Combat

Revelation 12:7: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.

Revelation 12 speaks of a woman birthing a male child, a dragon, and a war in heaven. The general flow is this:

A woman gives birth to a male child; the great red dragon unsuccessfully attempts to kill the male child; the child is taken up to heaven; the woman flees into the wilderness; the great red dragon, having been exiled from heaven, furiously makes war against the woman’s remaining offspring.

Many see this as a panoramic view of world history: Satan’s fall from heaven, his attempt to kill Christ, and his furious persecution of the church. Not John Gill. He sees a different picture entirely.

Gill & Prophetic History

As documented before, Gill reads Revelation as prophetic history. Two seminal events stand out in his purview: (1) Constantine’s Christianization of the Roman Empire and (2) the Protestant Reformation. Revelation 12, to Gill, depicts Constantine’s sweeping Christian reforms, spiritual and civil (which, he suggests, could foreshadow similar worldwide spiritual reforms in the “latter day glory”). His narrative goes something like this:

The apostolic church in the Ephesian church era gave birth to a glorious church-state in the 3rd century. This male child was personified by Constantine’s rise to the throne, which Satan was unable to prevent. Enraged, Satan stirred up religious and secular forces (Muslims, Goths, Huns, Vandals, etc.) to wage war against the Christian church-state empire. After Constantine’s reign, the church fled into the wilderness of obscurity until the light of the Protestant Reformation. Once the Protestant Reformation broke the grip of antichrist, the church has been coming out of the wilderness to this day, much to the chagrin of Satan.

Accordingly, the woman = the “pure apostolical church” in the Ephesian church era;1See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:1. the birth pains = the preparation for a Christian church-state in the Roman empire;2See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:2. the great red dragon = Satan;3See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:3. the male child = the Christian church-state empire Constantine initiated;(See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:5.)) the male child being “caught up” to heaven = Constantine ascending to the throne of power;4See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:5. the wilderness = the relative obscurity of the church after Constantine’s time (which, Gill suggests, was primarily in France and Italy);5See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:6. the 1260 years = the Pergamos, Thyatiran, and beginning of the Sardis church eras;6See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:6. the war in heaven = the spiritual war between the pure apostolic church and Rome in the first three centuries (specifically, the war Constantine waged against Rome);7See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:7. the angel, Michael = Jesus Christ;8See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:7. and, Satan being “thrown down to earth” = the downfall of the Roman empire, now become Christian, under Constantine.9See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:8.

These are fascinating observations. Gill summarizes:

Constantine, a Christian emperor, was born, under whose influence and encouragement the Gospel was spread, and the kingdom of Christ set up and established in the empire; and this seems to be the thing intended here, he being of a generous, heroic, and manly disposition: who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.

Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:5.

He believes righteous and wicked angelic forces in the spirit-realm were on visible display in the rise of Constantine.

Of course, one greater than Constantine is coming, King Jesus, and Constantine’s glories foreshadow the greater glories King Jesus will bring.

Reflections

These are pleasant thoughts, and I enjoy them immensely. Yet, interpretationally, there are problems. As mentioned previously, Gill wrote in the 1600’s. Some 400 years later, his views appear myopic relative to his own situation and times. He gives too much credit, in my opinion, to the Roman Catholic Church. He, like his predecessors, the Protestant Reformers, was being persecuted by Rome’s lasting influence: both pagan and papal. Those emotional and impactful times may have jaded their interpretational framework. Gill’s fixation on Rome has caused him to play loosely with certain textual details which trouble him: i.e., he makes Constantine a type of Christ who rules all nations with a rod of iron;10See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:4. the seven heads of the dragon represent Rome’s power, pagan and papal; he’s not quite sure what to do with the 10 horns, but they in some way relate to Rome; and, a third of the stars are the influence Satan has over ministers of the Word. His fixation on Rome has affected his interpretive framework. Don’t be too harsh. If a church or government or ideology killed our greatest heroes, we might begin interpreting similarly. Many throughout history have.

We are starting to see, though, that Gill is correct philosophically, even if his specific application may be slightly off. I say “may” because we don’t know what the future holds. Rome may rise again with wrath, pagan and papal, and Gill may be more correct than we realize. We can say with some measure of confidence, though, Satan furiously is at war with Christ’s congregations. Whether he uses religious, civil, political, or secular forces, they all originate from the same wicked source: the dragon. Rome, pagan and papal, certainly is one of those forces. Our question remains, “Should we limit it to Rome? Or, is Satan at work in the whole world system?” I suspect the latter, although Rome pagan and Rome papal certainly play a prominent part in it. In the end, perhaps it is a broader–less time-spatial, more comprehensive–view which also includes other influences in Satan’s domain. For example, if Gill were here to see the onslaught of media, technology, and secularism, I feel like he’d agree. 

References

References
1 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:1.
2 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:2.
3 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:3.
4 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:5.
5, 6 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:6.
7, 8 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:7.
9 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:8.
10 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 12:4.
Author Combat

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.

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