The Holy War II (Revelation 12:7-17)

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Speaking of His impending crucifixion, Jesus said to His disciples, “Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). John Calvin commented thus on this verse:

As if he had already finished the fight, the Lord now rejoices as the Victor, not only over fear but also over death… And although Christ had already begun to set up the kingdom of God, it was His death that was the true beginning of a properly-ordered state and the complete restoration of the world.

In short, Calvin believed that the cross was the beginning of the reformation and restoration of the world. Simply stated, the cross was the starting point for the reconciliation of the world to God. It is the cross that gives Christ and His people the power to conquer the nations through the gospel of God. This is the underlying theme of Revelation. We learn in the prophecy that the meek will inherit the earth under the authority of their Master. Revelation is not designed as a mystical text in which we can figure out the future. Instead, the prophecy was given that we might see the Lord Jesus Christ establishing His kingdom in this world through His church.

Revelation 12 is one of the clearest texts in the entire book that shows us this truth. The chapter records the history of the holy war. It begins withIsrael—God’s old covenant people—being hounded by Satan, the great red dragon. Satan persecuted the nation because it was within the nation that the true Israel of God existed, from which would come Messiah: if he could destroyIsrael, he reasoned, he could destroy Messiah. ThroughoutIsrael’s history, the dragon stood as it were at the feet of the godly line, desiring to destroy Messiah as soon as He would be born. But Messiah is born and ascends to heaven and so Satan turns in his wrath upon the church, the true Israel of God. This is all seen in 12:1-6.

Lest we grow confused, the Lord takes some time in 12:7-12 to give us the background of the holy war. Who is the great red dragon? Why does he so hate Messiah and Messiah’s people? We are given a picture of Christ’s spiritual war with Satan. Michael represents Jesus Christ who, with His angels, wages war against Satan (the great red dragon) and his angels (demons). This battle essentially took place during Christ’s earthly ministry when He confronted the advances of Satan head on. Christ is victorious, the devil and his angels are cast out of heaven, and a song of rejoicing breaks forth. Attention is once again directed to the first-century war of the dragon against the saints in 12:13-17.

In this study we continue our study of Revelation 12. As we do so, we must keep in mind the grand picture of victory, which will help us to worship in celebration.

The Hunted Woman

We considered 12:1-6 in some detail in our previous study but a word of review is in order before we get any further in the chapter:

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

(Revelation 12:1-6)

This pictures the war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman fromGenesis 3:15onward. Particular reference is drawn to Gentile dominion overIsrael, which was always influenced by Satan himself. The “woman” representsIsrael—particularly true, spiritualIsrael—through whom Messiah would come. We might say that she represented the true Jewish church. The “great red dragon” is a picture of Satan. His seven heads and ten horns refer to the prophecy ofDaniel 7. Daniel saw four different beasts, each representing a Gentile world power (the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Grecians and the Romans, respectively). The third of these beasts (the Grecian Empire) had four heads, representing the four-part division of the kingdom that took place historically after the death of Alexander the Great. Thus, seven heads were seen inDaniel 7: four on the third beast and one on each of the other three beasts. The dragon has these seven heads as a representation that he was the evil one behind the conquest of the Jews by each of these four Gentile nations. Certainly God had ordained and allowed it all to happen but Satan sought to use it to destroy the Jewish race.

The dragon’s single-minded desire is clearly stated: he desired to abort Messiah. Every attack levelled against the woman was intended to destroy her child. But he failed. The woman “brought forth a man child [Jesus Christ] who was to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” That Child was then “caught up unto God, and to his throne.” The woman is then seen protected in the wilderness from the attacks of the dragon and providentially fed by God. This was a picture of God’s protection of the Jewish church during the great tribulation, when the church fled toPellaand was protected there by God whilstJerusalemwas destroyed.

The Holy Warrior

The attempts of the dragon to devour the Child is thwarted, according to 12:1-6, by the incarnation (“she brought forth a man child”) and the ascension (“her child was caught up unto God”). But it was not as simple as that. Something of pivotal importance happened between these two events, which is described in 12:7-12:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

(Revelation 12:7-12)

Two major things stand out in these verses: the conquest and the celebration.

The Conquest

We saw in our previous study that this is a heavenly perspective of what took place when Christ was on earth. Michael is Jesus Christ (see previous study for exposition of this). Christ and His angels take the battle to Satan and his demons and they win! At one time Satan had been able to deceive the whole world (just consider the history of the world before the ministry of Christ: only one nation served the one, true God!) but during Christ’s earthly ministry, He was cast out of heaven and the kingdoms of the world—once deceived by the dragon—were given to the Lord.

The heavenly battle is given a different perspective in the gospels: there we see it taking place on earth. When Jesus came to “the country of the Gergesenes” He was immediately met by two men possessed by demons (Matthew 8:28-34). Seeing Him, they cried, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” The demons knew that they had a limited time to perform their work. When they saw Jesus they immediately understood that He had come on the offensive. They were wrong about one thing: it wasn’t “before the time.” In fact, the time had come. Jesus was sent “when the fullness of the time was come” (Galatians 4:4) to do the work which God had sent Him to do. That work was to defeat the great red dragon, to claim the nations as His own, and to glorify His Father by saving those whom His Father had chosen from the foundation of the world.

We see the same thing in Matthew 12. The religious leaders blasphemously claimed that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, prince of the demons (i.e. Satan himself) but Jesus responded by showing them the folly of this: did they honestly think that Satan was foolish enough to cause division within his ranks (Matthew 12:22-37)? He then said, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (12:28). The casting out of demons was a major proof that Christ had come to set up His kingdom and that took place during His earthly ministry.

The war was waged throughout Christ’s earthly ministry and Satan lost every battle (though he perhaps believed that he won when Judas betrayed the Lord). But the war was only finally won at the cross. It was there that Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The New Testament makes it clear that this is where the victory was finally won:

  • Colossians 2:13-15—And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
  • Hebrews 2:14-15—Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
  • 1 John 3:8—He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

Jesus Christ did that at Calvary: He destroyed the works of the devil. At the cross the war was won. And, as someone has well said, all of history since the cross has been nothing more than “a mopping up operation.” John MacArthur, who interprets Revelation 12 futuristically, has written, “The great cosmic war of the ages between God and Satan that began with Satan’s rebellion is set to reach its climax.” Again, MacArthur writes, “The event that will cause the kingdom and authority of Christ to be established is the expulsion of Satan from heaven.” Technically, MacArthur is right and I completely agree with him. We would, however, disagree with the timing of “the expulsion of Satan from heaven.” Whilst MacArthur believes it to be yet future, I am convinced that Satan already has been expelled from heaven and, as a result, that “the kingdom and authority of Christ” has already been “established.” “The accuser of our brethren” has been long cast down from heaven; there is no place in heaven for both Satan and Christ.

An objection may be raised at this point: does Paul not call Satan “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4? He most certainly does, but we must understand in what sense Satan is the god of this world. Satan is the god of all those who are “of this world” but believers are not of this world! Believers are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We do not serve the god of this world; we serve the God of heaven. Unbelievers make Satan their god; Christ has made Himself the God of believers.

The Celebration

In our previous study, we considered the opening nine verses of Revelation 12. We now come to some new material. The crucifixion and resurrection, followed by the ascension, resulted in a great heavenly celebration. And it is a celebration in which we can join in our own day.

Having seen the great red dragon and his forces cast to the earth John “heard a loud voice in heaven.” It was a voice of celebration, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ…” David Chilton has summarised the thought of the heavenly exultation, “Christ has arrived, Satan has been thrown down and the kingdom has come.” When Adam sinned, Satan illegitimately took the dominion that Adam had been given over the earth. But now the Last Adam had defeated Satan and taken that authority back. No longer does Satan have authority in this world; all authority in heaven and in earth is now Christ’s.

We are further told precisely how this happened—how the kingdom of God came: “10…for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 11And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

Earlier in this chapter the great red dragon is specifically called “Satan” (12:9). The Greek word satanas (a transliteration of the Hebrew word satan) literally carries the idea of a prosecuting attorney. A prosecuting attorney, of course, seeks to prove the guilt of the accused. As prosecuting attorney against “our brethren” Satan accused believers of being unworthy of God’s favour. For a long time, Satan stood in the heavenly court to pass judgement upon the people of God. The background for John’s words seems to be found in the prophecy of Zechariah:

And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by.

(Zechariah 3:1-5)

Joshua was the high priest of Israel, contemporary with Zechariah. As high priest, Zechariah represented the people of God (for he is equated in 3:2 with Jerusalem). In the vision, Zechariah notices Joshua standing before the Lord and Satan standing by “to resist him.” The Angel of the Lord (Jesus Christ) intercedes for Joshua (and the people of God) as Satan stands by to accuse Joshua (and the people of God) of being unworthy of God’s love. Although man by his own merit is utterly unworthy of God’s love, Joshua (and the people of God) were God’s people by virtue of Christ’s merit. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is able to plead Joshua’s case and to grant the high priest (and the people of God) clean garments. The scene, then, is of the Angel of the Lord contending with Satan over the people of God. But once Joshua has been clothed in clean garments there is no further grounds for accusation for the people of God have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.

As noted in our previous study, this is actually further evidence that Michael is to be equated with Jesus. Jude draws the analogy from Zechariah 3for use in his small epistle: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 1:9). The body of God’s people in Jerusalem(Zechariah 3) is referred to, I believe, in Jude as “the body of Moses.” The dispute was not over the physical body of Moses but the spiritual body of Moses (i.e. the old covenant church). In the same way that we are baptised into Christ at the point of justification (1 Corinthians 12:13), so the old covenant church was baptised into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The new covenant church is the Body of Christ; the old covenant church—at least in some sense—was the Body of Moses (though they, too, formed part of the Body of Christ). Christ represents those under the new covenant; Moses represented those under the old covenant. Thus, the contention over the Body of Moses was actually over the old covenant people of God. Satan argued that the old covenant people could not be cleansed because Christ had not yet redeemed them by His death. But God made it clear that old covenant believers were as much ‘in Christ’ as new covenant believers are ‘in Christ’.

Notice that the contention is between the Angel of the Lord and Satan in Zechariah 3 and between Michael the Archangel and Satan in Jude. The two are one and the same Person. Christ is the angel of the Lord; Christ is Michael the Archangel. Christ is the One who stands before God interceding for believers. And, though Satan stood before God prior to the cross to accuse the brethren—saying that they were unworthy because Christ had not yet died—there was no place for him in heaven after the cross. Once the crucifixion had taken place Satan had no more grounds for accusation. Though he may accuse us to ourselves today he no longer stands in heaven accusing us before God. He accuses our conscience of our sin and it often works—our conscience often bothers us greatly. All believers have felt such accusations before. It is then that we look to Christ who alone is sufficient for favour with God and rest in faith that we have been forgiven in Him.

Because Christ overcame, His saints are able to overcome as well: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” The word “overcame” means ‘to conquer’. At root, it is a legal term which speaks of being granted a favourable verdict. Satan sought to prosecute the old covenant people of God but, in Christ, they were rendered a favourable verdict and were acquitted of all charges.

The victory was won “by the blood of the Lamb” (i.e. the cross) “and by the word of their testimony” (i.e. the gospel). Because of the gospel of the cross, “they loved not their lives unto the death.” They trusted Christ, and Christ alone, for spiritual victory. And we should learn from them. There is much talk today about spiritual warfare. When we are assaulted by the wiles of the devil, we overcome not in our own strength but by the cross of Jesus Christ and His gospel. We look to Him, and Him alone, for victory in the warfare in which we are involved.

As we do this, we will have reason to rejoice with the saints of old for we will know more fully what Christ has done for us: “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them.” Notice that the “heavens” are told to rejoice “and yet that dwell in them.” And that includes us, for we are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus! We can rejoice because Christ is seated in heaven and Satan can no longer accuse us before the throne of God. Thus, said David Chilton, “the church’s worship really and truly takes place before the throne of God.”

The second part of 12:12 introduces us to the material to be dealt with in 12:13-17. John writes, “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” Those who tabernacle (“dwell”) in the heavens have great reason to rejoice for Satan has been cast out. The inhabitants of the earth, however, have cause to fear for the great red dragon has been cast to earth!

As noted several times in our studies, the word “earth” in Revelation speaks particularly of the Promised Land, especially Jerusalem. The “sea”—as we will see in greater detail in Revelation 13—is often a picture of Gentile nations (cf. Revelation 17:15). The church has reason to rejoice but the Jews and the Gentiles have good reason to tremble. Certainly, believers battle against Satan and his demonic horde but the dragon has no hold over us and we have not as much reason to tremble as unbelievers.

Again, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those living in the first century. Satan had been cast out of heaven and he was angry! He is angry because he knows “that he hath but a short time.” Throughout Revelation 11-12 the time frame given has been 3½ years, 42 months. Satan has lost to Christ but he will not give up. His anger will now be directed toward the church. We will see as we continue in the book that he will use Judaism and Romanism to level his attacks against God’s people. And the attack will be not only against the Jewish church but against the church around the world. And yet, although Satan is exercising great wrath, he is ultimately a pawn in the exercise of God’s wrath.

Hostility of the Warfare

The opening six verses showed the great red dragon’s persecution of the Jewish church, seeking to abort Messiah. He failed and Messiah ascended to His throne in heaven. God removed the Jewish church fromJerusalemand took her to her place in the wilderness where He fed and protected her. This theme is continued in the closing verses as we see things heating up for theGentilechurch as well:

And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

(Revelation 12:13-17)

The opening section (12:1-6) introduced us to the persecution of the Jewish church throughout Old Testament history. It took us to the point of persecution during the great tribulation before a parenthetical section (12:7-12) was inserted to explain the spiritual backdrop to the persecution. Now, the record of the persecution during the great tribulation resumes.

As noted, Satan had sought to destroy Messiah—the Man Child—but had failed. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.” He could no longer get to the Child and so now he persecuted the Child’s mother, the Jewish church. This was after the ascension when his wrath turned to the Jewish church.

God preserves the church by giving her “two wings of a great eagle.” This is Old Testament imagery:

  • Exodus 19:4-6—Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
  • Hebrews 32:10-12—He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.

 

In both these passages,Israel’s deliverance from bondage inEgyptis described in terms of eagle’s wings. Now, in 12:14, the true Israel of God is delivered from the newEgypt(Jerusalem, Revelation 11:8) on wings of eagles. Delivered to a safe place, “she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” We have seen this picture several times in Revelation: the Jewish church being protected for 3½ years from the persecution of the devil at Pella. But this does not stop his attacks:

And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

(Revelation 12:15-16)

In Egypt, Satan sought to use water to destroy the people of God. Pharaoh commanded that all the Jewish male children under the age of two must be drowned in the NileRiver. But God protected His people. At the Red Sea, Satan doubtless thought that he had Israeltrapped: the Egyptian armies could now fall upon them and destroy them. But God brought His people safely through the water. The imagery is picked up again in Revelation 12, where Satan’s attempts to destroy the woman are described in terms of water. But “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.” Again I will say that “earth” here refers to Jerusalem. Satan’s furious attempts to destroy the church were absorbed by Jerusalemin the Jewish War. Though the “flood” of the Roman Army came upon Jerusalem, it was apostate Israelthat received the brunt of the attack. His desire was to destroy the true people of God but apostate Israelwas destroyed instead. The dragon’s wrath resulted in the destruction of Jerusalemand the temple, the desolation of Judaism and the death of 1.1 million Jews. And yet he failed to touch the church! Even the wrath of the dragon fulfilled the plan of God! Satan has his plan but he is merely a pawn in God’s hand.

Do you suppose that the dragon, having realised that he has simply fulfilled the purpose of God, will now give up? Not a chance! “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Having failed for century after century—even in the destruction ofJerusalemand the Jewish temple—Satan’s anger has reached boiling point. His anger had already been diverted from the Man Child to the woman; now it is diverted from the woman to “the remnant of her seed,” who are defined as those “which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

If the woman is the old covenant people of God then “the remnant of her seed” is the new covenant people of God. It is the multiethnic church, the true, new covenant Israel of God. There is continuity in the church: we are as much the Israel of God as was the old covenant people of God. The dragon’s persecution was not only against the Jewish church but also against the Gentile church. Some may have wondered what the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3) have to do with the destruction ofJerusalem. Revelation 12 provides the answer: the Jewish War was Satan’s attempt—albeit in the plan of God—to destroy the Jewish church, but when it did not work he turned his wrath to theGentile church. The churches inAsia Minor would also suffer, for they were the remnant of the seed of the woman. But God would protect theGentile church just as surely as He would protect the Jewish church.

We live more than 1,900 beyond the fulfilment of Revelation. But the church of the 21st century is still involved in a holy war. But Jesus Christ has won the victory and He will preserve His church! Wherever the church is persecuted she is assured of divine protection: she will not be utterly destroyed, the gates of hell will not prevail. During the Boxer Rebellion inChina missionaries were forced to leave the country. When they were permitted to return years later, the church inChina had grown from a few million to more than 50 million!

Satan is a defeated foe. I would not minimise the fact that he is a roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom he may devour. But he will never fully devour the church, for Christ has defeated him. Let us realise that we can overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. Therefore, let us not love our lives to death: let us love Christ above all. Then we will keep the commandments of God and show forth the testimony of His Son, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

David Chilton wrote, “The true Israel of God will be the church triumphant if she remains the church militant and the church obedient.” Let us, indeed, obey God and proclaim His gospel knowing that the great red dragon has been cast down.