Sermon preached on Revelation 12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/22/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“She Gave Birth to a Male Child”
This morning, the Sunday before the Christmas holiday, we will spend a few moments reflecting on the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Though it is not the most traditional passage used at Christmas, Revelation 12, does in fact present to us the birth of the Christ child, the one who is the ruler of all the nations. And as we have this reflection today on the birth of Jesus, we also have a fitting conclusion to the sermon miniseries that we have been going through on Sundays. We have been going through a sermon miniseries through key women of the Bible, and here we have a woman giving birth to the Christ, this male child. That would be a pretty key woman of the Bible!
And so in today’s passage, we will look first at the birth of Christ. Second, we’ll consider the earthly ministry of Christ. Third, we’ll reflect on the aftermath of Christ’s coming. In other words, what does it mean for us now living as Christians after Christ has come from heaven, and gone back to heaven?
So then, let’s begin with our first point to consider the birth of Christ. I’ve already pointed out what is probably fairly obvious here. The male child being born here in this chapter is describing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. That identification is seen in a few ways in this passage, but especially in verse 5. This male child is the one who will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Psalm 2
describes the Messiah in the same way. And so, if the child being born is the Christ, then the mother must be his mother Mary, right?
Well, we need to slow down a bit. Remember, this is the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is a collection of visions that John received. Such prophetic visions are often full of symbolic imagery. Revelation 1:1 starts out by telling us literally that what John received came by way of “signs”. And here in this chapter, we see the same language of “signs” coming to John. This woman is called a “sign” in verse 1. The dragon is called a “sign” in verse 3. There are lots of signs and symbols throughout the visions in this book of Revelation. And so this chapter includes many signs and symbols as well. And we are even specifically told that both the woman and the dragon are signs. What that means is we have to interpret what the signs represent in the vision. Well, for the dragon that is easy for us, because the vision tells us the interpretation in verse 9. It says that the dragon is Satan, also known as the Devil, that serpent of old. Satan isn’t literally a dragon. But this vision pictures him as a dragon to explain to us with graphic metaphor a little about his devouring nature. In other words, the dragon in this vision represents Satan.
What then is the identify of this woman in this vision? What does this woman represent in this vision? Well, let me affirm that yes, historically, Mary is the one who physically gives birth to Jesus. That’s part of the historical story of Christmas that we affirm each Christmas and all year round. And so then at least in some sense, this woman reflects Mary who physically gave birth to Jesus. But as we read this whole vision, other descriptions of this woman would get us to identify her as more than just representing Mary. It seems this woman is symbolic of something more than that. First notice that the initial description of this woman in verse 1 connects her with the sun, moon, and 12 stars. That should make us think of the nation of Israel. You might recall that in the Old Testament, Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel had a son name Joseph. In Genesis 37, Joseph had a dream about a sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him. His father Jacob interpreted that that meant that Joseph’s brothers, father, and mother, would all bow down to him. In other words, the sun, moon, and stars represented this family of Jacob, i.e. the original nation of Israel with the fathers of the twelve tribes. That seems to be the imagery applied to this woman. If so, the woman’s identity is more than just Mary. It would include all of Israel through whom the Christ child ultimately came. That was at the heart of what Israel’s job was to be. It was the chosen line through whom the Messiah would ultimately come. As we studied in our women of the Bible series, you might recall all those initial matriarchs among Israel. We kept seeing how God was doing amazing things to keep the promised line alive. We kept saying that such was ultimately in service to God’s plan to bring forth the Messiah and Savior. This vision seems to pay tribute then to the fact that the Messiah was not only born of the virgin Mary, but also of this longer line of God’s people who sought from one generation to the next to carry on that line in anticipation of the coming Christ.
So the identification of the woman seems to represent not just Mary, but also Israel as a whole, these saints of old who were used to give birth to the Christ. And yet we can also notice more here. Look at verse 9. The dragon is called, among several names, that serpent of old. Well, what does that make us think about? It makes us remember back to the Garden of Eden. It makes us remember how that slippery serpent deceived Eve back in the Garden. But, again, recall, our sermon series. That was our first woman we studied. And the heart of our study there was to see that after Eve was so deceived, and after Adam and Eve had so badly fallen into sin and a state of curse, God promised salvation. God promised in Genesis 3:15 that one of the seed of the women would later come to battle and overcome the seed of this serpent. Clearly, that imagery is present here in this passage too. And so just as we saw Eve beginning to trust in God’s promise to raise up one of her seed to conquer this snake, this vision shows the fulfillment of that promise. And so we can’t help also see Eve represented in some way by this woman here in our vision for today.
Hopefully, by now you can see why this passage is such a fitting conclusion then to our sermon miniseries on key women of the Bible. This has been the overarching theme we’ve been tracking along with the whole time. We’ve been looking for the promised seed of the woman to finally come to conquer that age-old enemy. Well, that’s what is especially commemorated at Christmas, and that’s what this passage is all about. And the vision’s portrayal of the woman makes us think of all the godly woman of old who’ve been used in this story to bring forth the Christ. Generally speaking, bringing forth this Christ was not easy. Notice verse 2. This pregnant woman was crying out in labor and in pain as she’s about to give birth. Remember, this is a vision. Full of symbolism. We can think about the church’s birth pangs leading up to the birth of Christ. The church who ultimately brought forth the Christ has had to groan for his coming. Life up to that point had not been easy. The saints of old had to deal with the ongoing attacks of the enemy, through people like Cain, and Ahab, and Haman, and so many more. They had to live groaning for a savior and a deliverer, as they looked to call upon God and trust in him, while also enduring life lived out in a sin cursed world. But with the birth of Christ, now the victory was at hand.
And that brings us then to our second point, to consider the earthly ministry of Christ. But that also brings us an immediate threat to the Christ and his ministry. Just as the dragon, this serpent of old, had afflicted the people of God down through the ages, he especially gears up to strike this long-awaited child. Look at verses 3-4. The dragon there is presented as very powerful, and it sees the woman about to give birth, and apparently positions itself right in front of the woman so it can eat up the child as soon as he is born. Again, this is a vision. There is symbolism going on. The point is that Satan was intending to destroy the Christ as soon as he comes into the world. So then, if this is visionary, can you recall in the historical records that we have when Satan tried to do this? Well, actually several threats should come to mind. You see, in the next verse, the child is described as escaping this attack of the dragon by being caught up to heaven with God. Well, that describes Christ’s ascension, which of course happens after his death on the cross and his resurrection. So, that tells us that the timeframe for the devil’s attempt to devour the Christ happens between his birth and his ascension.
And so with that in mind, we remember actually several attempts for the devil to devour the Christ. The most immediate one at Christ’s birth, of course, was associated with Herod and the Magi. Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus, and ended up slaughtering all the baby boys around Bethlehem two years old and younger in his failed attempt to do so. But then remember on in the gospel accounts, and we can remember more attempts by Satan to thwart Jesus’ ministry. Toward the start of Jesus’ public ministry, Satan tempted him in the wilderness. Later Jesus had to rebuke Peter, saying, “Get behind me Satan,” when the devil obviously attempted to use Peter to get Jesus to forgo his ministry of atonement. And then remember who it was who incited Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to the cross – it was the devil. And yet the irony here is that if Satan thought he was going to succeed in devouring the Christ by putting him to death on the cross, then he was mistaken.
Because Christ rose from the dead. And Christ ascended in victory up into heaven. That’s what verse 5 so simply tells us. It jumps from Christ’s birth to his ascension in the blink of an eye. His ascension meant that Jesus succeeded in his earthly mission, and it meant the devil failed to stop him. Ironically, verse 11 later acknowledges the cross that took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry. It makes a reference to the blood of the lamb. The irony is that this blood of the lamb is now the basis for all the saints to overcome this dragon! In other words, Satan’s involvement in putting Jesus to death — his striking of his heal you might say — served actually to smash his own head. Jesus strikes the death blow to Satan by going to the cross. 1 John 3:8 says that the reason the Son of God appeared in this world was to destroy the works of the devil. That’s what the Christ child accomplished, and that even through the cross!
This explains the victory language of verse 10. After Jesus’ victorious ascension to heaven comes a heavenly battle against Satan. Verses 7-9 describe this. Satan loses this battle and is cast out. And so hear again the victory announced in verse 10: “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.”
And so understand what this is saying. Recognize the point so far. Christ came to earth. He was born on that first Christmas. We celebrate that again today. But Christ’s birth was then followed by his earthly ministry. He lived a perfectly righteous life. He taught the Word of God to the people. And he ultimately went to the cross to die for the sins of his people. The result is that sinners like us can repent of our sins and trust in Jesus and be saved. Our enemy of old, the devil, can no longer accuse us before God, because we’ve been forgiven. That’s a wonderful way to talk about what Christ did. You see, without Christ standing in our place on the cross, we are guilty. The devil could have rightly accused any of us before God as guilty sinners deserving nothing but wrath from God, and he’d ultimately be right. But if Christ can accomplish his mission of atonement, the devil’s accusations fall flat on the ground. And that’s surely when then after the cross and resurrection, Jesus goes back up into heaven and sees that this accuser is kicked out. Without the cross of Christ, we deserve all the accusations. We are guilty. We are damned. We would go to hell and endure unending punishment. But in Christ, we are forgiven as we put our trust in him. Because he paid the price for our sin. This is what Christ accomplished in his first coming.
But this leads us then to our third point for today. To consider the aftermath for us now living on earth after the first coming of Christ. This passage gives us some sobering news about this. Yes, ultimate victory from sin and death has been achieved in Christ. Christ will be coming again to bring that victory to its final culmination. But for now, Satan has been cast out of heaven and in some sense down to this earth. That’s the point of verse 12. Heaven rejoices over this excise of Satan from its midst. But we on earth takes a deep sobering breath. For the devil has come down to us and he is fuming. He is furious. Why? Verse 12 says because he knows that his time is short. He’s a defeated enemy. And he’s really upset.
So what does this defeated dragon do? When he tried to devour the Christ child but failed? Imagine in a visionary sense, this dragon poised to eat up this child, just ready to pounce, but at the last second, the child is snatched away in time to safety. The dragon is furious. So, what does he do? He turns his focus on the woman. If the child’s not there, then he’ll devour her instead. And when he’s unsuccessful in attacking her, he’ll then go after the woman’s other offspring too. Well, that’s what the rest of this vision depicts. It also reminds us again, that we should see this woman representing more than just Mary. But she stands more generally for that church of God out of whom the Christ has come. And also she also stands for that church that continues on now in this world after the coming of Christ. A church that continues to grow with more offspring.
And so we have a few complementary pictures of this time right now between the first and second comings of Christ. It’s the second coming of Christ, when this dragon will be completely destroyed, cast into the eternal lake of fire. That’s described in Revelation 20:10. But for now, this passage says that the church on earth is in this short time period when Satan is allowed in some way to try to attack us. Notice the different descriptions of this. For the woman, it says in verse 13 that the dragon persecuted the woman after the child was taken up. But in verse 14, the woman is able to fly out to the wilderness to safety where she is nourished and protected. The sense is that it’s supernatural help for her. By the way, the timeframe of her wilderness exile is for a time, times, and half of a times. I won’t get into that today, but let me say that I believe that the best interpretation of that is to see that it refers to this time frame between the first and second comings of Christ.
Verse 17, then talks of how the dragon turns its attention to the woman’s other offspring – to make war on them. In case there is any doubt on who such people are, verse 17 interprets the symbolism for us. These are Christians! Those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus. But such should take heart because of verse 11. Verse 11 tells us how to overcome to this enemy. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” That’s an interesting point, because it suggests that conquering the devil’s attacks against us may or may not involve our being put to death by him in this life. But whether we physically die or not as a result of the devil’s attacks on us, that is irrelevant with regard to our victory over Satan.
And so it reminds us that during this time we overcome Satan first and foremost by the blood of the lamb. We stand firm in faith in what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. His atonement for us is where we find our greatest strength. There any accusations he makes against us fail. But it also says we overcome him by the word of our testimony. I think in contrast to the river spewing from his mouth in verse 15. In these visions, things that come from the mouths of the different images, tend to refer to various words that get spoken by people. Likely this dragon’s water spewing reflects deceptions and false doctrines by which he would try to drown us by his lies. But in contrast, we counter by speaking forth our testimony of Christ. And for all who are of the Lord, with ears to hear, they will ultimately believe our words over Satan’s. And all of this, then, is attached with not loving our earthly lives, to the point of death. In other words, faced with this battle, we value standing firm in the truth and testimony of Christ, even over our physical lives. That when push comes to shove, we would sacrifice our physical lives over denying Jesus. Because we know that in Jesus is the real life. Because we confess that he is the resurrection and the life. That our eternal lives are precious in his sight.
This then is how we take part in the overcoming of the age-old enemy. Yes, Christ is the one who ultimately conquers Satan. But in our mystical union with Christ, we participate in some way in this conquest of Satan. As we boldly trust in and testify to the sacrifice of Christ, we participate in the battle against Satan that continues to rage on this earth. And realize, that’s what it’s all about. If Christ already secured victory on the cross and Satan has been kicked out of heaven, why does Jesus let Satan still rage for a short time on earth? Because the rescue mission is still being finished. There are God’s elect still out there that need us to give the word of our testimony. There are God’s chosen ones out there that still need to be saved. You could say that the woman still has a few more children to give birth to. Our brothers and sisters are still being gathered up together in Christ. Once that final gathering is complete, then Christ will come back. Then he will return to finish off the devil. Until then, that battle that happened in heaven is going on here and now on earth. But take heart, God is with us. Just as we see the woman supernaturally protected, we know that God is with us. And be encouraged, from Scripture’s perspective, this overall time is short.
And so in closing, let me step back to give one final closing thought regarding this Christmas season. At this time of Christmas, the world tends to think of “peace.” The thought is that Christmas is the time especially during the year that marks out peace. The words of the angels at Christ’s birth are often quoted as proof of this. Well, yes, there’s a sense in which Christ’s coming is about peace. But not as the world thinks. It’s for now, a way for peace with God, through this Christ child. But this passage tells that us that for Christians, who are living after the coming of Christ, there’s a reality for us that’s not about peace right now… but about war! Satan is making war on us right now! This has been one effect of Christ’s coming at that first Christmas. Satan is fuming and upset and trying to make war on us. And so, as Christians, we now have peace with God. But we are still at war with Satan, and in many ways, the world who serves Satan will thus be at war with us. This is a more complex perspective. But we would be wise to keep this in mind when during this holiday season when unbelievers all around us talk about peace. But Jesus cried over Jerusalem when they missed what really made for peace. And we should not be deceived into thinking the unbelieving world has found the real peace just because for a month or so people are a little bit more outwardly peaceful. No, the war with Satan over souls continues to rage on. Be aware of this reality as you reflect on the birth of Christ. That you would be strengthened in what this peace is really all about. And that you’d be encouraged to testify to this peace all the more. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.