Jesus and the Dragon

Revelation 12:1-5

December 26, 2022 | Ray Pritchard

Did you have a dragon in your Nativity scene?
Probably not.

“Did you say a dragon?”
Yes, a dragon.

“Wouldn’t that scare people?”

“You mean, like St. George and the Dragon?”
Yes, sort of like that.

I’m talking about a real dragon, not some fake creature dreamed up in Hollywood. I mean an honest-to-goodness dragon. I’m suggesting you might need to add a dragon to your church’s Nativity scene.

“Wouldn’t that scare people?”
Maybe they need to be scared.

My text is Revelation 12:1-5, which might seem unusual. When Christmas comes, we’re accustomed to reading Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, or perhaps we go to Isaiah 7 or Isaiah 9 or Micah 5. We might spend time studying John 1. Those passages teach us important truths about the birth of Christ.

We don’t often connect Christmas and Revelation, but that’s where we are today. Our text reveals a vision John had while in exile on the Island of Patmos. His peek behind the scenes of history reveals a war in heaven between Jesus and the dragon.

It’s another version of the Christmas story.

This is another version of the Christmas story

A few years ago I wrote an Advent devotional called Faces Around the Manger. It traced the key characters of Christmas through the Bible, starting with Eve and going through the rest of the Bible. We covered Mary and Joseph and Simeon plus the scribes and the Magi and wicked King Herod.

But I didn’t include the dragon.
That never occurred to me until I studied our text.

One of our favorite carols contains the line, “All is calm, all is bright.” When we read Revelation 12:1-5, the least we can say is that nothing was calm in heaven when Jesus was born.

We love stories that feature a struggle between good and evil. That’s what we have here. In fact, we have the ultimate bad guy—a fierce red dragon who tries to kill the baby Jesus. It portrays the age-long conflict between God and Satan.

A red dragon–the ultimate bad guy!

Before we jump into the text, let me tell you what is not here. Some things are missing from this version of the Christmas story:

No Gabriel.
No mention of a virgin.
No census.
No long journey.
No shepherds.
No angels in the sky.
No Bethlehem.
No turning away Mary and Joseph.
No stable.
No manger.
No swaddling clothes.
No Magi.
No King Herod.
No scribes.
No gold, frankincense, or myrrh.
No flight to Egypt.
No slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem.

This is clearly a Christmas story even if the details aren’t the same. It’s Christmas from God’s point of view.

In John’s version there are 3 characters:

A beautifully dressed woman.
A fiery red dragon.
A baby boy.

Let’s look at each one in turn to see what they teach us about Christmas.

#1: The Woman   

“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” (vv. 1-2).

Who is the woman? Is it Mary? Yes and no. Certainly John knew Mary was the physical mother of Jesus. But the woman in this vision was clothed with the sun, and she wore a crown of twelve stars.

You won’t find this in Luke 2

You won’t find anything like that in Luke 2.

The woman clothed with the sun goes back to the dream Joseph had in Genesis 37, which speaks of the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowing down before him.

Remember, this is a vision.

The twelve stars stand for the nation of Israel. For centuries the Jewish people had waited for Messiah to come. Galatians 4:4 says that “when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”

The phrase “fully come” speaks of something complete and fully developed, like a ripe apple ready to be picked or like a pregnant woman feeling labor pains, ready to deliver her baby. It describes the moment in history when the stage was perfectly set. At that moment, not earlier and not later, God sent forth his Son.

Nothing happened by chance

Nothing happened by chance. A pagan emperor issued a decree at just the right moment in history, when the Pax Romana was in full force and the world was yearning restlessly for deliverance. Angels showed up to a young man and a young woman who believed what they said. When the virgin became pregnant, Joseph decided not to divorce her. A star began to shine in the east that led the Wise Men to travel hundreds of miles seeking the baby. All of it finally focused on a stable outside an inn in the “little town of Bethlehem,” where the most incredible event in history took place.

But what does John mean when he mentions the woman crying out in labor pains? The woman in the vision is Mary standing for the whole nation of Israel. As Mary literally went through labor pains, the nation agonized for generations, waiting and hoping and praying for the coming of the Messiah.

When the time was exactly right, Jesus was “born of a woman” and “born under the law.”

#2: The Dragon     

“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” (vv. 3-4).

We know the dragon is the devil because John presents him that way thirteen times in Revelation. His enormous size speaks of his power. The color red symbolizes his bloodthirsty nature, and the dragon reminds us of his fierce, destructive nature.

As Jesus said in John 10:10, the devil is a thief who comes to steal, kill, and to destroy. While he may appear to be an angel of light, he is really a fierce dragon bent on destruction.

A fierce dragon came to Bethlehem!

The seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns connect him with Daniel’s vision of the four creatures in Daniel 7. In that vision, the first beast was like a lion, the second like a bear, and the third like a panther. All those were dangerous enough. But the fourth beast was so terrible that John could not find an animal to compare it to.

Remember, this is a vision, not a straightforward history lesson. The dragon sweeps away 1/3 of the stars, knocking them out of heaven and down to earth. That happened in eternity past when Lucifer rebelled against the Almighty and 1/3 of the angels followed him. As punishment, Lucifer and his angels were cast out of heaven, becoming the devil and his demons.

Note where they landed—on the earth.
This world is now a demon-infested planet.
That explains so much that happens around us.

We live on a demon-infested planet

That’s why Paul called Satan “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He is also the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 1 John 5:19 tells us the whole world is under the control of the devil. He is the prince of the demons and head of the kingdom of darkness.

Now look at what John saw. Just as Mary was giving birth to Jesus, Satan drew near, intending to kill him.

Satan came to Bethlehem.
The dragon wanted to kill the baby Jesus!

That’s why I asked about your Nativity scene. Did you have a dragon there? Probably not.

The Devil loves death

I understand why.

A dragon ruins the peaceful scene we want to portray. We have camels and sheep and oxen and donkeys nearby when Jesus was born, but we skip the dragon.

Luke 2 doesn’t mention animals in the stable.
But we know a dragon was there!

The Devil loves death.
He moved Cain to kill Abel.
He moved Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew children.
He moved Herod to kill the boys of Bethlehem.

He tried to kill Jesus!
But he failed.

#3: The Baby

“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” (v. 5).

In Genesis 3:15 the Lord told the serpent there would be warfare between the woman (Eve) and the serpent. Although the serpent would bruise the heel of her offspring, he (the Seed of the Woman) would crush the serpent’s head.

That’s why the devil tried so hard to kill Jesus.
The birth of Christ meant the end for the Dragon.

His failure is total. All his attempts to thwart God’s plan have come to naught.

He meant to kill Jesus when he was born.
He stirred up the religious leaders against him.
He finally entered Judas on the night of the Last Supper.
When Jesus hung on the cross, it appeared Satan had won the battle.

The Devil tried to kill Jesus

But no!

On the third day the “male child” rose from the dead, utterly defeating Satan, ransacking the realm of evil, walking out of the tomb holding the keys of death and hell in his hands.

Then God took Jesus back to heaven, where he sits the right hand of the throne of God waiting for the moment when he will return to the earth.

What does it mean that the child was “snatched up” to heaven? When his work on earth was done, Jesus ascended into heaven.

Soldiers go home when the war is over

It was divine proof that Jesus won the battle.
He finished the work he came to do.
He fully carried out God’s will.

He came to earth.
He died and rose again.
Having defeated his foes, he returned home to his Father.

When the battle is over and the victory won, the soldier returns to his home. That’s what Revelation 12:5 means.

Let’s put it all together.

Genesis 3:15 predicted a great war between the serpent and the Seed of the Woman. The devil did all he could to stop God’s plan to bring a Savior to the world.

He tried to kill the baby.
He opposed Jesus at every turn.
He tempted him in the desert.
He came to him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
He tried to keep him in the grave.

He failed every time.

The Battle of Bethlehem

What does this mean for us today?
It helps us see Christmas in a new light.

Christmas is more than happy children, parties and mistletoe, and it is much more than Hallmark movies.

More than Hallmark movies

Christmas is good news for a world gone mad. The first verse of a beloved carol makes this clear:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray.

Peace on earth means war in heaven.
While Mary sang, the angels battled!

Let me give you a Reader’s Digest version of what history is all about. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He then placed Adam and Eve on the earth and made them stewards over the whole planet. But when they disobeyed, they surrendered their stewardship into the hands of Satan, God’s arch-enemy. The whole world became Satan’s domain. It is still God’s world by creation. But Satan has usurped God’s authority and set up a counter-kingdom to the kingdom of God. From that day until this, the earth has been the central battlefield in a war between those two competing kingdoms.

Good News for a world gone mad

But that’s not the whole story.

Once the world fell into enemy hands, God determined to win it back at any cost. That meant sending his message through kings and prophets and priests and poets. It meant raising up a nation through whom he would bless the earth. But ultimately it meant he himself had to enter the conflict. In order to reclaim the world from Satan, God entered the human race in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan is a squatter on Planet Earth

When Jesus died on the cross, it appeared the devil had won and God had been defeated. Then Sunday came and with it, the empty tomb and the risen Savior.

Suddenly it became clear to everyone-even to Satan-that Jesus was the victor in the great battle to reclaim the earth. Since that first Easter Sunday, Satan has been like a squatter on planet earth. Jesus reclaimed the title deed, but Satan refused to give up his territory.

The world is still in darkness, but here and there the followers of Jesus have set up outposts of the kingdom, little pinpoints of light promising better things to come.

Kingdoms in Conflict

 Meanwhile the battle rages on between the two kingdoms-King Jesus on one side and Satan on the other. In the last 20 centuries, the light has spread until it seems like there are ten thousand points of light chasing away the darkness. In many other places, however, things look darker than ever. That’s the history of the world until this present moment.

But it is not the end of the story.

The story is not over!

All over the world, the followers of Jesus are praying “Your kingdom come.” As they do, they eagerly wait for the Son of God to personally and visibly return to the earth.

When he at last comes, he will trample Satan under his feet, judge the workers of iniquity, set right the wrongs in the world, and reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. That day has not yet come, but the “signs of the times” tell us the coming of Christ is not far away.

It is the last and greatest chapter in the “Battle of the Ages.”

The Great Invasion started in a manger

We aren’t there yet, but someday soon Jesus will return. Revelation 12 reminds us that the Great Invasion started in a manger. That’s when God said, “I’m taking my world back!”

The Battle of Bethlehem meant warfare in the nursery.
The Baby beat the dragon!

At Bethlehem God struck a blow to liberate the world from sin and death.
And his front line soldier was a tiny baby boy.

The Wrong Shall Fail, the Right Prevail

Don’t take him for granted. There is in this little baby all the strength of Deity. The power of God is in those tiny fists. He has strength which is divine. Whatever he wants, he is able to achieve.

As Luther put it, “He whom the worlds could not enwrap, yonder lies on Mary’s lap.” The baby wrapped in rags is also the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the undefeated Son of God.

He’s the leader of the armies of heaven.

God’s frontline soldier was a tiny baby boy

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was right when he wrote,

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

I urge you to say those words aloud. We need to remind ourselves that the devil will not have the final word. Though he strikes many painful blows, he cannot win because the battle belongs to the Lord.

Be encouraged, my friends. Do not despair. Lift up your eyes and look again to Bethlehem. That sleeping child will rise to battle, and no one will stand against him.

What We Believe

We believe something extraordinary about one particular baby, born in one particular place to a particular set of parents. That baby was God in human flesh.

What are the chances?

We have staked our lives on this truth!

When it comes to Christmas, we unashamedly confess an undeniable historical truth: that 2000 years ago God became man in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We not only believe that.

We have staked our lives upon it.

His Kingdom Will Never End

If Christmas means anything, it is this: God wins in the end.

At Bethlehem, he launched a mighty counteroffensive that started with a tiny baby boy named Jesus, born in a barn, to a young couple who were alone.

The world had no idea what God was up to. Only in retrospect do we understand.

Evil will not win.
The Babe of Bethlehem will make sure of that.

Evil will not win!

Here is my final appeal to you. Everyone reading my words has a choice to make.

You can follow the dying kingdoms of this world, or you can follow Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

His kingdom will never end.
Why would you follow anyone else?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?