When we think of the Christmas story, we rarely think of Revelation 12. Yet, the Christmas story is there, even though it is very different than the story we’re accustomed to. Revelation 12 makes it clear that Christmas is a story about two kingdoms.
I love this from Andreas Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart’s The First Days of Jesus:
On the one hand, Herod, with the (perhaps unwitting) aid of the Jewish religious leaders, rejected God’s appointed King, while, on the other hand, Gentiles the magi, with little knowledge of the true God, recognized God’s King and responded with submission, allegiance, and worship. The narrative pushes us, its readers, to consider our response to Jesus. With whom are you identifying, Herod or the magi?
These verses [in Matthew] also paint a very spiritual picture of the world, a picture that our current materialistic and naturalistic culture rarely considers. Ultimately, there are only two kingdoms, and every human being belongs to one of them. This is the reality whether a person wants to believe it or not. Every human being is either serving in slavery under the dominion of sin and darkness or serving with allegiance and submission in God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. No third option or neutral ground exists. Thanks be to God who has rescued us and transferred us into the kingdom of his Son!
With the idea of these two kingdoms, we can see the Christmas story from a different perspective. The word “revelation” means unveiling after all. We are told repeatedly to “behold” or “look” in the Book of Revelation.
“Look! He is coming with the clouds.” 1:7
“Look! I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” 1:18
“Look! A throne and one sitting on it.” 4:2
“Look! The lion has overcome.” 5:5
And on and on. We are to see not only what God is doing, but God himself incarnate. Whereas, in the Old Testament we are told repeatedly that no one can look on God and live. Yet, Christmas changes all of that. We are to behold!
Here’s Your Sign
Revelation 12:1-2 says “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.”
We see a sign in heaven, which may make us think of the Christmas star, but this is a woman. Who is it? “…And she was with child” should give us a hint. This is Mary, pregnant and in labor.
She is also more than Mary, because remember this is a sign. If you think back through the Old Testament about the sun and moon and twelve stars, you remember that God is the one who created and put these things in motion, but you may also remember Joseph’s dream of his father (the sun), his mother (the moon), and his 11 brothers (stars) bowing down to him. This woman, who is a sign, is Israel—God’s chosen people, through whom all the peoples on earth will be blessed.
Israel has been waiting and longing for this birth for a long time. They are longing for God to fulfill his promise and save them. You can read about this throughout the Old Testament in places like Isaiah, Psalms, Micah, Haggai, and others.
The woman is not the only sign. In Revelation 12:3-4 we see another sign:
“Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.”
Have you ever seen a sweet nativity scene with the star over the stable, and the animals gathered around, and Mary and Joseph next to the manger, and a great red dragon waiting to eat baby Jesus? That almost sounds sacrilegious, but that was the reality of the situation according to scripture. That’s the unveiling that John saw.
What is the great red dragon? John tells us outright later in verse 9 that it is Satan, the accuser. He is the ancient serpent, and the imagery taps into the human psyche that finds all big reptile-like creatures scary, chaotic, and destructive.
He’s red. Why? We think of violence, blood, war, and fire—all destructive things. This is the second kingdom. The great red dragon represents something other than good news and great joy. It is certainly not “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)
He has seven heads and ten horns, which symbolize great strength. He has seven diadems, which symbolize great wealth. To demonstrate his power he sweeps away a third of the stars. He’s not something you just shrug at or ignore. He’s scary, and he seems unbeatable. A baby would be helpless before such a creature.
But what does John see next?
Revelation 12:5 says, “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.”
Notice this son is not called a sign. John does not use that word when talking about the child. I love this quote from Darrell Johnson’s Discipleship On The Edge:
The woman is a sign. The dragon is a sign. But not the child. The woman points beyond herself to another reality. The dragon points beyond himself to another reality. The child does not point beyond himself to another reality—he is the reality.
We are not going to find a literal woman clothed in the sun. We are not going to find a literal dragon with seven heads and ten horns. But we are going to find a male child, a son. Who is he? He is Jesus the Messiah.
This is the Christmas story in Revelation.
If we go back to verse 4 in chapter 12, when does the dragon try to kill the child? As soon as he’s born. Matthew 2 tells us that as soon as Herod learns from the magi that the “King of the Jews” has been born, he orders that all boys 2 and under be killed.
He had his own son killed in that massacre, just in case. Doesn’t that sound like something the Great Red Dragon would do? In fact, when Caesar Augustus heard about the massacre, he is recorded as saying, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”
Satan works through Herod to try to kill Jesus as a baby, because he knows what Jesus has come to do. As powerful as the dragon is, he can’t stop the sovereignty of God.
Manger to Throne
Notice in verse 5, John goes straight from birth to ascension Revelation 12:5 says “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.”
John skips Jesus’ ministry on earth and goes straight to Him sitting on His throne. He goes straight to the point. In John 18, when Pilate is questioning Jesus, Jesus says, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born…”
Jesus is born to sit on the throne and rule over all creation. John goes from manger to throne, just like that. Nothing is going to stop God’s plan for salvation. Jesus is already victorious, sitting on the throne.
A Desperate Enemy
If you read through the rest of Revelation 12, you’ll see that the dragon is enraged by this. He is thrown out of heaven. He couldn’t kill Jesus as a baby, and he can’t overturn the throne. What does he do? He goes after the woman and the rest of her children.
Revelation 12:17, it says, “So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
The dragon is still enraged with the woman and her children. He knows he has lost. He knows he has a limited amount of time. His kingdom will not last.
Don’t we see this today? Christmas is a time of joy, but it is also a time of despair for many people. Christians should not see the world through rose-tinted glasses. If you’re wondering why there’s so much brokeness, disease, violence, anxiety, and injustice— Satan is enraged and is making war against God’s people with the time he has left. He is desperate and angry. He’s like a wounded animal, cornered.
This will show my age. I used to play a turn-based video game called Civilization II. You explore the world and try to expand whatever nation you are. If you attacked another nation’s city and took it over, you would have control over it, expanding your territory, but these guys called partisans would pop up outside the city, and they would attack and destroy your resources.
They weren’t powerful enough to take the city back and had nowhere to go, but they would make life miserable for a few turns of the game and then they died. That’s the dragon today.
God often likes to turn the world’s expectations upside down. He used a unknown, unwed girl to bring the savior into the world. He didn’t come as a warrior on a horse in a palace, but as a baby with no bed. The good news for us is the suffering of the church in the world is not a sign of Satan’s victory. It’s a sign of his defeat.
The suffering we see now is the defeated enemy thrashing around in his death throes. He doesn’t have long, but we believers have eternity with Jesus, the King of king and Lord of lords. He sits on the throne victorious.
What are we to do with all of this? We are to stay steadfast in faith and cling to the hope we have in Christ. We know he has already won. Yes, there will be times of pain and suffering. Jesus tells us to expect that. When you’re in a fight, you take a few punches. Stay on your feet. We know who wins the fight. We know which kingdom we belong to.
The other thing we are to do is to tell people to look. Behold! Look at Jesus! The world is a dark place. Tell them where they can find the light.
Revelation 21:3-5 says “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”’