The Woman & the Dragon—Christmas in the Book of Revelation
In Luke 2:1-21, we read about the baby Jesus being born in a lowly manger in Bethlehem. The angel announces to nearby shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
I believe it is often forgotten how scandalous this announcement was to the powers. In fact, if the message is understood against the other rival political gospels of Jesus’ day, and those worldly kingdoms that still parody the kingdom of God today, we shall hear a clear declaration of war.
That’s how Herod understood this event.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Matthew 2:1-3
Once again, angels are at work in the advent of Messiah Jesus.
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.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. Matthew 2:13-14
Herod, the wicked King of the Jews, is determined to stop any competitor that threatens his rule on the earth—even to the extent of killing all the little boys of Bethlehem.
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. Matthew 2:16
Can the evil on this day be attributed merely to human kings and their minions? The book of Revelation suggests that there are evil forces at work behind human agents.
The Dragon that Almost Stole Christmas
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John retells the Christmas story in apocalyptic fashion.
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. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 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 woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. Revelation 12:1-6
John indicates that the dragon is Satan. The “third of the stars” swept out of the sky are fallen angels who have chosen to rebel against the Lord along with the devil. John is telling us that the dragon and the stars have gone out to destroy the child born to the woman.
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Revelation 12:13-14
From John’s perspective, King Herod is not the real threat. There was a sinister evil at work behind the scenes of human experience. Through Herod, the devil sought to snuff out the incarnation and bring an end to God’s salvific plan for the world. This means war!
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 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. Revelation 12:7-9
John sees the escape from Herod due to spiritual warfare. God overcomes the cosmic forces of evil in a real battle between heaven and earth.
For John this isn’t just some bizarre way of retelling the story—it’s what really happened. And the outcome of this war was beginning to be made certain in the incarnation of God on the earth.
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down” (v.10).
The war continues…
“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (v.17).
John jumps ahead to the future triumph of Christ over the forces of evil. How do the saints overcome the dragon? John says, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (v.11).
That is what the triumph looks like on earth. John has not turned a blind eye to the evil that continues to threaten God’s kingdom—the war being fought is a real one. And Christ has determined that the battle belongs to the Lord.
The birth of Christ marks the beginning of the end for evil.
It is because of this that we may rejoice. For unto us a child has been born!
“Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (v.12).
Conclusion—O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Finally, John testifies of the judgment to come for the dragon that almost devoured the child, and that still wages war against the offspring of the woman–the faithful in Christ.
“And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” (Rev. 20:10).
The birth of Christ gives us reason to celebrate God’s victory over that ole serpent, the devil. I pray that this Christmas you will have a renewed sense of that salvation that has been given to us. In Christ, we have overcome.
Emmanuel has come into the world to declare an end to evil.
Dear saints, the tides have turned. Evil is being cast out as we prepare for the second advent of our Lord—when heaven comes to earth (Rev. 21).
John’s remembering of the Christmas story beckons us to rejoice in the present for the future triumph over Satan and the powers of darkness.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
D.D. Flowers, 2010.