Part 3: Commencing Fulfillment of the First Promise [to the Woman's Seed]

(Chapters 20-21)
(Chap. xi. 19 - xii.)
The trumpets, as we have seen, carry us to the end of all. What follows here, therefore, is not in continuation of them, but a new beginning, in which we find the development of details, - of course as to what is of primary importance, and involving principles of the deepest interest and value for us. Through all, the links between the Old Testament and the New are fully maintained, and we have the full light of the double testimony. On our part, we shall need on this account a more patient and protracted examination of that which comes before us.

The last verse of the eleventh chapter belongs properly to the twelfth. It characterizes what is to follow rather than what precedes, and, when we remember that Israel is upon the scene, is of greatest significance. The temple of God is opened in heaven, and there is seen in His temple the ark of His covenant. From the world below it had disappeared, and the temple itself been overthrown, - the testimony of His displeasure with an apostate people. Nor, though the temple were replaced, as after the Babylonish captivity had been the case, could the ark ever be restored by man’s hand. It was gone, and with it the token of Jehovah’s presence in the midst - a loss evidently irretrievable from man’s side. Yet if Israel had no longer thus the assurance of what they were to Him, in heaven all the time, though in secret, the unchangeable goodness of God remained. The ark abode, as it were, with Him, and the time was now come to manifest this: the inner sanctuary of the heavens was opened, and there was the ark still seen.

To us who are accustomed to translate these types into the realities they represent, this is all simple. The ark is Christ, and, as the gold outside the shittim-wood declared, is Christ in glory, gone up after His work accomplished - the work which had provided the precious blood which had sprinkled the mercy-seat. Israel had indeed rejected the lowly Redeemer, and imprecated upon themselves the vengeance due to those who shed it. Yet, though the wrath came, Israel was neither totally nor finally rejected. The blood of Jesus speaketh better things than that of Abel, and is before God the justification of a grace that shall yet be shown them. The literal ark is passed away, as Jeremiah tells us, never to return; but instead of that throne of His of old, a more magnificent grace has declared that Jerusalem itself shall be called "the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart." (Jer. iii. i6, 17.)

The ark, then, seen in the temple in heaven is the sign of God’s unforgotten grace toward Israel; but the nations are not yet ready to welcome that grace, nor indeed are the people themselves, save a remnant, who on that account pass through the bitterest persecution. To that the chapter following bears decisive testimony, as it does of the interference of God for them. Therefore is it that when the sign of His faithfulness to His covenant is seen in heaven, on the earth there ensue convulsion and a storm of divine wrath: "there were lightnings and voices and thunders and an earthquake, and great hail."

And now a "great sign" appears in heaven, "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered." The sign appears in heaven, not because the woman is actually there, but because she is seen according to the mind of God toward her. Who the woman is should be quite plain, as the child she brings forth is He who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. That is Christ, assuredly, and the mother of Christ is not the virgin, as we see clearly by what follows, still less the Church, of which in no sense is Christ born, but Israel, "of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came," says the apostle. (Rom. ix. 4.) Thus she is seen clothed with the glory of the sun, - that is, of Christ Himself as He will presently appear (Mal. iv. 2) in supreme power, for the sun is the ruler of the day. As a consequence, her glory of old, before the day-dawn, the reflected light of her typical system, is like the moon here under her feet. Upon her head the crown of twelve stars speaks naturally of her twelve tribes, - planets now around the central sun.

The next words carry us back, however, historically, to the time before Christ. She is in travail with Messiah, - a thought hard to realize or understand, except as we realize what the fulfillment of God’s promise as to Christ involved in the way of suffering on the part of the nation. To them while under the trial of law, and with the issue (to man’s thought, of course,) uncertain, Christ could not be born; the prosperous days of David must go by; the heirs of David be allowed to show out what was in their heart, and be carried to Babylon; humiliation, sorrow, captivity, fail to produce result, until the voice of prophecy even lapses with Malachi; until the long silence, as of death, is broken by the cry at last, "To us a child is born." Here is at least one purpose, as it would seem, of that triple division of the genealogy of the Lord in Matthew, the governmental gospel, in which the first fourteen generations bring one to the culmination of their national prosperity, the second is a period of decline to the captivity, the third a period of resurrection, but which only comes at last, and as in a moment, after the failure of every natural hope. Thus in the government of God Israel must have her travail-time.

But before we see the birth of the man-child, we are called to look at "another sign in heaven," "a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads," These heads and horns we shall presently find upon the fourth beast, or world-empire, but we are not left doubtful as to who the dragon is. Here we find the first in all this part of those interpretations which are given henceforth here and there throughout the book: the dragon is " that ancient serpent which is called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world." Thus as the dawn rises upon the battlefield the combatants are discerned. It is Satan who here as the "prince of this world" appears as if incarnate in the last world empire. "Seven heads" show perfection of world-wisdom; and every one of these heads wears a diadem, or despotic crown. The symbolic meaning of the number does not at all preclude another meaning historically, as Scripture history is every where itself symbolic, as is nature also. The ten horns measure the actual extent of power, and infer by their number responsibility and judgment.

The serpent of old has thus grown into a dragon - a monster -"fiery red," as the constant persecutor of the people of God, and he draws with his tail the third part of the stars of heaven, and casts them to the earth. The analogy of the action of the little horn in Daniel (viii. zo), as well as the scope of the prophecy before us, would lead us to think here of Jews, not Christians, and certainly not angels, as to whom the idea of casting them to the earth would seem quite inappropriate. The "tail" implies the false prophet (Isa. ix. is), and therefore it is apostasy among the professing people of God that is indicated. False teaching is eminently characteristic of satanic power at all times, and far more successful than open violence.

"And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, to devour her child as soon as it was born, And she was delivered of a son, a man-child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up to God, and to His throne." The power of Satan, working through the heathen empire of Rome, was thus, with better knowledge than Rome had, in armed watch against the woman and her seed. The census mentioned in Luke as to have gone into effect at the time of Christ’s birth, and which was actually carried out after the sceptre had wholly departed from Judah, was in effect a tightening of the serpent-coil around his intended victim. Divine power used it to bring a Galilean carpenter and his wife to Bethlehem, and then, as it were without effort, cancelled the imperial edict. Only from the nation itself could come the sentence which should, as far as man could do so, destroy it, and that sentence was in Pilate’s handwriting upon the cross. But from the cross and the guarded grave the woman’s Seed escaped victoriously: "her child was caught up to God, and to His throne."

All is thus far easy of interpretation, In what follows, there is more difficulty, although it admits of satisfactory solution. "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand, two hundred, and threescore days." There Daniel’s seventieth week comes in again, and evidently the last half of it. But the prophecy goes on immediately from the ascension of Christ to this time, not noticing a gap of more than eighteen centuries which has already intervened between these periods. How, then, can we explain this omission and granting it can be explained, what is the connection between these two things that seem, in more than time, so far apart, - the ascension of Christ, and Israel’s flight into the wilderness for this half-week of years? The answer to the first question is to be found in a character of Old Testament prophecy of which already we have had one example, and that in the prophecy of the seventy weeks itself. The last week, although part of a strictly determined time on Israel, is cut off from the sixty-nine preceding by a gap slightly longer than that in the vision before us, the sixty-ninth week reaching only to "Messiah the Prince." (Dan. ix. 25.) He is cut off and has nothing: the blessing cannot, therefore, come in for them; instead, there is a time of warfare - a controversy between God and the people which is not measured, and which is not yet come to an end. Of this the seventieth week is the conclusion, while it is also the time of their most thorough apostasy - the time to which we have come in this part of Revelation.

This lapse of prophecy as to Israel is coincident with the Christian dispensation, the period in which God is taking out of the earth (and characteristically out of the Gentile nations,) a heavenly people. True, there are Jews saved still, - "there is," as the apostle says, "at the present time also, a remnant according to the election of grace." But these are no longer partakers of Jewish hopes: blessed be God, they have better ones; but the nation as such in the meanwhile is given up, as Micah distinctly declares to them should be the case, while he also declares to them the reason of this, and the limit which God has appointed to it. His words are one of the clearest of Old Testament prophecies to Christ, so clear that nothing can be clearer, and are those cited by the chief priests and scribes themselves in proof of "where Christ should be born." "They shall smite the Judge of Israel," says the prophet, "with a rod upon the cheek." It is His people who do this, - His own, to whom He came, and they "received Him not." Then he declares the glory of the rejected One: "But thou, Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me, that is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." (Chap. v. i, 2.) But what will be the result then of His rejection? This is answered immediately: "Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel."

The last sentence of this remarkable prophecy is a clear intimation of what we know to be the fact, that in this time of national rejection there would be "brethren" - Jewish evidently - of this Judge of Israel, whose place would not be with Israel; while at the end of the time specified, such converted ones would again find their place in the nation. Meanwhile, Israel being given up, the blessing of the earth which waits upon theirs is suspended also: the shadow rests upon the dial plate of prophecy; time is as it were uncounted. Christ is gone up on high, and sits upon the Father’s throne: the kingdom of heaven is begun, indeed, but only its "mysteries," unknown to the Old Testament, "things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." (Matt. xiii. II, 35.)

Here, then, where we return to take up the thread of Old Testament prophecy, it is no wonder if the style of the Old Testament be again found. We have again the gap in time uncounted, the Christian dispensation treated as a parenthesis in God’s ways with the earth, and the woman’s Seed caught away to God and to His throne. Then follows, without apparent interval, the Jewish flight into the wilderness during the three and a half years of unequalled tribulation. But this does not answer the second question - that as to the connection between the catching away of the man­child and the woman’s flight. For this we must look deeper than the surface, and gather the suggestions which in Scripture everywhere abound, and here only more openly than usual demand attention. That which closes the Christian dispensation we have seen to be what is significantly parallel to that which opens it. In the Acts, the history of the Church is prefaced with the ascension of the Lord: that which will close its history is the removal of His people. This naturally raises the inquiry, If Christ and His people be so one as in the New Testament they are continually represented, may not the man-child here include both, and the gap be bridged over in this way? The promise to the overcomer in Thyatira links them together in what is attributed to the man-child - the ruling the nations with a rod of iron; and the mention of this seems to intimate the time for the assumption of the rod at hand.

This, then, completes the picture and harmonizes it, so that it may be well accepted as the truth; especially as this acceptance only recognizes that which is otherwise known as true, and makes no additional demands upon belief.

The man-child caught up to God and to His throne, the woman flies into the wilderness, into a place prepared of God, where they nourish her for the time of trouble. The woman is the nation as in the sight of God; not all Israel, nor even all the saints in Israel, but those who are ordained of God to continue, and who therefore represent it before Him. The apostate mass are cut off by judgment (Zech. xiii. 8, Isa. iv. 3, 4). The martyred saints go up to heaven. Still God preserves a people to be the nucleus of the millennial nation, and this, of course, it is the special desire of Satan to destroy. They are preserved by the hand of God, though amid trial such as the "wilderness" naturally indicates, and which is designed of God for their purification.

And now there ensues that which in the common belief of Christians had long before taken place, but which in fact is the initial stage of final judgment, - Satan is cast out of heaven. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, - that old serpent called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."

As I have said, the simplest interpretation of this is counter to the common belief of Christendom. Satan has, according to the thought of many, long been in hell, though he is (strangely enough) allowed to leave it and ramble over the earth at will. To these, it is a grotesque, weird and unnatural thought that the devil should have been suffered all this time to remain in heaven. Man has evidently been allowed to remain on earth, but then - beside the fact of death removing his successive generations - toward him there are purposes of mercy in which Satan has no part. The vision-character of Revelation may be objected against it also, so that the simplest interpretation may seem on that very account the widest from the truth. Does not our Lord also say that He saw "Satan fall as lightning from heaven"? (Luke x. i8.) And the apostle, that the angels which sinned, He cast down to hell? (2 Pet. ii. 4 Jude 6.) Such passages would seem with many decisively to affirm the ordinary view.

In fact, it is only the last passages that have any real force; and here another has said, "It seems hardly possible to consider Satan as one of these," - the angels spoken of, - " for they are in chains, and guarded till the great day; he is still permitted to go about as the tempter and the adversary, until his appointed time be come." As to our Lord’s words, they are easily to be understood as in the manner often of prophecy, "I saw," being equivalent to "I foresaw." On the other hand, that the "spiritual hosts of wickedness" with which now we wrestle are "in heavenly places" is told us plainly in Ephesians (vi. 12,R.V.); and in the passage in Revelation before us, no less plainly. For the connection of this vision with what is still future we have already seen, and shall see further, and the application to Satan personally ought not to be in doubt. The "dragon" is indeed a symbol; but "the devil and Satan," is the interpretation of it, and certainly not as figurative as the dragon itself.

Scripture implies also in other ways what we have here. When the apostle speaks of our being "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance," he adds that it is to be that "until the redemption of the purchased possession," - that is, until we get the inheritance itself (Eph. i. iii). But we get it then by redemption, not our own, but of the inheritance itself. Our inheritance has therefore to be redeemed, and this redemption takes place manifestly when the heirs as a whole are ready for it. Now redemption, it is plain, in this case, like the redemption of the body, is a redemption by power, - God laying hold of it to set it free in some sense from a condition of alienation from Himself, and to give his people possession. And if the man­child include "those who are Christ’s at His coming," then the purging of the heavenly places by the casting of Satan and his angels out is just the redemption of the heavenly inheritance.

Elsewhere we read, accordingly, of the reconciliation of heavenly as of earthly things (Col. i. 20). And this is a phrase which, like the former, implies alienation previously. And here it is on the ground of the cross: "having made peace through the blood of the cross." In Hebrews, again, as "it was necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens " - as in the tabernacle - "should be purified with" sacrificial blood, so must "the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." (Heb. ix. 23.) The work of Christ having glorified God as to the sin which has defiled not the earth only but the heavens, He can come in to deliver and bring back to Himself what is to be made the inheritance of Christ and His "joint-heirs."

All is, then, of a piece with what is the only natural meaning of this war in heaven. The question of good and evil, every-where one, receives its answer for heaven as for earth, first, in the work of Christ, which glorifies God as to all, and then, as the fruit of this, in the re­covery of what was alienated from Him, the enemies of this glorious work being put under Christ’s feet. This now begins to be, though even yet in a way which to us may seem strange: strange to us it seems to hear of war in heaven,. - of arrayed hosts on either side, - of resistance though unsuccessful, the struggle being left as it would seem to creature-prowess, God not directly interfering: "Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not."

After all, is it stranger that this should be in heaven than on the earth? Are not God’s ways one? And is not all the long-protracted struggle allowed purposely to work out to the end thus, the superior power being left to show itself as the power resident in the good itself, as in that which is the key of the whole problem, the cross of the Son of Man? If God Himself enter the contest, He adapts Himself to the creature-conditions, and comes in on the lowest level, - not an angel even, but a man.

Let us look again at the combatants: on the one side is Michael - "Who is like God?" - a beautiful name for the leader in such a struggle! On the opposite side is he who first said to the woman, "Ye shall be as God;" and whose pride was his own condemnation (2 Tim. iii. 6). How clearly the moral principle of the contest is here defined! Keep but the creature’s place, you are safe, happy, holy; the enemy shall not prevail against you: leave it, you are lost. The " dragon " - from a root which speaks of "keen sight " - typifies what seems perhaps a preternatural brilliancy of intellect, serpent-cunning, the full development of such "wisdom" as that with which he tempted Eve, but none of that which begins with the fear of God. He is therefore, like all that are developed merely upon one side, a monster. This want of conscience is shown in his being the devil - the "false accuser;" his heart is made known in his being Satan - the adversary.

These are the types of those that follow them; and Michael is always the warrior-angel, characterized as he is by his name, as Gabriel - "man of God" - is the messenger of God to men. If God draw near to men, it is in the tender familiarity of manhood that He does so. How plainly do these names speak to us!

In the time of distress that follows upon earth, Daniel is told that "Michael shall stand up, the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people; . . and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Here in Revelation we have the heavenly side of things, and still it is Michael that stands up as the deliverer. The tactics of divine warfare are not various, but simple and uniform. Truth is simple and one; error manifold and intricate. The spiritual hosts fight under faith’s one standard, and it is the banner of Michael, "Who is like God?" Under its folds is certain victory.

The dragon is cast out: the war in that respect is over; heaven is free. But he is not yet cast into hell, nor even into the bottomless pit, but to the earth; and thus the earth’s great trouble-time ensues. Satan comes down with great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time. How terrible a thing is sin! How amazing that a full, clear view of what is before him should only inspire this fallen being with fresh energy of hate to that which must all recoil upon himself, and add intensity of torment to eternal doom! Even so is every act of sin as it were a suicide; and he who committeth it is the slave of sin (Jno. Viii. 34).

A great voice in heaven celebrates the triumph there. "Now is come the salvation and power and kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night." The salvation spoken of here is not, apparently, as some think, the salvation of the body; for it is explained directly as deliverance of some who are called "our brethren" from the accusation of Satan. The voice seems, therefore, that of the glorified saints, and the "brethren" of whom they speak, the saints on earth, who had indeed by individual faithfulness overcome in the past those accusations which are now forever ended. Satan’s antipriestly power, as another has remarked, is at an end.

Yet he may, and does, after this, exercise imperial power, and stir up the most violent persecution of the people of God, and these still may be called not to love their lives unto death. It is not here, then, that his power ceases: they have conflict still, but not with "principalities and powers in heavenly places." (Eph. vi. 12.) Heaven is quiet and calm above them, if around is still the noise of the battle. And how great is the mercy that thus provides for them during those three and a half years of unequalled tribulation still to come! Is not this worthy of God that, just at the time when Satan’s rage is greatest, and arming the world-power against His people, the sanctuary of the soul is never invaded by him: the fiery darts of the wicked one cease; he is no more "prince of the power of the air," but restricted to the earth simply, to work through the passions of men, which he can inflame against them. Accordingly to this he gives himself with double energy: "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the man-child." But God interferes: "And there were given unto the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the face of the serpent."

The words recall plainly the deliverance from Egypt. Pharaoh king of Egypt is called thus by the prophet, "the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers," (Ezek. XXIX. 3,) and is himself the concentration of the malice of the world-power; while God says to delivered Israel at Sinai, "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians; and how I bare you on eagle’s wings, and brought you to Myself." (Ex. XIX. 4.) The reference here seems definitely to this: it is not, as in the common version, "a" great eagle, indefinitely, but "the" great eagle, - the griffon, perhaps, than which no bird has a more powerful or masterly flight. Clearly it is divine power that is referred to in these words: in the deliverance out of Egypt there was jealous exclusion of all power beside. Israel was to be taught the grace and might of a Saviour-God. And so in the end again it will be when He repeats, only in a grander way, the marvels of that old deliverance, and "allures" the heart of the nation to Himself.

Miracle may well come in again for them, and it may be that the wilderness literally will once more provide shelter and nourishment for them. Figure and fact may here agree together, and so it often is; the terms even seem to imply the literal desert here, just because it is evidently a place of shelter that divine love provides, and sustenance there; and what more natural than that the desert, by which the land of Israel is half encompassed, should be used for this? That which follows seems to be imagery borrowed from the desert also. Like the streams of Antilibanus, many a river is swallowed up in the sand, as that is which is now poured out of the dragon’s mouth. If it be an army that is pictured, the wilderness is no less capable of the absorption of a nation’s strength. The river being cast out of his mouth would seem to show that it is by the power of his persuasion that men are incited to this overflow of enmity against the people of God, which is so completely foiled that the baffled adversary gives up further effort in this direction, and the objects of his pursuit are after this left absolutely unassailed.

But those who so escape, while thus securing the existence of the nation - and therefore identified with the woman herself, - are not the whole number of those who in it are converted to God; and "the remnant of her seed" become now the object of his furious assault. These are indeed those, as it would seem, with whom is the testimony of Jesus, which is, we are assured, "the spirit of prophecy." (Chap. xix. io.) These are they, perhaps, who amid these times of trouble go forth, as from age to age the energy of the Spirit has incited men to go forth, taking their lives in their hand that they might bring the word of God before His creatures, and who have been ever of necessity the special objects of satanic enmity. They are the new generation of those who as men of God have stood forth prominently for God upon the earth, and have taken from men on the one hand their reward in persecution, but from God on the other the sweet counter­balancing acknowledgment. It is of such the Lord says, "Blessed are ye when they shall reproach and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." (Matt. v. ii, 12.)

Noticeable it is that it is in heaven still this new race of prophets find their reward. The two witnesses whom we have seen ascend to heaven in a cloud belong to this number; and those who in Daniel as turning many to righteousness, shine as the stars for ever and ever, Earth casts them out, and they are seen in our Lord’s prophecy as brethren of the King, hungering and athirst, in strangership, naked and sick and in prison (Matt. xxv. 35, 36, 40). Heaven receives them in delight as those of whom the earth was not worthy, - a gleaning after harvest, as it were, of wheat for God’s granary, - a last sheaf of the resurrection of the saints, which the twentieth chapter of the book before us sees added to the sitters upon the thrones, among the "blessed and holy" now complete. How well are they cared for who might seem left unsheltered to Satan’s enmity! They have lost the earthly blessing, they have gained the heavenly; their light has been quenched for a time, to shine in a higher sphere forever. Blessed be God!

We may follow, then, the new development of satanic enmity without fear. We shall gain from considering it. Their enemy and ours is one and the same: it is Satan, the old serpent, the ancient homicide, and we must not be "ignorant of his devices." His destiny is to be overcome, and that by the feeblest saint against whom he seems for the present to succeed so easily.