But in the second place, we find a still stronger indication of this truth in the fact that this woman brings forth the man child that is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. This last clause, in connection with the second Psalm and with Revelation 2:27, leaves no doubt that the man child is the Christ, the King of Zion. In Psalm 2:9 we read of this Christ: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” And in Revelation 2:27 we read that the promise is given to him that overcometh that he shall rule all nations with a rod of iron; and then the addition is given concerning the Christ, “as I also have received of my Father.” There is no question about it, therefore, that the man child brought forth by this woman is the Christ. But then there can be no question about it either that the woman is none other than the church of God, the woman, namely, as is conceived of in Genesis 3:15, to whom the great seed was promised. Christ is man. Although He is the Son of God, He is man and He is of man. He issues from humanity, but not from humanity as it is under the power of Satan, but rather from the people of God, from the church of the living God, from Israel. He is the Son of David. That this woman is the church of God is further suggested by her crown of twelve stars: for twelve is the number of the church in this dispensation, as we have observed before. And finally, it is suggested by the very fact that she is a woman: for the church appears throughout Scripture as a woman, as the bride adorned for her husband. The woman, therefore, is the picture of the church.
But also here the question must be answered: how does that church appear in the words of our text? And then we must call your attention to the fact that here we have evidently a picture of the church in the old dispensation, before the woman is delivered and proceeds into the wilderness, that is, therefore, before the woman as she appears as a sign in heaven. She represents the church of the old dispensation. This is plain from the fact that her man child is not yet born. The woman therefore represents the church before the birth of Christ, the church as she is essentially glorious and queen of the heavens, but as she still is in expectation of her man child, that is to deliver her and at the same time become her Bridegroom. And now you must not make the mistake of thinking that this woman represents the mother of Jesus, or that at least it represents merely Israel. That has often been inferred from the fact that she is already in pain to be delivered and that she expects her son momentarily. But the woman represents the church throughout the entire dispensation of the Old Testament. That entire church lived continually in the expectation that the Messiah would be born and would be born soon. Even Eve imagined that in Cain the promise was realized, and therefore she called him “squired.” Enoch prophesied of His coming for judgment. Abraham longed to see His day. Jacob foretold of His entrance into the world. Moses spoke of the coming of a great prophet. The prophets of Israel spoke of His birth, even indicating time and place. And Simeon could not die before he had seen the Hope of Israel. And the very expression in our text reminds us of the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Him: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” Isa. 9:6. And therefore, the entire church of the old dispensation, from paradise onward, presents the picture of this woman, travailing in pain and longing and expecting to bring forth the man child.
Now we must still consider the attitude of the dragon towards the woman and the conflict that ensues between the two. The text tells us that the woman stands in her glory, but also in her helplessness, and that the dragon stands before her. He is evidently watching her, and at the same time barring her way to escape. With intent watchfulness the dragon guards this woman and studies her every movement. And his purpose in doing so is most devilish indeed. It is not the woman as such that is his aim, but rather the child that she is to bring forth. If only that woman did not expect to bring forth that man child, he would care little about her and about her glory. But that man child is evidently of extreme importance to him. And therefore he watches the woman, in order that as soon as the child sees the light of the world he may kill and devour it. But we read that the child is born and is caught up in heaven to God. The child, therefore, escapes him. The devil cannot reach his purpose. He fails. The old deceiver is deceived. And it may be expected that in his rage and fury he will now cast himself upon the woman, in order to devour her at all events. But the woman escapes by fleeing into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God and where she is nourished a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
The meaning of all this is not dark. After all we have discussed, it is plain that the church of the old dispensation is laboring in pain to bring forth the Christ. It is also evident that that church of the old dispensation lives in continual expectation that the man child that is to rule the nations with the rod of iron shall be born. She has reason to expect this, for God Himself has promised the church this seed. In Gen. 3:15we read the well-known words: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Such was the promise. And therefore, the church lived in expectation of this seed of the woman from that very moment forth. But also the devil lived in that expectation. He was right there when that promise was made. Nay, still stronger, the promise was addressed to him. It was a promise given in the form of a challenge to the devil that he would suffer defeat. And therefore, also the devil expected the Messiah. I dare say even, in the face of the fact that the devil understood the situation far better than either Adam or Eve, understood also the significance of this seed of the woman better than our first parents,—he clearly had caught on to the significance of that word of the Almighty, and he knows that if the seed of the woman is born, and if that seed of the woman accomplishes his purpose, he, the devil, will be deprived of his power and of his royal diadems, and his heads will be crushed, and therefore he watches the church of the old dispensation closely. His aim is all the time to crush that seed of the woman, either by preventing that it ever be born or by devouring it as soon as it sees the light of the world. But with all his watchfulness he fails. Christ is born and gains the victory and is taken to heaven in glory and leaves the devil behind in furious rage. True, the church still remains behind. She is in the wilderness, that is, practically excluded from outward glory and dominion. The devil still reigns in the world and still has his seven diadems. But also in this period of the new dispensation the church is safely kept and nourished in the place that she has prepared for her by God Almighty Himself.
Thus is the meaning of the text. It simply reveals how the devil throughout the old dispensation exerts himself to kill the seed of the woman and to prevent the victory of Christ. Not difficult it is to trace this struggle throughout the old dispensation. It is to be seen already in the murder of Abel. No doubt the devil made the same mistake at first as did Adam and Eve. They thought that the Christ would be born immediately. At first Eve imagined that her firstborn was the promised seed, and therefore she called him Cain, that is, “I have begotten a man of God.” But as the two boys, Cain and Abel, grew up, they must all have realized that Cain was not the man, since he was godless. And the same difference between the two boys must also have been the cause that the hope and expectation was gradually referred from Cain to Abel. The devil must have made the mistake to think that Abel was the promised seed; and hence, through Cain he kills him. But Seth is born, and the seed of the woman in the spiritual sense multiplies in the line of Seth. The devil begins to realize that his problem is not so simple. And therefore, standing in front of the woman, he employs different methods. He tries to gain the victory by the process of amalgamation, and the sons of God marry the daughters of men, so that the whole world is well-nigh deprived of the spiritual seed of the woman. But again God interferes through the flood, and saves the seed of the woman in the family of Noah. And thus it continues all through the history of the old dispensation. At the building of the tower of Babel the devil tries to make his own stronghold against the seed of the woman and to establish his own kingdom. At the time of Abraham, he only is left practically of the seed of the woman. In Egypt the devil tries to extinguish the seed of the woman by oppressing Israel. In the desert he brings them to apostasy. In Canaan he sends enemies against them till they finally are led into captivity. And after the captivity he makes life hard for them. At the time of Antiochus Epiphanes the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the seed of the woman is killed on a large scale. But in spite of it all; the great seed appears. Christ is born. And the angels loudly proclaim that the glory is God’s in the highest. Also Satan is now certain that He is the Christ. And therefore he directs all his efforts against Him. How this Christ will crush him and gain the victory is not plain to him, no more than it was to Israel of that time. And therefore he applies two different methods to devour this seed. First of all, he makes the attempt to subject Him spiritually, and he offers Him all the kingdoms of the world if only He will fall down and worship him, that is, Satan, knowing that if this promised seed will only do this, the devil will maintain his royal crowns and sovereignty. He tries this repeatedly in the life of Christ. But when he fails, he rouses the enemies of Christ against Him, so that they finally kill Him. I imagine that the devil was foolish enough, at least for some time, to hope that in His death he had killed the seed of the woman. But it was but for a short time. For that Seed, suffering on the cross, at the moment of His death cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands do I commend my spirit.” That Seed rises from death and the grave and is taken to heaven, to sit at the right hand of God in everlasting glory, now working till the kingdom of the world shall lie at the feet of the Almighty. That the devil had not thought this is very evident. That victory lay in the Way of suffering, exaltation through humiliation, life through death. And that he prepared after all his own defeat by killing this Seed of the woman, this he had not clearly before his mind. The deceiver is deceived! He has deceived himself. And he stays behind, as we hope to see in the future, filled with fury and rage against the woman that brought forth the man child.
Such is the meaning of the text. The battle of the world is a battle of the devil against God. Not between the world and the church in the last instance, not even between Antichrist and Christ, is that battle. They all are agents. Christ is the anointed agent of God to fight, with His people, the battle against the devil. Antichrist, as we hope to see, is the agent of Satan, to fight his battles against God and His church. What a tremendous idea is expressed here! We, as the covenant people, as being of God’s party in the midst of the world, fight the battle of Jehovah against the old serpent, the devil. There is magic joy in the very idea that the Lord will use us as instruments in His hand, nay, as His living people, to fight against the old dragon. In the second place; let us also note that God Almighty has always been victorious in the past, and that the devil with all his attempts to prevent the birth of the Great Seed has simply affected his own defeat. So it will be in the future. God will always be victorious, of course. Not yet has the devil given up the attempt to gain dominion over the kingdom of God. But the voices in heaven have already sung of it, and the elders have acknowledged it, that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Behold, He cometh! And His reward is with Him. Let us therefore be faithful and true to His name even unto the end.
7. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8. And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9. 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.
10. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
12. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
I think that in the portion we just quoted above we have a parallel, and, in a way, a continuation of the first part of this chapter. You will remember that we have taken the position that in chapter twelve we have a description of the spiritual agencies that are back of the power that rises out of the abyss and that exalts itself against the two witnesses, against the church of Christ, in this dispensation. In the first portion of this chapter we found a description of the two signs in heaven; and we discussed the identity of each sign, as well as their mutual relation and the attitude of the second against the first. As to the first sign, we found no difficulty in recognizing in it the symbol of the church upon earth. And we found that in the sign of the woman with child we have the symbol especially of the church in the old dispensation, before Christ was born. The second sign is that of the great red dragon, which, as we interpreted, and as is literally expressed in, the chapter, is no one else than the devil himself. The devil stands before the woman throughout the old dispensation in an inimical attitude for the purpose of devouring her child as soon as it has been born. However, his efforts are vain. Christ is born, performs His work, and is exalted to highest glory at the right hand of the Almighty. Now parallel with this effort of the dragon against the woman runs the incident recorded in the words of our text and which speaks of the battle of the spirits in heaven.
If the preceding portion depicted a battle of the devil against the church of the old dispensation to prevent the realization of the promise given in paradise, the present passage speaks of another war, also waged by the devil, but this time fought in person by him and by his angels, this time fought in heaven instead of upon earth, this time fought against his fellow angels that remained faithful to God at the time when the devil and his angels fell away. We must conceive of this battle as being very real. There is no mention here of signs and symbols. There is absolutely nothing in the text that indicates that we must explain this portion in the allegorical fashion, as has been done in various ways. And therefore I take it that we have here the record of a real battle in the real heaven. It is not a battle in aerial places, as some would have it, so that the idea would be that Michael and his angels are on the offensive, come down to fight with the devil and his host; but it is a battle in heaven, in the abode of the good and holy angels, before the very countenance of God. And I take it that the devil and his host are on the offensive and that they are challenging the holy angels to fight a spiritual war with them. A real battle, therefore, it is. But it is well that we remember from the outset that all real battles are not fought with material weapons. It is not necessary to have sabre and bayonet or to bring forth cannon and gun in order to fight this battle. This battle has often been pictured poetically. But such a battle is inconceivable between the opposing sides that are here pictured. And we would lose the point in question altogether if we would thus picture to our minds the battle that is here described. No, this battle is a purely spiritual battle. It. is fought not with material but with spiritual weapons, with weapons of intellect and shrewdness and subtlety, with the spiritual weapons of law and righteousness. For the combatants in this war are spirits pure and simple. They are, moreover, immortal spirits, at least in the sense that they have no body and that therefore they cannot die the physical death. They have no flesh and blood, so that they cannot be wounded physically. It is a war between angels, a real and fierce battle indeed, but nevertheless a purely spiritual one, fought with spiritual means, and therefore also with a purely spiritual outcome.
On the one hand, so we read in the text, stands Michael and his holy angels. It is not the Christ, as some interpreters would have it, appealing especially to his name and greatness. True; his name means “who is like God.” But Christ was not merely like God, but very God Himself, the Person of the Son of God. True, he is described as very great and powerful. But are there not powerful and mighty angels that are mentioned by name in Scripture? True, he fights against the opponent of Christ. But is it so peculiar that the angels stand on the very side of Christ and fight His battles against the devil and his host? Hence, we must not interpret this as referring to the Christ, but to a mighty angel. Especially is this clear from Daniel 10, where Michael is mentioned by name. And you will find at a careful reading that he is clearly distinguished from the Christ. Who is this Michael? We find him mentioned once more in the New Testament besides in the portion of our text. Jude, verse 9, speaks of him as Michael, the archangel, who was “contending with the devil” and disputed with him about the body of Moses. Little it matters at this point what the dispute really implied. But we learn from this portion in regard to Michael: 1) That he is an archangel. How many of these archangels there are we know. not. A Jewish tradition has it that there were seven. Of course, this is not impossible; but it is nevertheless without Scriptural basis. Sufficient it is to know that Michael is an archangel. He is a chief, one of the chiefs of the angels, and therefore occupies a great and exalted place in heaven. He is clothed with great power and authority, no doubt. 2) That he contends with the devil, the enemy of God, just as in the words of our text. 3) That he fights in behalf of one of the great among God’s people. In the Old Testament we find him mentioned in Daniel 10:13. There we find that Michael contends with an evil prince for influence with the king of Persia, and that again in behalf of the people of God. The meaning evidently is that an evil spirit tries to influence the king of Persia against the people of Israel. But Michael comes and fights with this evil spirit and prevails. In the twenty-first verse of the same chapter in Daniel Michael is mentioned again; and there he is directly called the prince of the people of God. And finally, in Daniel 12:1 we read: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.” Also here we find that Michael is great and that he is a prince among the angels and that he stands for the people of God and in their defense in a time of great trouble, when they are evidently in great danger. And therefore, taking into consideration at the same time the words of our text, we may draw the conclusion that Michael is a great angel, a chief and prince among his fellow angels. Originally he perhaps had his equal as to power and authority only in the devil. For we read in Jude that this great Michael, acknowledging the original power and authority of the devil, did not dare to curse and blaspheme him, but left it to God. A great angel, clothed with much authority, set perhaps, as we gather also from our text, over many angels, is especially appointed by God to fight against the devil and to lead his angels against him. And he is at the same time the great guardian and combatant on the side of the people of God in time of trouble. And therefore we may surmise from the outset that as Michael also according to the words of our text fights with the devil, the people of God must be involved. He does not fight alone, but has his angels with him. As we have indicated already, this does not necessarily mean that all the good angels fight on the side of Michael, but merely that he is chief of a certain number of angels in heaven and that now he leads his army of good angels against the devil and his host.