“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” Revelation 12:3 (ESV)
So… this passage has a dragon. And honestly, images like this are part of the reason people often consider Revelation a book shrouded in mystery and general craziness. Because of that, I want to spend a few articles breaking down what I hope to be a beneficial approach to reading these images that will, again hopefully, help combat generations of negative stereotypes — an admittedly lofty goal.
However, before we really dive much into the text at all, let me give a little background. This chapter introduces a set of symbols John will develop for the next two chapters and then sprinkle throughout the rest of the letter. Like his other symbols, these rely heavily on Old Testament imagery, but they also reference “current events” these original readers would have readily picked up on. We’re not exposed to either of these in the same way, and that is a big part of why these images tend to appear strange to us.
In addition to this, John writes this section of Revelation like a story. In fact, it reads like an adventure tale or one of the Greek myths his original audience would have grown up hearing. Why take this approach? Because stories are powerful. This letter is showing us who Jesus is and what life will be like before and when He returns from many different angles, so we don’t miss it. Here, we’re given a very stylized picture to help solidify these truths because, again, stories resonate. I mean, look at how Jesus taught. How often did He use parables, which are stories, to communicate big truths? (That question is rhetorical, but the answer is… a lot!)
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien often referred to this concept as the “true myth.” That description can cause confusion and a knee-jerk reaction because we know Jesus is not a myth. What they were expressing, however, is that Jesus is the truth behind all our stories. He’s the real hero. He’s the ultimate romancer. He’s everything our hearts long for, even if we have never been able to put that into words. What John does in these next two chapters really hammers home that truth. The long-expected Savior came to be our… dragon-slayer.
That story is true in your life today, as well. Revelation gives us shocking images to draw our attention toward heavy realities. Your world is surrounded by these same realities. Brokenness, despair, deceit, hatred, frustration, anxiety, fear —there are dragons at every turn. Don’t lose heart, Jesus came to conquer destruction once and for all. He cares about whatever you’re facing because He cares about you. The hope and longing found in the stories of our hearts have a name: Jesus.
Until next week, live every day like it’s Christmas. God bless.
Bobby Upchurch is the pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Bonne Terre where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also an English teacher at Farmington High School. Bobby writes a weekly column for the Farmington Press opinion page. – Editor