A baby in a manger sounds so peaceful. But what was the background to this story and was it all peaceful? Revelation 12 gives the account of an intense battle. It is the story of a woman who is with child. As she reaches the point of labour pains, an enemy confronts her. This is no ordinary enemy – it is a furious dragon. The dragon rages against the woman because he knows that the child she is carrying is the coming King who will rule the world with a rod of iron. After the child was born the dragon did all he could to devour her child, but he was unsuccessful in this attempt. So he puts all his energy into raging against the woman and eventually against all her offspring. That is the story of Revelation 12. What does this mean? Though this contains symbolic language, it nonetheless gives the account of actual events both of the past and of the future.
I understand the woman (Rev. 12:1-2) to be a reference to Israel (Gen. 37:9-10; Is. 26:17-18). In this story she is carrying a child (the Messiah cf. Is. 9:6) that is going to rule all the nations (Rev. 12:5). The fiery red dragon is a reference to Satan (cf. Rev. 12:9). We are told, “the dragon stood before the woman” (Rev. 12:4) indicating a perpetual stance of opposition against her.
What is happening here? Israel is ready to give birth and bring forth the Messiah. However, the dragon attacks her. Satan on many occasions throughout history has attempted to devour and destroy Israel and the Messianic promise, but on each occasion failed. Consider the following examples: Pharaoh’s elimination of male Hebrew children (Ex. 1:15-22). Saul’s many attempts to kill David, from whose line will the Messiah come. In 2 Chronicles 21-22 the royal line from which the Messiah would eventually come from was reduced to one individual (Joash) as a result of Athalia’s evil actions. Herod demanded that the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding regions two years and younger be murdered (Matt. 2:16). These are some of the biblical examples in which the dragon has raged against the woman and the male Child attempting to devour Him.
In all of these events in which Satan was trying to devour the woman and the Messiah, he failed on each occasion. Revelation 12:5 reveals what happened next, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” That night in which the baby laid in the manger would have been an amazing sight. Satan had done all he could to prevent the coming of this child, but He arrived. Satan continued to rage against Him, but He failed. Despite all the attempts to prevent the Messianic promise, Jesus Christ came into the world (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15) and after He fulfilled His mission (Matt. 1:21) He ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Despite all that took place behind the scenes in-order to prevent the Messianic promise, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and will one day return to rule (Rev. 2:27, Rev. 11:15; Rev. 20:4-10). This is the background to the Christmas story.