CHAPTERS 12 AND 13 of the Revelation to John mark the beginning of an incredible drama, of a struggle of cosmic proportions. There are three dramatis personae: the woman, the dragon, and the child. All three are well-known images in apocalyptic writing and always portray specific realities, for those who write as well as for those who read. As he does so often, John reaches back again into the history of Israel to interpret the situation of the church in the world of his day. The powerful paradigm of the Exodus ... is taken a step farther (Revelation 12:l-2a):
And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child...
The woman is the image of the people of God, the Messianic community out of which the Messiah is to be born, and she faces, alone and defenseless "a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads" (12:3). The very intent of the description seems to be that we should not try to picture this monster, so horrific is he. On his heads are symbols of royalty and dominion.
In his monstrous hellish power and malignity, the monster arrogates to himself power we cannot even imagine. As demonstration of this power and his willingness to use it, and surely to crumble any resistance beforehand, "his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth" (12:4).
I can think of three reasons why the dragon sets out to kill the child. The first reason lies in the fact that the woman is pregnant, for that alone is an indication that the dragon has lost before the battle has truly begun. Almost from the very beginning the biblical writers knew the contrast and tension between barrenness and the gift of having children.