Warchild - The Backstory of Baby Jesus
While many people celebrate Christmas, not many understand and appreciate the weight of Christ’s birth. Some may sing songs about it. Others may even have had school plays about it. However, few seem stunned by the weight of the Advent season. Instead, the Christmas story feels warm, quaint, and in a word, cute. While we may sing powerful songs and even recite Scripture, Christmas can still feel like a birthday party in which we get the presents even though the candles are for someone else. Simply put, if this season is about Jesus, it’s still only “baby Jesus.”
For these reasons, this year, we pray that our Advent devotionals exalt the birth of Christ and the Advent season. While we should continue sending Christmas cards and enjoying front yard scenes with shepherds and wise men, let us do so by saturating the Christmas story with longstanding truth. So, let each week’s entry lift our response to Jesus’ first coming and fuel eager expectation for his return.
This week, we introduce the backstory on “baby Jesus.” That is, we survey Scripture to appreciate the gravity of Advent, namely the manner in which it braids the declaration of Christ’s birth with divine declarations of war and victory. In this way, Jesus is no mere baby, but instead, the promised warchild that brings resolution to cosmic conflict through divine judgment and blessing. To understand how, we go back to “the beginning,” the place where paradise was found…and lost.
In Gen. 3, things that were once good – even very good – turned bad. Humanity, the crown and caretaker of creation became co-conspirators in a plot to overturn God’s desires and designs to bless the world. How did this happen? After his ominous introduction (3:1), the cunning serpent stirred the pot and caused God’s people to second-guess their creator’s guidance. As a result, conspiracy began and mutiny followed. But, suddenly, the Lord arrived and war broke out.
Gen. 3:8 recounts the Lord’s coming. But, “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” is not the language of a welcome breeze in a well-manicured garden. Rather, it is a gale-force wind, the frightening tempest of God’s Spirit coming to bear on those who have turned his world upside down. Quite literally, God comes to hold court. So, blessing has given way to judgment as Gen. 3:8 previews what Scripture later calls the [judgment] day of the Lord.
However, both judgment and blessing reside in Gen. 3:14-15. Both arise out of history’s great conflict, a cosmic war between the hero, “the seed of the woman,” and the villain, “the seed of the serpent.” Eventually, God’s victory and humanity’s vindication result as the seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent, albeit with battle wounds and the casualties of war. So, this passage contains not only a death sentence for humanity and the serpent, but also the promise of a great pardon for God’s people. The theological term for this redemptive announcement is the protoevangelium. It means the “first mention of the Gospel” (“proto” means “first,” “evangelium” means “preaching” or “preaching the Gospel”). Here, the Gospel is merely the announcement that God’s victory and kingdom will emerge through judgment and blessing amidst the war between the two seeds.
At this point, a few questions emerge. Who is the seed and how will he bring victory? From Gen. 3 on, Scripture sets out to answer such questions.
First, the instantaneous outworking of the two seeds begins with the story of two brothers, Abel and Cain. Cain kills Abel in a fit of jealousy and murderous rage (Gen. 4:1-16; cf. John 8:44), a pattern of sibling rivalries that repeats itself with Isaac and Ishmael as well as Jacob and Esau. One seed trusts God’s promises while the other relies on lesser things (Gen 21:9–10, 12; cf. Rom 9:7). Then, the book of Exodus chronicles Egypt’s attempts to destroy Israel’s male children (Exod 1:16, 22) while God liberates his son (Exod 4:23) by waging war on Egypt’s firstborn sons. This conflict between the seeds continues throughout the OT, in the books of the kings, the former and latter prophets, and so on.
But, Scripture not only narrates the conflict between the seeds, but the nature of the battle and especially, the hero’s crushing victory. For instance, Joshua leads Israel to victory and together, they celebrate triumph by placing their feet on the necks of the defeated kings (Josh 10:24). Similarly, David proclaims that his enemies fell under his feet (2 Sam 22:39; Ps 18:39). Lastly, the conquering warrior of Isa 63 “treads the winepress,” not a winepress one filled with grapes, but rebellious people (63:3-6). These and other accounts reveal what it looks like for the seed of the serpent to be under the foot of the seed of the woman.
Eventually, this Old Testament background steps into the New Testament foreground. The battle-filled backstory continues as a new tyrant threatens the Holy Family (Matt. 2). Not Pharoah, but King Herod rightly understands the announcement of Christ’s birth as a clarion call for war. However, instead of responding with worship, he leads with murderous intent. But, God is faithful to his promise. The babe in the manger transforms God’s declaration of war into a declaration of victory. The seed of the woman has arrived on the scene, not primarily to crush the head of Herod, but the ancient serpent’s power to oppress people through sin, shame, and fear. Indeed, joy has come to the world! Victory is here, and it has come through God’s warchild, the one “baby Jesus.”
But, has the battle ceased and is the victory won? Yes…and no. “Yes” because Christ has dealt the decisive blow, crippling the forces of darkness and death and raising up God’s light and life. But, the answer is also “no.” Although he is the true human, Christ’s person and work does not place humanity’s crown solely on his head. Rather, he has fit us for it and now commissions us to advance his victory and roll back the remaining seed of the serpent.
This Christmas, as we sing those great songs and re-read the story of Christmas, let us keep this backstory in mind. Let us remember the narrative of warfare and its central figure. But, we must do more than remember. After all, though D-day has come in Christ’s first advent, we long for the V-Day of his second advent. In the meantime, Christ gave us his Spirit so that we might engage in the battle. Now, ironically, as God gave the first mention of the Gospel through humanity’s defeat and disobedience, he now proclaims it freely through the victorious work of Christ and the advancing march of his Spirit-filled people. So, remember…God has decided the outcome and assured us the victory. Surely, he has promised us that he will soon crush that ancient serpent, not only under Christ’s feet, but ours as well (Rom 16:20).
- Read Gen. 2:4-3:15; Matt. 1-2
- Comb through Scripture and recall as many instances of the battle between the seeds as possible (note: there are more than you think).
- Name 1-3 specific ways in which Christ’s first advent reveals his victory in your life.
- In Christ, you are part of the “seed of the woman.” Name 1-3 specific areas in which you are engaging this conflict against the “seed of the serpent” in your life, communities, etc.
- Name 1-3 specific ways in which Christ’s Second Advent fuels your hope for ultimate victory and the eradication of all evil.
- Commentators suggest that Gen. 3:8 is depicting a terrifying storm-theophany (“appearance of God”) comparable to the Lord’s manifestation at Sinai. For example, Jeffrey Niehaus translates “in the cool of the day” as “in the wind of the storm,” a motif of divine judgment that associates the Lord’s voice with “thunder” in poetic texts (Ps. 18:14, 46:7, 77:17), prophetic literature (Jer. 10:13, 51:16) and in the Pentateuch (Exod 20:18; Deut 5:25). So, essentially, the OT Law, Prophets, and Writings – the entire Jewish Bible – provides warrant for seeing Gen. 3:8 as a kind of judgment day.
- Meredith G. Kline, “Primal Parousia” WTJ 40 (1977/78): 245-280.
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