Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
October 31, 2021
I had a Professor in College who spent Easter weekend on the island of Patmos, where John was when he wrote the Book of Revelation. My professor said that when the clock struck midnight Saturday night, the night before Easter Sunday, an incredible fireworks show began, to usher in Easter Sunday. It was their way of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. That would be pretty amazing. Easter on Patmos. Today we’re going to talk about Christmas on Patmos.
It’s found in Revelation Ch. 12.
Verse 1 uses the word, “portent” – a portent is a warning that something big & bad is going to happen, something monumental and awful.
I think this passage will make better sense if I give you the overall theme first:
A conflict between good and evil is happening in heaven at the same time it’s played out on earth.
A conflict between good and evil is happening in heaven at the same time it’s being experienced, lived out, and played out on the earth.
Please keep that in mind while we read it.
The Woman and the Dragon
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.
Michael Defeats the Dragon
7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”
The Dragon Fights Again on Earth
13 So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.
The First Beast
18 Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.
We’re studying the Book of Revelation this Fall, and one of the things I’ve stressed is that John wasn’t giving his readers a roadmap for the End Times. He was trying to encourage them in their time, his time. He was not laying out a timeline, an almanac, a chronology of the End Times.
One strong piece of evidence for this view is Ch. 12. Chapter 11 ends with the Return of Christ and the start of the Messianic Age – “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” But now in Ch. 12 he’s talking about the Birth of Christ. He’s celebrating Christmas. But Christmas on Patmos is not your typical Christmas.
No one’s ever made a Christmas card based on John’s version of the Christmas story!
Imagine a Christmas card that has a pretty Christmas Angel on the front of it, and it says,
“May the Message of the Season abide in your heart this Christmas and Always.”
And you open up the card, and it says,
“The Seven-Headed Dragon has been defeated!!!!
This might have to be the Knight Family Christmas card this year!
Let’s briefly walk through John’s account of Christmas.
First on the scene is a Woman clothed in the sun, standing on the moon, with a crown of 12 stars. She is royalty through and through. She is a star even in heaven. And then we learn that she’s pregnant and about to give birth, and the powers of evil are out for her baby! So we know very quickly that this woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus.
This had to be an emotional experience for John to write down this vision – because who took care of Mary following Jesus earthly ministry? “Woman, behold your son.” John did! John knew quite well the life and struggles of Mary.
It was risky from the start – pregnant outside of marriage, the journey to Bethlehem, no room at the Inn, Herod tries to kill the child, and then there was Jesus three-year ministry that led to the Cross of Good Friday. John knew all that.
John tells us through this vision that Mary’s struggles were part of a spiritual battle in the heavenly places.
Now, if that touches your funny bone and your skeptical bone, just go with it for a little bit. Apocalyptic literature always deals with the cosmic struggle between good and evil.
John sees that Evil is out to get Mary and her child. John sees evil in his vision as a Seven-headed dragon! Imagine having a sword fight with a 7-headed dragon. John is painting a very scary picture of what it was like for Mary & Joseph and Jesus. Fortunately, the child is saved by heaven and the Woman flees to the wilderness for safety, signifying Joseph & Mary & Jesus’ flight to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath.
By the way, this is the only time in the New Testament that the Christmas story is referred to other than in Matthew 1 & 2, and Luke 1 & 2. The Virgin Birth, the shepherds, the Wise Men, etc. are never mentioned again outside of Matthew & Luke (not in all the sermons of Peter & Paul recorded in the Book of Acts and not in any of Paul’s letters). So it’s interesting that John is well aware of the story.
John’s version of the Christmas story quickly shifts back to heaven where the Archangel Michael (said to be the Guardian Angel/Protector of Israel) does battle with the 7-headed Dragon and defeats him. The Dragon is then thrown out of heaven and comes to earth with a vengeance, and then takes out his wrath on the children of the Woman, the offspring of Mary – meaning the followers of Jesus. The text says, the Dragon waged war on “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”
So, the Dragon who represents the Devil, who represents all the powers of evil and darkness in the universe is now waging war on the earliest Christians.
Imagine how the first readers of the Book of Revelation felt when they read this vision.
Wouldn’t they have said to themselves and out loud: “Well, that explains a lot!”
The persecution they were facing was part of a larger spiritual struggle in the universe between good and evil, between God and Satan.
The victory has been won in heaven.
Our job is to live out that victory, to live for the Kingdom that is coming.
Have you ever thought of your life as being part of a larger spiritual struggle?
Is it helpful to think about your life and your intentions and your actions, as being part of something much bigger?
We all want our lives to count for something, don’t we?
We all want to be part of something much greater than ourselves.
This vision seems to suggest that we are.
We’re part of God’s work in the world.
We’re involved in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.
We striving to bring the victory that was won in the heavenly realm to earth.
God reigns in heaven – we’re striving to bring God’s reign to earth.
John Ortberg writes about this in his great book, God is Closer Than You Think. Ortberg says this:
“Sometimes people pray a version of the Star Trek prayer to Scottie: “Beam me up.” Many people think our job is to get my afterlife destination taken care of, then tread water till we all get ejected and God comes back and torches this place. But Jesus never told anybody — neither his disciples nor us — to pray, “Get me out of here so I can go up there.” His prayer was, “Make up there come down here.” Make things down here run the way they do up there.
Jesus told us to pray, “Bring heaven down here” (“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”). We begin with our body, our mind, our appetites. Then it spreads to the office, our family, our neighborhood, our church, our country.
God doesn’t reveal himself to us just to make us happy or to deliver us from loneliness. He also comes to us so that we can in turn be conduits of his presence to other people. He invites us to join him in making things down here the way they are up there.
Rev. 12 says we’re to “keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” And when we do that we’re helping to make things down here the way they are up there.
–When we reach out to those who seem different from us and affirm our common humanity as Children of God, we’re helping to bring up there down here.
–When we help lift up the poor and make the world more just, we’re helping to bring up there down here.
–When we spread kindness, joy, and love, we’re helping to bring up there down here.
Let me close with this story about Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as you remember, was the great champion of equality and justice in the face of the racist system of apartheid in South Africa. He might never have played a role in his country were it not for a simple tip of the cap.
Someone once asked Bishop Tutu how he ended up as an Anglican priest. The Anglican Church was the church of the Whites in South Africa. Tutu answered the question with this story.
When Desmond Tutu was a boy in the days of apartheid, when a black person met a white person on the sidewalk, it was expected that the black person would step off the pavement into the gutter to allow the white person to pass.
It was considered a gesture of appropriate respect.
Well, one day when Tutu was just a small boy, he and his mother were walking down the street, when a tall white man was approaching them on the sidewalk.
The man was wearing a dark suit and a clerical collar. Before Desmond and his mother could step off the sidewalk the tall white man stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter. And when they walked by him, the tall white man tipped his cap to Mrs. Tutu, a gesture of respect.
Little Desmond was very surprised, and so he said to his mother, “Why did the white man do that?”
My mother said, “He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God. That’s why he did it.”
Desmond Tutu said this, “When my mother told me that he was an Anglican priest, I decided right then and there that I wanted to be an Anglican priest, and what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”
Think of all that came from that simple gesture!
Desmond Tutu went on to win a Nobel Peace prize and helped lead South Africa into a new day. And it might not have happened if it wasn’t for a tip of a cap
The Kingdom of God went forward with that tip of the cap.
The Kingdom of God advanced when that priest stepped off the sidewalk and into the gutter.
God’s Love reigns in heaven – that victory has already been won, according to John’s vision.
Our job is to bring that victory to earth.
Our job is to strive to bring the reign of God to earth
– to bring up there down here.
Think about it.