If the world around us appears to be ‘going to hell in a handcart’ (to coin an expression), and yet we believe that God is in charge, it is reasonable to ask what this God is doing about this world? That is the question that John is repeatedly asking—as we can see by the way he structures what he writes. His visions move from a vivid account of the chaos of the world to equal vivid accounts of the serene drama of God’s throne in heaven, often by means of jolting transitions in the text. Revelation furnishes our imagination with images of the four horsemen, fiery mountains, stinging scorpions, hideous beasts and apocalyptic battles at Armageddon—but equally with myriads of angels, harpists seated on clouds, pearly gates, and a city paved with gold. Very often, the images in the second list offer an answer to the images in the first.
These verses come in what every commentator agrees is the central and pivotal passage in Revelation. The story of the woman clothed with the sun, pursued by a dragon and giving birth to a child is a strange one to our ears—because it is making use of a story (about Leto, Apollo and Python) with which we are not familiar. But this tale—of the birth of a divine warrior who, against the odds, defeats the chaos monster who was pursuing his mother in order to devour the hero at his birth (which you can read as Fable 140 here)—was well known to John and his readers, not least because Apollo’s sister, Artemis, was worshipped at the splendid temple in Ephesus. Just as political cartoonists do today, John dropped into the story the characters he was really interested in—the exiled people of God (the woman), Jesus (the male child), and Satan (the serpent-monster)—and used it to make his point. It is Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation to the throne of God which offers the ultimate answer to all the questions we have about how the world is and what God is doing about it.