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Christmas as Spiritual Warfare (pastor’s blog)

Note, this post first appeared on December 4, 2014 at sbcvoices.com.

Maybe it’s burnout from too many baby-in-a-manger scenes, but when it comes to the Christmas story I tend to be drawn to passages of scripture outside of ordinary thought when we think about Jesus coming to earth. In recent years, one of my favorite passages about our celebrations of the birth of Jesus has become Revelation 12. With a giant red seven-headed dragon it certainly falls outside the realm of typical manger scenes.

However, I think it communicates a strong point that we must keep in mind: Christmas is about spiritual warfare.

And, no, I’m not talking about whether the WalMart cashier says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Really, I don’t care if they say, “Have a great Kwanza,” it’s not the job of the WalMart employee to spread the gospel (it’s ours as the church) and “Merry Christmas” is not exactly a gospel presentation…but I digress.

What I am talking about is this: we need to remember that since the serpent, Satan, first appeared in the Garden of Eden the world has been immersed in a great spiritual battle. The Bible talks frequently about this, yet we seem to place it out of sight and out of mind (for us Baptists, dare I say, spiritual warfare terminology sometimes sounds too charismatic, so we cringe when we should be paying attention).

We have an enemy. He is deceptive. He is crafty. He is dangerous. This is why the Bible paints him as a great red dragon and as a roaring lion seeking to devour. This is why Jesus called Satan a liar and murderer. This is why the author of Hebrews talked about how apart from Christ, Satan holds us under the fear of death; and why Paul called him the god of this world.

He is the ultimate thief, looking to kill, steal, and destroy. If it works, he will devour through the tricks of a costumed shaman in the bush of Africa; and if it works, he will devour through the pride and comforts of being a self-made-man in the cities of North America. He rages in war, though defeated, and we are born into this war and we are born again into this war until Jesus returns and stomps out the enemy forever.

We see this all in Revelation 12 within the context of the Savior-King’s birth.

The Birth. In 12:1-6, John witnessed a vision of a woman in labor pains. This, however, is no ordinary woman. She is clothed with the sun, resting her feet on the moon, and wearing a crown with twelve stars. This is a great woman meant to rule. The woman represents God’s Old Testament faithful—his dedicated people from within the twelve tribes of Israel. People of whom God promised, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Kingdom of priests—a people meant to rule; this comes from a passage Peter later applied to the church of the New Testament after Jesus conquered death and ascended to heaven (1 Peter 2:9-10; the ruling language is also scattered throughout Revelation for God’s people, see: 3:21, 4:4, and 20:4, for example).

But here, this ruling woman is about to give birth to the male child who will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:5). This child is none other than Jesus (19:11-16), leaving the symbolic woman to be none other than God’s Old Testament faithful across the twelve tribes (twelve stars) who have longed for the Messiah to come.

At the time the woman was ready to deliver, the dragon stood before her and sought to devour the child. Satan’s attempts to destroy Jesus started around the time of his birth when Herod, jealous for his throne, ordered the slaughter of all the male children in the region aged two and under. They continued at the start of Jesus’ ministry when Satan tempted Jesus with comfort, power, and a supposed easy way to the throne. They culminated when Satan filled Judas to betray Jesus and see that the Messiah was nailed to a cross—a plan which others intended for evil yet God the Father intended for good (Acts 2:23).

After the crucifixion, though, came the resurrection. And then the ascension at which “her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5).

The Wars. In 12:7, John saw the vision shift. We’re not given a related time frame, but we’re told that Michael and his angels went on the attack against the dragon and his angels. The Bible doesn’t say much about Michael. Jude called him an archangel, which fits the description of leading a band of angels in war. Daniel wrote about Michael at the end of his book. There he is called, “the great prince who has charge of your people” (12:1) and “one of the chief princes” (10:13).

Daniel leaves a lot open for interpretation, but the book seems to paint a picture that (at least in Old Testament times) as a part of the world’s spiritual warfare each nation had a spiritual ruler over it. Persia had a prince whom Michael had to help fight against. Michael, then, was the spiritual ruler over God’s people.

He struck the first blows; and though the dragon and his angels fought back, they were defeated and tossed from heaven. So Satan was thrown down to earth (Revelation 12:9). It is then that salvation is declared for God’s people as “the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come” (12:10). Before then, Satan was one who accused God’s people. After this, God’s people have overcome Satan through “the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they laved not their lives even unto death” (12:11). Our victory is in Christ and our testimony that we belong to him and no one else, no matter what—he is Lord.

This strikes a major shift in the Bible’s story line. In the Old Testament we find stories of Satan able to come into the presence of God along with the angels, and we see him accuse—just as he did with Job in Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-8, and as he did with Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3:1. Yet, when we come to Luke 10, Jesus sent out 72 of his followers to proclaim his coming to the towns and villages, and when they return and tell Jesus of all the great things that happened, Jesus said (quite cryptically), “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (10:18). Then in John 12, speaking about his impending crucifixion and the salvation of those throughout the earth, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (12:31).

The war of Revelation 12:7 happened at some point in Jesus’ life and ministry, and the victory flag raised through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to his throne.

With Satan cast down to the earth, a loud voice from heaven both celebrated the victory of God’s people in Christ, but also gave a warning: “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (12:12).

Then, raging on earth, the dragon first goes on the attack against the woman but she is hidden in the wilderness; so he turns “to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). While undoubtedly there are differing views on the period called 1260 days or a time, and times, and half a time, this point is clear: whereas Satan once stood before God to accuse the saints and then tried to devour their Savior, now Satan can no longer accuse the saints before God (12:10-11, also: Romans 8:33-34) but he will try to destroy them in any way possible.

So it is (and again, passages with various interpretations), the war continues with the dragon waiting for the beast to rise from the sea so that the beast can go and “make war on the saints” (13:7). Yet ultimately the dragon and the beast will meet the cup of God’s wrath (14:6-11, 19:19-21, and 20:7-10); but God’s people who endure, faithful to Jesus, will find the blessing of rest after death (14:12-13).

Conclusion. Christmas is a celebration—a reminder of God’s gift of Jesus for the world’s salvation (John 3:16). But Christmas is also about war. Satan has always sought to accuse, deceive, and destroy. He even sought to devour the child born as our Savior-King. Yet Satan was defeated and tossed from heaven. He still seeks to destroy and devour us, but our victory is in Jesus who came and was born to die for our sins and our redemption.

God allows Satan to wreak havoc for a while longer. His time is short, but he is still dangerous. As we celebrate Christmas, therefore, we must also remember to be diligent in our faith, enduring and keeping the commands of Jesus as the days of our blessed rests approach, and we meet our Savior-King face to face.

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