At the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie Brown cries out in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” Can you imagine what the audience response would have been if, instead of the passage in Luke 2, Charles Schultz had chosen the following text for Linus to present:
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; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. 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. 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. 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. (Rev. 12:1-5).
“And that,” says Linus, “is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
A walk through Revelation’s Christmas Story
Although certainly not traditional Christmas fare, the above passage from the Bible’s last book provides unique insight into the birth of Christ over what we find in Matthew and Luke. Let’s take a quick walk through the Christmas story via the lens of John (the author of Revelation) in his prophetic work.
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; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.
There’s no Mary and Joseph in this nativity; instead, the second half of Revelation starts with the first in a series of events called “signs” (12:3; 13:13–14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20). These are symbols that God reveals, which typically contain an element of prophetic warning.
The woman depicted is the second of four symbolic women in the book (Jezebel, 2:20; the great harlot, 17:1–7; the bride of the Lamb, 19:7–8). Is this Mary as in the gospels or someone else?
There have been both reasonable and bizarre conjectures as to her identity, with perhaps the strangest being the 19th-century cult leader Joanna Southcott who claimed the woman was herself. While some make the case for Mary (Roman Catholicism) or the Church, I believe the biblical evidence points to the woman being Israel.
In the dream of Joseph chronicled in Genesis 37:9–11, the sun and moon refer to Jacob and Rachel, and the 11 stars are Joseph’s brothers. Moreover, the Bible says it was through Israel that Jesus Christ came into the world (Rom. 1:3; 9:4–5) with the nation often being compared to a woman, including one in travail giving birth (Isa. 54:5; 66:7; Micah 4:10; 5:2–3). Being “in pain” is nothing new to Israel; it has suffered satanic anti–Semitism continually right up to our present day.
So, while in Matthew and Luke’s Christmas story we have Mary giving birth to Jesus, in Revelation John pictures the persecuted nation of Israel doing so.
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.
In the gospel accounts, it takes several chapters for Satan to explicitly appear, but in Revelation’s Christmas story, he’s immediately front and center.
The second “sign” in Revelation is “great” only in the respect of it being large and monstrous. The Bible clearly says the dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9), with the color red (pyrros) depicting death (cf. the 2nd rider in Rev. 6:4) and the fact that the devil is a murderer (John 8:44).
While there’s no debate as to the dragon’s identity, there is disagreement over what his multiple heads, horns, and crowns mean. Yet, later in Revelation, we’re told that the heads represent mountains (Rev. 17:9), and the horns represent kings (Rev. 17:12). In all likelihood, the Antichrist’s future kingdom is being depicted: one of a renewed Roman empire consisting of a ten-nation confederacy with the ten horns representing leaders who will rule under Antichrist (cf. Rev. 13:1; Dan. 7:23–25).
Pastor and commentator R.C.H. Lenski sums up the imagery in this verse as Satan wearing “symbols of arrogated dominion.”
And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
We’re given a quick understanding of the magnitude of spiritual evil and its formation against the Christ child with this verse. Literally, one-third of the angelic host followed Satan in his rebellion against God and now operate as demons who work against Jesus.
And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
Satan has been forever trying to kill Jesus.
Here in Revelation, John shows his reader a picture of the struggle between the woman and Satan, which is a throwback to the beginning of human history where God addressed the woman and the serpent (Gen. 3:14–16). Ever since God told Satan that the woman’s offspring would crush his head, there has always been a “dragon” standing by, waiting to destroy Israel and the ancestors of the Messiah.
In Matthew’s Christmas story, we see just one attempt: the satanically-inspired campaign of Herod to murder all the young male children (Matt. 2:16), who are the first Christian martyrs. But there have been plenty of other efforts made by the devil to stop Jesus from coming and fulfilling His mission.
Influenced by Satan, Cain killed his brother Abel, and Pharaoh (called a “dragon” in Ezek. 29:3 as is Nebuchadnezzar in Jer. 51:34) drowned the male children of the Hebrews. With murderous intent, Saul hurled his spear at David (1 Sam. 20:33), and Haman plotted to exterminate the Jewish people living in the provinces of Persia (Est. 3). At one point, the Messiah’s line was limited to one young boy (2 Kings 11:1–3).
All the devil’s work has proven fruitless, though, because Jesus Christ has conquered the dragon through His birth, life, and ascension, as the next verse indicates.
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.
The Christmas story’s trinitarian score concludes at, God: 3; Satan: 0.
Satan fails at his attempts to stop Christ from coming, fails at his attempts to stop Jesus from accomplishing His mission, and fails at his attempts to stop Jesus from being glorified.
And to remind his readers of Christ’s firm reign, three times in Revelation John quotes words from Psalm 2:9, “You shall break them with a rod of iron” (2:27; 12:5; 19:15). The imagery is the exact opposite of a helpless baby in a manager in this version of Christ’s birth.
Note that God is the agent in the passive voice of the phrase “her child was caught up to God.” The catching up of the Child refers to His Ascension, not to the later Rapture of the church as some propose (the Rapture of the church would not constitute a deliverance of the male Child from Satan).
And so there you have it – the Christmas story as told by John in Revelation. It is the unveiling of the ascended Christ, the exalted Christ, and the Christ who is coming again in glory. Just as in Luke’s Christmas account, the only proper response to all this is, “Glory to God in the highest” (2:14).
We’re told in Hebrews 12:2 that we look: “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
And that is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.