And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven - The word rendered "drew" - 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so happens that at a time when the "dragon" had become a common standard in the Roman armies, and had in some measure superseded the eagle, a state of things did exist which well corresponds with this representation.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.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Revelation 12:4:
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