John has covered his second cycle of events (chapters 8 – 9) and the Interlude (chapters 10 – 11). Now comes a focused part on Satan, the two beasts, and the destruction they bring (chapters 12 – 14).
In 12:1-6 we see the Messianic community (a woman) giving birth to Jesus, and the appearance of the red dragon. The woman flees to the wilderness where she is protected by God for 1,260 days.
If I could skip our passage, we would come to vv 13 – 17, and the plot continues uninterrupted (which should be a clue). The woman flies to the wilderness. The dragon spews out a river to try and drown the woman, but the earth opens its mouth and swallows the river. The enraged dragon heads off to wage war against the woman’s offspring, “those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (NIV).
So what is going on in vv 7 – 12? It feels like it interrupts the sequence, but look how v 7 begins. “Then” (NIV [a change from “and” in the NIV 1984], HCSB, NET, NLT, TEV). Others write, “and” (NASB, KJV, NJB has “and now”), and the RSV/ESV has “now” (changed to “and” in the NRSV”).
The use of “then” requires a sequence, doesn’t it? Even allowing for the nature of apocalyptic literature and how it can give us snapshots of images and events not necessarily connected, the use of “then” requires temporal sequence. And to the English mind, a series of descriptions are read by default as sequential. This makes interpretation more difficult.
Dad, in his commentary, says that the verses depict “an all-out attempt on the part of Satan to regain his position in the presence of God. It does not refer back to the original expulsion of Satan from heaven but is the cosmic prelude to the consummation, an ‘end-time” event’” ( 235). But does this happen after the woman fled (v 6), and before Satan pursued the woman and her “male child” (v 13)? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
What am I getting at? The Greek phrase the NIV translates as “then” is actually καὶ ἐγένετο. This is a common phrase, and my point is that it does not always indicate strict sequence. That is why “and” or “now” is a better translation.
BDAG comments, “f. καὶ ἐγένετο (ἐγένετο δέ) periphrastic like וַיְהִי with וַ foll. to indicate the progress of the narrative … Mt 9:10; Mk 2:15 v.l.; Lk 2:15; 5:1, 12, 17; 8:1, 22; 14:1.... The phrase is usually omitted in translation; older versions transl. it came to pass.” The latter translation has always been my default translation of the phrase. It simply means that something happened, in both the Greek and the Hebrew. There is no necessary sequence.
Beale comments, “Verses 7–12 are a narration of the defeat of the devil and his angels by Michael and his angels in heavenly combat. The actions described are the heavenly counterpart of earthly events recorded in vv 1–6. Beale’s understanding especially requires us to see that καὶ ἐγένετο does not indicate sequence, since in this case it is depicting events parallel to those in the preceding paragraph. Certainly, John may have seen them sequentially, but their meaning is not sequential.
Connectives can be difficult things to translate, but it is important to not make them say more than they actually do. Satan desires to destroy the church. God is protecting the offspring of the woman, and part of that protection “in the wilderness” is Satan’s heavenly defeat at the hands of Michael. Satan knows his end is near, and his hatred grows as he tries all the harder to destroy that which is so precious to God.
Satan is truly a voracious lion with an insatiable appetite, and no matter how many victories he enjoys in the short term, he is never satisfied and will eventually be destroyed. Come Lord Jesus!William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.