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Writer, theologian, musician Colin D. Smith shares thoughts on these topics and others.

Who Review: The Androids of Tara

Continuing the quest for the six segments of the Key to Time, the tracer takes the TARDIS to the idyllic, Earth-like planet of Tara, and a country on the verge of crowning a new king. At a designated hour, Prince Reynart must be ready to receive the crown, otherwise he will forfeit the throne to the next in line, his cousin, Count Grendel of Gracht. Grendel’s plan is to hold Reynart’s beloved Princess Strella captive to persuade him not to go through with the ceremony. When the TARDIS lands, Romana goes off to find the fourth segment while the Doctor catches up on some fishing. Romana quickly locates the fourth segment, but encounters a wild beast. She is rescued by Count Grendel, who offers her rest–in fact, he insists. Grendel observes the striking resemblance between Romana and the Princess Strella, and is convinced she must be an android. Romana narrowly avoids being cut up for parts, but ends up in Grendel’s prison along with Strella. Meanwhile, the Doctor has been captured by Reynart’s men and employed to repair an android they hope to use as a decoy to faciliate Reynart’s safe entry into the castle. But things go awry, Reynart is captured, and now the Doctor and Romana can’t leave until they deal with Grendel, and see Reynart installed as the rightful king of Tara.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This is the second story in a row from David Fisher, and unusual in that Romana finds the fourth segment of the “Key to Time” at the beginning. However, just as Romana tries to leave with it, she is captured, the Doctor is captured, and they spend the rest of the story trying not to get killed, and saving Prince Reynart and Princess Strella from the evil machinations of Count Grendel.

“The Androids of Tara” is a fairly solid story, unashamedly based on The Prisoner of Zenda, which tells of a prince imprisoned on the eve of his coronation, and the use of a double to impersonate him so the coronation can go ahead. Of course, in the case of the Doctor Who story, all the doubles are androids. In a lovely twist, skill in electronics and cybernetics is viewed as peasant work. Usually in sci-fi, such skills are reserved for the elites and the intellectuals.

It also gives Mary Tamm a lot of screen time since she takes on four roles. Not only does she have her regular part as the Doctor’s companion, Romana, but she also plays Princess Strella, and both Romana and Strella’s android counterparts. I have to say, the android acting in the story is quite good. Especially from Prince Reynart, who we probably see as an android more often than as a real person.

I’m afraid I can’t be quite as generous with regard to the “beast” that attacks Romana just as she retrieves the Key segment. A furry body suit and a solid “monster” mask are hardly going to convince anyone. But I supposed they did what they could with the money they had. To make matters worse, the man in the suit acts like a demented gorilla–I’m not exactly sure what he was trying to achieve.

The setting of the story is interesting. Tara seems to have a Renaissance feel to it, certainly with the castle and the costumes–possibly an homage to the original Zenda story? And yet they use laser arrows and electric swords, so there is a mix of old world style with new world technology.

Perhaps the highlight of the story is the sword fight in episode four between the Doctor and Count Grendel. The Doctor feigns stupidity to begin with, but soon proves himself to be the better swordsman in a battle that takes them beyond the courtroom, out onto the castle walkways over the moat, where the Doctor claims victory, and the Count swims away.

Some of the less-than-stellar moments include the imprisoned Reynart hitting a helmeted soldier with a manacle, and knocking him unconscious, which seems a little far-fetched. Also, when Grendel lays siege to the Doctor in the cottage, he knows the Doctor is unarmed, so why didn’t he send his men in? As it is, he gives the Doctor plenty of time to make good his escape by means of a back door cut by K-9. And then there’s the stunning inability to tell the difference between an android and a real person, most notably when Romana is mistaken for an android facsimile of Strella. Could they not tell by her body temperature, her pulse, her involuntary reflexes (e.g., swallowing), and her breathing that she was not an android? Or are their androids that complex and detailed? It’s also a little annoying that Romana keeps getting captured. She’s not that helpless!

All in all, despite its flaws, this is a good Who story. One to watch if you have the opportunity, but not a must-see.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:6

6 And his [the beast’s] mouth opened unto blasphemies toward God to blaspheme His name and his tabernacle, those dwelling in heaven.

We got a late start this time which is partly why we only managed to cover a single verse. The main reason we didn’t get far is because I started with an examination of “blasphemy.” John has told us that this beast has blasphemous names on his heads, and that he has been given a mouth to speak great, or haughty, and blasphemous things. Now in verse 6, the beast opens that mouth and out come blasphemies against God, His name, and His tabernacle. Most Christians have an idea of what blasphemy is, but I want to be sure we’re on the same page with what we mean.

The Greek word blasphēmia, where we get our English word, was originally a compound of the terms blax and phēmē, so the initial idea was that of lazy or careless (blax) speech (phēmē). Of course, words change their meaning over time, especially compound words which often take on a life of their own, such that the one word means something that only vaguely relates to its parts. A good Greek example is the word ekklēsia, which we commonly translate “church” or “assembly.” The word is made up of the words ek and kaleō, giving it a meaning along the lines of “called out.” While “the called out ones” is a nice Reformed way of referring to the church, the fact is the word ekklēsia quickly came to refer simply to an assembly, and then, by New Testament times, to the gathering of God’s people, the church. When the New Testament writers use the word ekklēsia, they are simply using the word for church, and are not making a theological statement regarding election. Perhaps we can use “pancake” as an English example. These were originally “cakes” made in a “pan.” By our time, however, the word “pancake” conjures up thoughts of IHOP, and warm flat cakes with butter or maple syrup drizzled over the top. They might be cooked in a pan, or on a griddle, or heated up in a microwave. We don’t give a second thought to whether or not they are strictly “cakes” as we understand that word, or how they were cooked.

The primary idea behind the Greek word blasphēmia is that of disrespect. It refers to speaking in a way that demeans or denigrates someone, especially in a religious sense, when God is the one being slandered, reviled, or put down. Here are some biblical examples of the use of the word blasphēmia, and the verb blasphēmeō:

  • 2 Kings 19:4 (in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament): Here the Lord will “revile” or “rebuke” the words of Rabshakeh, who was sent by the king of Assyria to mock the living God. The word “revile” translates blasphēmein in the Greek–“to blaspheme.”
  • 1 Maccabees 2:6: Not Scripture, but useful history. In this section, Mattathias sees “the blasphemies” being committed in Jerusalem. These blasphemies are the atrocities that came upon Jerusalem and the Jewish people as a result of the rise of Anitochus Epiphanes, just before the Jewish Revolt led by Judas Maccabeus. The atrocities included the defiling of the Temple, and leading the Jewish people to sacrifice to pagan gods, and adopt the king’s religion. Antiochus Epiphanes even used divine names of himself (Theos Epiphanēs–God Epiphanes–for example).
  • Daniel 3:29: Nebuchadnezzar decrees that anyone who speaks against (“blasphemes”) the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, will be torn limb from limb.
  • John 10:33: The Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy because, at least from their perspective, being a man he made himself God.

So “blasphemy” covers slandering, reviling, demeaning, and showing no respect. In John’s context, it also includes elevating oneself to the status of God, or putting God down and elevating oneself above Him, becoming God’s judge.

Someone asked whether “blasphemy” had a secular use, or if it was always used in a religious context. In class I wasn’t 100% certain, but I thought it might have had some secular use in terms of reviling or slandering other people. I’ve double-checked, and indeed there are instances of that use of the word in classical Greek literature. In fact, there are some New Testament examples. In Titus 3:2 Paul admonishes his reader to “speak evil of no-one,” or blaspheme no-one. Paul uses the verb again in Romans 3:8, referring to the “slanderous” accusation that he teaches that Christians should do evil so that good might come. Acts 13:45 speaks of the Jews “reviling” Paul out of jealousy.  So there is precedent for use of the term with regard to people. However, it does seem most of the time, the accusation of “blasphemy” is leveled against someone who reviles, slanders, or disrespects deity, or someone who assumes equality with, or elevates themselves above, the deity in question. Certainly, as the term has passed into English usage, it would be strange to talk about “blaspheming” another person. I think this is reflected in the English translations of those New Testament passages mentioned, where words like “revile” or “slander” are preferred over the literal “blaspheme.”

So, in Revelation 13:1, where John says the beast has seven heads, and upon those heads “blasphemous names,” we can assume these are names that either mock or slander God, or names that ascribe to the beast titles that rightly belong to God. The fact these names are on the beast’s head perhaps reflects the brazenness of his blasphemy. He wants the whole world to see his disrespect for God, and he doesn’t care about the consequences.

Continuing with 13:5, the passage not only says that the beast was given a mouth to speak blasphemies, but he was given authority “to act.” Some manuscripts say, “to make war,” which, given the context and what happens over the next few chapters, is not an unreasonable interpretation of “to act.” This authority to act, however, is not indefinite. The beast has 42 months, which is the same as the time, times, and half-a-time of Daniel 7:25. Given what we’ve said elsewhere about this time period, we understand the beast’s actions to last for the duration of the church age.

When the beast opens his mouth to speak these blasphemies in 13:6, John tells us his words have two principle targets: God–His name, that is, His very person and all He is, and God’s tabernacle, which John further defines as those who dwell in heaven. Is this a reference to martyred Christians? Some commentators think so, but I’m inclined to believe this refers to all believers. We’ve already seen an association between the Tabernacle/Temple and God’s people at the beginning of chapter 11 (see the notes). Also, since “those who dwell in heaven,” is a further elaboration on “tabernacle,” this gives the impression that it’s not just God’s tabernacle on earth that’s the target, but all those who tabernacle with God. However, I think the strongest argument in favor of “those who dwell in heaven” being a reference to all believers is the fact that it contrasts “those who dwell on the earth”–a phrase we’ve encountered more than once already (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10) in reference to unbelievers. These “earth-dwellers” are the objects of God’s judgment. So the “heaven-dwellers” are God’s people, whereas the “earth-dwellers” are not.

So the beast speaks blasphemies against God and against His people, the church. And it’s not that the church is divine such that to speak against the church is itself blasphemy, but the church is God’s people, God’s earthly representation. The church is made up of God’s adopted children. To revile God’s chosen people is to revile God Himself. This is how much God identifies with His people. And inasmuch as all that the beast does is only because God enables him, we can take comfort that the God who loves us, and who so closely aligns with us, has our best interest at heart, even in the midst of trial and persecution.

Lord willing, we’ll continue from 13:7 next time.

Who Review: The Stones of Blood

The 100th Doctor Who story finds the TARDIS crew tracking the third segment of the Key to Time to Earth. The tracer seems to think the segment is somewhere in an ancient stone circle, but as local surveyors Professor Rumford, and her colleague Vivien Fay, tell them, there are discrepancies in the records with regard to the number of stones that should be there. The tracer is unable to get a fix on the segment, so the Doctor and Romana decide to investigate further. What they discover, however, digs a little too deeply into things that certain locals would rather are left alone. Those locals make up a druidic cult that regularly holds sacrifices to the goddess Calliach in the midst of the stones. But the stones are not ordinary stones. The cult leader feeds them with blood, and they glow in response, as if they are alive. Is it possible that the stones are not of this world? Might that explain the strange indentations in the ground, and the confusion over how many stones should be in the circle? As the Doctor and Romana get closer to the truth of the cult and the stones, the more they put their lives in danger of powers that even the villagers couldn’t have imagined…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Not only is “The Stones of Blood” the centenary story, but it also broadcast during Doctor Who’s fifteenth anniversary week. Quite an achievement for a show that faced cancellation more than once in the Sixties. By November of 1978, it was a national institution with high ratings and widespread cultural recognition. And with Tom Baker in the leading role, it had never had a more iconic and enthusiastic advocate and spokesman. This was, indeed, a great time to be a Doctor Who fan.

The first TARDIS scene has the Doctor pointlessly recapping for Romana the premise of the “Key to Time” arc. Okay, so it’s not entirely pointless. He takes the opportunity to let her know about the threat of the Black Guardian, something he had been told not to mention. But really, this recap is for the sake of viewers who either forgot what the “Key to Time” is about, or are joining late. We haven’t met the Black Guardian yet, but as we will discover, his headgear of choice looks like it’s supposed to be some kind of crow or raven. I wonder if that has any bearing in the fact that cult leader Mr. Dufrese has a crow that spooks Romana? A fore-shadowing, perhaps?

The story starts with some kind of druidic ritual, rite, or ceremony being performed by people in robes in a stone circle at night. It all looks very Dennis Wheatley-Hammer Horror, including the use of blood, though we don’t see an actual sacrifice. I’m inclined to take this as an homage to the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era of the show; it’s certainly the kind of thing they would have done. And I think that’s part of what makes “Stones of Blood” the creepy, atmospheric story it is. But it’s not just another “Talons of Weng-Chiang.” Part of the story takes place in space–hyperspace, to be precise–where the Doctor is put on trial by the shapeless Megara. So the story shifts between the dark and mysterious, to a galactic Perry Mason, where the Doctor plays games with legal technicalities to buy time for Romana. It’s an odd combination, but somehow it works.

This is a great story of strong female leads. Indeed, there are few male parts in the story. I don’t doubt this was at least somewhat deliberate, given the fact the show often came under fire for it’s treatment of female characters. Without doubt, the Doctor’s previous companion, Leela, was an attempt at a feisty female warrior, who was the equal of any man in combat. The new companion, Romana, is the Doctor’s intellectual equal, perhaps even better, and would be the smartest person in most rooms simply by showing up. Thankfully, though, these characters are not just for show, or to satisfy a demographic; they have depth and range, too. They are good characters, and well played. Professor Rumford and Vivien Fay are excellently conceived and performed, strong and forthright without losing a feminine sensibility; they’re not just “men in dresses.”

There are some particular points of interest in this story. First, the episode one cliffhanger doesn’t appear to be repeated at the beginning of episode two. The second part picks up right where we left off. That’s highly unusual for Doctor Who. On the spaceship, the Doctor takes out his sonic screwdriver to open a door, but instead of zapping the door, he uses the end of the sonic screwdriver to physically break the seal that locks it! A nice twist. There’s a scene where a couple of people out camping encounter the stones and are killed by them. While you don’t see anything really gruesome, it is still quite gruesome. I’m surprised the censors let that pass.

The model spaceship in “Stones” is very good, however, the CSO model shots don’t really work well for me. If they had used film, that might have improved things, which is a shame because it really is well crafted. The same goes for the stones. They did a good job making them look stone-y, but once they start moving, they lose all sense of weight.

Probably the biggest surprise is what the third segment is. The story sets you up to think it’s one thing, but it isn’t. It’s quite cleverly done. And I’m not going to spoil it for you. 🙂

This story isn’t on the must-see list, but it is very good and worth your time. Especially if you’re missing the Gothic horror of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes days.

Who Review: The Pirate Planet

The quest for the six segments of the Key to Time continues. This time, the tracer takes the TARDIS crew to the planet Calufrax. The Doctor’s attempt to land fails, so Romana tries, and succeeds. The Doctor suspects something’s not right, and not simply because Romana succeeded where he failed. Calufrax is supposed to be cold and uninteresting, but the planet they land on is warm and thriving. Indeed, an announcement declares a new age of prosperity for the inhabitants. The people seem happy enough, though they live in fear of the Mentiads, strange robed people with powerful mental abilities who live under the planet’s surface. But as the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 soon discover in their quest for the the second segment, the planet holds a secret that even its inhabitants don’t know about. Only the planet’s ruler, the bombastic Captain, and his crew have any idea what’s going on. And the truth is more horrific than the Doctor could ever have imagined…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This is the first script submitted to Doctor Who by up-coming writer Douglas Adams. At the time, Adams’s radio play, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” had just been broadcast, and he was riding the wave of success from that. A second series was due, and a book adaptation. Nevertheless, as a life-long Doctor Who fan, he relished the opportunity to write for the show. What we have here is classic Douglas Adams: clever and witty, with characters that ride a fine line between real and parody. There’s a good story that comes to us in pieces but gradually forms a complete picture as the serial progresses.

The Captain is the bombastic pirate, pilot of the planet that hops around the galaxy devouring smaller planets, mining them for their minerals, then spitting out what’s left. His right-hand man, Mr. Fibuli, grovellingly submits to every command of the Captain. The two of them remind me of Hook and Mr. Smee from Peter Pan.  And then there’s the Captain’s “nurse,” who spends most of the story skulking in the background. Little do we realize how important she is to the plot until near the end. When we first encounter the Mentiads, they seem hostile, but the Doctor finds out they are very misunderstood. Indeed, they recognize that the Doctor shares their desire to bring down the Captain and stop his evil plan.

There’s not much I can fault with this story. Perhaps the biggest plot hole I can find is the fact that the planet Calufrax is the second segment of the Key to Time. So, if the Captain hadn’t destroyed it to mine it for minerals, the Doctor would have destroyed it to convert it back into the second segment. I suppose one could argue being the second segment of the Key to Time is better than being sucked dry and having one’s remains mounted for display. Either way, the planet was doomed.

What impresses me the most about “The Pirate Planet,” however is the sheer imagination of the story. Everything from the Captain’s robot parrot (that gets into a laser fight with K-9) to the real reason the planet needs to destroy all those planets and harvest their minerals.

A point of interest: The Doctor and Romana use jelly babies to break the ice with the residents of the planet. However when the Doctor leaves a trail of confectionery from his white paper bag to tempt a guard away from his hover car, the candies are clearly Licorice Allsorts, not jelly babies.

Also, when the Captain announces “a new golden age of prosperity,” he talks of there being “wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” This same phrase was used in the previous story, “The Ribos Operation.”

Must-see Who? Almost. Douglas Adams’s next Who story, “City of Death” certainly is. But this one is worth watching, and is one of the best freshman efforts of Who’s many writers to date. I wouldn’t quite call it essential, though. Others may differ. 🙂

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:3-5

3 And one of his heads was like [it was] wounded unto death, but the mortal wound was healed. And the whole land marveled before the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given the authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast saying, “Who is like the beast? And who is able to wage war against him?” 5 And a mouth was given to him speaking great and blasphemous things, and authority was given to him to act for forty-two months.

Last time, we read John’s account of the beast he saw rising up from the sea, and his description of this beast. He said the beast had ten horns and seven heads–we presume the ten horns were on the seven heads in some configuration. Exactly what that configuration might be is not at all relevant since this is a vision, so what the horns and heads symbolize is more important.

John goes on to tell us that one of the beast’s heads had a wound “unto death,” or a mortal wound. Some translations say the beast had “what seemed to be” a mortal wound. The Greek is a little awkward to render literally into English: “And one of his heads was like it was wounded unto death.” He uses the same particle for “like” that he uses when he says the beast had feet “like” a bear, and a mouth “like” a lion. I think the reason why that “like” is there is because the wound was healed, so while it looked to all intents and purposes as if the wound was fatal, it turned out not to be. I think we have to appreciate that John was not mistaking a mere flesh wound for something more serious. To John’s eyes, this wound ought to have killed the beast, but it didn’t–the wound healed. And the reason for this lies in the purpose of even mentioning this wound, which I think is twofold. First, it calls to mind Genesis 3:15, after the Fall, when God curses the serpent. He tells Satan’s representative that He will put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and their offspring too. The Lord tells the serpent that the woman’s offspring shall bruise his head, and the serpent will bruise his heel. Satan received a mortal blow on the cross, when Jesus defeated him through his death and resurrection. But, as we’ve already seen in the imagery between the woman and the dragon, while Satan is defeated, he is not done for yet. He will continue to be active, attempting to undermine the work of God and rob God of the worship and glory He is due, until the Lord returns. Second, the beast’s head receiving a fatal wound that is then healed parallels Christ’s death and resurrection. As we will see, this beast wants to be seen as a replacement for Christ, and so we will see him attempt to mirror the Lord in a number of ways, this being one of them.

All the earth marvels and wonders at this beast, and there is a sense of worship here that is made explicit in verse 4. They worship the dragon, because he’s the one who gives the beast his authority and power. But they also worship the beast himself, proclaiming, “Who is like the beast?” We recalled that the name Michael, the name of the heavenly being who fought the dragon in chapter 12, means “Who is like God?” This sounds like an attempt to draw attention away from God, and give His glory to the beast. The exclamation continues: “Who will wage war against him?” Michael waged war against the dragon, and the dragon was unable to defeat Michael. Again, the beast is stealing glory from the Lord.

It’s worth noting that while John says “the whole land” engages in this adoration of the beast, the coming verses indicate that not everyone was party to this. By “the whole land,” John means all those on earth who are not believers; those who are truly of the world, and not of the Lord. This distinction will be more explicit as we read on.

The beast is given a mouth to speak “great and blasphemous” things. Also authority is given to the beast to “act.” Some translations render the Greek here “haughty” or “boastful and blasphemous,” which, in context, is an appropriate translation of the rather broad word megas. The interesting point here is the use of the passive voice: a mouth was given, and authority was given. By whom? There are two possibilities:

  1. By the dragon/Satan. The dragon gave the beast its power, throne, and great authority, so it’s possible the dragon is now giving the beast the ability to speak boastful and blasphemous things, as well as the authority to act in some way (possibly to make war) for forty-two months. One has to wonder, however, why the dragon would limit the time frame of the beast’s power. Indeed, considering the time frame stated (forty-two months = 1,260 days = time, times, and half a time), it seems the beast’s activity is to last only until the Lord’s return. Which leads to the second possibility…
  2. The Lord. Since the dragon is not mentioned here as the one giving (as he was in 13:2), it’s likely this is a “divine passive.” This kind of passive is common throughout Scripture, where God’s activity is spoken in the passive voice (e.g., “And this was done…” “This was given to him…”). If God is the one giving voice and power to the beast, then this verse emphasizes God’s sovereign control over all things, including the persecution of His people. But it also reminds us that the beast’s time is limited, a fact the dragon knows all too well (12:12). Who is it that sets the times, and is the only one who knows when the end will come? Surely the precise duration of the “forty-two months” is God’s and God’s alone to determine.

The “great and blasphemous things” puts us in mind of Daniel 7, verses 8 and 25, where one of the fourth beast’s horns had a mouth that spoke “great things,” and that same beast “will speak words against the Most High… for a time, times, and half a time.” Again, there a strong fulfillment connection between John’s beast and the four beasts of Daniel.

Verse 5 raises the subject of blasphemy, which we’ve encountered before already in 13:1, speaking of the “blasphemous names” on the heads of the beast. I wanted to spend a little time exploring what the Bible says about blasphemy: what is it, and what does it mean in the context of the beast and Revelation? However, we ran out of time, so that discussion will have to wait until next time.

Who Review: The Ribos Operation

After leaving Leela and K-9 on Gallifrey, the Doctor and K-9 Mark II plan a vacation. But their plans are curtailed by an impromptu summons from the White Guardian. He has an important mission for the Doctor: retrieve the six segments of the Key to Time. It seems this key is very powerful, and in the right hands can restore balance to the universe. In the wrong hands, it can do untold evil. They Key’s power for good is needed, but its six segments are scattered throughout time and space. The White Guardian has chosen the Doctor to find all six segments and return the Key to him. As the Doctor prepares to leave, the White Guardian tells him he has given him a new companion to help, and to beware the Black Guardian–the White Guardian’s evil counterpart–who will no doubt want to take the Key from the Doctor.

Using a rod, called a “tracer”, to detect the segments, the Doctor and new companion Romanadvoratrelundar (Romana, for short) travel to the icy planet of Ribos. There they encounter a couple of dodgy salesmen who are trying to sell the relatively primitive planet to the Graff Vynda-K. The Graff is looking for a base planet from which he can build up an army to take back his home planet from his brother. They convince the Graff that Ribos is full of the rare mineral jethrik, and they show him some encased in the Ribos treasury as proof (planted there earlier, of course). When the Doctor and Romana visit the treasury, the tracer is drawn to the jethrik. However, the dubious pair take it back before the Doctor and Romana can get to it. And when the Graff calls the salesmen’s bluff, our TARDIS heroes are counted along with the conspirators. The Doctor and Romana need to get the jethrik and escape Ribos, or face the wrath of the Graff Vynda-K…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

For season sixteen, script editor Anthony Read and producer Graham Williams wanted to try something different: a series of stories connected by a unifying theme. Instead of the Doctor wandering aimlessly around space and time, they wanted to give him a purpose, a task to accomplish. They came up with the idea of the Key to Time, split into six segments, that the Doctor has to retrieve. Each of the season’s six stories would be devoted to finding a segment. This would mean each story could be self-contained, but would serve the overall story arc.

The idea of unifying the series around a theme is not bad, and we’ll see that happen again in Tom Baker’s final season (“The E-Space Trilogy” and “The Master Trilogy” in Seasons 18 and 19). I have my doubts about the whole “Key to Time” premise, though. It seems a bit flimsy. Why would the powerful White Guardian send the Doctor to gather these fragments? Couldn’t he do it himself? And why now? Of course, the whole venture will prove to be a waste of time in the end (see “The Armageddon Factor”), which only further undermines the premise. Nevertheless, it introduces us to Romana, and gives us another great Robert Holmes story to kick the season off.

“The Ribos Operation” presents us–or maybe just me–with another title issue (see “The Seeds of Doom” and “The Masque of Mandragora”). My instinct is to pronounce the name of the planet so it rhymes with “Why, boss?” It is, in fact, pronounced Ree-bos. So, there you have it for anyone else that was wondering. Probably just me. Moving on…

The story proper begins (after all the “Key to Time” setup with the White Guardian) with the introduction of Romana. She is a Time Lord (or Time Lady, I suppose), fresh from The Academy, with glowing exam scores and a lot of experiential naivete. In other words, she has a lot of book-knowledge, but she hasn’t set foot outside her own front door (so to speak). This forms the basis of her relationship with the Doctor. At first they clash because she’s a smarty-pants know-it-all, and the Doctor has been around the universe a few times, and understands the limits of book-knowledge. As time goes on, he will come to rely upon her smarts and her technical skill, and she will come to respect his wisdom and experience. But this is just the beginning, so sparks fly.

Being a Robert Holmes story, “Ribos” not only is well-written, with an engaging story, but it has interesting characters. There really isn’t a straight-up “good guy” in the story (aside from the TARDIS crew). Garron and Unstoffe are con men, and while Unstoffe appears to have a conscience, he’s not above lying to get what he wants, and he is easily impressed by Garron’s cunning. Garron is the quintessential shady dealer, but even he has a moment of moral indignation near the end. The closest thing we have to a “good guy” is Binro the Heretic, a wonderful creation who adds some great emotional depth to the story. Binro is an outcast, and considered wacko because he is convinced the stars are suns, that Ribos goes around its sun, and that there are other worlds like Ribos circling other suns. His brief but heart-felt friendship with Unstoffe is quite touching.

The Graff Vynda-K is the real villain of the piece. Garron and Unstoffe (played by Nigel Plaskitt, also famous for playing Hartley Hare and Tortoise in “Pipkins“) are just out to make a fast buck, but the Graff is bent on murderous revenge against his brother. His eventual demise at the hands of the Doctor is quite brutal and goes a bit against character for the Doctor. After all, the Doctor knew that what he did (spoilers!) would kill the Graff, but he did it anyway. And what a great name: The Graff Vynda-K! Where did Holmes come up with that one?

I like the fact that we have three different plans colliding in this story. The Doctor, Romana, and K-9 want the first segment to the Key to Time, which they suspect is the jethrik. Garron and Unstoffe want to make a lot of money by “selling” Ribos (it isn’t theirs to sell) to the Graff for a substantial sum, claiming it has vast, untapped supplies of precious jethrik. The Graff wants a planet to rule so he can build an army to fight his brother who usurped his throne on his home planet. Ribos appeals to him because of the supposed availability of jethrik, which he could use to fund his campaign. So all three parties have different reasons for being there, and all three want the jethrik for different reasons. This creates drama and tension, which makes for good storytelling.

The main weakness of the story is the shrivenzale, which is a large rubbery monster that walks the caverns, and is used to guard the treasury. Thankfully, while he provides the episode one cliffhanger, he is otherwise relatively inconsequential, though painful to watch.

I would consider most Robert Holmes stories essential viewing because they are usually well constructed, with three-dimensional characters and great dialog. “The Ribos Operation” is no exception to this, though it’s not quite a classic like “Ark in Space” or “The Talons of Weng Chiang.” So, maybe not essential Who, but very highly recommended, and well worth your time.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:1-2

12:17b/12:18 And he [the dragon] stood on the sand of the sea. 13:1 And I saw a beast rising up from the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and upon his horns ten diadems and upon his heads blasphemous names. 2 And the beast that I saw was similar to a leopard, and his feet like [those of] a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave to him his power and his throne and great authority.

We started our discussion picking up where we left off last time on the subject of the latter part of 12:17, which in the NA28 Greek New Testament is 12:18. There are two versions of this verse in the Greek manuscript evidence:

1: kai estathē epi tēn ammon tēs thalassēs

2: kai estathēn epi tēn ammon tēs thalassēs

The first line translates to: “And he stood upon the sand of the sea” (referring to the dragon from chapter 12). The second line translates to: “And I stood upon the sand of the sea” (referring to John). If you look closely at the two lines, you’ll see the only difference between them is the “n” (Greek letter nu) at the end of the second word. The manuscript evidence is split between the two verses, and both make sense. The first version follows from the description of the dragon chasing the woman, becoming enraged because the woman escaped, and now turning his attention to the woman’s seed. We’re about to see a beast rising up from the sea who is operating under the dragon’s authority, so it seems natural that the dragon would stand on the shore watching his minion rise. The second version goes with the start of chapter 13, where John says “I saw a beast rising up…” Since we see the beast from John’s first person perspective, it makes sense that the narrative would start with John standing on the beach.

In situations like this, it seems likely that someone copying the manuscript came across one reading and decided it was in error, so he corrected it to the other. But which is most likely? To read “he stood” and correct it to “I stood,” or vice versa? The majority of scholars and translators seem to think that “he stood” is a little more awkward, and given how 13:1 starts, a scribe would be more likely to correct “he” to “I” than the other way around. Following the text-critical principle of “the harder (i.e., most difficult or awkward, either linguistically or theologically) reading is often (though not always) original,” this speaks for “he” rather than “I.” And while the manuscript support is split, some of the manuscripts supporting “he” are quite important (e.g., p47, a third century papyrus document containing Revelation 9:10-17:2, and Codex Sinaiticus, a very important fourth century codex), which further tilts the balance in favor of “he”–at least for most scholars. Since this isn’t a theologically significant verse, I’m willing to accept the view of most translators. Also, the vision of the dragon standing on the shore, anticipating the coming of the beast, having just declared his intention to pursue the church, makes sense to me. Especially when we understand who this beast is, and what it will do.

John sees a beast rising up out of the sea. This is the first of two beasts we will meet in chapter 13. The second beast comes in verse 11, except that one rises up from the earth. There’s something significant about this, and we had a couple of suggestions as to why one comes from the sea and the other the earth. Perhaps the first is to do with some kind of political influence, while the second is more religious? Given what we’re told about these beasts, I think the answer is broader. The sea refers to foreign influence, especially since most foreign travel in John’s day would have been conducted by ship. Remember, Ephesus was a major sea port in Asia Minor, the region to which Revelation was originally written. Ephesus was probably John’s home base, too. In the first century, this region was under foreign rule, i.e., the Roman Empire. And this was an oppressive rule, especially for Christians. The second beast coming up from the earth, therefore, represents the local outworking of the first beast’s power. By local, I don’t mean just in terms of a town or city, but regional–provincial, even. As we know from the New Testament, the Romans set up ruling authorities in the regions they dominated to administer those areas on their behalf. These authorities, like King Herod in Judea, for example, had the appearance of power, but were really only puppets of their Roman overlords, which is why they were generally hated by the people they governed. We’ll consider this further when we get to verse 11. For now our attention is with the first beast.

He describes this beast as having ten horns, seven heads, and with ten diadems on the horns and “blasphemous names” on the heads. As we’ve already observed, the horn is a symbol of power, so a horn with a diadem, or crown, on it is symbolic of ruling power, some kind of powerful government. We’ll consider why there are ten horns in just a moment. The seven heads represent a fullness of authority (remember, seven is the number of completion or fullness), and on those heads are “blasphemous names.” (Don’t get hung up on how seven horns are divided among ten heads–this is a vision, so it matters more what these things represent, not how it all practically works.) The last time we saw the term “blasphemous” in Revelation was when the Lord wrote (via John) to the church in Smyrna about the insults thrown at them by people claiming to be Jews but are, in Christ’s words, a “synagogue of Satan.” We know that Satan is the accuser, and a slanderer. He is also a usurper of power, and one who operates by means of lies and deception. Notice that the blasphemous names are on the beasts heads. In 14:1, we will see the 144,000–those sealed by God in chapter 7 (i.e., the church)–with the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name on their foreheads. In 13:16, the mark, or name, of the beast is on the foreheads of his followers. Just as the Lord has His people, so Satan has his, marked in the same way. But the beast isn’t marked by who “owns” him, but by his character. He is a blasphemer, one who presents himself as the savior, a substitute Messiah, a false Christ. And I think what we see of him in chapter 13 bears this out. We’ll look more at the meaning and usage of “blasphemy” later in our study of this chapter.

Why are there ten horns on the beast? To answer this, we need to look at Daniel 7. Indeed, Daniel 7 is very much in the background of Revelation 13. Daniel has a vision of four beasts, and he describes each of the beasts. The fourth is very different to the others. This beast has ten horns, which 7:24 interprets as ten kingdoms. He goes on to say that this beast will rule for a time, times, and half a time (7:25), after which time judgment comes (7:26-27). This fits what we’ve seen in Revelation regarding the use of “time, times, and half a time.” Daniel’s ten kingdoms had meaning to Daniel in his day, though I’m not sure they mean the same thing to John, or to us. But that’s the beauty of symbols: the beast has ten heads recalling to us Daniel’s fourth beast, not necessarily to Daniel’s ten kingdoms. The specific meaning for Daniel in his day doesn’t have to be the same for John, or for us. John’s point is not that the ten kingdoms relate to us, but that this is a fulfillment of Daniel’s beast vision. But Daniel saw four beasts–what about the other three?

In Revelation 13:2, John continues his description of the beast. It is similar to, or bears resemblance to a leopard. If we flip back to Daniel 7:6, we see that this is how he describes the third beast he saw. John goes on to say that his beast has feet like a bear. Daniel’s second beast is like a bear. John says his beast has a mouth like a lion. Daniel says his first beast is like a lion. It seems fairly obvious that the beast John sees is an amalgamation of all four of Daniel’s beasts. To what end? To make the point that John’s beast is the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision, a vision that would have meant something to Daniel in his day about Babylon and the situation of the Jews in his time, but also pointed forward to something that was hazy to Daniel (Daniel 7:22; 26-27), but clear to John and to us in light of the gospel, and the revelation of Christ.

The beast is given his power, his throne, and great authority by the dragon. There is no doubt who is in control of this beast, and on behalf of whom the beast operates. Satan grants the beast all this power, rule, and authority, but only insofar as Satan can grant such things. God is still in control, and any power Satan has is only because it is given to him by God. And here is the message of hope: first, God is ultimately in control. But second, the beast–i.e., the ruling power on the earth–has a power derived from the dragon, Satan. And what happened to the dragon in chapter 12? He was cast down from the heavenlies, having been defeated by Christ on the cross, and unable to overcome Michael. In other words, the earthly authorities that oppress the church and persecute God’s people are in the control of one who has been defeated, and whose days are short. God’s people, on the other hand, while beaten and crushed by earthly authorities, are in the hands of the One who defeated the dragon. We have nothing to fear, for our Lord is victorious.

We finished up our time beginning a discussion on the nature of Satan. What kind of creature would keep going after having been defeated? Why wouldn’t he just give up, knowing he’s not going to win? Then there’s the broader question of how a being such as Satan could be created by a holy God. As Christians, we can’t understand Satan, and what makes him tick, because there is no love of God in him. Nor is there any sense of justice, mercy, or right. He is the poster boy of the rebellion against God. He is the very embodiment of hatred to God and all that is of God. It seems to me that he wouldn’t care that he had been defeated. He has no desire to be in the presence of the Lord, no desire for things of God, and no desire to turn to Jesus and be saved. Despite being conquered, it bring him joy and satisfaction to inflict whatever damage he can to God’s people. We know that’s futile because this world is not our ultimate home, and we are not so concerned with our lives that we would not be prepared to give them up for the sake of Christ. Satan doesn’t get that, just as we don’t get Satan.

As for how Satan can even exist as a creation of a good and holy God, I think there is an element of mystery there, along the lines of how the Trinity “works.” Yes, we can understand in principle the idea of one being consisting of three co-equal, co-eternal persons. But how that actually operates logistically is not something we can comprehend, because we are not trinitarian, and there is nothing trinitarian in the whole of creation. The fact is, Almighty God can indeed make a creature who hates Him and rebels against Him, just as He made us, knowing–indeed ordaining–that we would fall into sin and need a savior. How God is able to do this is not really the important question. The important question is why? And the reason given in Scripture is for His glory, to demonstrate the heights of His justice, and the depths of His grace and mercy. Satan is a foe we cannot overcome on our own. Indeed, without Christ, we are at Satan’s mercy, as we see every day in the news and in our interaction with the world. Without sin, we wouldn’t know God’s holiness and justice the way we do. And without sin, we wouldn’t know the grace and mercy of God the way we do.

We might pick up this discussion again next time. At the very least, we hope to continue in Revelation 13!

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

This popular song, now nearly 100 years old, is pretty much a standard in Western musical vocabulary. But have you ever stopped to think about the words? Don’t think about the happy-go-lucky child with his bottle of soapy water, skipping through the park merrily blowing bubbles into the air, watching them lift into the sky, or bounce on the grass.

Rather, think of the aspiring novelist receiving his 200th query rejection. The high school senior denied admittance to the last college on her list. The young man nursing a broken heart after yet another girl passes him by. This is a song about crushed dreams, and opportunities slipping through fingers. It’s the kind of song a worn out and weary songwriter would write when all his other songs have failed to gain an audience. The kind of song he writes when he has lost all hope of success. And, as irony would have it, the song goes on to be one of the most successful songs of the century.*

I guess in a weird kind of way, that’s the message of hope behind “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” Don’t give up on your dreams, because even your lament about dreams fading and dying could be the song that makes your dreams come true.

Here are the words:

I’m dreaming dreams,
I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew,
Their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning.

(Chorus)
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

When shadows creep,
When I’m asleep,
To lands of hope I stray.
Then at daybreak,
When I awake,
My bluebird flutters away.
Happiness new seemed so near me,
Happiness come forth and heal me.

(Chorus)
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

Here’s the song:

And if you want the sheet music, click HERE.

*I don’t know if the writers were down on their luck. In fact, my cursory research didn’t come up with anything regarding the story behind the song.

Who Review: The Invasion of Time

The Doctor is behaving very strangely. First he leaves Leela and K-9 in the TARDIS while he consults with a group of aliens. They then travel to Gallifrey, where the Doctor demands to see Chancellor Borusa, and claims the Presidency, which is his by right after the death of the last President-elect, Chancellor Goth (see “The Deadly Assassin”). He orders that the induction ceremony take place as soon as possible, and that his chambers be redecorated to his specifications. This includes lining the walls with lead. Things go from strange to stranger when the Doctor orders all aliens expelled from the Citadel, including Leela. She is forced out into the wastelands, an environment that is all too familiar to her. Then the Doctor orders K-9 to take down the transduction barrier that protects Gallifrey, and laughs when three aliens materialize to take over control of Gallifrey. Has the Doctor turned traitor? And if so, why? Is Leela’s loyalty in the Doctor, despite his actions, misplaced? Or is there more to the Doctor’s apparent insanity than meets the eye…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Invasion of Time” is credited to David Agnew, but there is no David Agnew. This was a pseudonym oft-used in the BBC when a script editor wrote a story. Since writer and script editor are two separate jobs, and it wasn’t permitted for one person to be credited for both on-screen, it was common practice for the script editor to use an assumed name as his writer credit. In this case, “David Agnew” is script editor Anthony Read and producer Graham Williams.

The premise of the story is good and original. The last time the Doctor was seen to be turning on his friends was in “The Evil of the Daleks.” In that story, the Second Doctor had a falling out with Jamie–though it was all part of a plan to trick his adversaries. Here, the Doctor needed to get Leela out of the way for her own good, which is why he ordered her to be banished. And, of course, the whole point of allowing the aliens to invade is to have them reveal themselves so K-9 can identify their home planet and beam them back home. The twist comes, however, when we learn at the end of episode four that the Vardan invasion was a ploy to lower Gallifreyan defenses to let the real invaders in: the Sontarans.

The appearance of the Sontarans was a genuine surprise. We hadn’t seen them since the Fourth Doctor’s first season story, “The Sontaran Experiment.” And my, haven’t they grown since then! They must have been eating their Weetabix, because they have developed eyelashes, and become quite tall. The problem with this is that the Sontarans are supposed to be a clone race, so these Sontarans should look like every other Sontaran. Not only that, but these Sontaran costumes are just not very good. The original 1975 costume was far superior. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the budget, or bad design, but whatever, it’s a bit of a let-down.

The last couple of episodes are essentially devoted to the Sontarans chasing people down corridors, and then chasing the Doctor and his friends around the TARDIS. I honestly don’t recall much plot going on in these final episodes, apart from Time Lady Rodan making a rather snazzy looking Demat Gun (a very powerful weapon forbidden by the Time Lords) that the Doctor uses to kill a Sontaran (which is itself a big surprise, given how much the Fourth Doctor hates guns and violence). The blast from the Demat Gun gives the Doctor amnesia concerning the events of this adventure, though I’m not entirely sure why that’s necessary. After all, that’s a very specific amnesia: not total, and not temporary. From a story perspective, if the Doctor is going to forget a certain event or story, there ought to be a reason. And I can’t think of a single one.

Leela is in her element working with the wasteland tribe to plan an attack on the Citadel. For one last time she gets to be the Sevateem warrior, firing arrows and throwing knives. It’s also kind of cool to see more of the TARDIS, including the swimming pool and the art gallery. But this does come off as padding to make what really is a four-part story into a six-parter.

And then we have Leela’s departure, which is simply lame. LAME. Louise Jameson, who played Leela, wanted her to be killed off, since that would be a fitting and noble exit for her character. In the end, the production team decided killing Leela would be too traumatic for the children in the audience. Instead, they contrived a romance between Leela and the Time Lord guard Andred, something that no-one would have seen coming. For all the screen time they have together, there’s not a moment when they spark, or seem to show any interest in each other aside from a mutual desire to stay alive. Would Leela seriously give up travelling with the Doctor to stay on Gallifrey with a guy she hardly knows? I don’t think so. K-9 stays on Gallifrey, too–again, for reasons not entirely clear. But never mind, somehow the Doctor has K-9 Mark II in a box ready to break out for next season!

As I said, this isn’t a bad idea for a Doctor Who story at all. Even bringing the Sontarans in as a double-twist is good. There’s just such a lot wrong with the costumes, the sets (the Doctor’s lead-lined door seems extremely flimsy), the acting (especially the extras), and the overall execution of the story. If anything, watch it for the first four episodes, but after that, feel free to wander off and make tea or check your email. You won’t miss much. If the Doctor can forget anything ever happened in this story, I’m sure we can too.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 12:13-17

13 And when the dragon saw that it had been thrown to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male [child]. 14 Yet two wings of a great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place where she is nourished there a time, and times, and half a time, away from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent threw from his mouth water like a river before the woman in order that it might make her [be] swept away by a river. 16 But the earth gave help to the woman and the earth opened its mouth and it swallowed the river that the dragon threw from its mouth. 17 And the dragon was enraged by the woman and departed to make war with the rest of her seed, those keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus.

Last time we read about the dragon being “cast down” to the earth after its humiliating defeat against Michael. As we discussed, it’s interesting that John does not call this a victory for Michael. I think the wording is deliberate, not to detract from where the victory truly lies: at the cross and and the empty tomb. The dragon (Satan) could not defeat Michael because Jesus had conquered Satan on the cross and at his resurrection. With the heavenly battle lost, and the saints of God secure in their Savior, the dragon’s attention turns to the place he has been thrown: the earth. He goes after the woman who had given birth to the male child (i.e., the church, God’s people, from whom the Messiah, Jesus, had come). But Satan’s attempts to attack the people of God are thwarted by the Lord giving wings of an eagle to the woman to carry her to her safe place in the wilderness. I say the Lord gave her the wings because this seems like a clear use of a “divine passive”–the passive voice being used to imply God working in the situation. After all, who else could give eagle’s wings to the woman?

“Eagle’s wings” are used often in the Old Testament as a picture of God’s protection and deliverance. In Isaiah 40:31, for example, we read that “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Given what follows, however, I think the Lord is drawing John’s mind to the Exodus, and Exodus 19:4 in particular. Exodus 19:4 is part of a prelude to the Ten Commandments, where the Lord is recounting to Moses what He has done for him and Israel to that point. The Lord speaks of delivering Israel from Egypt, bearing them on “eagle’s wings” and bringing them “to Myself” there in the Sinai wilderness. This is the picture we have hear of the Lord bearing the woman, God’s people, out of the way of evil, to a place of safety in the wilderness.

All indications in verse 14 are that this is the same place described back in verse 6–a place prepared by God where she is nourished for 1,260 days. Which is the same as 3-and-a-half years (time, times, and half a time). This was also the same length of time that the witnesses prophesied at the beginning of chapter 11. It is a figurative number representing the duration of church history, from the resurrection to the End Times. Why this number? Because of it’s correlation to Daniel 7, and in this case, Daniel 7:15-28 especially. There are things about Daniel’s vision that make sense in Daniel’s time, things that are beyond the purview of this study. But there are aspects of Daniel’s vision that require the hindsight of the cross to appreciate. That perspective is what Revelation gives us. When Daniel sees a beast appearing to conquer the saints, and these saints being given into his hand for three and a half years, John is telling us that Daniel caught a glimpse of history far beyond his lifetime. Daniel’s vision also shows the Ancient of Days coming, and there being victory and vindication for God’s people, which John indicates is what is promised through Christ for all those who are his.

The serpent, Satan, is not happy at the woman’s flight, so it throws out water from its mouth intending to drown her. The Greek verb for “throw,” ballō, gives a sense of the violence of the serpent’s action and intention. It also brings back to mind the Exodus story, where the Lord parted the Red Sea for His people to cross on dry ground, but then when the Egyptians tried to cross, He brought the waters crashing down, throwing the Egyptians into the sea and covering them all (Exodus 14:26-29).

Why does this water come out of the serpent’s mouth? We’ve already seen in Revelation that the mouth is used to denote speech, and when combined with a sword, or fire, pictures spoken judgement. In Revelation 1:16, Jesus has a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth, and in 2:16, he threatens war against false teachers with this sword. In 11:5, the two witnesses breathe a consuming fire from their mouths upon those who try to harm them. These are all figurative of spoken judgment, whether a curse from the Lord (see the letters in chapters 2 and 3), or even the faithful proclamation of the gospel which, to those who do not receive it, is a word of condemnation for sin, not life.

Why does John say the water comes from the serpent‘s mouth, not the dragon’s? They are one and the same creature, but the change in reference is interesting. The serpent is, perhaps, the most infamous representation of Satan in Scripture, from its appearance in the Garden of Eden. There, the serpent deceived Eve into taking and eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan is the adversary of God and His people. He is the accuser, and he is the deceiver. The picture presented to John here is one of Satan coming against the church with deceptive and misleading words. In the seven letters, we read of false teaching in the church, and those who would try to lead God people astray. Satan’s intention is to drown the church with lies, so God’s people no longer know the truth and fall away from Him, just as Pharaoh’s armies were washed away by the Red Sea.

But the Lord has promised spiritual protection to His people (see chapter 11:1-2). So the earth swallows the serpent’s river, keeping the woman safe–that is, Satan’s attempt to draw God’s people away from Him fail. God protects His own from the Enemy’s deceit. Once again, the language here reflects the Exodus story, and Moses’s song in Exodus 15, where he recounts how God dealt with the Egyptians. Using poetic language, he speaks of God stretching out His hand and causing the earth to swallow up the Egyptian army (15:12). The Lord reminds John (and us) that though His church may be battered, beaten, and bruised for His sake, their security is in Him. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18).

Foiled a second time in its attempt to destroy the woman, the dragon, fuming with rage, goes after “the woman’s seed,” which John describes as being those who are faithful to the Lord. But if the woman is the church, who are her “seed”? Jesus, the Messiah, was the child of the woman, and we understood this to mean that the Messiah was born of God’s people (i.e., Israel). I think the idea the Lord is communicating through John is that of every Christian individually as a child of the church. If we think of the woman as the corporate church, the body of Christ as an entity, the seed of the church is us–every believer who has come to faith through the testimony of the church. Christians are not born Christian. Unlike Muslims or Jews, there is no such thing as being born Christian. You can be born into a Christian family, but we are all born children of Adam, rebel sinners who need to come to Christ to be forgiven of sin and become adopted children of God in Christ. That change takes place as a work of God’s Spirit in the lives of people who, having heard the gospel message, respond in faith, repent and turn to Jesus. That gospel message might come through a co-worker, a friend at school, a pastor, a parent–however it comes, that gospel message goes forth and as a result births new children into the Kingdom of God. So, the seed of the woman represents those who come to Christ as a result of the testimony of the Christ’s church, from the Apostles, through the early church, right up to today. If you are a Christian, that includes you, and me.

This means, however, that the serpent, Satan, is coming after us. And this has been true for the past 2,000 years, and will continue to be true until Christ returns. As we have said, God never promises His church physical protection. Christians will be harmed, and even killed, as a result of the serpent’s attack. However, we are secure in Christ. His promises are sure, and we will never be snatched out of his hand (John 10:28).

In most translations, verse 17 ends with a line that reads something like, “And he stood upon the sand of the sea.” However, there is uncertainty in the Greek manuscripts over whether this should read “And he stood…” or “And I stood…” If the former, it makes sense at the end of verse 17. If the latter, then it might be better placed at the beginning of chapter 13. Bearing in mind the chapter and verse divisions are later additions and are not part of the inspired text, whether it’s 12:17 or 13:1 is not important. Whether or not the dragon is on the shore, or John is on the shore makes a difference to our translation and perhaps, to a small degree, our interpretation. We’ll look closer at this verse as we begin chapter 13 next time, Lord willing.