Did you ever have a part to play in a Christmas Nativity production? Were you Mary or Joseph? An angel, sheep or a donkey?! I’ve been in a few, but one part I have never played is a wise man. Maybe I had the wrong look! Ah the wise men; the bearers of precious gifts, who spot the star in the east. Immediately they drop everything and go rushing off after it. Or do they? The Bible tells us they arrive in Bethlehem well after the birth, entering a house that Mary and Joseph are living in. The star is thought to have appeared in the sky the moment Jesus came to be in Mary’s womb. That’s nine months to get from Babylon to Bethlehem! Maybe they spent a lot of time studying and discussing the star first (or shopping for gifts!). We assume that it was in their job description as wise men to chase after stars. To observe stars yes. To follow after them? Not so much. So what was it that made them eventually decide to journey far to the place of Bethlehem? It wasn’t simply one star that persuaded them, but a number of constellations together telling the story of the birth of a king.
John talks of a “great sign” appearing in heaven (v1). Researchers have said that it’s possible this scene we read about in Revelation 12:1-6 was observed by the wise men in the constellations of the night sky. A woman covered by the sun, with the moon at her feet, crowned with stars near a lion constellation with a serpent lurking nearby. The wise men said “We saw the star in the east” (Matthew 2:2). These constellations rise from the east, up into the sky by day for the wise men to follow westward as they set by night. Is this a sign of the Lord, written in the cosmos timed perfectly to coincide with the birth of the Messiah?
We read in Revelation another rewind moment; a big picture covering the time of Jesus's birth. The woman is Israel. Jesus was born a Jew. She also represents the Christian church that includes us as Jesus’s followers today. The crown the woman wears shows her identity with each star being one of the twelve tribes of Israel. She is clothed in the sun, a picture of being right before God. And the moon? Jewish days were viewed as beginning in the evening. The moon here shows of a new thing about to take place.
Like the appearance of an arch enemy in a film, there is also a spiritual enemy seen to be at work in John’s vision. This enemy is hoping to stop the Son of God from achieving His purpose on the earth. The great dragon is the serpent, the devil. His size reflects the amount of destruction he will cause. Why does he have seven crowns? They are his influence over the earthly kings and rulers throughout the world, like King Herod. A horn is a picture of strength. To have ten horns shows the power and influence that the devil had, getting a portion of angels from heaven to side with him: “His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven” (v4).
Why didn’t the wise men arrive on time for the birth of Christ? When Herod hears that the wise men say the baby will one day be a ruler, like the dragon he waits, intent on murder. In Matthew 2:16-18, he orders the death of all boys in Bethlehem, two years old and younger in an effort to kill Jesus. Thankfully the late arrival of the wise men allows Mary and Joseph time to be prepared for their escape to Egypt. After Jesus has successfully returned to heaven, having achieved victory over death and hell, the anger of the dragon is then turned towards Christ’s followers. It appears to us such a mystery why some hate Christians with such venom. This explains it. The dragon is the driving force behind this persecution.
Yet God is at work! He has set aside a place of provision for the woman (us the followers of Jesus). I believe that God purposefully delayed the wise men to help provide for Mary and Joseph as they fulfilled His purposes. “The wilderness” is the hardships that we will face, but God promises us that He will still be working to help us in our struggles. He will miraculously make available what we need to be “nourished” (v6). Just because we may suffer, it does not mean God has left us. He is still with you and me. He will go ahead of us, preparing everything we need, as we follow Him through the tough times.
This is an excerpt from Paul Martin's latest book which simply explains the book of Revelation in 49 devotions. To buy the book click the photo below to view it for purchase on Amazon.
Star photo by Mauel Will - Unsplash