A Literary Pattern

The previous blog was a short summary of the debate among biblical scholars regarding the identity of Michael. In this blog, I would like to explore some fresh evidence regarding the identity of Michael drawn from a literary pattern in Revelation. I’ve noticed that whenever the author of Revelation introduces a new character, it is as if he hits a pause button on the vision and gives a visual description of the new character, followed by a glimpse of the character’s back story. John then continues the vision. including the new character into the narrative. A few illustrations should suffice to establish the pattern. In Revelation 1, the voice of a son of man breaks into John’s self-introduction (Rev 1:9-11). When John turns to see who is speaking, he sees a glorious image of the heavenly Christ (1:12-16) followed by a brief back story (1:17-18). The vision then continues with messages from the same Jesus to the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22).

In Revelation 13, the vision of the dragon and the remnant (12:17) adds a beast from the sea and a beast from the earth. The beast from the sea (Rev 13:1-10) gets a visual description (13:1-2) followed by a considerable back story (13:3-7). The sea beast’s actions within the vision follow in 13:8-10 and are also mentioned in passing in 13:12-18. The beast from the earth (Rev 13:11-18) gets a very brief visual description (“two horns like a lamb”—13:11b) followed by an equally brief back story (“it spoke like a dragon”—13:11c). The beast from the earth then plays a major role in the rest of the vision (13:12-18). What adds to the picture in chapter 13 is that the visual descriptions and back stories are told in past tenses (13:1-7, 11), while the ensuing visionary sequences are in present and future tenses (13:8-10, 12-18). So the distinction in these literary elements seems quite clear.

I recently realized that the above literary pattern had implications for the identity of Michael in Revelation 12:7. Michael is the fourth of four new characters that are introduced in Revelation 12. The first of these new characters is the woman of 12:1-2. It is quite evident that the literary pattern applies to her. When the woman appears, John hits the “pause button” and offers a distinct visual description of her in verse 1 (“And a great sign was seen in heaven, a woman dressed with the sun. The moon was under her feet and upon her head was a victory crown of twelve stars”, my translation). This is followed by her back story in verse 2 (“She was pregnant and she cried out in pain as she labored to give birth”). Then a new character appears in verse 3 of the vision, a seven-headed, ten-crowned dragon (“And another sign was seen in heaven; a great, fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven crowns”). This is followed by the dragon’s back story (“His tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth in order that when her child was born, he might eat it up”). Up until now, Revelation 12 follows the literary pattern with detailed precision.

A third new character is introduced in Revelation 12:5. It is the male child. But in contrast to the woman and the dragon, there is no visual description of the male child at all. And instead of a back story, there is mention of the child’s future (“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is about to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne”). The most likely reason for this shift is because the male child needs no introduction. He is clearly identified as Jesus by His birth and His ascension to heaven. So the male child has been in the story before, as the son of man in chapter 1 and the Lamb in chapter 5.

After noting the woman’s flight into the desert (Rev 12:6), the narrative moves to the war in heaven (12:7-8). The dragon, seen previously on earth (12:4), is now seen in heaven (12:7—“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels gathered to fight against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels also fought.”). The male child, snatched up to God in verse 5, is nowhere to be seen in this battle. Instead, a new character named Michael appears. He is not called an archangel here, but he is clearly commander of the angels in the heavenly conflict.

The awkward Greek of the verse (tou polemesai meta) mirrors the Greek (Theodotion) of Daniel 10:20, where Michael battles the satanic “prince” of Persia. As was the case with the male child, the narrative of Michael in Revelation 12:7 is missing the typical visual description and back story. The most likely explanation for this absence is that, like the male child, Michael is a character who has appeared in the story before. Who would that be? I would suggest the son of man in chapter 1, the Lamb in chapter 5, the male child earlier in this chapter, and Christ in 12:10. The great antagonist of Satan in Revelation 12 would be none other than Jesus Christ, from His birth as the male child (12:5), to His heavenly battle as leader of the angels, to His casting down of the dragon/Satan, to His enthronement in heaven (Rev 12:10).

2 thoughts on “A Literary Pattern

  1. Felipe Lemos

    That’s a good point, professor, since when we analyze the term Michael in other biblical texts, we rarely see the need for the authors to give some kind of additional explanation about his identity. And judging from the context of Revelation chapter 12, especially in relation to Daniel chapter 10, it is quite plausible to associate the figure of Michael with Jesus Christ and not with any specific archangel or angel.

    Translated with DeepL.com (free version)

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