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The Woman and the Dragon

00:00 / 16:32

28 Jan 2024

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Revelation 12:1-6


-       Comments on New Testament reading. Revelation, often perceived as a “hard” book.

-       Genre is apocalyptic, literally means “unveiling”. Related to season of Epiphany in which something is revealed in a dramatic way.

-       Apocalyptic takes us behind curtain of normal appearances to the spiritual realities that underlie them.

-       Apocalypse helps us to confront important spiritual realities.

-       This often done through “symbols”, “signs” “portents”. Pictorial images of literal realities that have to be interpreted and applied. I will do my best.

Two Signs

-       Passage begins with two signs.

1)    ‘…a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.’ (Rev. 12:1)

-       This sign probably means more than one thing: the Old covenant people of Israel or Mary the mother of Christ are two meanings.

-       Church Fathers often took it to mean the Church.

-       Hippolytus, for example, ‘By the “woman clothed with the sun,” he meant most manifestly the church, endued with the Father’s Word, whose brightness is above the sun. And by “the moon under her feet,” he referred to [the church] being adorned, like the moon, with heavenly glory. And the words “upon her head a crown of twelve stars” refer to the twelve apostles by whom the church was founded.’ Hippolytus, On the Antichrist.

-       Consider then the spiritual luminosity of the Church.

-       Without the sun no life, no light. Dare we understand the Church in the same way. Difficult to imagine perhaps but is this not because we have simply lost confidence in the luminosity of God’s Word as revealed in Scripture, in Church’s proclamation and in the sacraments?

‘She was pregnant, and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth’ (Rev. 12:2)

-       As Mary travailed in birth pains, so the Church labours to bear Christ in the world.

-       Giving birth a good metaphor for Christian life and ministry. We bear the weight of abstinence, of responsibility, of prayer, and it feels heavy. But when we are delivered of it through victory over sin or faithfully discharging tasks given to us we experience freedom and joy.

2)    Second sign shows us that what besets us is not only loss of confidence and fear of suffering but tangible enemy.

‘Another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his head seven diadems’ (Rev 12: 3)

-       ‘A great red dragon’ is Satan, ‘that ancient serpent…the deceiver of the whole world…the accuser of the brethren’ (Rev. 12:9,10). Red indicating blood, anger, murder, oppression. John 8:44, “He was a murderer from the beginning”. A dragon because fierce and beast-like.

-       ‘Seven heads and ten horns’ – Heads means influence; seven symbolically represents a huge amount. Horns means power; ten a similar thing. In other words, Satan has huge influence and power over world events, even though unseen by men.

‘His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to earth…’ (Rev. 12:4)

-       Sometimes taken to mean a third of the angels in heaven tempted to apostatise and war against God as in eg Paradise Lost. Here more likely reference to Satan successfully deceiving saints so that they fall from relationship with God to sin, heresy, and apostasy.

‘The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.’ (Rev. 12:4)

-       Reminds us of the diabolical nature of Herod’s decree to murder infant children in pursuit of Christ.

-       Relates more broadly to Satan’s desire to cut off purposes of God at their root, to destroy God’s work in its making, at the beginning if possible.

-       Contrast here calling of the church to labour sacrificially for Christ’s presence in the world and the beast-like violence and deceit of Satan. Let us remember the weapons of our warfare: not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord (Zech. 4:6).

Two Further Images

-       Final verses tell us something about Christ and something about his Church.

‘She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.’ (Rev. 12:5)

-       Despite Herod and Satan’s efforts, Christ lived, proclaimed the Gospel, performed miracles, was killed, rose again, and ascended to the throne-room of God.

-       We are reminded that Satan’s efforts will ultimately be defeated.

‘…and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.’ (Rev. 12:6)

-       Image of Mary in Egypt, yes, but also the Church in this age.

-       We are in the wilderness: a place of spiritual barrenness and hostility.

-       But we have “a place” here, prepared by God, in which we are to be nourished.

o   Refers to the place God has for us to live, the tasks he calls us to do.

o   But more specifically the Church: the place we are nourished through prayer, worship, the word of God faithfully proclaimed and the sacraments.


In light of these spiritual realities:

Recognise the nature of the spiritual battle we face. Remember the words of The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” He does exist, and we mustn’t be ignorant of his schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

Refresh yourselves with the God-given nourishment of the ministry of the Church: our fellowship, prayer, worship, the Word of God and the sacraments. This is how we feed and arm ourselves in this spiritual battle. Come to mass, morning prayer, catechesis, confession regularly. Like a soldier in training for battle, practicing his aim, exercising his body, etc.

Resolve not to allow Satan to sweep you down to earth, but to persevere in the faith, accepting the suffering of childbirth as a sign of the life that is to come. In the wilderness, do not give up or give in, but endure to the end when we will be where Christ has gone before.


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