Friday, May 26, 2006

Dragons in Dungeons

I said I wasn’t going to try to interpret the monsters of Revelation, and I still won’t go into any detail on that, but their very presence in the Book does say something about the world in which we live and God’s plan for our deliverance, so I ought to say something.

The dragon, that is, the devil, makes his first appearance in chapter 12, though this isn’t the first demonic presence we encounter. One of the early plagues (in chapter 9) was that of clouds of scorpion-like locusts released from the bottomless pit. This dungeon was ruled by the fallen angel Apollyon, the destroyer. But the dragon appeared, as we might expect, with the appearance of the Woman, whom he has hated ever since he was cursed in Eden. This Woman has several levels of meaning: the chosen of Israel, the Church, and the Mother of God, for in this vision she gives birth to Christ, whom the dragon tries (but fails) to devour.

OK, so the dragon lost against Christ; now he goes after the holy angels, but St Michael and his heavenly hosts defeat the dragon and his infernal minions and cast them down—to Earth, of all places! Why couldn’t the devil have been cast down to Pluto or Neptune? Then life on earth would have been a lot easier! Well, we got stuck with all Heaven’s castoffs. Having been defeated by Christ and the holy angels, the dragon then goes after the Woman, but he is frustrated in his attempt to destroy her. Therefore “the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (12:17), which means you and me, and all those who try to be faithful to the Lord. This is the battle in which we find ourselves until the final judgment.

The dragon then enlists the aid of the beast and the false prophet (another beast with the voice of a dragon), thus assembling a kind of unholy trinity with which to fight the True God and the saints. You can read the story to get all the action, but one more thing the unholy trinity does is release from their mouths “three foul spirits like frogs” (16:13), which description is an insult to frogs, but the very presence of these demonic spirits is an affront to all that is good.

We’ll see later in greater detail how the Lord wins the victory over all these raging monsters, but one curious detail ought to be noted here. In the heat of the battle an angel seizes the dragon, chains him up and tosses him into a deep dungeon for a thousand years, yet “after that he must be loosed for a while” (20:3). Here we come to a point where attempts at interpretation fail, but frankly, I don’t have any better ones. Nobody really knows what the thousand years means, in which the devil is sealed in the dungeon and the saints reign with Christ—after which time the devil is to be released to “deceive the nations.” Some say that the reign of Christ and the saints is the time of the Church, from his Resurrection till his return, but if the last 2000 years is the time when the devil is locked up, Heaven help us when he is released! It seems to me that the dragon has been deceiving the nations all along, so my guess would be that the thousand-year reign hasn’t even begun yet. I think it’s quite obvious that the dragon in his rage is still making war on the children of the Woman.

Perhaps those for whom this Book was originally intended had the interpretive keys for all the obscure symbols and allusions, but we do not. One thing that is clear, however, is that anyone who wants to follow Christ cannot claim neutrality in this cosmic clash, cannot hope to remain in placid security while the dragon and his other reptilian riff-raff are still at large. Several times in this Book we find calls for endurance amid persecutions, fidelity amid seductions, purity of faith and worship amid rampant idolatry and blasphemy.

We don’t need to figure out the details of the future scenarios, but we do need to be aware that we have to take sides, we have to choose for the Lamb of God, the King of kings, whose victory over dragons and beasts is assured by the witness of a bloody Cross and an empty tomb. Let us pray that the definitive chaining up of the dragon will happen soon, for the nations are thoroughly deceived. Let us long to hear that “loud voice in heaven, saying: ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down…they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb…’” (12:10-11).