01 October 2020

Revelation 12-14

Revelation 12

It can be quite difficult to make sense of the chronology of Revelation. John makes no distinction between events of the past, (his) present, and (his) future. In chapter 12, John speaks of a woman, clearly a symbolic representation of Mary, mother of Jesus, and a dragon, named Satan. This is clearly a past event, as even if John were arguing for a "second coming" of Jesus in the future, he is not arguing for a second coming of Mary. Rather, this is an account of the birth of Jesus and a symbolic representation of his importance in God's plan for the world.

The imagery John uses to describe Mary is similar to how he describes Jesus in chapter 1. She is clothed in sunshine, The moon is under her feet, and twelve stars are upon her head (12:1; 1:16). John tells us in chapter 1 that the seven stars Jesus holds are the seven angels of the seven churches. These twelve stars then might represent the angels of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, to whom Christ had been promised and was sent.

The second sign John sees is that of a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads represent the seven hills of Rome. Given that context, the ten horns may represent Rome's ten senatorial provinces. I tend to favor this interpretation, as John uses clear and frequent imperial symbols in Revelation, keeps his use of symbols internally consistent, and references people, places, and events of his own day. When he refers to ancient places, they are also far from obscure (ie. Babylon).

The dragon waits for Mary to give birth, that he may kill Jesus immediately, this is in reference to King Herod's infanticidal tirade in Matthew 2:13-18. In that gospel, Mary and Joseph escape with Jesus to Egypt and stay there until the death of Herod. The parallel to the story of Moses is quite clear as well (Exodus 2).

However, when Mary gives birth, her son is "snatched up to God and to God's throne" (Revelation 12:5). John then gives us a view of the heavenly powers fighting over the fate of Jesus, an alternative perspective to the earthly perspective of Matthew. Mary flees from the wrath of the dragon "into the wilderness" for 1,260 days, an amount of time equal to the time of the two witnesses in the previous chapter.

The dragon, unable to harm Jesus, pursues Mary, who is protected by the earth itself. Enraged, Satan turns his wrath to God's people and those who follow Jesus.

Revelation 13

The dragon then summoned a beast from the sea. The beast had seven heads with ten horns and ten crowns upon the ten horns. Similar to the stars and lampstands of chapter 1, while the dragon represents the corrupt spiritual power (ie. idolatry) of Rome, the beast represents Rome itself. The beast comes from the sea (Rome is across the Mediterranean from Israel, as well as Patmos). Like the dragon it has seven heads (hills of Rome) and ten horns (senatorial provinces), but it also has ten crowns. These ten crowns are the literal representation of imperial power, power which is granted to it by the dragon (Satan).

Perhaps in mockery of Christ's resurrection, one of the heads of the beast had suffered "a fatal wound" which had healed. Emperor Titus had also been similarly injured in the Siege of Jerusalem. News of Nero's death had also reached Jerusalem during the time of Titus' conquest and that year, four emperors came and went. In Jerusalem, the perception may have been that no one knew if the Emperor was alive or dead. John shows through the world's worship of the beast is based on its power comes from its indomitable ability to win wars. Once again, this is a mockery of Christ who is the "Prince of Peace."

John then begins to rally Christians against the beast, citing that the beast was given power to receive the worship of all the nations... all except those whose names have been written in the Lamb's book of life. John then cites Jeremiah, to hearten Christians for martyrdom, calling for "patient endurance and faithfulness" rather than violent resistance.

John then sees a second beast, with horns like a lamb and a voice like a dragon. It exercises the authority of the first beast and orders people to worship the first beast. The imagery refers to the Roman client king of Syria, which ruled over Israel and enforced Roman law, including the idolatrous worship of the Roman Emperor as a god.

The second beast also marks all people "on their right hands or on their foreheads" sanctioning them to buy and sell, and without which they can do neither. The image of writing on the hands and forehead refers to the Shema, which was (and still is) recited by all Jewish people in the morning and evening. It is from Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Jesus cites this verse as the greatest commandment. This verse was sometimes written on the forehead or on the right hand.

But what does the Shema have to do with buying and selling? Through idolatry, Rome had turned the requirement of the Shema to itself, had named its emperor a god, and had placed the emperor's face on all its coinage, effectively placing an idol in the pocket of each and every person in the empire. If you wanted to trade, it had to be with Roman coinage. The mark, John states, is "the name of the beast or the number of its name." In verse 18, John breaks with the narrative to tell the reader to calculate the number, which is the number of a man's name. Depending on the source, that number has been recorded as either 666 or 616. This calculates to the name "Caesar Nero" or "Caesar Neron" depending on the alphabet being used.

Revelation 14

Upon Mount Zion, the Lamb now gathers his army. There are 144,000 in the Lamb's army, except that these are not the same 144,000 sealed from the tribes of Israel (see Revelation 7). John gives us different criteria for this assembly. Like the Lamb himself, they are those who are found to be upright, pure, and blameless. They gather on the mountain and give praise to God, and their praise is like the sound of thunder.

In contrast to the beast which usurped the worship of God and turned it to the emperor of Rome, the Lamb now calls the entire earth back to the worship of the one true God. An angel proclaims the Gospel to every nation, to all people, and in every language, saying "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water" (Revelation 14:7).

Two more angels now warn against following the mandates of Rome (metaphorically called Babylon) and embracing its idolatry, for Rome is falling and those who join it will fall with it. An angel then "harvests" all of those who had sided with Rome and gathered them into "the winepress of God's wrath" which proceeds to overflow with blood. This depiction is graphic in its violence, but it is only foreshadowing the violence of the next two chapters, which see seven plagues and seven bowls of God's wrath poured out upon the world.

The next four chapters are far too gory and far too graphic more me to add to this already lengthy article. Next week, the world ends (no, not literally). God's wrath will be poured out for the final time and Rome will fall. But don't worry, God does not forget his people.

Until next week,
Peace be with you.

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