Dragons are Real!
Have you heard about the dragon that lives in Lake Phalen of St. Paul, Minnesota? If you’re Hmong and grew up around that area, you’ve probably had. In the Hmong community, there’s always been folklore and superstition around bodies of water. A well-known Hmong superstition is that a shapeshifting dragon or evil spirit dwells in the depths of Lake Phalen, stealing people’s spirits and thus making them ill. To some first-generation Hmong, this is a present-day reality. To the vast majority of second- and third-generation Hmong, this folklore is outright ridiculous. Because surely dragons aren’t real, right?
Well, the Bible tells us that dragons are real. Specifically, a dragon is real (Rev 12:9). He goes by many names: the tempter (1 Thess 3:5), the evil one (Matt 13:19), the accuser (Rev 12:10), the ruler of his world (John 12:31), the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4), the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), and that ancient serpent (Rev 12:9, cf. Gen 3:1). But he’s most famously known as Satan (Luke 10:18). And he doesn’t live in a lake—at least not yet.
Lakes and Evil Spirits
The Hmong aren’t the only ones that are superstitious about large bodies of water. Ancient Israelites were as well. For example, in Matthew 14:26 when the disciples were met with fierce winds and saw a figure in the sea, they cried in fear saying, “It is a ghost!” But perhaps this episode from the Gospel of Mark most clearly demonstrates the relationship between lakes and evil spirits:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35–41)
To understand the significance of Jesus stilling the chaotic waters of the Sea Galilee, it’s worth pausing over the backdrop and events that led up to this moment. Mark dramatically opens up his Gospel by describing Jesus with two theologically loaded titles: the Messiah and the Son of God (Mark 1:1). That is, Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited messiah and the unique, divine Son of God, and he’s arrived. But his rule differs somewhat from expectations. Jesus is determined to cleanse humanity and the created order so that, as Exodus 23/Malachi 3 and Isaiah 40 predict, he can dwell fully with his people in the new creation as Israel’s God incarnate (Mark 1:2–3). His rule is not confined to a mere plot of land but pushes the boundaries of the created order.
After Jesus receives John’s baptism (Mark 1:4), the Spirit propels him to the wilderness to conquer Satan (Mark 1:12–13). Even though it’s only one verse, Jesus’s forty-day wilderness temptation has a significant impact on the rest of his ministry. His victory over Satan enables him to vanquish the ultimate satanic prince of all wicked nations and to conquer in a way that no one else had been able.
In Mark 1:21–26, a demon comes heckling Jesus and he rebukes the demon by saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” It’s not recognizable in our English translations but in Greek, the word “to be silent” (Gk. siópaó) is the same word that Jesus uses to calm the seas in Mark 4:39. The ancient Israelites perceived the relationship between large bodies of water and evil spirits. The stormy conditions over large bodies of water symbolize the hostile forces of Satan and his demons. And Jesus has authority and power over demons and over the forces of nature.
Mark’s Gospel draws on Isaiah’s framework and presents Jesus as Israel’s divine warrior. In Isaiah 49:22–26, Isaiah describes God’s people’s return from exile. In verses 22–23, Isaiah speaks about God causing the foreign nations to help the exiles returning from captivity. But the question on their minds is, “Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?” (Isaiah 46:24). This is a rhetorical question. The answer is no because captives cannot be released until the mighty tyrant is vanquished. So, the text responds to this situation by saying: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued” (Isaiah 46:25). In other words, the Lord’s might is greater than that of the oppressive nations and the mighty tyrant.
By the time of the New Testament, we discover that Jesus came to bind the mighty tyrant—the strong man (Mark 3:26–27)—as the stronger man to plunder his house. We discover that Israel’s true enemy is not Babylon or Rome, but Satan. Satan has held the people in spiritual exile and now Jesus comes and releases his prisoners. Jesus, the divine warrior, drives out Israel’s spiritual enemies, not only by defeating Satan but also by casting out his demonic forces, and establishing the end-time kingdom.
The Dragon in the Lake of Fire
Is there a dragon that lives in Lake Phalen? I highly doubt it. But are dragons real? They sure are—one in particular. He’s that ancient serpent from Genesis 3. Although he doesn’t live in a lake, he will. God promised us in his word that one day that dragon “will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur” and “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). So, the next time you’re driving or walking around Lake Phalen, let it be a reminder of Jesus Christ, the divine warrior, who crushed the serpent’s head at the cross, bound him, and will one day cast the serpent into the lake of fire for all eternity.
Tuezong Xiong (BS, University of Northwestern–St. Paul) received his bachelors degree in Pastoral Ministry and Bible at the University of Northwestern–St. Paul. He is currently studying at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, MN for his Masters of Divinity. He is the husband of Pa Kou and a father to Piper. He also blogs at www.tuezongxiong.wordpress.com.