In our previous installments of this series, we addressed the structure of Revelation 12 in which John provides a time frame for the events described, as well as the identity of the Woman and her Man Child as well as the duration of her time in the wilderness (Revelation 12:1-6). As we noted in part 1, the time frame of the chapter covers the period of the persecution by the Little Horn of Daniel 8 for “time, times, and an half” (Daniel 12:7) through the persecution by the Little Horn of Daniel 7 for “time and times and the dividing of time” (Daniel 7:25). The chapter thus straddles not only the transition of the Woman from National Israel to Ecclesial Israel, but also the transition of world empires from Bronze to Iron to Iron & Clay in the statue of Daniel 2, from Legs to Feet to Toes. In part 2, we showed that the flight of the Woman must therefore occur in the period of the Toes of Daniel 2—after the 5th Seal of Revelation 6 but before the rise of the Little Horn of Daniel 7.
This week, we will focus our attention on the last four verses of the chapter, and particularly the specific descriptions of the Woman’s Flight and the Serpent’s Flood. As the passage explains, the Woman was “given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness” and “the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood … that he might cause her to be carried away” (Revelation 12:14-15). Both the Flight and the Flood are described in sufficient detail that we may discover the meaning of them both from John’s descriptions. We will start with an exposition on the nature of the Woman’s Flight and the Serpent’s Flood, and then conclude with an analysis of the third part of the chapter: the effect of the Woman’s Flight on the Serpent, which causes him to change his mode of persecution, the form of his wrath and the target of his anger.
The Nature of the Woman’s Flight
As we noted in our article, “And Now Ye Know What Withholdeth,” the Church had for three centuries stood in the way of the worldly, carnal ambition of Roman episcopal primacy, but was eventually removed as an obstacle to it. With that resistance gone, Rome’s carnal ambition was finally realized, and “that man of sin” revealed. Paul’s reference to the Church being “taken out of the midst (μέσου)” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) correlates to the Woman being removed to the wilderness (Revelation 12:6,14). The rest of the world believed the lie and thus many fell away (2 Thessalonians 2:3,11; Revelation 13:3). These are they who follow the beast which received from the serpent “his power, and his seat, and great authority” (Revelation 13:2), and “wonder … when they behold the beast” (Revelation 17:8). The church, on the other hand, flies to the wilderness, safe “from the face of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14).
What we expect based on 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 12, is an exodus of the faithful Church as she is “taken out of the midst” (2 Thessalonians 2:7), and John describes the Woman’s flight in exactly those terms. The Woman is given eagle’s wings to escape to the wilderness, imitating the flight of the Hebrews from idolatrous Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai to receive the commandments of God:
“Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Exodus 19:4)
The serpent lets loose a flood to ensnare the Woman, and at the same time, the earth opened its mouth to swallow the flood. The imagery is reminiscent of the earth opening its mouth to swallow up the pursuing Egyptians (Exodus 15:12), and swallowing up the men of Korah who had not believed the Word of God (Numbers 16:32). Both episodes of the earth “opening its mouth” are in the context of aiding the Hebrews in their exodus. We see the same thing in the Woman’s Flight.
Thus, Revelation 12, insofar as the Woman’s flight is concerned, is an exodus narrative, for she is departing to find safety and security in the wilderness, just as the Hebrews fled from Egypt, the land of idolatry (Ezekiel 20:7-8). In our quest for the Woman, we should therefore be looking not for her ascension as the dominant world power, as Roman Catholics do, but rather for her timely exit. That central theme of the chapter is repeated for us twice:
“And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God…” (Revelation 12:6)
“And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place…” (Revelation 12:14)
She was removed to a place prepared for her, where she is fed (Revelation 12:6) and nourished (Revelation 12:14) by the Word of God—just as God’s people escaped from Egypt to receive His Word in the wilderness.
The Nature of the Serpent’s Flood
The apostle John, when describing the Lamb, observed that “out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword” (Revelation 19:15), language that is strongly resonant of another writer’s description of the Word of God, for it is “sharper than any twoedged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Notably, the Rider on the white horse of Revelation 19 is called “The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). What proceeds from His mouth is Truth.
The antagonist in the narrative of Revelation 12 is the serpent, and something comes out of his mouth, too:
“And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood (potamon, ποταμόν) after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood (potamophorēton, ποταμοφόρητον).” (Revelation 12:15)
We note that the word for “flood” is the word used in Matthew (7:25,27) and Luke (6:48-49) when Jesus describes the house that is built upon the rock of His Word, and is therefore able to withstand the floods. Also, the word for “carried away of the flood (potamophorétos, ποταμοφόρητον)” bears with it the sense of being “carried about” by false doctrines, as in Ephesians 4:14 and Hebrews 13:9
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about (peripheromenoi, περιφερόμενοι) with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
“Be not carried about (parapheresthe, παραφέρεσθε) with divers and strange doctrines. … ” (Hebrews 13:9)
Thus, Revelation 12, insofar as the Serpent’s flood is concerned, is a narrative about the sudden spread of “divers and strange doctrines.” The Serpent hopes the Woman will be overcome by the flood, “carried about” by his “cunning” and “craftiness” and “divers and strange doctrines.”
Clearly, however, the Lord has other plans for the Woman, for He causes the earth to protect her from the serpent’s errors and nourishes her in safety in the wilderness. The antidote to error is the Word of God, and the Woman is fed and nourished by it in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6, 14) as a means of protection from the Serpent, and then transmits that nourishment to her offspring, for they, too “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
The Effect of the Woman’s Flight
In this last section of the chapter, vv. 14-17, we note that the Woman’s departure clearly elicits three changes in the Serpent: in the mode of his persecution, in the nature of his wrath, and in the focus of his war.
The change in the Serpent’s mode of persecution
As soon as the serpent was cast down, “he persecuted (ediōxen, ἐδίωξεν) the woman” (Revelation 12:13). This denotes a civil persecution, for the term means “to follow after,” and those saints whom he pursued “loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11). Obedience to God’s Word was the crime, and death was the punishment. But when the Woman is “given two wings of a great eagle,” it is clear that the Serpent is no longer able to “follow after” her as before, and so he changes his tactics from one kind of persecution to another. The change is from a civil, physical form of persecution using corporal and capital punishment, to a doctrinal persecution in which he attempts to overcome the Woman by means of a flood of error that comes out of the his mouth.
The change in the nature of the Serpent’s wrath
The devil was angry at the Woman after he was cast down for he had “great wrath (thymós, θυμὸν)” toward her (Revelation 12:12). The term, thymós, comes from a root word meaning “to kill,” and conveys a sense of urgency, “because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” But after the Woman’s escape the Serpent was “wroth (orgízō, ὀργίζω)” with her (Revelation 12:17). The term, orgízō, comes from a root word meaning a natural disposition or a temper of anger, and conveys a sense of settled opposition, as if digging in for the long haul. Something has clearly changed, and the serpent’s agitation against the Woman has been frustrated. No longer able to kill or imprison her, he is left trying to assault her with error, and even that does not succeed, for the Woman was safe “from the face of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14).
The change in the focus of the Serpent’s war
Although the Serpent’s persecution was initially focused on the Woman, she has now fled to safety. While he is “wroth with the Woman,” he is unable to reach or follow after her, and thus instead “went to make war with the remnant of her seed” (Revelation 12:17). We notice here that “the remnant (loipōn, λοιπῶν) of her seed (spermatos, σπέρματος)” connotes plurality, in stark contrast with and distinct from the singular nature of the Man Child identified earlier in the chapter: 12:4,5 (teknon, τέκνον, male child); 12:5 (huion, υἱόν, son); 12:13 (arsena, ἄρσενα, man). It is not toward the singular Man Child that the Serpent directs his energies, for He is in heaven, but toward the plurality of the Woman’s offspring on earth. The object of the serpent’s war has clearly changed away from the Woman—for he can reach her neither by sword nor by error—and so he is left attempting to reach her offspring with his false doctrines.
The Woman’s flight has thus caused a change in the mode of the Serpent’s persecution, in the nature of his wrath, and in the object of his belligerence. He cannot persecute by imprisonment and death, he cannot persecute the Woman at all, and his wrath is no longer urgent but is nonetheless enduring. The only war he is able to execute is without the facility of corporal and capital punishment, and is targeted against the Woman’s offspring.
The reason this is so significant to us is that while the Serpent is no longer able to oppress the saints in the manner to which he was accustomed when he was first cast down, we note that the Little Horn, the Beast of Revelation 13:2, is still able to do exactly that:
“… the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; … and shall wear out the saints of the most High, … and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.” (Daniel 7:21,25)
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them … ” (Revelation 13:2)
When Daniel 7, Revelation 12 and Revelation 13 are harmonized, the picture that emerges is that of a group of faithful Christians who can only be overcome by civil persecution at the hands of the Beast, but cannot be overcome by the flood of errors from the Serpent. The Beast can “make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Revelation 13:7; c.f. Daniel 7:21), but all the while the Woman is safe “from the face of the Serpent,” and Serpent can only make war against her offspring.
As we have noted in our various articles and series (summarized in Longing for Nicæa, and The Object of Her Irrepressible Scorn), there was a sudden irruption of error toward the end of the fourth century, including such things as Papal and Roman episcopal primacy, the novelty that Peter had been the first bishop of Rome, the doctrine of the Three Petrine Sees, the exhumation and veneration of martyrs’ relics, the sinlessness of Mary, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the sacrifice of the Mass, baptismal regeneration, the transfer of the title of Pontifex to the Bishop of Rome, the use of candles in worship and prayers for the dead. These were soon followed by the use of incense and images in worship and the belief in the assumption of Mary.
In their aggregation these errors have a name: Roman Catholicism. The flood that emerged from the Serpent’s mouth was nothing else than the sudden step-wise emergence and nearly universal acceptance of Roman Catholic doctrines beginning at the end of the fourth century, leading up to the sum and summit, the apex and centerpiece of Roman Catholic worship at the end of the 11th century: the idolatrous adoration of the Eucharistic image. Such was the Flood that came out of the Serpent’s mouth in the latter part of the fourth century.
And where there is found such a Flood of error in the rise of Roman Catholicism, there is also found a Woman in flight, on her way to her place of refuge in the wilderness. In the latter part of the fourth century, at the same time as the Flood and the emergence of Papal primacy, there was also a group of faithful Christians who stood firmly on the rock of God’s Word (Matthew 7:25,27; Luke 6:48-49) and could not “be carried away of the flood” (Revelation 12:15).
In our search we shall find not only her resistance to the Flood, but her flight to safety as well. As she fled, those she left behind vilified her for her unwillingness to succumb to the errors, arguing hysterically that these errors must have been delivered to us by the apostles themselves, and that the Woman must accept them, too.
But the Woman would have none of it, and fled to safety. In the wake of her departure, a new religion was established on the earth, a religion both foreseen and condemned by the Prophets and Apostles who had warned of its rise. With the exception of the Woman, the whole world wondered after the new religion—it was the general apostasy of which Paul had warned us (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Our Woman of Revelation 12 was safe but not idle in the Wilderness, and she continued faithfully to carry the light of the scriptures to the nations, sending missionaries far and wide, teaching the nations and correcting the errors of Roman Catholicism, making converts as she went. The historical record bears this out, for Roman Catholicism is nothing if not arrogant, and arrogance suffers neither correction nor competition well. For more than a thousand years, Rome wore out the saints and complained of that intractable Woman, but could stop neither her work nor the inevitable reformation movements that sprang up whithersoever she went with the Word of Truth.
As for the Serpent, his Flood could never reach the Woman, and so he was left trying to convince her offspring—those many reformation movements—to return to the bosom and errors of Rome.
We will continue the series in our next installment.