« הקודםהמשך »
in heaven, or the upper region, because Satan draws his origin from above, having been formerly a bright angel. This great dragon has seven heads, and upon each a diadem or crown, the types of seven emperors of pagan Rome, whom Satan actuates and employs as his chief agents to oppose the rise of the Christian religion, and to maintain his own idolatrous worship. That such is the meaning of the heads, we learn from the explication given by the angel, chap. xvi. 9, of the Apocalypse : “ The seven heads," says the angel, “are seven mountains—And they are seven kings.“ Ancient Rome being here clearly indicated as it was built on seven mountains. The seven kings or emperors here pointed at seem to be, Nero, Domitian, Severus, Decius, Valerian, Dioclesian, and Antichrist, as being the principal and distinguished persecutors of the Christian Church. The dragon had also ten horns denoting ten provinces, into which the whole Roman empire is here divided. The horns therefore being animated by the dragon as well as the heads, the governors of the Roman provinces, and the people, will be also instigated by the devil to persecute the Church of Christ.
It was said that the dragon with his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, that is, the apostate angels whom he had seduced, and he cast them to the earth, to be there employed in seducing mankind. But the greatest part of them were precipitated down into the infernal dungeons, according to that of St. Jude: “ The angels who kept not their princi. pality, but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains unto the judgment of the great day.” Ep. v. 6. The dragon himself stood before the woman who was ready to be delierved: that when sheshould be delivered, he might devour her son. Satan seeing his empire of idolatry in danger of being dissolved by the publication of the Christian religion, resolves to crush this in its origin, by stirring up the whole Roman power against it, and thus to devour the woman's offspring in its birth.
V. 5. “And she, the woman, brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod : and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.” The woman brings forth a man-child, that is, a masculine race of Christians, a progeny of holy champions, who in conjunction with Christ their head, are to rule all nations with an iron rod by a participation of his power, which he has promised them after the victory in their conflicts with the dragon. “He that shall overcome, says Christ, and keep my works unto the end, I
will give him power over the nations, and shall rule them with a rod of iron.” Apoc. ii. 26, 27. For such is the power he himself exercises over the impious part of mankind, as St. John tells us. “He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron.” Apoc. xix. 15. which had been attributed to him even long before." Thou shalt rule them, (the nations) with a rod of iron, and shalt break them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” Psal. ii. 9. The Almighty Son of God breaks down empires, dissolves states, strikes princes, destroys people that presume to contend with him. And “her son was taken up to God, and to his throne;" part of the woman's offspring, or a considerable number of the Christians, when put to the trial in the persecutions, generously laid down their lives for Christ their Lord and master, and thus triumphing over the dragon, instead of falling a prey to him, are carried up to heaven to God and to his throne, where they are associated with him in power and judgment, according to what we have just above seen, and according to this other promise : « To him that shall overcome," says Christ, “I will give to sit with me in my throne; as I also have overcome, and am set down with my Father in his throne." Apoc. iii. 21.
V. 6. And the woman filed into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that there they should feed her a thousand two hundred and sixty days."
During the cruel persecutions, which the devil stirred up against the woman, or the Christian Church, by his instruments the heathen Roman emperors and magistrates, many of the Christians fled for shelter into the deserts, to inaccessible mountains, and other lurking places, as we learn froin the holy fathers and historians of those times. Great multitudes in particular sought for refuge in the catacombs, at Rome, and in many other places. These subterraneous caverns, termed catacombs, are so prodigiously extensive, branching out into innumerable streets which stretch to a great distance, especially at Rome, that they may be properly called a city under ground. The Christians lay concealed in these dark and dismal retreats, which though originally made for other purposes, were a place prepared by God, were designed by him for a place of reception to his persecuted servants. In these various desolate abodes the Christians, though in appearance destitute of all human succour, were nevertheless fed and supported by a special divine providence for the space of a thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three years and a half, which was the utmost duration of any of the Ro
man persecutions; some of which did not fill that period, rione exceeded it.
V. 7. “ And there was a great battle in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels :
V. 8. “ And they prevailed: not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.
V. 9. · And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world : and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.".
The dragon, or Satan, had with unrelenting malice stimulated the whole Roman power against the Christians by successive dreadful persecutions, as we have seen; bat still he saw all his efforts baffled. Notwithstanding the immense slaughter that had been made, he found he could not extirpate the woman's offspring, it was so powerfully protected, and supported by the divine hand : and he furthermore saw with deep regret, and to his confusion, that the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the new Christians, and increased their number. The infernal spirit determines therefore to try another expedient; in pursuance of which he presumes to address the Almighty, challenging him to withdraw his hand and suspend the extraordinary helps by which he supported his people, and then it would soon appear that the Christians had no real zeal or fortitude, but would soon abandon their God and the interests of religion. Such are his malicious insinuations, to get the Christians wholly into his power. The same kind of artifice the malicious spirit had formerly practised against the holy man, Job. Thus Satan accused him before God: “ Doth Job fear God in vain ? Hast thou not made a fence for him and his house, and all his substance round about, and blessed the work of his hands, and his possession hath increased on the earth ?” Job i. 9, 10...
After thus enumerating God's blessings upon Job, the evil spirit thus pursues: “ But stretch forth thy hand a little, and touch all that he hath, and see if he blesseth thee not to thy face,” as above, ver. 11 ; that is suspend thy favours, and with. draw all that thou hast given him, and see then if he does not fly in thy face. But to return to our own subject : The Almighty refusing to grant Satan his present request, and not being willing to suffer him any more to approach his throne with accusations against his people, orders the archangel, Michael, the protector of the Christian Church, to banish Satan utterly
from the heavenly regions : upon which a fierce battle ensues between St. Michael, assisted by an army of angels, and Satan with his associates. These latter are worsted, and cast down to the earth. Upon which,
V. 10. “ And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night."
Upon the victory of St. Michael over Satan there follows joy and acclamation of the Christian saints in heaven, saying: “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ,” &c. : now the Almighty has displayed his power, has assumed victory and dominion, and has ascertained the reign of Jesus, his Christ : for now we see Satan foiled, and no more permitted to appear before the throne of God with accusations against our brethren on earth, as he was wonted to do.
V. 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 death.
V. 12. “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens, and you that dwell . therein."
The saints in heaven thus continue their exultation, for the fortitude and constancy of their brethren, who by virtue of the blood of the Lamb, that is, by virtue of the plentiful graces purchased for them by the blood of the Lamb, had generously bore testimony to, and laid down their lives for, that faith which Satan endeavoured to extirpate, and thus had overcome him. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens, for these new illustrious inhabitants, and rejoice you that dwell therein, for your new happy associates. Thus is celebrated the double victory; that of St. Michael, and that of the Martyrs, over the devil." But on the other hand,
V. 12. “ Wo to the earth and to the sea, becaụse the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time."
A terrifying alarm is here proclaimed to the earth and sea, that is, to the Christians wherever they be, because the devil, now utterly expelled from heaven, is come down in great wrath, to exercise anew his fury against them. The Almighty had rejected the fiend's malicious suggestion of withdrawing his powerful graces and protection from his people, but by an unsearchable determination of his infinite wisdom, permits
Satan to raise a fresh persecution, much more terrible than any before. This is the persecution of the Emperor Dioclesian; in which, as it was to be the last, the dragon poured out his utmost venom and rage, as knowing that he had but a short time left him.
V. 13. “ And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman, who brought forth the man-child.”
And no sooner did this persecution begin to break out, but,
V. 14. “ And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place; where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent." .
Here the woman, or the general body of the Christians, seeing the storm rising, betake themselves again to their former retreats in the deserts, the catacombs, and other lurking places. And as the violence of this exceeded that of all preceding persecutions, so is the woman furnished with two wings of a great eagle to enable her to fly with more strength and swiftness, that is, she is favoured in her flight with a more special protection and assistance from God: in a similar manner to what the Israelites experienced, when the Almighty saved them from the fury of the Egyptians: “ You have seen," said God to his people, “what I have done to the Egyptians: how I have carried you on the wings of eagles and have taken you to myself.” Exod. xix. 4. But further more, Divine Providence fails not to nourish or provide with spiritual and corporal food the Christians in their desolate abodes, where they are obliged to remain for a time, and times, and half a time, that is a year, two years, and half a year, or three years and a half; the utmost period of any one part of this persecution, which indeed in the whole lasted ten years, from 303 to 313, but with some interruptions.
V. 15. “ And the serpent cast out of his mouth, after the woman, water, as it were a river ; that he might cause her to be carried away by the river.”
And now the serpent or devil, in his full rage against the woman, or Christian Church, resolves to overwhelm her, it possible. For that purpose he casts out of his mouth after her a flood or river of water; he raises a more cruel and bloody persecution, than had ever been known, through the whole Roman empire, actuating the emperors and governors of the provinces with the most implacable rancour and most savage fury against the Christians, who for ten years together had little respite