This study brings us to the threshold of the second half of the Book of Revelation. A few introductory comments are in order before we seek to expound the opening sections of this chapter. The first 11 chapters of Revelation have showed us the conquest of Jesus Christ as he came in judgement upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It was the end of what we might call the Jewish Age or the old covenant age. 70 A.D. heralded the full instatement of the new covenant. From the thirteenth chapter of the prophecy onward, we will see the conquest of the church ofChrist (which is, of course, the result of Christ’s conquest). The first section relates the destruction ofJerusalem; the second section relates the construction of the new Jerusalem, the church of Jesus Christ. Both sections deal with God being faithful to His covenant.
Someone recently sent me a letter with several questions about my interpretation of Revelation. One concern was this: if God cancelled His covenant with old covenant Israel, should we not fear that He will do the same with the new covenant church? Such a question, however, betrays a misunderstanding of the manner in which I interpret Revelation. I never have taught, nor will I ever teach, that God abandoned His covenant with Israel. Instead, she forsook her covenant with God. God’s covenant with Israel was twofold: (1) if she obeyed Him, He would bless her; (2) if she disobeyed Him, He would curse her (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). Far from being the record of God cancelling His covenant with Israel, Revelation is the record of God keeping His covenant with her: she disobeyed Him and, as He covenanted, He cursed her. God is always faithful to His covenant. This is a major theme of Revelation.
Wedged between these sections is Revelation 12, which forms the transition between the two sections. This transitional chapter gives the spiritual backdrop of the entire prophecy. The chapter shows the process of God establishing His covenant through Christ, despite the best efforts of Satan to thwart that plan. It further gives a glimpse of the conflict in which the church will find herself until the day that the Lord sets His foot again on this earth. This holy war is outlined in three broad sections:
- The Hunted Woman (12:1-6)
- The Holy Warrior (12:7-12)
- The Hostile Warfare (12:13-17)
Throughout the holy war we see the beautiful and encouraging truth that Christ and His church will conquer over the seed of the serpent in this world.
The Hunted Woman
The first thing that John sees as this chapter opens is a heavenly wonder, in which a woman is hunted by a great dragon. He records the vision for us:
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.
These verses cover the history of the holy war with particular reference to Israel; that is, the true Israel of God. The story here has two main characters: the woman and the dragon.
The Figure of the Woman
The woman is described by John as “a great wonder in heaven.” The word “great” is the Greek word megas, which is found almost 200 times in the New Testament, 82 of those times being in the Book of Revelation. More often than not it is translated (as here) by the word “great,” but it is sometimes also translated as “loud” (6:10), “mighty” (6:13) or “strong” (18:2). The “wonder” that John saw was great or startling. The word “wonder” is the Greek word sameion, which is often translated in the New Testament as “sign” (Matthew 12:38) or “miracle” (Luke 23:8). It is also translated in2 Thessalonians 3:17 by the word “token.” John thus saw a startling sign in heaven. Hence, if we will understand the vision we must understand the identity of this “great wonder.”
John proceeds to tell us precisely what this “great wonder” was: “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is the first vision of a female character in the prophecy. But precisely who is this woman? Once again, we must turn to the Old Testament to make sense of this vision:
And he [Joseph] dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.
You will notice here that Joseph dreams about the same heavenly bodies that John sees in Revelation 12: the sun, the moon and the stars. There was no need for Joseph to interpret the dream for his father immediately understood its significance. Jacob understood the sun to represent him, the moon to represent Rebekah and the stars to represent his sons (Joseph, of course, would be the twelfth star, since there were only 11 in his dream). Since Jacob’s twelve sons would become the head of the twelve tribes it is clear that Joseph’s dream—in essence—referred to Israel. Thus, when John sees the same heavenly bodies together in his vision it is safe to assume (as interpreters from eschatological schools do) that the vision refers to Israel. But since “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6) the question must be asked, To which Israel does John’s vision refer? The answer becomes clear as we consider the next verse.
The heavenly wonder becomes even more remarkable: “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” Again this points to the interpretation that the woman isIsrael, forJerusalemis often said to be in travail in the Old Testament (Isaiah 66:5-10;Isaiah 26:17-18;Micah 5:1-3). The nation is described so often as a travailing woman because she was eventually going to bring forth Messiah.
Now, I do not believe this to be a picture of geopolitical, ethnic Israel. Instead, it included the true Israel of God under the Old Testament (which, of course, comprised largely ethnic Jews). There are many today who expect a return of Jews to the Promised Land sometime in our future. Now, certainly the Scriptures seem to teach that there will be—sometime in our future—a massive number of ethnic Jews turning in faith alone to Christ alone, but there is nothing in Scripture that demands a future return of the Jews to the Promised Land. I have read of Jews claiming the Promised Land as their own because God gave it to them, whilst in the same breath rejecting the Messiah that God gave to them! The picture in 12:1-6 is not ofIsraelgetting the Promised Land back but of Messiah being born to the (largely Jewish) church. The woman, we might thus say, is the Jewish church, from whom Christ would be born.
The birth involved a great deal of pain because Israel’s history involved a great deal of pain. Read the Old Testament and you will soon see the consistent heartache that the Jews experienced. As we will see later, Satan did all he could to prevent the birth of Messiah toIsraeland his futile attempts caused great pain for God’s people. He exerted every effort to destroy that nation through whom all nations would be blessed; the birth of Messiah was thus not an easy thing forIsrael.
The Foe Called the Dragon
The second main character—“another wonder”—now appears on the scene: “a great red dragon.” Though this dragon is certainly a mystical creature, we are left in no doubt as to his identity: he is described later as “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (12:9). This dragon, however, is unlike anything that we have seen in our comics or cartoons: he has “seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” Furthermore, he has an extremely powerful tail, which “drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.”
The dragon’s colour (“red”) is probably representative of the blood that he has shed throughout history, for “he was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). You will notice that the devil is not a small red man with horns and a pitchfork. Hollywood has made the devil into a joke but his true character is no laughing matter: he is a vile, despicable, murderous, lying being.
The mystical part of this creature is his “seven heads and ten horns” and the “seven crowns upon his heads.” What sense should we make of this? Many attempts have been made to explain this, both from an historical and a futuristic perspective. Many of the attempts, however, ignore a most vital Old Testament passage, which sheds a great deal of light on the subject. It is to that Old Testament passage that we will turn our attention as we seek to understand John’s vision:
In the first year of Belshazzar king of BabylonDanielhad a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
A brief explanation ofDaniel’s vision must be given before we consider the vision of John in Revelation 12. Daniel’s vision focused on four beasts. The first beast—the lion with eagle’s wings—representedBabylon. The beast being lifted up from the earth and being given a man’s heart may be indicative of what the Lord did toBabylon’s greatest king, King Nebuchadnezzar (cf.Daniel4).
The second beast—the bear with three ribs in its mouth—represented the Medo-Persian Empire. The bear raised itself up on one side because the Medo-Persian alliance was unequal: the Persians were stronger than the Medes and would eventually become the dominant world power. The three ribs in the bear’s mouth perhaps represent the three major powers that the Medo-Persian forces conquered:Lydia,EgyptandBabylon.
The third beast—the four-winged, four-headed leopard—represented the Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great. The wings represent perhaps the swift world conquest of Alexander, which resulted in an incredible expansion of the kingdom. When Alexander died, the kingdom was divided amongst his four generals: Ptolemy I (who ruledPalestineandEgypt), Seleucus I (rulingSyria), Lysimachus (who ruledThraceand Asia Minor), and the joint-government of Antipater and Cassander (who ruled Macedon andGreece). This ruling quartet is signified by the four heads (and perhaps the four wings) of the leopard.
The fourth beast—described only as “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” with “great iron teeth”—represented the Roman Empire. Daniel was unable to describe this creature for it was unlike anything that he had ever seen (it was “diverse from all the beasts that were before it”). The beast’s ten horns will be considered in a later study (when we come to Revelation 13); suffice it to say for now that this beast represented theRoman Empire.
Each of these Gentile nations—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome—ruled the Jews at some stage. If you take the heads of the beasts in Daniel7you will find seven heads (1+1+4+1=7), which is precisely the amount of heads that the “great red dragon” of 12:3 has. Further, each head wore a crown (diadema), signifying that each head represented some type of rule. The ten horns on the dragon (12:7) perhaps represent the fact that it Daniel’s fourth beast (who had ten horns) that was in control of the Jews at the time that John wrote. When we take the two visions together the meaning becomes clear.
Each head in Daniel7represented Gentile dominion, but we learn from 12:3 that the great red dragon was behind the Gentile dominion each time. Each kingdom was under satanic influence when it conqueredIsrael (though Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was eventually saved and given the heart of a man). God’s people in the Old Testament were constantly under the control of Gentile nations but it was ultimately the great red dragon influencing those nations. John’s vision thus gives the spiritual behind-the-scenes truth to the history of God’s old covenant people. It was the dragon who ultimately levelled persecution against the woman. Simply put, the great red dragon represents the satanically inspired onslaught againstIsrael in order to destroy the trueIsrael so as to destroy Messiah.
The Focus of the Dragon
The dragon’s warfare is further explained, “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.”
We are presented here with the explanation as to how the dragon became God’s enemy. The explanation is brief: “and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.” Stars in the Bible often represent angels: this verse speaks of angels that were cast to the earth. This seems to be a reference to Satan’s initial fall (expounded further inIsaiah 14:12-15ff andEzekiel 28:11-18ff) at which time he appears to have taken a third of the angels with him. Satan’s host thus comprises those angels who fell with him in the beginning.
The devil is single-minded in his goal: “and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.” Throughout history, his one goal was to abort Messiah. Why? Because, at least to some degree, he believed the Bible! He believed that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15) and he exerted every effort to keep that from happening: if he could get Messiah first, He would not be able to crush his head.
Once again, this is evident throughout world history. It began with Cain and Abel. Of the two, Messiah was certainly most likely to come from Abel, for Cain was “of that wicked one” (1John 3:12). Thus, Satan moved to have Abel killed. But that didn’t work because God sent Seth, through whom Messiah would come. InGenesis 6, Satan had so influenced the world that it was covered with wickedness. Surely God would judge these people and Messiah would never be born? Had Satan won? No, for “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). God protected Noah and his sons, particularly Shem, through whom the line of Messiah would continue.
Later, years after Israel had found safety under Joseph in Egypt, “there arose a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Again, Satan seized the opportunity to seek to abort Messiah. When Pharaoh became nervous about the increasing numbers of Jews in his country, he commanded—through the influence of the great red dragon—that all male children (for Messiah would be male) under the age of two must be killed. But again God protected Moses, who would eventually lead the people to freedom in the Promised Land.
Satan’s efforts did not cease when Moses was saved alive. In the wilderness he sought to destroy God’s people. He led them into idolatry so that God sent judgement upon them during the period of the Judges. He tried to kill David, forefather of Messiah, through King Saul. On at least two occasions during the divided kingdom years, the godly line inJudahwas almost wiped out, but God preserved His people. Foreign nations were employed by Satan to abort Messiah: Assyria,Babylon,Medo-Persia,GreeceandRome. During the Medo-Persian rule, the king gave orders for the Jewish people to be wiped from the face of the earth, but God used Queen Esther to protect them.
As we enter the New Testament, we find Satan persisting in his efforts. Herod repeats the command of Pharaoh long ago: he commands that all male children under the age of two must be killed. But God protects His Son by telling Joseph to take the family intoEgypt. When it was clear that the birth of Messiah had taken place Satan sought to bring Him down in the wilderness temptation, which Christ resisted. On several occasions in the gospels the religious leaders sought to kill Jesus but God protected Him every time. Finally, at the cross, Satan perhaps believed that he had accomplished his mission. Messiah was dead and his head was still intact. But then the resurrection and ascension! Christ was given all authority in heaven and in earth (as proven in the destruction ofJerusalem). Satan’s head was crushed. He had failed.
Satan’s efforts are absolutely futile. The godly seed will always prevail, though she must often travail. This is at the heart of the spiritual warfare. A note must be made at this point: the spiritual warfare described in this chapter (and in much of the New Testament) is corporate warfare. There is much emphasis today in Christian circles on spiritual warfare but the emphasis is far too often on individual warfare rather than corporate warfare. Now, certainly each individual believer must don the spiritual armour described in Ephesians 6:10ff but we must understand that Satan’s efforts are against the church rather than the individual believer. We do not fight by ourselves; we fight in a Christian army. The church must fight the battle in the power of Christ.
The Failure of the Dragon
We have already touched somewhat upon the failure of the dragon but John now spells it out for us: “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.” The dragon’s effort to devour the Child as He is born comes to naught. The child is caught up to heaven and begins His rule over the nations.
The cross is in no way minimised in this verse but John speaks of two events in Christ’s ministry: His incarnation (“brought forth a man child”) and His ascension (“caught up unto God, and to his throne”). It is “as if he had gone straight from the incarnation to the throne,” said David Chilton. And H.B. Swete wrote, “The dragon’s vigilance was futile; he failed to destroy the woman’s Son, and his failure was manifested by the ascension.” God’s plan was accomplished: the Child took up His rule with a rod of iron.
John borrows a phrase in this verse—“who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron”—from Psalm 2:9. Next to Psalm 110, Psalm 2 is the most referenced Psalm in the New Testament. In that Psalm we find Gentile and Jew joined together in rebellion again God and His Christ. They seek to cast off all authority. But God sits in the heavens and laughs. He ridicules their attempts to live autonomously and promises His Son, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9). This was accomplished in the resurrection and ascension; now the charge goes out to the world:
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
The Book of Revelation has one main theme: Christ receiving the nations as His inheritance. Because of the resurrection and ascension the gospel will conquer all nations. Satan hates the Great Commission! Despite the attacks that he will continue to level against the church of Jesus Christ, he cannot win! And that is reason to rejoice!
The Flight of the Woman
The focus is now taken off the dragon and returned to the woman: “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.” This pictures God’s protection of the Jewish church after the ascension, with particular reference toLuke 21:20-24. During the final siege ofJerusalem, the believers inJerusalemescaped toPellawhere they were protected by God for 3½ years (42 months, 1,260 days, or “a time, and times, and half a time” – 12:14).
Throughout history Satan’s focus had been to abort Messiah. Every effort levelled against God’s people was primarily an effort to thwart the birth, ministry and rule of Messiah. By the time that Christ ascended to heaven it was clear—even to the great red dragon himself—that he had failed. He could do nothing more to abort Messiah and so, in a fit of rage, he turned his attention to the woman. If he could not destroy Christ he could at least destroy the church!
Satan’s primary focus would initially be the church in Jerusalem. Perhaps during the Roman siege he could destroy God’s people in theHolyCity. But even there he failed, for Christ sealed and measured His church inJerusalemfor protection (Revelation 7:1-8; 11:1). This protection is further explained in 12:6. God had prepared a place in the wilderness—Pella, to be precise—to which His people could flee to avoid destruction inJerusalem. Though there was a great deal of persecution against the church during the Jewish Wars God ultimately protected her. God’s wrath would fall upon apostateIsraelrather than the church.
In the place prepared for them, the church was fed for 1,260 days. Again, this amounts to 3½ years, the duration of the Jewish War. God removed His people fromJerusalemand protected them whilst apostateIsraelwas destroyed. This divine feeding reminds us somewhat of Elijah’s experience when he fled from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel:
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.
(1 Kings 17:1-6)
Just as God had protected Elijah from Ahab and fed him, so He would protect His church from the great red dragon and feed her. When Satan seems to dominate the church we can be sure that God will take care of His remnant! When Jesus was tempted by the devil, the devil used Scripture in the temptation. Tempting Jesus to cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple to prove to the masses that He really was God, Satan quoted Psalm 91:11, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6). Jesus refused to give into the temptation. But in 12:6 we have a legitimate use of the Psalm 91:11 principle: the angels protected God’s people atPellawhilstJerusalemwas besieged and ultimately destroyed.
Though hunted for centuries, the woman is divinely protected by God. There was no hope that she would be destroyed for God would always protect her. There have been times throughout church history—and there will continue to be times in our future—when the true church will seem to almost completely wiped out. But have no fear! God always has and always will protect His trueIsrael.
The Holy Warrior
As we approach 12:7-12 we must understand that these verses are not necessarily sequential. The opening six verses present the history of God’s people from the exodus (perhaps even before that) to the great tribulation that was soon to take place in John’s day. The account of the great tribulation is picked up again in 12:13-17. The verses between (12:7-12) explain why there is such opposition in 12:1-6, 13-17. John seems to say, “For a better understanding of 12:1-6 let me give you some background…”
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.
This vision records a battle between two armies. The good army comprises “Michael and his angels” whilst the evil army is made up of “the dragon…and his angels.” Important to note is that “Michael and his angels” are the aggressors in this battle: they are not simply defending their territory but taking the attack to the dragon and his angels. Michael and the dragon are the two Generals and the angels are their respective armies. The dragon is clearly identified for us as “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan,” but some biblical investigation is required in order to ascertain the identity of Michael.
Michael is spoken of in three biblical books:Daniel, Jude and Revelation. We first encounter Michael inDaniel10. The chapter opens by informing us of “a thing” which was “revealed untoDaniel.” We are not told precisely what this “thing” was but only that its fulfilment “was long” (i.e. in the distant future). Daniel, we are told, “understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision.” Whatever the vision was, it seems to have drivenDanielto fast and mourn (10:2-3) and it was during this time of mourning and fasting that he received another vision. In 10:4-6Danieldescribes a vision that he had of a magnificent Being by theHiddekelRiver. We are further told thatDanielalone saw the vision, though he was surrounded by companions (10:7-9). This brings us to the passage with which we are concerned:
And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, ODaniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not,Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days. And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said unto him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me. Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me, And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me. Then said he, Knowest thou wherefore I come unto thee? and now will I return to fight with the prince ofPersia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come. But I will show thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.
We get the impression here that the glorious Being by the river disappeared and that another hand touchedDaniel. For three weeks,Danielhad been fasting and praying to understand more of the vision but had received no answer. Now, three weeks after he began praying, an answer arrives. The hand that touchedDanielappears to have been an angelic hand. Most likely it was Gabriel, for he was the one who normally ministered toDanielduring his times of prayer (8:15-16; 9:21).
Gabriel had been sent with the answer toDaniel’s prayer the first day thatDanielhad prayed but he had been opposed by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” for the 21 days ofDaniel’s prayer. This “prince of thekingdomofPersia” was obviously a demonic being—perhaps Satan himself, though we cannot be sure—for he was able to withstand an angel as powerful as Gabriel. But then “Michael, one of the chief princes” came to help Gabriel and Gabriel was able to bring the answer toDaniel. Whoever Michael is, he is clearly more powerful than Gabriel (whose name means ‘the strength of God’) for he defeated the foe against whom Gabriel struggled for three full weeks. It is also clear from this passage that Gabriel and Michael are allies. Michael is further identified asDaniel’s “prince” (10:21).
Just two chapters later in the Book ofDanielwe again encounter Michael. This time, he is called “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people” (12:1). That is, Michael stands for the people of God, protecting them. The verse reads thus:
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
This verse, I am convinced, prophesies the great tribulation during the Jewish War. Certainly there have been judgements upon nations in which more deaths have occurred than in Jerusalem in70 A.D. but no judgement in the history of the world was ever more severe than the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Israel was once the people of God. Jerusalem was theHolyCity. The temple was the official meeting place for the corporate worship of Jehovah. All of this was destroyed in one fell swoop, along with 1.1 million Jews in a single city! The temple would never again be built, the covenant never again instituted withIsrael. A more terrible temporal judgement cannot be imagined! Daniel 12:1 tells us that, during the great tribulation, Michael would stand to protect those whose names are written in the book of life.
We must move beyond the rest of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament before we find another mention of Michael. But we find him again in Jude’s 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). There are a couple of things that we should note about Michael here.
First, the text does not say that Michael refused to rebuke the devil, only that he did not bring a railing accusation against him. That is, Michael would not bring a slanderous accusation against the devil, for only the Lord could rebuke him.
Second, we see that Michael is referred to as “the archangel.” Michael is the only angel in Scripture referred to as an archangel. We often refer to Gabriel as an archangel but Scripture doesn’t actually call him that. As far as we know, Michael is the archangel—the one and only. The word “archangel” means ‘the chief of the angels’.
Now, let us take all of this together. Who is ‘the chief of the angels’? We are given a clue inJoshua 5, when Joshua has an encounter with the “captain of the host of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-15). Few interpreters would interpret the “captain of the host of the Lord” as being anyone else than Jesus Christ Himself for, when Joshua encountered this Captain, he was told to remove his the sandals from hi feet because he was standing on holy ground. Why was the ground holy? Because Joshua was in the presence of God (cf.Exodus 3:1-6)!
Another mention of this Sovereign Angel can be found inExodus 23:20-23when the Lord assures Moses and the Israelites that the Angel would lead them to the Promised Land. Again, there is little doubt that this Angel is Christ Himself. In fact, the King James Bible actually capitalises the word “Angel” in these verses to show that it is Christ.
If Michael is “the archangel” He can be none other than Christ Himself. This seems clear from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where we are told that, at the second coming, Jesus will descend “with the voice of the archangel.” The word “archangel” is used only twice in Scripture: once in Jude 1:9referring to Michael, and once in 1 Thessalonians 4:16referring to Christ. It seems, then, that Michael and Christ are one and the same. Christ will descend (literally) with an archangelic shout because He is the Archangel!
In Daniel12:1Michael is said to protect those whose names are in the book of life. Is it not Christ alone who can condemn or justify? Is it not by the merit of Christ alone that our names are found in the book of life? Michael is more powerful than Gabriel, the strength of God, though the two are allies. Is Christ not more powerful than the mighty Gabriel? And are Gabriel and Christ not allies? The name Michael means ‘who is like God’. And who is like God but Christ?!
This conclusion is supported, too, by the passage in Jude. Jude speaks of “Michael, the archangel” who “disputed” with Satan concerning “the body of Moses.” Michael did not bring a railing accusation against Satan; the Lord rebuked him. Jude seems to be referring to the vision ofZechariah 3:
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.
Observe the scene here. Joshua stands before “the angel of the Lord,” whom most have interpreted as Christ Himself. Satan stands there to accuse Joshua, who represented the Old Testament church. The angel of the Lord did not rebuke Satan; the Lord Himself did. According toZechariah 3, the dispute concernedJerusalem, which housed the Old Testament church. In the same way that the New Testament church is the Body of Christ, the Old Testament church was the Body of Moses. The dispute to which Jude refers did not concern the physical body of Moses, but the spiritual Body of Moses, the Old Testament church, represented by Joshua the high priest andJerusalem. Michael theArchangelin Jude’s language is the same as the Angel of the Lord in Zechariah’s language: both refer clearly to Christ. My contention, then, is that this is no mere angel called Michael. Michael, I believe, is Christ Himself. Michael, I am convinced, is a Christophany.
Now, some may raise an objection at this point: the Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that Michael and Jesus are one and the same. You might then ask me, “Do you believe the same as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The answer to that is simple, No! I believe that Jesus Christ is God—the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not. I believe that Michael is God—the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not. I must also say that we should be very careful of playing the guilt-by-association game. If I am warned against interpreting Michael as Jesus Christ because that is Jehovah’s Witness doctrine then I must caution others to beware of dispensational premillennialism, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are dispensational premillennialists! This can be taken to ridiculous extremes. Roman Catholicism teaches the virgin birth, death, burial and resurrection of Christ; guilt by association suggests that I cannot believe the same. We cannot have knee jerk reactions against biblical doctrine simply because we are afraid of being wrongly associated with false teachers. Guilt by association has no place in theology.
Regardless, then, of what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, I am convinced that Michael is Jesus Christ. With that in mind, it is significant that Michael is the One who takes the offensive in the war. Michael’s angels are obviously the holy angels of God, and we have seen that the dragon’s angels fell with him from heaven when he fell (12:4; cf.Jude 1:6; 2Peter 2:4). The battle, then, is between Christ and the holy angels and Satan and the fallen angels (i.e. the demons). Satan is pictured as a dragon; Christ is pictured as Michael the archangel. Michael and His angels take the offensive and cast the dragon and his angels to the earth.
When did all of this take place? In Christ’s earthly ministry. It was Christ who went into the wilderness, led by the Spirit, to be tempted of the devil: He took the battle to Satan (Matthew 4:1). Christ took the offensive against a demonised world during His earthly ministry (Matthew 816, 29-34; 9:32-35; 12:22-28ff; etc.). Christ and the angels are often linked together: the angels ministered to Him after the temptation (Matthew 4:11); He could have called more than twelve legions of angels to protect Him at His arrest and crucifixion (Matthew 26:53); an angel strengthened Him inGethsemane(Luke 22:43).
That Christ had cast Satan out of heaven is evidenced in the ekballistic ministry of Christ and the apostles (i.e. their ministry of exorcism):
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
The devils were subject to the disciples because Satan had fallen from heaven like lightning. Greater still, however, was the salvation accomplished through the Person and Work of Christ. Earlier (12:5) John had seen the incarnation and ascension of Christ; now he sees the cross. Was it not in the cross that Michael and His angels overcame the dragon and his angels? In the context of the cross, Jesus said, “Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Paul expounded this truth later:
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.
In “his cross,” says Paul, Christ “spoiled principalities and powers.” The author of Hebrews concurs: “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” (Hebrews 2:14-15). And John wrote, “For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1John 3:8).
During His earthly ministry Jesus Christ defeated Satan and his angels so that “they prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” Then, “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.”
I am not sure that we understand the control that Satan had over the world when Christ came to earth. As far as I knowIsraelwas the only nation on earth that was monotheistic and, even then, not all of them were truly saved. Satan quite literally had the nations deceived, wholly given to idolatry. But Christ defeated Satan in His earthly ministry so that the world today is far more evangelised than at any other point in history. The gospel has gone forth as Satan’s power to deceive the nations has been broken.
It is important that we understand that the dragon and his angels have no more place in heaven. He has been cast to the earth and his angels with him. In the opening chapters of the Book of Job we see Satan gathered with the holy angels before the throne of God. Acting in his capacity as “the accuser of our brethren” Satan brings railing accusations against Job.
Job lived perhaps 4,000 years ago, when Satan had some access to the throne room of God. Some interpreters believe that Satan still has access to God’s presence; that he can bring accusations against God’s people today in the same place and in the same way as he did against Job. I must disagree with my brethren at this point. Job lived prior to the cross. Since the cross, Satan has no more place in heaven. Indeed, we can rejoice, “for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” No longer is Satan in the presence of God accusing the brethren; now Christ sits there, making intercession for us! This is cause for us to celebrate indeed!
The holy war raged since the fall of man. There were moments of great victory and moment of apparent defeat. But at the cross, Christ achieved victory once and for all. The war is won! But let us be sure that our troubles are not over! For though the dragon has been cast out of heaven, he wanders the earth as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But those who walk with God do not have to fear the roaring lion, for another Lion—the Lion of the Tribe of Judah—has roared louder! The gates of hell will not prevail; let us thus travail in gospel labours for the glory of God.