Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Study on Revelation 12: Part Three (The dragon and the male child)

Revelation 12
3 And seen was another sign in heaven, and lo! a great fiery-red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads seven diadems.
4 And its tail is dragging a third of the stars of heaven, and casts them into the earth. And the dragon stands before the woman who is about to be bringing forth, that it may be devouring her child whenever she may be bringing forth.
5 And she brought forth a son, a male, who is about to be shepherding all the nations with an iron club. And her child is snatched away to God and to His throne.

The “great fiery-red dragon having seven heads and ten horns” is later referred to as “the ancient serpent called Adversary and Satan, who is deceiving the whole inhabited earth” (Rev. 12:9). However, as is the case with the seven-horned, seven-eyed Lambkin (Rev. 5:6-7) and the seven-headed, ten-horned wild beast (Rev. 13:1-2), the fiery-red dragon is most likely a composite figure that symbolizes not only an individual but a particular category or group of beings. A.E. Knoch remarks that the dragon’s “seven heads and ten horns introduce us to the great Satanic confederacy which will control the earth at the time of the end.” When John identified this dragon as Satan, he was probably using the figure of speech known as metonymy (according to which an element or part of something – usually well-known or easily recognizable - is used to refer to the whole).

The leader of the organized group of wicked celestial beings represented by the dragon is clearly Satan himself (whom Paul referred to as “the chief of the jurisdiction of the air” in Eph. 2:2 and the “god of this eon” in 2 Cor. 4:4). But we know that he is merely the chief of an entire hierarchy of evil celestial beings, some of which are also referred to as “chiefs” (see Daniel 10:12-14, 20-21). Elsewhere, Paul described the hierarchy of wicked celestial beings headed up by Satan as follows: “Put on the panoply of God, to enable you to stand up to the stratagems of the Adversary, for it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials” (Eph. 6:11-2). Notice how Paul first referred to “the Adversary” (singular) and then went on to refer to a hierarchy of wicked celestial beings. This suggests that Paul not only viewed Satan as the leader but also the representative of this group.

But who is the “child” of the woman, whom the dragon is represented as being so eager to devour in v. 4? This question brings us to what is perhaps the most controversial verse of this chapter. Here, again, is v. 5: ”And she brought forth a son, a male, who is about to be shepherding all the nations with an iron club. And her child is snatched away to God and to His throne.”

What seems to be the most widely-held view among Christians today (as well as throughout Christian history) is that the male child represents Jesus Christ himself. At first glance, it may seem obvious to some that the male child represents Christ. Certainly, of all the individuals that the male child could be understood as most easily representing, Christ is, of course, the most likely candidate. Concerning Christ’s connection to the male son, Andre Piet remarks, The mention of the “male son” refers directly to Psalm 2. After all, Revelation 12 says: “that He will shepherd (rule) the nations with a rod of iron” which is derived from Psalm 2:8-9. It is about “the anointed one” (Hebrew: Messiah; Greek: Christ) Who was resurrected by God. -Rev.12:5, Rev.19:15-“

Thus, there is a clear connection between the male son and Jesus Christ, as both are directly associated with the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy found in Psalm 2:9-9. However, as Andre goes on to note, the view that the male child represents Christ – and Christ alone - runs into a few serious problems. Most of those who see the male child as representing Christ view the “snatching away” of the male child “to God and his throne” as a reference to Christ’s ascension to heaven. The problem with this view is that the verb translated “snatched away” in Rev. 12:5 (harpazō) is simply not an appropriate word with which to describe Christ’s ascension to heaven, and is never used elsewhere in Scripture to describe Christ’s ascension.[1] On the other hand, one of the words that is used elsewhere to describe Christ’s ascension (anabainō) was used by John just twelve verses before we read of the male child being “snatched away.” In Rev. 11:12, we read: “And they [the two witnesses] hear a loud voice out of heaven saying to them, ‘Ascend here!’ And they ascended (anebēsan) into heaven in a cloud, and their enemies behold them.” This same word is used elsewhere by both John (in John 20:17) and Paul (in Eph. 4:8-10) in reference to Christ’s ascension (these verses also suggest that Christ’s ascension was an event in which he was actively involved, rather than something he passively underwent, as the word harpazō would suggest).[2]

Since it’s highly likely that John would’ve used the word anabainō  (rather than harpazō) had he understood the removal of the male child toward God and his throne to represent the ascension of Christ into heaven, we can reasonably conclude that John did not, in fact, understand what he saw to have been a representation of this historical event. Unlike the words used in reference to the ascension of Christ, the word harpazō never includes the notion of a person’s merely relocating (whether actively or passively) from one spatial location to another, in an upward direction. Rather, harpazō is consistently used in reference to someone or something’s being suddenly seized and forcefully removed. The CLNT Keyword Concordance defines harpazō as “seize with a sudden grasp and carry away, as a wolf its prey” (see John 10:12). While the word is highly appropriate to describe an action performed by someone or something having malicious or destructive intent, it was also used to describe someone’s being quickly and forcefully rescued from harm or a dangerous situation (e.g., Acts 23:10; Jude 23).  

As with the two verses referenced above, the context in which harpazō in used in Rev. 12:5 seems to involve someone’s being rescued from a perilous situation. For the snatching away of the male child in Rev. 12:5 is the means by which the child is rescued from the threat of the dragon that is eagerly seeking to devour him. But Christ was in no danger whatsoever prior to his ascension; there was no perilous situation from which he was rescued, or some threat from which he narrowly escaped by means of his ascension to heaven. One of the last things Christ said before his ascension was that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him (Matt. 28:19)! Assuming Satan posed some sort of threat to Christ prior to his death, it’s inconceivable that any such threat remained after Christ was roused from among the dead and made “Lord of all.”

Thus, not only is the word harpazō in itself not appropriate for describing the ascension of Christ, but the use of harpazō in the particular context of Rev. 12:4-5 (which involves the male child’s being rescued from a perilous situation involving the dragon) makes its application to Christ even less appropriate and plausible. Given these considerations, I think we can conclude with a reasonable degree of certainty that the male child of Rev. 12 does not represent Christ, individually. And if that’s the case, then we can also conclude that the male child doesn’t represent an individual at all (for, as noted earlier, if an individual were being represented by the male child, Christ would be the best candidate). Whom or what, then, should we understand the male child as representing?

As with the woman and the dragon, I think it is best to understand the male child as representing a group or category of people, as opposed to a single individual. This view of the male child is most consistent with the rest of the symbolism of this chapter; if the first two symbolic characters appearing in the narrative are best understood as representing groups/categories of people (whether human or otherwise), consistency would naturally lead one to the conclusion that the third character described in the vision should also be understood as representing a corporate entity. And, as is the case with the woman (the “mother” of the male child), it would also be reasonable to interpret the male child as representing a certain company of saints. But which saints?

A.E. Knoch identified the male son with the company of 144,000 Israelites referred to in Rev. 7:3-8 and 14:1-5. However, as argued in part two of this study, I believe it is actually the sun-clothed woman herself who, during the time period in view in Rev. 12:6-17, figuratively represents this particular company of faithful Israelites. Although Knoch considered the gender of the male child as supportive of his view, I noted earlier that the nation of Israel has, from ancient times, been figuratively represented by a woman, and that this figure has never been based on the gender of the people constituting Israel. Given this fact, there is absolutely no reason why an all-male company of faithful Israelites could not be appropriately represented by the same figurative, feminine imagery found in Rev. 12.

In addition to the arguments made in defense of the position that the sun-clothed woman represents the 144,000 during the 70th heptad, I think there is one consideration in particular that rules out the position that the male child represents the 144,000. One of the keys (if not the key) to understanding the identity of the male child is, I believe, found in the fact that the male child is described by John as being “snatched away to God and to his throne.” Any interpretation of the male child that ignores (or has to explain away) the specific wording used by John in Rev. 12:5 is, quite simply, exegetically inferior (and less faithful to the text) than one that places an emphasis on what the text actually says. And that’s what I want to do here.

In v. 5, John described what happened to the male child as his being “snatched away to (literally “toward”) God and to (toward) his throne.” With the exception of chapters 21-22 (after the “new Jerusalem” has descended out of heaven from God), the location of “God and his throne” are consistently depicted in Revelation as being in heaven rather than on the earth (see, for example, Rev. 4:1-2; 8:1-2; 12:10; 13:6, etc.). Thus, if the language of Rev. 12:5 is to be understood as conveying anything meaningful at all, it conveys the idea that the male child will being suddenly and forcibly transported away from the earth in an upwards direction (i.e., “toward God and toward his throne”).

Knoch seemed to interpret the snatching away of the male child toward God and toward his throne as meaning that the 144,000 Israelites will be “separated from the mass of the nation, which flees into the wilderness” and then “sustained by divine sovereignty, in a place where the dragon dare not follow.” This “place where the dragon dare not follow” was understood by Knoch as being “mount Zion,” which Knoch suggested would be “the first spot on earth to be seized and held subject to God's throne.” It is here (according to Knoch) that God “will sustain a select company with power while the rest of His faithful followers flee into the wilderness or give their lives for their faith.” The problem with this view is that we’re not told in Rev. 12:5 that the male child was snatched away to “mount Zion” (which is a place on earth located in Jerusalem). John, of course, could’ve easily written “mount Zion” rather than “God and his throne” had he seen, in the vision presented to him, the male child being snatched away to (or “toward”) this location. But apparently, that’s not what John saw.

When Knoch formulated his theory concerning the 144,000 being supernaturally sustained on mount Zion during the time of great affliction, he undoubtedly had Rev. 14 in view. In v. 1 we read that the 144,000 will, at some future time, be found standing on mount Zion: “And I perceived, and lo! the Lambkin standing on mount Zion, and with It a hundred forty-four thousand, having Its name and Its Father's name written on their foreheads.” However, as with what is said concerning the vast throng in Rev. 7:9-17, the event prophesied in Rev. 14:1 will be fulfilled sometime after the time of great affliction has already ended. We know this because the 144,000 will be standing with Christ (“the Lambkin”), after having apparently followed him to this location (14:4). The scene being described in Rev. 14:1 will, therefore, come to pass at some point after Christ has returned to earth. Given this fact, we can also conclude that the “mount Zion” on which Christ and the 144,000 will be standing at this future time will be the “mountain of Yahweh” referred to in Isaiah 2:1-3 (which will be the sight of the future temple in Jerusalem during the eon to come):

“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.”

Apparently, major topographical changes will occur in the land of Israel at the time of Christ’s return to the earth (Zech. 14:3-5). These changes will result in Jerusalem’s becoming elevated above the rest of the surrounding land (which, in Zech. 14:10, we’re told will be turned into a plain). At this time, mount Zion will be the most elevated location in Israel, and it is here that the prophecy found in Rev. 14 concerning Christ and the 144,000 will be fulfilled. Where, exactly, the 144,000 will be prior to this time is not here revealed by John. However, as I’ve argued in part two of this study, the 144,000 will most likely constitute the company of faithful Israelites represented by the sun-clothed woman during the time of the end. Thus, their place of protection during the time of great affliction will be somewhere in the mountainous wilderness region outside the land of Judea. After Christ returns to earth and defeats the hostile forces from which this company of faithful Israelites had to be supernaturally protected in the wilderness, they will then join Christ on top of mount Zion in Jerusalem and celebrate his victory.

Part Four:

[1] The three terms used to describe the ascension of Christ are found in Mark 16:19 and Acts 1:11 (analambano, “to take up”); Acts 1:9 (epairo, “to be lifted up”); and John 20:17 and Eph. 4:8-10 (anabaino, “to ascend”).

[2] Moreover, in contrast with the suddenness that the word harpazō conveys, we also have some reason to believe that Christ’s ascension to heaven was relatively gradual rather than being an event that involved his being suddenly and forcefully removed from the earth. In Acts 1:9-11, we read: And saying these things, while they are looking, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him up from their eyes. And as they were looking intently into heaven at His going, lo! two men stand beside them in white attire, who say also, ‘Men! Galileans! Why do you stand, looking into heaven? This Jesus Who is being taken up from you into heaven shall come thus, in the manner in which you gaze at Him going into heaven.’” The fact that Christ begins to be “lifted up” while he is still talking to his disciples (“and saying these things…He was lifted up”) implies that the ascension did not involve Christ’s suddenly travelling a great distance before the disciples knew what was happening.

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