St. John, it seems, is having a little fun at the devil’s expense.
I am reviewing, yet again, Eugene Peterson’s exposition of Revelation Chapters 12 and 13 for tomorrow’s session. I have leaned on Peterson heavily throughout these lessons. His book, Reversed Thunder, is accessible and understandable, but dense. It is hard to sort of compress or distill his thought for tomorrow’s lesson. Every paragraph, every sentence, contains something illuminating, something worthwhile. For the moment, however, I want to repeat Peterson’s observations about the humor involved in this passage.
I’ve never seen any other writer pick this up or venture to say it aloud. On the surface, these chapters and the images they contain are horrifying. We’ve spoken in class about the imagined, biblicaly-ignorant, fourteen-year-old boy who happens onto these chapters in the school library and tries to imagine the beasts here described in the Steven Spielberg manner that he has gotten used to from watching the movies. He’d be terrified, of course.
But Peterson observes more closely, more soberly. The dragon in this picture-drama “appears a bit bedraggled. St. John, it seems, is having a little fun at the devil’s expense.” Reversed Thunder, Harper Collins, 1991 at page 122. Likewise, the beasts arising from sea and land appear ominous at first glance, but “there is an unmistakable touch of the ludicrous in St. John’s vision,” indeed, he “shows them as considerably shopworn. The old beasts have been around too long and are starting to lose their stuffing.” Id. At 123
Why is this so important? Because it is a part of the nature of the evil that is set against us. Yes, it is fearsome, but it is also tired, frustrated, defeated and counterfeit. One may think even of Wile E. Coyote
or, even Snidley Whiplash:
These beasts can be figured out; they can be seen through. They are, finally, paper tigers. Here, again, is Peterson:
. . . we are opposed by great power and deception. All the same, a lot of it is sheer bluff, and the caricaturing visions reduce the satanic trinity [dragon, sea beast, land beast] from what it puffs itself up to be, to what it merely is. This is not supernatural power before which we are helpless; it is more like paranatural power that we are not used to . . .
Id at 128.