You’re probably seeing lots of nativity scenes this time of year, plastic ones with lights inside, big ones with life-size cutouts, little ones on mantles and lots of them with misplaced visiting magi. Putting aside the fact the wise men came much later for a moment, I want to tell you about the other nativity scene from the New Testament. Despite the first already being strange, with a king being born in a borrowed stable and laid in a feeding trough, the second is even stranger.

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 pregnant 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 crowns. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and hurled 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, who is going to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her Child was caught up to God and to His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for 1,260 days.

Revelation 12:1-6

Where the first nativity is an account of the lowly birth of the child Jesus, the second is a symbolic rendition of the spiritual implications of the same event. The woman here is not Mary, but the nation of Israel herself, the twelve stars representing the twelve tribes. The dragon, while most certainly an enemy, is not The Enemy, Satan, but rather the nation of Rome, each head representing one of the famous seven hills of the capital. The child who was born to rule is caught up into God and His throne, representing Jesus ascension to Heaven following his sacrifice. Jesus escape from the Roman threat was not to a place of physical safety but of spiritual ascension; the nation of Rome could not stop him nor destroy his power.

If any of this seems out of place to you, please remember this same book includes a figure of Christ which is a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns (5:6) and one where he has a sword coming from his mouth (19:15).

Challenging imagery aside, the prophesy is profound; the Child, our Messiah Jesus, has ascended to his place beside the throne of God and will rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Praise God for his mighty plan to rescue us all from sin and death.

Ethan Kirl

Originally published December 16, 2020