This apocalyptic Christmas narrative reorients our understanding of the season. It’s a reminder that the peace, joy, and goodwill come through death, war, and dominion. Theses are not just sentimental ideals but realities grounded in the triumph of Christ over the powers of darkness.
When we think about Christmas, our minds often conjure images of serene tranquility: a sleeping babe swaddled in linen, nestled in a manger under a starlit sky, surrounded by gentle animals lowing. We envision angels strumming golden harps, their melodies echoing sweetly with promises of peace on earth and goodwill toward men, heralding the birth of heaven’s all-gracious King. However, a starkly different, yet equally significant, portrayal of the Christmas narrative unfolds in the book of Revelation. Here, instead of peaceful stillness, we encounter a dramatic scene with dragons, falling stars, and a celestial war centered around a particular child. This apocalyptic vision of Christmas, far from the traditional manger scene, challenges us to expand our understanding of what Christmas means and how to apply its incredible and profound implications.
With that, let us explore the apocalyptic Christmas from Revelation 12 and discover what it teaches us.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child, crying out in labor and pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. His tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. 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 gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; her child was caught up to God and to His throne.
Examining the Characters
Now…For a moment I want to examine the characters in this scene, look at who they are, what they represent, so that we can understand what is going on. On the surface, the meaning if obvious…This passage is clearly talking about Jesus. He is the male child born to the woman and delivered to us on Christmas Day. He is the King who ascended into heaven after His resurrection as Revelation 12 alludes. But…This passage also presents the familiar scene to us in a very different sort of way…The book of Revelation does not present these events in the material realm like all of the other Christmas passages, which are set in our world, where men and women observed events in space and time…with stables, innkeepers, cities, stars, and wise men. With gifts like gold, frankincense, and myrrh that could be held in the hands. And where the holy family needed to flee from the threats of the maniac Idumean named Herod to a material country and place called Egypt.
Yet, Revelation tells the Christmas story, it seems, in an entirely different dimension. Instead of communicating events in the physical world, it portrays them in the spiritual, cosmic, and apocalyptic realm, which means that is we are going to understand them, we must careful to examine them in their proper setting, identifying what each of the characters in the dram represent and mean.
The Woman: Israel and the Church in Transition
The passage from Revelation 12 introduces us first to a woman “clothed with the sun,” which is a beautiful portrayal of a holy female, set apart by God and enveloped with God’s dazzling creative light. Now…This is not just any female…Many might want to attribute the woman from Revelation 12 to Mary, the physical mother of Christ, but this is not her. The imagery in our passage allows for only one interpretation of this woman’s identity: it is not Mary, but is instead faithful Israel.
Remember, faithful Israel was God’s Old Testament bride (Isaiah 54:5-6) as she is cast in feminine terms. But, since the church is the Israel of God, God’s bride is also the New Testament Church (Ephesians 5:25-27), who was grafted into Israel by the working of Christ (Romans 11:17-24). She, the faithful people of God, is the one whose maker is her husband (Isaiah 54:5) and who in the Old Testament was promised to be restored from her covenant unfaithfulness in the new covenant coming in Christ (Hosea 2:19-20; Jeremiah 31:31-34). At every turn, Israel, the people of God (Past, Present, and Future) are compared to a woman, which is why Revelation describes her this way. She, and by that, I mean the people of God, is the one covered in light through her relationship with Yahweh (Numbers 6:24-26) where He says that He will shine on her and make her shine like a radiant light to all the nations (Isaiah 49:6).
Thus, when we see in Revelation, a shining woman clothed with the sun, we should immediately recognize her as symbolic of God’s bride, the people of God in both Testaments.
Our suspicions are further confirmed when we see that the moon is under her feet and that she is crowned with 12 stars, which is directly alluding to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9. As you will remember, Joseph dreamed that the sun (representing his father, Jacob), the moon (his father’s wives), and the 11 stars ( all of his brothers) would all bow down to him and serve him in the future. And because of this dream, Joseph’s brothers become furious at him, selling him into slavery to a midianite caravan, which left him in Egypt, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, seeking out a living in prison, all before God elevated him to the position of second in command in Pharaoh’s empire. In this way, he was positioned at just the right place, to deliver his family from a massive famine in Egypt, making the dream true. His father and wives, along with his brothers (all of the people of Israel) bowed down and served Him.
Now, what is pertinent in Joseph’s dream to the description of the woman in Revelation, is that she is depicted with the sun, moon, and stars, which in Joseph’s dream applied to the entire people of Israel. Knowing this, it is especially clear that she is the embodiment of the true covenant Israel that Joseph dreamed about all those years ago. She represents the people of God, who are called the bride in the Old Covenant, but also in the New Covenant. We know this because this passage is not just a reference to a bygone Israelite era but a vibrant, living link that connects the ancient people of God, represented by the twelve tribes, to the unfolding narrative of salvation history in the New Testament. This woman is God’s bride who brought forth the man child messiah, but she is also the bride of Christ, who while persecuted will follow her Lord to victory. We see that as the passage develops (Revelation 12:13-17; 19:7).
We see this unfolding by the woman’s condition, as she is besieged by labor pains, which is more than a mere depiction of her physical anguish. This pain encapsulates, not only the long travail of Israel until the messiah was born, but also the tumultuous journey of the early Church, marred by struggles and persecution, especially under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire. These pains are not just symbolic of her suffering; they are indicative of birth, of new birth, of something new and transformative emerging from the throes of the old. Which is why this woman is the perfect picture. She is the Israel by which the Messiah was born…From her very womb. And she is also the bride of Christ who was birthed by His ascension into heaven. That event, began the shift from the Old to the New Covenant, a pivotal moment in the redemption where the Law and Prophets find fulfillment in Christ and where all the types and shadows of the Old Covenant fade away to make room for what they pointed to all along…Him.