“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 12:3-5a).”
At this time of year there are many lights and decorations of the season all around. Often, we see nativity scenes featured as one local in our neighborhood has out front. The thoughts of many are turned to the birth of Jesus at this season. Associated with this historical event is the idea of peace on earth and goodwill towards men (Luke 2:14). Certainly, there were many who received the news of His birth with joy. The wise men from the East were overjoyed and came to welcome the newborn Christ and brought Him gifts (Matthew 2:10-11). Simeon and Anna, who had been looking for His coming, rejoiced to see the Child with their own eyes (Luke 2:27-32, 36-38). Shepherds in the field who were told the good news of His birth burned a path to Bethlehem to greet Him and to tell others (Luke 2:15-17).
But His birth was not received as good news by everyone and there were many who were disturbed at His arrival. Herod the Great was the king of Judea at the time and he was troubled by the news of the birth of another King of the Jews and all of Jerusalem was similarly distressed (Matthew 2:3). Herod sought to pinpoint the location and timing of Jesus’ birth so as to eliminate any potential rival to his own authority and kill the infant (Matthew 2:13).
The Jewish chief priests and scribes had told Herod where the Messiah was to be born, according to Scripture, it was Bethlehem of Judea (Matthew 2:4-6, Micah 5:2). The wise men informed the bloodthirsty tyrant of the timing of the appearing of the star which announced His birth (Matthew 2:7-8). But when the Magi did not return to confirm the whereabouts of the newborn King of the Jews, Herod was enraged and set out to slaughter every male child 2 years and younger, not only in Bethlehem but in all the surrounding villages (Matthew 2:16). Scholars debate the scope of the slaughter of the innocents directed by Herod, a few supposing it was as many as 1,000 while most place it at no more than 20 to 30 harmless babies (1). In defiance of God, Herod acted to kill the Deliverer of God’s people as Pharaoh had before (Exodus 1:15-16) and as the devil had sought to do (John 8:44). Unable to strike at God these wicked rulers expressed their fury by killing His children. These earthly kings who sought to kill met death themselves and one day, Satan himself will be forever overthrown (Revelation 20:10) but God’s children will live because of Jesus (John 14:19).
As Yancey wrote of this episode, “I have never seen a Christmas card depicting that state-sponsored act of terror, but it too was a part of Christ’s coming” which “did not sentimentally simplify life on planet earth (2).” It is not the sweet stuff that Christmas stories are so often made of but it demonstrated the stark truth that Jesus is received very differently by men. For some the birth of Jesus was a time of great mourning (Matthew 2:17-18). As Simeon prophesied to Mary and Joseph, “‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Luke 2:34-35).”
His coming is still received differently by men. Like Herod, many refuse to allow another King to reign over their dominion and assume the throne over their hearts and lives, themselves but they will mourn when He returns again (Revelation 6:16). But for those like Simeon and Anna, who have loved His appearing, there will be rejoicing when He comes again (2 Timothy 4:8). Hail the Lord of lords and King of kings.
“So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).”
- Leo Boles, Gospel Advocate New Testament Commentaries, Matthew, Nashville, Tn, 1952, p. 56
- Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mi, 1995, pp. 30, 34