War in Heaven

The saints overcame the Dragon through the death of the Lamb and their faithful witness, “even unto death” – Revelation 12:11

T-Rex - Photo by Huang Yingone on Unsplash
In Chapter 12 of 
Revelation, the “sign of the Great Red Dragon” appeared in the heavens, signifying that the “war” had commenced between his forces and those of the messianic “son” who was destined to “shepherd the nations.” The result was the expulsion of Satan from “heaven,” and the proclamation of the victory of the “brethren” - [Photo by Huang Yingone on Unsplash].

The “war” between the “Dragon” and “Michael and his angels” is the heavenly counterpart to the earthly events described in the larger passage, including Satan’s attempt to destroy the “son,” the “woman “clothed with the sun,” and the “rest of her seed, those who have the testimony of Jesus.” The description of the “war” uses language from the prophet Daniel’s vision of Michael when he stood firm in his fight on behalf of God’s people - (Daniel 12:1).

Having failed in the attempt to destroy the “son,” no place remained for the “Dragon” in the courts of heaven. The description of his expulsion alludes to the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by Daniel. The Babylonian ruler dreamed of a great image composed of several materials, which represented four “kingdoms” symbolized by each of its four components. The “stone cut out without hands” smote the image, meaning the four kingdoms that it represented, and crushed them into dust. Thereafter, “no place was found for them” and the stone became a great mountain that filled the whole earth, which represented God’s everlasting kingdom - (Daniel 2:35).

Revelation pictures the implementation of that heavenly kingdom, beginning with the birth and exaltation of the messianic “son.” But first, the “Dragon” and his army had to be defeated. Satan was called “the ancient serpent,” an identification that linked him to the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden. Like Eve, the “woman clothed with the sun” was the mortal enemy of the “Dragon” - (Genesis 3:13:14).

But was also named the “Devil and Satan.” The terms mean “slanderer” and “adversary,” respectively. In Eden, he claimed that God’s warning not to eat fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” was untrue, and thus, he slandered Yahweh by insinuating that He had ulterior motives and had spoken falsely - (Genesis 3:1-5).

The Devil was the one who “was deceiving the whole habitable earth.” This, also, echoes the Genesis story when Eve excused her disobedience by blaming the Serpent; “the serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The reference to the “habitable earth” demonstrates that humanity was always the target of the Devil’s deceptive activities - (Genesis 3:13).

Satan was also called the “great red dragon,” an echo from Ezekiel 29:1-3 when the king of Egypt was compared to a “great dragon.” This is an example of how Revelation folds imagery from the history of Israel into its narrative about the “Lamb” and his “saints.

In the vision, the expulsion of Satan did not occur at a point in the remote past, nor is it still waiting for a future event. As elsewhere in the New Testament, the defeat of the Devil was the result of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus - (Luke 10:18Colossians 2:14-15Hebrews 2:14).

The “casting” of the Dragon from heaven parallels the earlier image of a “great mountain burning with fire that was cast into the sea,” and the later picture of Satan being “cast into the Abyss” - (Revelation 8:8, 20:3).

The “loud voice heard in heaven” interprets the vision as it breaks into a hymn of praise, an interpretive pattern found elsewhere in the book. The hymn declared the defeat of the “Dragon” by the “Lamb” and the latter’s resultant victory. The Devil lost his legal basis to accuse the saints before God; they were declared “not guilty” in the heavenly court, and therefore, exempt from the “second death” - (Revelation 1:10, 2:11, 5:6-147:9-17,14:2-515:3-4, 20:6).

With Christ’s victory, the Devil’s role as the “accuser of the brethren” had come to an end. However, though knocked down, he was not yet out of the fight. Following his expulsion, he assumed the role of the deceiver of the “whole habitable earth,” which he used to persecute the “woman” and her “seed.” Moreover, his defeat meant the inauguration of the “kingdom of our God” and the commencement of the Son’s reign (“Now, has come the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ”).

Crown of Thorns - Photo by Samuel Lopes on Unsplash
Photo by Samuel Lopes on Unsplash

The hymn’s language echoes the messianic promises from the second Psalm, and it reiterates words heard earlier when the seventh trumpet sounded - “
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign unto the ages of ages.” While the kingdom may wait for its consummation until the end of the age, its commencement began with the death and resurrection of the messianic “son.”

The martyrs of the fifth seal were told to wait for vindication “a little while until the number should be made full of their fellow-servants also…who would be slain as even they.” The “little time” allotted to the “Dragon” during which he deceived the “habitable earth” refers to this same period, as do the “twelve hundred and sixty days,” the “forty-two months,” and the “time, times and half a time” during which he wages “war” on the “saints.” But as he persecutes “those who have the testimony of Jesus,” the “Dragon” only succeeds in sealing his own doom, and thus, demonstrating the victory achieved already by the “son” - (Revelation 6:9, 11:2-3, 12:6-14, 13:5-6). 

You who are tabernacling in heaven." This refers to the righteous in contrast to the ungodly, “those who dwell on the earth.” The reference is not spatial; it does not refer to angels or disembodied spirits. Instead, the “saints” who follow the “Lamb” are those “who tabernacle in heaven”; their lives are oriented toward and belong to God, and not to the fallen world order. They belong to the realm from which Satan was ejected, and no longer are they under his legal jurisdiction - (Revelation 7:1511:1-213:6).

Finally, the declaration of victory for the “saints” provides the explanation for how they “overcame” their “accuser,” the Devil - “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.” They overcame him because of the sacrificial death of Jesus, and by giving faithful “testimony” before their accusers, even when doing so meant loss, deprivation, and even martyrdom.



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