The Fury and Fall of Satan (Revelation 12)

You might wonder, after the end of chapter 11, when the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ, why in chapter 12 the apostle is telling us about the persecution of the people of God again? Shouldn’t the story be over at this point? Surely, this shows us that the book of Revelation is not linear at all. It is built on cycles that recapitulate the same events from various points of view. So, having brought us to the end of history with the seventh trumpet, John now starts over again, to help us see the story of God’s plan for the future of the church from a different angle. Not only does he come at this from a different angle, but he also introduces new features into the story and goes deeper in some sense, helping us to see further into what is going on in the story of the church. That is what is happening here as we begin the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation.

Since we have taken a little over a month off of our study of Revelation, before we go further I think it would be helpful to remind ourselves what this book is about and how and why John is writing it. Let’s remember that this is a book which is about the future of God’s church and how God is bringing all things to a glorious consummation for the good of his people and the glory of his name. In particular, this book is about the victory of Christ over all things and how those who are overcomers will join him in his victory. This book is therefore meant to function as an encouragement to saints to persevere to the end by showing them what the end will be for those who do so, that it will be a glorious and wonderful end. In contrast, the end of the wicked will be frighteningly awful.

We have also seen that this book is very different from other books in the New Testament in that it is full of symbolic language. Some argue that we should only take as symbolic those things which are not interpreted for us. But I showed in a previous message that this just doesn’t work. It can be shown that not all symbols are in fact explicitly interpreted and that sometimes even symbols are interpreted by symbols.

But if the book is so symbolic, how can we have any hope of interpreting it? The answer is the Old Testament. God is revealing his plan for history to John using symbols that he and the early church would have readily recognized. The symbols were not arbitrary for them; they would have understood them against the background of OT imagery and teaching.

At this point, let me say something more about the imagery here. I’ve just said the background of Revelation is the OT. And that’s true. But many scholars have noted that the story told here in Revelation 12 about a woman giving birth to a child who is hunted by an ancient serpent but who is then rescued and comes back to slay the dragon, is an old story told in many ancient myths (many of which predate Revelation by hundreds of years). You see similar stories in Greek, Egyptian, and Babylonian mythologies. And so some people will say that the presence of all these myths prove that the Bible is just an extension of pagan myth.

But this is getting it backwards. Here’s why: suppose for a moment with me that at the beginning of human history, when mankind sinned against its Creator because it had been duped by a malevolent being under the guise of a serpent, that God made a promise to mankind. And this promise was that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. Suppose this is true. What would it mean about all these myths? It would mean that these myths are pointing to something true. These myths have gotten the promises garbled up along the way, which is what we tend to do. We take God’s word and mess with it and change it to fit our propensities and purposes. But the presence of all these myths doesn’t mean that John’s vision is myth. John’s vision is firmly rooted in the true story which goes all the way back to the promise given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The point is not that the myths predate Revelation; the point is the promise of Genesis 3 predates every pagan myth. It is not then that the myths explain the gospel, but that the gospel explains the myths. John is getting right what the myths got wrong. The Seed of the woman is not some pagan god like Apollo – he is Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, who slew the dragon by dying on the cross and redeeming from death all who belong to him.

The point is that we don’t need to be embarrassed by these myths. In fact, we should expect such myths to have been told if Genesis 3 and the promise of the Seed of the Woman were in fact true. They are the human-garbled re-telling of the Protoevangelium. The gospel, on the other hand, is the inspired and inerrant proclamation that the Seed has come in the person of our Lord.

You may ask: but why would John write this way? Or perhaps a better question is: why would God reveal truth to John in this way? The reason, I think, is that the Lord not only intends for us to know facts about his plan for the church, but he wants our imaginations to be fired with these truths, and a really good way to do that is to bring the truth to our minds and hearts in the form of these pictural and symbolic representations of God’s purpose and plan for his people.

What we see here in the symbolism (the “signs” or “wonders,” see verses 1, 3) of Rev. 12 and the following chapters is the explanation why the church suffers in this world and what the outcome will be. The explanation is that there is a real being called the Devil who hates God and hates his people and will do everything in his power to try to frustrate God’s plan and purpose and destroy his people. It is the same reason the apostle Paul gave to the Ephesian Christians to stand fast: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:11-13). We are motivated to stand when we realize that to capitulate means to give in to the devil. If you stop standing firm in the faith, it’s not just that you are no longer standing, but that you have fallen before and given into the greatest evil in the universe. You have aided and abetted the cause of the devil. We must not do that; we cannot do that.

So this chapter is meant to give us a reason to stand firm in the faith. There are two great motivations here at least. First, there is the motivation from the fact that our enemy is the devil. Just as the soldiers of the Second World War were motivated to fight because they understood just how evil Nazism was, even so we ought to be motivated by understanding that our foe is ultimately not the politician in Washington or the blogger on that website we don’t like but is in fact Satan.

But second, we ought to be motivated knowing that Satan, powerful though he may be, and dangerous as he is now, has been decisively defeated at the cross. In fact, though he is allowed to carry out many schemes against the church and to make war against the saints, he cannot win. To join the devil is to join a losing cause. He may at times appear to be winning. But the devil “knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Rev. 12:12).

So these are the two things I want to consider with you today: the evil of our enemy and the end of our enemy, and how knowing these two things can help us stand fast in the faith.

The Evil of our Enemy

The Devil is the enemy of the church. You might ask, “But where is the church in these verses?” And the answer is that the church, or the people of God, appears in the form of this woman in verse 1: “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.” Some have interpreted this to be Mary the mother of Jesus, because in the following verses the woman gives birth to the Messiah “who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (5). But this woman is also seen to be the mother of all who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (17). This is not Mary. Instead, I think we should see the woman as Israel from whom Christ has come. Note that she has “upon her head twelve stars” indicating the twelve tribes of Israel. In Isaiah’s prophesy, (54:1) Israel is pictured as a woman in labor who gives birth to many children, which the apostle Paul applies to the people of God: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, [quoting the Isaiah passage] Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal. 4:26- 28). In verse 2, the woman “she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” The pains of childbirth here may represent the persecution of the people of God prior to the birth of Christ.

The fact that the woman appears in heaven clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and a crown upon her head indicates the glory and honor of the church. Though the world may belittle and even detest the people of God and persecute them, God loves and delights in the church. Our Lord died for the church, his bride, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27).

This woman is opposed by another sign in heaven, “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads” (3). In the seventh chapter of the prophesy of Daniel (see esp. ver. 7), there is a vision of four ferocious beasts, the fourth of which is more terrifying than the previous three, and this beast had ten horns as well. He also persecuted the people of God (Dan. 7:19-21), just as the dragon is seeking to do here – in particular, to devour the Messiah at his birth: “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” (Rev. 12:4). The actions of Herod who had the children in and around Bethlehem killed in order to do away with the threat of Jesus was no doubt inspired by the dragon of Revelation 12. So we see that the devil is the enemy of God’s people, the church, in his attempt to kill Jesus, the one who saves the church and gives her eternal life, when he was born.

Some commentators believe that the reference to the Devil drawing a third part of the stars and casting them down to the earth is a reference to the origin of the fallen angels, which we call demons. I think this is likely, given the fact that in a few verses we are told that the church is not only opposed by the Devil but also by “his angels” (9). Where did they come from? Perhaps verse 4 is an explanation. But there are other expositors who think this is a reference to the persecution of God’s people before Christ came, and they appeal to Daniel 8:10 and the little horn who probably refers to Antiochus Epiphanes and his persecution of the people of God then. We are told that he “waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.” Here the stars are almost certainly a reference to God’s people and their being cast down a reference to their persecution by their enemy who is represented by a little horn.

In other words, the Devil didn’t start persecuting God’s people when Christ came. He has been doing this from the beginning of time. This is why he is called “that old serpent” (9). He is the serpent who came in the Garden of Eden and tempted Adam and Eve and led them to their downfall and to the sin and condemnation that has plagued the human race ever since.

But he is our enemy in other ways as well. In verse 9, he is described as “the great dragon . . . that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” Satan means “adversary” and Devil means “slanderer.” The Devil opposes Christ and his people. One of the ways he does this is by slandering them to God, just as he did with Job (see the book of Job 1-2) and just as he did with Jehoiada the high priest (see Zech. 3:1-5). We see that he does this by accusing them to God, for in verse 10 we read that he is called “the accuser of our brethren . . . which accused them before our God day and night.”

He also does this by lies and deception: “which deceiveth the whole world.” Our Lord said of certain people who opposed him, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not” (Jn. 8:44-45). The Devil murders by his lies. He commits spiritual murder and by his lies he inspires his servants to commit physical murder. Paul wrote something similar: “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4; cf. 2 Thess. 2:8-12).

I think this is reinforced in verse 15 of our text, where we are told that “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.” The Devil has always sought to drown the church in a flood of lies. He is constantly introducing new heresies, new lies, as well as old lies dressed up in new clothes. He never tires of this. He is tirelessly seeking to overwhelm the church which is supposed to be the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:14) with false teaching from false teachers. Which is why we must not just assume that because someone is speaking in the name of the Lord that therefore they must be alright. No, let us “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). As the apostle Paul would put it to the Corinthians: “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. . . For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (3, 13-15).

It is in these ways that the Devil goes “to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (17). He is truly the evil enemy of the church.

But thank God, this is not the whole story. We have an enemy, yes. He will hurt us, yes. As a result, we can expect trials and tribulation and persecution in this life. But this is an enemy who has been decisively defeated.

The End of our Enemy

The Devil can do a lot of damage; I don’t want to minimize that. Some of you bear the battle scars. But his days are numbered, and this fact is highlighted in at least three different ways in this chapter.

First of all, he was defeated in his attempt to kill Jesus at his birth: “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” (Rev. 12:4-5). The interesting thing is that though we know this is referring to Jesus who fulfills the prophesy of Psalm 2:9, the story goes from the birth of Jesus to his ascension, skipping the life and death of the Lord! We know the Devil played a part in the death of Jesus (cf. Jn. 13:2). However, it was in his very death that our Lord defeated Satan, and this was confirmed by his resurrection and ascension into heaven. It is this that is highlighted here, and it was in his exaltation at the Father’s right hand that Satan’s fall and defeat was decisively effected. It was during his earthly ministry that our Lord in fact said, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Lk. 10:18).

Moreover, our Lord did not ascend into heaven only to leave the church alone, for we are told that “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” (Rev. 12:6). Many times in OT history God led his people into the wilderness to protect them and care for them. One thinks of the children of Israel and the Exodus, or Elijah fed by the ravens in the wilderness and kept safe from the wrath of Ahab. The 1260 days is the same time period as the 42 months or the “time, times, and half a time” (three and a half years). This is the same time that the beast reigns who persecutes God’s people (cf. 13:5). The point here is that God will protect the church and he will do this as long as it is threatened by its enemies. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church.

Second, the Devil was defeated in heaven: “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” (7-9). This immediately follows upon our Lord’s enthronement, so this is a consequence of the resurrection of our Lord. In other words, this doesn’t seem to be something that happened before human history, nor does it seem to be something that will happen at the end of history, but rather something that happened when our Lord died and rose again and ascended into heaven. Before this, the Devil could legitimately accuse the saints on account of their sins. But once their sins were paid for, which they were at the cross, he no longer had any standing in heaven. And so Michael the archangel (cf. Jude 9; Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1) and the holy angels with him cast Satan and his angels out.

Not that they go willingly; they fight back. But they do not win. Satan was defeated at the cross and as a result he was defeated in heaven. No longer can the accuser of the brethren accuse them before God as he did before. This is the heavenly reality behind Paul’s exultation: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:33-34).

Third, the Devil is defeated through the testimony and lives of the followers of Jesus.

It is because our Lord has defeated the Devil that we can defeat him. We can only defeat a defeated foe. Note how verses 10-11 read: “Now [as a result of our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the expulsion of the Devil and his angels from heaven] is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” It is because we are saved by Christ, and transferred into the kingdom of our God, that we have the strength and the power to overcome the evil one: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

But notice how the saints defeat the Devil. It is not only through their lives but also by their deaths: “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 defeat of the Devil doesn’t mean that life here on earth is going to be peachy. Opposing him just might mean martyrdom. It means not loving your life to the death. But we can do that because our Lord has defeated death. He is risen and those who belong to him will rise with him. The Devil can kill our bodies but he can’t touch our souls and Christ will recover our bodies in the resurrection at the end of the age.

We defeat the Devil by a life of faithfulness to Jesus. The “word of their testimony” is the “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (17). It is by living a life of witness to Christ, both with our lips and our lives, with our words and our works. The Devil is defeated when believers consistently refuse to believe his lies and drink in his deceit.

Reasons for Faithfulness

Why would a person not love their life to the death? But this is what Christ calls us to, whether we are actually martyred or not. We are to take up our cross and follow him. Why would you do that? Why would you live like that? This chapter gives us three reasons to be faithful, doesn’t it?

First, because Satan was not able to conquer Christ – he was decisively (though not yet finally) defeated at the cross (and we through him). All our sins have been paid for by our Lord and his reign at the Father’s right hand is proof that redemption has been accomplished. And though it is true that Satan still goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, it is also true that he is living on borrowed time. He knows that his time is short. We are fighting a defeated enemy. We have no reason to join a losing side!

Second, because of what Christ has done, Satan is no longer able to accuse believers before God – he has been cast out of heaven. God is for us and he is with us. We are accepted by God, justified and declared righteous before him, adopted into his family, and given an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, if you have received him as Lord and Christ, the Bible says that God is on your side, that he loves you, and will give you all things. The accusations of Satan no longer ring in the halls of heaven; he has been cast out. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?

Third, Satan is not fighting saints who are on their own – they are supported, nourished, and protected by the God of heaven. This is underlined in the remaining part of the chapter: “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. 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” (12-17).

God told the children of Israel at Mount Sinai, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself” (Exod. 19:4). God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, tells us, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

Dear believer, you are not on your own! God will give you wings of eagles and protect, and nourish you on your journey to heaven. Not around trials, but through them, he will be with you: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isa. 43:2). He will hold you and bear you up. That is his promise. There is grace and strength for the warfare God has called us to wage. He has not sent us to the front empty-handed but full of the ammunition and support of heaven. Our Captain has gone before us and has already gained the decisive victory. Why would we then turn and join our enemy? He is finished! He is evil and his wrath though brutal is short. Let us conquer him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of his testimony.

And if you are not a Christian this morning, may I not encourage you to enlist in the army of Jesus? You are either in one camp or the other. If you are not in Christ’s army, you are serving Satan. To live for yourself is to live for the Devil. Repent of your rebellion against God and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and the promise is that all who do so will never be ashamed and will be given the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life.


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