There are plenty of well-known Bible verses that tell the Christmas story. Most of them include references to Bethlehem, or shepherds, or the virgin, but there’s one passage you probably won’t hear at a candlelight service anytime soon. It may not have the charm or nostalgia of some of the classics, but it’s just as deep and powerful:
“1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.” (Revelation 12:1-6)
Perhaps it’s the complexity of Revelation–or maybe the controversy it inevitably creates–that keeps this from appearing on many Christmas cards. After all, the holidays are a time for warm, fuzzy feelings and hot cocoa, not interpretive confusion and apocalyptic imagery. Yet packed within the layers of this passage we find Christmas depth beyond measure.
The “woman” is the people of God, including believers in both Old Testament Israel (see Gen. 37:9-10) and the New Testament Church (or “the Israel of God”; Gal. 6:16). Together, these saints are the offspring of Abraham and the recipients of the promise (Gal. 3:29). They cried out in labor pains for many years as they awaited their coming Messiah (Mic. 5:2-3), who was the biological descendant of ethnic Israel (Rom. 9:5).
Yet even as they anticipated redemption, Satan (“the dragon”; see verse 9) was determined to foil such plans. He stood poised and ready for a monstrous volley of assaults on Christ’s quest–from Herod slaughtering the infant boys (Mt. 2), to the devil’s tempting of Jesus in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1-11), to Peter trying to keep Him from the cross (Mt. 16:21-23). The dragon was ready to devour the Christ and bring His mission to futility.
But in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, the dragon-crusher was indeed born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 9:6) and perfectly fulfilled all that He was sent to do. He lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death, rose again on the third day, and “was caught up to God and to His throne” (vs. 5) in triumph (see Phil. 2:6-11). By doing so, He dealt the devil a crippling defeat.
Now Satan has been “thrown down” (12:9) and is enraged with “great wrath, because he knows that his time is short” (12:12). His reaction resembles a child on the playground throwing a temper tantrum: “He pursued the woman…and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (12:13, 17). Having failed in his attack on Christ, he is now swinging a desperate, clawed fist at Christ’s people. He could not get Jesus so he’s coming for us.
How does he do that? The Bible calls Satan the accuser (Rev. 12:10), the deceiver (Rev. 12:9), and the tempter (Mt. 4:3). Maybe the dragon is chasing you with accusations of past guilt. Maybe he’s deceiving you with false doctrine or a twisted view of God. Maybe he’s tempting you with an addiction or habit that you just can’t seem to shake.
But for all those attacks, he is little more than a desperate dog backed into a corner. As the old Christmas song remind us, “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.”
Verse 6 says the woman is given a place of safety by God, and verses 13-17 go on to show God’s protection for her and her offspring; that is, the whole of His people. Not only has He defeated Satan, but in Him we share the victory, as “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). The dragon has been bound (Mt. 12:26-29; Rev. 20:2) and we have “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). The Messiah will sustain His people all the way until the end in keeping with His promise of Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
This Christmas season, may we look to that “male child,” the one born of a woman, “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (vs. 5). May we find tidings of comfort and joy in His triumph over the dragon and the triumph we can now share. Sometimes the most complex passages contain the deepest truths. Revelation 12 is no exception, and we can all appreciate its depth this Christmas as we celebrate its truth.