The Beast Who Lived – Revelation 13:3-4

After describing the Beast from the Sea as the ultimate fulfillment of Daniel’s vision of the final nation (Dan 7:7), John sees that one of the heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but that wound was healed (13:3). This wound was healed by the second beast (13:12) and filled the world with wonder.

Worship of the Beast

The beast as a whole an empire and the horns are leaders or kings associated with that empire. In Daniel 7, the final beast referred to Seleucid control of Judea and the arrogant little horn was Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The son of man was given authority by God to judge this arrogant little horn (Dan 7:9-10) and establish a kingdom that would never end (Dan 7:14). Antiochus did in fact make war against God’s people, leading to the Maccabean Revolt. Although the revolt did result in a brief time of semi-autonomous self-rule, the Hasmoneans were not the anything like the son of man waging war against the arrogant horn until they possessed a kingdom that would never end (Dan 7:21-22).

Since the everlasting kingdom of God ruled by God’s representative, the son of man, did not happen in the second century B.C., John applies Daniel 7 to the evil empire of his own day, Rome. Picking up on many themes from Daniel, God will humble the empire and arrogant world leader just as he had humbled Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, or the Seleucids and Antiochus. Rome did not lack for arrogant rulers in the first century A.D. and it is difficult to say which first-century Roman emperor John had in mind.

Who is the ruler of the empire who died and came back to life? It is possible “one of his heads” as “his first head.” It is possible to translate the number μίαν (accusative singular of εἷς) as “first,” but this is usually found in expressions of time, such as the first day of the week (Matt 28:1 for example). It is possible this unusual use of the word reflects a Hebrew or Aramaic expression (BDAG εἷς 4), which might be expected in a Jewish apocalypse like Revelation. If the word does refer to the first of the horns, then the references is to Julius Caesar. Julius was never an emperor; however, he was assassinated. There were no legends of a “revived Julius,” but he was deified and his family became central to the imperial cult.

Another common suggestion is that this revived emperor refers to Nero who committed suicide by slitting his own throat.[1] The rumor Nero was not dead persisted for many years after his suicide and many commentators take the recovery of the first beast as a reference to this myth. Dio Chrysostom said “Even now everyone wishes that Nero were alive, and most people actually believe it.” David Aune has an excursus on the Nero Myth along with an extensive bibliography (2:737).

Despite modern popular depictions of Nero as a tyrannical monster, he was popular in the eastern part of the empire. A rumor (or urban legend) spread that Nero had faked his death and was hiding among the Parthians where he was raising an army to retake the throne of Rome (Sib. Or. 4.119-122; Collins, The Sibylline Oracles, pp. 80–87). Tacitus refers to two pretenders in A.D. 69 (, Hist 2.8, 9; cf. Dio Cassius 64.9) and Suetonius mentions a third other active in A.D. 80 (Nero, 57).

Tacitus, Histories 2.8 About this time Achaia and Asia were terrified by a false rumour of Nero’s arrival. The reports with regard to his death had been varied, and therefore many people imagined and believed that he was alive. The fortunes and attempts of other pretenders we shall tell as we proceed; but at this time, a slave from Pontus or, as others have reported, a freedman from Italy, who was skilled in playing on the cithara and in singing, gained the readier belief in his deceit through these accomplishments and his resemblance to Nero. He recruited some deserters, poor tramps whom he had bribed by great promises, and put to sea. (LCL 1:173)

The fourth Sibylline Oracle may refer to this Nero redivivus legend:

Sib. Or. 4.119–122 Then a great king will flee from Italy like a runaway slave unseen and unheard over the channel of the Euphrates, when he dares to incur a maternal curse for repulsive murder and many other things, confidently, with wicked hand.

Sib. Or. 4.137–139 Then the strife of war being aroused will come to the west, and the fugitive from Rome will also come, brandishing a great spear having crossed the Euphrates with many myriads.

Larry Kreitzer follows Collins closely and extends the Nero myth to include Hadrian, referring specifically to 5.28-34; 93-110. Like Nero, Hadrian was responsible for destroying Jerusalem and his extensive tour of the east may have evoked the Nero redivivus myth. However, Jan Willem van Henten argued the Nero Redivivus legend is a modern scholarly construct. He surveys references to Nero in the Sibylline Oracles and concludes they are “creative recycling of tyrannical rulers’ stereotypes” rather than “a posthumous return to life of the emperor Nero.” For van Henten, scholars like Collins and Kreitzer “take the Nero redivivus for granted” (5).

Although a Christian text, the Martyrdom of Isaiah 4:2-3 compares Beliar, the satanic “king of this world” to Nero.

Mart. Ascen. Isa. 4.2–3 And after it has been brought to completion, Beliar will descend, the great angel, the king of this world, which he has ruled ever since it existed. He will descend from his firmament in the form of a man, a king of iniquity, a murderer of his mother—this is the king of this world—and will persecute the plant which the twelve apostles of the Beloved will have planted; some of the twelve will be given into his hand.

In Revelation the beast is the Roman empire, as the persecutor of the church. Like Dan 7:21-22, this beast will persecute God’s people until God himself intervenes to destroy the power of the beast and establish an eternal kingdom.

Along with Revelation 17:8, the death and resurrection of the first beast is a parody of Christ. Vern Poythress offers several examples of parody in Revelation 13.

  • He has a counterfeit resurrection in the form of a mortal wound that was healed (Rev 13:3). The miraculous character of his healing creates astonishment and followers for him, just as the miracle of the resurrection creates followers of Christ.
  • The beast has ten crowns (13:1), parallel to Christ’s many crowns (19:12).
  • The dragon gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2), just as the Father gives the Son his authority (John 5:22–27).
  • Worship of the dragon and the beast go together (Rev 13:4), just as worship of the Father and the Son go together (John 5:23).
  • The beast claims universal allegiance from all nations (Rev 13:7), just as Christ is Lord over all nations (7:9–10).

I would add to this list the mysterious “mark of the beast” as a parody of God marking his own people (the 144,000 in Rev 14:1).

As is often the case in Revelation, John looks back to the book of Daniel and re-works the apocalyptic outline of history to apply to his own day. Just as Babylon and Persia became Antiochus and the Seleucids, John transforms the image of a beast from the sea with an arrogant little horn into Rome. But also like Daniel, there is an aspect of this apocalypse which does look forward to an ultimate enemy of God’s people and an ultimate arrogant little horn who will be finally judged when God’s kingdom arrives (Rev 19:11-20:6).

Bibliography: Larry Kreitzer, “Hadrian and the Nero Redivivus Myth” ZNTW 79 (1988): 92-115; Vern S. Poythress, “Counterfeiting In The Book Of Revelation As A Perspective On Non-Christian Culture” JETS 40 (1997): 411-418; Jan Willem van Henten, “Nero Redivivus Demolished: The Coherence Of The Nero Traditions in the Sibylline Oracles,” JSP 21:3-17

[1] Caligula is a possibility as well, since he was deathly ill and people wondered if he might recover, but the text indicates this head is killed by the sword in verse 14.

A Dragon with Ten Horns and Seven Heads – Revelation 13:1-2

This first beast which rises from the sea has ten horns and seven heads. What do these horns represent? These horns are an allusion to Daniel 7:7. The fourth beast rising from the sea in Daniel’s vision has ten horns, representing a fourth empire which will persecute God’s people. Revelation reinterprets Daniel’s fourth beast as the Roman Empire.

The Beast from Luther Bible

Daniel 7:7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

That horns represent rulers in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 is clear. Daniel 7:24 and Revelation 17:12 interpret the horns are “ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom,” although the precise identity of those kings is open for debate. In Daniel 7, the only horn that is important is the blasphemous little horn which refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler who sparked the Maccabean Revolt by outlawing certain Jewish practices. The fourth beast in Daniel 7 is the final kingdom before God’s representative, the Son of Man begins to rule over a kingdom which will never end.

The beast with seven heads and ten horns was introduced in Revelation 12:3 and will appear again in 17:3. In each case the horns wear crowns (διάδημα, diadem or royal headband) as a symbol of their kingship. That there are seven heads seems odd, but the power of this beast comes from the dragon, who had seven heads in 12:3. I discussed some of the possible ways to identify these ten kings in a post on Revelation 17.

One of the earliest interpretations of the first beast identified it as Rome. Both Irenaeus and Hippolytus thought the first beast was Rome, although the ten heads were ten kings who would replace of Rome (Adv. Haer. 5.26.1): “In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules [Rome] shall be partitioned.”

Connecting Daniel 2 and 7, Hippolytus says: “A fourth beast, dreadful and terrible; it had iron teeth and claws of brass.” And who are these but the Romans? which (kingdom) is meant by the iron—the kingdom which is now established; for the legs of that (image) were of iron” (de Ant. 25). He then draws the obvious parallels to the great whore (quoting large sections of Revelation 17-18).

Although David Aune points out Roman emperors never wore diadems signifying royal status (Aune 2:733), it is still likely John means the reader to understand the horns as Roman power and the beast as Imperial Rome.

Each of the seven heads has a blasphemous name and in 13:16 the second beast will force people to write a blasphemous name on their foreheads. Later the whore of Babylon will have blasphemy written on her forehead. These names likely refer to the titles used by Roman emperors. For example, Nero minted coins with the phrase “Nero, Savior of the World” and Domitian used the title “Lord and God.”

John exposes the power behind the empire. Although the Roman Empire is the most powerful kingdom in human history, the source of its power is the dragon, Satan. This condemnation of Rome as Satan’s kingdom will become increasingly clear as John moves toward the climax in Revelation 19:11-20:6, the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to establish a real kingdom of peace.

Background for the Beast of the Sea – Revelation 13:1-2

At the end of Revelation 12, the dragon stands at the shore of the sea and summons two beasts, one from the sea and another rising out of the earth (13:11-18). These beasts make war against God’s people and demand worship from the entire world.

Beast from Sea Bamberg Apocalypse

Although the sea is sometimes interpreted as “disturbed and stormy social and political” of the first century, but since much of Revelation 13 is satanic parody, summoning the beast out of the sea may be a parody of creation. Satan is mimicking God standing at the chaotic sea creating the order of the earth (Gen 1:2). Vern Poythress, for example, suggests the sea in Revelation 13:1 evokes the chaotic pre-creation world before God imposes order on the days of creation. The coming time of tribulation will be a return to the “formless and void” (tohu-wa-bohu) before God’s creative actions in Genesis 1.

Greg Beale suggests Revelation 13 is in part based on Job 40-41. In those chapters there are two beasts who opposed God, the Behemoth on the land and Leviathan from the sea (Revelation, 682). “On earth there is not his like, a creature without fear. He sees everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride” (Job 41:33-34). Perhaps this is more clear in the Septuagint, “And the netherworld of the deep is like a prisoner (δὲ τάρταρον (tartarus) τῆς ἀβύσσου, “bottomless pit” or Abyss in Revelation). He regards the deep as a walk. There is not anything upon the earth like it, being made to be mocked by my angels. It sees everything that is high, and it itself is king of all that is in the waters” (Job 41:23–25 LES2).

In the Old Testament sea monsters like Leviathan and Rahab refered to foreign powers who oppressed Israel, especially Egypt Ps 74:14; 87:4; Isa 30:7; Ezek 29:3; 32:2-3; Jer 51:3 refering to Babylon). Revelation 13 draws on this common Old Testament imagery since the beast from the sea is an enemy of God and an persecutor of his people.

Psalm 74:14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.

Psalm 87:4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”

Isaiah 30:7 to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing.

Ezekiel 29:3 Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile is mine; I made it for myself.”

Ezekiel 32:2-3 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him: “‘You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas thrashing about in your streams, churning the water with your feet and muddying the streams. 3 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘With a great throng of people I will cast my net over you, and they will haul you up in my net.

In the Pseudepigrapha, Leviathan and Behemoth were a single primordial beast separated by God at the time of creation.

1 Enoch 60:7-10 On that day, two monsters will be parted—one monster, a female named Leviathan, in order to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of water; 8 and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the garden of Eden, wherein the elect and the righteous ones dwell, wherein my grandfather was taken, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of the Spirits created. 9 Then I asked the second angel in order that he may show me (how) strong these monsters are, how they were separated on this day and were cast, the one into the abysses of the ocean, and the other into the dry desert. 10 And he said to me, “You, son of man, according (to the degree) to which it will be permitted, you will know the hidden things.”

4 Ezra 6:47-52 “On the fifth day you commanded the seventh part, where the water had been gathered together, to bring forth living creatures, birds, and fishes; and so it was done. 48 The dumb and lifeless water produced living creatures, as it was commanded, that thereafter the nations might declare thy wondrous works. 49 “Then you kept in existence two living creatures; the name of one you called Behemoth and the name of the other Leviathan. 50* And you separated one from the other, for the seventh part where the water had been gathered together could not hold them both. 51 And you gave Behemoth one of the parts which had been dried up on the third day, to live in it, where there are a thousand mountains; 52 but to Leviathan you have the seventh part, the watery part; and you have kept them to be eaten by whom you wish, and when you wish.

In the Psalms of Solomon 2:28-32 Pompey speaks with the “arrogance of the dragon” who is judged by God with a dishonorable death.

Psalms of Solomon 2:28-32 And do not delay, God, to repay them upon their heads, 29 to speak the arrogance of the dragon (δράκων) in dishonor.” 30 And I did not delay until God showed to me his insolence, a man pierced on the mountains of Egypt, being scorned more than the smallest upon the earth and the sea, 31 his body being carried over the waves in great insolence; and there was no one to bury it 32 because he rejected him in dishonor.”

But the most oblivious background for this first beast from the sea is the fourth beast in Daniel 7. Beale, for example, calls Revelation 13:1-2 a “creative reworking of Dan. 7:1-7 (683). Revelation 13 describes the first beast as having ten horns (Dan 7:7) and seven heads and was like a leopard; bear and lion, Daniel’s first three beasts in reverse order. In Daniel, “the arrogant little horn” comes from this fourth beast.

In the context of Daniel, the immediate reference is to Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his arrogant persecution of Judea which led to the Maccabean Revolt. Revelation is written about 250 years after Antiochus, suggested John is re-interpreting the fourth beast of Daniel 7 as the current arrogant empire, Rome. If this is the case, then the wounded horn may refer to an emperor, just as the little horn referred to Antiochus.

The Dragon Makes War – Revelation 12:13-17

The final section of Revelation 12 the woman escaping the dragon. The individual images are difficult, but they all refer Satan’s persecution of the children of the woman. In Revelation 13 the dragon empowers two agents to wage war against God’s holy people (13:7).

Unclean spirits, Getty Apocalypse. Ms. Ludwig

For many interpreters the woman represents the church and her children, the holy people attacked by the dragon and the beast (13:7) is a metaphor for the church. Greg Beale, for example, interprets the chapter Jesus’s victory of Satan at the cross. Revelation 12:11 especially important for this interpretation since the holy ones have triumphed over Satan by the blood of the Lamb. As a result, the devil’s fury is expressed against Christians” (Revelation, 667). Beale draws parallels between the saints under the altar in Revelation 6:9 and the ones who have lost their lives in 12:11. He therefore summarizes this war against the holy ones “as a result of Christ’s victory over the devil, God protects the messianic community against the devil’s wrathful harm” (668).

However, all of the allusions to the Old Testament and symbolism in Revelation 12 refer to Israel. The word dragon (δράκων) is rare in the New Testament, only appearing in Revelation as a metaphor for Satan. In the Septuagint it is used to translate the Hebrew תַּנִּין (tannin) a snake, but often a sea-monster or dragon. The word is used in Exodus 7:9 when Moses throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. The Septuagint uses the word dragon (δράκων).

This is not to say Moses’s staff became a Harry Potter style baby dragon, but the association of a sea-monster occupying the chaos of the sea is common in the Ancient Near East. For example, Jeremiah 51:34 describes Nebuchadnezzar as a sea-monster (using תַּנִּין, δράκων in LXX Jeremiah 28:34). Isaiah 27:1 and 51:9 describe God destroying the great chaos monsters Leviathan and Rahab. Rahab is not the woman from Jericho in Isaiah 51:9, but rather “a mythical monster, the name of which means ‘surger,’ and plays upon the restlessness and crashing of the sea,” (HALOT). In Psalm 89:9-10 speak of God’s power over the chaotic seas in the Exodus: “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass.”

The woman is given to eagle’s wings to flee the dragon into the desert. The woman is not rescued by eagles, but she is given eagle wings. the use of a passive verb implies God is the one who gave her wings.

Rescued by means of eagle’s wings is probably drawn from Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:10-11 (cf. Ps 103:5-7). When God rescued Israel from Egypt it was as if he had carried them on eagle’s wings and brought Israel to Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That she flees to the place prepared for her in the wilderness evokes Israel’s gathering around Mount Sinai. Isaiah uses similar language to describe a second Exodus when the exile comes to an end. Those who return to Zion will “they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa 40:31). Beale suggests a possible parallel to Psalms of Solomon 17:18-27: “Those who love the gatherings of the holy ones fled from them. They were scattered from their bed like sparrows” (LES2).  The Words of the Luminaries (4Q504 Frag. 6:6-8 probably alludes to Isaiah 40:31 to describe the Exodus: “You have lifted us wonderfully upon the wings of] eagles and you have brought us to you.”

The woman is rescued and taken on eagle’s wings into the wilderness where she is nourished for “for a time, and times, and half a time.” In the context of the wilderness, God’s provision of manna and quail come to mind. The verb is used with this sense in LXX Deut 32:18. When Israel rebels, they forget “God who nourished you” (the Hebrew text has “gave birth”).

Verses 15-16 are quite strange. Frustrated by God’s protection of the woman in the wilderness, the serpent (now using ὄφις) “spews water like a river” is an attempt to destroy the woman and her child, but the earth opens its mouth and swallows the river of water. This unusual spewing may simply reflect the common practice of describing enemies as a flood or watery chaos when they seek to destroy Israel. For example, In Psalm 18:5-18 the writer is tangled in the cords of death, but the Lord rebuked the waters and “the channels of the sea were seen” (18:15). Reflecting on God’s victory over his enemies, Habakkuk says “You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.”

Unable to destroy the woman, the dragon is enraged and makes war against the children of the woman. These children are the ones who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Like Daniel and his friends, these offspring of the woman refuse to compromise on the commandments of God even if that means death at the hand of an evil empire. So too the willingness to sacrifice one’s life rather than compromise on core elements of faith and practice during the Maccabean Revolt. “They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel” (1 Mac 1:63-64). When facing torture for refusing to eat swine flesh, seven brothers responded “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors” (2 Macc 7:1-3).

This sets the stage for the increased of persecution in the second half of the book. The final line is a dramatic segue to the introduction of the beasts in Revelation 13: the dragon stood by the shore of the sea.

War in Heaven – Revelation 12:7-9

These three verses describe a conflict in heaven:  the dragon, identified as Satan in 12:9, attacks Michael and his angels. The battle goes against Satan and he is thrown down to the earth along with his angels.

Archangel Michael battles Satan, Luca GiordanoAs with Revelation 12:4, the problem of “when” comes up again. Does this refer to the fall of Satan?  Does John have some event in his own lifetime in mind? Or is this a future event in the last says before the return of Christ? Similar to the problem with verse 4, this war in heaven is sometimes is thought to refer to the fall of Satan, but there is no other reference to Satan making war against Michael in the distant past.

Between the cross and the second coming Satan is active in the world (1 Peter 5:8, for example). But Revelation has already described an increase in demonic activity in the fifth and sixth trumpets.

Who is Michael? Michael is mentioned by name in Daniel (10:13, 21; 12:1) and twice in the New Testament (Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7). The name means ‘who is like God?’ and is synonymous with Micaiah and Micah in the Old Testament. In Daniel Michael is “one of the chief princes” (10:13) who assists the great angel who delivers Daniel’s final vision to overcome the prince of Greece and the prince of Persia. In Daniel 10:21 he is called “your prince” and in 12:1 he is “the great prince.”

Second Temple Literature develops the idea of Michael as a mighty angel who protects Israel. He is mentioned often in 1 Enoch. Although he is one of the chief angels, he is not called an archangel in the book. 2 Enoch 22 calls him “the archangel Michael” although the title “archistratig” (“top general? Cf. Gk. Apoc. Ezra 4.24) is used more often, highlighted Michael’s military role. By 3 Enoch, he is “Michael, the Great Prince, is in charge of the seventh heaven, the highest.” IN 3 Enoch Michael begins to blend with Metatron, a semi-divine angelic being. “At some point, however, the connection between Meṭaṭron and Michael was obscured, and a new, independent archangel with many of Michael’s powers came into being (P. Alexander, OTP 1:244).

In the Book of the Watchers, Michael interceded on behalf of humanity when they were oppressed by the giants (1 Enoch 10:11). In 1 Enoch 20:5 he is one of the “holy angels who watch.”

1 Enoch 20:1-8 And these are names of the holy angels who watch: 2 Suruʾel, one of the holy angels—for (he is) of eternity and of trembling. 3 Raphael, one of the holy angels, for (he is) of the spirits of man. 4 Raguel, one of the holy angels who take vengeance for the world and for the luminaries. 5 Michael, one of the holy angels, for (he is) obedient in his benevolence over the people and the nations. 6 Saraqaʾel, one of the holy angels who are (set) over the spirits of mankind who sin in the spirit. 7 Gabriel, one of the holy angels who oversee the garden of Eden, and the serpents, and the cherubim.

In 1 Enoch 40:9 Michael is one of the four “faces” who never slumber but always watch God and praise him. He is called “the merciful and forbearing Michael.” Along with Raphael, Gabriel, and Phanuel, Michael seize the armies of Azazʾel, on the great day of judgment and casts them “into the furnace (of fire) that is burning” (1 Enoch 54:5). In 1 Enoch 60 Michael explains Enoch’s disturbing vision (similar to the mighty angel in Daniel 10, cf., 1 Enoch 71:3).

In the War Scroll (1QM), Michael leads an army into battle:

1Q33 Col. xvii:7-8 (God) sends everlasting aid to the lot of his [co]venant by the power of the majestic angel for the sway of Michael in everlasting light,7 to illuminate with joy the covenant of Israel, peace and blessing to God’s lot, to exalt the sway of Michael above all the gods, and the dominion of 8 Israel over all flesh.

If Melchizedek is Michael in 11QMelch (Vermes, Dead Sea Scrolls, 300), then this angelic figure will “carry out the vengeance of Go[d’s] judgments, [and on that day he will fr]e[e them from the hand of] Belial and from the hand of all the sp[irits of his lot]” (11Q13 Col. ii:13). The text is fragmentary, but there is certainly a war between the angelic Melchizedek and the demonic Belial prior to the day of peace predicted by Isaiah 52:7 (line 15) and a coming anointed prince anticipated in Daniel 9:25 (line 18). In fact, line 25 says “Melchizedek, who will fr]e[e them from the ha]nd of Belial.”

The war in heaven results in the dragon being thrown down to the earth (Rev 12:7-9) and immediately John hears a loud voice in heaven announcing, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come” (12:10). Like the seventh trumpet, Revelation 12:10 announces the arrival of God’s kingdom.

Escape to the Wilderness – Revelation 12: 5-6

After the woman clothed in the sun gives birth to the male child, she escapes into the wilderness where she is protected for a period of 1260 days. The interpretation of the escape into the wilderness depends on the identity of the woman.

The child is obviously the messiah. Several messianic texts converge here. First, the child is the “seed of the woman” from Genesis 3:15. Second, Isaiah 66:7 has similar language, “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.” Third, that the child is destined to rule the nations with a rod of iron alludes to Psalm 2:9. John already quoted this messianic Psalm in 2:27 and will again in 19:15 with reference to the coming of the messiah ruling over the nations.

Following the Septuagint of Psalm 2:9, all three occurrences in Revelation use the verb shepherd, ποιμαίνω, rather than rule. A rod (ῥάβδος) refers to a staff or scepter, but here it is likely a shepherd’s staff. Micah 7:14, for example, refers to the Lord shepherding his people with his staff. This passage looks forward to the eschatological age when the Lord would rule over his people as a shepherd cares for is flock. Ezekiel 37:24 looks forward to a tome of peace and prosperity when a future David will shepherd God’s people.

Greg Beale draws attention to a “conceptual parallel” in 1QH 3.7-12. The author of 1QHodayot describes his distress as “like a woman giving birth the first time when her labor-pains come on her.” She “gives birth to a male,” a child who is free from the breakers of death. Then the author alludes to Isaiah 9:5-6, describing the child as “a wonderful counsellor with his strength.” This is in contrast to “she who is pregnant with a serpent.” It is possible this contrast alludes to Genesis 3:15, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Beale suggests the text referred to the origin of the Community or (less likely) the birth of the Teacher of Righteousness. By line 22 the psalm seems to refer to entrance into the Community, “the host of the holy ones, and can enter in communion with the congregation of the sons of heaven.” (Text from Martı́nez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (translations) (Leiden: Brill, 1997–1998).

The child is caught up to “God and his throne.” The sequence of sentences does not make it clear this catching up into heaven represents rescue from the dragon. If the child represents Jesus, it is very strange his death on the cross and resurrection is omitted from the imagery. In Revelation 5 John described Jesus as a lamb that had been slain. But here the vision jumps from the birth to the ascension.

After the child has been snatched away from the dragon, the woman flees into the wilderness. If the woman is Israel, then there is an allusion here to Israel’s experience in the wilderness. In the Old Testament, the wilderness is sometimes a positive experience and at other times the result of judgment. Mauser points out that it is in the wilderness that God reveals his name and his law, beginning the religions life of Israel (Christ in the Wilderness, 29). He finds the three major elements of Israel’s theology initiated in the wilderness: covenant and law, election, and rebellion. The Covenant is established at Sinai, confirming Israel’s election. Immediately, however, there is rebellion against God in the golden calf incident. But the focus here is on the wilderness as protection, just as Elijah was protected and nourished in the wilderness for three years, so too will God’s people be protected and nourished for a similar period of time.

Adele Yarbro Collins argues Revelation 12 was originally composed in a Jewish context rather than Christian. She points writer emphasizes the birth of the male child rather than the death (as expected in a Christian apocalypse). God rescues the child from the dragon after he is born (Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation, 105-6). Reading Revelation 12 in a Jewish context would take the woman as Israel (mother Zion of Isaiah 54) and avoids the problematic interpretation of the woman as the church (since the church did not “give birth” to Jesus).

If this is a Jewish apocalyptic fragment, where did it come from? Massyngberde-Ford suggested disciples of John the Baptist reworked and interpreted his apocalypse (Rev 4-11). She argues the flight into the wilderness occurred in the forties A.D. when the “mad Emperor” Gaius demanded his statue be placed in the Temple. This would have been interpreted as the “abomination that causes desolation” and prompted faithful Jewish-Christians to flee Jerusalem.

Although Massyngberde-Ford’s suggestion is intriguing, it has not convinced many. But could Revelation 12:5-6 be a highly creative re-working of Jesus’s warning in Mark 13:14-20? In his apocalyptic discourse, Jesus warned his followers to flee Jerusalem when they see an abomination which causes desolation. There are differences. Jesus tells “those who are in Judea” to flee to the mountains immediately. Revelation 12 indicates only the woman fled into the wilderness. If the woman represents Israel, then (perhaps) the flight to the wilderness is similar to the Judeans fleeing the Romans beginning in AD 66.

The Dragon and the Stars – Revelation 12:3-4

In Revelation 12:3-4 a “great red dragon” sweeps a third of the stars of heaven down to earth with his tail. Since Revelation 12:9 identifies the red dragon as Satan and the male child is Jesus, is there a real, historical event John has in mind when he says the dragon swept a third of the stars from heaven?

Seven Headed Dragon Joachim of Fiore

For some writers, Revelation 12:3-4 is a reference to the fall of Satan. At some point before the fall of humans in the Garden of Eden, Satan himself rebelled against God and deceived one third of the angels to join him in this rebellion. In order to support this origin of Satan, Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 are read as allusions to the fall of Satan. Michael Heiser argues there are clear parallels between Genesis 3 and these two passages (Demons, 68-70. Heiser does not think Revelation 12:3-4 refers to the primordial fall of Satan, p. 245).

For some (usually conservative) commentators, Revelation 12 looks back at this satanic rebellion. For example, Robert Thomas said this “must refer to angels who fell with Satan in past history” (Revelation 8-22, 124). Lenski observed the clear allusion to Daniel 8:10 and drew an analogy to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who threw down some of the stars from heaven and trampled them on the ground, and Satan, who threw down a third of God’s stars” (Lenski, Revelation, 366; cf., Patterson Revelation NAC, 263). Most who see Revelation 12:3-4 as a reference to the fall of Satan cite Jude 6 as a parallel text, “the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling.”

If the sweeping away of a third of the stars is the fall of Satan and the stars are the angels deceived by Satan, then perhaps there is a parallel to the Book of the Watchers, 1 Enoch 6-11. In this detailed expansion of the biblical story of the flood, two hundred angels take an oath to descend to Mt Hermon, find women to marry and have children with them. Michael and the other archangels hear the cries of the humans and respond in a prayer to God himself. The archangels point out to God the activities of Azazel and they blame him for teaching humans the “eternal secrets.” However, there is nothing in 1 Enoch which describes the leader of the rebellion as a dragon and there is nothing to indicate the wicked angels are “one third” of the angels.

There are problems with the interpretation of Revelation 12:3-4 as referring to the fall of Satan. The woman was pregnant and about to give birth to the male child (presumably Jesus, v. 2, 5) prior to the second sign, the great rea dragon who seeps away a third of the stars from heaven and flings them to the earth (v. 3-4). War does not break out in heaven until after the child is born and is snatched up to heaven (presumably the ascension). The chronology is confused, although that may not be convincing since Revelation 12 is a highly symbolic description of history.

More troubling for those who want this text to refer to a pre-Edenic fall of Satan is the lack of evidence for the kind of rebellion against God assumed in most descriptions of the fall of Satan. Even if Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are admitted as evidence for an angelic rebellion against God, there is nothing in either passage to support one-third of the angels falling along with the rebel, nor do either of those passages make a clear connection to Satan as the leader of an demonic horde. In fact, the idea that demons are the angels who fell with Satan is built on a number of assumptions built up over centuries of myth-building rather than solid textual / biblical evidence.

If the sweeping of one third of the stars from heaven to earth does not refer to the original fall of Satan, then it may allude to the activity of the little horn in Daniel 8:10. This little horn grew great, “even to the host of heaven” and “even as great as the Prince of the host” (v. 11). When it became great, it threw down some of the stars to the ground and trampled on them.

In the context of Daniel 8, the starry host refers to Antiochus’s attacks on the Jewish people,  beginning with the assassination of Onias III in 170, the sacking of the temple in 169, and the general persecution of Jews in the period which follows (see also 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-5). “Antiochus’ hurling them down to earth and trampling them is symbolic of what he did to the Jewish people” (J. Paul Tanner, Daniel, EEC, 491). Tanner also points out Alexander brutally trampled the Persians in 8:7, using the same word as verse 10. Alexander certainly did not trample angels, so in the context of Daniel 8 this host refers to those slaughtered by Antiochus.

There are other Second temple texts which use stars to represent righteous people. 1 Enoch 43.4 identifies stars in heaven as “the holy ones who dwell upon the earth and believe in the name of the Lord of the Spirits forever and ever.” 2 Maccabees 9:10 describes Antiochus as thinking “thought that he could touch the stars of heaven,” which could be hyperbole but likely refers to the righteous in the context of 2 Maccabees.

If John alludes to Daniel 8 here, then sweeping of the stars from heaven to earth is another reference to the war of the beast against God’s people (11:7; 13:7). This war against God’s people is a main theme of the second half of Revelation, culminating in the ultimate battle at Armageddon (16:16, 19:11-21). As Beale concludes, “Though Dan. 8:10 first had application to Antiochus, John now applies it in an escalated way to the devilish power behind Antiochus” (Revelation, 636). Just as Satan was the power behind the Seleucids in the past and the power behind Rome in the present, he will be the power behind the ultimate enemy of God in the future.

Who is the Woman in Revelation 12?

After John sees the doors to the heavenly temple opened, a great sign appeared in heaven. The vision in Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven followed by a war on earth. The dragon attacks a woman and her child, forcing her to flee into the wilderness for a period of time where she will be protected by God.

Revelation 12 has been described as being “consciously or nor, considered as the center and key to the entire book” (Prigent, Apocalypse 12, 1, cited by Beale 621). The description of the woman is highly symbolic as if John describing with words. This is certainly the case in Revelation 17 although it is less clear in chapter 12.

Woman with Gragon, Bamburg

The first great sign is a pregnant woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” The second sign is a “great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” who makes war in heaven and is cast down to the earth. The description of the great red dragon with multiple heads and crowns is familiar to readers of Daniel. (I plan on discussing the war in heaven in a separate section.)

The woman is clothed in the sun, feet on the moon and has a crown of twelve stars. The number twelve calls to mind the regular use of twelve in the Old Testament for the sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes comprising the nation of Israel. In Genesis 37 the sun and moon represent Jacob and Rachel in Joseph’s dream. Song of Songs 6:10 describes the bride’s beauty as like the moon and sun. Greg Beale surveys a range of rabbinic literature which interprets Song of Songs 6:10 faithful Israel (Beale, Revelation, 625 citing Midrash Rab Exod. 15.6; Num 2.4, Num 9:14).

Who is the woman and her child? As with most things in Revelation, there have been a wide range of views from the Egyptian goddess Isis (the “queen of the cosmos,” (Yarbro Collins, Combat Myth, 71–76) to the American Revolutionary War and Civil War (Alan Johnson, “The Bible and War in America: An Historical Survey,” JETS 28 (1985): 169-181).

The two most common views take the woman as a symbol for either Israel or the church. That the woman represents the church has been a common view in the history of the church. of the woman is that she represents the church, since her offspring are attacked by the power of the beast. Medieval commentators often interpreted the woman as Mary and the child as Christ.

For many writers these are not mutually exclusive. Mounce, for example, observes there is one continuous people of God through redemptive history, so it should not be a surprise the imagery refers to both Israel and the church (Mounce, Revelation, 236). However, since this is a Jewish Christian apocalypse, an emphasis on the Jewish-ness of this image is important.

The woman represents the Jewish people as the persecuted people of God and her child is the Messiah. The metaphor of Israel or Zion as husband to the Lord is common (Hosea 1-3; Isa 54:1-55; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:8-14). In Isaiah 49 Zion believes she has been abandoned by her husband; her children scattered throughout the word (in the exile). The Lord restores her children (the end of the exile) and tells her to “expand her tents” because so many children will return to her (54:2-8) and her marriage is restored (Isa 62:1-5). Isaiah 62:1-5 may be important for understanding the imagery of Revelation 12. When Zion is restored, she will be given a new name and she will be like a crown of splendor and a royal diadem in the hand of the Lord (Isa 62:3).

The woman gives birth to a son. John describes this child with allusions to several messianic texts from the Old testament. In Isaiah 66:7 Zion goes into labor and gives birth to a son. The time before the messianic ages is often described as birth pangs. For example, Jesus said the non-signs leading up to the final conflagration were birth (Matthew 24:8; cf., Paul. 1 Thessalonians 5:3). The child will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” This is clear allusion to Psalm 2:9, a text regularly interpreted as messianic in the Second Temple period.

The child was “snatched up to God and to his throne.” This seems like a clear allusion to the ascension. But there are problems with that interpretation. The child is born, threatened by the dragon, and then immediately snatched to heaven. It seems strange a Christian apocalypse would not make some reference to the cross and resurrection. In addition, this “snatching” rescues from the power of the dragon. After the resurrection, Jesus did not need to be rescued, he had already overcome the powers of evil. It is possible, however, the birth and ascension refer to the totality of Jesus’s mission.

The word translated “caught up” (ESV) or “snatched” (NIV is the aorist passive of ἁρπάζω. The word refers to rescue from danger with the connotation of a sudden, violent pulling away, “in such a way that no resistance is offered” (BDAG). Although Paul the word in 1 Thessalonians 4 17, the catching away of the child in Revelation 12 does not refer to the rapture of the church.

The War of the Dragon – Revelation 12-15

Revelation 12-15 is a major section of the book patterned in the same style as the other three sets of seven in the book (seals, trumpets and bowls). Each unit begins with “and I saw” (καί εἶδον). The seven units have the same 4 + 2 + 1 pattern with a brief interlude between the sixth and seventh unit. The larger section is framed by the word “sign” (σημεῖον) in 12:1, 3 and 15:2. Revelation 11:19 refers to the opening of the doors of the temple, Revelation 15:5-8 refer to the opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven.

Opening of the doors of the heavenly temple (11:19)

  • 12:1-18    The War of the Dragon (vs. 1, 3 a great sign, σημεῖον)
  • 13:1-11    The First Beast, from the Sea (καί εἶδον)
  • 13:11-18  The Second Beast, from the Earth (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:1-5      The Lamb and the 144,000 (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:6-13    The Three Angels (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:14-20  The Son of Man’s Harvest of the Earth (καί εἶδον)
  • (Interlude: 15:1, introduction of the seven vials)
  • 15:2-4      The Saint’s Victory over the Beast (καί εἶδον; 15:2, third sign, σημεῖον)

Opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven (15:5-8)

This outline is drawn from Greg Beale’s commentary, although I have added the opening of the two heavenly sanctuaries. Craig Koester also considers 11:19-15:4 as a unit describing “the conflict between the Creator and the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation, AB, 523).

Some commentators group chapter 15 with chapter 16 since the pouring of the bowls is introduced in 15:1 and executed in chapter 16. Buist, for example, calls Revelation 12:1-14:20 “Two further interludes” (Revelation, 402). Osborne specifically rejects Beale’s suggestion, observing the phrase “and I saw” (καί εἶδον) is a general formula used often in the book. For Osborne, 15:1-8 parallels the introduction to the trumpets in Revelation 8:2-5 (Revelation, 452, n. 1). Massyngberde Ford takes 11:6-19 as an introduction to seven signs in 12:1-14:20 (the woman, the dragon, the beast of the sea, the beast of the earth, the lamb and virgins, the seven angels (Revelation, AB, 194). For each of her septets, the seventh contains the next set so there are really only six signs.

Dragon and Woman Revelation 12

Regardless of the boundaries and structure of the unit, the main theme of Revelation 12-15 is the source of evil that is tormenting the God’s people. This is the first time John reveals explicitly who is behind the persecution: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (12:9).

In addition, the nature of the persecution God’s people must endure intensifies. Prior to Revelation 12 demonic activity was implied (6:8 and 9:11), but the devil himself was never mentioned. Revelation 11:7 mentions the beast for the first time, but who or what the beast refers to is not developed until Revelation 13. Those who choose to follow this beast (and receive his mark) will “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (Rev 14:10). Those who refuse the beast’s mark will no longer be able to buy or sell (13:17) and those who are marked by God (14:1) will face persecution and death (13:7). But “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev 14:13).

God’s Temple in Heaven and the Ark of his Covenant – Revelation 11:19

At the conclusion of the seventh trumpet, God’s temple in heaven was opened and John saw the ark of his covenant (Rev 11:19). Greg Beale suggested the seventh trumpet was model on the Song of Moses (Exod 15:13-18). If this is the case, then the opening of the temple and appearance of the ark of the covenant would recall God’s glory revealed at Mount Sinai.

Beale suggests this allusion based on 11:18, “the nations raged” (ἔθνη … ὠργίσθησαν). The words are the same in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 15:14 (Revelation, 618). The conclusion to the song of Moses describes God leading Israel out of Egypt and planting them on his own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Exod 15:17), following by the statement “the Lord will reign forever and ever” (cf. Rev 11:15).  The “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail: would also be consistent with an allusion to Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16).

From the 13th century Morgan Bible

This passage may also reflect the “entrance liturgy of Psalm 24. This psalm celebrates the return of the presence of the Lord represented by the ark. Seow suggests it was “sung antiphonally, with those who led the procession and the ‘gatekeepers of the ark’” (cf. 1 Chr 15:23-24; ABD 1: 387). Verses 7-9 call on the gates and doors of the temple to open as the mighty warrior Yahweh returns to his temple. The difference is the Lord is leaving his heavenly temple, presumably to execute the final judgment at the end of the great tribulation since the kingdom of the Lord and of his messiah has come (Rev 11:15).

In the ancient world, temple doors opening by themselves were considered to be sign from the gods (Aune 2:676). Aune reports a Talmudic tradition that for forty years before the destruction of the temple the doors of the temple would open by themselves (b. Yoma 39b). in the context of First Jewish War with Rome, Tacitus lists shrine doors suddenly opening as a prodigy:

Tacitus, Hist. 5.13 Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard (trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, LCL 2:197–199).

The most intriguing feature of this verse is the sudden appearance of the “ark of his covenant.” After the ark is installed in the Temple (1 Kings 8), there is little reference to it in the rest of the Old Testament. Ezekiel’s temple does not mention the tables and lampstands, let alone the ark. The ark is only mentioned in this passage Hebrews 9:3-5 in the New Testament.

What happened to the original ark of the covenant? There are a number of suggestions. There is a tradition it was hidden by Josiah (b. Yoma 52b), or Jeremiah. In 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou) Jeremiah asks the Lord what to do about the items used in the temple service before Babylon destroys Jerusalem. The Lord tells Jeremiah to hide them until the coming of the “beloved one”:

4 Baruch 3.10–11  Take them and deliver them to the earth, saying, ‘Hear, earth, the voice of him who created you, who formed you in the abundance of the waters, who sealed you with seven seals in seven periods (of time), and after these things you will receive your fruitful season. 11 Guard the vessels of the (Temple) service until the coming of the beloved one.

In 2 Baruch 6.7 Baruch sees an angel rescue the temple items, including the mercy seat. The angel commands the earth to guard these items until Jerusalem is destroyed:

2 Baruch 6.7 And I saw that he descended in the Holy of Holies and that he took from there the veil, the holy ephod, the mercy seat, the two tables, the holy raiment of the priests, the altar of incense, the forty-eight precious stones with which the priests were clothed, and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. 8 And he said to the earth with a loud voice: Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty God, and receive the things which I commit to you, and guard them until the last times, so that you may restore them when you are ordered, so that strangers may not get possession of them. 9 For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time, until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored forever. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.

As intriguing as speculation of where the ark went before the destruction of the temple in 586 BC, there is almost nothing in the Bible about the Lord rescuing it or a prophet hiding it in Jerusalem (or Ethiopia, or Washington DC). In Revelation 11:19 the point is to show the Lord has left his sanctuary in heaven and is about to render judgment on the nations who rage against his wrath.

Bibliography:  M. Haran, “The Disappearance of the Ark,” IEJ 13 (1963): 46–58.