Perhaps the dragon that has had the most influence on Westernized Christian thought is the red dragon that dominates the last book of the New Testament. The author of this book, who simply identified himself as John, had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, where he received a brilliant vision in which he was welcomed into the heavens to witness all things which were to come. In the vision he was shown a book with seven sealed portions. He was allowed to see the contents of each sealed portion in turn and then commanded to write what he saw. It is at the very end of the seventh portion that we find the story of the red dragon.
The story begins when John sees a beautiful woman in childbirth. This is no ordinary woman; she is clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and wears a crown of twelve stars. As she struggles to give birth, a great red dragon comes into view. He is as terrible as the woman is resplendent, a serpentine creature with seven heads and ten horns, and a crown on each head. With his mighty tail he draws away a third of the stars of heaven and violently throws them down to the earth. Thus announcing himself, he alights menacingly before the woman, threatening to devour her child as soon as it is born.
But the woman is able to save her newborn son, who is mysteriously secreted away to the throne of God, the dragon’s arch-enemy. God has a special interest in this baby, for it has been prophesied that he will one day become the ruler of all nations. The woman, thus assured that her child is protected, flees into the wilderness, where a refuge has been prepared for her.
Meanwhile God sends his angels, led by the valiant archangel Michael, to battle against the red dragon. The dragon is fierce, assisted by his own legion of demons, but eventually they are beaten and evicted from heaven.
On earth, the vengeful dragon seeks out the woman to torment her, but using two great eagle wings given her, she escapes; however, the red dragon possesses great powers, and even controls the weather. From his mouth he creates a flood to drown her. But the earth opens its gaping mouth and swallows the flood, aiding the woman in her escape. Frustrated, the dragon then turns his attention to the woman’s other children, who fill the earth. Hungry for revenge, the red dragon seeks help.
He doesn’t have to wait long before a hideous beast rises out of the sea. This beast also has seven heads and ten horns, but his body is that of a leopard, while his feet are those of a bear, and his mouth is that of a lion. The dragon, finding a worthy accomplice, grants the beast power and authority. While the inhabitants of the world watch, the beast reveals a deadly wound on one of its heads. As if by magic, the wound heals itself. Awe-struck, many people flock to the dragon and the beast, worshipping them and turning against God.
With their new army behind them, the beast and the dragon wage war against the inhabitants of the earth still faithful to god, overcoming them and taking many captives. And although the beast dies, he is replaced by another beast with two horns like a lamb. This second beast controls fire, making it fall from the sky. Like the dragon, he is also very wicked and teaches the people to worship the first beast. Indeed, he teaches them that they should kill anybody who won’t worship the first beast. Caught in this wicked fervor, the people began to mark their bodies, so that they can tell who worships the beast and who doesn’t.
Back in the heavens, the angels tell God about all that is happening on the earth with the dragon and the beasts. Enraged, God vows to punish any who has received the mark of the beast. From a cloud, the grown son of the woman descends, wearing a golden crown and carrying a sharp sickle in his hand. Calling the angels to his side, the armies of God prepare to visit the earth. Seven mighty angels appear, each bearing a terrible plague and a golden vial containing the wrath of God. God’s army is prepared to face the dragon in a final battle.
One by one the angels pour their vials out upon the beast-worshipers, inflicting them with sores, death, heat, darkness, hunger, and drought. Before the last angel pours the contents of his vial out, three magical frogs are pulled out of the mouths of the dragon and the beast, revealing how the evil creatures had received their powers. When the last vial is poured out, the ground begins to shake. Great hailstones fall from heaven. The mountains are flattened and the islands fall into the sea. All those who have marked themselves are overtaken and, along with the beast are thrown into a lake of fire. Finally, the son of the woman, who now sits upon the throne, rewards all the people who have remained faithful to God. Even those who have been killed are brought back to life. Beaten, the dragon is bound and shut in a bottomless pit where he can no longer deceive the nations for a thousand years.