Christmas Revealed Part One: Revelation 12
“It is St. John’s Spirit-appointed task to supplement the work of St. Matthew and St. Luke so that the nativity cannot be sentimentalized into coziness, not domesticated into worldliness. This is not the nativity story we grew up with, but it is the nativity story all the same. Jesus’ birth excites more than wonder; it excites evil.” – Eugene Peterson
“This is war like you ain’t seen. This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean. With hangdog hearts we stood condemned, but the tide turns now at Bethlehem….This is war on sin and death; the dark will take its final breath. It shakes the earth, confounds all plans; the mystery of God as man.” – Dustin Kensrue, “This is War”
Reading Revelation Responsibly
A. Revelation has a context and an audience – (and it’s not us)
We always have to ask: what did the original author intend to communicate to the original audience? Revelation has significance for us, but everything written in it was directly meaningful to the first audience – to the first century Christians it was written to (see Rev 2-3)
B. Revelation is a discipleship-manual. And that’s the role it still has for us today.
- The time sequence of Revelation is not chronological, so we need to ask: “What does John see next?” Not, “What’s going to happen next in history?”
C. The way Revelation “works” is through the dramatic scenes that John “sees” and then shows us. The primary command throughout the book is “Look!”
“Just as in in the case in visiting an art gallery, while commenting and explanation may help one to ‘get the picture’, language about the picture can never replace the message communicated in and through the picture itself.” – Eugene Boring
Revelation 12: The Identity of the Actors
- The (Sign of the) Woman
Ask: Where have we heard this language before in the Bible?
- Genesis 37:9. “Listen,” he said [to his brothers – which wasn’t maybe a great idea], “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” The Woman is God’s People – Israel.
- In the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, Mary is representative, along with Elizabeth and Zachariah and Anna and Simeon, of faithful Israel – those who were awaiting the coming King – the Messiah. So the Woman in Revelation 12 is, in one sense, Israel as represented by Mary.
- In verse 17 we read that the Woman has “other offspring”. Who are they? “Those who keep God’s commands and hold fast to their testimony about Jesus.” The Woman is also the Church – is the ancient church of the first century, and is still the church today.
2. The (Sign of the) Dragon
- Revelation 12:9 tells us that the Dragon is “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”
- Matthew 2 tells the story of Jesus’ birth and the way Herod tries to kill him – in many ways paralleling the description of the Dragon who stands “in front of the woman…that it might devour her child.” There is Evil that stands behind the evil.
- In Genesis 3 we have a story of a woman, a serpent and a child. God makes a promised to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal” (Genesis 3:15).
3. The Child
- The woman is a sign; the dragon is a sign. But the child is not. The child is the reality.
- The child is the long awaited Messiah – Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler: “…and he will rule the nations with an iron scepter” (Ps 2:9; Rev 12:5).
- “And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne….” This is a ‘compressed’ version of the Gospel. Paul does something similar:
“He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by the angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
- 1 Timothy 3:16
- God is Sovereign
- This Child is not destroyed but is victorious!
- This Child shares the throne of God – Jesus the King is also God
What this Means for Us Today – Confidence in Christ and his Way
- “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look to see Him there, who made an end to all my sin.” (See Rom 8:1)
- Evil does not win – despite what often looks like the opposite (See Rom 8:37)
- Hark the Herald”, invites us to sing, and pray: “Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home; Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.”
- Jesus wins through humble self-giving: so do we.
Life Group Discussion: Christmas Revealed Part One
What are some of the common images that come to your mind when you think of the word: “Christmas”? Why is that?
Do you feel that any of these common images might be missing something about the real meaning of what Christmas ultimately means? What would that be?
- In the message (see the notes on the other side of the page), Pastor Dave described the Woman as being God’s People – and even, in some ways, reference to Mary. The scene also provides a response to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, as this scene describes “the ancient serpent called the devil” (Rev 12:9) interacting with the woman (Eve) and then God promises the serpent that her offspring will crush his head. Notice how this telling of the Christmas story is a compressed rehearsal of the whole biblical storyline (12:1-6)! How does this text of Revelation 12 ‘reframe’ the Christmas story for you? Asked another way: does it cause you to rethink what we are celebrating at Christmas? If so, how?
- Look through verses 9-13 and count how many times we read that Satan is “thrown” or “hurled down.” Given this repetition of “hurled down” (12:9); “hurled down” (v.9); “hurled down” (v.10); “hurled down” (v.13), we can see that John loves to declare the gospel!
Over and over it tells us that the Enemy, and evil itself really, is defeated because of what Jesus does. Satan, the Accuser, is cast down – dethroned, disempowered – and will one day be finally and fully destroyed. No wonder the dragon is so mad! (v.12).
What does the fact that this book is primarily addressed to Christian churches in what is present day Turkey (see chapters 2-3) tell you about who needs to hear the gospel repeated to Christian people as well as those who don’t yet know Christ? Why do you think that is?
- What do you think hearing the truth of this text – that the Enemy is ‘hurled down’ and that the victor is won – did in the hearts of the original hearers: Christians who were facing persecution, even death, because of their commitment to Jesus?
What does this message say to your heart?
- Read vv.10-11 again. How do we find that the Church comes to experience victory? What surprises you about that? What does that say about how we will also know God’s victory today?
- One of the primary functions of the book of Revelation is to help the people of God persevere in their faith, even in the face of pain and evil.
a. What are some of the ways that Christians can still face persecution, discouragement, fear, or feel pressure to give up their hope in Jesus? How about you personally?
b. How does this text encourage you and address some of those fears that you noted?
Pray: Take time as a group to pray about any temptation toward discouragement, fear, or pressure to give up the hope from Jesus. Pray for each other to have boldness to trust in Jesus and share t