on Revelation 12 :14
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle - Του αετου του μεγαλου· Of The great eagle. The great eagle here mentioned is an emblem of the Roman empire in general, and therefore differs from the dragon, which is a symbol of the Heathen Roman empire in particular. The Roman power is called an eagle from its legionary standard, which was introduced among the Romans in the second year of the consulate of C. Marius; for before that time minotaurs, wolves, leopards, horses, boars, and eagles were used indifferently, according to the humor of the commander. The Roman eagles were figures in relievo of silver or gold, borne on the tops of pikes, the wings being displayed, and frequently a thunderbolt in their talons. Under the eagle, on the pike, were piled bucklers, and sometimes crowns. The two wings of the great eagle refer to the two grand independent divisions of the Roman empire, which took place January 17, a.d. 395, and were given to the woman, Christianity being the established religion of both empires.
That she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, etc. - The apparent repetition here of what is said in Revelation 12:6 has induced Bishop Newton to consider the former passage as introduced by way of prolepsis or anticipation; for, says he, the woman did not fly into the wilderness till several years after the conversion of Constantine. But that there is no such prolepsis as the bishop imagines is evident from the ecclesiastical history of the fourth century; for the woman, or true Church, began to flee into the wilderness a considerable time before the division of the great Roman empire into two independent monarchies. The word translated fled is not to be taken in that peculiar sense as if the woman, in the commencement of her flight, had been furnished with wings, for the original word is εφυγεν. The meaning therefore of Revelation 12:6 and Revelation 12:14, when taken in connection with their respective contexts, is, that the woman began to make rapid strides towards the desert almost immediately after her elevation to the heaven or throne of the Roman empire, and in the course of her flight was furnished with the wings of the great eagle ἱνα πετηται, that she might Fly, into that place prepared of God, where she should be fed a thousand two hundred and threescore days. It is said here that the period for which the woman should be nourished in the wilderness would be a time, times, and a half; consequently this period is the same with the twelve hundred and sixty days of Revelation 12:6. But in no other sense can they be considered the same than by understanding a time to signify a year; times, two years; and half a time, half a year; i.e., three years and a half. And as each prophetic year contains three hundred and sixty days, so three years and a half will contain precisely twelve hundred and sixty days. The Apocalypse being highly symbolical, it is reasonable to expect that its periods of time will also be represented symbolically, that the prophecy may be homogeneous in all its parts. The Holy Spirit, when speaking of years symbolically, has invariably represented them by days, commanding, e. gr., the Prophet Ezekiel to lie upon his left side three hundred and ninety days, that it might be a sign or symbol of the house of Israel bearing their iniquity as many years; and forty days upon his right side, to represent to the house of Judah in a symbolical manner, that they should bear their iniquity forty years, The one thousand two hundred and threescore days, therefore, that the woman is fed in the wilderness, must be understood symbolically, and consequently denote as many natural years. The wilderness into which the woman flies is the Greek and Latin worlds, for she is conveyed into her place by means of the two wings of the great eagle. We must not understand the phrase flying into her place of her removing from one part of the habitable world into another, but of her speedy declension from a state of great prosperity to a forlorn and desolate condition. The woman is nourished for one thousand two hundred and threescore years from the face of the serpent, The empires in the east and west were destined, in the course of the Divine providence, to support the Christian religion, at least nominally while the rest of the world should remain in pagan idolatry or under the influence of this dragon, here called the serpent, because he deceiveth the whole world. The words of the prophecy are very remarkable, The Christian Church is said to be supported by the eastern and western empires, two mighty denominations; and at the same time situated in the wilderness, strongly denoting that, though many professed Christianity, there were but very few who "kept the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Jesus Christ."
on Revelation 12 :14
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle - The most powerful of birds, and among the most rapid in flight. See the notes on Revelation 4:7. The meaning here is, that the woman is represented as prepared for a rapid flight; so prepared as to be able to outstrip her pursuer, and to reach a place of safety. Divested of the figure, the sense is, that the church, when exposed to this form of persecution, would be protected as if miraculously supplied with wings.
That she might fly into the wilderness - There is here a more full description of what is briefly stated in Revelation 12:6. A wilderness or desert is often represented as a place of safety from pursuers. Thus David 1 Samuel 23:14-15 is represented as fleeing into the wilderness from the persecutions of Saul. So Elijah 1 Kings 19:4 fled into the wilderness from the persecutions of Jezebel. The simple idea here is, that the church, in the opposition which would come upon it, would find a refuge.
Into her place - A place appointed for her; that is, a place where she could be safe.
Where she is nourished - The word rendered here "nourished" is the same - τρέφω trephō - which occurs in Revelation 12:6, and which is there rendered "feed." It means to feed, nurse, or nourish, as the young of animals Matthew 6:26; Matthew 25:37; Luke 12:24; Acts 12:20; that is, to sustain by proper food. The meaning here is, that the church would be kept alive. It is not indeed mentioned by whom this would be done, but it is evidently implied that it would be by God. During this long period in which the church would be in obscurity, it would not be suffered to become extinct. Compare 1 Kings 17:3-6.
For a time, and times, and half a time - A year, two years, and half a year; that is, forty-two months (see the notes on Revelation 11:2); or, reckoning the month at thirty days, twelve hundred and sixty days; and regarding these as prophetic days, in which a day stands for a year, twelve hundred and sixty years. For a full discussion of the meaning of this language, see the notes on Daniel 7:25; and Editor's Pref. For the evidence, also, that the time thus specified refers to the papacy, and to the period of its continuance, see the notes on that place. The full consideration given to the subject there renders it unnecessary to discuss it here. For it is manifest that there is an allusion here to the passage in Daniel; that the twelve hundred and sixty days refer to the same thing; and that the true explanation must be made in the same way. The main difficulty, as is remarked on the notes on that passage, is in determining the time when the papacy properly commenced.
If that could be ascertained with certainty, there would be no difficulty in determining when it would come to an end. But though there is considerable uncertainty as to the exact time when it arose, and though different opinions have been entertained on that point, yet it is true that all the periods assigned for the rise of that power lead to the conclusion that the time of its downfall cannot be remote. The meaning in the passage before us is, that during all the time of the continuance of that formidable, persecuting power, the true church would not in fact become extinct. It would be obscure and comparatively unknown, but it would still live. The fulfillment of this is found in the fact, that during all the time here referred to, there has been a true church on the earth. Pure, spiritual religion - the religion of the New Testament - has never been wholly extinct. In the history of the Waldenses, and Albigenses, the Bohemian brethren, and kindred people; in deserts and places of obscurity; among individuals and among small and persecuted sects; here and there in the cases of individuals in monasteries, the true religion has been kept up in the world, as in the days of Elijah God reserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal: and it is possible now for us, with a good degree of certainty, to show, even during the darkest ages, and when Rome seemed to have entirely the ascendency, where the true church was. To find out this, was the great design of the Ecclesiastical History of Milner; it has been done, also, with great learning and skill, by Neander.
From the face of the serpent - The dragon - or Satan represented by the dragon. See the notes at Revelation 12:3. The reference here is to the opposition which Satan makes to the true church under the persecutions and corruptions of the papacy.
on Revelation 12 :14