on Revelation 12 :2
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, etc. - This, when taken in connection with the following verses, is a striking figure of the great persecution which the Church of Christ should suffer under the heathen Roman emperors, but more especially of that long and most dreadful one under Diocletian. The woman is represented as Being with child, to show that the time would speedily arrive when God's patient forbearance with the heathen would be terminated, and that a deliverer should arise in the Christian world who would execute the Divine vengeance upon paganism.
on Revelation 12 :2
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth ... - That is, there would be something which would be properly represented by a woman in such circumstances.
The question now is, what is referred to by this woman? And here it need hardly be said that there has been, as in regard to almost every other part of the Book of Revelation, a great variety of interpretations. It would be endless to undertake to examine them, and would not be profitable if it could be done; and it is better, therefore, and more in accordance with the design of these notes, to state briefly what seems to me to be the true interpretation:
(1) The woman is evidently designed to symbolize the church; and in this there is a pretty general agreement among interpreters. The image, which is a beautiful one, was very familiar to the Jewish prophets. See the notes on Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 47:1; compare Ezekiel 16.
(2) but still the question arises, to what time this representation refers: whether to the church before the birth of the Saviour, or after? According to the former of these opinions, it is supposed to refer to the church as giving birth to the Saviour, and the "man child" that is born Revelation 12:5 is supposed to refer to Christ, who "sprang from the church" - κατὰ σάρκα kata sarka - according to the flesh (Prof. Stuart, vol. 2, p. 252). The church, according to this view, is not simply regarded as Jewish, but, in a more general and theocratic sense, as "the people of God." "From the Christian church, considered as Christian, he could not spring; for this took its rise only after the time of his public ministry. But from the bosom of the "people of God" the Saviour came. This church Judaical indeed (at the time of his birth) in respect to rites and forms, but to become Christian after he had exercised his ministry in the midst of it, might well be represented here by the woman which is described in Revelation 12." (Prof. Stuart). But to this view there are some, as it seems to me, unanswerable objections. For:
(a) there seems to be a harshness and incongruity in representing the Saviour as the Son of the church, or representing the church as giving birth to him. Such imagery is not found elsewhere in the Bible, and is not in accordance with the language which is employed, where Christ is rather represented as the Husband of the church than the Son: "Prepared as a bride adorned for her husband," Revelation 21:2. "I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife," Revelation 21:9; compare Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:5.
(b) If this interpretation be adopted, then this must refer to the Jewish church, and thus the woman will personify the Jewish community before the birth of Christ. But this seems contrary to the whole design of the Apocalypse, which has reference to the Christian church, and not to the ancient dispensation.
(c) If this interpretation be adopted, then the statement about the dwelling in the wilderness for a period of 1260 days or years Revelation 12:14 must be assigned to the Jewish community - a supposition every way improbable and untenable. In what sense could this be true? When did anything happen to the Jewish people that could, with any show of probability, be regarded as the fulfillment of this?
(d) It, may be added, that the statement about the "man child" Revelation 12:5 is one that can with difficulty be reconciled to this supposition. In what sense was this true, that the "man child" was "caught up unto God, and to his throne?" The Saviour, indeed, ascended to heaven, but it was not, as here represented, that he might be protected from the danger of being destroyed; and when he did ascend, it was not as a helpless and unprotected babe, but as a man in the full maturity of his powers. The other opinion is, that the woman here refers to the Christian church, and that the object is to represent that church as about to be enlarged - represented by the condition of the woman, Revelation 12:2. A beautiful woman appears, clothed with light - emblematic of the brightness and purity of the church; with the moon under her feet - the ancient and comparatively obscure dispensation now made subordinate and humble; with a glittering diadem of twelve stars on her head - the stars representing the usual well-known division of the people of God into twelve parts - as the stars in the American flag denote the original states of the Union; and in a condition Revelation 12:2 which showed that the church was to be increased.
The time there referred to is at the early period of the history of the church, when, as it were, it first appears on the theater of things, and going forth in its beauty and majesty over the earth. John sees this church, as it was about to spread in the world, exposed to a mighty and formidable enemy - a hateful dragon - stationing itself to prevent its increase, and to accomplish its destruction. From that impending danger it is protected in a manner that would he well represented by the saving of the child of the woman, and bearing it up to heaven, to a place of safety - an act implying that, notwithstanding all dangers, the progress and enlargement of the church was ultimately certain. In the meantime, the woman herself flees into the wilderness - an act representing the obscure, and humble, and persecuted state of the church - until the great controversy is determined which is to have the ascendency - God or the Dragon. In favor of this interpretation, the following considerations may be suggested:
(a) It is the natural and obvious interpretation.
(b) If it be admitted that John meant to describe what occurred in the world at the time when the true church seemed to be about to extend itself over the earth, and when that prosperity was checked by the rise of the papal power, the symbol employed would be strikingly expressive and appropriate.
(c) It accords with the language elsewhere used in the Scriptures when referring to the increase of the church. "Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children," Isaiah 66:7-8. "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord," Isaiah 54:1. "The children which thou shalt have, after thou shalt have lost the other, shall say again in thy ears, The place is too strait for me; give place to me that I may dwell," Isaiah 49:20. The comparison of the church to a woman as the mother of children, is one that is very common in the Scriptures.
(d) The future destiny of the child and of the woman agrees with this supposition. The child is caught up to heaven, Revelation 12:5 - emblematic of the fact that God will protect the church, and not suffer its increase to be cut off and destroyed; and the woman is driven for 1260 years into the wilderness and nourished there, Revelation 12:14 - emblematic of the long period of obscurity and persecution in the true church, and yet of the fact that it would be protected and nourished. The design of the whole, therefore, I apprehend, is to represent the peril of the church at the time when it was about to be greatly enlarged, or in a season of prosperity, from the rise of a formidable enemy that would stand ready to destroy it. I regard this, therefore, as referring to the time of the rise of the papacy, when, but for that formidable, corrupting, and destructive power, it might have been hoped that the church would have spread all over the world. In regard to the rise of that power, see all that I have to say, or can say, in the notes on Daniel 7:24-28.
on Revelation 12 :2
12:2 And being with child she crieth, travailing in birth - The very pain, without any outward opposition, would constrain a woman in travail to cry out. These cries, throes, and pains to be delivered, were the painful longings, the sighs, and prayers of the saints for the coming of the kingdom of God. The woman groaned and travailed in spirit, that Christ might appear, as the Shepherd and King of all nations.