By Dr. Simon Kistemaker
During the weeks before Christmas, we customarily read those Old Testament passages that impart messianic prophecies about the coming of Christ, especially those in Isaiah 7 and 9. Then on Christmas day we read the stories of Jesus' birth recorded in Matthew 2 and Luke 2. But when we are asked if there is anything else in the New Testament that speaks about the birth of the Messiah, we seem to be at a loss for words.
And yet, there is more information, be it in a different form and context. I am referring to a few texts in the book of Revelation, where the apostle John tells us about the woman who gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations, and snatched up to God and His throne (Rev. 12:1-5). All indications are that this Son is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who is this woman that gives birth to a son? Our first reaction is to say that she is Mary the mother of Jesus. But the early Christian church did not identify the woman with Mary, for the New Testament speaks against this. In both society and church Mary assumed for herself a modest place. Not until the middle of the fourth century, according to Epiphanius, a bishop of Salamis on the island of Cyprus, some unnamed individuals described the woman as Mary. But the church at large even throughout the Middle Ages kept equating the woman not with Mary but with the church.
The Reformers have always understood this woman to be God's representative of His covenant people. The people of both the Old and New Testament eras have demonstrated a oneness in calling her mother. She gave birth to the Messiah, called Immanuel, as Isaiah 7:14 tells us; and she represents the human ancestry of Christ that welcomes Gentile Christians into a new covenant (Rom. 9:5; 11:11-21). Here then is the unity of the church, which John teaches when he writes about the woman's children "who were keeping the commandments of God and held to the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17).
John describes the woman in glorious terms by painting a portrait of her clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head (Rev. 12:1). She exhibits a brilliant picture of the church universal that is beaming forth the light of the Word. She is crowned with the twelve stars that symbolize the victory of the twelve patriarchs of the old covenant era and the twelve apostles of the new covenant times.
The woman is pregnant and gives birth to a son, namely, a male child. John's wording seems to be redundant, but he is purposely explicit in highlighting the relationship of the woman and the son. This relationship is much more than an expectant mother giving birth to a child of the male gender. The woman who delivers the Son is the church, and then in a role reversal the Son redeems the church from sin and guilt. But there is more. At the end of time, it is the Son who, after having claimed the church as His bride now welcomes her to the wedding feast (Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17). John is showing us different pictures in the family album, so to speak. He presents these pictures as symbols of reality.
Notice that the light falls as much on the Son as on the woman, as much on the Christ child as on the church. The Christ is about to rule all the nations with an iron rod. We recognize in this last statement an allusion to Psalm 2:9, where we read, "You will rule them with a rod of iron." Why does the Messiah rule not with a shepherd's staff but an iron club? The answer is that the Shepherd caring for His sheep protects them from the onslaughts of Satan and his evil angels. He applies the iron rod to anyone who rises up against Him. But He gathers people from all nations to Himself, so that they come and worship before Him (Rev. 15:4).
And where is this ruler over the nations? John telescopes the earthly life of Jesus by mentioning only two of its aspects: His birth and His ascension. He writes that the child was snatched to God and to His throne. This means that he focuses attention on Jesus' birth on earth to include His ministry, and on His ascension to heaven to include His majestic rule while seated on God's throne. In other words, He is fully in control of world affairs; and gathering His church from all nations, He keeps them from harm and danger.
Satan directs his wrath primarily against the Christ child whom he wanted to eliminate already at birth. He seeks to usurp the place of Christ by being the Antichrist. But every time Satan attacks Him, he becomes the loser. Therefore, he looks for an easier target and attacks the church, that is, the followers of Christ. John depicts the woman, who represents the church on this earth, as fleeing into the desert. From a scriptural perspective, the desert is a place where a person is completely dependent on God for material and spiritual needs. The desert is always a temporary location where the Lord trains His people for spiritual service. The Israelites stayed in the desert of Sinai temporarily while they longed for the Promised Land; the church today is waiting in a secular desert longing to be with Christ forever (II Cor. 5:6-8).
Satan, seeing that he is powerless to assault Jesus, vents his wrath on Christians and, especially in our times, he relentlessly persecutes them. But he does not seem to realize that the Lord is vigilantly protecting His people because they are the apple of His eye (Deut. 32:10). God protected the Israelites in the desert of Sinai: daily He gave them manna and water; He provided them with quail; He sustained them with physical health; and their clothes and shoes did not wear out. God shielded them from the blazing desert sun by covering them with a cloud, and during the night He kept them warm with the pillar of fire. He protected them from the stings and bites of scorpions and snakes. Similarly, the Lord Jesus Christ guards the church from Satan's assaults today. He furnishes His covenant people with spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10-18) and nourishes and trains them for spiritual service.
John relates that Satan appearing as a serpent spews out of his mouth a river of water to sweep away the woman. But the earth assists the woman by swallowing the river that comes out of the dragon's mouth (Rev. 12:15-16). A flood of deceptive words flows forth from the mouth of the snake as it tries to deceive the church and thus destroy her members. Voices of deception via the media engulf the members of the present church in such a manner that they are in danger of being swept away. But notice the contrast: Satan creates a river of deception but God a river of life.
The Lord tells His people not to fear, not even when the floodwaters of falsehood, malice, crime, and suffering threaten to overwhelm them. He keeps His people safe so that they are not swept away by the torrents of evil swirling around them. Although they may suffer physically in many ways, Christ protects His own from permanent harm, spiritually speaking.
Satan, however, never concedes defeat, for every time he is vanquished he returns with renewed fury and vengeance. He goes out to fight individual believers who together form the church and are the rest of the woman's offspring on the face of this earth. They remain intact until the return of Christ, while Satan unable to conquer them faces a losing battle. They have the Lord on their side, who has assured them that He will never, no never leave or forsake them (Heb. 13:5).
THE PEOPLE OF GOD
John describes the followers of Christ by saying that they are keeping God's commands and are proclaiming the testimony of Jesus. Faithful and obedient to God's Word and the Gospel of Christ, they continue to honor and keep the teachings of the law. And as long as they do this, Satan is unable to touch them. These followers advance the cause of Christ's kingdom wherever God in His providence has placed them. They are unafraid, for Christ's repeated admonition "fear not" continues to ring in their ears. Instead they are filled with joy in the Lord, knowing that the glories of heaven are awaiting them. With their spiritual eyes they long to see the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven. They know that Christ as the bridegroom will meet His bride, the church, at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Christ Himself has presented her to Himself radiant, spotless, without blemish or wrinkle, holy, and blameless (Eph. 5:27).
So the members of the church wait patiently for the return of her Lord; they pray Maranatha, Come, O Lord. Indeed not only the church is praying earnestly for the coming of Jesus, but both the Holy Spirit and the bride together are saying, "Come!" And we also, now celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, have our eyes of faith fixed on His second coming, and fervently pray, "Come!" (Rev. 22:17).
Jesus has the last word in the sixty-six books that make up the Scripture. He promises His people a speedy return by uttering these words, "Yes, I am coming soon" (Rev. 22:20). No one knows the exact date of His coming, but by looking at the signs of the time we are able to say that the end of time is near. Indeed, the Lord is standing at the door and is ready to come.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 18, Number 4