Too many people have told me that they don’t read Revelation because it is too tough, so I thought my first blog should be a compilation of my thoughts on Revelation trying to show the major themes of the book. The book is not as confusing as it seems: it is called the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and so it is John’s unfolding vision of the glory of the risen lion-lamb, Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. The book was not written to be hidden, left in the back of the Bible, unable to be read or interpreted. The book is layered thick with images from the Old Testament to describe the cosmic victory of the Messiah and was meant to be understood in that light! Each week we will look at a different portion of the book to help unlock its content.
The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman
We are introduced to the cosmic eye view of the battle in heaven in chapter 12. This chapter shows us from above the history of the world. Peter Leithart argues that just as John turns in chapter 12, Revelation does as well. Starting with this chapter gives us a firm foundation to plant our feet on knowing what to look for in the book. John watches the battle between the armies of Heaven and the armies of the Serpent, using symbolic terms to describe the history of the universe in types that can be repeated. This does not need to symbolize a single event, but is built on all of the layers of the historical events that lend symbolism to the chapter. This is one of the great things about the Bible: it can tell us about historical facts in a way that also has heavy allegorical strands. These allegorical aspects can be picked up by other authors and used to tell the story of God in terms of what he has done in the Risen Christ. This post will look at how symbols help build the world that John is describing.
John brings to mind images of Eve, Hagar, Sarah, Israel, and Mary to form our view of the woman: she is clothed with the sun (a typical image of the glory of the Lord, see Malachi); stands on the moon; and wears a crown of twelve stars (the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples). She gives birth after great labor pains to a child who is to rule with an iron scepter (Psalm 110) who is snatched up to rule with God. Eve, Sarah, and Mary all give birth to important royal figures that could be symbolized by the child: all of mankind, Israel (indirectly, but through her line), and Christ are born to reign over all of creation. Man was created to reign over creation until Adam disobeys and seizes wisdom on his own rather than waiting for God and maturity; Israel was supposed to take up the mantle of Adam and rule and bless the other nations but failed by becoming like the other nations rather than holy; and ultimately Christ was to rule the world with his rod and scepter (Psalm 2 and 110). This is why the child is snatched to rule with God: from his heavenly palace, he can rule as a vicar of Yahweh.
Not many catch the allusions John makes to Hagar in the story: when Hagar was cast out by Sarah, she and her son are provided for in the wilderness. Even though the imagery changes to something negative, in Galatians Hagar is called the mother of Israel, the children of bondage. Even though she is mother of Israel in the flesh (rather than in the Spirit), she is still a mother to Israel and should be read into this passage.
The dragon, despite his best attempts, cannot overcome this child. The Serpent, through history, cannot conquer the Seed of the Woman. Goliath and the Giants/the Nephilim/the sons of God cannot; the anti-cherubic armies of Babylon cannot (Habakkuk 1); the Serpent himself cannot (Matthew 4); the seed of Nahash (Heb. serpent) cannot overcome the line of David (2 Samuel 10). The dragon unleashes a flood to kill the woman (a symbol of Gentile armies, an opposite of the Flood of God’s wrath), but the earth swallows it all like it swallowed the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16). In a future blog post, we will look more at the dragon/serpent imagery of the book.
Ultimately, this chapter summarizes the book and the message of Revelation: the seed of the woman will not be overcome by the seed of the serpent, and the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. The next post will look at the dual liturgies of Heaven and Hell.