Friday, December 23, 2016

Seeing Christmas in the book of Revelation

Revelation 12:5-7 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she *had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

When people turn to the Bible to consider the meaning of Christmas, most do not realize that the Book of Revelation touches upon the theme of Christ's first coming. In today's post we will focus specifically on Revelation 12 in how it relates what Jesus did in His first coming to what He will do in His second coming. The following outline of Revelation 12 can be used to navigate the chapter:

1. The King's Cradle. Revelation 12:1-4

2. The King's Cross. Revelation 12:5
3. The King's Crown. Revelation 12:6-17

So let's explore Revelation 12 to see how it points us to Christ's 1st and 2nd comings. We will explore first how God used Old Testament history and allusions to prepare for the events hinted at or spoken of in Revelation 12.

How God used Israel through the Old Testament to lead up to the King's Cradle

Revelation 12 details the history and career of Israel, Satan and the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel was used by God to bring about the point in history where the Savior would be born (i.e the cradle), as well as having to endure the persecution of the Evil One throughout the Old Testament.  As Galatians 4:4 reminds us: "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law." Thus Revelation 12:1-2 gives us a summary of Israel's part in God's plan to bring about the King's cradle.1

So what does John first see? He sees a woman clothed in the sun. The woman in question represents Israel from the days of her beginnings in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all the way up to the days of Jesus' birth. Steve Gregg in his commentary notes: The support for this identification of the woman is found in the description of her as being clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars (v. 1). This has obvious reference back to Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:9, in which the sun and moon and twelve stars (eleven plus Joseph) represented the family of Jacob, the people of Israel."2  So the career of Israel throughout the Old Testament is presented in Revelation 12:1-2.  

The History and Career of Satan in the Old Testament 

However John sees another sign appear, and the same general period of Old Testament history is presented yet again, only this time with reference to a second major character - Satan, in Revelation 12:3-4. Satan's career began in heaven when he was initially cast out for leading a rebellion against God, as alluded to in passages such as Ezekiel 28:11-19. Throughout his Old Testament career, Satan had waged war, beginning with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), as well as Israel in her wanderings, believers like Job (Job 1-2) and David (1 Chronicles 21:1) and even launching accusations against priests (Zechariah 3:1-5).  His dragon-like character here in Revelation 12:3-4 is extensively documented in the Bible in passages such as Isaiah 27:1; Ezekiel 29:3; Revelation 13:2, 16:13, 20:1.3 

How Old Testament History led up to the cradle of Bethlehem

Thus far John has been shown two key figures that we meet in Revelation 12: 

a). the woman (Israel) 

b). the dragon (Satan).  

Now John sees a third key figure in Revelation 12:4b-5a ...."And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. 5 And she gave birth to a sona male child...".  Who is this male child? It seems pretty clear that Old Testament history, with its conflict between Israel and Satan led up to the incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus Christ. As the New Geneva Study Bible notes: The Old Testament saints are in view. Mary the mother of Jesus is included in this group, but only as an outstanding member of the whole."4

Truly this sweeping portrayal of Old Testament history serves to lead the reader up to the first major Divinely ordained event of the King's cradle.5 We have thus beheld the King's Cradle, however the cradle was ordained by God to lead to a second major ordained event alluded to in Revelation 12:5...

How the King's Cradle at Bethlehem points to The King's Cross at Calvary

The cradle of the Son served to point to the chief purpose of His first coming - the cross, whereby He would destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8), rise from the dead and be caught up into heaven as stated in Revelation 12:5. Now why are we calling this section of the post "the King's cross' when the cross is not explicitly mentioned in Revelation 12:5? Undoubtedly the passage is connecting Christ's first coming (his birth to ascension) to what He will do in His second coming (rule the nations).

Often when the New Testament authors are summing up a portion of Jesus' life, they may very well focus on one or two main points without mentioning all the details. (compare 1 Timothy 3:15-16 and Titus 2:11-15) It must be understood that without the cross, the purpose of Christ's incarnation and birth would not be understood, nor would He have the grounds for returning back to earth for a second time. When one reads back to Revelation 5:9, the link between the cross and second coming is established: "And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."

It must be recalled that in the accounts of Jesus birth and childhood, the shadow of the cross so-to-speak was ever present. Simeon, upon seeing the Christ-child said to Mary in Luke 2:35 "and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." That prediction of course came true when she stood at the cross and experienced the sorrow of seeing Jesus crucified and hearing him say "woman, behold your son" and to John "behold your mother!" (John 19:26-27) John depicts Jesus Christ ascended in heaven, awaiting to return to earth in Revelation 12:5. Truly the cradle in history had to precede the cross, which in turn meant that the cross was necessary for their to be a crown.

The King's Cross and resurrection points the way to the The King's Crown

Then of course the remainder of Revelation 12:6-17 thrusts the reader forward into the future latter-half of the tribulation period wherein Satan is waging war against Israel and ultimately Jesus Christ. Dr. John Walvoord, quoting C.A Coates, gives this insightful observation about Satan's activity beginning here in Revelation 12 and extending into Revelation 13-14: "Coates observes that Satan is seen in three characterizations in opposition to Christ. As accuser of the brethren, he is in opposition to Christ as priest; as the one who brings forth the first beast, he is in opposition to Christ as King; as bringing forth the second beast, the false prophet. he is opposed to Christ as prophet."6

The war that Satan will wage in the latter half of the tribulation period will begin with Satan attempting a final coup in heaven, only to be thwarted by Michael the Archangel. (Revelation 12:7-9) This failed effort will lead to Satan's permanent and final expulsion from heaven. This expulsion will correspond to the middle of the tribulation period and will set up the efforts of Satan to push his man the anti-Christ into the full limelight of his diabolical schemes later on in Revelation 13.

The statement of the loud voice in 12:10-12 about the kingdom and authority of Jesus Christ makes what Christ will do in defeating the Anti-Christ and Satan's forces at His second coming a forgone conclusion. The crown of the King is within view, with only 3 1/2 years remaining of the tribulation period until the King comes from heaven to earth.

The final section of Revelation 12:13-17 serves to explain the anger Satan will have in his aggression against Israel. His diabolical plot to destroy Israel in history and Jesus in His incarnation/virgin birth failed (12:1-5), and so will his plot to try to destroy Israel in the future tribulation period. (12:6-17) It is that sequence of attacks and failed plots, as well as his final expulsion from heaven that will set off a chain of events lasting through Revelation 13-14. The cradle led to the cross, which in turn led to the crown. The prediction of King Jesus' defeat of Satan and his plots serve to proving yet again that Jesus Christ is King of Kings. (especially note Revelation 19)


1. John of course is very fond of the word "sign" in Revelation 12-19, using the word to mark off portions of the various visions being shown to him. (Revelation 12:1,3; 13:13,14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20)  

2. Steve Gregg. Revelation Four Views - A Parallel Commentary. Nelson. 1997. Page 254.

3. In Jewish thought that was popular in the time between the Old and New Testament, God was believed to had set a time in which He would end history with an epic battle against Leviathan, a battle which of course God will decisively win.

4. The New Geneva Study Bible. Note on Revelation 12:1. Thomas Nelson. 1995. 

5. The passages we use in the Christmas season to understand the event of Christ's birth and incarnation (Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 2:8-50; Philippians 2:5-11) & His Kingship even as a toddler who was worshipped by the wisemen two years following His birth (Matthew 2:1-12) are certainly appropriate cross references for shedding light on the significance of what John is seeing in Revelation 12:1-4. 

6. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ - A Commentary. Moody. 1966. Page 191

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