Revelation and the Challenge of Coded Speech

I've been switching back and forth between reading the Christmas narrative (for work) and Revelation (for my personal study). I've been really struck by the difference between these two stories.

Both Matthew and Luke (the two Gospel accounts that tell the Christmas narrative) tell the story very directly. The characters have names and genealogies. The locations are pretty specific. Almost anyone can understand almost everything in the story.

Revelation, on the other hand, is a cypher. I've found it confusing ever since my first reading of it over 20 years ago. In today's reading, John writes about a woman being chased by a dragon. Is the woman Mary? The church? Israel? All of the above?

The church in the ancient Roman empire found itself persecuted in terrifying ways. Christians were dragged into the courts and into the Coliseum. They were lit on fire and fed to lions. Being caught in possession of the scriptures could have devastating consequences.

Disempowered people have long used coded speech to communicate. From the dog-whistles of modern politics to the code switching in ethnic minority communities, people will find a way to communicate what's most important to them no matter how closely supervised and restricted they may be.

Stumbling across coded speech that isn't meant for you can be extremely frustrating. Especially when it's in the Bible. We have to either do the hard work to understand the speech (ie. to learn the code) or skip it and hope that we're not missing something important.

What do you do when you don't understand the scripture's coded speech? Do you tend to dig or skip?

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