Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright…
When Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr of Austria penned the famous Christmas carol Silent Night in 1818, they painted a calm, idyllic image of Christmas. It along with many Christmas carols portrayed the birth of Jesus as we see it in Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 1:18-2:23 — Shepherds in the field, Angels singing, a baby in swaddling clothes, a manger, bleating sheep and lowing oxen.
Peaceful, serene… yet is this what really happened at the birth of Jesus?
There is a third version of the Christmas story, found in the Book of Revelation, that isn’t often read this time of year:
The Woman, Israel
12 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.
The Red Dragon, Satan
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
The Male Child, Christ
5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. (Revelation 12:1-5 NASV)
In his vision of the end times, the Apostle John provides a unique perspective on what actually took place at the birth of Jesus. It was the time of a great spiritual battle.
We see the reference to Christ in verse 5 about the male child [Christ] who would rule the earth and join God at His throne.
But at the beginning of this passage we see a description of the woman who would give birth to Jesus. She is described as clothed in the sun with the moon under her feet and wearing a crown of 12 stars.
Who is this woman?
While some like the Catholic church believe this is a reference to Mary giving her almost a god-like appearance, most commentators believe the woman portrayed is Israel. In fact, this is how the New American Standard version names this section: “The Woman, Israel.”
Joseph used the same terminology — sun, moon, stars — to describe the sons of Jacob who would form God’s chosen nation (Genesis 37:9).
Israel was birthing the redeemer and Mary was the woman God chose to do it.
But most importantly John shows us what was happening at Jesus’s birth. We see a red dragon, Satan, sitting in wait to kill this baby. Christmas or the birth of Jesus was a time of great conflict as God in flesh appeared on earth to redeem mankind and defeat the hordes of hell.
In a nutshell, this is D-day and Satan was determined to repel God’s invasion at the moment of Christ’s birth.
As carols play peacefully in the background during this special season, most of us are blissfully unaware of the brutal conflict waging in the unseen spiritual realm at the first Christmas.
John suggests this was also the time that Michael the Archangel drove Satan and a third of the angels out of heaven (Revelation 12:7-10). They would not have gone peacefully.
We see hints of this spiritual violence breaking through into the natural realm at different points in the Christmas story. Herod, a brutal man who murdered his own wife and two sons, is Satan’s instrument to kill Jesus.
When the Magi drawn to Jesus by a guiding star showed up in Jerusalem looking for the new King of Israel, King Herod was troubled. After hearing of their search, Herod asked the magi to report back on whether they had found the Christ. But before that could happen, God warned the magi through a dream and they returned to their homeland by a different route (Matthew 2:12).
When Herod realized they weren’t coming back, his violent temper is on full display. Using Old Testament prophecies that spoke of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and area under the age of two (Matthew 2:16).
But God appeared to Joseph in a dream warning him to flee to Egypt and they actually fled under the cover of darkness (Matthew 2:14, 15). The closest Egyptian town was about 60 miles away where there was a large Jewish population for Joseph and his bride to hide among. More importantly, it was outside Herod’s jurisdiction.
We see further evidence of this battle in Luke 2:13 when “a multitude of the heavenly host” shows up singing praises to God. It seems like a choral group announcing the coming of Christ.
But the word “host” used in this verse portrays something completely different. The Greek word “stratia” is better translated “army.” This was not a choir with their long flowing robes. These were helmeted, grim-faced warriors, wearing armor and bearing shields, broad swords and spears. Ready for battle.
This was an angelic army sent to fight the red dragon and drive Satan and his minions out of heaven.
The same word is used in 2 Corinthians 10:4 talking about warfare.
4 for the weapons of our warfare [stratia] are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Corinthians 10:4 NASV)
So while our Christmas cards often portray Magi leading camels, the star and a baby in a manger, more accurately they should portray warfare — the red dragon trying to kill the baby. Satan being driven from heaven. Herod slaughtering children. God’s angels battling the satanic realm holding off several attempts to assassinate the baby Jesus.
This is the true message of Christmas: God successfully invading the world, gaining a vital foothold that would eventually lead to Satan’s crushing defeat at the cross.
- I blatantly stole this story, with his permission, from a great sermon on this subject by my former pastor David Wells.