Chapters 2 and 3 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 16 | 17
Chapter 12: The battle between Christianity and the ancient religion
The emergence of the Church
But exactly whom are the events in chapters 10 and 11 directed against? Chapters 12 and 13 explain just that. We are transferred back to the time of the initial appearance of the Christian Church, when the Roman Empire was still polytheistic.
12:1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
The Church was founded by the twelve Apostles, here symbolized by twelve stars. She sprang from Judaism; the latter emits only a faint light (like that of the moon) compared to the religion of Christ, whose light is as bright as that of the sun.
Some commentators claim that the Woman is Virgin Mary, the Child being Jesus. They don't understand that the symbolism is the other way around. I believe that Mary symbolizes the true Church of believers, while Jesus, like John the Evangelist said, symbolizes the Word of God.
The introduction of the Word of God (the "child" of the next verse), into society was not easy. The Word was made war against, at first by the Jews, and later by the Romans, which made the "birth" of the "child" painful.
12:2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
Rome persecutes Jews and Christians
The polytheistic Roman Empire is now about to present itself to us. It is presented as a Dragon, a symbol of the enmity towards the Word of God that was exhibited by those adhering to the ancient polytheistic religion. It is red, a symbol for the blood it caused to be spilled during its military campaigns and during the Christian persecutions, of which John (the Revelator) was a witness. It has seven heads, a symbol for the seven hills of Rome, the city it sprang from. The seven heads have crowns, symbolizing the imperial power seated on the seven hills. The Dragon has ten horns, which denote the provinces that make up the Empire (ten is a symbolic number), each province adding to the Empire's strength (horns are a symbol of fighting ability).
12:3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
There were three main religions in the Roman Empire after the rise of Christianity: the ancient religion of the Graeco-Roman Pantheon, Judaism and Christianity. During the first and second centuries CE, Rome made fierce wars against the Jews, resulting in their Diaspora all over the known world. This is a scene from the looting of the Jewish Temple by Roman soldiers:
After the beginning of these wars, persecutions against Christians also began to take place.
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.
But, no matter how hard the Dragon tried to kill the Word of God, the latter was nevertheless established in many people's hearts. Christianity was destined to become the religion of Europe, even though crimes were to be committed and wars were to be waged in the name of Christ.
12:5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
But, even though Europe would become officially Christian, the true Church was to live in hiding, unable to produce the fruit of the Gospel ("in the wilderness"), while another Church, a Church of worldliness and thirst for power, would be the ruler of the world for about 1260 years, as has been shown in the previous chapter.
12:6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
Christianity wins the spiritual battle
In order to secure His place in the people's hearts, the Word of God had to replace the various beliefs that were held at that time. A spiritual war had to be fought. And so it happened; Christianity won the battle against the ancient religion, which was gradually abandoned.
12:7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
12:8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
So the Dragon, the enemy of the Word, was deprived of his former place of dominance in the people's hearts. The days of the old religion, as well as those of the Empire, were numbered.
12:9 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.
12:10 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.
The Dragon was defeated through the self-sacrifice of brave Christians, who spread the Word of God without fear of torture or death, with the Word as their only weapon.
12:11 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.
Even though Christianity had won the spiritual battle over the ancient religion, great tribulation still awaited Christians, for the Dragon, unable to defeat the Word of God in the spiritual level, because of his inferiority, tried to silence Him by physically persecuting His Church. The Empire was now in decline, along with its polytheistic religion and, if they were to survive, all of their enemies, including the Church, had to be made war against.
12:12 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.
12:13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
The Church survives the Persecutions
But the Church survived the attack, even though the Dragon, the enemy of the Word, would, in the future, take the form of another religious system, as is shown in chapter 13, and would keep the true Church from producing the fruit of the Gospel.
12:14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
The persecution of the Church by the Dragon lasted, including periods of relative tolerance, two and a half centuries, and the fiercest of all persecutions was the one waged by Diocletian and Galerius, in the early 4th century.
12:15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
Well known are the subterranean Christian Catacombs, thanks to which the Christians survived the persecutions, and the Church was saved from extinction.
12:16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
The battle is not over yet
So the Dragon was not able to defeat the Church. But, even though the ancient religion died, the enemy of the Word nevertheless survived. His spirit was to penetrate into the established Church, and the morals and teachings of Christianity were to be corrupted. In chapter 2, it is shown that the Church gradually adopted "idol worship" and spiritual "whoredom", so the Dragon never really died. Literal idolatry is to worship lifeless, usually visible, objects. In a figurative sense, to follow someone other than the Christ, while officially claiming to follow Christ, as has often been the case throughout history, especially regarding the Church of Rome, is, in my view, what the word "idolatry" really means in the Apocalypse.
With the extinction of the ancient religion, one had no other option but to become Christian. Moreover, it gradually became obligatory for one to be baptized. In earlier times, Christianity had been adopted only by those who were ready to accept it, and those were usually people of a high moral and spiritual level. But now, the bulk of Christians were ordinary, usually not very enlightened, people. This is one of the causes of the Church's moral and spiritual decline.
History would show that the enemies of the Word would not be defeated simply by the victory of Christianity over the ancient polytheistic religion. The Dark and Middle Ages did not prove to be an angelic period of human history. Christian fought against Christian and the Church was often characterized by corruption and hypocrisy. Persecutions of true Christian believers took place, simply because of the latter's opposition to the worldliness and hypocrisy of the Church. A considerable percentage of the official representatives of Christ were enemies of the Word of God. So the Dragon, having taken a different form, really did make war against the remnant of the seed of the true Church.
12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.