Breaking Open the Word: Revelation Ch. 12

 “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet…”  -Rev 12:1

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet…” -Rev 12:1

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018 – Revelation Chapter 12

Today we reached the “heart” of Revelation, John’s visions of the Woman and the Dragon. Right away, the reader of this chapter runs into a paradox: this woman is glorious and powerful, and yet she is in agony. Later on, the bliss of Heaven is interrupted by a terrible war between Michael and the dragon. These apparent contradictions can actually tell us a lot about the way God sees the world – since He lives in the eternal “now,” He beholds all reality at once, the suffering of the Passion simultaneous with the glory of the Resurrection. This is why Christ, God Incarnate, can refer to the Cross as His “glory” in the Gospel of John.

               But who is this cosmic woman? Since the beginning, the Church has seen in her an image both of the Virgin Mary and of the People of God, the Church. Seen as Mary, she shows us the glory to which we are called, since she is our exemplar and model. Seen as the Church, she shows us how tenderly God cares for His people and defends her even in this earthly “desert” (vss 6, 14). Seen as both, she is clearly meant to bring forth Christ in the world (physically as Our Lady and spiritually as the Church), and this role makes her the archenemy of the dragon. Satan has a deep hatred for the Virgin and for the Church, yet he will ultimately be defeated by both.

Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.
— 2 Chronicles 20:15 (NRSV)

               We spent quite a bit of time discussing the concept of spiritual warfare as it is presented in this dramatic passage. One Sister noted that “Michael and his angels” (12:7) initiate the battle – they don’t wait for the dragon to make the first move. Similarly, we shouldn’t wait until temptation comes to engage in spiritual warfare; we can begin right now by striving to grow in prayer and virtue.

               Another Sister was impressed by the fact that the woman, who is clearly the central antagonist to the dragon, does not herself engage in any fighting. Rather, it is God (often through His creation) who fights for her: “a special place had been prepared for her by God,” (vs 6) “Michael and his angels battled against the dragon,” (vs 7) “the woman was given the wings of a gigantic eagle,” (vs 14) “the earth then came to the woman’s rescue” (vs 16), etc. This underlines the fact that, when we are waging spiritual warfare, it is not truly our battle. We should never take on Satan head-on, because as an angel he is much more intelligent and powerful than we are; rather, we should recall that we have God Almighty on our side, and when we invoke His power He can vanquish the devil.

               We also pondered the description of the woman’s child (Christ): he is “destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod.” (vs 5) How does that fit with Jesus’ description of Himself as “meek and humble of heart?” This verse clearly alludes to Psalm 2, where the Messiah is given power to “rule” and “shatter” the sinful nations “with an iron rod” – but the inclusion of the word “shepherd” is a clue to the deeper meaning. Christ, the Good Shepherd, can use the iron “shepherd’s crook” of His power both to defend His flock and to reassure them of His steadfastness. He is strong yet gentle with His sheep, but He will not shrink from the wolf in the hour of danger!

               Thanks for joining us again for our Revelation Scripture study! Next week we’ll be looking at Chapters 13-14, which give us details on the followers of the Dragon and of the Lamb.