A Revelation of Atonement
The book of Revelation may not be your first choice for remembering the passion of Jesus this Easter, but the story is there. In Revelation 12 John crafts a cosmic tale of a woman, child, and dragon all intertwined in the struggle of the ages. Though the tale drips in imagery familiar to the stories of the birth of Apollo, the battle between Horus and Set, and can even be visualized on Roman coins minted in honor of Domitia and her son, for Christians this cosmic battle is the story of the Messiah. There was a woman, clothed in the sun, resting her feet on the moon, and crowned with twelve stars, and she was suffering great pain in bringing forth her child. Guesses abound as to her identity. Is she Mary? Is she Israel crowned with twelve stars representing the twelve tribes? My answer: yes, and so much more. She’s the covenant people of God, including Israel and the Gentiles; those who are believers and followers of Jesus. She’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, with the weight of an entire history of prophecy, hope, and expectation on her shoulders. She’s also the Church, pursued by the dragon long after the child has been taken to be with God.
The child, the one who is to rule with an iron scepter (Ps 2), is the Messiah--not Apollo, Horus, or Caesar, but Jesus. The one who was born, hunted from birth, given over to death, and returned to the Father, despite the dragon’s best efforts.
The dragon, yes, that dragon. “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 12:9). He hungered to devour the child, and when he failed, he was cast upon the earth to take out his wrath and hunger upon the descendants of the woman, the church (Rev 12:17).
But in the midst of this apocryphal literature and cosmic battle is a hymn that lauds the victory of the cross.
Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short! (Rev 12:10-12)
Every Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus while we sing triumphant songs of the one who would die and rise for us. Yet here in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, we are reminded that he also died so that by his blood and the word of the testimony the dragon would be defeated. There’s no mention of the cross or penal substitutionary atonement theory here, but there is a revelation of atonement nonetheless. This is the story of Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice to overthrow evil, and this Easter season we would be wise to remember that the passion of the Christ was the dénouement of a cosmic battle. So brothers and sisters, hold on a little longer and endure the wrath of the one who knows his time is short. Hold fast to the faith and trust in he who conquered the dragon.