Rev 12:7-12; Wisdom 2:24; Job 1; Luke 10:18-22
In our last study, we saw that chapter 12 comes at the very center of the Apocalypse, surrounded by the sequences of the seal, trumpets, and bowls, which themselves are sandwiched within the promises of the 7 letters, and the grand fulfillment of these promises at the end of John’s vision. Verses 7-12 of chapter 12, which we will read this week, are embedded in the very center of John’s central vision of the woman and the dragon. Within this visionary sequence of the war in heaven is enshrined the central proclamation of the entire book. Rather than being only a vision of what is to come, these verses, verses 10-12, tell us what has happened, so that God’s victory is assured. Listen to the sequence, and notice how the war in heaven is dealt with very briefly, to give way to the confident declaration of victory, followed by the implications of that victory for God’s creation:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
This passage, then, trains our gaze on the celestial D-Day, the turning point in the rebellion against God, so that we can believe that loud voice which speaks about a present salvation and power and kingdom, and about the authority of the Messiah that has come. The same dragon whom we saw harassing the heavenly woman, and seeking to devour her kingly child is now seen in heaven, with his minions, in a war with Michael and his angels. (We have already heard about how that dragon tore down one-third of the stars, or heavenly hosts, from heaven, and impressed them into his service). Let’s stop and consider the parallelism here: Satan is not ranged against the Messiah, but only against Michael, for his heavenly counterpart is an angel, not God the Son! John takes some time to remind us of that “devil” who is “Satan” and who is not bound to rule the earth, but simply deceives it: we are reminded of the verse in Wisdom of Solomon 2:24, which says “ through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.” Does Satan envy God’s throne, or the special place of humanity that God has given us? Yes! His entire purpose is to usurp God, which also means to displace the creatures that have been made in God’s image! But the heavenly host is victorious, and Satan is cast down.
Behind this tableau of warring angels, though, there is a mystery. The heavenly voice declares it, telling us that this “accuser” as been cast down. Why accuser? We are reminded of Job, where Satan pointed out Job’s weakness to God, and sought to destroy this righteous man. Part of the mystery, then, is that this seemingly unstoppable power is simply an envious, finger-pointing want-to-be. And God’s good angels will not countenance violence against human beings, whom they call their “siblings.” Nor are these weaker human beings completely powerless, as though they simply required the rescue of angels. No, we are told that Satan was defeated “by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their (that is the humans’) witness.” So, the declaration from heaven interprets the vision of the war, and the vision of Satan’s fall. Remember the vision that Jesus himself related to his apostles after the seventy returned from their mission? He said to them, : “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And then he went on to rejoice in the Holy Spirit, and pray: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:18-22)
Jesus, on hearing the successful report of his seventy disciples, speaks immediately of the fall of Satan, and of the authority that the seventy have, because He has given it to them. The coming of Jesus into the world, his taking on of human flesh and blood, and his offering of his life as the heavenly Lamb, are making a change in everything. Those who appeared to be only little children have become the friends of God. Those who follow in the footsteps of the Lamb, even to the point of death, have an authority from the Father Himself. And so, though all heaven is ranged against this evil Accuser, it is by the humility of the Son, that is, by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of the martyrs that he is really destroyed! Suffering and death are used against the one whose envy has brought death into the world.
We may marvel at how exalted Christ makes our humanity. Of course, there is no surprise that his death has conquered death, and that the Lamb is stronger than the Devil. After all, God the Son is divine, and Satan is only a creature—although originally an angel of light. But the victory comes, too, through “the word of their witness” (or the Greek could well imply, “martyrdom.”) Not only the Lamb’s suffering is effective, but human witness and martyrdom are swept up into the will of God, and used also against this evil force. Jesus has dignified, by his conception, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, everything that it is to be truly human. And so his followers, those who listen to the One who is the Word, are incorporated into God’s plan, and actually used to cast out evil!
This astonishing knowledge brings both comfort and a challenge. The comfort is that suffering is no longer meaningless, or absurd, but can be used for good. No longer can we think simply in terms of accidents, or mishaps, or what ought not to be, for our weaknesses are given a goal, if they are done for the sake of the One who made Himself poor for us. But then there is the challenge. We should not be surprised that a declaration of victory also includes an element of suffering. Jesus himself reminded us: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Mat 5:10-12). Not if, but when. We are to expect this, as it is part of this “bitter-sweet scroll” that details our lives now, that scroll eaten by St. John so that he could prophecy truthfully about the world. And to be persecuted for righteousness, for the righteous One himself, is a sign of kingliness: the rule of heaven is given to those who go with the Lamb wherever He goes.
Here, then, is the paradox to which we must cling: D-Day has come, and Satan has been vanquished; and yet that victory of heaven comes about through the suffering of the true Man, and the participation of those who love him. The great heavenly declaration itself gives two results to the casting down of Satan: joy in heaven, for those who dwell there; but woe on earth, for the Devil, fighting like a doomed man, is intent on bringing down as many as he can with him. Our place, as human beings before the return of Christ, is twofold—we are, in some ways, with Christ in the heavenlies. But we are also “in this world” for the time being, and can expect woe. This is perhaps not how we usually think of suffering. We tend to think that it is simply something to be borne, and look for the time of deliverance. But this vision tells us that victory has actually put in place the kind of suffering that we must endure as followers of Christ. We do not trust in Him despite our suffering. Rather, we expect suffering to come our way because we trust in him. As Peter puts it, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
The Accuser has been put down, and is angry, after all! But the “wrath” of the Dragon is no match for the blood of the Lamb. God has pulled back the curtain for us, to let us see the battle that has been accomplished, and the ongoing skirmish still around us. Both joy, and woe are ours, as we await the rest of this great drama, our eyes open to the reality of evil, but knowing that its time is short!