I think if we understood the spiritual importance of this holiday season, we would slow down, we’d be more prayerful, and we’d more attentive to people around us who may be hurting inside.
Toward that end, I want to study the 4 characters in this chapter: 1) a woman, 2) a child birthed by that woman, 3) additional offspring of the woman, 4) dragon.
I think studying these 4 characters will help us put on our spiritual night vision goggles. And instead of Santa and elves and Rudolph, may God open our eyes to see the intense spiritual battle that is the Christmas season.
Rev 12:1 – 1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
No one who is acquainted with the Bible can read this without thinking of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Yet, we have to understand that Revelation is full of symbolic language. And therefore, it seems unnecessary to interpret John’s symbolic language in a limited one to one mapping. Because the woman could be Mary. It could also be the nation of Israel, which also birthed Jesus in a historic sense. It could also be the true, spiritual Israel, or the modern day equivalent of the church. It could even be Eve, the mother of all humanity because it says in Genesis 3 that her seed will bruise the head of the serpent.
So given the apocalyptic genre with its deep symbolism, the woman could be any of these or, depending on how you look at it, all of the above. Where the Bible is deliberately unclear, let’s not insist on one interpretation or theology.
What we do know is this woman is clothed with the sun and the moon and she is crowned with 12 stars. 12 stars brings to mind the 12 tribes of Israel and the crown signifies a rule and authority. And with that rule and authority, a kingdom.
The rest of the characters are more obvious. Next, we have the baby who is undoubtedly Jesus Christ.
Rev 12:2, 5 – 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth… 5 – She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
The child is born. That’s Christmas. And the very next thing we learn about this child is that he was snatched up to God and to his throne. It’s interesting. Jesus was just born into the world. And immediately we read about Jesus no longer being here with us. I think this highlights the fact that the sole reason Jesus was born was not to teach or perform miracles or provide social justice, but it was to die on a cross and be victorious through the resurrection.
We must never forget the centrality of the cross. Every Sunday, we are here to celebrate Christ’s victory on the cross and toward that end, I’d like to do the Lord’s Supper more frequently going forward. Because I think it is more than a ritual. There is spiritual power in the act of sharing in the Lord’s Supper. We are telling Satan, face it, you lost. Christ is the Victor.
The third character is the dragon.
Rev 12:3 – 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.
This figure has seven heads. Seven, the number of completion or totality or perfection. A head is a sign of wisdom. So completely, utterly wise.
And ten horns. Ten is another perfect number. Normally, 10x10x10 or 1000 is a number that John uses to indicate vastness. So 10 is a big number but it is not vast. And horns symbolize power, so together, this dragon has a lot of power, but it’s not vast so his power has its limits.
7 crowns, as I already explained earlier signifies a perfect or complete ruler, and with it, a kingdom. So on one side, you have the kingdom of Mary or Israel or the church and Christ. And on the other side, you have the kingdom of the dragon.
And who is the dragon? The identity is revealed in v9.
Rev 12:9 – 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Why was the dragon hurled down?
We read about a war being waged on a heavenly battlefield in Rev 12:7.
Rev 12:7 – 7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.
A heavenly battle rages. You have the armies of God led by an angel called Michael against the dragon or Satan, and his legion of dark angels.
As the commander of the losing army, Satan is hurled to the earth.
How was Satan defeated? It’s not fully explained here, but from Revelation 5, we read how the Lamb of God, looking as if it had been slain, is standing at the center of the throne of God in victory. And of course, Satan was defeated at Calvary. That’s when Satan’s final destiny was sealed.
Revelation teaches us that for every physical event, there is a spiritual dimension that explains what is going on at a much deeper level.
For example, we are familiar with the nativity scene of the baby Jesus being born peacefully in a manger with Mary and Joseph and 3 wise men. So cute, so serene, so worshipful. Yet, we forget why Jesus was born into those circumstances.
Let’s read the account in Matthew 2 —
Matt 2:13-16 – 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Jesus is about to be born and Herod is looking for him. Mary and Joseph are scared about the possibility of losing their unborn child. They find shelter in an anonymous manger among some farm animals. In all the hoopla surrounding Christmas, I think we often forget that the reason why Jesus was born in that setting was because Herod was looking to kill him. And when Herod was unsuccessful, he unleashed his fury on the entire nation of Israel and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. That means for me, my own son, Elijah, would be killed. Imagine that. There would be no Christmas lights or presents or laughter or warm, fuzzy feelings at my home.
In that first century, there was no Jack Frost nipping at the noses of Hebrew families. I bet you could hear the wailing of Hebrew mothers for miles as their kids were being ripped away from their homes. If we put ourselves into the shoes of the people of that time during their first Christmas and live through these historic events involving Herod and boys being killed, I believe this puts quite a different spin on what Christmas has commonly come to mean in our day.
This may remind you about the message about pre-destination and human freedom from a couple of weeks ago. Did Herod harden his own heart and desire to kill the baby Jesus? Yes, he was an insecure ruler. Was Satan involved? You bet he was. Did God in his sovereignty know that Herod would do this so he orchestrated events and visions to ensure the safety of the baby Jesus? Yes. Both God’s sovereignty and human freedom, and I might add, Satan’s influence, are at work. Jesus is born. The family is warned through Joseph’s dreams on what to do and are kept safe. That’s divine intervention. In a nutshell, this describes the physical reality of what was going on during that first Christmas. A lot of fear, a lot of wailing, a lot of hoping for deliverance.