And she brought forth a man child - Representing, according to the view above taken, the church in its increase and prosperity - as if a child were born that was to rule over all nations. See the notes on Revelation 12:2.
Who was to rule all nations - That is, according to this view, the church thus represented was destined to reign in all the earth, or all the earth was to become subject to its laws. Compare the notes on Daniel 7:13-14.
With a rod of iron - The language used here is derived from Psalms 2:9; "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron." The form of the expression here used, "who was to rule" - ̔́ ́ ́ hos mellei poimainein - is derived from the Septuagint translation of the Psalm - ͂ poimaineis - "thou shalt rule them" ; to wit, as a shepherd does his flock. The reference is to such control as a shepherd employs in relation to his flock - protecting, guarding, and defending them, with the idea that the flock is under his care; and, on the supposition that this refers to the church, it means that it would yet have the ascendency or the dominion over the earth. The meaning in the phrase, "with a red of iron," is, that the dominion would be strong or irresistible - as an iron scepter is one that cannot be broken or resisted. The thoughts here expressed, therefore, are:
(a)That the church would become universal - or that the principles of truth and righteousness would prevail everywhere on the earth;
(b)That the ascendency of religion over the understandings and consciences of people would be irresistible - as firm as a government administered under a scepter of iron; yet,
(c)That it would be rather of a character of protection than of force or violence, like the sway which a shepherd wields over his flock.
I understand the "man child" here, therefore, to refer to the church in its increase under the Messiah, and the idea to be, that that church was, at the time referred to, about to be enlarged, and that, though its increase was opposed, yet it was destined ultimately to assert a mild sway over all the world. The time here referred to would seem to be some period in the early history of the church when religion was likely to be rapidly propagated, and when it was opposed and retarded by violent persecution - perhaps the last of the persecutions under the pagan Roman empire.
And her child was caught up unto God - This is evidently a symbolical representation. Some event was to occur, or some divine interposition was to take place, as if the child thus born were caught up from the earth to save it from death, and was rendered secure by being in the presence of God, and near his throne. It cannot be supposed that anything like this would "literally" occur. Any divine interposition to protect the church in its increase, or to save it from being destroyed by the dragon - the fierce pagan power - would be properly represented by this. Why may we not suppose the reference to be to the time of Constantine, when the church came under his protection; when it was effectually and finally saved from pagan persecution; when it was rendered safe from the enemy that waited to destroy it? On the supposition that this refers to an increasing but endangered church, in whose defense a civil power was raised up, exalting Christianity to the throne, and protecting it from danger, this would be well represented by the child caught up to heaven.
This view may derive confirmation from some well-known facts in history. The old pagan power was concentrated in Maximin, who was emperor from the Nile to the Bosphorus, and who raged against the gospel and the church "with Satanic enmity." "Infuriate at the now imminent prospect of the Christian body attaining establishment in the empire, Maximin renewed the persecution against Christians within the limits of his own dominion; prohibiting their assemblies, and degrading, and even killing their bishops." Compare Gibbon, 1:325, 326. The last struggle of pagan Rome to destroy the church by persecution, before the triumph of Constantine, and the public establishment of the Christian religion, might be well represented by the attempt of the dragon to destroy the child; and the safety of the church, and its complete deliverance from pagan persecution, by the symbol of a child caught up to heaven, and placed near the throne of God. The persecution under Maximin was the last struggle of paganism to retain the supremacy, and to crush Christianity in the empire. "Before the decisive battle," says Milner, "Maximin vowed to Jupiter that, if victorious, he would abolish the Christian name. The contest between Yahweh and Jupiter was now at its height, and drawing to a crisis."
The result was the defeat and death of Maximin, and the termination of the efforts of paganism to destroy Christianity by force. Respecting this event, Mr. Gibbon remarks, "The defeat and death of Maximin soon delivered the church from the last and most implacable of her enemies," 1:326. Christianity was, after that, rendered safe from pagan persecution. Mr. Gibbon says, "The gratitude of the church has exalted the virtues of the generous patron who seated Christianity on the throne of the Roman world." If, however, it should be regarded as a forced and fanciful interpretation to suppose that the passage before us refers to this specific event, yet the general circumstances of the times would furnish a fulfillment of what is here said:
(a)The church would be well represented by the beautiful woman.
(b)The prospect of its increase and universal dominion would be well represented by the birth of the child.
(c)The furious opposing pagan power would be well represented by the dragon in its attempts to destroy the child.
(d)The safety of the church would be well represented by the symbol of the child caught up to God, and placed near his throne.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Revelation 12:5:
1 Thessalonians 4:17
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