Celebrating Michael and his angels in Revelation 12

Tomorrow is the feast of Michael and All Angels, which some will be celebrating at the weekend, and the key lectionary reading for the feast is Rev 12.7–12. Although the festival focusses on Michael, everything about this passages actually focusses away from Michael and points us to the victory of God and the lamb—even Michael’s name! This is what I wrote in my Tyndale Commentary, as an introduction to chapter 12, comments on the particular verses, and a theological conclusion to the whole chapter.

We now come to what commentators universally agree is the central and pivotal chapter in the book. Although this chapter is not styled as an interlude to a series in way chapters 7 and 10–11 are, it stands out as distinctive in style and language. A decisive break with the previous narrative is marked by the opening comment, not ‘And I saw…’ but ‘And a great sign appeared in heaven…’

The shape of this chapter and the one that follows are also distinctive. Together, Rev. 12–13 form the longest continuous narrative within the whole book. But Rev. 12 itself has perhaps the clearest structure of any section, following into four interconnected parts:

opening narrative about the woman, the child and the dragon (vv. 1–6)
short narrative about war in heaven (vv. 7–9)
poetic hymn of praise (vv. 10–12)
resumption of the opening narrative of woman, child and dragon (vv. 13–17)
As we shall see, sections 2 and 3 are epexegetical of each preceding section, that is, they function to explain what has gone before, until  the original narrative is resumed after the hymn has made clear what this whole episode is about. And explanation is needed because of the unusual nature of the main narrative in 1–6 and 13–17, which contains many ideas that are not found in the Old Testament nor earlier in Revelation. We can recognize the characters easily enough – the woman as the people of God awaiting deliverance, the dragon as ‘that ancient serpent called the devil’, the child who is the anointed king in Psalm 2, Michael the great angelic prince of Israel – but the plot is strange to us.

However, it would not have been strange to John nor to his audience. It has clear connections to a myth that was widely circulated from the third century BC to the second century AD in a variety of forms, the best known being the story of Leto, Python and Apollo. Python, a huge dragon, was warned by an oracle that he would be destroyed by one of Leto’s children. Leto was a lover of Zeus who was married to Hera. When Hera learned that Leto was pregnant, she banished her; Leto gave birth to her twins, Artemis and Apollo, on the island of Delos (about 40 miles (70 km) due West of Patmos). Python pursued her in order to destroy her offspring, but she was carried away by Aquilo (Latin for the north wind) and protected by Poseidon with waves. When four days old, Apollo hunted down Python and killed him with arrows (both Apollo and Artemis were archers). [This is a summary of the version recorded by the Latin author Hyginus in his collection of mythology Fabulae (no. 140). Hyginus (ca. 64 BC to AD 17) was a freedman of Augustus and the superintendent of the library on the Palatine.] This story was used as imperial propaganda, particularly by Domitian, to portray the emperor as Apollo, the son of the gods and defeater of the chaos monster.

Tyndale NT Study group 2022: Ethics and moral transformation in the NT

The theme for the Tyndale Fellowship New Testament Study Group in 2022 is ‘Ethics and Moral Transformation in the New Testament’. It is taking place from Wednesday 22nd to Friday 24th June 2022 at High Leigh Conference Centre, Hertfordshire, south of Cambridge. Although we do not have joint sessions, we are in the same place … Continue Reading

Tyndale NT study group 2021: the later Pauline epistles

The Tyndale New Testament Study Group looking at the Later Pauline Epistles will be taking place online this year, from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th June. We have a great line-up of international speakers offering some fascinating papers, and the sessions will be timed to allow attendance from different time zones around the world. The cost … Continue Reading

Tyndale NT study group 2021: call for papers

The Tyndale New Testament Study Group is part of the Tyndale Fellowship for biblical and theological research, based at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and including evangelical scholars from all over the world. The 2021 NT Study Group will be meeting for an online conference from Wednesday 23 to Friday 25 June 2021. The timings of the sessions will be … Continue Reading

Tyndale NT Study Group 2020: theology in a world on the move

We have a fascinating line-up of papers for the 2020 NT Study Group which will be meeting with all the study groups for the interdisciplinary Quadrennial Tyndale Fellowship Conference at High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire from 

Monday 29th June to Wed 1st July 2020.

 Our theme this year (for all the groups together) is

Doing Theology in a World on the Move – Migration, Borders and Citizenship.

The Tyndale New Testament Study Group is part of the Tyndale Fellowship for biblical and theological research, based at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and including evangelical scholars from all over the world.

You can book your place at the conference through the Tyndale Fellowship website. There is an early bird discount until 31st January 2020. 

The full programme of papers is as follows:

Acts

Batanayi I. Manyika: Reading Acts 12 in the Shadow of Empire

Delano V. Palmer: Movement and Dispersion in the Book of Acts  

Miles Tradewell: Monarchy and Sacred Space Reimagined: Decentralisation and Internationalism in the Early Chapters of Acts?

What is Michael doing with his angels in Revelation 12?

This Sunday’s lectionary reading is from Rev 12.7–12 in celebration of the feast of Michael and All Angels. Although the festival focusses on Michael, everything about this passages actually focusses away from Michael and points us to the victory of God and the lamb—even Michael’s name! This is what I wrote in my Tyndale Commentary, as … Continue Reading

Tyndale NT Study Group 26–28 June 2019: Orality, writing and the formation of the canon

We have a fascinating line-up of papers for the NT Study Group this year focussing on orality, writing and the formation of the canon. Do come and join us to engage in some world-class scholarship! The Tyndale New Testament Study Group is part of the Tyndale Fellowship for biblical and theological research, based at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and including … Continue Reading

Preaching on Genesis 2 and Revelation 4

For those using the Revised Common Lectionary, the readings are Genesis 2.4b-9,15-25, Revelation 4 and Luke 8.22-25. The gospel reading is very short, and is set alongside two other significant readings that it might be odd to by-pass. I therefore share two reflections I have written on Genesis 2, and two on Revelation 4. The comments on Genesis … Continue Reading

Tyndale NT study group 2019: call for papers

The Tyndale New Testament Study Group is part of the Tyndale Fellowship for biblical and theological research, based at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and including evangelical scholars from all over the world.

The 2019 NT Study Group will be meeting at Tyndale House from 26th to 28th June 2018. Our theme this year is Writing, orality and the composition of the NT. We would welcome proposals of papers on any issue of scholarly debate on issues relating to this, including writing in ancient world as it affects the NT, memory theory and orality, and canonical composition and dating of NT documents. We are particularly interested to see the way that evangelical scholarship has contributed to this important subject. Alongside the main theme, there will also be space to hear papers on other issues in NT study as in previous years.