HOUSMAIL HM#098 -- DRAGONS, DREAMS, AND THE DEVIL                                               25 November 2002

"Another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.....

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him."(Rev 12:3, 7-9)

Who (or what) is "the Dragon" in this chapter? Is it the "Devil" of popular mainstream Theology? Or is it something else?

To answer those questions we must first note two important things:

1. Firstly, popular mainstream theology about the "fallen angel Devil", places the events of
    Rev 12, BEFORE the creation of the world! However note carefully John's clear statement,
    that he is writing about things future to his own time! (Rev 1:1) That means that they had not
    yet happened, when John wrote the book! So of course, it cannot be about anything which is
    supposed to have taken place before creation! (Which was somewhere around 4000 years
    before John's book was written!)

2. Secondly, John's prophetic message about the future, is hidden behind SYMBOLS! It is very
    dangerous to "invent theology" by placing literal interpretations on symbolic meanings! If we
    interpret the Bible that way we are in very great danger of closing our eyes to the REAL
    meaning of the symbols!

To understand the meaning of these symbols, we need a little prior Old Testament background. It starts in Daniel.

In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. After prayer, both the content of the dream and the interpretation were revealed to Daniel, in a vision. It was about four great world empires who would rule over "all the earth". The first was identified by Daniel as Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon. A little knowledge of history easily reveals the second as Medo-Persia, the third as Greece, and the fourth as Rome. During its course, the Roman empire was to begin "strong as iron", and then later become a divided kingdom. This second stage is represented by the two legs of the image, which portray the political division between eastern and western Rome. In verse 44, there is also a clear reference to the well known history of the royal families of Europe, who regularly sacrificed sons and daughters in marriage alliances, in futile endeavours to maintain peace within the territory of what became known as the "Holy Roman Empire". In its third and final stage, what is left of Rome, is represented by the ten toes of the image.

We cannot, the Bible says, know the exact time -- but we can see that what remains of the Roman empire has now existed its final much divided iron and clay "ten toe" stage, for several centuries. It is sometime "in the days of those Kings", that "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed ..... it shall stand for ever"! (Dan 2:44)

In chapters 7 & 8, we read about Daniel's own dreams and visions which foretell the same world history, but giving a lot more detail than the king's dream. In Daniel's first dream in Chapter 7, the single image was replaced by four great beasts, which tell us more about the same four world Empires. There was a lion with eagles wings, which of course, was Babylon. The lion was followed by a bear, which was Medo-Persia. Next came a leopard with four wings, and four heads. This was Greece, which was united as a single empire under Alexander, but divided into four after his death. And finally there was a beast which almost defied description.

It had teeth of iron, indicating its identity with the fourth empire of the kings image. It had claws of bronze, indicating that it stood on the ruins of the third kingdom of the king's image. And it had ten horns, which point us to the latter divided stages of the Roman empire.

It should not surprise us therefore that John's vision covers the same grand spread of future world history, as Daniel does. However, in John's day. Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece were already long gone. Rome was already on the scene. We are meant to see John's vision as "Daniel's book unsealed"! (Compare Dan 12:9 with Rev 5:5) It is about the future of the Roman empire, beginning in his own time, and reaching down to ours!

John uses beasts and dragons to portray this in much the same way as Daniel does. But a single beast is inadequate to convey all the details revealed to John about this fourth world empire. So John has THREE!

1. His first is a DRAGON, which is easily recognisable as Pagan Rome.
2. His second is the BEAST OF THE SEA. This is Rome in the "christian" phase -- which
    replaced paganism from the 4th century onwards. Of course we know that doesn't mean
    REAL Christianity! It refers to the apostate politically oriented counterfeit which came into
    being under Constantine. John's mention that this beast is "like a leopard, with feet like a
    bear, and a mouth like a lion", reminds us that the Roman empire is built on a foundation
    of cultural influences inherited from Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece.
3. His third is another BEAST. This one has two horns like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon.
    It is easily recognisable as the Papal empire which runs parallel to the main political systems,
    using the name of Christianity, but promoting teachings inherited from its "dragon" predecessor!

Mainstream tradition too easily identifies the serpent of Rev 12:9 with that other well known one in the Garden of Eden! However Genesis doesn't mention a dragon at all! That in itself is a caution! Rev 12:9 carefully mentions BOTH! For "Bereans" (Acts 17:11) THAT is meant to be a CLUE!

If we exercise just little more diligence in this study, we can easily find several other "serpents" in the OT! And we can also find a "dragon"!

1. Isaiah 27:1 (KJV) speaks of one of these other serpents. Isaiah's is also "crooked serpent",
    (a veiled reference to the Nile) and in the same verse he also mentions a dragon!

2. Jeremiah 51:34 describes Babylon as "like a dragon" (KJV & NEB) or like a "serpent" (NIV).

3. Ezekiel 29:3 also mentions a Dragon (but not a serpent) which is positively identified as Egypt.

On the simple face of it, these three references are much more likely candidates than Genesis to aid in the identification of "that old serpent the dragon" in Rev 12. We are looking for the "spiritual successor" of Egypt and Babylon! That of course, is easily recognised as the ROMAN empire of John's day.

If we look closely we shall find that in John's vision, the story of MOSES was being repeated in a new historical setting!

The "sun, moon and stars" can be identified with Josephs dream. (Gen 37:9-10) In Rev 12, it is easy to transfer the meaning, first to the Jewish nation in Egypt, where the rest of the symbol comes from, and then for the purpose of John's vision, to the Church. The source of persecution was now the Pagan Roman Empire (which was now concealed under the symbol formerly used to describe Egypt.) The Roman "Dragon" was attempting to devour the "child" to which the woman (Church) was struggling to give birth. In Egypt, Moses was brought under the protection of the "god". (In Egypt, Pharaoh was both a king and a God!) In Rome, eventually, the "man child" (the church) gained the protection of the Roman Dragon Emperor. (who was also a "god", living in the "heavens" of the Roman Empire.) Can you see it? Receive it if you will.

The bottom line is that the serpent in Rev 12 is not to be understood as a literal serpent -- and certainly not as a literal "fallen angel" masquerading as a serpent in Genesis! That is certainly an ancient tradition within the mainstream Church, but it places a very forced literal interpretation on something which in John's Apocalypse, is plainly a symbol for something else! And THAT is a very dangerous way of dealing with the Scriptures!

"That old serpent, the dragon" stands as a symbol of the persecuting Roman empire! Most likely, the symbol has been drawn from the OT to carefully hide the identity of ROME from unsympathetic "official Roman Dragon eyes". In a time of regular severe persecution, this has been done for the protection of believers. And it has been left for the KINGS of THE AGE TO COME, to search it out! (Prov 25:2 RSV)