Revelation 12 opens with a tableau of a laboring cosmic mother threatened by a devouring dragon. During the course of the chapter, the dragon’s prey is snatched from his teeth (v. 5) and the dragon is driven from the sky (vv. 7-12).

But as soon as the dragon gets to earth, he start pursuing the woman (v. 13). She has surreptitiously left the sky too, fleeing to the wilderness as soon as she gave birth (v. 6). It’s so subtly marked that we easily miss the fact that it happened at all.

What might it mean? It seems a demotion: The queen of the sky hustles off to find a stronghold in the wilderness, apparently leaving her starry crown and shining robe behind. She humanizes. While the Son she bears skips earth entirely so as to ascend, she comes down from the Father. It’s as if the Mother became flesh and dwelt among us rather than the Word.

She is certainly threatened. If she had stayed in the sky, all would be well. The dragon would be cast out, the lady would be safe with Michael in a dragonless heaven.

What gives? And when? Last question first: If we can take the allegory “literally,” the mother’s fall from heaven occurs after she births the child. Her work is apparently over, and there’s no more need for her to be in heaven. She was kept safe until the incarnation. Now she is given over to vulnerability.

And that might answer the What gives? The movement certainly appears to mimic the descent of the Son from His Father. And the result is the same too. Though the dragon fails to kill or drown the woman directly, he does succeed in summoning beasts that overcome the saints (ch. 13). The mother comes from the sky to earth in order to suffer in (with?) her children. It’s a fresh incarnation, a fresh cross, not for the Son but for the other children of the sky queen. 

This makes sense in the context of Revelation, where the new world - Immanuel  - comes not with Word’s enfleshment but with the descent of the bride from heaven.

More on: Revelation

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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