An established principle of Biblical interpretation involves at a minimum two steps.
(1) The interpreter must determine what the text meant to its first readers.
(2) Once the first readers are taken into consideration, the application can be made to present-day readers.
This principle is generally applied to the entire text of the Bible but is sometimes eliminated in the study of Revelation.
It is helpful to also apply this principle to Revelation. By not ignoring John’s first-century readers, we will be better able to apply his message to our current age.
The Woman and the Dragon
The first readers of John’s message would have quickly understood the woman and the dragon of Revelation.
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 deliver a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born (Revelation 12.1-4).
The woman is easily identified as Mary the mother of Jesus. She represents the nation of Israel, which served as the “mother” of Christianity.
The dragon represents Satan, who uses humans to try and destroy God’s purposes through Jesus and the church.
A Brief History Lesson
Below is an outline of some of the ways Satan has attempted to “devour the child.”
(1) Matthew 2 – King Herod plotted to kill the child who was identified as King of the Jews by the magi.
(2) John 13.2 – The devil influenced Judas to hand over Jesus to the authorities for death.
(3) John 12.31-32 – Satan believed the cross would destroy Jesus. Jesus turned the tables on the enemy and declared that through the cross “the ruler of this world will be driven out.”
(4) Acts 12 – The dragon used King Herod to try and stamp out the church by killing James and putting Peter in prison.
(5) The Roman Emperor Caligula, who reigned from 37 to 41 AD, sought to place his statue in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. Only his death prevented this outrage for both Jews and Christians.
(6) The Roman Emperor Nero (54 to 68 AD) blamed Christians for the 64 AD fire that destroyed a large portion of the city. Nero used Christians as scapegoats and had them crucified, burned alive, and torn apart by wild animals to appease pagan Romans.
(7) Revelation was written during the rule of the Emperor Domitian (81 to 96 AD). The Emperor saw himself as a god and demanded that he be worshiped as such. He was one of the most ruthless persecutors of the church because they refused to worship him.
It would have been wrong for John to write a message of the magnitude of Revelation and have it contain no application to the suffering church of his day.
His message was quite pertinent to his readers, but it had to contain coded or hidden language for the protection of the church.
Not only did John reveal the nature and extent of persecution, but so did Jesus. Jesus warned his followers that persecution would have to be endured.
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Slaves are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).
The persecution of the church in America bears no resemblance to what I have recounted from the early days of the church. That is not the case for faithful followers of Jesus in countries dominated by strongmen.
In the book “Strongmen” by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, she notes that strongmen often use religion to strengthen their control over the nation they rule.
For example, Vladimir Putin uses his corrupted views of the Orthodox Church to support his war against Ukraine. People who resist his dictatorial rule are placed in detention centers where they extreme hardship.
Putin is but one of many strongmen who use corrupted views of religion to cover their oppressive regimes. True and faithful believers who resist their rule fall victim to their devices.
Modern persecuted Christians will read John’s message about the dragon who attempts to destroy God’s work through his Son in a way that would be difficult for American Christians to understand.
The escape of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt forms the background to Revelation’s picture of God’s protection for his faithful people.
And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a scepter 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 (Revelation 12.5-6).
Psalm 2 explains why Satan is able to use strongmen like Herod, Nero, Domitian, Putin, and the like. It also explains how Jesus protects his followers.
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2.1-3)
Powerful persons who dominate the world’s system join in an unholy alliance and oppose God’s purposes. They are convinced that their domain is threatened by God’s kingdom.
The authority that God gives to his Son is used to protect people who follow God’s purposes for their lives. The message of Revelation alludes to the authority God gives to his Son.
“You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2.9).
The wilderness is a place of provision and intimate fellowship with God. The purpose of the vision is to assure the persecuted church of God’s provision and spiritual refuge.
The duration of the nourishment corresponds to the period of persecution.
Application for Today
There are not many things I can do for persecuted Christians and other humans in the world.
One thing I can do is learn about their situation and pray for them. Please join me in doing the same.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube today. It is on the Bob Spradling channel.
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