The Dragon and the Child: Our Deliverer Comes
Midweek Advent 1
The Great Dragon and Our Great Deliverer
The Dragon and the Child: Our Deliverer Comes
Text: Revelation 12:1-6
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Sometimes when you see a captivating picture from a horrifying situation, the picture speaks volumes more than a thousand words. I think war pictures do this as much as anything. The look of determination mixed with fear in a black and white photo of the soldiers on the boat about to land in Normandy. The gory scene in a medical tent during Vietnam. The marine in full gear in the deserts of Afghanistan. The masked terrorists raising their rifles in momentary victory.
Stories and reports in the news are one thing, but pictures bring war to life. They strike fear in the heart showing that the war is real and the enemies are dangerous. At the same time, pictures can deliver another message. Think of the picture of the soldiers planting the flag at Iwo Jima which has become a national monument. Pictures can also strengthen, comfort, and encourage.
This understanding of the power of pictures will help you understand the book of Revelation. Revelation is a picture book. It’s a series of visions that have a story to tell. It’s a war story. The war is between God, his angels, and his believing people and Satan, his demons, and his evil unbelievers.
The first part of Revelation speaks of the peace that is coming in heaven, but addresses also the war that it is going on here on earth. It describes the atrocities of the End Times that we are now in, including things like war, famine, pestilence, disease, disaster, and persecution. It also describes Jesus, the Lamb that was slain who delivers us from these things.
Revelation chapter 12 is a turning point in the book of Revelation. Now the visions and pictures turn from the depiction of war in this world to the war in heaven, or the spiritual fight that is taking place. We don’t see Jesus and his angels or Satan and his demons, but epic spiritual battle has been raging, and it still is today. The pictures in these later visions in Revelation give us pause as the evil powers of this world are on display. However, these visions also give us great confidence and courage because they show us the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ.
These three Wednesdays of Advent we will take a look at this turning point chapter of Revelation that depicts The Great Dragon and Our Great Deliverer and we will be reminded about our God’s incredible love and power seen in our Savior who came for us, Jesus Christ. It’s all the more reason for us to celebrate his birth this Christmas.
A good strategy for us might be to look at the whole picture this evening, then to zoom in at the individual parts, then to zoom back out and understand what it means for us today. So here is the whole picture to start with, Revelation 12:1-6: “A great and wondrous 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. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His 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 he might devour her child the moment it was born. 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. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.”
Some parts of this picture are easier than others. There are obviously three main characters—a woman, a child, and the dragon. But who are they? The last one is probably the easiest. The dragon is clearly the devil, Satan himself. The child who was born who will rule all nations and who ascended to heaven is also easier to identify. That’s Jesus.
But who is the woman? Your first inclination might be to guess Mary since it talks about pregnancy and birth. It is certainly possible. But there is probably a better option though. The first two verses talk about her clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. Certainly that symbolizes strength and power and permanence. This specific kind of crown is a victor’s or champion’s crown. Later in this chapter we’ll hear about the dragon pursuing and persecuting the woman.
This all leads us to understand that the woman is not Mary, but rather the Church, or all believers. Adding to the case we note that in Revelation the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, such as the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 disciples. Then we recall that the Scriptures often refer to the Church as a woman, such as Ephesians 5 which calls us the bride of Christ. And as for how this could say that the woman is the Church who gives birth to Christ? Well we remember Isaiah’s prophecy that says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Jesus is our Savior, our brother, and our Lord all at once.
So now we know the main characters. The woman is the Church whom God crowns with victory and who has power. The Son is Jesus. The dragon is the devil. Now we can look at the picture even more closely.
Verse 1: John sees the vision of the Church crowned in power and glory. Verse 2: The Church was pregnant and in pain. God’s people were yearning for generations for the Savior to come. There were many toils and pains along the way as the Church waited for the Savior to come. Almost like pregnancy, the closer it came for Jesus to be born, the more pains and troubles the Jews found themselves in.
Verse 3: Now another sign. An enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. Satan is enormous—he’s powerful, he’s a force to be reckoned with. He was red which is the color of blood and persecution and war. He had seven heads in this vision. Seven is usually the number of God and his covenant love. We see how Satan tries to imitate God, but yet he’s different. He has ten horns on the seven heads. Horns symbolize power and strength like a ram’s or rhino’s powerful horns. He had crowns too—seven of them. But interestingly, this word for crown is the word for a fake or temporary crown, often worn by emperors or rulers who claimed to be God but weren’t.
Verse 4: “His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” We are reminded how Satan was once an angel but rebelled against God and took angels with him. We don’t know if it was exactly one third of the angels or if this simply signifies that it was a good chunk of them. But now these fallen angels led by Satan do their evil work on the earth trying to bring us down with them.
“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.” Think of all of Satan’s attempts to destroy Jesus. He coaxed King Herod to kill all the baby boys in the land. He tempted Jesus in the desert. He worked through enemies and opponents. He led him to the hight of despair at the cross and Jesus even died. Yet despite all his attempts Jesus conquered and won.
Verse 5: The woman finally gave birth to her son, that’s Jesus of course, who will rule all nations with an iron scepter. That’s an allusion to Psalm 2 which prophesies that the Messiah will come as God’s own Son and will rule with an iron scepter, a symbol of power. Verse 5 also says the child was snatched up to God and to his throne. Clearly a reference to Jesus ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of his Father in victory.
Verse 6: “The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” 1,260 days, or 42 months, or 3 and a half years (all the same amount of time), come up several times in Revelation. It seems to picture a time of persecution for God’s people. The verse reminds us that God safely takes care of and protects the Church. Jesus promised that not even the gates of hell can overcome us. For as long as these End Times and persecution continue, God will always protect and take care of us.
That’s a lot of information and detail. Sort of like staring at a painting up close too long, you might end up going crosseyed. Let’s not lose the forest among the trees here. Take a step back to see the who picture of these verses: Satan rebelled with the evil angels. He is powerful and dangerous and bent on hell (and us being there). But as the Church of believers has groaned in pain while longing for deliverance, God has answered our prayers and kept his promises. He sent his Son Jesus to deliver us from the devil, rule all by his mighty power, crown us with victory, and then powerfully protect us until the end of time.
What an incredible, intricate, and stunningly beautiful picture! It’s just the kind of message that we need. I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve felt more than a little uneasy in this world. Tension is rising between world enemies. Animosity toward Christians is building. Satan is having his way in this world and the crazy thing is that people are buying his lies so that what is wrong is considered right, what is bad is considered good, and what is evil is considered fun, enjoyable, or normal.
The picture of a pregnant woman is fitting because daily I groan with the pains of life in this world and a longing desire to be done with these troubles. The picture of Satan as an enormous dragon of death and power is fitting too because what he does and wants to do to me is terrifying.
And yet we need not be afraid. I think of that verse from Isaiah again that goes hand in hand with this: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What God promised there has already happened. This already done. Revelation reminds us that our Christmas celebration is a celebration of what is in the past and finished. We celebrate our Deliverer and Savior’s coming because he already did come. He already did deliver us. He already did defeat the dragon. He already did Save us.
That’s the beautiful image of that last verse where the woman flees to the desert. We might be living in desperate, desert like conditions right now. But God is taking care of us. Our great Deliverer Jesus rules with his iron scepter and one day soon he will give us the reality of our victory crowns as we share in his throne of triumph.
Christmas is about more than a cute baby in a manger and furry animals standing near by. Christmas is about war—a war that is won and done. God was born in human flesh to defeat the devil once and for and deliver his people from sin. God promised he would do it. Revelation 12 reminds us that he did it.
Prepare to celebrate this Christmas that our great deliverer has come!