Revelation describes a heavenly battle in which “the great dragon was cast out, that ancient serpent, called the devil and Satan” (12:9). Satan being called a “serpent” (ophis; ὄφις) might remind us of the creature who deceives Adam and Eve (see Gen 3:1-6, 13). However, while the Greek Septuagint also calls the serpent of the Garden an ophis (Gen 3:1 LXX), the writer of Revelation is not referring to the snake we meet in Genesis.

We know that Revelation is not recalling the snake in Eden because the source of John’s language isn’t Genesis, it’s Isaiah. Along with calling the devil a “serpent” (ophis; ὄφις), Revelation first describes Satan as a “dragon” (drakon; δράκων). The only other verse in Scripture that we see a creature who is called both a “dragon” and a “serpent” is in Isaiah’s description of the primordial sea-monster, Leviathan. According to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet states, “In that day God shall bring a holy and great and strong sword against the dragon (drakon; δράκων), the serpent (ophis; ὄφις) that flees, upon the dragon (drakon; δράκων), the twisting serpent (ophis; ὄφις): [God] shall destroy the dragon (drakon; δράκων)” (Isa 27:1 LXX). Since Isaiah repeats the words “dragon” and “serpent” several times in this verse, we can be confident that this is the very verse to which John refers in Revelation.

According to the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 27:1, the dragon that God will destroy at the end of days is called “Leviathan”: “In that day the Lord, with his heavy and great and strong sword, will punish Leviathan (livyatan; לויתן) the fleeing serpent (nachash; נחשׁ), Leviathan the twisting serpent (livyatan nachash ‘aqalaton; לויתן נחשׁ עקלתון), and he will slay the dragon (tannin; תנין) that is in the sea.” Elsewhere, the Bible refers to Leviathan as a great chaos monster of the sea that God defeats at the creation of the world (e.g., Ps 74:12-14). It is this ancient chaos creature that John calls “the devil and Satan” in Rev 12:9, rather than the snake in the Garden of Eden. The dragon of Revelation is a primal monster that represents the forces of chaos and disorder. Thankfully, in the end, God’s peace will prevail; Paul declares that “the God of peace (eirene; εἰρήνη) will soon crush Satan underneath your feet” (Rom 16:20). While Satan hopes that chaos will shatter, God works to achieve shalom.

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80 COMMENTS

  1. Good day.I would like to get some clarification on your premise. The serpent in Genesis and the one referred to in Revelation are different entities, or are they both symbolic descriptions of Satan by different writers?
    • Hi Shirlan. Thanks for your question. So the two serpents in Genesis and Revelation are definitely different entities, but the question as to whether both of them represent or embody Satan is an important one. I will write a future post on the identity of the serpent in the Garden, but for now, I'll just say that I don't see any actual biblical evidence (in either the OT or NT) that would associate the Garden snake with Satan (I'll explain in a future post).

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  2. Dr Nicholas, thank you for you item but I do find it confusing and needing clarification. Are you saying that it wasn't Satan who in the serpent tempted Eve in Eden ? Of course our great God is greater than all and all including Satan must bow to His will. Leviathan is also mentioned in Job 3v8: 41v1
    • Thanks for your note, Colin. In this post, I actively chose not to make any comment on the identity of the snake in Genesis 3. However, I will be happy to write another post in which I discuss the serpent in Eden (it's too complex to discuss in full here). Thank you for reading and for your contribution to the discussion.
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  4. I'm a new subscriber to the newsletter and have been reading and learning a lot from these. I am confused however about the "Garden" serpent and the "Leviathan".

    How exactly does the "Garden" serpent differ from the "Leviathan"? Aren't they both satan? Is the difference just merely the descriptive role of what it represents?

    Also, God destroyed the dragon since the creation of the world? Is that in reference to Genesis 3:15? Sorry for so many questions. I'd be happy to read links to other articles you may have that clarify these topics.
    • Great questions, Keyo. From my perspective, I think we should be cautious about associating the Garden snake too closely with "Satan." I realize that the Eden serpent = Satan is popular in Christian thought, but I think we would do well to reassess what the Bible actually says in this regard, and I don't see much textual evidence to support the popular understanding. Don't worry ... I will write a future post soon about the snake in Genesis 3. Thanks again for your contribution to the discussion.
  5. es interesante, debo reconocer q no había prestado atención a lo breve exposición q ud ofrece y agradezco por ello, en cualquier momento haré un análisis con la ayuda de vuestro comentario.sholom
  6. Seeing as Revelation was written as to hide various description/stories of Roman deeds, to avoid persecution, how can we place the Serpent into context to the time?
    • Good point, Floris. Revelation is certainly written as a symbolic polemic against Rome in many ways. Since Satan is an entity that predates Rome, the dragon just represents Satan (a force of chaos and evil), rather than any particular Roman figure or concept. However, the writer of Revelation probably would have associated the oppression of the Roman Empire with the work of Satan, on some level.
  7. If the dragon or serpent is satan, is that dragon is the same to the dragon that the Chinese are giving importance/worshipped/asked with luck? Usually, the Chinese have printed/graven images of the dragon and/or also patronize the dragon with feast/dragon dance especially during Chinese new year.
    • The dragons of the Bible and of Chinese tradition aren't the same dragons (since the Hebrew dragon is associated with chaos and the Chinese dragon is not, to my knowledge), but you do well to note that dragons occupy a place in many religious traditions.
  8. Great teaching! Thank you very much!

    However, in light of the religious context of Genesis, shouldn't the serpent of genesis be considered also a symbol of chaos? In the egyptian religion, the god Apep or Apophis, the god of chaos was represented in the shape of a serpent. Woud it be appropriate to consider this option or not?
    • Hi Renato, yes absolutely. The serpent of Genesis is, like Leviathan, certainly a chaos creature. Thank you for noting that similarity. Along with what you've rightly noted about Egyptian religion (in the which snakes are also construed as "chaos creatures"), the Babylonians goddess, Tiamat, was also a salt-water, serpentine deity that represented primordial chaos. This is common trope in Ancient Near Eastern religions. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion!
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