The Apocalypse is a book in the New Testament rich in symbolic imagery and rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures. The twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse describes a terrible struggle that affects the life and history of all humanity. Three protagonists appear in the story: a woman, her newborn son, and a dragon. What does it mean?
Let’s take a closer look at Revelation 12:1-17.
Let’s try to figure out what the woman represents. John refers to her as a “sign.” “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman” (Rev 12:1). We should not get sidetracked thinking this refers to a literal (historical) woman. It is a symbol. By saying it is a symbol, I am not saying she is not real, just that the reality pointed to is not a literal woman in time and space. It refers to another reality.
Most biblical scholars believe she represents a community that belongs to God, a community that has existed from the beginning of history and continues to express itself in various forms to this day; she is the community of those who call upon the name of the Lord.
The woman represents what God sees when He looks at his people. And what a description it is! She is beautiful and glorious: as though she were “clothed with the sun.”
Not only is she beautiful, but this woman is powerful. She is the ultimate powerful woman. She stands on the moon and she wears a crown of twelve stars (Rev 12:1).
(What does this have to do with Christmas? Hold on… I’ll get to that in a moment.)
This woman is of royal lineage. She wears a crown of twelve stars—the number twelve is important in the Bible as it describes both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the New Testament. (Take a look also at 1 Peter 2:9 where Peter refers to the community of God as a royal priesthood.).
Now let’s look at the child in the story. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of a child or son who would bring hope and joy to the community of God. One of the most intriguing of these prophecies occurs in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 3:15. “I’m declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers.”
War… Woman… Offspring… All elements of the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse. Coincidence? Not likely. This passage describes God’s curse upon Satan brought on by Satan’s enticement of Adam and Eve into disobedience and sin. Human history has been one continuous war between spiritual forces of darkness and the community of God.
Sometimes this warfare takes the form of bantering about words and policies. Other times, it erupts into unrestrained bloodshed and horror beyond comprehension.
Let’s get back to the Apocalypse.
The community of God expects a child who would bring hope and great joy. Is that what happens? Indeed it is. But the story also reveals that the birth of the child unleashed one of the fiercest conflicts in the war between Satan and God’s community ever witnessed in human history.
A great red dragon appears, with seven heads and ten horns, and on the heads seven diadems (Rev 12:3). A giant lizard-like creature, like the creature in the movie Aliens, appears. With its powerful tail it sweeps one third of the stars from the skies and casts them down to earth.
Again, did John mean for us to take this language literally? Are we to think the Apostle believed in dragons? No. John knew he was using mythological language to describe spiritual realities.
What we see here is that the birth of Jesus Christ ignited a terrible spiritual upheaval. The birth of the baby Jesus, together with the joy and peace, also brought pain and anguish.
God introduced the Savior to the world, but that introduction also triggered a terrible unleashing of hatred against all that is innocent and good in humanity. “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth” (Revelation 12:2, ESV).
What is this horrible thing that happened? John is describing what it looked like in spiritual-symbolic language. What did it look like here in the visible, tangible, world of history? The New Testament writers spoke about a Jewish King, named Herod (not a true king of Israel but a surrogate king appointed by Rome).
In many ways, Herod was a great politician and leader. He was successful in bringing prosperity again to Israel after centuries of slavery and poverty. But Herod had a dark side. He was a narcissistic psychopath willing to do anything to protect his power.
When he found out about the birth of an alternative king, he sent his death squad to kill the newborn king. But God warned the sacred family and they fled to far-off Egypt to hide. Herod was not deterred in his obsession to rid the world of any potential rival; he ordered his men to go to Bethlehem and kill all the babies. And that is what they did.
With the typical absence of embellishment we find in the New Testament writings, Matthew simply cites a verse from the prophet Jeremiah, written at a time when Israel was being taken as slaves to a foreign land. Matthew saw a parallel reality in what the Jewish mothers in the time of Jeremiah had experienced and what they were experiencing in Bethlehem that night.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15, ESV).
That voice continues to weep bitterly today all around the world. The murder of innocent children (remember Sandy Hook?) is one of Satan’s greatest pleasures.
When seeking to understand the ills of our world, we must go deeper than politics and politicians.
Modern-day manifestations of the ancient war between God and Satan are happening all around us. Satan hates innocence and gets a thrill out of destroying all that is beautiful, like the beautiful faces of those children in Bethlehem. Humanity has an enemy.
This season as you gather with family and conversations erupt about politics and economics and educational policy, remember this: though we all have opinions (some better than others for sure), we should not forget who is the real enemy of humanity. The enemy is the Dragon. The enemy is spiritual.
YES. Christmas is about joy and family and food and gifts and celebration. It’s a time of rejoicing. But we should also humbly bow our heads and ask God to deliver us from evil. For evil is real and only God can protect us. He sent his one and only son to save us from this evil.
Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.