Maybe the most surprising Christmas story is in Revelation. Most people think that Revelation is all about the future, but within its pages is the story of the cosmic conflict between good and evil. At the very center of Revelation, the conflict is laid bare. The Christmas story of Revelation is told right there in chapter 12. We read:
And a great sign appeared in the heaven: a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, and she was pregnant and she cries with birth-pangs and torment in child-birth. And another sign appeared in the heaven, and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns, and his tail swept a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. And she birthed a male son who is about to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod, and her child was snatched to God and to his throne, and the woman fled to the desert, where she has a place prepared by God, so that He might feed her there for one thousand two hundred and sixty days (my very literal translation).
Wow! What do we do with these crazy words? We have to understand that John is telling the story of how God has already defeated evil through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Revelation chapter twelve is the cosmic back story. The woman stands successively for Eve, for Israel, for Mary, and for the church. The dragon is Satan. The male child is Jesus.
The Christmas story proper is told with only one verse: “And she birthed a male son who is about to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod and her child was snatched to God and to his throne.” These few words connect Revelation to the Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke and to Messianic hope of Psalm 2. But there is so much more. In the previous verses, the woman represents the avenue for the advent of the Messiah, going all the way back to Eve and God’s word to the serpent as deceiver of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The conflict between Satan (the serpent) and Eve’s offspring is set. After Eve, the people of Israel became “the woman” with the twelve stars around her head (the twelve tribes). The story of Moses’s birth is an Old Testament example of Satan’s opposition; Pharaoh tried to stamp out the Israelites, but Moses was rescued and became the savior to the Israelites. Many years later Moses prophesied that God would raise up a prophet like him (Deut 18:15). In the immediate context Moses may have thought this to be Joshua, but in the context of God’s plan it was Yeshua, Jesus. Of course, Satan continued his attempts to stamp out the seed like in the story of Esther, but despite the flaws of Israel (see Zechariah 3:1-10, another Joshua!), God prevailed. The woman in Revelation 12 then becomes Mary who gave birth to Jesus. The last ditch efforts of Satan to devour the child that we see in the Bible were in the form of Herod the Great and in the crucifixion of Jesus. We do not even know all of the other efforts! Matthew tells the story of Herod in Matthew 2 and all of the Gospels tell of the crucifixion, but once again the wiles of Satan were foiled. In the Resurrection, the decisive blow was dealt. In Revelation 12:5, John includes the entirety of Jesus’s Incarnation from birth to ascension in one verse!
The rest of Revelation 12 fills in the story of Satan’s rebellion in heaven and his defeat at the hands of Michael and his angels, followed by Satan’s lashing out in anger against the woman–now the church–and her children. Nonetheless, those who trust in the Lamb conquer Satan too:
Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah (Christ) have come because the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been thrown down. And they defeated him through the blood of the Lamb and through the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives even to death (Rev 12:10-11, my translation).
What Jesus accomplished in his birth, death, and resurrection gives those who entrust themselves to Jesus everything they need to be victorious in this life, despite the work of Satan and all of the evil in this world. That is a beautiful Christmas message.
For more on Revelation’s very distinctive way of describing reality, I recommend the commentary by Sigve Tonstad published by Baker Press.