On Monday, we began our Christmas week series through Revelation chapter 12. You need to start from the beginning of the week, or this won’t make sense.
So far, we’ve read Revelation 12 and identified the woman as “Mother Zion” – the true mother of the real saviour of the world (not Mother Rome and her emperor-son). The dragon is Satan, who – just like in Greek and Roman mythology – wants to kill the saviour-god who is born. But he’s thwarted in his plans, and is defeated by the young hero when he comes of age.
War in heaven
Back to the story, and there’s a scene change. We see war break out in heaven.
Actually, the word for “heaven” and “sky” is the same in Greek. And in the first century world view, what happened in the sky parallels what happened on earth. So astrological phenomena are interpreted as omens. Significant things were thought to happen in the skies at important —like the outbreak of war, or the birth of an important person. A bit like when the Magi saw a new star appear over Bethlehem and said to each other, ‘dudes, we’d better go check that out’. (My Persian’s a bit rusty, but that seemed to be the gist of it.)
And this war in the sky sees a third of the stars swept down. (Angels are often described as stars in Jewish writings.) Satan and his angels fall from heaven:
Revelation 12:7-9 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Now why is a war in heaven part of the Christmas story? I mean, I know the angels only say ‘peace on earth’, but what’s going on?
Remember what apocalyptic writing is all about: revealing the spiritual reality behind what goes on in history. So here, Revelation is telling us that when Christ was born in this physical dimension, it started a war in the spiritual dimension. Pivotal events on earth accompanied by great movements in the heavens.
It’s like those old WWII films where you see the generals all standing around a giant table that’s been set up as a model of the battlefield. As the battle happens out on the field, the information gets relayed back to headquarters, and the model pieces are moved around the table. It means the generals can see the big picture of what’s happening. And on that basis they send orders out to their troops. And so it goes, back and forth, with what’s happening on the table both reflecting and influencing what’s happening in the battle. The unit commanders out there in the field might only be able to see their little part of the battle. But the generals see it all, as it simultaneously plays out on the table.
This depiction of a ‘war in the sky’ is like an overview of the battlefield. Where you see the big picture all at once. Some of the events on earth might not look all that significant from the perspective of those involved. A teenage mum giving birth in a stable. But Revelation shows us that it’s part of a much, much bigger picture.
Lying behind the Christmas story is nothing less than the defeat of Satan. The birth of Jesus is the opening salvo in a heavenly war. And his resurrection is the winning battle.
This victory is what the loud voice in heaven proclaims:
Revelation 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.”
The Christmas story isn’t just the nativity scene. It’s the story of God’s victory over Satan. We declare not just the birth of a cute baby, but the defeat of evil.
OK, but if evil has been defeated, how come there’s still so much bad stuff in the world? Good question. We’ll get to that tomorrow, as that’s what the last part of the chapter’s about.