War in Heaven, War on Earth: A Study in Revelation 12 - Part II
B. War in Heaven and Victory on Earth (12:7-12)
Vv. 7-12 are introduced by John to explain why the Woman had to flee into the wilderness (vv. 1-6). The reason why Satan's fury is now unleashed against the church of Jesus Christ on earth is that he has lost his place and position in heaven; his power has been curtailed.
For the idea of conflict and war between angelic and demonic beings, see especially Daniel 10:1-21.
There are several questions related to the kind of “war” John has in mind, such as: What kind of “weapons” might have been employed, if at all; was there some sort of contact, appropriate to spiritual beings, that occurred; could such war have resulted in some form of injury to the combatants, even death; or is the use of the terminology of “war” simply a metaphor designed to paint a theological picture? If so, what is that picture?
There are a variety of theories on the time when this expulsion of Satan and his demons from heaven occurred (or will occur). Theories:
(1) According to futurists, it will occur in the future, during the seven year "tribulation" period.
(2) Other say it is timeless. No specific moment in history is in view. It is simply a highly symbolic description of Satan's downfall.
(3) I believe it is because of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that this defeat of the Devil occurs, indeed, has already occurred. Michael and his angels are given the task of expelling Satan consequent to the victory of Jesus at the time of His first coming (Lk. 10:18). Christians carry on this victory over Satan (v. 11) as they stand on the achievements of the cross and boldly proclaim the authority of Jesus' name.
Several observations are in order.
First, Satan's accusations no longer have any legal or moral force following his defeat at the cross. This, I believe, is the meaning of his being "thrown down" and there no longer being a "place found for them in heaven." In other words, this is not a description of a literal or spatial or geographical change in the devil's dwelling place. "Rather we should recognize that Satan's power was broken through what happened on the cross so that he can no longer successfully bring accusations against God's people" (Page, 215). Prior to the cross the accusations and slander of Satan had legal force, for the sin of those against whom he spoke had not been fully expiated. But now, subsequent to the cross, “there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Whatever ongoing work of accusation Satan may attempt is countered by the intercessory ministry of Jesus (Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2).
Second, we learn from this that events in the heavenly or angelic realm have consequences for us on earth (on this, see especially my study of Dan. 10).
Third, Michael and his elect angels are more powerful and stronger than Satan and his demonic hosts (v. 8). Why? Because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus! As Beale notes, “Christ’s resurrection and the beginning of his rule are immediately reflected in heaven by Michael’s and his angels’ defeat of the devil and his hosts. Christ’s redemptive work on earth unleashes the effect in heaven of Michael’s victory. . . . Michael’s engagement in heaven was a direct, inexorable reflex action put into gear by his representative’s work on earth” (652). Two other texts should be noted in this regard.
· 2 Peter 2:10-11 - "Angelic majesties" (NASB) or "celestial beings" (NIV) = lit., "glories" = evil angelic beings = demons. The false teachers mock/insult them, something not even the elect angels do. Elect angels [is this a reference to all holy angels or only archangels such as Michael?] are "greater" in "might and power" than evil angels. What is the explanation for this superior strength? It isn't by virtue of creation; i.e., it isn't inherent within them. Rather, it is by virtue of the victory of the cross and resurrection and exaltation of Jesus.
· Jude 8-9 - Here we see that Michael, though greater and more powerful than Satan (2 Pt. 2:11; Rev. 12:8), because of Christ's victory, did not pronounce a judgment against his rival. There is no reference in the OT to this dispute. It comes from Jude's reconstruction of the lost ending of the Testament of Moses (1st c. b.c.). See Deut. 34:1-6. According to T.Mos, Michael was sent by God to Mt. Nebo to remove Moses' body to its burial place; before he could do so, Satan, making one last effort to gain power/authority over Moses, tried to obtain the body (hoping, perhaps, to make it an object of worship among the Israelites [idolatry] or at least to deprive Moses of the honor of burial by the archangel. It was a legal dispute, as Satan sought to prove Moses unworthy of honorable treatment, accusing him of murder (Ex. 2:12). Michael, not tolerating such slander, appealed to divine authority and said: "May the Lord rebuke you, devil!"
This is not designed to teach us to show reverence for the devil. Rather, the point is that Michael, unlike the false teachers, did not presume to be a law unto himself but referred the matter to the proper moral authority: God. Again, Richard Bauckham explains:
"The point of contrast between the false teachers and Michael is not that Michael treated the devil with respect, and the moral is not that we should be polite even to the devil. The point of the contrast is that Michael could not reject the devil's accusation on his own authority. Even though the devil was motivated by malice and Michael recognized that his accusation was slanderous, he could not himself dismiss the devil's case, because he was not the judge. All he could do was ask the Lord, who alone is judge, to condemn Satan for his slander. The moral is therefore that no one is a law to himself, an autonomous moral authority" (61).
This does not mean that we, as Christians, are forbidden to rebuke or verbally resist or pronounce judgment against demonic beings. Neither unbelievers (the "false teachers") nor even the holy angels have the authority which we have received by virtue of our being in Christ. In Christ, with his authority, we both can and must resist and rebuke the Enemy. See Luke 10:1-20; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:16-18; 19:12. Jude makes no attempt to extend to Christians the restriction placed on Michael.
The word “devil” is used 35x and literally means "slanderer" or "accuser" (diabolos). See 1 Sam. 29:4; 1 Kings 11:14. In Luke 4:2,13; Rev. 12:9,12 it is the devil's aim to defame. He is a constant source of false and malicious reports:
a. to God, about you (Rev. 12:10; but cf. 1 John 2:2; Rom. 8:33-39)
b. to you, about God (Gen. 3; Mt. 4)
c. to you, about yourself (Eph. 6:16; he seeks to undermine and subvert your knowledge of who you are in Christ)
The title “Satan” is used 52x in the Bible and literally means "the adversary," the one who opposes (see Zech. 3:1-2). This is its meaning in Numbers 22:22,32; 1 Sam. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14,23,25. In Ps. 109:6 it has the sense of "accuser" or "prosecuting attorney". In the book of Job we read of "the Satan". Everywhere this word appears in Job it has the definite article ("the"; cf. 1:6,7(2),8,9,12(2); 2:1,2(2),3,4,6,7). Hence, it is a title, descriptive of his function and character.
The “loud voice” John hears is not identified. It could be the voice of God, of Jesus, of an angel (cf. 1:10-11; 7:2-3; 8:13; 11:12; 14:7,9,18; 16:1,17; 18:2; 19:17; 21:3). Or it could be the collective voice of the saints in heaven (cf. 6:10; 7:10; 11:15; 14:2-3; 19:1). The fact that this “voice” refers to Satan as the accuser of “our brethren” points to the likelihood of the latter.
The fact that Satan has been defeated, that the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus have stripped him of his legal right to accuse the brethren is evidence that the “kingdom” of God and the “authority” of Christ have been inaugurated. Thus 12:10 does not merely anticipate the final and consummate coming of God’s kingdom but celebrates the presence of the kingdom in the here and now. See Mt. 12:28.
There is also a correspondence or parallel between Satan’s fall in Rev. 12:10 and what we read in John 12:31-33. In this latter passage Jesus relates his impending work on the cross and his triumph over death in the resurrection to the demise of the devil:
“’Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”
The point of v. 11 is to reassure the people of God, then and now, that suffering and even martyrdom at the hands of the devil is not defeat for them, but for him! It is an ironic victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Regardless of the time of this event, whether past or future, the principles are always valid and relevant.
Much of the following material is taken from my studies in Spiritual Warfare, available elsewhere on the website.
(1) First, we must determine what it means to “overcome” the Devil
· It does not mean we destroy him (not until Rev. 20). In fact, note well that the victory of these believers only serves to intensify the wrath of Satan directed against the earth (v. 12)!
· It does not mean we put a permanent end to his attack of us (cf. Jesus after temptation).
· It does not mean Satan can’t kill you (through persecution; cf. Rev. 2:10; 6:9-11).
It does mean . . .
· We find the strength to say No to sin
· We hold firm in our faith in Jesus
Satan knows he can gain a major strategic advantage over us if he can sow the seeds of doubt in our minds concerning our relationship with God.
In every instance of serious and sustained demonic attack that I have encountered, the individual was plagued with doubt concerning his/her salvation.
There is nothing Satan can do to alter or undermine the fact that we are saved. Not "angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). But, what he can do is erode our assurance and confidence that we are saved. Our salvation, our standing with God, does not fluctuate or diminish with our success or failure in spiritual battles. But Satan is determined to convince us that it does.
· We are effective in setting free his captives (2) Second, we need to determine how they (we) overcome him
(1) through the blood of the Lamb
· Rom. 8 – we appeal to the cross when Satan or others accuse us
· We proclaim Col. 2 and Christ’s triumph
· We assert the truth of the cross
· It was the cross/resurrection of Jesus that secured for us the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
· I believe “the blood of the Lamb” is simply a way of referring to Jesus in his capacity as Lord and Savior, the one who triumphed over sin and death.
This is John’s way of echoing Paul’s exhortation in Eph. 6:10 – “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.” The simple exhortation "Be strong!" is both dangerous and useless. Self-reliance in spiritual warfare is suicidal. Our strength must come from the Lord. The "strength" to which Paul refers is none other than the "strength" he described in Eph. 1:19ff. which raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him above all authority!
The same trio of Greek terms is used in both passages: dunamis, kratos, and ischus. Cf. Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11,29. So, how strong is God? Is he weaker now than He was in the first century? Have His spiritual muscles atrophied? Is God out of shape?
There are a number of ways how we might obtain this "strength", this "power":
· through prayer (ask God for it!)
· by fasting;
· by making certain that biblical truth is forever flowing in our spiritual veins;
· through the fellowship and encouragement of other Christians;
· through praise and worship;
· by partaking of the Lord's Supper;
· through the anointing and filling of the HS; and,
· by adorning ourselves with the armor of God (Eph. 6);
· by cultivating intimacy with Jesus
(2) through the word of our testimony
· Proclamation of our identity in Christ
One of Satan's primary weapons is the lie. He is committed to deceiving you into believing you are not what, in fact, you are, and that you cannot do what, in fact, you can. Why is this important to know? Because as Neil Anderson has said, "No person can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with the way he perceives himself" (43). That is why Satan will try to persuade you that you are:
· a failure,
· a fool,
· of no use to God or other Christians,
· an embarrassment to Christ,
· wasting your time to confess your sins (God won't listen), · inferior to other believers,
· destined always to fall short of their successes,
· a hopeless victim of your past,
· helpless to change your future,
· a pathetic excuse for a Christian,
· owned by Satan,
· now what you will always be (no hope for improvement),
· beyond the reach of prayer, etc.
You must respond to such deceitful, destructive slander by remembering 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-7; 5:8; 1 John 3:1-3; etc.
· Proclamation of the truth in manifold respects
· Praise and worship (address issue of “warfare worship”)
The power to repel the enemy, the authority to overcome, is not to be found in the physical elements of music per se. I.e., volume, melody, rhythm have no inherent spiritual power. Power to repel and overcome the enemy resides in the truth of what is sung or played and the heart of the singer/player. The evil spirit left Saul whenever David played his harp (1 Sam. 16:16-23). It wasn’t merely the fact that music was being played, but that it was David who played it. See especially v. 18.
The devil pays no attention to decibels or sweat or physical gestures. But he is compelled to submit to the proclamation of truth and the presence of the Spirit and the authenticity and intensity of heart devotion to Jesus. Intimacy in worship (God’s love and ours), adoration, declaration of God’s power, grace, kindness, justice, etc., affirmation of our commitment, etc. do more to repel the enemy than anything. That is warfare worship. Nothing will do more to drive away demons than the intensity of intimacy with Jesus!
It may well be that increased volume and demonstrative physical activity are the fruit of the heart’s devotion, but it is the devotion, not the demonstration, that drives the enemy from our midst.
· Warfare prayer (five forms)
First, praying for ourselves and others to be given insight and understanding into who we are in Christ and what is ours through faith (Eph. 1:15ff.).
Second, prayers of resistance and rebuke of the enemy. E.g.,
"Satan, I rebuke you in the authority of Jesus Christ. I declare your works in my life destroyed. Jesus triumphed over you in the wilderness, on the cross, and in the grave. His resurrection has sealed your fate. I triumph over you now in the strength of his name. I resist and rebuke your efforts to oppress, afflict, or deceive me. I remove from you the right to rob me of the joy and fruit of my salvation. Through the power of the blood of Calvary, I command all powers of darkness assigned to me, sent to me, or surrounding me now, to leave. Go where Jesus Christ orders you to go, never to return" (Tom White, 116).
Third, prayers of protection, to shield, guard, support,, etc.
"Lord, I commend and entrust _______ into your watchful care. May your glory surround and protect him/her. May you drive away the enemy and deliver him/her from all evil and temptation and every attack of the evil one."
This includes prayers of protection/peace for the places where you go, stay, live (especially when traveling or in a strange location).
“Lord, I claim this place for your purposes. I stand on the truth of your Word: 'The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous' (Ps 125:3). I believe you have given me this place. I dedicate it to you, and ask you to fill it with your holy presence. I separate myself from any iniquity that has occurred here in past times. I apply the power of Jesus' blood to remove any desecration of God's name in this place. I ask you, in Jesus' authority, to set watching angels around this property for your purposes, protecting your servant from the work of the evil one" (White, 118-19).
Fourth, prayer for the demonized when you are ministering to them. E.g.,
"(l) that the demons may be cut off from all communication and help from other demons and Satan,
(2) that the demons would be confused and weakened in their hold on the person,
(3) that the person would be strengthened in his faith to understand his position in Christ and to trust and obey the Word above his feelings,
(4) that the person may be able to distinguish between his thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings of demons,
(5) that the person might recognize the demonic presence and not be confused, but seek the proper counsel and help,
(6) that God would protect and guide His child and set angelic forces at work to break up every scheme of the enemy" (Dickason).
Fifth, prayer for angelic support/ministry/protection (Daniel 10:10-12; Acts 12:5-8).
(3) through not loving our lives even unto death, i.e., the fasted life-style
What is being described in this little phrase is a value judgment, a prioritizing that affected every aspect of their lives. Point: they loved Jesus more than their earthly welfare, more than earthly pleasures, more than earthly convenience, more than peace, prosperity, comfort, etc.
Here he means the willingness to give up good things for the sake of better things; the willingness to sacrifice all in life, even life itself, because life isn’t the most valuable thing to us; they would rather die than yield one inch of their hearts to the world or Satan; no earthly pleasure was worth denying Jesus. No promise of peace or power was deemed of greater value than the value of remaining steadfast. Perseverance. Hebrews 10:34 (“For you . . . accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one”). They had refused to let anything in life get a grip on their hearts in such a way that it might diminish their devotion to Jesus. “Jesus is more valuable to us than anything life can offer. Jesus is greater treasure than life itself. We will gladly die before we renounce him!”
Satan only wins when we love our lives more than we love God. When we allow our hearts to be captured by earthly comfort and find that we would do anything and everything to procure more, preserve what we have, promote it, make it comfortable, insulate it, etc. Too many of us love our lives illegitimately. There is a good and legal love of life: we are to celebrate life and enjoy the goodness and joy it brings. However, there is also an over-protective concern for personal comfort and convenience and peace and prosperity and the resultant energy and life-style designed to perpetuate it. Satan wins whenever we treasure anything more than Jesus.
So, how does this perspective on life overcome the enemy? When you prioritize your life so that nothing means more to you than Jesus, you deprive Satan of any legal right to your heart or mind; you undermine and shortcircuit his power to influence your soul. How? If this (Rev. 12:11) is your life, onto what can he possibly latch hold? What is there in your life to which he can affix himself? To what can he appeal in your soul that would give him a power base from which to operate? John 14:30 – “He (Satan) has nothing in me.” Because of Jesus’ obedience to the Father, commitment and devotion of heart, Satan had nothing on which he could launch a successful assault.
Note the description of saints in heaven as, literally, “tabernacling” there. The point is that they abide in a heavenly temple, i.e., in the very presence of God himself.
Since the devil can no longer wreak havoc in heaven (vv. 8-11), he concentrates his efforts on the earth. Note several things:
· The devil is filled with “great wrath”, sparked no doubt by his expulsion from heaven, i.e., the loss of all legal grounds on which he might perpetuate his accusatory work against the people of God. · The devil’s wrath and the destructive effects it brings are limited by the purposes of God: “he has only a short time.” This “short time” = the 3 ½, 1,260 days, 42 months of 11:2-3; 12:6,14 and 13:5.
· We are alerted to the depth and unalterable depravity of Satan as seen in the fact that although he knows his time is short he does not repent or change his ways or to any degree lessen the intensity and extent of his wrath against people on the earth.
C. The Woman, the Dragon, and Divine Protection (12:13-17)
These verses pick up where vv. 6 and 12 leave off. Failing to destroy the “child” (Jesus), Satan turns his destructive attention to the “woman”, i.e., the people of God = the church. For the interpretation of the imagery in these verses, see the comments above on v. 6.
Here the devil’s persecution of the church is described in the vivid imagery of water pouring forth from the serpent’s mouth in an effort to drown the woman.
Again, some preterists want to find the fulfillment of this statement in the flooding of the Jordan river in 68 a.d. which prevented many Jews from escaping their Roman enemies, the result of which was their slaughter.
The imagery of an overflowing flood is found often in the OT:
· When an army spreads out to conquer a country, sometimes as an indication of divine judgment, flood imagery is used (see Ps. 88:7,17; Isa. 8:7-8; 17:12-13; Jer. 46:8; 47:2; 51:55; Hos. 5:10).
· Occasionally the image of overwhelming flood waters is used to describe divine judgment (see Pss. 32:6; 90:5).
· The persecution of God’s people by enemies from whom God ultimately delivers them is also portrayed in such terms (see 2 Sam. 22:5; Pss. 18:4,16; 46:3; 66:12; 69:1-2,14-15; 124:4-5; 144:7-8,11; Isa. 43:2). It would appear that this is the primary concept we find in Rev. 12:15.
Historically speaking, one cannot help but recall the persecution of the church by Nero (late 60’s), Domitian (90’s), Marcus Aurelius (late 2nd century), Decius (@ 250 a.d.), Diocletian and Galerius (303-311 a.d.), and the almost unimaginable persecutions that we witnessed in the 20th century.
It has also been suggested, and with some merit, that since the waters pour forth from the serpent’s “mouth” the idea is particularly of Satan’s attempt to destroy the church through deception and false teaching/doctrine. On this see Rev. 2:14-16,20-22; 3:15-17; Romans 16:17-20; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:15; 2 Tim. 2:23-26.
In this regard, recall the numerous times in church history (past and present) where the rise of heresy threatened the purity (and even existence) of the church: Gnosticism and Marcionism in the 2nd-3rd centuries, anti-Trinitarian Monarchianism in the 3rd century, Arianism in the 4th century, Pelagianism in the 5th century, the various false teachings in Roman Catholicism throughout the middle ages, Socinianism in the 16th and 17th centuries, Deism in the 17th and 18th centuries, the emergence of Darwinian evolution and religious liberalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, etc.
In addition to the above, vv. 15-16 also allude to the barrier of the Red Sea during Israel’s exodus from Egypt which God overcame and even turned against their enemies. In the Song of Moses we read: “Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them” (Exod. 15:12). This was done so that Israel could then proceed to God’s “holy habitation” (Exod. 15:13; “holy resting place” in LXX) which God had “prepared” (Exod. 15:17; LXX) for them. Later in the wilderness “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed” the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram because of their resistance to Moses’ leadership (Num. 16:12-14; Deut. 11:5-6; Ps. 106:17).
The point of the imagery, then, is simply to remind us that no matter how devastating may be the loss of earthly life, no matter how grim may be the prospects of future prosperity and growth, the persecution of the church by Satan will never ultimately prevail. Vv. 13-17 are John’s way of echoing the words of Jesus: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18b).
Verse 17 may best be taken as a repetitive summary of vv. 13-16.