Peter Leithart notices that the Revelation uses the word “sign” (semeion) seven times, all between chapters 12 and 19.
This is John’s second book of signs, matching the early part of his gospel. Through these seven signs, new creation arrives.
There are three overlapping variations in the passages that deal with signs – the grammatical number (singular or plural), the location of the sign, and the one who signifies.
The grammatical number alternates: S-S-P-P-S-P-P. This corresponds exactly to the location of the sign. Each time the semeion appears in the singular, the sign is qualified by the phrase “in heaven” (12:1, 3; 15:1). The plural signs are explicitly or implicitly on earth. The land beast performs signs to deceive (13:13-14); the frog spirits perform signs to gather the kings of the oikoumene (16:14); the last reference to “signs” mentions the “false prophet who performed the signs” in the presence of the sea beast (19:20). As far as Revelation is concerned, we can formulate this principle: Heavenly signs are singular; earthly signs are plural.
More implicitly, the grammatical number and location of the sign also overlap with the performer of the sign. The signs in heaven are implicitly signs from God – a woman in labor, a dragon waiting to devour, seven angels with the seven last plagues. Earthly signs are performed by beasts or demons. We can formulate this additional principle: God signifies singularly; demonic signs are multiple.1Peter Leithart, Signs.
The “bracket” of chapters 12 to 19 is interesting, since this follows the removal of the saints from the city by martyrdom in chapter 11.2See Sin City – 3 and Sin City – 2. From 12-20, the subject is the response of the Jewish rulers to the testimony of the saints, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem, the Pharisees and Herods, and their Temple.
The seven uses of word seem to be distributed randomly, but as is usual with biblical ordering, once isolated from the text it can be seen that they follow the Bible Matrix, a progression which can be traced back to the Creation week. Chris Wooldridge noticed this in the order, and I have added some commentary which draws heavily on the works of James Jordan.
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1)
“The Woman,” the corporate Eve, is finally giving birth to a son who is not a Cain. The lunar feasts are coming to an end and an new day is about to dawn. The sun, moon and stars will bow down to her child, the firstborn of Rachel, the young man put in charge of the food (Genesis takes us from Adam to Joseph).
“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon…” (Revelation 12:3)
When a lie founds a culture, the serpent takes on flesh, grows legs, and becomes a dragon, a murderer like Cain, a king like Pharaoh and Herod. The dragon is “sin crouching at the door” and ready to slay the lamb. The first century began with the murder of the children of Israel and led to the martyrdom of the sons of God.
“[The beast from the Land] performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth” (Revelation 13:13)
The action moves from heaven to earth, or more correctly, to the Land, pictured in the Bronze Altar. Fire coming down from heaven mimics Elijah’s miracle, but in this case it is the Herodian priests of Baal who are winning the day. The image of the beast is a reference to the worship of the golden calf, which supposedly came out of the fire. Like Jannes and Jambres in Egypt, the Herodian priests manufactured false signs to counter the true ones and reassert their authority. As with the end of Saul and the anointing of David, this fire was an evil spirit from the Lord, bringing with it the same kind of strong delusion, a pride which led to the fall of the Davidic kingdom. The overall theme here is the offering of strange fire which lead to the destruction of the Aaronic priesthood (Leviticus 10:1).
“And by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on [the Land]” (Revelation 13:14)
As it was with the first two heavenly signs, the second two earthly uses of the word are paired as legal witnesses. The Sea Beast is the fourth empire, and it appears here as Day 4. The relationship between the Land Beast and Sea Beast, Jew and Gentile, priesthood and kingdom, is the same as that between Balaam and Balak, which was the “corporate” outcome of the sin with the golden calf.
“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues” (Revelation 15:1)
At Ascension, the Land Beast represents unfaithful Priesthood. At Testing, the Sea Beast is a “proselyte” Kingdom, falsely converted and turned against the Church. This leads to another heavenly sign, and it is related to the Prophetic testimony of the two witnesses, the ministries of Moses and Elijah combined in the testimony of Jesus at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). The fact that this sign is singular is ironic on two counts. Firstly, Maturity is about multiplication, and the plurality of legal witness required to execute judgment. Of course, the plurality of these Egyptian swarms is contained in the single sign.
“For [the frogs] are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 16:14)
“And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image.” (Revelation 19:20)
The final use of the word refers back to the strange fire at Ascension. Instead of Shekinah filling the house, as it did at the completion of the Tabernacle, the Herods’ beautiful Temple—spiritually a golden calf—is torched and destroyed completely. The kingly Beast and priestly False Prophet, Balak and Balaam, are thrown into a lake of fire, a bronze sea. The conspiracy between Rome and the Herods was ended forever. The era of the four empires came to an end and the empire of Christ began in earnest.
Read more in Moses and the Revelation.
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