Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Signs of Revelation 12


Alice C. Linsley


The Placement of the Vision

The vision of Revelation 12 comes after the proclamation of the Kingdom in Revelation 11:15 made famous by Handel’s Alleluia Chorus:  “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” This sign serves to punctuate the rise and fall of kingdoms much as the following Messianic Psalm is used in Daniel to punctuate the rise and fall of kingdoms: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” (Ps. 145:13)

This vision comes between the proclamation about the eternal Kingdom of Christ and the vision of the blasphemous Beast who makes war on the Saints. This recapitulates Genesis 3:15, the first promise of Scripture concerning the Woman and her Seed. Her Seed is to crush the Serpent’s head. This was accomplished at Christ’s birth, death, resurrection and ascension (“The Christ Event”) and in the vision is a timeless event described in these words: “The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron rod, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne.” (Rev. 12:5)

The Church has understood Genesis 3:15 to be about the Theotokos and her Son, the only begotten of God. It is not about Eve. Eve is not named until Genesis 3:20. Further, John’s Gospel connects Jesus with the Seed on Genesis 3:15.  In John 12:24, we read that Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die. John’s vision connects the death of the Woman’s Seed with the new life or abundant fruit of the Kingdom.


Sign and Signs

St. John describes this vision as a sign or mark (Greek: σημεον - sēmeion). There are two signs actually. The first is the sun-clothed woman in labor and the second is the fiery red dragon. Signs are distinct from symbols in that they point to realities beyond them. The woman points to the Theotokos and the dragon points to her adversary, the devil. The dragon seeks to devour her Son (Rev. 12:4). We recall how Herod sought to slay the Child. By angelic intervention Joseph was led to take Mary and the Child into the desert and on to Egypt where they were safe.

“The woman fled to the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” (Rev. 12:6)

One thousand two hundred and sixty days is three and a half years, a period of time used elsewhere in John’s Apocalypse. Compare to the period of time that the holy city was trampled in Revelation 11:2.  Here the wording is “forty-two months” which is also three and a half years and the period of desolation of the temple described in Daniel. Daniel 8:11-14 reads:

“He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host; and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary was cast down. Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices; and he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered. Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, “How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?” And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”


The Woman

The Woman is the Mother of Christ our God. In Christian iconography she is sometimes shown standing on the earth with the serpent beneath her foot. She brings forth the “Son who was to rule all the nations” (Rev. 12:5).  

She is also the Mother of the Church and is invoked as the Mother of the Orthodox. The Orthodox Church holds that the miraculous birth of Jesus left Mary's virginity intact as a sign; therefore she did not travail in bringing forth her Son. However, as the Mother of the Church she travails in intercession for all the saints. This is evident from John’s vision. Revelation 12:17 says that when the dragon could not get to the Mother or her Child, it “went away to make war on the rest of her children who obey God’s commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus.”

Many believe that when Jesus gave his mother into John’s care, he was giving Mary to be “mother” to the whole community of early believers. The title “Mother of the Church” was first used by St. Ambrose, the Bishop Milan (A.D. 330 – 397).

Historically Mary was regarded as first among the Apostles and was greatly honored in the Christian community. Such honor had the effect of stirring great animosity against her among the Jews. In the Talmud, ignominious names are given by the rabbis to Mary and be Son. Sanhedrin 106a calls Mary a whore: “She who was the descendant of princes and governors played the harlot with carpenters.” In the Talmud Mary is also called "Charia" which means dung or excrement and Jesus is called "Jeschu" which means May his name and memory be blotted out.

Mary is the most honored woman in the Church as the mother of Christ our God and the model of obedient love. She is the blessed Woman of Genesis 3:15 by whom God fulfilled the Edenic Promise. She is the culmination of the expectation that led the ruler-priest lines to intermarry exclusively so that the Promised Son would be born of their blood lines. Analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people reveals a unique pattern of intermarriage between cousins of priestly lines. It is possible to trace these lines because the cousin brides named their first-born sons after their fathers. The genealogies of Genesis trace only male rulers. The naming of the first-born son after the cousin bride's father was a way to trace royal lineage on the mother's side.


The New Israel

In Revelation 12:1 we read: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars…”

The woman clothed with the sun recalls Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:9-11).  In that dream, Joseph’s father (Israel) is represented by the sun and Joseph’s mother is represented by the moon. Joseph’s eleven brothers are represented by the eleven stars that bow down to him.  In this sign, the woman wears a crown with twelve stars. Joseph, who was sold into slavery, is restored to his rightful place. The New Israel must mean restoration through the Theotokos and her Seed, the Son of God. The New Israel is then the Church into which the faithful ones of the Old Covenant have been brought to safety. Even so, God makes a place of protection for the Woman of Revelation 12.

The Woman represents the New Israel. She is given strength to rise above the Devil’s attacks. She flies with wings of an eagle. This is reminiscent of the promise in Isaiah 40:31: “But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”


The Child

In Revelation 12:5 we read that the Woman brings forth “a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.” The Woman is the Woman of Genesis 3:15 whose conception of the Divine Seed was foretold and anticipated by John’s faithful ancestors going back before the time of Abraham.

This sign speaks of the Christ event in relationship to Satan's unsuccessful attempt to thwart God's plan. God has exalted the glorified Jesus to a position of universal authority (Philippians 2:9-11). He is destined to "rule all the nations with an iron scepter" (12:5). He will shepherd the nations with loving, but absolute authority. These words identify the Child as God's anointed Messiah, destined to reign in God's kingdom over all the earth (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 19:15).

Abraham’s Horite ancestors expected a virgin from among their people to bring forth the Divine Seed. They were familiar with this text:  “My wrath will be turned against the enemy of my father Osiris and I will put him beneath my feet in my name of Red Cloak." (Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt by R.T. Rundle Clark, p. 216)

Here we find the words of Psalm 110:1, a messianic reference: The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
Daniel 2:44 says, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”

The Woman’s Seed, as foretold in Genesis 3:15, was to crush the serpent’s head and restore Paradise. Jesus alludes to this first promise of Scripture when describing his passion and resurrection. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). He identifies himself as the "Seed" of Genesis 3:15 and the fulfillment of Messianic expectation.

Horite belief in a deified son who would embody kindness and unite the peoples found fulfillment in Jesus Christ, a descendant of the Horite ruler-priests, the divine son of the Virgin Mary, daughter of the priest Joachim of the line of Nathan. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham's ancestors in Eden that a woman of their people would bring forth the Divine Seed. This is why Frank Moore Cross cannot avoid the conclusion that the God of Israel is the God of the Horites.


The Dragon

Revelation clearly identifies the dragon or monster. He is "that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray" (Rev. 12:9, 20:2). Since ancient mythology had many references to antagonistic dragons and sea monsters, John's readers would have recognized the dragon as a cosmic enemy. In Christian iconography the serpent is often shown as a dragon.  Many famous paintings depict the serpent's defeat by St. George or St. Michael, the Archangel.

In John's vision the serpent is associated with the serpent of Eden. However, the association goes beyond Eden to the creation narrative of Genesis 1 where the serpent is associated with chaos and the dark abyss. 

In Genesis 1 we read that the primal substance covering the earth was water and it was disordered, that is, it had no boundaries. God’s breath (Ruach/Logos) created order from the chaos, separating the waters above from the waters below, and the dry land from the seas.  The chaotic waters are called Tehom and the ordering word of God is called Tehut.  In the cosmic struggle, Tehut is victorious over Tehom. The oldest known law code is the Law of Tehut (c. 3500 B.C.) and it was said to express the wisdom of God by which boundaries were established. Among Abraham’s Nilo-Saharan ancestors boundaries were not to be violated. Such transgression carried serious consequences.

The ancient Egyptians believed the great serpent that created chaos lived south of Elephantine Island and therefore never wanted to sail that far south. There was a very ancient temple on Elephantine Island at which priests offered sacrifice and prayers daily. Their presence was seen as a restraint against the serpent. Further, Elephantine Island was known as a seat of wisdom and justice whereby divinely established boundaries were honored and enforced.

Elephantine Island was the center of Nubia's international power. Pepinakht-Heqaib (third millenium BC) rendered judgment from Elephantine and waged wars. He claimed that when judging between two brothers, presumably first-born sons, he never deprived a rightful heir of his inheritance. Since he lived before the time of Joseph's rule in Egypt, it appears that he was honoring a long-standing custom among his Nubian/Kushite people. (The practice of Kushite rulers having two first born sons by two wives, as was customary among Abraham’s people, clearly predates the domination of Egypt by the Asiatic Hyksos.)

Revelation 12:17 we are told that “the dragon was angry with the Woman and with her Seed, those who keep the commandments of God and have the witness of Jesus.” Here the Woman’s Seed is not only the Son of God but also all who are “in Christ”, the Church.

When the dragon failed to destroy the Woman and her Seed, it called forth an assistant from the deep. “And he [the dragon] stood upon the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast coming up from the sea, having ten horns and seven heads…and upon its heads were the names of blasphemy… And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority.” (Rev. 12:18-13:2)

The Beast is the Dragon’s first assistant. Others are mentioned in Revelation 16:12-14: “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.”


The Serpent and the Tree of Life

There are two trees in Garden, and the serpent led Eve from the right choice - to eat of the Tree of Life - to the wrong choice - to eat of the Tree by which she hoped to become like God. This has been the Devil's approach throughout history. He attempts to lead us away from life by promising what he cannot give - divinity and immortality.

The Church Fathers understood the Tree of Life in Eden as representing the Cross. Satan employs many methods to distract us from the Cross, and today there are more distractions than ever. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that young Americans on average spend over seven and one-half hours a day on entertainment media. This translates into more than 53 hours a week as compared to 30 hours a week in school. Cell phones are used to listen to music, play games, text friends, take photos, and watch TV, even in schools where cell phone use is prohibited during the school day.


Conclusion

The imagery of the Woman, her Son and the Beast, draws on very ancient symbolism that can be traced back to Abraham’s Nilo-Saharan ancestors. The Son’s victory over the beast was foretold from the beginning (Gen. 3:15) and John’s apocalyptic vision makes it clear how things will end.

“And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet, who in his presence performed signs (sēmeia) by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur” (Rev. 21:8).

“The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).


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