Friday, October 1, 2021

46. The Revelation: The War in Heaven (Revelation 12:7-12)


Having introduced the combatants in 12:1–6, John describes the first phase of Satan’s final assault on God before Christ’s return.

The Battle

"And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven." (Rev. 12:7–8)

There has been war in heaven since the fall of Satan (Isaiah 14:12–14; Ezekiel 28:11–18). Satan and his evil angels have actively opposed both the holy angels and God’s people since Satan’s fall (Daniel 10:12–13; 1 Peter 5:8). Believers are to be aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), give him no opportunity (Ephesians 4:27), and resist him (James 4:7).

The war raging between supernatural beings in the heavenly sphere will reach its peak during the tribulation. That future conflict will find Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The grammatical construction of that phrase in the Greek text indicates that Satan will start this battle. It could be translated “Michael and his angels had to fight the dragon.” The Bible does not reveal how angels fight, nor does our limited knowledge of the heavenly realm permit us to speculate.

The key interpretive question is not how the battle will be fought, but what will cause it. While it is impossible to be certain, this ultimate battle may be triggered by the rapture of the church (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). Possibly, as the raptured believers pass through their realm, the prince of the power of the air and his demon hosts will try to hinder their passage. That may trigger the battle with Michael and the holy angels.

Michael and Satan have known each other since they were created, and the battle during the tribulation will not be the first time they have opposed each other. In Daniel 10:13, “Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help” a holy angel against a powerful demon. Daniel 12:1 also speaks of Michael’s defense of God’s people: “Now at that time [the tribulation] Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.” The New Testament also reveals Michael to be the defender of God’s people (Jude 9) and an archangel.

The reference to the dragon and his angels reinforces the truth that the demon hosts are under Satan’s command (Matthew 25:41). The repetition of the phrase “waging war … waged war” emphasizes the force and fury of the battle. This will be an all-out battle. Satan will fight desperately to prevent Christ from establishing His millennial kingdom

Satan’s full fury explodes on humanity when he is cast to the earth (12:12). At exactly what point in the tribulation Satan and the demons will be evicted from heaven is not revealed, nor is the duration of their battle with Michael and the holy angels. All that can be said with certainty is that Satan and the demons will be cast out of heaven, possibly at the rapture, but no later than the midpoint of the tribulation. Verse 12 says that Satan and his forces have only “a short time” after they leave heaven, supporting the view that they will have only the last three and a half years of the tribulation to operate, rather than the full seven years. They will not arrive on earth later than that, since they clearly are present during the terrible events of the last three and a half years, the great tribulation (9:1ff.). During that last period, Satan’s full power will be directed at anyone belonging to God, especially Israel.

The Victory

"And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." (Rev. 12:9)

As a result of his defeat, the great dragon was thrown down from heaven to the earth. This describes Satan’s second and permanent expulsion from heaven. The dragon is called great because of his formidable power to inflict harm and bring disaster. Earlier, he was described as having seven heads, seven crowns, and ten horns. That description pictures Satan as the ruler of the world.

The fourfold description of the dragon leaves no doubt regarding his identity. First, he is called “the serpent of old” (cf. 20:2), identifying him as the serpent in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1ff), emphasizing his subtlety and treachery.

The dragon is also called “the devil.” “Devil” means “slanderer,” or “false accuser,” a fitting title for Satan. Satan is a malicious prosecutor of God’s people, constantly trying to arraign them before the bar of God’s holy justice.

Then the text plainly identifies the dragon as Satan. “Satan” is a Hebrew word that means “adversary,” and is a fitting name for the enemy of God and His people. Tragically, the most glorious created being, the “star of the morning” (Isaiah 14:12), is now and forever branded “the adversary.” He assaulted God in his original rebellion when he demanded to be “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14), and he deceitfully led Eve into sin by manipulating her to distrust the character and word of God (Genesis 3:2–5).

Finally, the dragon is described as “the one who deceives the whole world.” The use of the present tense indicates that this is Satan’s habitual, continual activity. Satan lures people to their destruction by causing them to pay “attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). He seduces people to believe him and not God (Genesis 3:4).

The Celebration

"Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” (Rev. 12:10–12)

The defeat of Satan and his demon hosts, along with the cleansing of their presence from heaven, will trigger an outburst of praise. Such sudden outbursts frequently appear in Revelation (4:8–11; 5:9–10, 11–14; 7:9–12; 11:15–18; 15:3–4; 19:1–8). The identity of those whom John heard crying out with a loud voice in heaven is not stated. This collective voice cannot be angels, since angels could not refer to humans as their brethren (19:10; 22:8–9). These worshipers are most likely the glorified saints in heaven.

The saints began by rejoicing that “the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come.” “Salvation” is to be understood in its broadest sense. It encompasses not only the redemption of individuals, but also the deliverance of all creation from sin’s curse. “Power” speaks of God’s omnipotence.

They rejoiced further that “the authority of … Christ has come.” The rule of Christ is by authority from God (Psalm 2:8; Matthew 28:18; John 17:2). So certain is the establishing of the kingdom and the rule of Christ that, though yet future, they are spoken of in the past tense. The heavenly worshipers rejoice that the first step, Satan’s defeat and final ejection from heaven, has already taken place.

The heavenly worshipers also offer praise because of events on earth, where their brethren overcame Satan. Ejected from heaven, Satan and his hellish hosts will vent their full fury on God’s people on earth (12:6, 13–17). There too, however, they will suffer defeat. Again speaking of a future event in the past tense because of its certainty, the inspired apostle John sees the victory already won.

It is only through God’s power that any believer in any age can defeat Satan. Accordingly, the tribulation believers overcame Satan first of all “because of the blood of the Lamb.” Like their martyred brethren already in heaven, they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). No accusation against the suffering saints of the great tribulation will stand, because the Lamb’s blood was shed for all their sins.

A second way these tribulation saints overcame Satan’s assaults was through “the word of their testimony.” Despite all the persecution they suffered, they will remain faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ. Their testimony will never waver.

The suffering tribulation saints were also able to fend off Satan because they did not love their life even when faced with death. They willingly paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to Christ. A sure mark of true believers is that they continue in the faith even to death (cf. 1 John 2:19).

The passage concludes with a final note of praise: For this reason, because of the defeat of Satan and the triumph of the saints, the heavenly chorus calls on the heavens and all who dwell in them to rejoice. That joyous note is followed by the sobering warning “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” The Greek word for “wrath” refers to a violent outburst of rage. Satan’s rage is even more violent because he knows that he has only a short time: the three and a half years of the reign of Antichrist (13:5), whom Satan places in power immediately after being cast down from heaven. It is a short time because Jesus Christ will return to establish His earthly millennial kingdom.