingly we have Abaddon, the destroyer, their king, who is set forth in a peculiar fashion as angel of the abyss. It is not of course the issue yet fairly formed; but we can quite comprehend that there is to be an early manifestation of evil; just as grace will effect the beginning of that which is good in the remnant.
Here then we have these Woe-trumpets. First of all a tormenting Woe falls on the land, but not on those sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel. Next the Euphratean horsemen are let loose on the western powers, overwhelming all Christendom, and in particular that west as the special object of the judgment of God. The former is emphatically torment from Satan on the reprobate Jews; as the latter is a most scathing infliction of man’s aggressive energy, though not this only, from the east on the corrupt and idolatrous western world. The killing of the third of men represents, not the merely physical end, but the destruction even of all confession of relationship with the only true God. What an awful sketch of what had once received the gospel, professedly at least, and stood forth as God’s church on earth! “And the rest of the men who were not killed by these strokes repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” Think of such a description divinely furnished of those who were not ostensibly apostate but still keeping up the name of Christianity, before the falling away was complete, as the book has yet to tell us! For “thou shalt see greater abominations than these”; not only the unclean spirit returned to the house empty, swept, and garnished, but taking to himself seven different spirits more wicked than himself, so that the last state is worse than the first. Then shall the vilest of men be worshipped as God in the temple of God, the west no less committed to this blasphemy than the mass of the Jews. But who believes the divine report?
Chapter 10 in the Trumpets answers to Rev. 7 in the Seals. It forms an important parenthesis, which comes in between the sixth and seventh Trumpets, just as the securing chapter (7) came in between the sixth and seventh Seals: so orderly is the Apocalypse. “And I saw another strong angel coming down out of the heaven, clothed with a cloud, and the rainbow [was] on his head, and his countenance as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire, and having in his hand a little open book. And he set his right foot on the sea, and the left on the earth, and cried with a loud voice as a lion roareth. And when he cried, the seven thunders uttered their own voices. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; and I heard a voice out of the heaven saying Seal the things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.”
Thus we have again the Lord in angelic appearance. As before in high-priestly function, He is the angel here with royal claim. A mighty angel comes down out of the heaven, the source of His action, clothed with a cloud, the special sign of Jehovah’s majesty (Isa. 19:1): none but He has the title to come thus clothed. Further, the rainbow is on His head. He occupies Himself with divine mercy toward the creation. It is not now a question of round the throne; here is a step taken in advance. He approaches the earth, and He asserts His indisputable claim to all creation as that which is His right. “And his face was as the sun,” with supreme authority; “and his feet as pillars of fire,” with firmness of divine judgment. “And he had in his hand a little book open; and he set his right foot on the sea, and his left on the earth, and cried with a loud voice, as a lion roareth.” And the seven thunders answered on Jehovah’s part; the God of glory fully asserts His title. It is no sealed-up book now, but a little one and open: sea or earth are alike His. John was going to write what the thunders said, but is forbidden. The disclosures were to be sealed; but there was to be no more delay.
“And the angel whom I saw stand on the sea and on the earth lifted up his right hand unto the heaven, and swore by him that liveth unto the ages of the ages, who created the heaven and the things that therein are, and the earth and the things that therein are, and the sea and the things that are therein, that there should be no longer delay; but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound trumpet, the mystery of God also is finished, as he announced the glad news to his own bondmen the prophets.” There was no more to be any lapse of time allowed. God would terminate the mystery of His present seeming inaction in the public government of the earth. Now He may allow the world, with slight check, to go on in its own way. Men may sin, and, as far as direct intervention is concerned, God appears not, whatever be the interferences exceptionally. But the time is coming when God will surely visit sin, and this immediately and effectually when no toleration can be for anything contrary to Himself. Such is the blessed age to which all the prophets look onward; and the angel here swears that the time is approaching. There is going to be no more delay; but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall sound trumpet as he is about to do, the mystery of God also should be completed (lit. “and was finished the,” etc.). The mystery here is, not Christ and the church, but God’s allowing evil to go on in its present course with apparent impunity. Its end is now anticipated. His direct reign is at hand (Rev. 11:15).
“And the voice which I heard out of the heaven [was] again speaking with me and saying, Go, take the little book that is open in the hand of the angel that standeth on the sea and on the earth. And I went off unto the angel, saying to him to give me the little book. And he saith to me, Take and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but in thy mouth it shall be sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the hand of the angel, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my belly was made bitter. And they say [or, he saith] to me, Thou must prophesy again as to peoples and nations and tongues and kings many.” The meaning of this soon appeals more clearly. There is a kind of appendix of prophecy where he renews his course for especial reasons. It is what may be called the second volume of “the things which are about to be after these,” and begins with Rev. 12 and onward.
Meanwhile notice the evident contrast between the little book which the prophet here takes and eats, and the great book we have seen already sealed up with seven seals. It was sweet as honey to the taste that the true and all-worthy King should reign; but how bitter to the feelings that judgment unsparing should fall on the mass of the Jews, and yet more on proud Christendom, both apostate and worse. Why a little book? and why open? A little book, because it treats of a comparatively contracted sphere, already familiar in the prophets; and open, because things are no longer described in the mysterious guise in which the Seals and yet more the Trumpets arrayed them. All is going to be plain for what comes out here. Is it not the case accordingly in Rev. 11? The language is ordinary, with figures rather than symbols.
“And there was given to me a reed like a rod, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles, and they shall’ tread under foot the holy city forty-two months.” Their treading down is soon to come to an end; and Jerusalem appears in the foreground. This is the centre of concern now, while the Beast may ravage there, though his own sphere be in the western world “And I will give10 to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred [and] sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” Their task is for a time comparatively short — for three years and a half. “These are the two olive trees, and the two lamps that stand before the Lord of the earth.” The witnesses are two, not because necessarily limited to two only, but as giving an adequate testimony according to the law. It is not the Messianic order yet.
One often hears, for the purpose of illustrating the Revelation, a reference to Isaiah, Jeremiah, or the like; but we should bear in mind that these prophecies are not in their structure symbolical. Therefore the reasoning founded on the books and style of Jeremiah or Isaiah (Ezekiel being partly symbolical, partly figurative) cannot decide for Daniel or the Apocalypse. Here the figures have a language of their own. Thus the regular meaning of “two,” if figuratively used, is competent testimony — enough and not more than enough. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” According to Jewish law a case could not be decided by one witness; there must be at least two for valid proof and judgment.
“And if any one desire to injure them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any one desire to injure them, he must thus be killed.” Clearly in this parenthesis we have not yet Israel as a whole in view, but a remnant of true worshippers owned, while the mass are given up, and the raising up of witnesses in sorrow, yet guarded by power after a Jewish sort, till the Beast, of whom we shall hear far more, rises up to kill them. For now that Christ’s title to the universe is asserted, Satan pushes forward the Beast to claim the earth for himself.
But is this the testimony of the gospel? Is it thus the Lord protects the preachers of the gospel of His grace? Did fire ever proceed out of the mouths of evangelists? Did a teacher ever devour his enemies? Was it on this principle that even Ananias and Sapphira fell dead? Are these the ways of Christianity? Is it not evident that we are here in a new atmosphere, that a state of things is before us altogether different from that which reigned during the church condition, though even then sin might be unto death in peculiar cases? No more proofs are needed as enough has been given. “These have authority to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy.” That is, they are something like Elijah “And they have authority over the waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth as often as they will with every plague.” In this respect they resemble Moses also. It is not meant that they are Moses and Elias personally; but that the character of their testimony is similar, and the sanctions of it such as God gave in the days of those two honoured servants of old. “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and shall overcome them and shall kill them.” They are however preserved In spite of the Beast, till their work is done; but directly their testimony is completed, the Beast is allowed to overcome them. This is anticipation; and so the description of the Beast is characteristic rather than an existing fact. That is to say, all had not yet been given him which was to be.
So it was with the Lord. The utmost pressure was brought against Him in His service. So their hour, we may say, has not yet come, just as He said of Himself before them. There was all possible willingness to destroy them long before, but somehow it could not be done; for the Lord protected them till they had done their mission. But we see the character of grace which filled the Lord Jesus, and essentially belonged to Him. Here we meet with the earthly retributive dealing of the Old Testament. The Spirit will form them thus; and no wonder, because in fact God is recurring to that which He promised then, but has never yet performed. He is going to perform it now He does not merely purpose to gather people for heavenly glory; He will govern on earth the Jews and the Gentiles in their several places — Israel nearest to Himself. He must have an earthly people, as well as His family on high. When the heavenly saints are changed, then He begins with the earthly. He will never mix them all up together. This makes nothing but the greatest confusion.
“And their body [is] on the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” It was Jerusalem, but spiritually called Sodom and Egypt; because of the wickedness of the people and their prince. It had no less abominations than Sodom; it had all the darkness and the moral bondage of Egypt; but it was really the place where their Lord had been crucified (i.e. Jerusalem). So the witnesses fell, and men in various measures showed their satisfaction. “And [some] of the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations see their body three days and a half, and do not suffer their dead bodies to be put into a tomb. And those that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and [their hatred being more intense] make merry, and they shall send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those that dwell on the earth. And after the three days and a half a spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon those beholding them. And I heard a great voice out of the heaven, saying to them, Come up here; and they went up to the heaven in the cloud, and their enemies beheld them. And in that hour came a great earthquake, and the tenth of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain seven thousand names of men; and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
“The second woe is past; behold, the third woe cometh quickly.” This is to be as emphatically from God, as the first came from the abyss on the wicked Israelites, and the second from the multitudinous powers of the east on the faithless west. For it is the seventh Trumpet. This is important for understanding the structure of the book. The seventh Trumpet brings us down to the close in a general but final summary. This is clear, though often overlooked. “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in the heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world of our Lord and of his Christ is come.” You must translate it a little more exactly, and with a better text too. “The kingdom of the world” (or “the world-kingdom,” if our tongue admits of such a combination) “of our Lord and of his Christ is come.” It is not merely power in general conferred in heaven, but “the world-kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ is come, and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the twenty-four elders that sit before God upon their thrones fell on their faces, and did homage to God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God the Almighty, that art, and that wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign. And the nations were enraged, and thy wrath is come.”
Here, it will be observed, the end of the age is supposed to be now arrived. It is not merely frightened kings and peoples who say so, but the voice of those who know in heaven. The nations were enraged, and God’s wrath come; but further, “the time of the dead to be judged.” Not a word here speaks of the saints caught up to heaven; it is a later hour. “And the time of the dead to be judged, and to give the reward to thy bondmen the prophets, and to the saints, and to those that fear thy name, small and great, and to destroy those that destroy the earth.” No mention is made here about taking them to heaven, but of recompensing them. There can be no such thing as conferring that reward till the public manifestation of the Lord Jesus. They had, in fact, been translated long before, and were seen glorified in heaven since the beginning of Rev. 4. The taking of those changed out of the scene is quite another association of truth. The reward in due time will fail to none that fear the Lord’s name, small and great; but He will also destroy those that destroy the earth at that time. It is the general course of judgment summarised to the close, and proclaimed on high.
This is the true conclusion of Rev. 11. The next verse (19), though arranged in our Bibles as the end of the chapter, is properly the beginning of a new series. For the prophetic part of the book divides into two portions at this point. This is another landmark that cannot be despised, if we would acquaint ourselves with its structure and the bearing of its contents. And it is absolutely requisite to have a generally correct understanding of its outline; else we are in imminent risk of making confusion, the moment we venture to put the parts together, or to form anything like a right connected view of that which it conveys to us. The seventh Trumpet brings us down to the end in a general way.
This is the habit of prophecy. Take, for instance, our Lord’s prophecy in Matthew 24. There, first of all, we are given the broad outline as far as verse 14 to the “gospel of the kingdom” preached in all the world for a testimony to all nations; and then the end comes. Having thus brought us down to the close comprehensively, the Lord turns back, and specifies a particular part of that history in a confined sphere, namely, from the time that the abomination of desolation is set up in the holy place. This clearly is a little time before the end. It does not indeed go back absolutely to the beginning, but it returns a certain way, in order to set forth a far fuller and more precise view of the appalling state of things found in Jerusalem before the end comes.
Just so is it in the Revelation. The Seals and the Trumpets which follow one another conduct us from the time that the church is seen in heaven glorified till “the time of the dead to be judged,” as well as the day of wrath for the nations on the earth. Evidently this is the end of the age. Then, in the portion which begins with the last verse of Rev. 11, we return for a special communication. The prophet had been told that he must prophesy again before many peoples and kings; and from this point seems to be his prophesying again.
“And the temple of God in the heaven was opened.” It is not a door opened in heaven to give us the veil lifted up from what must take place on the earth as regarded in the mind of God. This John did see, the general view being now closed; and we cuter on a distinct line which connects itself with O.T. prophecy. It is not now the throne; but the temple of God in heaven was opened, “and there was seen the ark of his covenant in his temple.” This is the resumption of the divine link with His ancient people Israel.
Not that it is yet the day of blessedness for the Jew. Nor is heaven itself opened for Jesus, attended by risen saints, to appear for the judgment of the Beast and the False Prophet with their train. It is still a transition state of things, but a further advance. When God deigns to look upon and gives us to see the ark of His covenant, He is going to assert His fidelity to the people. Of old He gave promises, and will shortly accomplish all which had been assured to their fathers. The ark of His covenant is the sign of the unfailing certainty of that to which He bound Himself. Doubtless as the Gospels show, and the Epistles prove, we do now enjoy the blessings of the new covenant as far as is compatible with higher privileges; yet prophetically its direct establishment awaits Israel, and this is here pledged. Blessed tokens now come to view, with even aggravated proof that God will be then dealing with the world, not in grace as now, but in ever-growing severity of judgment.
“And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders,” and besides not “an earthquake” only but “great hail.” It was not yet “the day”: on the contrary the deepest darkness must intervene. Judicial ways still prevail, and more than before. In the first scene of Rev. 4, when the door was seen open in heaven, there were “lightnings, and voices, and thunders,” but not even an earthquake. In Rev. 8 this addition appears. Now besides all the rest there is “great hail.” Clearly therefore we are thus prepared for greater detail in the judgments from heaven inflicted on the earth.
Signs are beheld above: the sources, principles, and agents in the coming crisis are seen on high. “There appeared a great sign in the heaven.” The being seen in heaven shows that it is not a mere history of what takes place on earth, but a view given of God’s purpose. Though seen above, the woman represented is to be Israel on the earth. The symbol is of the chosen people as a whole, for a future state of things which God means to establish here below. Utterly weak in herself, she was “clothed with the sun.” Israel shall be invested with supreme authority on earth, long as she has been desolate and down-trodden by the Gentiles. “And the moon under her feet” intimates that the condition of legal ordinances (or, as some would regard it, derivative rule), instead of governing her as of old, shall be under her feet. How aptly the moon sets forth the reflected light of the Mosaic system to any thoughtful mind! What are feasts, new moons, or sabbaths to the Christian? In the millennium this will not be out of sight, as now under Christianity, but reappear: only when Jehovah is truly honoured as her husband, there will be manifest subordination, as may be seen in Ezekiel’s prophecy.
More than this appears. “And on her head a crown of twelve stars.” There will be the fullest administrative authority in man, not only for use but to adorn her. In short, whether it be supreme, derivative, or subordinate authority, all is now assured to her. Israel is therefore to be the manifest vessel of God’s mighty purposes for the earth; and God here so looks at her and presents her to the prophet’s eye. But this is not all. Another glory is here, greater than all; for “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” What could Israel do without Jehovah’s Anointed, the Messiah? “She was with child, and crieth, travailing in birth, in pain to be delivered.” It is not yet the day for joyous and triumphant accomplishment of the divine purpose, when before Zion travails she is to bring forth, and before her pain come, she is to be delivered of a man-child; as Isaiah proclaims to Israel in his last chapter. There is weakness and suffering yet, but all is secured, and the end pledged on high. Compare Micah 5:2, 3, where, as here, the birth of Messiah (for the woman is the mother, not the bride) is connected with the future day of Israel’s deliverance. Only in the Revelation is the man-child caught up meanwhile to God and to His throne, of which we have more to say in its place.
“And there appeared another sign in the heaven, and, behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads.” It is Satan, but here invested with the form of the most determined and successful enemy that Israel ever had. For crushing as was the overthrow under Nebuchadnezzar, the Roman power trod down Jerusalem with a more tremendous and permanent tyranny. Besides, as the Roman Beast collided with Christ once, so must it be destroyed at His appearing. This therefore makes the unfolding of the double sign so much the more striking. Not that the deliverance is yet come; but Israel and the enemy are confronted before the prophet according to God’s mind. What a mighty encouragement before Israel passes through the worst trouble!
The dragon has seven heads, as it is here said, or the completeness of ruling authority; and ten horns, not twelve, but at any rate an approach to it, in the instruments of the power wielded in the west. Man is never truly complete. God gave the woman twelve stars. The dragon has but ten horns. And this appears to look on to the last days; for the empire, whilst it possessed imperial unity, never had ten co-ordinate and subordinate kings, as the Beast will surely have before its judgment (Rev. 17:12, 17). It is the dragon too we may say in purpose. But God would not allow that completeness of administrative power even in form which belonged to the woman. All will be in due order when the Lord Jesus takes the government of the earth into His hands in the age to come. “Verily I say to you, That ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The twelve apostles of the Lamb are destined to a special place of honourable trust.
“And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.” Does not this imply that the third part is the distinctively Roman side of the empire? It was “the third part” we saw in the Trumpets, both in the four earlier ones and also in the sixth. This seems to set forth the western empire, or what was properly Roman. The Romans actually possessed, because they conquered, a great deal that belonged to Greece for instance, and Medo-Persia and Babylon. This last was far east; but the properly Roman part was western Europe. There the dragon’s malignant influence was to be particularly felt, at least in those that filled the place of rulers. It “drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them unto the earth; and the dragon standeth before the woman that was about to bring forth, that he might devour her child as soon as she should bring forth.” It is Christ above all that he dreads. The old serpent is the constant foe of Christ in the war of all time. “And she brought forth a man-child, who is about to rule [or, tend] all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne.”
Some things call for explanation here. First, a notion prevails that the woman is the church. Many Christians have so conceived. A few words are sufficient to dispel the illusion, and do. How could the church be the mother of Christ? Viewed figuratively as a woman, the church is the bride of Christ (as we see in Rev. 19, 21, 22); whereas the Jewish body is truly represented as His mother. Christ, as man, came of the Jews after the flesh. And He plainly is the One here described as the Man-child. The same truth is evident in the scriptures, whether we take the Psalms or the Prophets. “Unto us,” says Isaiah, “a child is born, a son is given.” Again, in the second Psalm, we find that He who is honoured by God Himself as the Son is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. The Lord Jesus is the destined Ruler here prominent, as the woman is Israel in full corporate character for dominion on the earth. To the daughter of Zion shall come the first dominion, the kingdom to the daughter of Jerusalem, as Micah predicts.
It may be no small difficulty how to bring herein the birth of Christ. Observe then that here the Spirit of God is not proceeding with the course of the prophecy. For the seventh Trumpet brought in the end in a general way. It has been already explained that here we have supplemental matter of the highest moment. Another thing should be taken into account, that in this portion no date serves to fix the time when the birth of the Man-child takes place. But if emphatically timeless, why should the birth of the Man-child be introduced here, seeing that the Lord had been born, had lived, had died and gone to heaven long before? While introducing Israel according to His purpose, God in this striking manner rehearses it mystically, and combines it with His and our translation to heaven after the style of O.T. prophecy. The disclosure of God’s covenant dealings with Israel in order to their eventual restoration furnishes the occasion. All are, as in this prophetic perspective, introduced here together, Christ being both the Bridegroom of the church, and the King of Israel and of all the nations, though only the last of these relationships suits this place save mystically.
God is not at all disposing the purposes before us as a question of time, but of connection with Christ their centre. The prophet is about to enter into the final scenes of the world; but before this is done, God’s counsel is shown as to Israel. This brings forward the devil in his evil antagonism to that counsel; for it was assuredly what the adversary most of all dreaded. Scripture lets us see Satan invariably opposing Christ with greater tenacity of purpose and hatred and pride than any other. Recognising in Him the fatal bruiser of himself and the great deliverer of man and creation to God’s glory, a constant and direct enmity on Satan’s part to the Son of God is familiar throughout the Bible. But there is more than this: Satan sets himself against His connection with the now poor and despised people of Israel. Hence before God espouses the part of Israel, the fact is shown that Christ is caught up to Him and to His throne. Not a word drops about His life; not a word here about His death or His resurrection. This proves to us how mystical the statement is. Had it been an historical summary, we must have had those stupendous events on which depends all reconciliation with God for man and the universe. But all this is entirely passed over. Like the woman, the Man-child is viewed in God’s purpose. The reason seems just this, that here is intimated, as in O.T. prophecy, how the Lord and His people are wrapped up in the same symbol. Just so, in a yet more intimate way, what is said about Christ applies to the Christian. Compare Isaiah 1. 8, 9, and Romans 8:33-35.
On this mystical principle then the rapture of the Man child to God and His throne involves the rapture of the saints in itself. The explanation why it could be thus introduced here depends on the truth that Christ and the church are one, and have the common destiny of ruling the nations with a rod of iron. Inasmuch as He went up to heaven, so also the church is to be caught up. “So also is Christ,” says the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12, when speaking of the church; for we must naturally suppose the allusion is to the body rather than to the Head. Yet he does not say, so also is the church, but “so also is Christ.” In a similar spirit this prophecy shows us the Male of might taken to heaven, entirely above the reach of Satan’s malice. If this be so, it has a remarkable bearing on what has been already asserted as to the book. We here begin over again, with divine purposes and their unseen action and aims as the object of the Holy Ghost in this latter portion. It is a supplemental volume, revealing secret springs and the great agents, with mercies too, of the closing scenes.
This is strictly in order. The heavenly saints are above. It is now a question of preparing the earthly people, Israel, for their place here below. Put for heavenly and for earthly people all turns on Christ. Hence Christ being born of Israel, there is and ought to be first set forth that connection of His. Next is the devil’s opposition to the counsels of God, and hindrance for the time being; which gives occasion to the Lord Himself taking His place in heaven, the church following Him into heaven, without a date to either, like a binary star. In short, the first portion of the chapter is a mystical representation of the Lord’s relationship with Israel and of Satan’s deadly antagonism; then the Lord’s removal out of the scene to heaven, which gives room for God’s binding up, as it were, with Christ’s disappearance to heaven the saints’ translation there. In this way the rapture of the Man-child is not brought in here historically, but in mystic connection; and the great agents are all in their place according to God’s mind.
If this be borne in mind, the whole subject is considerably cleared. “She brought forth a man-child to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” There is no difficulty in applying this to the Man-child, viewed not personally and alone but mystically; and the less, because this very promise is made to the church in Thyatira, or rather to the faithful there. It will be remembered that at the end of Revelation ii. it was expressly said that the Lord would give to the overcomer power over the nations, and he should rule them with iron rod, broken to pieces like vessels of pottery, just as He Himself received of His Father. But where for the present is Israel? Hidden in the wilderness, yet preserved till God’s public kingdom appears. “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should nourish her there a thousand two hundred [and] sixty days.” The days are numbered for the tried; as elsewhere in the shortest form compressed for like purpose as to the Beast’s reign.
In verse 7 is a new scene; and here from counsel we come much more to facts, though unseen by men on the earth. It is not God’s counsels or principles viewed in His mind, but positive events; first of all from above, as later on we shall find consequent changes on the earth. The mystery of God awaits its term. Its completion will surely come. But even before His world-kingdom come, what a vast and striking change! Saints will no longer have to wrestle with the spirituals of wickedness in the heavenlies! Satan can never again play the part of accuser on high.
“And there came war in the heaven: Michael and his angels to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels, and prevailed not; nor was their place found any more in the heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent that is called Devil and Satan, that deceiveth the whole habitable world, was cast unto the earth; and his angels were cast with him. And I heard a great voice in the heaven, saying, Now is come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ; because the accuser of our brethren is cast down, that accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and loved not their life unto death. For this be glad, O heavens, and ye that tabernacle in them.” It is evident that at this time persons are spoken of as being above who sympathise deeply with their suffering brethren on earth. Such is the incontestable fact. Who are they but those one with Christ, the Male of might? Compare Rev. 13:6. They anticipate from Satan’s catastrophe the entire establishment of the kingdom, though three and a half times have yet to pass in fact. Satan has lost that access to the presence of God in the quality of accuser of the brethren which he had previously possessed; nor will he ever regain the highest seat of his power then lost, the pledge of ruin ever more and more irretrievable. He is no longer able to fill heaven with his bitter taunts and accusations of the saints of God. What a blessed change for them! What a relief to those on high!
“Woe,” it is added, “to the earth and to the sea! because the devil hath gone down to you, having great fury, knowing that he hath a short season.” This clearly connects the dispossession of Satan from his heavenly seat with the crisis of Jews and Gentiles at the end of the present age. We find here the hidden reason. Why should there be then such an unwonted storm of persecution? why such tremendous doings of Satan here below for a short time, the three years and a half before the close? Here it is explained. Satan cannot longer accuse above; accordingly he does while he can his worst below. He is cast down to earth, never to regain the heavens: a fact of deep import and of pregnant consequence. Again, he will be banished from the earth, as we shall find, into the bottomless pit by-and-by; and though he be let loose thence for a short time, it is only for his irremediable destruction; for he is cast then (not merely into the pit or abyss, but) into the lake of fire, whence none ever comes back.
Such is the revealed course of the dealings of God with the great enemy of men from first to last. How strange to fancy that such amazing events took place ages ago without the saints of God knowing it! From Rev. 4 there is a throne of judgment, not of grace; from Rev. 12 Satan has no longer access to heaven; and there is therefore no more room for wrestling against spiritual powers of wickedness in heavenly places. Our struggle against them is so characteristic of the Christian, that any interpretation of the Revelation is convicted of error, which assumes that it ceases while the church is on earth. The Epistle to the Ephesians must thereby be no longer applicable: a consequence necessarily flowing from the error, and as certainly false and impossible.
From verse 13 the history is pursued not from the heavens, but on the earth. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the male. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might flee into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished shore a time and times and half a time from the serpent’s face.” Thus power is given to escape, rapid means of flight from Satan’s persecution; not power to withstand Satan, and fight the battle out with him, but ample facility to hide from his violence. This is conveyed by the two wings of the great eagle — a figure of vigorous means to escape. The most energetic image of flight in nature is vividly applied to the case in hand
“And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a river after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the river.” The endeavour to stir up impetuous action, excited by his craft to overwhelm the Jews, is vain; for “the earth,” or what was then under settled government, “helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed that keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.” By these are meant such of the Jews as then are known for subjection to God and a certain witness of Jesus. If the woman represents a more general state of Israel, the remnant of her seed are the witnessing portion. The mass, or “the many” of the future as Daniel calls them, will be quite apostate. The Jews of that day will thus vary much. Even among the godly then some will be much more energetic and intelligent than others, as we see in Daniel 12. Satan hastens therefore, and sets himself to put down those chosen vessels in the testimony of Jesus, a testimony not so much of communion for the Christian, but distinctly in the spirit of prophecy.
10 Probably here, as in Rev. 8:3, the word implies “efficacy” or “power,” as our Authorised translators saw in one text if not in the other.