Here we come to the passage of the woman and the dragon. The dragon is easily identified as Lucifer, Satan, the one who falls defeated from heaven. The woman, however, is a different story entirely. Albert Barnes, a prolific and respected 19th Century theologian, says with confidence that the woman is the church and considers the Red Dragon as the papacy of Roman Catholicism. The woman is considered by other respected commentators to represent the God-fearing Jewish nation in the pre-Jesus era. Others who consider the woman an historical reference place her at other points in the Christian era.
When I read it my first concept is that of Mary as mother of Jesus. The events, though, could be spread all the way to the Garden of Eden and we might make her Eve. With very little imagination one can come up with concept after concept, idea upon idea. Each of these face an incredible rigidity from the others.
One of my biggest collisions with commentators is my first reflex to place chapter 12 as part of the 7th trumpet. Just when I become confident that that could be sturdy ground upon which to stand along comes those like Matthew Henry who places Revelation 12-14 in the category of an interlude, intermission if you will, in the midst of the trumpeted announcements. Matthew Henry calls these chapters recapitulation and representation of things past rather than prophecy. Albert Barnes sort of goes for this viewpoint placing these chapters in an early part of church history.
The problem is that apocalyptic literature is sort of like poetry requiring interpretation. Oftentimes the interpretation grows from one’s own life experience. While such literature is sort of like poetry a more fitting analogy is a dream where ideas and situations present themselves in contexts which cannot be fathomed. Perhaps if someone wiser or one omniscient were around the dream could reliably be packaged into meaningful terms. The same thing could be said of apocalyptic literature.
Every now and again when I get to talking with my dad some of these things come up. We don’t discuss them in terms of what they mean, but we do discuss the dogmatic stances he and his friends, Sunday school members and colleagues hold in regard to them. Oftentimes my dad will eat at Arby’s for lunch. Upon an occasion one of these friends will meet1 him there.
People hold their opinions so tightly it is easy to imagine a death-match over them. I don’t think my dad and this fellow get into big squabbles, but it takes little imagination to interpret where things could go if the right fuel was thrown on those fires.
Let’s diverge into ophthalmology (eye surgery)2
I do a lot of cataract surgery. Patients usually have very good outcomes, meaning they are happy with their vision and they go off back into their lives living happy with their vision. Periodically they will return and the conversation may go like this:
“Doc, my vision is back like it used to be.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well, I have glare at night again and things are just hazy. Do you think the cataracts came back?”
As I know that cataracts cannot come back, but other things can develop I will usually ask some clarifying questions. “Do you mean that your vision right after cataract surgery was very good and little by little again it became blurry?”
“Yeah, that is exactly what happened.”
If you are of the age where you have had cataract surgery or your peers or parents have perhaps you’ve heard of people needing laser. Let me tell you a bit about cataract surgery. The lens in our eyes is like an M&M3 it has a candy shell and is filled with chocolate. During cataract surgery we remove the chocolate, but leave the candy shell behind because the candy shell is what holds the implant lens. Without that lens people see very poorly, need contacts, or need a most tricky glasses prescription. The visual experience is nothing like that of the person who has glasses. What happens is that some of the cells of the original lens (they cannot all be removed) migrate behind the implant and in front of the candy shell and blur the vision. To fix this a laser is used to make an opening in the candy shell to allow the light to focus on the retina again. It is a very successful procedure and fixes the blur. It cannot come back from this reason any longer.