Revelation 12:4
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) And his tail . . .—Translate, And his tail drags (or, sweeps) away the third part of the stars of the heaven, and casts them to the earth. The stars are the light- bearers, the illustrious of earth, who were given by God high place that they might be burning and shining lights for Him. A large proportion of these are drawn away in the train of evil; they are cast down from their high position of noble opportunities of good work and great work; they are dragged down from the height of the grandest possibilities of good to the low level of a life enslaved to evil.

And the dragon.—Translate, And the dragon stands (not “stood”) before the woman who is about to bring forth, that whenever she has brought forth he may devour her child. The spirit of evil is represented as ever on the watch to destroy the first tokens of better things. Our minds go back to the hatred and fear of Pharaoh, setting a watch for the offspring of Israel and ordering their destruction; and even more are we reminded of the jealous hatred of Herod seeking the life of the infant Christ. It seems clear that it is on this last incident that the present vision is primarily built up; but its meaning is much wider than this. It shows us that evermore, as Herod waited to destroy Christ, the devil, the old spirit whose malignity wrought through the fears of Pharaoh and of Herod, is on the watch to destroy every token of good and every resemblance to Christ in the world. The mission of the Church is to bring forth in her members this life of Christ before men: the aim of the wicked spirit is to destroy that life. The same hostility which was shown to the infant Christ is active against His children: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”

12:1-6 The church, under the emblem of a woman, the mother of believers, was seen by the apostle in vision, in heaven. She was clothed with the sun, justified, sanctified, and shining by union with Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. The moon was under her feet; she was superior to the reflected and feebler light of the revelation made by Moses. Having on her head a crown of twelve stars; the doctrine of the gospel, preached by the twelve apostles, is a crown of glory to all true believers. As in pain to bring forth a holy family; desirous that the conviction of sinners might end in their conversion. A dragon is a known emblem of Satan, and his chief agents, or those who govern for him on earth, at that time the pagan empire of Rome, the city built upon seven hills. As having ten horns, divided into ten kingdoms. Having seven crowns, representing seven forms of government. As drawing with his tail a third part of the stars in heaven, and casting them down to the earth; persecuting and seducing the ministers and teachers. As watchful to crush the Christian religion; but in spite of the opposition of enemies, the church brought forth a manly issue of true and faithful professors, in whom Christ was truly formed anew; even the mystery of Christ, that Son of God who should rule the nations, and in whose right his members partake the same glory. This blessed offspring was protected of God.And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven - The word rendered "drew" - συρω surō - means to "draw, drag, haul." Prof. Stuart renders it "drew along"; and explains it as meaning that "the danger is represented as being in the upper region of the air, so that his tail may be supposed to interfere with and sweep down the stars, which, as viewed by the ancients, were all set in the visible expanse or welkin." So Daniel 8:10, speaking of the little horn, says that "it waxed great, even to the host of heaven, and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground." See the notes on that passage. The main idea here undoubtedly is that of power, and the object of John is to show that the power of the dragon was as if it extended to the stars, and as if it dragged down a third part of them to the earth, or swept them away with its tail, leaving two-thirds unaffected.

A power that would sweep them all away would be universal; a power that would sweep away one-third only would represent a dominion of that extent only. The dragon is represented as floating in the air - a monster extended along the sky - and one-third of the whole expanse was subject to his control. Suppose, then, that the dragon here was designed to represent the Roman pagan power; suppose that it referred to that power about to engage in the work of persecution, and at a time when the church was about to be greatly enlarged, and to fill the world; suppose that it referred to a time when but one-third part of the Roman world was subject to pagan influence, and the remaining two-thirds were, for some cause, safe from this influence - all the conditions here referred to would be fulfilled. Now it so happens that at a time when the "dragon" had become a common standard in the Roman armies, and had in some measure superseded the eagle, a state of things did exist which well corresponds with this representation.

There were times under the emperors when, in a considerable part of the empire, after the establishment of Christianity, the church enjoyed protection, and the Christian religion was tolerated, while in other parts paganism still prevailed, and waged a bitter warfare with the church. "Twice, at least, before the Roman empire became, divided permanently into the two parts, the Eastern and the Western, there was a "tripartite" division of the empire. The first occurred 311 a.d., when it was divided between Constantine, Licinius, and Maximin; the other 337 a.d., on the death of Constantine, when it was divided between his three sons, Constantine, Constans, and Constantius." "In two-thirds of the empire, embracing its whole European and African territory, Christians enjoyed toleration; in the other, or Asiatic portion, they were still, after a brief and uncertain respite, exposed to persecution, in all its bitterness and cruelty as before" (Elliott). I do not deem it absolutely essential, however, in order to a fair exposition of this passage, that we should be able to refer to minute historical facts with names and dates. A sufficient fulfillment is found if there was a period when the church, bright, glorious, and prosperous, was apparently about to become greatly enlarged, but when the monstrous pagan power still held its sway over a considerable part of the world, exposing the church to persecution. Even after the establishment of the church in the empire, and the favor shown to it by the Roman government, it was long before the pagan power ceased to rage, and before the church could be regarded as safe.

And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child - To prevent the increase and spread of the church in the world.

4. drew—Greek, present tense, "draweth," "drags down." His dragging down the stars with his tail (lashed back and forward in his fury) implies his persuading to apostatize, like himself, and to become earthy, those angels and also once eminent human teachers who had formerly been heavenly (compare Re 12:1; 1:20; Isa 14:12).

stood—"stands" [Alford]: perfect tense, Greek, "hesteken."

ready to be delivered—"about to bring forth."

for to devour, &c.—"that when she brought forth, he might devour her child." So the dragon, represented by his agent Pharaoh (a name common to all the Egyptian kings, and meaning, according to some, crocodile, a reptile like the dragon, and made an Egyptian idol), was ready to devour Israel's males at the birth of the nation. Antitypically the true Israel, Jesus, when born, was sought for destruction by Herod, who slew all the males in and around Bethlehem.

The tail of the red dragon signifies his followers, his civil and military officers, whosoever were by him employed to execute his commands. By the stars, here, are either meant the ministers of the Christian church, or the professors of it.

And did cast them to the earth; turning them out of their places and stations, making them as useless as he could.

And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born; that is, before the church that was ready to propagate itself, watching upon her increase to devour them. I take this to be a much more probable sense than theirs who understand it of Constantine; for I know not, with reference to him, who should be understood by the red dragon. Mr. Mede hath ingeniously observed, that Pharaoh was a type of this red dragon. He is resembled by a dragon, Psalm 74:13,14 Isa 51:9 Ezekiel 29:3, and watched upon God’s ancient church to destroy it, as the pagan emperors did upon the Christian church. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth,.... So Solinus (e) speaks of dragons that have power not only in their teeth, but in their tails, and do more hurt by striking than by biting; and the great serpent, which Attilius Regulus and his army fought with, not only destroyed many of his soldiers with its vast mouth, but dashed many to pieces with its tail (f); which serpent, Pliny (g) says, was a hundred and twenty foot long: this is said in allusion to Antiochus Epiphanes, in Daniel 8:10; and designs either the subduing of the third part of the principalities, states, and kingdoms of the known world, to the Roman empire, through its great power and strength; which lay in its tail, in its train of armies which attended it, whereby such a number of nations were drawn into subjection to it, insomuch that the empire was called all the world, Luke 2:1; or else the influence the dragon should have upon the ministers of the word, who are compared to stars, Revelation 1:20; by causing them to relinquish their ministry, and drop their heavenly employment, and fall from that high and honourable state in which they were, into a carnal, earthly, and worldly religion; and that either through policy, cunning, and flattery, or through sorcery, magic art, lying oracles, and prophecy; see Isaiah 9:15; or through the violence of persecution they had not power to withstand; of which falling stars there are many instances, as the ecclesiastical histories of those times show:

and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born; just as the dragon Pharaoh lay in the midst of his rivers, in the river Nile, Ezekiel 29:3; to slay the male children of Israel as soon as born; and as the dragon Herod sought to take away the life of Jesus quickly after his birth; and as Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, so the Pagan empire, or the Pagan emperors, took every opportunity to stifle the kingdom of Christ in embryo, and to prevent the bringing forth of any illustrious person; and sought to destroy him as soon as he appeared, who might be thought, or suspected to be an instrument of encouraging and establishing the kingdom of Christ in the empire: the instances Brightman produces are appropriate, and to the purpose; as of Maximinus destroying Alexander the son of Mammea, who he saw was inclined to the Christians; and of Decius taking off the two Philips, father and son, who were favourable to their cause; but especially the watchfulness of the dragon to destroy the man child was very manifest in the Roman emperors towards Constantine; Dioclesian and Galerius, observing his virtuous disposition in his youth, left nothing unattempted to cut him off privately; he was sent against the Sarmatians, a cruel and savage people, in hopes he would have been destroyed by them; and was set to fight with a lion in the theatre, under a pretence of exercising and showing his valour; and many other methods were used to take away his life, but none succeeded.

(e) Polyhist. c. 43. (f) Valer. Maxim. l. 1. c. 8. (g) Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 14.

(7) And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon (8) stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for {9} to devour her child as soon as it was born.

(7) After the description of Satan follows this action, that is, his battle with the Church partly to that which is visible, in which the wheat is mingled with the chaff, and the good fish with that which is evil: its good part, though in appearance it shined as the stars shine in heaven, he is said to thrust down out of heaven, and to pervert: for if it were possible he would pervert even the elect Mt 24:24 and partly to the elect members of the holy catholic church in the second part of this verse. Many therefore of the members of this visible Church (says John) he overthrew and triumphed on them.

(8) He withstood that elect Church of the Jews which was now ready to bring forth the Christian Church and watched for her to give birth. For the whole Church, and whole body is compared to a woman: and a part of the Church to that which is brought forth, as we have noted in So 7:6.

(9) Christ mystical (as they call him) that is, the whole Church, consists of the person of Christ as the head and of the body united to it by the Spirit, so is the name of Christ taken on 1Co 12:12.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 12:4. The symbolism is a reminiscence of an ætiological myth in astrology (cf. the cauda of the constellation Scorpio) and of the primitive view which regarded the dark cloud as a snake enfolding the luminaries of heaven in its hostile coils (Job 3:8; Job 26:13, with A. B. Davidson’s notes). Thus the Iranians (S. B. E. iv. p. lxxiii., Darmesteter) described the fiend as a serpent or dragon not on the score of craftiness but “because the storm fiend envelops the goddess of light with the coils of the cloud as with a snake’s fold”. The same play of imagination would interpret eclipses and falling stars, and, when the pious were compared to stars (as in Egyptian theology, Plut. de Iside, 21), it was but a step to the idea of Daniel 8. (cf. Sib. Or. ver. 512 f., the battle of the stars), where Antiochus Epiphanes does violence to some devout Israelites who are characterised as stars flung rudely down to earth (i.e., martyred, 1 Maccabees 1.) Originally, this description of the dragon lashing his tail angrily and sweeping down a third of the stars probably referred to the seduction of angels from their heavenly rank (so 8–9) to serve his will (Weiss). But John, in recasting the tradition, may have thought of the Danielic application, i.e., of the devil succeeding in crushing by martyrdom a certain number of God’s people. In this event, they would include at least, if they are not to be identified with, the pre-Christian martyrs of Judaism (cf. Hebrews 11:32 f. Matthew 23:35).—ἕστηκεν, a conventional posture of the ancient dragon cf. e.g., Pliny, H. N. viii. 3, “nec flexu multiplici ut reliquae serpentes corpus impellit, sed celsus et erectus in medio incedens”; ibid. viii. 14, for serpents devouring children. The mother of Zoroaster had also a vision of wild beasts waiting to devour her child at its birth. This international myth of the divine child menaced at birth readily lent itself to moralisation, or afforded terms for historical applications, e.g., the abortive attack on Moses, the prototype of messiah (Baldensperger, 141, 142) at his birth (Acts 7:20 f.) and the vain efforts of Herod against the messiah. The animosity of Pytho for Leto was due to a prophecy that the latter’s son would vanquish him.4. And his tail drew] The great serpent crawls along the vault of the sky, and the wrigglings of his tail remove the stars from their places. “Drew” is literally draweth.

stood] Perhaps more accurately standeth.

for to devour her child] Symbolises the enmity of the serpent against the seed of the woman, beginning with the intended treachery of Herod, and massacre of the Innocents; but including also the malice that pursued Him through life, the temptation, and at last the Cross.Revelation 12:4. Καταφάγῃ, to devour) The notion formerly prevailed with many persons, that serpents were accustomed eagerly to desire the flesh of new-born infants.—Pricæus.Verse 4. - And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth; draweth (Revised Version). Not the stars with which the woman is crowned (see ver. 1), but other stars. In describing the vast power of the devil, St. John seems to allude to the tremendous result of his rebellious conduct in heaven, in effecting the fall of other angels with himself (Jude 1:6). The seer does not here interrupt his narrative to explain the point, but returns to it after ver. 6, and there describes briefly the origin and cause of the enmity of the devil towards God. The third part (as in Revelation 8:7, et seq.) signifies a considerable number, but not the larger part. And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born; which was about to be delivered, that when she was delivered, he might devour her child (Revised Version). A graphic picture of what is true of Christ himself of the Church, both Jewish and Christian, and of every individual member of the Church. This is another example of the personal history of Christ being repeated in the history of his Church. The devil, in the person of Herod, attempts to prevent the salvation of the world; through Pharaoh he endeavours to crush the chosen people of God, through whom the Messiah was to bless all the earth; by means of the power of Rome he labours to exterminate the infant Church of Christ. Of the stars of heaven

Some expositors find an allusion to the fallen angels (Jde 1:6).

Did cast them to the earth

Compare Daniel 8:10.

To devour her child as soon as it was born (ἵνα ὅταν τέκῃ τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς καταφάγῃ)

Rev., more literally, that when she was delivered he might devour her child. Professor Milligan says: "In these words we have the dragon doing what Pharaoh did to Israel (Exodus 1:15-22), and again and again, in the Psalms and the Prophets, Pharaoh is spoken of as the dragon (Psalm 74:13; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3). Nor is it without interest to remember that Pharaoh's crown was wreathed with a dragon (the asp or serpent of Egypt), and that just as the eagle was the ensign of Rome, so the dragon was that of Egypt. Hence the significance of Moses' rod being turned into a serpent."

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