A Preterist Commentary on Revelation 12: Summary and Highlights
In the following Preterist Bible commentary on Revelation 12, the reader will be exposed to historical evidence of what appears to be a surprisingly literal fulfillment of Revelation 12 during the first century. The Book of Revelation is NOT a book of empty symbols as is often supposed. This chapter begins with a pregnant “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet.” In Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar, the constellation Virgo, the virgin, is in the sun. According to Luke 1:26, it was during this month that the angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of the Messiah. On one day of that month, the moon is under her feet. Revelation 12:1-2 implies that Christ was conceived on the day in which the moon sits at Virgo’s feet. After the Christ child was born, there was a war in heaven and Satan was cast to the earth. This angelic war was reportedly seen in the sky at the start of the Jewish War in A.D. 66 according to two first century Roman historians.
After being cast to the earth, the devil poured a river out of its mouth in order to drown the woman in a flood. Nero, the beast, was building a canal when he heard about Israel’s revolt against Rome; and he immediately ordered the Roman army to attack Israel. Is this man-made river the river of Revelation 12:15-16? Regardless, the flood it causes as is the case in Isaiah 8:7-8, Daniel 11:10, Daniel 11:40, Nahum 1:8 and Joel 2:9 is a Biblical metaphor for an invading army—namely the Roman legions. The church historian Eusebius says that the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem fled the city before the war. Is the woman that escapes the devil’s assault in Revelation 12:6-17 a symbol of these Christian refugees? In the following preterist commentary on Revelation 12, the reader will be exposed to the historical evidence.
The following may seem unbelievable. However, most information is taken from unbiased historical records and all information is easily verifiable. Sources listed at the end.
The Surprisingly Literal and Visible Fulfillment of Revelation 12
Revelation 12 Commentary Intro: A Vision LITERALLY Seen in the Sky . . .
The theme of this commentary is to show that Revelation is NOT a book of empty symbols as is often supposed in preterist circles. Even in Revelation 12 which largely addresses heavenly events in a symbolic fashion, there is still a LITERAL, visible fulfillment to this vision. For example, the imagery of the woman and the dragon are not just symbols of the devil and the kingdom of heaven—they are real images that John saw that are also visible to everyone in the world even today.
Revelation 12 Commentary Intro: Though Most of the Symbolism in Revelation is drawn from the Bible, God often also employs the Symbolism of Ancient Babylon to Address the Fate of Spiritual Babylon.
In Revelation 17 and 18, John predicts the fate of the Whore of Babylon. The majority of the imagery in Revelation is found in the rest of the Bible. However, much of the rest of this symbolism which has no clear Biblical precedent is related to the Babylonian epithet of Revelation 17 and 18. Ancient Babylon which destroyed Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C. developed a system of celestial signs to predict the future which spread to and became firmly established in the culture of first century Israel and Rome. Thus both first century Rome and Jerusalem were as acquainted with Babylonian iconography as the west is with Christian imagery today. Throughout Revelation ancient Babylonian images are often used to illustrate God’s judgments on spiritual Babylon in a language spiritual Babylon would have understood quite well. In other words, in Revelation the fate of spiritual Babylon is written in the stars. This ancient Babylonian system of using the stars to predict the future is called astrology.
In Genesis 1:14 The Lord said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs . . .” Then in Luke 21:25, Jesus says that at the time of the end “[t]here will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.” Partially fulfilling Luke 21:25, Revelation adopts the stars as prophetic signs. Though the author of Revelation uses Babylonian constellations to illustrate events in Revelation 12, he does not to violate Deuteronomy 4:19. Passionately Christian, John sees the heavenly bodies as signs and symbols of the end of the age, not as deities.
Babylonian astrology changed slightly as it spread from the ancient Babylon to first century Rome. Many of the symbolic images found in Revelation are literal, actual images seen during the judgment at the end of the age and even today. Thus in much of the Revelation, God employs the symbolism of ancient Babylon to convey his judgments on spiritual Babylon. Throughout this commentary we shall highlight the major Babylonian constellations mentioned in this text. Some other noteworthy, but less critical, allusions in Revelation to these constellations of Babylonian origin are mentioned in the footnotes. The first Babylonian constellation in Revelation 12 is mentioned in v. 1.
1A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
Revelation 12:1-2 Commentary: Revelation often depicts Kingdoms in the Human Form of Their Leaders or Quintessential Human Representatives.
As will be explained in greater detail throughout the remainder of this commentary, the Book of Revelation portrays kingdoms in the human form of their leaders, figureheads or quintessential human representatives. For example as will be shown in greater detail in Revelation 13, the kingdom of Rome, the beast, is frequently depicted and embodied by its king, Caesar. In Revelation 17 and Revelation 18, the whore of Babylon representing adulterous Jerusalem is pictured as the promiscuous and famously beautiful firstborn princess of Israel, Queen Berenice. This epithet is particularly fitting in light of the fact that Queen Berenice had adulterous affair with Caesar Titus during Israel’s first century war with Rome.
The virgin woman pictured in vs. 1-2 is a symbol of God’s people. As noted by Milton Terry, this virgin woman pictured in vs. 1-2 is mentioned in Galatians 4:26 : “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.”1 And in line with this overarching theme of kingdoms being embodied by real people, this virgin also represents a real, historical person. Having conceived Christ while still a virgin, the woman representing God’s people in Revelation 12:1-2 is, of course, embodied by Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary.
Revelation 12:1-2 Preterist Commentary: According to Luke 1:26 the Sun was in Virgo when Gabriel announced to Mary that She was to be with Child.
As stated above, the virgin in vs. 1-2 represents the God’s people. She is illustrated in the sky by the constellation Virgo–the virgin. Not surprisingly, Virgo, the virgin, has a “crown” of twelve visible stars.2 Furthermore, Virgo also has two wings just as does this woman (Revelation 12:14.)3 Two thousand years ago, the sun was in the constellation Virgo during the month of Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar.4 The twelve constellations of the zodiac form a procession across the night sky during the course of a year. All constellations are present daily though during part of the year some of them cannot be seen as a result of being drowned out by the light of day. During the month of Elul, the constellation Virgo lies behind the sun and is thus made invisible by it. Virgo, like all the signs of the zodiac, is positioned along the ecliptic, the invisible line in which the sun and moon trace through the sky. The moon passes through all twelve signs of the zodiac in about twenty-seven days. Therefore, Virgo, resting along the ecliptic, with her head facing Leo and her feet pointing to Libra will appear to stand on the moon one day of this month. According to Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel visited Mary during the sixth month to announce to her that she would be with child. This is Elul, the month in which the sun appears to be in the womb of Virgo. John suggests in this verse that on the day in which the moon rested on Virgo’s feet, Jesus was conceived.
Revelation 12:1-2 Commentary: The Sun representing the King and Moon possibly representing the High Priest appears to be a Sign of Jesus, the king and High Priest according to Hebrews 7.
According to the Midrash, the sun represents the king.5 There is some Biblical validity to this idea (Psalm 72:5, Isaiah 24:21-23). In Revelation 12:1-2 the sun appears to represent the kingly Messiah. With the sun in her womb, Virgo, the virgin, looks to be with royal child. The crown on her head shows her to be a queen with each star representing the twelve tribes, the twelve disciples and the twelve angels in Revelation 21:12.
According to the Midrash, the moon represents the Sanhedrin, the chief priests. This interpretation is suggested by the fact that the “seating of the Sanhedrin was in the shape of a semi-circular threshing floor [i.e. shaped like a crescent moon].”6 Prior to 191 B.C. the high priest acted as the head of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps the moon represents the chief priests or its former leader, the high priest? If the moon represents the high priest, then the moon in vs. 1-2 also points Christ who according to Hebrews 7 is both king and high priest.
3Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
Revelation 12:3-4 Commentary: The Many-Headed Hydra Lies Below Virgo About to Devour Her Child.
Verse 3 says that another sign appeared in the sky. This sign is an enormous red dragon. The dragon of these two verses is the constellation Hydra. As stated earlier, the myth of the many-headed Hydra was a Hellenistic adaptation of the seven-headed leviathan mentioned in Job 3:8, Job 41:1, Psalm 74:14, Psalm 104:26 and Isaiah 27:1. Like the Hydra, the leviathan is also a sea monster (Psalm 104:26, Isaiah 27:1) with many heads (Psalm 74:14). The many-headed Hydra or leviathan is the beast out of the sea mentioned throughout the Book of Revelation. The Hydra or leviathan lies directly underneath Virgo as if preparing to consume her offspring.
Revelation 12:4 Commentary: Occupying about A Third of the Equitorial Belt, the Hydra appears to Cast Its Stars to the Earth When It Sets.
According to John, the dragon’s tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky. The Hydra is the largest of all the constellations. 4,700 years ago, the Hydra would have covered nearly one-third of the equatorial belt.7 Therefore, these stars appear to be hurled to the earth when this constellation descends under the earth’s horizon. Much of the rest of this chapter is also represented in the sky. However, only the most noteworthy constellations will be highlighted in the remainder of the commentary on this chapter and many of the others will only be mentioned in the footnotes.
Revelation 12:3-4 Commentary: Is the Dragon Herod or Satan or Both?
Some commentators see this dragon as the Roman Empire embodied here by Herod who tried to kill Jesus soon after His birth (Matthew 2:16).8 In Genesis 22:17 God told Abraham that his descendants would be as “the stars of heaven.” Similarly when Deborah described Israel’s defeat of Sisera, she said, “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.” Likewise, when Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Israel, Daniel poetically describes this event by saying that Antiochus, the little horn, “threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them (Daniel 8:10).”9 In light of the fact that in Daniel 8:10 Antiochus Epiphanies’ slaughter of the Jewish people is portrayed as a little horn casting the stars of heaven down to the earth, perhaps the Herodian massacred of the children of Bethlehem in order to kill the future Messiah could also be depicted as a dragon casting a third of the stars out of the sky?
That having been said, I believe that there is more to this dragon of Revelation 12. Though I do believe that this dragon does symbolize the Roman Empire embodied specifically by the actions of King Herod in v. 4 (Palestine was a Roman province and Herod was a Roman client king and as such the Herodian Dynasty was an extension of Rome, the beast, and its rule in the region), I also believe that this dragon represents Satan and his kingdom. In both Greek and Hebrew the word for sky is also the word used for heaven, the abode of God and His angels, as is also the case in English and many other languages (Job 22:12; Psalm 11:4; 14:2; 20:6; 33:13; Matthew 6:9; 7:11; 7:21; 16:19). Some languages even take it a step further where the word for dirt or soil is also the word for hell. Similarly, in the Bible the sun, moon and stars can represent heavenly beings like God and angels or humans on the earthly plain like kings and emperors or other members of the social elite (Deuteronomy 4:19; Judges 5:20; Job 25:5; 38:7; Psalm 72:5; 148:3; Isaiah 14:12-14; 24:21-23; Daniel 12:3; Revelation 9:1-2; 22:16). The fact that heaven, the sun, moon and stars have dual means makes it possible to convey a kind of Biblical double talk where related events on earth and in heaven can be poetically conveyed simultaneously.
One clear example of this is found in Ezekiel 28:1-19. In these verses, the king of Tyre is addressed. In v. 7 Ezekiel predicts the destruction of Tyre. This prediction was fulfilled in 573 B.C. when Tyre was destroyed by the Babylonian army. While addressing the king of this city, Ezekiel writes, “You [the king of Tyre] were in Eden, the garden of God.” Ezekiel then goes on to say that the king of Tyre was “anointed as a guardian cherub.” A guardian cherub is an angel of the presence of God. Then in v. 17, this guardian cherub, the king of Tyre, was cast to the earth. The imagery in Ezekiel 28 simultaneously points to both events in heaven and earth with the casting out of an angel of the presence of God from heaven and the destruction of Tyre and the death of its king as seemingly simultaneous or related events. I believe the same basic message is conveyed in Revelation 12:3-4 where earthly events like Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem occurs in concert with related heavenly ones.
5She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
Revelation 12:5 Commentary: The Male Child is the Messiah Who rules at the Right Hand of the Father.
The male child is Jesus. This child is then taken to heaven. This occurred during Jesus’ ascension in the first chapter of Acts, in fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14 mentioned above. From there the Messiah sits at the right hand of God ruling the world from a heavenly throne (Acts 7:55).
6The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Revelation 12:6 Commentary: The Christians of Jerusalem Fled to Pella and were Presumably Kept Safe for 1,260 days.
The woman Virgo symbolizes the kingdom of God. On earth, she is also represented by the Christian church. According to the early church historian Eusebius, the Christian church received an oracle concerning Jerusalem’s destruction, and many Jewish Christians left the city before the start of the war. These refugees fled to the city of Pella.10 Pella is in Perea which according to Jospehus in Wars of the Jews, “the greater part of it [Perea] is desert and rough.”11 The fact that the woman flees to the wilderness in v.6 seems an appropriate description of a region said to be mostly desert.
As previously indicated, the seven trumpets and bowls represent different plagues of Exodus. The fact that the woman flees to the wilderness in v. 6 is another Exodus motif. According to Hebrews 3:10-11 and Psalm 95:10-11, the former Hebrew slaves wandered in the wilderness during the exodus for forty years before their children entered Israel–the promised rest. In Hebrews 3-4, Paul likens the forty-year interval in which the Hebrew slaves wandered in the desert and the subsequent rest their offspring received in the promised land to the life of the Christian saints on earth as they await the resurrection—the promised rest of the saints. Interestingly, there were approximately forty years from the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry to the start of the siege of Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead. I believe Jesus began His ministry around Tishri of A.D. 29. See Daniel 9:24-27 Commentary: Daniel 9 Miraculously Fulfilled! The siege of Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead began around Nisan of A.D. 70. See Preterism, the Rapture and the Resurrection. This is an interval of forty years and six months. In other words, Christianity was forty years old by the time of the resurrection—when the Christian saints wandering in the wilderness finally received their promised rest. Is this a coincidence?
Though the exact time of their departure is not known, I believe that, except for the two witnesses, the last of the Christians to flee Jerusalem did so around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles in A.D. 66 when Cestius arrived outside of Jerusalem with the 12th Legion, led a brief assault and then abruptly departed.12 See Matthew 24 Commentary: THAT Generation Shall Not Pass. In A.D. 70 the Romans returned to the city with a much larger army. On Passover of that year–1,260 days or 42 months later—they began their siege of the city. At the very beginning of this siege, the two witnesses were killed. See Revelation 11: A Preterist Commentary–Who are the Two Witnesses?
These two witnesses were Christian and thus should be represented by the woman of Revelation 12:6. Could there have been 1260 days from the final departure of the Christians of Jerusalem until the death of the two witnesses? Josephus tells us that the two witnesses were killed at the start of the siege of Jerusalem. Assuming that the two witnesses died sometime around the Passover celebration when the Romans began their attack and assuming that the last of the Christian saints fled the city sometime around the Feast of Tabernacles of A.D. 66, then perhaps there were 1260 days between the departure of the Christian refugees to the death of the two witnesses corresponding with the time in which the woman representing the Christian saints was kept safe according to Revelation 12:6?
There were 354 days per year in the Jewish lunar calendar used by first century Jews. Approximately every three years, an additional month of 29 or 30 days was inserted into the calendar year to prevent seasonal overlap. Assuming that an additional 29 day month was added sometime in the three and a half years between The Feast of Tabernacles of A.D. 66 and Passover of A.D. 70, then there would have been 1262 days from the 20th of Tishri, the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, of A.D. 66 to the 15th of Nisan, the start of Passover of A.D. 70 when the Romans began their final siege of Jerusalem.13 Is this is the time in which the woman representing the Christian saints were kept safe in Revelation 12:6?
The time in which the woman is kept safe appears to be the same interval in which the two witnesses prophesied and the unfaithful Jews were permitted to remain in Jerusalem according to Revelation 11:2-3. All three events seem to correspond with the arrival of the Roman army in Jerusalem with Cestius in A.D. 66 during the Feast of Tabernacles until the Romans made their final assault on Jerusalem, three and a half years later. See The Flight and Return of the Christians, like the Exile and Return of the Jews from Babylon, is an Earthly Reflection of the Resurrection.
7And there was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.14
A Covenant Eschatology Exposition and Commentary of Revelation 12:7: The Angelic War in Heaven Mentioned in v. 7 was Witnessed in the Sky Over Israel at the Start of the Jewish War.
An angelic war was witnessed in the sky over Israel at the start of the Jewish revolt, in Iyyar of A.D. 66.15 Mentioning this angelic battle, Tacitus writes, “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour.”16 Josephus also records this phenomenon adding the fact that these phantom soldiers on horseback appeared at sunset.17
Revelation 12:7 Commentary: Could Satan Have Been Cast out of Heaven at the Cross?
Proponents of the forty-year millennium believe that Satan was cast out of heaven at the crucifixion, not in A.D. 66 as stated above. However, Satan could not have been cast out of heaven the year of the crucifixion as Satan was still reigning in heaven well after Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent resurrection as is explicitly indicated in 1 Corinthians 4:4, Romans 16:20 and Ephesians 6:12. See the preterist commentary on Revelation 20.
8But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Revelation 12:8-9 Commentary: The Casting of Satan to the Earth and the Beast in Israel . . .
Michael’s army triumphed, and Satan was cast out of heaven.18 The fact that Satan was hurled to the earth may be pictured by the descent of the Hydra beneath the earth’s horizon.
10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.19 11They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. 12Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 Commentary: The Warning to the Earth and Sea and the Neronic Persecution and the Jewish War . . .
Hurled to the earth and sea, the devil is now present in Israel and Rome, which the earth and sea represent respectively. The warning to the sea in v. 12 may be directed to those Christians in Rome during the Neronic persecution. In July of A.D. 64, a fire broke out in downtown Rome. Nero blamed the deed on the growing body of Christians, and as punishment, many of the saints were tortured and executed for a crime they did not commit. Describing this wave of persecution, Tacitus writes, “Wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they [the Christians] were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night.”20
Though the above mentioned interpretation is certainly the most popular in preterist circles, I think the warning to the earth and sea representing Israel and Rome respectively refers to the Jewish War itself. See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations. Remember that Israel and Rome both suffered greatly amidst this war. Revelation 16:10 reads, “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness.” The fifth bowl was poured out upon the throne of the beast which is Rome, not on Israel. In fulfillment of Revelation 16:10 Rome suffered unprecedented tribulation in the midst of the Jewish War in A.D. 68 during the year of the four Caesars. See the commentary on Revelation 16.
13When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
A Realized Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary of Revelation 12:13: The Dragon Pursues the Saints.
Like the dragon pursuing the woman in this verse, the Hydra continues to keep company with Virgo pursuing her as the earth’s rotation appears to move these constellations across the sky. This pursuit is reflected in Israel. Arriving in Israel in A.D. 67, Vespasian and Titus were given command of the Roman assault on Israel. In this verse, Satan is seen pursuing the Jewish saints through the Generals Vespasian and Titus, much like Pharaoh pursued the Jewish slaves after they departed from Egypt in Exodus. The saints, however, are safe in Pella.
Concerning the Flavian desire to destroy the Christian saints represented by the woman, Sulpicius Severus says the following in Chronica 2:30.7:
But others, on the contrary, disagreed–including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Temple was a number one priority in order to destroy completely the religion of the Jews and the Christians: For although these religions are conflicting, they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christians arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch is easily killed.
In the quote above, one can clearly see Titus’ intention to put an end to Christianity in fulfillment of v.13. The following verses accurately predict his lack of success:
14The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.
Revelation Fulfilled, An Exposition, Interpretation and Commentary of Revelation 12:14: The Saints are Kept Safe for “a Time, Times and Half a Time” in Pella.
Like the Jews in Exodus 19:4, the Jewish Christians in v. 14 are carried on eagles’ wings to the desert away from danger. “[T]aken care of for a time, times and half a time,” these Jewish Christians were kept safe while Israel was afflicted with the plagues of Exodus mentioned earlier in Revelation 8: A Preterist Commentary and Revelation 9: A Preterist Commentary–Who is Apollyon?
“[A] time, times and half a time” is a cryptic reference to a period of three and a half years. This three and a half year timeframe is mentioned several times throughout the Book of Revelation. It is the “1260 days” in v. 6 and Revelation 11:3. It is also the “42 months” of Revelation 11:2. In all these cases, this is the interval between the arrival of the Roman army under Cestius at Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles in A.D. 66 to the siege of Jerusalem in Passover of A.D. 70—exactly three and a half years later. It might also be noted that this three and a half year period may also correspond with the arrival of Titus and Vespasian in the early spring of A.D. 67 to the fall of Jerusalem in September of A.D. 70, three and a half years later.
15Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.
Revelation 12:15-16 Commentary: The Earth helps the Woman.
Here John beholds a new portrait in the night sky. The woman, now portrayed as Andromeda, is once again threatened by the devil, now pictured as the dragon Cetus. John sees the river Eridanus pouring from the mouth of Cetus threatening to drown nearby Andromeda. But the river Eridanus, winding to the south, appears to be swallowed by the earth’s horizon.21 Both Cetus and the Hydra are Greek substitutes for Tiamut, the mythical sea monster thought to cast a great river out of his mouth.22 It is perhaps not a coincidence that this myth of Cetus and Andromeda was believed by the Greeks to have taken place in what was then called Philistia, which at the time of the Jewish War was coastal Israel. Interestingly, Josephus alludes to this myth during the Roman assault on Israel’s coastal city of Joppa:
Now Joppa is not naturally a haven, for it ends in a rough shore, where all the rest of it is straight, but the two ends bend towards each other, where there are deep precipices and great stones that jut out into the sea, and where the chains wherewith Andromeda was bound have left their footsteps, which attest to the antiquity of that fable.23
A Realized Eschatological View and Commentary of Revelation 12:15-16: Nero was Building a Canal when He ordered Vespasian to attack Israel. Is this Man-Made River the River of vs. 15-16?
In vs. 15, the leviathan spews a river out of its mouth to sweep the woman away in a flood. It is interesting to note that while the Jews had revolted in Israel, Nero, the emperor of Rome was in Greece starting the construction of the Corinth Canal. Construction of the canal began around the time in which Nero was informed of the revolt in Israel but was never completed as Nero died a couple years later halting the project. The canal was not finished until 1891 when digging resumed in 1881.
This man-made river accounts for the river symbolism in v. 15. Notice as stated above that Nero never finished building this canal or river. Here one can see how the earth literally swallowed “the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth” when construction of the canal ceased and the water running through or beside the unfinished canal was halted by the soil of the earth.
A Covenant Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary of Revelation 12:15-16: The Flood Caused by the River of vs. 15-16 is a Common Biblical Metaphor for an Invading Army.
The flood caused by the river in v.15 is a metaphor for the Roman army dispatched by Nero to crush the Jewish revolt (Isaiah 8:7-8, Daniel 11:10, Daniel 11:40, Nahum 1:8 and Joel 2:9). See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations and The Poetic Biblical Link Between “Sea” and “Abyss”. Like floods, rivers also sometimes represent an invading army as is the case in Isaiah 8:7-8: “[T]herefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates– the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel!” Here one can see how the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians is depicted as a river overflowing its banks. In light of the way in which rivers and floods are used in the Bible to signify foreign military assaults, it is perhaps not a coincidence that it was while he was in Greece building the canal that Nero ordered the Roman army to attack Israel with Vespasian and Titus in command.24
According to v.15 the purpose of this river symbolizing the Roman army led by Vespasian and Titus was to destroy the woman representing the saints.25 Recall that as stated above, the intention of General Titus during the Jewish War was to destroy the Christian saints represented by the woman. Sulpicius Severus states General Titus’ intention to destroy the religion of the saints in Chronica 2:30.7:
But others, on the contrary, disagreed–including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Temple was a number one priority in order to destroy completely the religion of the Jews and the Christians: For although these religions are conflicting, they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christians arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch is easily killed [emphasis mine].
Preterism, A Commentary of Revelation 12:16: Non-Christian Israel Absorbs the Roman Assault in Fulfillment of v. 16.
According to v. 16, the earth, representing the nation of Israel, swallows the river spewed out of the mouth of the dragon and saves the woman. Here the earth, Israel, absorbs the flood, representing the Roman legions sent by Nero during the Jewish War. It is the earth, or wicked Israel, that absorbs this metaphorical flood in virtue of the fact that Israel had received the bulk of the Roman assault because a large number of Jewish Christians had fled to Pella before the war began and were thus largely, if not entirely, unmolested by the war.
Revelation 12:16 Preterist Commentary: Christian Jews may have crossed the Jordan to get to Pella. The Drought Mentioned by Josephus may have allowed them to Cross on Dry Land in Fulfillment of v. 16: “the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.”
According to the early church historian Eusebius, “the members of the Jerusalem church, by means of an oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the City before the war began and settle in a town in Peraea called Pella.”26 Fleeing the imminent war, Jewish Christians sought refuge in the city of Pella. Sympathetic to Rome, Pella was the perfect hiding place. But the journey would not be easy. In order to reach their sanctuary, they would have to cross the Jordan river.
Revelation 12:16 Preterist Commentary: Jewish Christians Cross the Jordan on Dry Land to Escape the Plagues of Exodus afflicted on Israel as the Seven Trumpets and Bowls. The Crossing of the Jordan is Reminiscent of the Parting of the Red Sea.
Josephus mentions a drought in Judea before the war in Jerusalem. Perhaps this drought or an earlier one dried up patches of the Jordan allowing these Christians to cross on their way to Pella? Here one can see another way in which “the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river” in fulfillment of v. 16.
In this verse, God parts the River Jordan allowing his people to pass just as he had done with the Israelites at the Red Sea. And in the same way that the Israelites were saved from the plagues of Exodus, the Christians in Israel were also saved from the seven plagues of Revelation, each of which resembles a different plague of Exodus.
17Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Revelation 12:17 Commentary: The “Rest of Her Offspring” are the Rest of the Christians of Palestine and Those Christian who made the Annual Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to Celebrate Passover Not mentioned by Eusebius.
As explained in Revelation 7: A Preterist Commentary, the woman of Rev 12 is the 144,000 who are also preserved from the beast and plagues. If true, this means the “rest of her offspring” (Rev 12:17) who “hold to the testimony of Jesus” are the “great multitude” of Christians “from every nation, tribe, people and language” that “have come out of the great tribulation.” (Rev 7:9-14.) The great tribulation of Rev 7:9-14 appears to be the Jewish War itself which the woman and 144,000 avoid. The woman and 144,000 are the Christian Church of Jerusalem which according to Eusebius fled to Pella at the start of the war.
But what about the rest of the Christians living in Judaea and Palestine? Also what about the numerous Christian expected to make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in A.D. 70 as the Apostles often did after Jesus’ death together with many other first century Jewish and Gentile Christians from all over the world (Acts 15:1; 18:20-21; 20:16; 1 Cor 9:20–23; Gal 4:21-31; 5:4)? Though Eusebius is silent about the fate of these other Christians, Revelation 7:9-15 and 12:17 strongly imply that they were killed in the Jewish War, the “great tribulation.”27
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Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERIST struggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
Commentary on Revelation 12: Conclusion
In the above commentary on Revelation 12, the reader was exposed to the historical fulfillment of Revelation 12 in the first century.
- Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 382.
- Ernest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena, CA: Foundation for Biblical Research, 2nd ed., 1980), 159 cited in David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Dallas, GA: Dominion Press, 2011), 300.
- Aratus Phaen. 96-146, cited in Ralph P. Martin and Lynn Allan Losie, gen. eds., Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52B, Revelation 6-16, by David E. Aune (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 706.
- Jacques M. Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 342.
- Midrash Rabbah Lamentations Proems 23.
- Jacques M. Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 286.
- The fact that the dragon wished to devour the child is also another Exodus reference pointing to Exodus 1:16-22.
- Kurt M. Simmons, The Consummation of the Ages, (Canada: Bimillennial Preterist Association, 2003), 237-238.
- Eusebius The History of the Church 3.5.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 3.3.3.
- Ibid., 2.19. If the two witnesses were Christian and thus represented by the woman that was kept safe for three and a half years in Revelation 12 and Eusebius is correct that Christians fled to Pella to escape the war, then the last moment in which Jewish Christians could flee Jerusalem would have been around the time of the arrival of Cestius during the Feast of Tabernacles in A.D. 66. This is because Pella was attacked and largely destroyed approximately a month before Cestius’ arrival. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 2.18.1) Therefore, the Christians that fled Jerusalem upon Florus’ arrival would have been advised to follow Jesus’ advice in Matthew 24:16 and just flee to the mountains, and not go immediately to Pella. Three and a half years after Cestius’ arrival with the 12th Legion outside of Jerusalem, the two witnesses were killed around Passover of A.D. 70. Thus the woman of Revelation 12 was truly kept safe for three and a half years between Cestius’ arrival at Jerusalem and the death of the two witnesses. This three and a half year interval may also correspond with the arrival of Vespasian in the early spring of A.D. 67 to the fall of Jerusalem in September of A.D. 70, three and a half years later.
- (354 X 3) + 29 + ½(354) = 1268 days This 1260 day interval may also correspond with the arrival of Vespasian in the early spring of A.D. 67 to the fall of Jerusalem in September of A.D. 70, three and a half years later.
- Archangel means chief angel. Many Christians see this title as it relates to Michael as synonymous with the “Captain of the Lords Host” in Joshua 5:15 who appears to be a preincarnate manifestation of Christ who is also similarly identified as “Lord of Hosts” which is another analogous term for God who is the king of the angelic hosts of heaven. (Phillip Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007), 221-222.)
- This war also appears to be depicted in the sky near Virgo and the Hydra. Sagittarius and Centaur point their bows at Scorpius and Aquila, and Hercules raises his weapon against the Hydra. These six warring constellations seemingly foreshadow the war in heaven mentioned in v. 7.
- Tacitus The Histories 5.13.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 2.14.4, 6.5.3.
- In Jude 9 Michael is said to be an archangel. Archangel means “chief of the angels.” This is a term analogous to the way in which what appears to be the preincarnate Christ identifies Himself in Joshua 5:13-15 as the “captain of the Lord’s army.” To be chief of the angels seems to be a divine title similar to “Lord of host,” a title given to God. In light of these similarities Michael is often believed to actually be Christ. (Ralph E. Bass, Jr., Back to the Future: A Study in the Book of Revelation, (Greenville, SC: Living Hope Press, 2004), 289.)
- After the defeat of Satan, represented by the descent of the Hydra, Christ reestablishes His rule at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20-23). His reign also appears to be symbolized in the sky by the victorious Hercules who, after hurling the Hydra to the earth, appears to bend over to pick up the constellation Corona Borealis, the crown.
- Tacitus Annals 15.44.
- Jacques M. Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 343-344.
- Ibid. The Greek myth of Cetus and Andromeda, the story behind the cluster of constellations alluded to in Revelation 12:15-16, is a perfect allegory of the Jewish War with Rome. See An Allegory of the Jewish War in a Surprising Place.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 3.9.3.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 63.22.
- According to v. 15 the river representing the Roman army is said to come out of the mouth of the beast. Mouth is a Biblical symbol for a prophet. This fact is exemplified in Exodus 4:16: “[H]e [Aaron] will be as a mouth for you [Moses] and you will be as God to him.” When Aaron acts as a mouth to Moses he becomes something like a prophet to a god. The mouth of the beast mentioned in v. 15 is also mentioned in Revelation 13:5 and alluded to in Revelation 13:15. As is explained in the preterist commentary on Revelation 13, the mouth of the beast also called the false prophet in Revelation 19:20 is Caesar Titus. However, the mouth of the beast in this verse is both Vespasian and Titus. Caesar Titus was the mouth of the beast in Revelation 13:5 because after Vespasian became emperor, Titus was the sole leader of the Roman Army in Israel at this time. Keep in mind that in Revelation 13:5 the beast’s wound of Revelation 13:3 had already been healed at the coronation of Caesar Vespasian. However, in Revelation 12:15-16 Vespasian had not yet become emperor. At this time Nero was still the emperor of Rome and Vespasian and Titus, not just Titus, were given total control over the Roman Army in Israel at that time. Thus in this verse, the Flavians Vespasian and Titus, the two generals of the Roman Army in Israel, are the “mouth” of the beast in the same way that Aaron was the mouth of Moses according to Exodus 4:16; and after Vespasian became emperor, Titus was the mouth of Vespasian in Revelation 13:5.
- Eusebius The History of the Church 3.5.
- The rest of the offspring of the woman mentioned in this verse are often understood to represent the Gentile saints of Rome persecuted during Nero’s reign. And this may be true. Though often assumed to have been a brief event that quickly ended, the Neronic persecution may have extended for a few years. According to church tradition Paul was believed to have been martyred during the Neronic persecution. What is interesting about this fact is that Jerome believed that Paul died in “the fourteenth year of Nero” (A.D. 68) which is years after this persecution began in A.D. 64. (Jerome Lives of Illustrious Men 5., cited in Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Beast of Revelation, (Powder Springs, GA: The American Vision, Inc., 2002), 195.)
I believe that it is also possible that “the rest of her offspring” mentioned in v. 17 may be the two witnesses killed by Titus at the start of the siege of Jerusalem. The death of the two witnesses marks the end of the 1260 days of v. 6 or the time, times and half a time of v. 14 in which the woman representing the Christian saints is kept safe. See Revelation 11: A Preterist Commentary–Who are the Two Witnesses?
It is perhaps also possible that v. 17 was fulfilled in the persecution of the Christians in Rome during Domitian’s reign. Caesar Domitian who is well known to have openly persecuted Christians throughout Rome was the third and final Caesar of the Flavian Dynasty. In the commentary on Revelation 13, I explain how the rise of the Flavian Dynasty after the death of Nero, the wounded head of the beast, fulfills each and every prophecy in Revelation 13.