Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LXXXIV)

August 17, 2010

Layer H of the inverted parallel outline of Revelation is the mirroring effect between 12:1-6 and 17:1-6.   The parallelism here is pretty difficult to avoid, given that these are the only two passages in the book that deal with female figures which are found in the desert.

Because both passages are only six verses long, this will not be a lengthy posting.  In spite of the brevity, though, these are still quite important passages.  For example, in the overall flow of the Apocalypse, 12:1-6 is the very beginning of the “prelude” to the climactic bowls of wrath, while 17:1-6 is located at the beginning of the “postlude to the bowls of wrath, which details a great deal of previously unknown information about Babylon the Great.  Both passages reach far back in time to provide the reader with a sense of where these two “women” came from in biblical history.

So, let’s take a quick look at how H (12:1-6) breaks down chiastically:

a (12:1) A woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head (see Gen. 37:9), which clearly alludes to Israel

b (12:2) The woman is pregnant and cries out in labor pains

c (12:3-4a) A great dragon having seven heads and 10 horns dominated a portion of the heavens

c’ (12:4b) The dragon sought to “devour” the woman’s child when He was born (see Matt. 2:16)

b’ (12:5) The woman gives birth to a Son, who ascends to heaven and God’s throne

a’ (12: 6) The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared by God for 1,260 days

As we look at the chiastic pairs here, this is how the structure works together:

–         In ‘a’ (12:1, 6), the “woman” who clearly has Jewish roots flees the dragon (i.e., the Devil) and is protected by God in the wilderness for three and a half years.

–         In ‘b’ (12:2, 5), the “woman” (which must include a strong element of Mary, Jesus’ mother) moves from being close to giving birth to doing so, at which point the action moves straight from Jesus’ birth to His ascension (completely “blowing past” the 30-plus years of His earthly life/public ministry, plus His death and resurrection).  While it’s probably not possible to know for sure, the most likely explanation for these omissions—because it is so close at hand textually—is that we are to look back to the two witnesses and their three and a half year ministry, then their death and three and a half days until their resurrection and ascension.

–         The ‘c’ verses (12:3, 4), of course, are the centerpiece of the passage and, thus, must have some sort of heightened significance.  My understanding of what’s going on here is that the reader is to understand that this diabolical figure, which had so much broader power, focused all his attention on trying to stop Jesus right at the point of His birth, but failed.  That means the Devil was, ultimately, the inspiration behind Herod the Great’s killing of the innocents in Bethlehem seen in Matthew 2:16.  So, the Devil failed to stop God’s masterpiece.

Now, we turn to the inverted parallelism seen in 17:1-6 (H’):

a (17:1) The announcement of the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters

b (17:2) The prostitute’s sexual immorality with the kings of the earth and the earth-dwellers

c (17:3) The woman in the desert sitting on a scarlet beast covered with blasphemous names

c’ (17:4) The woman dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with precious metals/stones, holding a cup full of the impurities of her prostitution

b’ (17:5) The name on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the vile things of the earth”

a’ (17:6) The reason for the judgment: The woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and the witnesses to Jesus

This is what I understand to be the interplay between the pairs in H’ (17:1-6):

–         In ‘a’ (17:1, 6), the reader learns that the reason why the prostitute (Babylon the Great) deserves judgment: the killing of the saints and the witnesses to Jesus

–         In ‘b’ (17:2, 5), we find out not only that Babylon the Great has an immoral relationship with the kings of the earth and the earth-dwellers, but that such a relationship goes all the way back through history (i.e., is “the mother of…”)

–         At the center (‘c’; 17:3, 4), we find out about the relationship Babylon has that is the most important one in the end-times: with the beast/Antichrist figure, who is, by the way, the Devil’s masterpiece.  The implication is also left by verse 4 that Babylon is effectively the beast’s “pseudo-queen” figure—the parallel to the bride of the Lamb, to whom the reader is introduced in chs. 19 and 21.

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