Growing in Christ
In the Christian Calendar
opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Advent Reflection: The
by Darrell Johnson · December 14, 2013
First Baptist Church, Vancouver
As you begin this reflection, I invite you to start by reading Revelation 12,
the most forgotten Christmas passage in scripture.
Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the magi were not the only ones to witness the
newborn king. A dragon also saw him coming. He has seven heads - a symbol of
completeness and authority. He also has 10 horns - a reference to immense
strength. As Martin Luther wrote, "on earth is not his equal."
The dragon recognizes the eternal significance of Christmas and directs his
fierce strength to thwart the child's birth. But he is not successful. His
attempt to execute the child through Herod is cut short. The baby is born safely
and "caught up to God and to his throne" (Rev 12:5). John moves right from
incarnation to ascension. This child is born to be the king of the world.
In the next moment, we see war breaking out in heaven (12:7). It's a cosmic
struggle between the dragon and the archangel Michael. In the end, the great war
of the universe is a victory for God's people - but how was it won? That is the
whole point of the vision of Revelation 12!
The great war is won, surprisingly, on Christmas Day. A child shivers in the
cold air of a Bethlehem night, and Satan shudders in defeat. Because the child
was born, "the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down"
(12:10). In this chapter, John speaks of the dragon being "thrown down" on six
separate occasions; he seems to relish announcing the good news. The dragon has
been vanquished because the woman gave birth to the child.
Then why are things so bad? This is the pastoral reason for this vision. Things
are bad because the dragon is "ticked." He is angry because he has been thrown
down never to return to heaven. He knows that the time is short. It is why he is
so active; he is going to get as much dirty work done as he can.
The suffering of the church in the world is not a sign of Satan's victory. It is
a sign of the realization of his defeat. If he cannot kill the child, he goes
after what is dearest to the child. He goes after the woman (12:13) and he also
goes after the people of God - those who "keep the commandments of God and hold
to the testimony of Jesus" (12:17).
In Revelation 12, we learn that the dragon in his rage goes after God's people
in three ways. First, John calls the dragon "the accuser of the brothers and
sisters." The Hebrew word 'Satan' means 'accuser.' The dragon hassles God's
people through the constant engendering of guilt. He slanders them before God
and before others, saying they are not worthy of God's love because of their
sin. This warns me about getting caught up in accusation - it's playing into the
Second, John says the dragon "deceives the whole world" (12:9). It is a
character issue for the dragon; he is fundamentally deceived and deceiving. He
is deceived about his place in the universe and he tries to deceive us by
tempting us to be God. He constantly plays games with the truth. This warns me
about getting caught up in any deception, however small.
Third, the dragon seeks to kill. That is why he is red, the colour of blood. The
dragon intimidates with the threat of death. He whispers: "If you obey Jesus you
are going to suffer; if you obey Jesus you are going to die." Because of the
fear of death we are tempted to back off and compromise our convictions.
The torrent of lies and threats streaming from the dragon's mouth is a
counter-image to the 'river of life' flowing from the throne of God. But how do
we stand against the dragon's flood? The loud voice in heaven instructs us:
"They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb" (12:11).
You see, the dragon is right: we are sinners. But he is also wrong: that is not
the whole story. There is a Saviour who deals with sin. When the enemy whispers
accusations to us, we overcome him by confessing our sin: "You are right. I have
sinned." And then by preaching the gospel to him and to ourselves, "But Jesus
Christ has died for me." So dragon, get out of here!
As Eugene Peterson observes, Revelation 12 is not the Christmas story we grew up
with, but it is the nativity story all the same. Because the dragon has been
defeated, the peace, hope and love we sing about during this season are not
merely faint aspirations, but a concrete reality of cosmic proportions.
Darrell Johnson is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vancouver. This
piece is part of the
Advent Reader, published this year.