7 And there was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels had to make war with the dragon. And the dragon made war, also his angels, 8 but he did not defeat [Michael], nor was a place found for them still in heaven. 9 And the great dragon, the serpent, the Ancient One, the one called Diabolos and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown to the earth, and his angels were thrown with him. 10 And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God has come, and the authority of His Christ, for the Accuser of our brethren, the one who accuses them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they defeated him on account of the blood of the Lamb and on account of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life as far as death. 12 On account of this, rejoice, heavens, and those who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for Diabolos has gone down to you having great anger, knowing that he has a short time.”
Last time, we read about a woman giving birth to a son, and a dragon who wanted to destroy the child, but the child was taken to God. The dragon then turned his attention to the woman, but she fled to the wilderness where she was given a place of nourishment for three and a half years. Referencing back into the Old Testament, and even into the Gospels, we understand the woman to represent God’s people (Israel, fulfilled in the church), and the son is Jesus, the Messiah, born out of Israel after centuries of struggle. The dragon is Satan (as we’re told explicitly in this week’s passage). Jesus’s escape from the dragon came at his resurrection, and the pursuit of the woman by the dragon is what has been happening to God’s people ever since. Spiritually, God’s people are secure in him, spiritually nourished with eternal promises, even if physically the church is beaten and oppressed.
John is now shown a war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon. It’s important to remember this is a vision. We mustn’t get distracted with questions over how literally to take Michael and an actual conflict. That’s not to say there isn’t a heavenly being named Michael, and that there wasn’t an actual conflict, but we need to remember John is here presented with a picture of spiritual realities behind physical events. Our primary concern is to understand what the Lord is telling John through this vision.
Daniel chapters 10 and 12 speak of a Michael, and given that Daniel forms the background to a lot of the visions in Revelation, this is where we ought to turn for our understanding of who he is. In 10:6, Daniel sees a vision that compares in many ways to the vision John has of Jesus in Revelation 1:13-16. This man is said to be the “son of man”–a title applied to Jesus in the New Testament. In verse 13, the man tells Daniel of Michael, a prince who fights with him. He reiterates this point in verse 21, saying that no-one contends against Persia and Greece by his side except “Michael, your prince.” Daniel 12:1 describes Michael as the “great prince” who has charge of Daniel’s people, that is, it is his duty to protect Daniel’s people. So, this “son of man” and Daniel fight together for Israel, God’s people, against the wicked hosts of Persia and Greece (or perhaps the spiritual forces at work behind them–see Daniel 8).
So Michael is a co-fighter with the Son of Man, looking out for God’s people. Can’t Jesus fight his own battles? Why include Michael? Perhaps because Jesus, the Son of Man, was fighting a different battle, an earthly one for which Michael’s battle is the spiritual counterpart? In Revelation 12:7-8, Michael and his hosts fight against the dragon, and the dragon and his hosts fight back but do not prevail. Notice, the text does not say that Michael won, but that the dragon wasn’t able to defeat Michael. Could this be because Jesus won the victory over Satan on the cross? The dragon was not able to get the better of Michael in heaven, because Jesus defeated him on earth.
Verse 8 says that there was “no place found still in heaven” for the dragon and his angels, meaning they no longer had a place in heaven. The idea of Satan having a place in heaven may strike us as a little strange. But this isn’t saying Satan has a mansion in glory; rather, from the context this seems to be referring to Satan’s place as the accuser of the saints before God. Since Jesus defeated Satan at the cross, there is no longer anyone accusing God’s people before God’s throne. Satan has been cast down; there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The message for John’s readers (and to us) is that the Satanic force behind their oppressors and all those that work against God and His people has been defeated. Whatever might be going on physically, the real battle in the heavenlies has been won. Their Accuser has been cast down, and no longer has a place before God bringing charges against His people. All this happened at the cross, so there is some overlap between these verses and verses 1-6. When the woman’s child was taken up to God, and the dragon pursues the woman, behind that scene was this battle scene, where the dragon and his host was defeated and cast down.
There’s a voice from heaven (literally, a “sound”–the Greek phonē is a generic word for noise or sound that takes its precise meaning from the context in which it is used; here, where words are being produced, the sound is clearly a voice), declaring that the salvation, power, kingdom of God, and the authority of His Christ has come. Not that these things weren’t a reality prior to this moment, but now they are coming to bear. This power and authority has been demonstrated in the fall of the Accuser. An interesting cross-reference at this point is John 12:31-33, where Jesus tells his disciples that the judgment of this world has come, and the ruler of this world has been cast out.
The conquest of God’s people over the dragon has been won by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony. We understand that the latter is dependent upon the former; without the blood of the Lamb, there is no testimony. And it is that testimony, that confession of faith from God’s people that demonstrates they belong to the Lord, and are covered by the redeeming blood of the Lamb who was slain on their behalf. This testimony is not simply words, however. These people were prepared to be martyred for the Gospel because they “did not love their lives as far as death”–which is to say that they didn’t cling to life, but were willing to give up their lives for the Gospel’s sake. Christians are not required to become martyrs, but we are to love the Lord more than life itself such that, should we have to, we would be willing to be with the Lord rather than deny him.
Verse 12 is an exhortation to the heavens to celebrate the casting down of the dragon, but a woe to the earth because that’s where he has gone, and the dragon knows his time is short. Verse 13 will pick up on this: knowing his time is short, having been unable to defeat the mother’s child, the dragon will go after the mother–i.e., the church. God’s people are now under attack from Satan, and that attack will be vicious because he knows his days are numbered. This is a picture of church history from the Resurrection until now, and who knows how much longer. Not that Satan hasn’t been behind the persecution of God’s people prior to the coming of Christ, but that persecution has an added urgency and intensity now that he has been defeated. Satan has lost, and he is going to go out inflicting as much damage as possible. But God’s people need to remember: the battle is won, they are secure in the heavenlies, and there is no longer anyone to accuse them before God.
Next time: Revelation 12:13-17… or 18…?