What really happened at the first Christmas? Revelation 12:1-5 takes us behind the scenes of the first Christmas and helps us to see what in reality was happening. We might call it “the battle for the baby.” Envision the scene in your mind as it unfolds:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. Rev. 12:1–5
The book of Revelation has fascinated and bewildered Christians for years. George Bernard Shaw saw it as the “curious record of the visions of a drug addict.” But this scene really has a very clear message about the first Christmas. To understand it we need to first identify the principle characters.
The first character is a woman. She represents the nation Israel. Throughout the OT Israel is depicted as a woman about to give birth. She was chosen as God’s instrument to bring the Messiah into the world. She was the womb through which Christ was formed and out of which he came and this was a great honor but also a great pain.
The second character is the dragon, who is pictured standing before the woman prepared to devour the baby when he was born. Later we read of the great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan. From the day he was born Jesus was the object of Satan’s vicious intent to destroy him or at least to keep him from accomplishing his mission. The impression we have here is that the baby doesn’t have a chance! How will the newborn baby possibly stand up to a great dragon with seven heads and ten horns?
The third character is the child that is born. A male child, a son, was born who is Jesus Christ. He will “rule the nations with an iron scepter.” This child is the One who ultimately rules, not the dragon. All that John tells us about Jesus is that he was born and then was snatched up to God and to his throne. That’s the shortest life of Christ ever written! Christ was born and 40 days after his resurrection he ascended into heaven, was seated at the right hand of the Father where he rules over his people and from where he will come again in judgement. The important thing is that the great dragon was unable to devour the baby. Satan tried and tried and tried in various ways to keep Christ from accomplishing the Father’s purpose in being the spotless lamb of God that would atone for the sins of the world by his voluntary offering of himself on the cross, but he failed.
This scene gives unique insight into the birth of Christ. This is a different picture than the typical manger scene you might see on the latest Hallmark card. In the quiet, peaceful barn among the cows and goats and shepherds and wise men and Joseph there was a dragon on the loose and his sole intent was to devour (lit. “eat”) the baby. We like to think of this baby as tender and mild but the fact is he is destined to rule the nations with an iron scepter. He will shatter his enemies like earthenware. The manger was a violent scene where great powers clashed and great things were at stake. It was Robert Southwell who wrote back in the second century:
This little babe so few days old
is come to rifle Satan’s fold.
All hell doth at his presence quake
though he himself for cold do shake.
Do not buy into a “Hallmark Christmas”. The world wants to keep Christmas tame. Who can argue with a cute little baby lying in a pile of soft hay? The world likes Christmas as long as it’s safe, but it’s not safe. The coming of Christ was the focal point of a great battle, a battle that has been waged throughout eternity. The bottom line is that Jesus has won. The fatal blow had been delivered, one that would result in Satan’s complete demise. The joy and peace we celebrate at Christmas is the result of knowing and trusting in the victory of the One destined to rule the nations with an iron scepter!