Famed pastor and translator of The Message, Eugene Peterson, once
remarked that “the gospel is more political than anyone imagines, but in
ways that no one guesses.” And here Peterson is proven absolutely
John’s vision in chapter 12 directly challenges the Roman Imperial
Cult, and—by extension—the Roman government and their right to rule.
If you’re a history geek, you might recall that Apollo (god of reason
and light) was the “father” of Caesar Augustus. Caesar was the ‘son of
God’ by Apollo, just as Apollo was the ‘son of God’ by Zeus, chief of
the Roman pantheon. Apollo was conceived by Zeus and his human mother
Leto. As Leto was about to give birth, a serpentine monster named Python
waited for the boy to be born so he could swallow him up. Python was
the sinister monster of the deep, the archetypal source of chaos and
evil. But Zeus came to the rescue of Leo and Apollo, snatching them up
and carrying them to safety. When Apollo reached adulthood, he pursued
Python and killed him, brining light and order and reason to the world.
John re-tells this story in Revelation chapter 12; however, in John’s
version, the characters’ roles are reversed. Caesar/Rome are no longer
represented by Apollo, but by Python instead. Jesus is the true light of
the world, and all those who seek to squelch the light of the son of
God are enemies of the world and servants of evil.
This kind of seditious language was actually quite common within the
early church. They observed that the world around them was always making
claims about the greatness of this or that, and they felt compelled to
identify that their allegiance belonged to Christ and none other. There
was no room for compromise. No room for capitulation.
You were either on the side of Christ, or you were a serpent-sponsored power of chaos and evil.
Would that we understood that the faith of our ancestors was precisely this provocative and powerful.