“And there was war in heaven:
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan,
which deceiveth the whole world:
he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
I don’t know if the average Latter-Day Saint is aware of just how much the Revelation informed Joseph Smith’s worldview and theology. The D&C is full of allusions, citations and references to John’s work. In 1843 he said, “the book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.” Trumps, angels, seals, bloody suns and falling stars wrap Joseph’s revelations in a glossy apocalyptic sheen. D&C 77 is presented as a Q&A between the Saints and God regarding certain verses from the Revelation. The opening verse of one of Joseph’s major revelations mirrors the opening of Revelation,
“Aof Jesus Christ unto his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders, as they their hearts and their voices on high…” (D&C 84)
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass…” (Revelation 1:1)
Joseph Smith, in addition his apocalypticism, was a staunch Biblical literalist. “What is the rule of interpretation of scripture?” he once asked. “Just no interpretation at all.” The symbols of the Revelation, such as the darkened sun and blood moon, were to be literal events. Freud once famously quipped that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Joseph likewise believed “sometimes a beast is just a beast.” According to the recorded sermon, he said,
“John saw the actual beast[s] in heaven, showing to John that beasts did actually exist there, and not to represent figures of things on the earth…The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect…” (History of the Church 5:343-344, emphasis added)
Within this literalist framework, Joseph understood “The War in Heaven” as a literal spiritual battle between God and “Satan” in the premortal existence. D&C 29 (September 1830) reads,
“And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels;” (This revelation was produced while Joseph was working on the Book of Moses. We find similar language in Moses 4. “A third part” is found in Revelation 12.)
This belief was later restated shortly before the end of his life,
“The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So, the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast own, with all who put up their heads for him.” (April 7, 1844 sermon, published in Times and Season, August 14, 1844.)
While some Christians believe that War in Heaven is a future end-times event, the LDS Bible dictionary explicitly makes the claim that the war in heaven refers “to the conflict that took place in the premortal existence among the spirit children of God.” The Encyclopedia of Mormonism adds that when Latter-Day Saints understand the War in Heaven as “conflict in the premortal life that began when Lucifer, in a rebellion against God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, sought to overthrow them.”
This war is one of the most important aspects of LDS theology, as it set humanity’s course and the Plan of Redemption in motion and recognized Jesus Christ as mankind’s Savior. The details of this war, scant though they be, are illustrated in Abraham 3 and Moses 4 where we read that Jehovah, who in these two books is God the Father, presided over the Divine Council. Michael (“One Like unto God”) and Jesus (“One like unto the Son of Man”) make appearances. So does Satan. In the Book of Moses, we read that Satan volunteered to be the redeemer and would enforce obedience and accept the glory. Jesus’ plan was chosen because He deferred the glory to God. In Abraham, Michael hatches a plan to organize existent raw materials to create the earth for the expressed purpose of testing the “spirits” in attendance. This is very interesting because it implies trials come not from “Satan” but from “the noble and great.” Jehovah says, “Whom shall I send?” And Jesus, who may have read Isaiah 6:8 beforehand says, “Here am I. Send me.”
Abraham 3’s depiction of the Divine Council, however, is a logistical impossibility. We know from the Book of Mormon that Jesus is YHWH/Jehovah. Abraham 3 only works if Jesus asks Himself “whom shall I send” and Jesus volunteers to Himself, chooses Himself and sends Himself.
At any rate, with the War in Heaven concluded, we earned our chance at mortality. Satan and his angels, forever disembodied, were cast out of heaven and now roam the earth tempting mankind. Or is that the role of the “noble and great”? It’s all very confusing.
Well, as you might suspect by now, there are challenges with Joseph’s interpretation of Revelation 12:7 and the War in Heaven. And they are significant. It’s not entirely his fault, though. The Revelation is a dense work and requires a lot of work. Personally, I love the challenge. I find it intellectually stimulating. And the English major in me loves the Revelation as a literary work. The Revelation, after all, is presented as an epic poem. Austin Farrer called it “the one great poem the first of the Christian age produced.” Because it is both a poem and an apocalypse, the Revelation demands to be read symbolically. Theologian Eugene Peterson suggests “the inability (or refusal) to deal with St. John the poet is responsible for most of the misreading, misinterpretation and misuse of the book.” (Reversed Thunder, p. 5)
Joseph Smith didn’t have the benefit of two additional centuries of scholarship available to us today. Nor did he have a background in, or understanding of, ancient Near Eastern worldview. So, I don’t fault him for his interpretation. Based on what he knew in 1830, it’s a reasonable interpretation. And he wasn’t alone.
What, then, is the issue with Joseph’s interpretation? The “War in Heaven” doesn’t happen in a primordial realm. The catalyst of the dragon’s rage in Revelation 12:3 is the imminent birth of the Messiah. The War in Heaven begins after Christ’s Ascension.
When we understand the ancient Near Eastern cosmological worldview, we see that these ancient cultures believed their respective gods did battle. For the 200 years prior to the Revelation, Michael was believed to be Israel’s protector who engaged in conflict with the gods and angels of Israel’s enemies. In this post we’ll trace the origins of Michael, how he fits into the apocalyptic worldview, and then dive into the beautiful symbolism of the War in Heaven in an ancient Near Eastern context. In the end, we’ll see that Michael’s victory over the dragon is the result of Christ’s victory over death.
WHAT IS AN APOCALYPSE?
Before continuing, it’ll probably be worthwhile to define apocalypse. It’s a subject with enough depth and complexity to warrant a library dedicated to the subject. I want to keep it as simple as possible, because I don’t know that I fully understand it myself. The now-defunct Biblical Journal Semeia offered the following definition of an apocalypse,
“A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisions an eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world.” (Quoted in Collins’ The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. I believe this definition qualifies both Lehi’s vision and Nephi’s vision as apocalypses. In addition to otherworldly mediation, which we see in Nephi’s vision, apocalypses often involve a book or tablet, which we see in Lehi’s vision.)
David Hellholm proposed an emendation to include that an apocalypse is “intended for a group in crisis with the purpose of exhortation and/or consolation by means of divine authority.” D.S. Russel added that “[apocalypticism] is essentially a literature of the oppressed who saw no hope for the nation simply in terms of politics or on the plane of human history” (The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, p. 17). John J. Collins, inarguably the world’s leading authority on apocalyptic texts, agrees that this “group in crisis” is appropriate in many apocalypses, but not all. I believe this is the case with the Revelation and its conception of the War in Heaven. Failure to understand the underlying historical conflict/crisis—Roman persecution of Jews in the first century AD—hinders our ability to interpret the images and symbols John deploys. And the result is often wild speculation, dangerous alarmism and eschatological paranoia. Unfortunately, this type of response to the Revelation dominates contemporary Christian thought. We have made the grave error of interpreting the Revelation through the morning newsfeed, looking for literal fulfillment in barcodes, vaccines (a.k.a. “the jab”), conflict in the Middle East, natural climatic events (hurricanes, droughts), etc. Perhaps our careless approach to the Revelation led G.K. Chesterton to write that “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his commentators.”
The Revelation isn’t meant to inspire fear, however. Contrary to popular belief, the Revelation is optimistic. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Not only does He impart the revelation to John, He is the revelation.
MICHAEL, DANIEL AND DUALITY
Have you ever noticed there are no named angels in the Book of Mormon? We have multiple accounts of angelic visitations, be it Nephi and his brothers, King Benjamin, Amulek, or Alma the Younger. Yet in each instance, so far as we know, the angels are nameless. The same holds true for the early books of the Bible. In fact, the named angels don’t make their appearance in Hebrew literature until the Apocalyptic era which emerged during the Hellenistic era. It was during this period, roughly 300 BC – 200 AD, that the apocalyptic books of Enoch, Daniel, the The Life of Adam and Eve, the Assumption of Moses, The Book of Tobit, the Sybilline Oracles and The Revelation were written.
In the Hebrew Bible, the only place angels are named is in Daniel 10-12. And then it’s only Michael and Gabriel. That surprised me. The name “Michael” means “Who is like El (God)?,” or, as we read in Abraham, “One who like unto God.” Though a Michael tradition may have existed prior, his first appearance in Hebrew literature comes in Book of Enoch, which names the seven archangels. In addition to Michael and Gabriel, we find Uriel, Raguel, Raphael, Sariel, Gabriel, and Remiel. In the Book of Tobit, the seven archangels “stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord.”
Christianity adopted all the Michael traditions. In the Qumran War Scroll, also known as “The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness,” Michael leads the Sons of Light against Belial and the Sons of Darkness. In LDS theology, Michael is Adam, or the “Ancient of Days” from Daniel 7. We can easily trace this interpretation to Sidney Rigdon (which we’ll show in its own post), but Michael/Adam was codified as “revelation” in D&C 107. For someone mentioned three times in the Bible (twice in Daniel and once in Jude) and never speaks, Michael has an enormous presence and influence in Judaic and Christian thought.
Shimon ben Lakish of Tiberias (AD 230–270), claimed the Israelites brought all the names of the angels back with them when they returned to Israel from Babylon after the Exile. Modern scholarship tends to agree and probably explains why there are no named angels in First Temple writings or the Book of Mormon. For someone as steeped in apocalyptic thinking as Joseph Smith, the decided lack of apocalyptic themes or symbolism is, for me, persuasive evidence Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon. Michael appears in the D&C, Abraham, various sermons (most notably the 1840 Instructions on Priesthood) and other writings, yet he is absent from the Book of Mormon. If Michael is a post-exilic innovation, it makes sense the Nephites wouldn’t be familiar with him and why we don’t find him, or the other archangels, in their writings.
The Book of Daniel is regarded the first full-blown apocalypse of the era. And it’s here we learn of Michael’s role as Israel’s protector. Daniel originated as a collection of Aramaic court tales. The visions chapters (8-12) were written in Hebrew, added to the original text and chapter one was retranslated into Hebrew. (As I like to say, scripture is a messy business.) For some time now, the Book of Daniel, at least the vision chapters, have been shown to be pious frauds written during the reign of the Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of Greek Seleucid Empire, who ruled over Judea from 175 BC until his death in 164 BC. The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that “in 167 BC, Antiochus IV, for reasons that are not clearly understood, outlawed the practice of Judaism in Judea and desecrated the Jerusalem Temple. This unprecedented series of events set into motion the Maccabean revolt.” (p. 1269, emphasis added). So, the criterion of a community in crisis would appear to apply to the second half of Daniel as well. Chapters 7-12 contain four apocalypses that describe the end of the Gentile kingdoms. The “end-times” refer to the reign of Antiochus IV rather than the contemporary idea of the “end-times” or “end of the world” the culminates in the Second Coming. Indeed, the “last days” almost always referred to the end of the current evil age.
An in-depth discussion of Daniel is beyond the scope of this post, but John Hamer from the Community of Christ gave an excellent presentation on the subject. For our purposes, we’ll focus on Daniel 10-12 where Michael makes his appearance.
In Daniel 10 we read that the Angel Gabriel came to Daniel,
“He said to me, “Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” So, while he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. He said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days. For there is a further vision for those days.” (v. 10-14, NRSV)
John J. Collins writes of Daniel 10,
“The revelation itself has two dimensions. First, the angel explains the supernatural backdrop of the Hellenistic wars. There is an ongoing battle between Michael, ‘one of the chief princes,’ and the princes of Persia and Greece. Second, in chap. 11, he outlines the course of Hellenistic wars in terms of human action. The supernatural backdrop is of crucial importance for Daniel’s conception of history, as we have already seen a connection with Daniel 7. It is rooted in a common mythological assumption that whatever happens on earth is a reflection of a celestial archetype. A battle between two earthly powers is a reflection of a battle between their respective gods.”
In his book Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return (click to download) the Romanian philosopher and historian Mircea Eliade writes of these celestial archetypes in the ancient world,
“According to Mesopotamian beliefs, the Tigris has its model in the star Anunit and the Euphrates in the star of the Swallow. A Sumerian text tells of the “place of the creation of the gods,” where “the [divinity of] the flocks and grains” is to be found. For the Ural-Altaic peoples the mountains, in the same way, have an ideal prototype in the sky. In Egypt, places and nomes (territorial divisions) were named after the celestial “fields”: first the celestial fields were known, then they were identified in terrestrial geography.
In Iranian cosmology of the Zarvanitic tradition, every terrestrial phenomenon, whether abstract or concrete, corresponds to a celestial, transcendent invisible term, to an “idea” in the Platonic sense. Each thing, each notion presents itself under a double aspect: that of mēnōk and that of gētīk. There is a visible sky: hence there is also a mēnōk sky which is invisible (Bundahisn, Ch. I). Our earth corresponds to a celestial earth. Each virtue practiced here below, in the gētāh, has a celestial counterpart which represents true reality. . . The year, prayer … in short, whatever is manifested in th gētāh, is at the same time mēnõk. The creation is simply duplicated. From the cosmogonic point of view the cosmic stage called mēnōk precedes the stage gētīk.
The temple in particular—pre-eminently the sacred place—had a celestial prototype. On Mount Sinai, Jehovah shows Moses the “form” of the sanctuary that he is to build for him: “According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it. … And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount” (Exodus 2: 9, 40)….
The world that surrounds us, then, the world in which the presence and the work of man are felt the mountains that he climbs, populated and cultivated regions, navigable rivers, cities, sanctuaries all these have an extraterrestrial archetype, be it conceived as a plan, as a form, or purely and simply as a ‘double’ existing on a higher cosmic level.” (pp. 5-6, 9)
If I understand this correctly, it might be summed up with the esoteric maxim “as above so below.” This, in part, informs the cosmological framework of John’s description of the War in Heaven—a celestial archetype of a real-world event.
John Walton adds,
“If the author of Daniel is referencing a known Michael tradition from his cognitive environment, he would have already understood that history would be consummated in a battle of dualistic angelic powers, and used that understanding to convey information about God’s intention to deliver Israel from their oppressors…” (Demons and Spirits in Biblical Theology: Reading the Biblical Text in Its Cultural and Literary Context, pp. 188-189).
This also applies to God’s divine deliverance of Israel in the Revelation. In both books Michael plays a key role. But we first see this concept presented in Daniel 12 where Michael is identified as Israel’s protector,
“At that time (the presumed “end-times”) Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.” (vs. 1-4)
It’s really interesting to me that we never hear Michael speak anywhere in the Hebrew bible. (We do hear from him in Abraham 3.) We only hear of him through Gabriel. He remains a somewhat mysterious savior-figure, which Collins notes is a widespread type in apocalyptic literature (p. 106), well into the first century when the Revelation was composed. But here in Daniel 12 we see the Michael tradition that John would draw on 175 years later.
With that extraordinarily long prelude, let’s jump into the text of Revelation 12
THE WAR IN HEAVEN
One of the biggest dangers of reading the scriptures is reading them in isolation. We always have to read and consider what comes before and after to ensure we aren’t reading things out of context. Before John mentions the War in Heaven, he gives us crucial context. And remember, these are dualistic symbols. For example, a great portent in heaven represents a great portent on earth,
“A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.” (v. 1-6)
Five years ago, there was a lot of excitement over the alleged “Revelation 12 Prophecy.” According to proponents, the celestial alignment on September 23, 2017, fulfilled Revelation 12. Some individuals, including people in Denver Snuffer’s Remnant movement, using the Stellarium software, claimed this particular star alignment hadn’t happened in 6,000 years. Some believed the “rapture” (an idea that didn’t develop until the late 1800s) would occur on this day. (Some of the videos and website promoting it have mysteriously disappeared.) What happened on September 23, 2017? Nothing. According to Christopher Graney of the Vatican Observatory, this same alignment happened in 1827, 1483, 1293, and 1056. And probably many times before that. Again, these are not literal events. Rather, as the New Oxford Annotated Bible editors write, the birth story is,
“…rich in symbolism drawn from mythological traditions found in ancient Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in the Hebrew Bible. One well-known version of the story tells of the goddess Leto, pregnant with Apollo, who is menaced by the dragon Python, who pursues her because he knows that Apollo is destined to kill him (Hyginus, Fabulae 140). Here this material is reinterpreted in terms of Jewish traditions and expectations as the story of the birth of the messiah.”
That’s the important thing to remember here. John is playing with the symbolism, reinterpreting and recontextualizing it for his own purposes. Indeed, the woman clothed with the sun is Israel. The 12 stars likely represent the 12 tribes of Israel drawn from Joseph of Egypt’s dream Genesis 37:9, in which “the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance” to him. Collins agrees the woman’s child “is clearly identifiable as the messiah.” (p. 275). It is Jesus who rules the nations with an iron rod or scepter (Psalm 2:9). John incorporates Daniel’s timelines, mentioning “One thousand, two hundred sixty days,” the equivalent of “a time, and times, and half a time,” or “forty-two months,” which amounts to three and a half years. New Oxford suggests “this symbolic number suggests a period of time limited by divine design.” In other words, hold firm. Deliverance is near, but a special kind of deliverance. The New Oxford Annotated Bible writes,
“The messianic child is snatched away and taken to God: The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus denies the demonic dragon victory over its prey.”
I think this is the theme of the War in Heaven: the victory over death. Martin Kiddle writes in his commentary of Revelation, that “the ejection of the dragon from heaven is, in fact, nothing less than a pictorial expression of the Atonement.” (p. 232, emphasis added). If this is true, it makes Jacob’s sermon in 2 Nephi 9 all the more significant,
“O theof God, his and ! For behold, if the should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the , to rise no more. And our spirits must have become unto him, and we become devils, to a , to be from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of , in misery, like unto himself…O how great the of our God, who prepareth a way for our from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, and , which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. And because of the way of of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this , of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave.” (v. 8-11, emphasis added)
To my eyes, this is an extraordinary parallel. I can’t help but wonder if this thing we call “the devil” is, in fact, death, both spiritual and physical, both of which Jesus defeated. The resurrection of Jesus is, after all, the heart of the Messianic message. Messiah means “deliverer.” Because of Jesus, we are delivered from the dragon—spiritual and physical death.
After the child (Jesus) ascends to God’s throne,
“And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
As mentioned in the beginning, Christ’s resurrection is the catalyzing event that ignites the War in Heaven. The dragon’s failure to devour the child—to thwart the Atonement—raises his ire. Michael, Israel’s patron saint and protector, steps into the spotlight and defeats the dragon in cosmological battle, forever banishing him from the heavens.
As I read various commentaries on this series of verses, I found near unanimous agreement that the dragon and the Michael are, in fact, symbolic representations of Rome and the early Christians. Even most commentators in Joseph Smith’s era understood this. James Cole wrote in his 1826 commentary that the War in Heaven symbolized “contentions between the heathen and Christian religionists…a fierce struggle to prevent the establishment of Christianity.” (p. 402). William Jones’ 1830 Lectures on Apocalypse likewise reads that the War in Heaven “represents the vehement struggles which took place in the first ages of the Gospel.” (p. 405). Thomas Newton’s Dissertations on the Prophecies adds, “these struggles and contentions between the heathen and the Christian religions are represented, ver. 7, by ‘war in heaven,’ between angels of darkness and angels of light.” (p. 618)
With celestial victory secured, John then,
“…heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you. He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short.” (v. 10-12)
That banishment from heaven, as the voice declares, leads to persecution of the believers on earth,
“And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (v. 13-17)
Here John draws on the ancient Near Eastern Leviathan myths and Hebrew myths. The dragon of Revelation is Leviathan, a sea serpent/monster associated with chaos, who threatens to eat the damned after they die. (Perhaps, for John, another allusion to the resurrection in the Revelation.) Leviathan’s eschatological function is to serve as food for the elect. In Isaiah 27:1, Leviathan represents Israel’s enemies. We read that in the day of the LORD, God will “punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” In Psalm 74 we read that God “split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan…” In Job 41, it’s a symbol of God’s power of creation. In an older Canaanite version, Baal defeats Lotan. And Lotan “seems to have been prefigured by the serpent Têmtum represented in Syrian seals of the 18th–16th century BC.” (Wikipedia entry for Lotan.)
As the woman escapes, the dragon makes a last-ditch effort to catch the woman, but John draws on the story of the Red Sea swallowing up Pharoah’s armies with the earth swallowing up the seas. Having lost again, the dragon turns to the remnant of the woman’s seed, the righteous who keep God’s commandments and have a testimony of Jesus. And John finally reveals to his readers why Rome has been persecuting them: the dragon—Leviathan—gave its power and authority to the beast—Rome,
“Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a beast rising out of the sea (chaos), having ten horns and seven heads (perhaps a reference to the the Seven Hills of Rome); and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also, it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.”
After the trials and conflicts and punishment inflicted on the Saints by Rome, chapter 14 begins with the following:
“Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion!”
The message, to me at least, is clear. No matter the trials, conflicts and persecutions we face, be it a real or symbolic Rome, Christ has already won. The victory is secured. The Revelation should not inspire fear or panic of the so-called “end-times.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible calls refers to its “vivid visions of the consummation of God’s divine plan of judgment and salvation.” Its message is one of optimism rather than pessimism. Comfort rather than chaos. Rest rather than worry. We need not fear the sun being darkened, the moon turning to blood, or stars falling from the skies. These aren’t literal events. Let the Revelation rest our minds and souls in the fact that death is not the end. He won.