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The Woman and the Dragon

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					The Woman and the Dragon

12A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and
on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of
giving birth. 3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and seven diadems on his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the
earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her
child as soon as it was born. 5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule* all the nations with a
rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6and the woman fled into
the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand
two hundred and sixty days.

Many cultures have a story of a prince who seeks to kill an as yet unborn baby so that he can inherit a throne
that would otherwise not be his. But the baby is snatched away at birth only to return and kill the usurper
and claim the throne. It is with this kind of background that John writes his present vision.

The woman with here celestial decorations is no particular woman. The celestial garlands are clearly
representative of the constellations seen in the heavens but there is no real possibility of pinning down
particular stars and galaxies and ultimately no point in it.

What we can say is that the woman is NOT Mary the mother of the Lord. She is the mother of the
community of the followers of the messiah as in the prophecy of Isaiah 66:7-9. This is also apparent from
the later verse 12:17 where John refers to the dragon waging war on the rest of her children. She is the one
Paul refers to as the Jerusalem above....who is our mother and who is free (Gal 4:26).

The agony of her labour is the suffering and torment that has been endured by the faithful disciples who
have remained loyal to their God. Her labour is not the birth of the child. The labour is the crucifixion for it
was at that point that Jesus was born as the messiah (cf. psalm 2. In that psalm we see that the son is
declared to be the king at his enthronement and not at his birth). The birth day of any king is the day he
claims the throne and Jesus claimed his throne on Golgotha. This is clear from Psalm 2 which is an
enthronement story. The Son is born as king when he is enthroned.

The Jews would have had no problem seeing in this woman as being the people of God

That is why the child is snatched away at his birth and taken to the throne of God. It is from this point that
he will return and wage war on the dragon.

It is in the next vision that the name of this dragon is revealed. He is Satan. His seven heads also link him
with the ancient serpent of the deep – Leviathan, the implacable enemy of God. He has seven heads and ten
horns and so is a formidable beast and he represents an earthly ruler. If we read Jeremiah we see that
Nebuchadrezzar was represented as a dragon that swallowed Jerusalem whole (51:34). Ezekiel speaks of
Pharaoh as the great dragon lying in the midst of his streams (29:3). In our text, the dragon’s attempt on the
life of the child represents the crucifixion, for Satan thought that he could destroy Jesus by killing him. Once
dead, he would be forever in his evil power. But the opposite happened. He was snatched away to God and
so was well beyond his evil reach. In Paul’s words, he died out from under the power of the elemental
spirits (Col 2:20).

Whatever of the exact details of the dragon he clearly represents the evil on earth that stands and acts in
opposition to God. He also represents the Devil, the Evil One who inspires the evil empires on earth which
embody his nature and so oppress God’s people.

There was a Jewish tradition with which John was probably familiar. It held that God created two mythical
creatures on the fifth day. There was Leviathan to inhabit the sea and Behemoth the land dweller. The abyss
from which he emerges is the abyss.
He is extremely powerful, having seven heads and ten horns but the biggest crime is the wearing of seven
crowns. This is blasphemous for John as there can only be one sovereign and that is the Christ. But, in
John’s brilliant theological working, Satan’s power comes not so much from his raw destructive powers
(they are real as he was able to sweep down a third of the stars from heaven) but in the fact that he can be
a parody of the divine and royal Christ. He appears to be an alternative sovereign and therefore has the
power to seduce many.

Here we see a reworking of some of the theology put forward by Paul. He said that Jesus died on behalf of
all men and women and all who lived in Christ, did, in a very real way, also die with him. In their dying in
Christ, they too were removed out of the clutches of Satan. The Evil One could do what he liked to the outer
man (2 Cor 4:16; 12:7) but their inner selves were safe, hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).

John takes that and in his vision shows the woman escaping to a place prepared for her by God (verse 6).
For many an outside observer it would seem that the Church is therefore a vulnerable human community at
the mercy of a powerful and vicious Roman empire. But for those who view things with the eyes of faith,
she is a community kept safe from the worst that Satan could do to her. One group saw the world
persecuting the earthly community but the others knew that do what they liked, they could not harm her
immortal soul. She was kept safe by God, the same God who steered his people through the wilderness to
the promised land.

Importantly, she is led out into the desert as her place of safety. This desert is the desert of the Exodus, the
barren place to which the Hebrews fled as they escaped the Egyptian dragon. It was a place of safety and
liberation and it was there that she was protected and sustained by God himself.

She was there for twelve hundred and sixty days. During that time it seemed as though she was being
ground into the turf by the forces of Rome and a victim of the horrors of Caesar’s rule. But all the time her
life was hidden with Christ in God and kept safe from ultimate harm.



Revelation 12:7-12

Michael Defeats the Dragon

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his
angels fought back, 8but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9The
great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the
whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
‘Now have come the salvation and the power
  and the kingdom of our God
  and the authority of his Messiah,*
for the accuser of our comrades* has been thrown down,
  who accuses them day and night before our God.
11But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
  and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12Rejoice then, you heavens
  and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
  for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
  because he knows that his time is short!’
Now we come to the next phase of the story for John. It is not simply a matter of the child escaping. Action
has to be taken against the usurper. The monster has to be defeated. This is announced when it is declared
that a war breaks out in heaven. Michael is obviously not involved in this war as he and his angels are sent
to overpower the dragon.

The key to this passage is to be found in the words of the song: A loud voice in heaven proclaims:
Victory and power and empire have ever been won by our God and all authority for his Christ, now
that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down.
This refers to the crucifixion. What Michael is doing is the heavenly counterpart of what was achieved on
earth, on Golgotha. When the victory is being reached in heaven, Christ is hanging on the cross on earth.
Hence the words of the song: the real victory has been won by the life-blood of the Lamb. What Michael is
doing in heaven is showing us the full dimensions of this early act – Satan is overthrown. The real battle has
been fought and won on Calvary.

It is interesting to note that Satan holds a rightful place in heaven. We know from the Book of Job that Satan
sat in the heavenly council as the accuser of mankind. He was the prosecutor in God’s heavenly court. He
would wander the earth collecting evidence to use against the accused and at the same time, tempt them to
sin (Job 1:6ff).

A more helpful example is in Zechariah 3:1ff. There the High Priest is on trial and it would appear that
Satan is winning his case against him. Joshua represents Jerusalem and stands before the court in dirty
clothing, the moral and religious degeneration that afflicts the city. But then God steps in and Joshua puts on
clean clothing and is saved. The net result is open conflict between God and Satan, growing out of the fact
that Satan cannot understand the merciful nature of the judgment of God. When the Laws are broken the
consequences should be clear, but as Caird notes in his commentary: Retribution is not God’s last word on
human sin!

 In John’s theology there is no more room in heaven for Satan. By his death on the cross, Jesus draws all
men into unity with him and brings them to his Father in heaven. Now, there is no condemnation for those
who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). John simply says: they were defeated and driven out of heaven
(12:8).

Importantly Satan has no place left in heaven. This represents a great victory for all men and women as it
means that Satan is no longer accusing them before God’s throne. That is John’s way of saying that God is
no longer listening to Satan, because men and women have been forgiven. Perhaps even more importantly,
his powers have been broken with regard to history. He can no longer control the affairs of man in history.
He may create all kinds of pain and misery, but he does not control.

Satan carries out his work by deceiving men and women, he is, in John’s words the one who has deceived
the world... He tells lies about God and his message is a parody of God’s message. John links him to the
serpent from Eden. He told lies to Eve, deceived her into sinning and so brought death to herself, to Adam
and to their line. This is an important point in his theology. At the root of all sin is a lie and this lie is what
distorts the relationship of men and women to each other and men and women to God himself.

In verse 11 we read: the accuser of our brothers is driven out...they have conquered him by the blood
of the lamb and by the witness they bore. This is followed by the warning: the Devil has come down to
you in great fury, knowing that his time is short. The Devil, who was unable to destroy the woman and
kill the child, now turns his attention to her other children (12:17 – the content of the next two chapters).

They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (12:11). It is
this verse that explains why Satan can no longer control the destiny of the men and women of the earth: the
blood of the Lamb has been victorious. It is in the blood of the lamb that the new age has dawned, an age
where God is sovereign – not Satan. The death of Jesus on the cross sees him raised up to the throne of God
and with his ascension to the throne, the Devil is dethroned and Christ reigns in the Kingdom of God.
Because the followers of the Lamb loved not their lives even unto death they participate in the victory of
Christ. They do not gain victory over Satan by their martyrdom. This victory comes in their love for Christ,
a love that is greater even than their own fear of death. This is why it is not just the martyrs who share in the
reign of Christ, it is all who love Christ more than they love themselves. It is Christ Jesus who gained
salvation and the faithful who participate in it.

The Devil is thrown down to earth for only a short time. This is in contrast to the for ever and ever of the
reign of Christ. There is an end to evil. There is an end to suffering. There is no end to the Kingdom.

John, writing for his community, knows that the great period of martyrdom is still to come in the future.
Satan is defeated. Sin and death has been overcome, but Satan is now down on earth and full of venom and
vinegar. Victory has indeed been won on the cross and the work of salvation has been accomplished.
Remember back in 1:9, John spoke of the ordeal and sovereignty and endurance which are ours in Jesus
and later on he will proclaim as blessed all those who die in the Lord (14:13 – martyrdoms in the future).
Here is the key for John. The union between those who suffer and Jesus was established on the cross. The
martyrs have already borne their testimony in the death of Jesus, with Jesus they have already died. With
him they have already conquered and overcome Satan and are therefore already reigning. It is in the story of
the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can all see our own stories already written. The task of the
disciple is to make their own, to appropriate what Jesus did in the name of all men and women of all times
and all places. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT POINT FOR JOHN The death of the martyrs (and the
sufferings of men and women) can only be understood and be turned into saving events when they are
understood as having already been endured and overcome in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.
He has been there. He has done that. He has be raised by the Father as the firstborn from the grave.

This does not make suffering a good thing but it can make suffering a saving and transforming reality that
does not crush the human spirit. It is possible – In Christ. That is what is happening in the image of Satan
being thrown out of heaven. Even the death and sufferings of the martyrs (and the sufferings and hardships
endured by the faithful of every generation) can be redeemed in Christ and given a whole new understanding
and role in the life of individuals and the world.

We should also note that while Satan is stripped of his place in heaven, he still has his powers. For John,
there are two elements to sin: it alienates the sinner from God from other men and women in the human
community. But there is also a ripple effect of sin. Its consequences go on beyond the sinner and beyond
the event of the sin. There is, again to quote Caird, a chain reaction of damage which continues to operate
independently of its original author.

The death of Jesus may have effectively ended man’s rebellious isolation from God but it does not
automatically end all of the damage brought about by that sin. That can only be absorbed by the love
witness of Christians to the love death of Jesus. The testimony of Christians must be the testimony of their
suffering in Christ.
Revelation 12:13-17

The Dragon Fights Again - on Earth

13 So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued* the woman who had
given birth to the male child. 14But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could
fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a
time. 15Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with
the flood. 16But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that
the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make
war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.

The Devil failed to prevent the enthronement of the Messiah. That cost him dearly, including his own place
in heaven. In anger he turns his anger against the Church (this is what was noted in 12:6). In John’s
explanation he once again takes up his Exodus imagery. In the first Exodus, Pharaoh pursued the Hebrews
just as now we see the dragon pursuing the woman (13).

But she was taken up on eagle’s wings and flown out into the desert (Exodus 19:4 You yourselves have seen
what I did with the Egyptians, how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself”). Instead of
drowning the Hebrew children in the Nile, the Dragon spewed out water to wash the woman to her death.
Water – why water? Because it is the home of the devil, that primeval water that covered the earth at the
beginning of creation. In Numbers (16:31ff) the ground opened up and swallowed the rebel Korah and his
followers and thus the people were kept free from corruption. Here we see the people are saved because the
earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river (12:16).

What is this river? We know from the letters to the Churches in Sardis, Pergamum, Ephesus and Thyatira
that the serpent sought to destroy the Church through lies and deception. John is not here talking about the
persecution of the Romans, that is to come later at the hands of the monster. This river comes from the
Devil’s mouth – lies and slander designed to corrupt and destroy the faith of the followers of the Lamb and to
undermine it from within itself.

This deception is only overcome by fleeing to the safety of the desert. There is a wonderful image in
18:3.....All the nations have been intoxicated by the wine of her (Babylon) prostitution, every king in the
earth has committed fornication with her and every merchant grown rich through her debauchery. The
cities of the Empire offer a seductive falsity that entraps many. It is only from the vantage point of the desert
that it can be seen for what it is – false.

In the desert the woman is sustained for a time, times and half a time. This is from Daniel’s time scale and
which is variously expressed by John as forty-two months, twelve hundred and sixty days and three and a
half years and here it begins with the crucifixion.

Satan is, of course, powerless to destroy the Church. That guarantee is clearly etched into the hearts and
minds of the people. However, he can bring upon it great suffering and does so using the might of the
Roman Empire. One of the great sources of hope and faith is that the Church will not come to an end.

John, when talking of the children of the woman (the Church) uses the word sperma (seed) which is the word
used in Genesis 3:15....I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; they
shall wound your head and you shall wound their heels.

The final line is scary: the dragon stood on the sea-shore. He has gone for reinforcements. And, these
reinforcements are to come from the same waters of the deep that are his own natural home.
The Antichrist and the False prophet: Rev 13)

Satan calls upon two helpers. The first is a monster from the sea (the deep waters of the abyss). This
monster is the Antichrist who sets out to win over men for the Devil. He blasphemes God. Makes war on
the Church and seeks the worship of all men and women of the earth. The second beast comes from the land
and works alongside the Antichrist. His task is to convince the world to worship the Antichrist and to put to
death those who so refuse. In the world of John’s community, this group would have been recognized as the
group of priests whose primary role it was to promote the cult of the emperor.

The Antichrist, Satan and the false prophet set themselves up as a kind of trinity of evil demanding the
allegiance of mankind (note that these three are brought together in a single sentence in 16:13). Satan is
meant to represent God, the Antichrist is the Christ of Satan. He has ten diadems (13:1) while Christ has
many (19:12). He has a blasphemous name (13:1) while Christ has a worthy name (19:11,12,16). He
causes men to worship Satan (13:4) while Christ brings men to worship and serve God (1:6, etc). He has had
a wound to death, but lives on (13:3,12,14) in a terrible parody of Christ who died on the cross and rosea
again. He has the power, throne and the authority of the Devil (13:2) and Christ shares the power, the throne
and the authority of God (12:5,10).

John calls the second beast the false prophet (16:13) and describes him in language that brings Christ to
mind. It has horns like a lamb (5:6) but speaks like a dragon (vs.11). Its activities are predominantly speech
related and he carries out similar activities with regard to the Antichrist that the Holy Spirit performs for
Christ. In this way he fashions those he draws in to form a kind of Church of the Antichrist. This is why
they need to be marked on the right hand or on the forehead with a mark that carries the name of the
Antichrist (13:16ff). This is clearly a parody of the seal of the living God on the foreheads of the faithful.

It is clear what John is saying about evil: in so many ways it is a parallel to good and truth, so much so, that
people are tricked and led astray.

The beast rising out of the sea (13:1,2) is like the dragon and shares similar characteristics. He represents
evil that has been against God and faithful men and women down through the ages. The sea is the home of
evil. The abyss. The descriptions of the beast can be found in Daniel but it is of immense power as it has
ten horns. For John, the beast represented the Roman empire and the seven heads were its emperors. The
blasphemous name comes from the trend among the emperors from the first century onwards to apply
divine titles to their office. They had been referred to as God, the Son of God and finally, with Domitian,
Lord and God.

It is helpful to go back to the story of Daniel, where we read Nebuchadnezzar ha dbeen turned into a beast
with eagle’s feathers because of his idolatry. It was only when he had accepted that the most High controls
the sovereignty of the world and gives it to whom he wills that he was returned to human form (Dan
4:17,25,32). Political power is a gift from God. If the ruler turns himself into a god and allows himself to
be worshipped and they insist that the people worship him, they cease to be human and become beasts
instead. This is how John sees the emperor. He is taking what truly belongs to God. This beast has ten
horns, was like a leopard, its feet were like those of a bear and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. It has
all of the characteristics of Daniel’s beasts though in reverse order. This beast (particularly its emperor) has
all of the hallmarks of a worldly and tyrannical empire.

Here, we can see clearly the parallel that John is running with the Christ of God. It is said that the dragon
gave his power and his throne and great authority to the beast. But, the dragon had already been
defeated and had been thrown out of heaven. What authority does he really have on earth? Clearly, while he
has lost his throne, he has not lost his power. KEY POINT HERE: Again, we can ask, what authority does
he have on earth? He only has authority when men and women are content to recognize his authority. Satan
is a usurper among men (Beasley-Murray). He is called the god of this world and the prince of this world,
only because men and women are prepared to call him by that title (2 Cor 4:4; Jn 12:31). Isn’t this what we
find in the temptation story, where Satan tempts Jesus by offering him all of the nations of the world Matt
4:8f; Lk 4:6). He is the father of lies, offering what is not in his power to grant. The Christ of God spurned
the offer of the Devil to have dominion over the whole world and in return was offered the throne by God his
Father. The Christ of the Devil accepts the power and authority that the Devil can give and takes up his
throne in this world.

In verse 3 we see this parody at its clearest: I saw one of the heads as though it had been slaughtered to
death. This is the same phrase in Greek that is used in 5:6 to speak of the Lamb who was found worthy. He
looked as though he had been slaughtered.

The beast, though mortally wounded was healed and lived. This is why the world came to follow him, he
rose from the dead. Sadly, the Christ of God had also risen from the dead but they called that a lie (Matt
28:13ff) and folly (Acts 26:24). But when the Christ of the Devil appears to do the same thing, the world
worships him! Madness.

John has in mind here Nero. He committed suicide in 68 AD and the whole of Rome rejoiced at the death of
the tyrant. But that joy was quickly turned to fear when his follower began to say that he was not dead and
edicts under his name and seal circulated the city. History knows of at least three impostors who posed as
Nero risen, one of which led a revolt against Rome in 69, while another was welcomed by Rome’s enemies
the Parthians (80 AD). Yet another nearly convinced the same Parthians to march against Rome in 88 AD.
There was also a persistent rumour that he was dead but would rise and lead armies against Rome. So
strong were these stories that in the language of the Armenians the word Nero became the equivalent word
for Antichrist.

The Roman authorities insisted that all in the empire worship Caesar and to render to the state that which
could only be given to God. This is why the early Christians resisted Roman rule even to the point of death.
There could be only one God and allegiance could be given to God alone. This is why John could make the
state demonic, the personification of evil.

5-7 For forty-two months the beast was allowed to mouth its boasts and blasphemies and to do
whatever it wanted; and it mouthed its blasphemies against God, against his name, his heavenly Tent
and all those who are sheltered there. He was ALLOWED. But who allowed him? It was not the dragon
because the dragon would not limit this evil to just forty-two months. For John, it is God who gives the beast
its blasphemous mouth and allows him to reign over the earth and to in defiance of his divine rule.

Here is a Vital point for John’s theology: God allows this to happen so that he can achieve his own good
end of judgment and glory. It is in this ranting and raging of the Antichrist that we can see how the problem
of evil comes together with human freedom, divine love and power. During this raging of the Antichrist,
God suffers, his saints suffer, evil is rampant and the world goes mad (Beasley-Murray). But that is the point
for John. In all of this, he remains, in the words of Martin Luther – God’s Devil. This is an extraordinary
insight into evil. Satan is, from the Book of Job onwards, a servant of God, operating within the limits set by
God. He cannot do other than what he is permitted to do. He has no independent power and while God does
not write his scripts, he does set tight parameters. Is this not what stands out so clearly on Calvary? There
the Son of Man died at the hands of sinful men and yet it is the moment of Satan’s demise.

13:11...then I saw a second beast; it emerged from the ground... and it is an amazing beast because while
it has the horns of a lamb its speech gives it away, for it speaks like a dragon. Whereas the Lamb of God
speaks the Word of God, the beast from the land is the Lamb of Satan and so it speaks the words of Satan.
But its looks are deceptive, for it looks lamb like.

This is useful given that his chief task is to convince the people of the earth to venerate the beast. He does
this by working great signs (13-15). We know from Mark 13:22 that the antichrist will work great signs and
portents. Like Elijah he can bring fire down from heaven. No wonder people were conned.

The seal the word is the technical word for the imperial stamp that was used on commercial documents and
also for the image of the emperor that was minted onto coins. It was impossible to operate commercially
without one of these sealed documents. And here we probably have the source of John’s imagery. The use
of Roman coinage was a very subtle way of forcing the Christians to honour the emperor, as his head was on
the coins. To buy things and sell things in Asia, one needed to honour the beast by using his coins.
13:16...666 the mark of the beast... The number represents a name and the beast can be known by either the
number or the name. In both Hebrew and Greek, the letters of the alphabet all had numerical equivalents.
That meant the first letter had the equivalent of 1, the second 2 and so on. This made it possible to create all
kinds of games and puns with names and their numerical equivalent. One of the most famous of these is an
inscription on a wall in Pompei which reads: I love her whose name is 545. If I was to write that of my wife
Bennita I would write it; I love her whose name is 2,5,14,14,9,20,1! This is called gematria.

In the Sibylline Oracles, the numerical name Jesus is given as 888 (I=10; H=8; S=200; O=70; U=400 and
S=200).

Most commentators would point out that the name Nero Caesar, translated into Greek from the Hebrew gives
the number 666 (nun=50; resh=200; waw=6; nun=50; qoqh=100; samech=60; resh=200).

But for John, there may have been more symbolic reasons for choosing 666 as the name of the beast. If we
say seven is the perfect number, then 666 constantly falls short of perfection. It is a parody of the number for
Jesus, 888 which is a little better than perfect.

The most likely character to wear the tag 666 is the Caesar Nero. He fits the title well

				
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