Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (L)

May 28, 2010

Wow!  The post today makes 50 on the Book of Revelation… so far.  I don’t know if that qualifies as a “milestone” of any sort.  But, it did remind me that I already plowed through issues is about half the book so far (for whatever that’s worth).

Well, let’s go ahead and take “plunge” #50!

The passage I am targeting today is Revelation 12:1-6.  This post will reflect on a number of biblical allusions in this passage.

Now, intertextuality is obviously a very big deal in the Apocalypse.  The most conservative estimates are that there are several hundred echoes of the Old Testament in Revelation and the more outlandish have claimed almost a thousand.

The more prominent allusions are usually thought to come from Daniel or Ezekiel, though there are certainly others that are significant from books like Zechariah and Psalms.  In the section having to do with the news heavens and earth (Rev. 21-22), Genesis is the major player, given that the eternal state is like “Paradise Regained… and Never to be Lost Again.”

However, the average reader would not expect to have two echoes from Genesis pop up in the middle of the book, then a previously unknown angle on a well-known New Testament incident, as well as several other allusions–all in six verses!  Suffice it to say that Revelation 12:1-6 covers an astounding amount of biblical ground!

The first echo (v. 1) comes from Genesis 37:9: the vision of Joseph, which he shared with his family.  Since that vision speaks of eleven of the tribes of Israel, but Revelation 12:1 speaks of “12 stars,” it is apparently not concerned with the other tribes falling down before Joseph, as in Genesis 37, but with all 12 tribes falling down before the child of the woman (i.e., the Messiah, Jesus Christ).

The second echo  (v. 2) is from Genesis 3:15-16a: the well-known protevangelium, which is immediately followed by the curse of painful childbirth upon Eve and her female descendants.  With the allusion to the Devil coming immediately afterward (Rev. 12:3), it is almost beyond dispute that the wrestling match, so to speak, between the “seed of the serpent” and the  “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) is here in view.  Then, the immediate mention of the pain of childbirth (3:16a) only strengthens that conclusion.  It is also possible that an echo of Isaiah 7:14, the virgin birth prophecy, is intended here.  If so, though, it is not as clear as the look back to Genesis 3.

Why is the reference to Genesis 3 here?  Almost surely it is to make it clear that what is seen in this context is setting up the final fulfillment of 3:15 at the end of the age.

The third is an allusion to Daniel 7.  Even though the description of “a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns” (Rev. 12:3) is not identical to that of the beast in Daniel 7, it is close enough to be far more than coincidence.  My best guess is that this passage is showing us who the real “power behind the throne” is for the first beast in Revelation 13, the one prophesied in Daniel 7.

The fourth (Rev. 12:4) looks back to Matthew 2:16: the killing of the male babies under two years old by Herod the Great.  There are not a huge number of allusions to the New Testament in Revelation, but this is most certainly one of them.  Like Revelation 12:3 pointing to the fact that Satan will be the power behind the end-times Antichrist figure, 12:4 clarifies that it was the Devil whispering in the ear of Herod to get him to kill the boy babies in Bethlehem, in order to try to kill the Messiah.

The fifth (v. 5) certainly echoes Psalm 2:9–that the coming Messiah will rule the nations with a rod of iron.  But, Revelation 12:5 alludes to the fact that His rule did not come about with His first coming (though it will with His Second Coming, as the latter part of the Apocalypse demonstrates).

At first glance, it seems quite strange that the ascension of Christ is here depicted as a factor of escape from the onslaught of the Devil.  If anything, in actuality, it was Christ’s resurrection, and defeat of the Devil in doing so, that was the real “escape.”  However, if nothing else, the lack of mention of Christ’s death and resurrection at this point makes the reader think back a few verses to the death, resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses.  In my long-considered thinking, that is what the reader up for the ability to make the most likely identification of who the woman at the end of the age is in Revelation 12:6.

The final echo in the passage (v. 6) seems to have in mind the experience of the Children of Israel in the wilderness, as they were fed manna and quail by the Lord.  Just as they were protected by God from King Pharaoh and his armies after the classic OT redemptive event of the exodus, so “the woman” will be protected at the end of the age.  Just as the last of the plagues in Exodus had, on the one hand, brought death and, on the hand, had brought God’s people under the blood of the Passover lamb, so the death of the two witnesses had served to bring a great throng the point of fearing God and glorifying Him (i.e., the Book of Revelation’s wording for saving faith in 11:13 and 14:6-7).

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