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September 13, 2023

The Lamb and the Dragon: Revelation’s Plot & Main Characters

By Blake Zimmerman

Warning: This blog is a deep dive and not for the faint of heart. We’re going to talk about Genesis, the beasts, Babylon, Frozen, and the new creation.

Are you ready? Here we go.

In the last post, we explored the nature of Revelation as the conclusion to the grand drama of the biblical story. If you missed it, you can go back and read it here.

The big idea is pretty simple: If Revelation assumes we’re familiar with the rest of the Bible (and it does), then we better get familiar with the rest of the Bible.

Similar to how The Avengers: Endgame functioned in the Marvel movie saga, John (the author of Revelation) doesn’t attempt to come up with a new storyline. He writes the last chapter of a very old storyline. What’s more, he doesn’t do away with old characters and replace them with new ones, nor does he write a fresh plot to fit the fancy of his readers.

No, John’s apocalyptic finale that ends in a Garden City (Rev. 21-22) finds its origins in the oldest of stories—one about a man, a woman, a talking snake, and a Garden.

 Revelation, in other words, begins in Genesis, and so must we.

It All Begins in a Garden.

I know you know the story, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say that Genesis 1-3 sets the trajectory for the biblical plot as well as introduces us to its main characters. In case you don’t know the story, here is the Blake Note’s version: Things between God and humans are amazing–for two pages.

Enter the serpent.

Introduced as a crafty creature, this mysterious figure, without any backstory from the author, deceives Eve into eating from the off-limits tree. She hands the apple to Adam, Adam eats, and they experience shame for the first time. It was that easy.

As a result, sin is unleashed into God’s good creation, inserting itself into every relationship. But not without hope. Instead of hitting a giant red “RESET” button on his creation project, God doubles down and puts into motion a plot that continues all the way to the book of Revelation.

We’ll pick the story up in Genesis 3v14-15 (NIV):

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life. 

15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring a and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

The Main Characters

Every good story has two types of main characters: a protagonist (“good guy”) and an antagonist (“bad guy”). The protagonist is the individual moving the story forward to its resolution. The antagonist, on the other hand – you guessed it – opposes this movement towards resolution. Keep that in mind as you read on.

Did you catch the protagonist and antagonist in Genesis 3v14-15? The key is in that last part of verse 15. Despite all the hostility between the various parties, God says it will be the offspring of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent. In this one verse we have the Bible’s protagonist, antagonist, and plot.

Protagonist: Offspring of the woman
Antagonist: Serpent
Plot: Offspring of the woman will defeat the serpent

(Note: “The LORD God” could also be listed here as the protagonist. But it’s interesting that he doesn’t in this moment crush the head of the serpent himself. He has, from the beginning, chosen to work through human partners, which is what the offspring of the woman is all about.)

After many failed auditions for the role of “offspring of the woman,” a man named Jesus of Nazareth finally gets the part. He battles the serpent in the wilderness (Matt. 4v1-11) and then “crushes his head” on the cross through his substitutionary death.

In multiple places the authors of the New Testament explicitly connect the defeat of Satan to the death of Jesus (John 12v31; Col. 2v13-15). I can’t emphasize enough here the nature of Jesus’ victory, in other words how he wins.

The protagonist beats the antagonist, ironically, by laying down his life.

In the end, sacrificial love wins. It’s a complete reversal of the way we expect epic battles to go. (Today’s storytellers, however, are picking up on the fact that sacrificial love really is the most moving and powerful force in the universe. Think of Frozen’s ending or even the ending of the Harry Potter series.)

Jesus conquers like a lion, but he does so by offering himself as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world.

Hmm, a lion and a lamb… where have I heard that before? Oh, that’s right, Revelation 5v5-6:

“And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”

The Lamb vs. The Dragon

The two main characters introduced in Genesis 3 are still the main characters in the book of Revelation, as is the plot. Same play, just a different act. Same characters, but now in new costumes.

The serpent is now the Dragon.

The offspring of the woman is now the Lamb.

Even though the Dragon has been dealt the decisive blow on the cross, he is still at war the with Lamb by waging war against the Lamb’s followers (this is literally what the entire book of Revelation is about).

Which means every human being must choose between the “way of the Dragon” and the “way of the Lamb.” There is no neutrality in this battle.

For those that follow the Lamb, they are subject to the same suffering the Lamb experienced. But like the Lamb, their faithful suffering becomes the means by which they conquer. If you go back and read each of the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3), you’ll see the theme of conquering emerge, but you’ll also see the call to conquer is a call to Lamb-like faithfulness. Those that belong to the Lamb follow in his footsteps—the way of the Lamb.

As Revelation 12v9 puts it: “And they (those that follow the Lamb) have conquered him (the Dragon) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

These faithful witnesses, whom we’ll call “Team Lamb,” are pursued by the Dragon and his two beasts, whom we’ll call “Team Dragon.”

Those on Team Dragon embody the way of the Dragon: destructive, anti-God power that spreads injustice on the earth. And this “way of the Dragon” culminates, interestingly, in a city John labels as “Babylon” (Rev. 17-18). This is something his readers would have been very familiar with.

Throughout the biblical story, Babylon is portrayed as the seductive city of man built on idolatry and injustice. It’s humanity’s attempt to build a kingdom on its own terms without a divine King. And it never goes well.

On our own we can only ever build Babylons.

Rome, Nazi Germany, North Korea, apartheid South Africa, we could list dozens, perhaps hundreds, of examples of modern-day Babylons. Each rejects God as its ruler and commits acts of injustice against other human beings.

This is where the rubber meets the road for the seven churches to whom John wrote, as well as for you and me: The urgent discipleship call of the book of Revelation is for the Church, the faithful witnesses—those that belong to Team Lamb—to reject the satanic lullaby of Babylon and embody the way of the Lamb.

Revelation 18v2-5:

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk
the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.

The New Jerusalem

A couple chapters later we see, with John, the glorious New Jerusalem descend upon the earth (Rev. 21). It’s nothing less than a collision of heaven with earth, and the impact of this collision is a new creation.

The Dragon

Satan

Team Dragon

Two Beasts
Way of the Dragon

Idolatry and Injustice

The Dragon’s City

Babylon

The Lamb

Jesus

Team Lamb

Faithful Witnesses (Church)

Way of the Lamb

Sacrificial Faithfulness

The Lamb’s City

New Jerusalem

Contrasted with Babylon, the New Jerusalem is the glorious city of God built on justice and righteousness. It’s the city humanity has longed for, the city Abraham looked for, the city whose “designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11v9-10).

In the end, the Dragon and the beasts will be thrown into a lake-of-fire-prison. The key will be thrown away, and no longer will they be able to torment humanity.

Followers of the Lamb, on the other hand, will dwell with the Lamb forever, in a city so full of the Lamb’s presence that he himself will be its light (Rev. 21v23). God and humanity, once more, are reunited in a Garden (City).

And unlike Genesis 3, no voice will be in our ear other than the one who loves us.

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

 Check out our podcast episode on approaching the book of Revelation

 

 

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