A Very Apocalyptic Christmas – Part Four

On Monday, we began our Christmas week series through Revelation chapter 12. You need to start from the beginning of the week, or this won’t make sense. 

The unhappy dragon

So far, we’ve seen the dragon (Satan) defeated in his attempts to kill the young hero born to a woman. What’s more, he’s been cast down from the skies. Defeated, yes, but not yet destroyed. And as you might expect, the dragon isn’t particularly happy about being cast down from the sky. In fact, the voice from heaven gives us a bit of a warning:

Revelation 12:12b “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

So he goes off to cause trouble. First stop, that pesky woman who bore the child:

Revelation 12:13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

This refers to Satan’s persecution of the people of God (I think probably Jewish Christians are in view here). But God looks after them:

Revelation 12:14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.

This has echoes of the Old Testament, where God looked after his people wandering in the wilderness, and “bore them on eagle’s wings”. The three-and-a-half “times”, or 1,260 days back in v6, is symbolic. Three-and-a-half is half of seven. But it’s also about the length of time Jerusalem was besieged by the Roman army in the late 60s AD. Many Jewish Christians escaped to a stronghold out in the desert during this time.

Revelation 12:15-16 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.

Again, echoes of the Old Testament, with the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. But it also contains the plot-line of the Apollo myth we talked about before. The point is: God’s at work protecting his people from the wrath of Satan.

Revelation 12:17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

Who are the rest of the woman’s offspring? We can’t be certain, but if the woman represents Israel and Jewish believers, then this probably refers to Gentile Christians – those being persecuted during the 80s and 90s under the emperor Domitian, about the time Revelation was written.

But however you interpret it, it answers an important question: if God has defeated Satan, why is there still persecution and suffering? If Christmas really is “good news for all the people”, if Jesus really was the saviour of the world, if he really did bring “peace on earth” then why is there so much still wrong with this world? Didn’t it work? Did the hero fail to defeat the dragon? Did Frodo never make it to Mount Moriah? Did Neo take the blue pill instead? Did… I don’t know… Rudolph steer the sleigh straight into the path of an oncoming A380?

Here’s the answer. Read v12 again:

Revelation 12:12b “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

The dragon has been defeated, that’s for sure. But he’s still awaiting his final sentencing. In the great cosmic chess game, the only possible outcome is checkmate, but the moves still have to be played out.

In fact, it’s the defeat of the dragon that’s made things worse. Like a wounded bull, or Tony Abbott as a backbencher, he’s cranky—and prowling the earth to cause as much havoc as possible. For his time is short. As Revelation chapter 20 tells us, one day he will be thrown into the lake of fire, destroyed forever.

For many people, Christmas isn’t a joyful time. The dragon’s been at work in this fallen world, and they’re suffering because of it. Illness, depression, unemployment, broken relationships… You know what I’m talking about. I mean, forget Christmas for a minute. Life for a lot of us isn’t that much fun! Christmas just makes it worse, because everyone’s supposed to pretend that they’re happy, right?

But the Christmas story isn’t just the nativity scene. It’s a reminder that although there’s still suffering and pain, it’s temporary. It’s the aftershocks of the battle that defeated Satan. And it’s a promise that one day the dragon will be destroyed.

So if your life looks like the dragon is still vomiting rivers at you—don’t take it as a sign that God’s forgotten about you. That somehow, he isn’t in control. That the outcome of the war is still up in the air.

No. Your suffering as a follower of Jesus; your suffering as a human being in a fallen, broken world—it’s actually a sign that the war’s been won. And the enemy’s just getting as many hits in as he can before the final siren sounds.

Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king.

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