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Friday, 28 August 2015

The Male Child of Revelation 12: Constantine or Christ?

Note: my brief analysis of the interpretation of the male child of Revelation 12 in the Church up to the 8th century can be found here.
Revelation 12:1-6 reads as follows:
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.1
Who is symbolized by the male child described in v. 5? Answering this question is the goal of this post, which is written at a popular rather than academic level.2

The traditional Christadelphian interpretation

If you have grown up in a Christadelphian ecclesia or read Christadelphian literature (either the classical, 'Pioneer' writings or contemporary periodicals) you will probably be aware that the traditional, and still seemingly dominant, interpretation of this child is that he symbolizes Constantine. Indeed, the language of chapter 12 as a whole is thought to foretell the events of the fourth century A.D., when Constantine and the apostate Church (the woman) wrested control of the Roman Empire from the pagan authorities (the dragon). (Note: if you are already familiar with traditional Christadelphian teaching on Rev. 12:5 you may wish to skip down to the exegesis.)

This interpretation was introduced to Christadelphia by the founder of the group, Dr. John Thomas (1805-1871), although it was not invented by him.3 In his magnum opus, Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse, Dr. Thomas wrote the following concerning the child of Rev. 12:5:
It was not a female child that was to be born; but a man, whose birth had long been foretold in the prophets. In Psa. 10:15,18, he is styled ‘the wicked and evil man,’ and "the Man of the Earth," whose arm is broken in the epoch when ‘Yahweh’ becomes ‘King of the hidden period and beyond; and the heathen are perished out of His land.’4
The specific historical referent of the male child is then identified.
Now, the Pagan Imperial Roman Power existed before the Woman; and so did Jesus Christ. Neither of them, therefore, could be the son to be born of her. But in the days of Constantine, there was a great revolution in the State, the effects of which are felt in all Europe and America to this day.5
Dr. Thomas offers the following explanation of the sense in which Constantine was caught up to God and to His throne:
Before the Woman's Son could "rule ALL the nations" of the Roman Habitable, it was necessary that he be placed upon the throne of the Deity. "There is no power but of the Deity," says Paul; "and the powers that be are ordered of the Deity." The throne of the Deity upon the Roman Habitable would be the seat of the Supreme and Sole Sovereignty of the empire, wherever it might be located... a people formed from among the Gentiles for the Divine Name. This people came to contend with the Pagan Dragon for supreme power. After a long and bloody conflict they acquired it by the will of the Deity, "of whom are all things'" (1 Cor. 8:6). Their military commander is, therefore, said to have arrived at the Deity and his throne. Hence Constantine, as sole emperor of the Roman world, invested with supreme power in all spiritual and temporal affairs, is the illustration of the import of the text predicting the translation of the Woman's Son 'to the Deity and his throne.'6
Concerning the verb 'caught up' specifically, he adds:
The word in the original indicating this necessity, is herpasthe; rendered in the Common Version, "was caught up." The phrase "to the Deity" implies ascending from a lower to the highest position. Hence the word "up." The word implies violence in the action it represents; as, to convey, take or carry by force. I have, therefore, rendered it, was forcibly carried up. Her son did not forcibly translate himself into the possession of supreme power; but he was carried up to that high position by his victorious armies, whose hearts and arms were energized by Divine power.7
Dr. Thomas' protégé and the first editor of The Christadelphian periodical, Robert Roberts, echoed his mentor's view that Revelation 12 foretells Constantine's rise to power in the fourth century. On the male child specifically, in his Thirteen Lectures on...the Apocalypse, he writes:
Thus the woman’s son [Constantine] was born after a season of acute parturition agonies. But he was not yet what he was destined to become – sole monarch of the Roman world. This destiny is expressed by the symbolism of verse 5. ‘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.’ Some apply this to the ascension of Christ. A moment’s reflection will suffice to show this a mistake. What John saw was a representation of things which a voice told him (Rev. iv. 1) ‘must come to pass hereafter.’ He was told this A.D. 96. How, then, could this scene represent an event that had taken place sixty years before? Besides, such an interpretation would ignore the primary characteristic of the Apocalypse as an exhibition of things in sign or hieroglyph. No; the woman in the case is the Christian community, and her son the imperial champion, begotten in her midst as the result of the operation of her principles on Roman society. This son in being born and caught up to God and to His throne, was (1) to become developed as an acknowledged emperor, and (2) to be elevated in the operations of Providence into the position of sole monarch of the world. ‘God ruleth in the kingdoms of men’ – (Dan. iv. 32). Hence, for Constantine to be placed over them all by the force of circumstances, was symbolically to be ‘caught up to God and to His throne.’ This came about in due time.8
Roberts' successor as editor of The Christadelphian, C.C. Walker, in his Notes on the Apocalypse repeated the same view, showing that it had effectively attained the status of Christadelphian orthodoxy:
'To rule all nations.' Hence to be sole emperor. In 308 there were no less than six emperors in office. In 324, by the defeat of Licinius in the battle of Adrianople, Constantine alone remained and 'ruled all.' 'Caught up to God, and to His throne.' Not the ascension of Christ, as often said, for that was long past; whereas this was one of the things to come to pass “hereafter”—i.e., after A.D. 96 (see note on ch. 4:1). The same objection, of course, applies to the Roman Catholic interpretation of the 'woman' as the Virgin Mary. Solomon was exalted to the throne of God in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 29:23) 'The powers that be are ordained of God.' Hence Constantine 'ordained of God' as Roman Emperor is thus symbolised.9
This view has been echoed repeatedly by numerous Christadelphian writers in the century since Walker wrote, including H.P. Mansfield,10 Glen Simpson,11 Kenneth & James Styles,12 Graham Pearce,13 David Green,14 Joseph Banta,15 Paul Billington,16 and (seemingly) Jonathan Burke.17

I will begin by making a positive case that the male child in fact symbolizes Christ. I could look at the whole chapter more broadly, and try to correctly identify all the symbols, including the woman, the dragon, etc. However, within the limited space of this post I am instead going to focus simply on identifying the male child by reading the language of v. 5 within its broader context in Revelation and in Scripture. This is important because the Book of Revelation is extremely rich in biblical allusions, and correctly identifying the symbols will depend on appreciating the biblical background of the imagery. This hermeneutic will be more reliable than mining the annals of history for events which can be plausibly read back into the imagery.

Again, this verse reads as follows:
And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.
A son...who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron

This male child is described as a son (huios) who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (hos mellei poimainein panta ta ethnē en rhabdō sidēra). Notice first that the text does not say the child ruled all the nations, but that he is to rule the nations (a present-indicative-with-present-infinitive construction). The other verbs in v. 5 are aorist, indicating completed events, so the present tense here breaks the flow of the narrative and establishes a contrast. In short, it appears that "who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" is not part of the vision that John saw, but is an "aside" assisting the reader in identifying the child.

Who, then, is this 'son' who 'is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron'? Fortunately, the biblical background to this language is unmistakably clear. In Psalm 2:7-9 we read of one addressed as 'son' who is told, "You shall break them with a rod of iron", them being "the nations" of v. 8. The NASB tells us in a footnote on 'break' that "Another reading is rule." Whatever the case with the Hebrew, however, the Septuagint corresponds very closely to Rev. 12:5. In Psalm 2:7 LXX the addressee is referred to as huios mou ('my son'), and in v. 9 he is told, poimaneis autous en rhabdō sidēra ("You shall shepherd them with an iron rod", NETS). Autous ('them') here refers back to ethnē ('nations') in v. 8. The Greek is essentially identical except that Rev. 12:5 adds for emphasis "all the nations."18

It would seem to be obvious, then, that Rev. 12:5 indicates for us that the male child symbolizes the 'son' of Psalm 2:7-9 who would rule the nations with a rod of iron. The referent of Psalm 2:7-9 is, of course, none other than the Messiah, Jesus, as New Testament writers authoritatively confirm for us (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5).

The identification is further strengthened when we observe that the imagery of Psalm 2:9 is applied to Christ elsewhere in Revelation. In Rev. 19:11-16 we have a description of a figure called Faithful and True and named the Word of God, who comes with an army on horseback.
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, 'KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.' (Rev. 19:15-16)
I don't think any Christadelphian would dispute that this passage refers to Christ, and so it must be admitted that the author of Revelation understands Psalm 2:9 to be speaking of the future rule of the exalted Christ.

Psalm 2:9 is also quoted in Rev. 2:27 where, surprisingly, it is applied to the faithful saints:
26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father;
Does this indicate that the writer of Revelation was prepared to give various different interpretations to Psalm 2:9? Not at all. What the exalted Christ is declaring here is that He has been given authority by the Father (in Psalm 2:9) to rule the nations with a rod of iron, and He is promising to share this prerogative with the saints. The idea of the saints sharing in Christ's eschatological rule is found elsewhere in the Apocalypse (Rev. 20:4; 5:9-10; see Dan. 7:18; 2 Tim. 2:12). The idea of Christ sharing His prerogatives with the saints is also found in Rev. 3:21: "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."

The verb poimainō ('to rule', literally 'to shepherd') used in Rev. 12:5 is also used of the exalted Christ in Rev. 7:17.

While some Christadelphian writers have simply ignored this wider context in their discussion of Revelation 12, others have acknowledged it and attempted to explain it. Dr. Thomas writes:
The kingdom of "the Michael and his angels" shadowed forth the kingdom of Christ, the real Michael, and his angels, the Saints. Constantine, like Cyrus, in his military career, and in his ecclesiastical relation to the Catholic Church, was a type of Christ. The typical hero established his kingdom in its fullest extent on the ejection of the pagan dragon from the heaven; Christ will establish his by binding the Catholic Dragon, and shutting him down in the abyss (Apoc. 20:2,3). The typical hero attained "to Deity and his throne;" Christ will sit down with Deity upon his throne (Apoc. 3:21). The typical hero acquired all the kingdoms of the Roman earth; Christ will acquire all the kingdoms of the globe (Apoc. 11:15). The typical hero ruled all the Roman nations with an iron sceptre; Christ will rule all the nations of the globe with an iron sceptre (Apoc. 19:15)19
Whether it is plausible that Michael (or 'the Michael' in this translation) in Rev. 12:7 symbolizes Constantine is a subject for another day. The main point here is that Dr. Thomas is aware that the language used of the male child in Rev. 12:5 is used elsewhere of Christ, but he claims that this points to a typological relationship between Constantine and Christ.20 This claim appears to be arbitrary, since there is nothing in the text indicating that the figure of Rev. 12:5 is merely a type of the figure in Rev. 19:15. The seer treats them in the same terms and, to highlight a larger problem with the Christadelphian exegesis of Revelation 12, there is absolutely no negative language used of the woman or her child in this chapter. Contrast this with the language used of the dragon, of the beast in ch. 13, or the woman of ch. 17. Dr. Thomas' claim that the male child is prophesied in Psalm 10 as 'the wicked and evil man' is equally arbitrary because there is nothing evil about the male child in Revelation 12. There is no clue that would indicate to us that the application of a Messianic prophecy to him is intended in an ironic or typological sense.

Accordingly, we conclude that the quotation from Psalm 2:9 and the use of this language elsewhere in Revelation strongly support the identification of the male child of Revelation 12:5 as Christ.

And her child was caught up to God and to His throne

Within the narrative that John saw, the child was caught up to God and to His throne (kai hērpasthe to teknon autēs pros ton theon kai pros ton thronon autou).

To what does this clause refer? Let us first consider the literal meaning, i.e. what John saw in the vision, and then we will consider its symbolic significance. John saw the child "caught up" to God and to His throne. The verb here, harpazō, as some Christadelphian exegetes have identified, is an emphatic one: 'to snatch, seize, i.e. take suddenly and vehemently' (BDAG lexicon). This can be done 'forcefully', or 'in such a way that no resistance is offered'. There are several instances in the NT where this verb is used to describe a supernatural transportation of some kind. In Acts 8:39 we read that "the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away." In 2 Cor. 12:2-4 Paul describes a man who was "caught up to the third heaven...caught up into Paradise." And in 1 Thess. 4:17 the Apostle states, "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air". Hence, there is a precedent for harpazō to be used for supernatural transportation experiences. Indeed, 2 Cor. 12:2-4, 1 Thess. 4:17 and Rev. 12:5 are the only NT texts where the verb harpazō is used in the passive voice.

Other verbs are used in a similar way to indicate a journey to heaven, usually in the passive voice. These include analambanō ('to lift up and carry away, take up': 4 Kgdms 2:10f LXX, 1 Maccabees 2:58; Sirach 48:9; 49:14; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:2, 11, 22; 10:16; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Clement 5.7) and epairō ('be taken up', Acts 1:9, 1 Clement 45.8). The only difference is that harpazō is a more emphatic verb, emphasizing the suddenness and vehemence of the action: to be snatched as opposed to merely taken. The reason for the choice of the emphatic harpazō in Rev. 12:5 is obvious from v. 4: the dragon stood before the woman hoping to devour the child when she gave birth. The child was snatched away to safety. This is what John saw in the vision.

To where was the child snatched? "To God and to His throne." God's throne is mentioned frequently in Revelation, and it is located in heaven: "Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne" (Rev. 4:2). The One sitting on the throne is God (vv. 10-11). The preposition pros ('to/toward God'), read in conjunction with the active verb, indicates spatial movement here. Hence, what John saw in the vision is clear: the child was caught up to God's throne in heaven.

Now that we know what John saw, what does it signify? In Revelation, the only individual besides God who is present at God's throne is the exalted Christ. We have already heard Christ declare in Rev. 3:21 that he sat down with the Father on His throne. In Revelation 5, following on the heavenly throne-room vision of ch. 4, the Lamb (Christ) comes and takes a scroll from the One sitting on the throne. God and the Lamb then receive worship together. In Rev. 7:9-17, a multitude gathers "before the throne and before the Lamb," who is subsequently called "the Lamb in the center of the throne." In Rev. 22:1-3, the throne is called "the throne of God and of the Lamb." Besides this evidence from Revelation itself, the theme of Christ's ascension to God's right hand in heaven is prevalent throughout the New Testament. Note especially Hebrews 8:1: "we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens."

All of this leads us to a remarkably simple and straightforward conclusion: the male child being caught up to God and to His throne symbolizes Christ's ascension and exaltation.

How do Christadelphians interpret this language?

Green argues as follows:
This is not a reference to God’s dwelling place. The throne of rulership in any kingdom belongs to God, Who gives it to anyone He wishes (Dan. 4:17,25,32; Rom. 13:1). By defeating Licinius in 314 and again in 324, the force of Constantine’s victorious armies took him up to the throne of the whole empire in the Roman political heavens21
However, the text says the child was caught up "to God and to His throne." Green fails to explain what "to God" means under this interpretation. Moreover, it is quite a stretch to claim that because God installs and deposes earthly rulers, therefore any throne may be called "His throne" (literally 'the throne of Him'). This is especially true in Revelation, in which the "throne of God" or "His throne" is consistently God's throne (Rev. 1:4; 3:21; 22:1-3) which is clearly distinguished from the throne of God's enemy, Satan/the dragon (Rev. 2:13; 13:2).22

So much for Green's view. Pearce argues differently: he states that "Constantine saw himself as God's ruler, on God's throne, as the kings of Israel were rulers on God's throne." After referring to some coins and other historical records of Constantine's victories, he asks:
In the light of the evidence of these coins, and the quotations from people living at the time, and the view expressed that God was reigning through Constantine, what is difficult in applying the symbolism of the man-child ascending the throne of God to Constantine?23
There are two major difficulties. Firstly, Pearce focuses only on the child ascending the throne of God. However, the text states the child was caught up "to God and to His throne." In what sense could Constantine have been said to ascend to God (pros ton theon)? Pearce, like Green, offers no explanation of this. Secondly, Pearce's assumption here is that Constantine ascended God's throne, not in reality, but only in the viewpoint of Constantine himself and people living at the time. In Pearce's view, Constantine did not really ascend God's throne, but was a usurper buoyed up by the theological errors of an apostate Church. However, once again, the text provides no indication that these words are to be taken ironically. Again, nothing negative is said about the male child, in stark contrast to (for instance) the beast of ch. 13, who receives the dragon's throne and speaks "arrogant words and blasphemies." Moreover, would a usurper's seizing of the throne be described with a passive verb?

The third, and most extreme, interpretation of this clause is that of Mansfield, followed by Billington. They argue that "God" here is not really "God" but a false god. Mansfield states that Constantine
ascended the political and ecclesiastical heavens. His influence and authority paved the way for the emergence of the god of the earth (Dan 11:38; Rev 11:4) to whose throne (or Church) he ascended24
Mansfield offers no evidence that "the Lord of the earth" in Rev. 11:4 is a false god rather than the Lord Himself. Nor is there any basis in the text for identifying "God" (literally 'the god', ho theos) in Rev. 12:5 with "a god of fortresses, a god whom his fathers did not know" mentioned in Dan. 11:38. Billington makes a similar argument:
When Rev. 12:5 says in its code-language that ‘her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne,’ we should be aware that the ruler of the Roman heaven, August Caesar etc., was worshipped as a god. Men and women actually offered sacrifices before his statue and in this way expressed their loyalty to the State… So when Constantine became emperor, we can understand that he was in fact ‘caught up unto (the Roman) god, and to his throne.’25
On what basis in the text of Rev. 12:5 do Mansfield and Billington identify ho theos as a false god; as anything other than God? There is no basis whatsoever; this is simply eisegesis of a particularly dangerous sort. How do they propose to distinguish the false god mentioned in v. 5 from the other references to ho theos in this chapter (vv. 6, 10, 17). The text certainly gives no indication that the referent has changed. 

Indeed, within the Book of Revelation, apart from Rev. 12:5, the word theos occurs 94 times. Every last instance refers to God Himself. How plausible is it that the writer would use the word here - a very sacred word at that - with a different, antithetical referent, without giving any indication of the shift? Within the New Testament more broadly, ho theos with the definite article refers to something other than God on only two occasions, and in both cases the term is carefully qualified to indicate this (2 Cor. 4:4; Phil. 3:19).

It is apparent that Christadelphian exegetes have been less interested in what John actually wrote in Rev. 12:5 than in forcing Constantine into the text.

Responding to Christadelphian arguments

In Christadelphian literature one encounters three main arguments for interpreting the male child as Constantine and not Christ:
  1. Revelation concerns future, not past events: "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." (Rev. 4:1)
  2. The imagery in Revelation 12 fits well with the historical record of Constantine's rise to power in the fourth century
  3. The description of the child doesn't fit well with the events of Christ's life
In the first place, it is true that Rev. 4:1 states that the visions will concern what must take place in the future, and that Rev. 1:1 says the book shows "the things which must soon take place". However, this must not be pressed to a woodenly literal extreme whereby literally every line of the book describes future events. For instance, one of the few places in the book where the angelus interpres provides an explanation of a vision occurs in Rev. 17:7-18. If this explanation were absent, a Christadelphian might well argue that the beast and its seven heads described in the vision in Rev. 17:1-6 can only symbolize future events. However, the angelus interpres explicitly tells John that "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction" (v. 8). The beast represents past and future events. Similarly, "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come" (vv. 9-10). The heads symbolize past, present and future kings. 

Clearly, then, not every element of every vision in Revelation is futuristic. In Revelation 12-13, the vision places the present and future circumstances of the Church in the context of cosmic conflict and salvation history. The dragon's war on the Church began as a war on her Saviour. This provides encouragement along the lines of John 15:18 and 16:33: "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you"; "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." Since the dragon was unable to devour the male child (Christ), he will also be unable to destroy the woman (Israel, natural and spiritual).

As to the second argument, any incidental correspondence between the events of Constantine's life and the description of the child is rendered void when one reads the language of Rev. 12:5 carefully and in its biblical context. Any Roman Emperor could be said to "rule the nations with a rod of iron," but there is only one ruler concerning whom Scripture prophesies this, and it is Christ. If Constantine was an apostate Christian, as Christadelphians claim, then in no way was he caught up to God.

Moreover, attempts to date the events of Revelation 12 to the fourth century by positing a symbolic gestation period of the Church of 280 days = 280 years from A.D. 33 (as Mansfield has done) are unconvincing. The text does not mention the child's conception or any such event that might stress the beginning of a period. A literal translation of v. 2 might be, "and being with child she doth cry out, travailing and pained to bring forth" (YLT). This places no emphasis at all on the gestation period or its duration. It is only in v. 4 that we have an imperfect verb: "And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth" (kai ho drakōn hestēken enōpion tēs gunaikos), which stresses some unspecified duration to the labour pains, but not to the gestation period as a whole.

The third argument has been proposed by Burke. He asks, "The description of events in Revelation 12 doesn't look very much like Christ's life, does it?" Yes, in fact, it does. Even Christadelphians have acknowledged, "At first glance, then, the Man Child is the Lord Jesus Christ himself." This is precisely because of the obvious correspondence of the description of events concerning the male child to events in Christ's life. Christ is the son who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Christ is the one who was caught up to God and to His throne. The description of the dragon's desire to devour the child may allude to the tradition of Herod's desire to kill the newborn King of the Jews (Matthew 2).26 Or it may be a more general reference to Satan's desire to destroy Christ and prevent the salvation of God's people.27

It is not problematic that there is no description of Christ's death and resurrection since the purpose of the vision is not to retell the life story of Jesus but to place the Church's suffering in the context of cosmic conflict and salvation history. In any case, the reader is reminded of Christ's sacrificial work in the words of the heavenly voice (Rev. 12:10-12).


The traditional Christadelphian view of the male child in Revelation 12 as Constantine is an example of eisegesis. It ignores obvious clues identifying the child as Christ in order to impose upon the text a particular perspective on later Church history. This exegetical error casts doubt on Christadelphian interpretation of other symbols in this chapter and in the rest of the Apocalypse. The fact that this interpretation has remained popular, if not dominant, in the Christadelphian community for 150 years calls into question the community's hermeneutical tendencies as a whole. Self-critical introspection seems to have been stifled in this case by dogmatism.

However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. On a Christadelphian Daily Bible Readings page, two out of three comments by (presumably Christadelphian) users concerning Rev. 12:5 correctly interpret the child to be Christ. Furthermore, a helpful study by a Christadelphian named Paul Wyns has put the matter into perspective in an article entitled The Revelation of Jesus Christ. He laments the "eccentric" interpretations, "riddled with inconsistencies", that arise when faulty hermeneutical principles are brought to bear on the Book of Revelation. He then uses Rev. 12:5 as a case in point, and offers a word of warning which will serve as our conclusion:
Example (2)’“The man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ (Rev.12:5). This is understood to be Constantine, the man-child, as the champion of the Christians defeats his pagan rivals, and is the sole ruler in the ‘heaven’ of the Roman world. The context of this quote, which is from Ps.2:9 demands that it can only be used of Christ (or by proxy, of his ecclesia – see Rev. 2:27) especially since this Psalm was extensively quoted by the apostles during their witnessing campaign in the first century. (Acts 4: 26-27 note the words thy holy child Jesus = man child). Have our senses become so dulled with dogma that we no longer recognise passages that speak of our Lord?
‘I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep and am known of mine.’ (John 10:14)
This is no longer exegesis but exit Jesus. If proper hermeneutic principles are not adhered to we no longer have a valid interpretation.28


  • 1 All biblical quotations are taken from the NASB unless otherwise indicated.
  • 2 What I mean is that in this article I don't interact with academic biblical scholarship as I do in some of my posts. The reason is that some Christadelphians find such interaction to be an irrelevant distraction and only want to hear from the Bible directly. Others, of course, will pronounce my arguments worthless precisely because I haven't interacted with academic biblical scholarship. You can't please everyone!
  • 3 It had apparently been quite popular among non-conformist writers beginning in the 17th century. I haven't researched this myself, but see the table provided by Jonathan Burke here. I have written my own brief analysis of the interpretation of the male child of Rev. 12:5 in the Church up to the 8th century here.
  • 4 Thomas, J. (1869/1992). Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse (Vol. 4). Adelaide: Logos Publications, p. 88.
  • 5 ibid., p. 93.
  • 6 ibid., p. 101.
  • 7 ibid., p. 101.
  • 8 Roberts, R. (1880). Thirteen Lectures on the things revealed in the last book of the New Testament commonly known as ‘Revelation,’ but more appropriately distinguished as The Apocalypse. Birmingham: The Christadelphian, pp. 116-117.
  • 9 Walker, C.C. (1922). Notes on the Apocalypse. Birmingham: The Christadelphian, p. 101.
  • 10 Mansfield, H.P. (1964/1996). L’Apocalypse Analysée (M. Guérin, trans.). Menai: Carelinks Publications. pp. 132-133. Excerpts in English can be found here, abbreviated ApEp.
  • 11 Simpson, G. (2002). How to Read the Revelation. The Tidings, May 2002. Accessed at http://www.tidings.org/2002/05/how-to-read-the-revelation/.
  • 12 Styles, K. & Styles, J. (n.d.). The Great Delusion: A Scriptural Analysis of Christianity’s ‘Future Antichrist’. Torrens Park: Christadelphian Scripture Study Service.
  • 13 Pearce, G. (1982). The Revelation – Which Interpretation? Torrens Park: Christadelphian Scripture Study Service.
  • 14 Green, D. (2005). Understanding Revelation 12, Part 1: Symbols and background history. The Testimony, November 2005, 429-433, accessed at http://www.testimony-magazine.org/back/nov2005/green1.pdf; Green, D. (2006). Understanding Revelation 12, Part 2: The interpretation of Revelation 12:1-4. The Testimony, January 2006, 25-31, accessed at http://testimony-magazine.org/back/jan2006/green.pdf; Green, D. (2006). Understanding Revelation 12, Part 3: The interpretation of Revelation 12:5-17. The Testimony, February 2006, 60-65, accessed at http://www.testimony-magazine.org/back/feb2006/green.pdf.
  • 15 Banta, J. (2002). The Apocalypse: A Background Study. Dearborn: PAK. Accessed at http://thechristadelphians.org/htm/books/Apocalypse/p19.htm
  • 16 Billington, P. (1999). Europe’s Catholic Roots. The Bible Magazine, 13(1), 12-17, accessed at http://www.biblemagazine.com/magazine/vol-13/v13i1mag.pdf.
  • 17 Burke has not, to my knowledge, published a work discussing this passage, but he appears to have defended the traditional Christadelphian interpretation on a web discussion board, here and here.
  • 18 This universal emphasis seems in any case to be present in Psalm 2:8b, "the ends of the earth."
  • 19 Thomas, op. cit., p. 114.
  • 20 Essentially the same claim is made by Banta, op. cit.
  • 21 Green, D. (2006b). op. cit., p. 61.
  • 22 One could devote an entire article to criticizing the "political heavens" idea, which is a mainstay of Christadelphian allegorical interpretation. Green regards "heaven" as a symbol for "The ruling or higher strata of society" and justifies this by citing Isa. 1:2, 10; 13:13 and Rev. 21:1, but none of these texts provide support for such symbolism (should we also give allegorical meanings to "you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it" in Isa. 44:23?) There are, in fact, no biblical passages in which 'heaven' unambiguously refers to "The ruling or higher strata of society."
  • 23 Pearce, op. cit., p. 65.
  • 24 Mansfield, op. cit..
  • 25 Billington, op. cit., p. 16.
  • 26 This was itself an anti-type of Pharaoh's slaughter of Hebrew boys in Exodus 1:15-22; and it is noteworthy that Pharaoh is referred to in Ezekiel 29:3 LXX as "the great dragon".
  • 27 The broad idea of God thwarting Satan's or evil powers' attempts to prevent Christ's redemptive work can be found in a number of other Christian texts prior to or roughly contemporaneous with Revelation (e.g. Luke 22:53; 1 Cor. 2:8; Ascension of Isaiah 10.29; 11.19; Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians 19.1).
  • 28 Wyns, P. (n.d.). Introduction to the study of Revelation. Accessed at http://carelinks.net/doc/revelation-en/1.


Anonymous said...

Good article Thomas

Note also the following parallels with Rev.12 that I found in Matthew 24:22 (Olivet):
“Woe unto them (woe to the inhabitants of the earth, 12:12) that are with child (woman travailing in birth, 12:2) and to them that give suck in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land (RV earth) and wrath (the devil is come down unto you having great wrath, 12:12) upon the people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Lk.21:23,24). “And except those days be shortened” (Mtt.24:22)…….(the devil…hath but a short time, 12:12)

Anonymous said...

I am convinced that the red dragon symbolizes Herod and the Herodian party, (Edomite = red, progenitor Esau, note chapter starts with Joseph's dream given to Jacob who was Esau's brother) who murdered John the Baptist and James and had a hand in the trial of Jesus.
It is interesting to note that Luke enumerates seven parties including Herod in Lk.3:1,2: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.”

Could say much more but you are on the right track although most Christadelphians prefer to adhere to their dogma. PW