Thursday, December 21, 2006

If the woman is real, the dragon is real

In Revelation 12, John describes a "great and wondrous sign in heaven":
... a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.
Revelation 12.1-3
I remember the first time I looked at this passage. It was back in the early 1980s, and a representative of some cult was telling me that this passage described the birth of his cult's leader.

It seemed pretty bogus to me -- the woman is clearly allegorical -- but I couldn't articulate why. It wasn't until later that a friend of mine pointed out that if the dragon wasn't real, the woman wouldn't be real either. There is no way that a biblical author would put a physical woman in the same scene with a metaphorical dragon!

The passage goes on to say that the dragon wants to devour the child as soon as it was born, but that the child was "snatched up to God and to his throne." (verse 5).

So what does the passage really mean? The twelve stars in the woman's crown has got to mean the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew tells us that Herod wanted to kill Jesus as soon as he was born, and Herod might have been animated by the dragon. Seven heads might mean the seven hills of Rome, which would fit.

But this is certain: if the woman was real, the dragon was real, and this passage is in no way talking about the birth of any 20th century cult leader.

So what? Chances are you've never talked with someone from this cult. If you do encounter a cult representative, you probably can't convince them that their cult has misled them, but if they refer to this passage, you can plant a seed of doubt: "If the woman is real, the dragon has to be real too, doesn't it?"

And we're encouraged to endure. The brothers overcome their accuser, the dragon, who is thrown out of heaven (verses 9-11):
They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12.11
I'm thinking they're worthy of emulation.

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