Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Revelation’s Christmas Story

1 Then I (John) witnessed in heaven an event (sign) of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown (tiara) of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event (sign). I saw a large (fiery) red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept away (across the sky) one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her Baby as soon as it was born. 5 She gave birth to a Son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod (scepter). And her Child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days (42 months, three and one-half years).

7 Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. 8 And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. 9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving (seducing) the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. 10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ (Messiah). For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they have defeated (overcome) him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror (woe) will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time (short).”

13 When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male Child. 14 But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time (42 months, three and one-half years, or 1,260 days). 15 Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. 16 But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. 17 And the dragon was angry (furious) at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children (descendants) all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus. Revelation 12:1-17 (NLT)

Christmas is the most joyous time of the year! During this season, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior of the World, Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem of Judea (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-7, 10-11).

Many biblical interpreters describe Revelation 12 as Christmas day. However, Revelation 12 differs radically from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth found in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. The Gospels of Mark and John contain no birth narrative of Jesus. If not for Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, God’s people would not know about Jesus’ birth and His childhood until Jesus launched His public ministry at about 30 years of age (see Luke 3:23).

Revelation’s Christmas story does not tell of the shepherds, a crazy king named Herod, nor a manger scene. Rather, Revelation gives the miraculous birth of a male Child and the murderous dragon leading a ferocious struggle in heaven to kill Him. The dragon’s attack when Jesus was born launches a series of rebellion, wars, and attacks against God’s obedient people (Revelation 12:17). However, God’s obedient people have victory over the dragon and his evil alliance through their faith and testimony in Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:11; see also John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:57-58; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 5:4-5). Jesus already defeated the dragon and his evil alliance by His atoning death and resurrection on the first Easter! At the second Easter (Jesus’ second coming), “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11, NLT).

Revelation 12 begins with a great sign appearing in heaven (Revelation 12:1). A woman clothed with the sun was pregnant and was crying out in agony of giving birth (Revelation 12:1-2). Then, Revelation 12 reveals another sign in heaven of a fiery-red dragon (Revelation 12:3). This fiery-red dragon tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth (Revelation 12:4). Then, the fiery-red dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her Child the moment the Child was born (Revelation 12:4; see also Matthew 2:16). However, the woman gave birth to a male Child – Jesus Christ (Messiah), and this male Child is to rule all the nations with an iron scepter (rod) as a military figure (Revelation 12:5; see also Numbers 24:17; Psalm 2:8-9; Matthew 2:6; Revelation 2:27; Revelation 19:11-15). The dragon’s eagerness to devour the Child explains the violent opposition that Jesus met during His earthy ministry beginning at His birth with evil Herod’s attempt to kill Him (Matthew 2:16). However, God protected the male Child by taking the woman’s Child up to His throne – the ascension of Jesus (Revelation 12:5 see also Psalm 110:1-2; Matthew 16:16). Then, the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, in which she was nourished and cared for 1,260 days (Revelation 12:6).

Some have variously interpreted the woman clothed with the sun as the Virgin Mary, by others as the Christian church, and by still others as the Jewish people (the nation Israel). The Old Testament often compares Israel a woman and God as her Husband (see e.g., Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 66:7; Jeremiah. 3:6-10; Micah 5:2-3). Through the nation of Israel, Jesus Christ came into the world (see Matthew 2:1-2; John 4:22; Roman 1:3; Romans 9:4-5). Likely, the woman personified the ideal community of God’s people, first in its Jewish form, in which Mary gave birth to Jesus the Messiah (a Jew), and then in its Christian form (the church), in which it was persecuted by political powers as evil as the dragon (Revelation 12:6). Interestingly, Revelation 12 also has striking parallels to Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, and Greek mythology. Many biblical scholars believe John may have used these ancient Near Eastern stories in writing Revelation 12.

Afterward, a war arose in heaven (Revelation 12:7). Archangel Michael and his angels fought against the fiery-red dragon and his evil angels (Revelation 12:7; see also Daniel 10:13, 21; Daniel 12:1; Jude 9). The dragon and his angels were defeated because they were not strong enough to defeat God’s angels (Revelation 12:8). The dragon and his evil angels were thrown out of heaven to earth (Revelation 12:9-10). Revelation identifies the great fiery-red dragon as the ancient serpent that is also called the devil and Satan, and he is the deceiver and accuser of the whole world (Revelation 12:9-10; see also Genesis 3:1, 14-15; Revelation 20:2-3, 10).

After that, John heard a loud voice in heaven, shouting, “Now the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers (and sisters) has been thrown down, who accuse them day and night before our God (Revelation 12:10, ESV; see also Job 1:9-11; Zechariah 3:1). Furthermore, John heard the loud voice declaring, “They have conquered him (the devil or dragon) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11, ESV; see also Luke 14:26; Revelation 7:14). God’s people have victory over the evil dragon and his alliance through the blood of the Lamb (Jesus). Our faith in Jesus’ precious and sacrificial blood brings our victory and redemption from sin (see Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10). However, John heard the loud voice declaring terror to the earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because “he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12; see also Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13).

At that time, the evil dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth and he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male Child (Revelation 12:13). However, the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly away from the evil serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she was nourished and cared for forty-two months or three and one-half years (Revelation 12:14; Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7). Then, the evil serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood (Revelation 12:15). However, the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowed the river that the evil dragon had poured from his mouth (Revelation 12:16). Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring (descendants) who faithfully keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17; see also John 16:33). The woman’s offspring or descendants are faithful followers of Jesus – the church or the new Israel (Jews and Gentiles) – who obeys God’s commandment and testimony of Jesus.

Revelation 12:17 reveals the dragon’s persistent hostility and persecution against God’s people because he knows his time is short (see also Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:7). Jesus warned His disciples, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Today, God’s people are involved in a similar conflict with the evil dragon and his evil alliance (see Ephesians 6:10-13). Satan and his evil alliance are out to persecute and destroy the church (1 Peter 5:8). However, God’s people in any age or situation can rejoice, no matter how difficult their experiences. We have victory over Satan and his evil alliance through our faithfulness to God’s commands and faithfulness to Jesus Christ (Revelation 13:10; Revelation 14:12; see also Revelation 14:15-17). As Jesus informed His disciples before His death and crucifixion, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT; see also Revelation 3:5, 12, 21; Revelation 21:7).

Amplified Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Metzger, Bruce. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

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