How would you design a Christmas card to reflect the biblical account of the incarnation and birth of Christ? You might read Matthew’s Gospel and picture an angel speaking to Joseph or Magi coming to worship. Read Luke, and you might picture Gabriel addressing Mary or the joyful, intimate conversation between Mary and Elizabeth. Based on the second chapter, you could paint shepherds. An account of a magnificent woman and a terrible red dragon may sound like a fairy tale. Not only is it a true story, found in Revelation 12, but it is a story in which you are involved. You are among the children mentioned in that chapter.
See the woman and her Son. The woman is the church, the faithful people of God. The woman, a majestic looking lady, is identified as a sign. John is not talking about one individual, but about the people of God, the church in the Old Testament, from whom the Messiah would come. Mother Israel will have her house filled with children by her divine Redeemer-Husband, Isaiah 54:1–8. The 12 stars take you back to the 12 sons of Israel, and Joseph’s dream, Genesis 37:9. The woman is not Mary as an individual, but she is present as part of the covenant people from whom the Messiah comes.
“Though the mother of Jesus may be secondarily in mind, the primary focus here [Revelation 12:2] is not on an individual but on the community of faith within which the messianic line ultimately yielded a kingly offspring.” “Now [Revelation 12:5] a snapshot of Christ’s entire life — his birth, his destiny of kingship, and his incipient fulfillment of that destiny in his ascent to God’s heavenly throne after his postresurrection ministry — is given in one line.”G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation pages 628, 639
The Son rules the nations with a rod of iron. He is not just a child, but is the Son of God, the one born to rule the nations, to break them with his iron scepter. The description quotes Psalm 2. That Psalm begins with the nations conspiring against the Lord, but in Revelation 11:15 we have just heard the shout, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” John’s description of the child is extremely brief, but he has already identified this majestic figure: Revelation 1:12–18 and 5:5–14. The church in suffering, whether open persecution or the subtle eroding pressure of living in a sin-cursed world, needs to remember that Jesus Christ is the King.
Beware of the dragon. The dragon tries to devour the Son — and fails. The second sign is this large red dragon. The woman gives birth to a son, a male child. Satan, represented by the red dragon (picturing a combination of cunning wisdom, power, and authority — see Daniel 8:10), stands ready to devour the child. The conflict goes back to the first mention of the gospel in Genesis 3:15. Trace it down through the history of the covenant people. See it come to expression in the birth narrative in Matthew, as Herod does his best to murder this newborn King. Revelation 12:5 is a wonderfully compressed description of the incarnation, birth, life, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Satan accused God’s people. John uses dramatic symbolism, but he helpfully identifies the dragon as Satan, who, as his name indicates, is the accuser of God’s people. Think of Satan accusing Job before God, or again, bringing an accusation against the high priest, Joshua, in Zechariah 3. There is a superficial validity to Satan’s accusations—since God’s people are sinners (the serpent-dragon had something to do with that), how can a holy God forgive them? How can God’s justice do anything but condemn?
“According to 12:1–6, the woman, representing God’s covenant people, gives birth to Christ, who inherits what is lost in the garden (Gen 3:14–16). The dragon symbolizes evil kingdoms who persecute God’s people (Ps 74:13–14; 89:10; Is. 30:7; 51:9; Ezek 29:3; 32:2–3; Hab 3:8–15), yet it is more than a mere metaphor for an evil kingdom. It also stands for the devil himself as the representative head of all evil kingdoms (Rev 12:9).”G. K. Beale & Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, page 482
The serpent-dragon loses the battle and is cast out of heaven—onto the earth. The dragon is overcome by the the blood of the Lamb and by the faith of his people. The battle is fierce, but the victory has been accomplished. The battle involves angelic powers. As in Job, you are given a glimpse behind the scenes into the conflict of spiritual powers—those who serve God and those who have rebelled against him.
The blood of the Lamb is victorious over Satan. Jesus died, not as the passive victim of Satan’s cunning, but as the sacrificial Lamb. His blood paid for the sins of Job and of Joshua, the high priest. Every time a lamb was sacrificed by a believing Israelite, his sins were forgiven, not because of some inherent value in the life of the animal, but for the sake of the One to whom the sacrifice pointed. The benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection flowed back to Old Testament believers, and flow forward to us who trust in him. Notice that the heavenly voice speaks not only of the blood of the Lamb, but also of “the word of their testimony.” Those who are suffering demonic persecution, those who endure Satanic accusations, are delivered through their trust in the Lion-Lamb.
Be faithful children. Recognize your danger. The dragon, Satan, tries to destroy the woman, the church, but God provides protection. Frustrated, he attacks the “other children.” That’s where you and I come in. You are among those against whom Satan is making war. He does that by false teaching, flowing out of his mouth like a river. He attacks through persecution— perhaps he can make you suffer enough that you will reject your Lord. Perhaps he makes you discouraged to the point that you give up. Don’t be complacent about the enemy. But there is hope.
Hold to the testimony of Jesus. Grasp John’s note of triumph. The Lamb was slain, but he is victorious! His death is inseparable from his resurrection. He has been caught up to heaven, but he has not abandoned his suffering people. He will reappear in Revelation 19 as the conqueror on a white horse. In Revelation 20 he will cast the Accuser into the lake of fire for eternal judgment. Revelation 12 gives you an important warning: prepare for suffering. If you are united to your Lord by faith, you will share in his sufferings before you share in his glory. But you do so in confidence, because your Accuser is a defeated enemy.
“Israel, after the exodus from Egypt, wandered in the desert. This desert gave them relief from the idolatry and oppression of Egypt. But it was also a time of testing, when they were tempted to lose faith and rebel. They were to look forward to rest and satisfaction in the Promised Land. Similarly the church looks forward to final rest in the new heaven and the new earth. But for now, she is subject to testing on earth.”Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King, p. 136
Surviving in the wilderness (which is where the woman finds refuge) may seem like a last resort to you, but don’t read that back into the picture John paints. The wilderness is the way of salvation, as Exodus makes clear. The Lord redeems his people by taking them out of Egypt into the wilderness—before they reach the promised land. The wilderness is the setting for the great covenant-making event at Sinai, where God promises to be the God of his people. The wilderness is the location of the voice crying in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. That salvation-in-the-desert theme is underlined by the wings of eagles given to the woman, see Deuteronomy 32:10–12. She flees, not aimlessly, but to place prepared for her. Hebrews 3 and 4 make clear that you, the church today, are a wilderness people. Yes, you undergo testing. Yes, you face suffering. But as you persevere, you have the assurance that you will enter the perfect rest that God is preparing for his people. You survive clinging to your Lord, holding firmly to the testimony of Jesus. And as you do, you live in obedience to his commands. You may not, you must not, ignore what God wants you to do.
Satan is not a fairy tale but a very real enemy. The woman who gives birth to a son (and whose sons and daughters you are) may seem helpless and vulnerable. But angelic powers enter the battle — on the side of the woman and her children. You overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony. The victory is yours as you trust in Christ and live in fellowship with him.