And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1-6)
Why do Christians die? Why do churches die? Why do Christians go hungry, endure tragedies, get cancer, and face persecution? Why do pastors fall into great sin and cast shame upon their churches and disgrace upon the gospel?
Why do some churches grow loveless and cold? Why do other churches forsake the truth of Scripture? Why do church members fight among themselves? Why are there so many hypocrites in the church? Why does everything seem to go wrong for good believers even as they try to follow God?
Why do churches tolerate clear moral deviancy and obvious theological error? Why do some churches get bigger and flashier without getting deeper and wiser? Why do other churches get cold and complacent? Why do churches neglect evangelism and missions? Why do Christians horde their resources? Why do churches take their eyes off the cross and give up on preaching?
Why is the church sometimes ridiculed by intellectuals, the media, the government, and the cultural elites? Why are churches still divided by race and ethnicity? Why are many churches still ignorant of the most basic truths of the Bible? Why can’t we do church better and be the church more faithfully? Why is it so hard being a Christian?
There are at least four good, biblical answers to these questions.
Number one, God is sovereign. For his own glory and the good of his people, our heavenly Father sends trials and allows for suffering.
Number two, we live in a fallen world. All of creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. Things are not the way they are supposed to be and not the way they will be one day.
Number three, human beings are sinners. We hurt each other. We violate God’s laws and pay the consequences. We are full of fears, idolatries, adulteries, and self-love that make our lives worse and the lives of those around us.
Those are three good, biblical answers why churches and the Christians struggle and suffer. But there is another reason we sometimes forget.
Number four, the devil hates the gospel and hates all those who love and obey the gospel. The passage above is the literal and symbolic center of the book of Revelation. For eleven chapters the Spirit shows us tempted churches, suffering churches, judgments on the earth, conflict in the world, and the call for God’s people to overcome. In chapter 12 the curtain gets pulled back so we can see what is going on behind the scenes. Why all this struggle and suffering? What is behind this war of the worlds? The answer is that the devil is hell bent on destroying the church.
Let us not forget that underneath and behind all the battles in our time is a giant cosmic battle that has been going on for (almost) all time. And, this Christmas season, let us not forget that a child was born to rule the nations with a rod of iron and crush the head of that dastardly dragon.