30 December 2018

Woman, Son and Dragon – (Rev 12:1-6)

Woman and the Dragon
A new literary unit begins with a vision of a Woman arrayed with the sun and the moon under her feet (Revelation 12:1-2). This unit continues through the end of chapter 16, the Seven Bowls of Wrath. The previous section concluded with the seventh trumpet:  the declaration of God’s kingdom victory, the final judgment, the ark of the covenant revealed in the heavenly sanctuary, and the series of “flashes of lightning, voices, thunders, an earthquake and great hail” (11:15-19).
     This section concludes with the seventh bowl of wrath and likewise with “voices, thunders, flashes of lightning, a great earthquake, and great hail out of heaven”; and additionally with the fall of the “cities of the nations,” the punishment of Babylon and terrestrial upheaval (16:17-21).
     Chapter 12 begins to describe the cosmic enemies of the Lamb and his people: the Dragon (12:1-17), the Beast from the sea (13:1-10), the Beast from the land (13:11-18), and Babylon (14:6-20). One purpose is to inform the churches of the real battle being waged behind history, one that plays out in their daily lives. Their real oppressor is not Rome but the Dragon, which exploits imperial power to persecute men and women redeemed by the Lamb.
     God did not abandon His creation but sent His Messiah to redeem and reign over it, none other than Jesus, the “son” destined to shepherd the nations. The Dragon attempted to destroy the son at the pivotal point of his life, but his violent death proved to be God’s means to achieve exaltation and rule. The serpent may have bruised the son’s foot, but he, in turn, crushed the serpent’s head. This victory was achieved through the death of the son (“and they overcame by the blood of the lamb…”).
    This means on some level the Dragon has been defeated already and cast down, though he remains alive, dangerous, and enraged. Unable to destroy the son or the messianic community that produced him, the Dragon instead wages war against the Woman’s “seed,” the saints who have the testimony of Jesus.
     The next chapter will reveal the identity of the Dragon’s earthly agent and how he intends to destroy the saints.
    Three themes are to be noted that appear in chapter 12 and elsewhere; first, the expulsion of Satan and curtailment of his power to act (6:13; 8:8; 11:7; 20:1-3); second, the use of Daniel 7:21 to describe the Dragon’s persecution of saints (11:7;12:17; 13:7; 17:14; 19:19). And, third, the description of the time of the Dragon’s persecuting activities as “a short time,” “twelve hundred and sixty days,” and “a time, and times, and half a time.” In each case the figure is based on the “little horn” from Daniel 7:21-26 who “slanders the Most High and wears out His saints; who presumed to change seasons and law, which are given into his hand until a time and times and part of a time.”

The Woman
(Revelation 12:1-2) – “And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cries out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered.”
It begins with a great “sign in heaven,” a woman arrayed with the sun and the moon beneath her feet. She wears a “wreath of twelve stars” and carries a child ready to be delivered. She is a “sign,” a symbolic representation of a particular reality, and is no more “literal” than the “sign” of the Great Red Dragon. She is in “heaven,” the locale where John just witnessed the sanctuary of God with the ark of his covenant (11:19). This is not a prediction of a future zodiacal sign or an alignment of stars that can be identified via astronomical observation.
    The description of her “with the sun and the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” alludes to Genesis 37:9; Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and eleven stars rendering homage to him. In his dream, the stars represent the tribes of Israel, with Joseph being the twelfth star. The woman thus represents the covenant community, the people of God, and probably both its old and new covenant forms (cp. Revelation 7:4-8; 21:12-14 [“having twelve gates and names written on them, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel…and the wall of the city had twelve foundations and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”).
     The Woman’s “crown” is a victor’s “wreath” or stephanos, in contrast to the seven “crowns” or diadems of the Dragon (12:3). In Revelation “wreaths” are associated with victorious saints (2:10; 3:11). The messianic prophecy from Isaiah 7:10-14 may also lie behind the passage:  “a sign...in the height above...a sign, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son.”
     Her labor pains symbolize the sufferings of the covenant community prior to the birth of the messianic child. The prophecy of Genesis 3:15-16 is also in view:  “I will put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between your seed and her seed…I will greatly multiply your pain; in pain you shall bring forth children.”
     Also alluded to is a prophecy from Isaiah where Zion is a female figure that produces a male child. That prophecy already was used in the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia:
(Isaiah 66:5-7) - “Hear the word of Yahweh: Said your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for my Name’s sake, ‘Yahweh be glorified!’ Therefore shall he appear to your rejoicing, but they shall be shamed…Before she travails she brought forth, before her pains come to her she has given birth to a man-child.”
(Revelation 2:9-10) - “I know the slander of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan…Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give your a wreath of life.”
(Revelation 3:9-10) – “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not, but lie; behold, I will make them to come and render homage before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you kept the word of my perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of trial, which is going to come upon the whole habitable earth to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
The Dragon
(Revelation 12:3-4) – “And there appeared another sign in heaven and, behold, a Great Red Dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems; and his tail is drawing the third of the stars of heaven and cast them onto the earth. And the Dragon has taken a stand in front of the Woman, the one who is going to bring forth, that when she should bring forth he might devour her child.”
Ezekiel compared Pharaoh to the “Great Dragon that lies in the midst of his rivers,” and to “a dragon in the seas” (Ezekiel 29:1-3; 32:2). The “seven heads” may allude to the “heads of Leviathan”; Yahweh promised to “punish Leviathan the swift Serpent, and Leviathan the crooked serpent” (Psalm 74:13-14; Isaiah 27:1).
    But the main source of this imagery is Daniel’s vision of a fourth beast with ten horns that “devoured and broke in pieces.” Its final horn waged war “against the saints and prevailed over them,” a passage already used to describe the Beast’s war against the “two witnesses” (Revelation 11:7; Daniel 7:2-8, 21). The Dragon’s “seven heads” correspond to the seven heads from all four of Daniel’s beasts: the lion (1 head), the bear (1), the leopard (4) and the fourth beast (1).
     The casting down of the stars by the Dragon borrows language from Daniel 8:10. The “little horn” from Daniel chapter 7 “grew great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host of the stars it cast down to the ground and trampled upon them.” This is the same horn that ascended from among the ten horns of the fourth beast to wage war against the saints. In Revelation 1:20“stars” represent “messengers” or “angels” assigned to churches.
     The Dragon’s seven diadems point to political power and symbolize his claim of sovereignty over the world’s political realm. His red color stresses his power to wage war, just as the red horse earlier was authorized to “take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other” (Revelation 6:4). The Dragon is poised to devour the Woman’s child at the moment of its birth.

The Son
(Revelation 12:5) – “And she brought forth a son, a male, who is going to shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron; and her child was seized toward God and toward his throne.”
Two Old Testament passages are used; Isaiah 66:7-8 and Psalm 2:6-9. The Woman “brought forth a son, a male” (eteken huion arsen), a clause from Isaiah 66:7 where “Zion” was a female figure that produced “a male” (Greek Septuagint - eteken arsen), only in Revelation 12:5 the word “son” or huios is added to the clause. This clarifies who this child represents and provides a link to Psalm 2:6-9 (cp. Revelation 11:18).
     This “son” is destined “to shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron,” a reference to Psalm 2:7-9:  “You are my Son…I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall shepherd them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel” (Septuagint version).
     Revelation follows the Greek Septuagint rendering of Psalm 2 by translating the Hebrew verb “shepherd” rather than “rule” or “crush.” He does likewise in two other passages (2:27; 19:15). This Son is the Messiah produced by the covenant community, the one destined to possess and rule the nations. This identification becomes explicit in verse 10 (“Now has come the salvation, power, the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ”).
     The Dragon’s attempt to destroy the child backfires. This occurred not at Christ’s birth but at his execution on the cross when Satan tried to destroy him. His resurrection reversed the Dragon’s plot; his death became his victory over Satan.
     Upon “birth” the son is taken up to God’s throne. Previously the Son’s installment on the divine throne occurs as a result of self-sacrificial death (3:21; 5:5-10). This verse does not describe a second enthronement in the future but instead looks back to the Son’s past exaltation after his death and resurrection ( “firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth” [1:5]).

The Woman’s Flight
(Revelation 12:6) – “And the woman fled into the Wilderness where she has a place prepared from God, that there they might nourish her a thousand, two hundred, and sixty days.”
The flight into the Wilderness echoes Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the wilderness; she continues to symbolize the covenant community. Following the exaltation of the son, the Church begins a new “exodus in the wilderness.” The Son’s victory over the Dragon does NOT mean the removal of the covenant community from the earth. Instead, God protects it in the wilderness.
     The wilderness is not heaven or a place devoid of evil.  Mystery Babylon, the “Great Harlot,” will also be seen in the “wilderness” (17:3). Despite God’s “nourishment”, the Dragon is able to pursue and attempt to overwhelm her. John later sees Babylon in the wilderness “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” God’s “nourishment” enables saints to endure faithfully in the “wilderness”; it does not necessarily spare them from all suffering.
     The “place prepared for her” suggests something similar to the “sealing of God’s servants” (7:1-8). God’s servants were “sealed” prior to the release of “the four winds of the earth” and the seven trumpets, enabling them to endure what followed.
    The Woman is nourished for a “thousand, two hundred and sixty days,” or “a time, times and half a time” (12:14), both links to Daniel 7:25. Daniel foresaw a period when the “little horn” would “wear out the saints of the Most High…and they shall be given into his hand.” Numbers in Revelation are figurative, not literal. The purpose is to link this vision to the time of trouble for God’s people in Daniel. This period is also enumerated as “forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2; 13:5), which raises a question:  Why does Revelation define this period with different figures?
     The twelve hundred and sixty days of the Woman’s wilderness sojourn link it to the “measuring of the sanctuary” and the two witnesses (11:1-3); her flight occurs during the same period, and in particular to the latter one (“they prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days”). Her being “nourished in the wilderness” parallels Elijah being protected and provided for by God in the wilderness (“ravens to feed him by the brook Cherith” [1 Kings 17:3-6]).
   The two witnesses display characteristics associated with Elijah’s prophetic ministry. The twelve hundred and sixty days begin after the exaltation of the son to God’s Throne. Unable to destroy the Woman during this period, the Dragon goes off to “make war with the rest of her seed” (12:17). Likewise, the Beast from the Abyss is only able to overcome the two witnesses after they complete their testimony at the end of “twelve hundred and sixty days” (11:7). Both passages allude to Daniel 7:21: “the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them.”

No comments:

Post a Comment