Summary: The heavenly battle ranges even as we wander in the wilderness; which is a journey, not a retreat; the movement is always forward into the promise.
Can you believe it? I’m getting tired of the news. It’s so depressing. And for a news junkie like me, that’s saying a lot. Between the Middle East and the Congo and Iraq and North Korea we hardly have time to notice the murders in the Sudan and the economic chaos in South America, and with all this seriously important stuff happening, what do we see when we turn on the news? Hilary Clinton’s book and the Lacy Peterson murders! If the news all by itself weren’t bad enough, we can’t even count on the media to focus on what’s important. How can we make sense of it all? What should we do? Turn the TV off and as Voltaire recommended, retire to the country and tend to our own gardens? Should we join advocacy groups, send money to worthy causes, write letters to the government, march, picket and protest? Or should we eat, drink, and be merry, since, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.” [Ec 2:24]
And if the world itself wasn’t confusing enough, here we are again in what may very well be the most confusing book of the Bible. And even though this chapter isn’t as difficult to interpret as some, I suspect that it is not a passage that any of you naturally turn to for either comfort or enlightenment.
I mean, what does “a [pregnant] woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” have to say to ordinary people struggling to make a living and raise their kids?
Well, the reason I’m preaching on the book of Revelation is that it does help us to make sense of our times. And the key to the whole thing is perspective.
How many of you are familiar with impressionist painting? In the late 19th century, artists like Monet and Cezanne and Seurat started playing with color in a new way. Instead of mixing paint on their palette until they got the colors they wanted, they put tiny dots of color next to each other on the canvas, and let the viewer’s eye do the blending. If you’ve seen any original impressionist art, you know that
you have to stand a certain distance away from the painting before it makes sense. Yet by doing it this way, the scene appears more vivid, more alive. And that’s how we have to approach many of these passages in John’s Revelation.
I’m not saying that the detail doesn’t matter. It does, just the way each dot of color the Edouard Monet applied to his water lilies created the “impression” that he wanted to make. He wasn’t trying to illustrate a botany textbook, he was trying to convey to the viewer something of what it felt like to be there in those gardens at Giverny on a misty spring morning, or a hot summer afternoon. Just so does John
convey to us something of what it means to be actors in the cosmic drama that is being enacted around us.
Some commentators are sure that the woman represents the people of Israel [Gen 37:9] The sun is Jacob [Israel], the moon is his wife Rachel, and the twelve stars are the twelve sons of Israel. The purpose of Israel was to bring forth the Messiah into the world. Other commentators are equally sure that the woman is Mary, giving birth to Jesus. All commentators agree that the son “a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” is, of course, Jesus. The dragon who tries to destroy the baby is Satan. Of course. And then we have the battle between the archangel Michael and the dragon.
Why do we need to know which interpretation is right? What is John trying to tell us?
I’d like us to step back and get a longer view of these images.
The middle view tells us that what is going on is a fight between Jesus and Satan, that Satan the deceiver is currently doing his best to wreck the world, that the woman, whoever she is, is off in the wilderness or desert being protected, and that Jesus wins. This is true. This is important. But this is also still a little too out of focus in a way. So let’s back up one more step and get an even bigger
picture. And three themes stand out.
First, whether the woman represents Israel or Mary, what we can all be sure of is that she’s on God’s side, and that she is in pain but brings forth life. She is contrasted, later on, with a prostitute in chapter seven, representing the seductive yet barren temptress Babylon. This is an eternal contrast between the hard reality that real life includes getting your hands dirty and maybe being hurt, and the