The flight of the woman into an obscure place in the wilderness presents a striking contrast with her first appearance in the planetary heavens, where she was “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” By this sudden change in the symbolic representation of the woman’s position is set forth the ecclesiastical change that took place in the early part of the church’s history. First she appears as the glorious bride of Christ adorned in beauty and splendor and radiating the light of his glorious gospel. She was then “the light of the world.” Later we find a great change taking place. Instead of the church representing all the truth to the world, we find the beginning of a great apostasy, which in time was to eclipse and well nigh extinguish the light and glory of primitive Christianity by substituting in its place the darkness of the apostasy born in ages of ignorance and superstition.
That such a change in the history of the true church should occur was predicted by Christ and the apostles. Jesus said, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). Peter said, “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). Paul said, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). To the Thessalonians who had been troubled with the report that the second coming of Christ was then near at hand, Paul said, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, and showing himself that he is God.... For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:3-8).
The reader can scarcely consider these texts without perceiving clearly that change which came over the primitive church resulting in a transition from her glorious state of innocent beauty to the full-grown papacy—the “mystery of iniquity.”
THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD
The fact of history pertaining to the true church which Paul described as a “falling away” is represented by the Revelator by the symbol of the woman fleeing into the wilderness. The other fact mentioned by Paul pertaining to the rise and development of the man of sin is represented in the visions of the Revelation as follows:
[Sidenote: The ten-horned leopard-beast]