18. The Angelic Conflict (Rev 12:1-17)
War on Earth: Phase I
With chapter 12 we begin another parenthetical and explanatory portion of Revelation that discusses seven great personages of the Tribulation, particularly of the last half. These seven personages of 12:1-14:20 are: (a) the woman who represents the nation Israel (12:1-27); (b) the great red dragon, a picture of Satan (12:3-4); (c) the male child, the Lord Jesus (12:5); (d) Michael who represents the holy angels (12:7); (e) the remnant of the woman, regenerate Israel (12:17); (f) the beast out of the sea, the world dictator (13:1-10); and (g) the beast out of the earth, the false prophet and religious leader of the world (12:11-17).
Chapter 12 is descriptive of warfare, but it is primarily a conflict involving angelic forces, particularly, the fallen angels or the demonic world under Satan’s authority. Of course, Satan often employs human means to accomplish his purposes (as with the persecution of Israel) but what we must always keep in mind, as this chapter reinforces, is that behind the scenes is our nefarious arch enemy, Satan and his demonic forces. The warfare of this chapter occurs first on earth (12:1-6), then in heaven (12:7-12), and finally on earth again (12:13-17). In chapter 12 we have a clear revelation of the ultimate cause and answer to the problem of the anti-Semitism which has been a grim recurrence from the very early beginnings of Israel’s history. Part of the reason for the hatred and persecution which the Jews have endured over the centuries is the divine judgment of God for disobedience and rejection of the Word (cf. Deut. 28:15-68 with Lev. 26:14f). But another reason is Satan’s long-time hatred of Israel as the source of Christ, the means of Satan’s defeat and condemnation. In Genesis 3:15 we have the prophecy of this conflict and God’s declaration of Satan’s defeat through the seed of the woman. The nation God chose for this, as seen in the covenant that God made with Abraham, was Israel. Thus, Israel has been the perpetual object of Satan’s hatred, the ultimate cause behind all anti-Semitism.
The First Sign in Heaven (1-2)
This is the first of a number of places where the word signs occurs in Revelation. Regarding the signs mentioned in this section of Revelation, 12-14, Alan Johnson writes:
In this section there is what might be called a Book of Signs. While no signs (shmeia; … ) appear in chapters 1 to 11, at least seven signs are mentioned in chapters 12 to 19 (cf. the seven signs in John 1-11). Three are in heaven (12:1, 3; 15:1); four on earth (13:13-14; 16:14; 19:20). Only one is a sign of good (12:1); the others are omens of evil or judgment from God. These signs explain and amplify previous material (e.g., the beast in 11:7 is more fully described in ch. 13) and also advance the drama to its final acts.
This intermediary section (chs. 12-13), preceding the final bowl judgments (15:1ff.), picks up and develops the theme of the persecution of God’s people, which has already appeared (3:10; 6:9-11; 7:14; 11:7-10). Chapter 12 gives us a glimpse into the dynamics of the persecution of God’s people under the symbolism of the dragon who wages war on the woman and her children (v. 17). Chapter 13 continues the same theme by telling of the persecution of the saints by the dragon-energized beasts …148
“And a great sign appeared in heaven.” “Sign,” as used here and in verse 3, is the Greek shmeion. It refers to something like a special event, an object, or even a miracle that is seen and that stands as a sign or symbol designed to reveal some special meaning, truth, or idea.
“A woman clothed with the sun …” There are four women mentioned in Revelation. These are (1) Jezebel (2:20), a woman who claimed to be a prophetess in the church of Thyatira, and who stands for false teachers within the church in the church age; (2) The harlot (17:4), the false religious system of the last days, apostate Christendom; (3) the bride (19:7), the true church, glorified and returning with Christ; and (4) the woman (12:1), the nation Israel.
As already indicated, the woman is the nation of Israel. This is evident for the following reasons: (1) Her description is reminiscent of Genesis 37:9-10 where these heavenly bodies, the sun and the moon, represent Jacob and Rachel. This identifies the woman with Israel and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. (2) The 12 stars in her crown would link her to the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 sons of Jacob, the patriarchs of Israel. (3) In verse 2 she is seen with child, one who rules with a rod of iron (vs. 5). This can be none other than Christ, who as promised in Scripture, was from the nation of Israel (Matt. 1:1-25; cf. also Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 2:27; 19:15). (4) That she is Israel, the nation, and not simply Mary, the mother of Jesus, is clear from the fact she will be persecuted in the last half of the Tribulation (vss. 6, 13-17). So the woman is the nation of Israel, the matrix and source of Messiah.
The description given here is not merely to identify her but to describe her in queenly terms because of Israel’s prominence in the plan of God and especially in the millennial reign of Christ. This identifies her with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Psalm 89:34-37).
Verse 2 describes the woman in travail, waiting to give birth to the Christ child. This undoubtedly refers to the sufferings of the nation and her troublesome and restless times at the first advent of Christ. She was even then suffering under not only the judgment of the deportations (see Matt. 1:11, 17) but the hatred of Satan. In fact, it was because of the Roman rule that Mary and Joseph had to make the trip to Bethlehem for the census during the winter when Christ was born.
The Second Sign in Heaven (3-6)
Immediately following the description of the queenly woman with child in suffering, another sign, a great red dragon, appears in heaven. This is not without special purpose. The secret and cause of all the anti-Semitism in the world is the presence and hatred of Satan. The red dragon is clearly identified in 12:9 and 20:2 as none other than Satan himself.
That the red dragon is called “great” points to the magnitude of Satan’s power and activity in the world. “Red” emphasizes his murderous and blood thirsty character and behavior throughout history (cf. John 8:44). “Dragon” pictures his ferocious and intensely cruel nature. “Having seven heads and ten horns” relates him to the ten nation confederation of the revived Roman empire, the system of the beast (13:1). “Seven diadems” speaks of his ruling power, but also usurped power and authority which he has and will have especially in the last days. Satan is really a dragon, a hideous beast. Today he often appears as an angel of light; he masks his true identity, but in the Tribulation he will be seen for what he really is.
In verse 4, we read that his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven. But to what does this refer? There are three possibilities:
(1) The stars are luminous bodies from heaven which are cast to earth as a judgment or as an act of anger by the dragon in the Tribulation. But the fallen stars are linked by implication at least with the rise and actions of the great red dragon.
(2) The stars are used metaphorically for heads of state gathered together under the dragon’s power to create his world rule. But the stars are cast to earth, they are not found on earth.
(3) The stars stand for fallen angels who revolted with Satan at his fall which many Bible expositors believe is described for us in Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-14. “Star” is a term used in Scripture of angelic beings and specifically of Satan (cf. Job 38:7a; Isa. 14:12; Luke 10:18; Rev. 9:1). In the light of the context (Rev. 12:7), then, it is not unlikely that the stars represent one-third of the angels who rebelled with Satan and who became his chief emissaries in his fight and hatred against Israel and the purposes of God (cf. Daniel 10 for an illustration of the great conflict of angelic beings in regard to Israel).
“And the dragon stood before the woman (i.e., Israel) who was about to give birth …” Verse 4a takes us back to the beginning, to Satan’s original fall; now verse 4b skips hundreds of years and takes us forward to the first advent of Christ and Satan’s efforts to destroy the Christ Child. In between were numerous attacks in Satan’s attempt to defeat God’s purposes through the seed of the woman and especially with the Jews. (a) Many believe that in Genesis 6 Satan tried to infiltrate the human race in order to destroy the promise of Genesis 3:15 by corrupting the true humanity of mankind. (b) In Genesis 10 and 11 Satan instituted the politico-religious system of Babylon with its mother-child cult under Nimrod and his wife, Semiramus.149 (c) Then, through the rest of the Old Testament Satan attempted over and over again to defeat God’s purposes with Israel through Pharaoh, through Amalek, through Balak and Balaam, etc., but always to no avail. (d) Finally, in Matthew 2:13, after Messiah was born, he tried through Herod to destroy the baby Jesus by putting to death all the boy babies two years and under (Matt. 2:13-18).
“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” These words take us from the birth of Christ (verse 5a) to Christ’s ascension and session. Though the earthly life and death of Christ are not mentioned, this assumes the historic facts of the cross and the resurrection which were both necessary for Christ to defeat Satan and rule on the earth (cf. Heb. 2:14; Acts 17:30-31; John 16:10-11; 12:31-33). “Caught up to God and His throne,” the ascension and session, prove the facts of the cross and resurrection (Heb. 1:13). This is the proof of Satan’s failure and of Satan’s sure defeat (cf. Rom. 16:20). As Genesis 3:14-15 anticipates, Satan bruised Christ’s heel (the cross), but Christ crushed Satan’s head by His death and resurrection culminated by His ascension (cf. Col. 2:15). In between verses 5 and 6 intervenes the inter-advent age of the church and the first half of the Tribulation.
Verse 6 and the reference to the woman fleeing into the wilderness takes us to the trials of Israel in the last half of the Tribulation where she will be under great persecution for three and a half years, 1260 days. But we might ask, “What is the point of verse 6 to the whole picture thus far?”
The idea is this: since Satan failed to kill Christ, he will turn in dragon-like fury against the woman, Israel, and pour out his vengeance on her. Verses 13-17 give us the details of this persecution, but verses 7-12 point us to the immediate cause. Between Christ’s first and second advents, the church of Jesus Christ is the prominent figure in the plan of God. So much of Satan’s time and hatred is aimed at the church though the Jews still get their share as history so dramatically proves. But before the Tribulation begins the church will be raptured and out of the reach of Satan. However, something will occur in the middle of the Tribulation which will create the greatest anti-Semitism or Jewish persecution the world has ever known. This is described for us in the rest of this chapter.
War in Heaven
The First Opponent (7a)
The scene now shifts to heaven where a tremendous conflict occurs (though still future from our standpoint). The first opponent in this conflict is Michael and his angels. These are the holy angels of God led by Michael who is mentioned in Scripture in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9, and here. There are four things that are significant about Michael we might mention here:
(1) His name is a composition of an interrogative pronoun, mi, “who,” and a preposition, ke, “as or like,” and the noun El, “God.” Mi-cha-el, means “who is like God?” It poses a rhetorical and negative question, one demanding a negative answer. Who is like God? No one! This is significant for this angel’s very name and presence stands as a rebuke and refutation to Satan’s boast in Isaiah 14:14b, “I will make myself like the most High,” i.e., “I will be like God.” It is interesting that God sends this angel to defeat Satan.
(2) His position and responsibility: (a) His General Position: He is one of the chief princes (plural) (Dan. 10:13), which suggests he has a high position among the angels of God. In Daniel 12:1 he is called the great prince and in Jude 9 he is “the archangel,” i.e., first or chief of the angels. Here, in Revelation, we read of “Michael and his angels,” those under his authority. It appears that Michael became the chief commander and leader of the holy angels after Satan’s fall, He undoubtedly possesses great power and strength. (b) His special position and responsibility: In Daniel 12:1 he is called “your prince,” i.e., Daniel’s and Israel’s prince. In Jude 9 we are told of his dispute with Satan over the body of Moses, Israel’s law giver and leader of the people out of the bondage of Egypt. Here, in Revelation 12:1, we see Michael standing up to bring about another phase of Satan’s defeat in this future time that Jeremiah called, “Jacob’s Distress” (Jer. 30:5-7). All of this indicates that as chief prince he has a special responsibility as guardian of Israel, especially during the Tribulation. Without the protection of Michael, the Jews, who have miraculously remained a distinct people throughout all their persecutions, would have ceased to exist. Behind the power and work of Michael, however, is the sovereign authority and might of God, for “who is like God?”
(3) Until this point in the Tribulation, Michael never lays a hand on Satan. In Jude, regarding the dispute over the body of Moses, we are told that Michael said, “the Lord rebuke you.” He respected Satan’s might and dignity as a beautiful creation of God and he was acting in accordance with God’s purposes with Satan.
(4) But at this point in the Tribulation, however, Michael gets to do what he undoubtedly has longed to do for millenniums; he gets to boot Satan out of heaven.
The Second Opponent (7b, 9)
The second opponent in the conflict is of course the great dragon and his angels (the fallen angels), the demonic host under his charge. In verses 9 and 10 the dragon is both identified and described. His history and his character stand in striking contrast to Michael. Ironically, his history and his titles show how devoid he is of ever coming close to becoming like God.
Appellatives (Names) that Describe Satan
(1) “The great dragon” stresses Satan’s vicious and cruel character and emphasizes his end time activity and behavior.
(2) “The serpent of old” clearly identifies him as Satan and draws our attention to his crafty character. It reminds us of the garden of Eden, the fall of man, his usurpation of man’s rule on earth, and his constant activity of temptation and deception.
(3) “The devil” is the Greek diabolos and means “slanderer, defamer.” It reminds us of Satan’s activity to impugn the character of God (see Job 1) and to accuse believers for whom Christ died (cf. Rev. 12:10 and Rom. 8:34).
(4) “Satan” is the Greek satanas and is derived from the Hebrew satan which means “adversary.” It points to Satan as the opponent of God, of believers, and of all that is right and good. Satan may appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but it is only a sham of deception to further aid him in his work as the arch adversary and opponent of God. In 1 Peter 5:8 Satan is called “your adversary, the devil.” Here the word “adversary” is not satanas, but antidikos, and though similar in meaning, antidikos is more explicit. It specifically refers to “an opponent in a lawsuit.” It was used of a court scene where accusations are made. God has indicted Satan for his sin, found him guilty, and sentenced him to the lake of fire (Matt. 12:41). By the implications of Scripture, as in the titles of Satan and in the keen interest of angels in man (cf. Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:12), it appears that Satan has appealed the sentence and called God unfair, unjust, and unloving. He has impugned the character of the supreme judge. He stands as the defamer of God’s character, the accuser of believers, and our adversary in general.
(5) “Lucifer,” “Star of the Morning,” and “Son of the Dawn” (Isa. 14:12). The term “Lucifer” of the KJV is Helel which means literally “the shining one.” Ironically, it comes from the Hebrew verb halal meaning “to shine, boast, praise.” As the shining one Satan got his eyes off of God, the source and cause of his brilliance, and became proud and boastful instead of being full of praise to God. Whenever we boast, we are occupied with ourselves, but when we are full of praise to God we are occupied with Him. This name stresses Satan’s state before the fall, and the nature and cause of his fall, the sin of arrogance.
(6) “The evil one” (1 John 5:19). Here, the word “evil” is the Greek word poneros, an active noun that points to an active and malignant kind of evil. It refers to what is not only ugly and useless, but to that which is injurious and destructive. Satan, as the poneros one, is actively engaged in destruction, in causing pain, injury and death. He is like a cancer to the human race and no time in history will reveal this like the Tribulation.
(7) “The ruler of this world” (John 12:31). This description points to Satan as the unseen head and energy behind the arrangement of world affairs as they stand in total opposition to the arrangements and divine viewpoint set forth in the Word of God. This would include such things as internationalism, materialism, humanism, religionism, spiritualism (demonism), hedonism, etc.
(8) “The god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). This again emphasizes Satan’s rule and increased activity in the dispensation of the church which will be marked by a continual increase of apostasy and deception and by extreme moral degeneration. This title particularly associates him with blinding men to the good news of Jesus Christ.
(9) “The prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). This title is of particular importance because it points to Satan as the head of the demonic hosts (fallen angels) who operate night and day in our immediate atmosphere to fill it with satanic deception, satanic viewpoint, doubts, and temptations. The word “power” is singular and refers to the demonic forces as a corporate body that operate as one under the authority and power of Satan, their prince (Eph. 6:12). “Air” is the Greek word aer and most likely refers to the immediate atmosphere above the earth which evidently forms their base of operations and the domain of the demonic, their sphere of power, authority, activity, and influence. In other words, our atmosphere is the vehicle or medium of their evil operations and influence. This not only looks at the locality of Satan’s operations, but emblematically portrays the prevailing influence or evil atmosphere in which every individual and the world moves—a world atmosphere of demonic influence controlled by Satan.
(10) “Of the spirit that is now working” (Eph. 2:2). This is often taken as another title for Satan. When it is so understood, it is taken as an appositional phrase describing “the prince of the power,” i.e., a further description of the prince. So the prince is also the unholy spirit (1 Cor. 2:12) who apes the operations of his divine counterpart by working in the sons of disobedience in opposition to the Holy Spirit.150
Now it is true that Satan, as a fallen angel, is a spirit being, actually an unclean spirit, who works in the world to promote disobedience and unbelief in mankind, but because of the rules of Greek syntax, others believe that this is not a reference to Satan, but to an impersonal force or atmosphere Satan controls. The reason is simply this. For the phrase, “of the spirit,” to be appositional, one would expect this phrase to be in the accusative case, but it is in the genitive case. According to the principles of Greek syntax an appositional word or phrase would normally be in the same case as the noun or noun phrase it modifies, though there is the possibility for a different case by attraction to the word that precedes it. The word “prince,” arconta, is in the accusative case, but “of the spirit” is in the genitive case. So, as a genitive it describes another aspect of the prince’s (Satan’s) rule. The idea is that Satan controls unbelievers through an evil principle at work in the world. The result is a spirit of disobedience.
The last clause of verse 2, in this view, refers to the disposition, the outlook, the way of thinking and acting which one finds in the world of today. It is much like our phrase “the spirit of the age.” It is an outlook, a viewpoint, a disposition that Satan is constantly promoting. Note it is “in the sons of disobedience.” “Disobedience” is the Greek apeiqeia which means “disbelief, obstinate,” and so “disobedient.” Men are disobedient to Scripture because of a spirit of disbelief and stubbornness—they will not be persuaded by the admonitions, appeals and instructions of Scripture.
“Working” is the Greek energew, “to energize, be active, be at work.” It is in the present continuous tense. Satan is constantly at work to promote and produce his viewpoint in order to create disobedience in man. This will be at an all time high during the Tribulation. People are either being energized by the viewpoint and attitude of the world (Satan’s) which produces disobedience, or by the divine viewpoint of Scripture and the Holy Spirit which produces obedience. Notice in this regard that in Hebrews 4:12 we have energes, “active,” the noun form of the verb energhs. Then in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul uses this same verb of the powerful activity of Scripture. Both of these passages emphasize the active, energizing and working power of the word of God in the lives of men.
(11) “Belial” (2 Cor. 6:15) is another name used of Satan. “Belial” is the Greek word beliar which comes from an Old Testament word meaning “worthless” or “hopeless ruin.” In 2 Corinthians 6:15 it is used as a name for Satan who is the epitome of worthlessness, hopeless ruin, and the source of all idolatry and the futile religious works of man.
(12) “Beelzebul” or “Beelzebub” or “Beelzeboul” (Mark 3:22; Matt. 12:24). There are three possible spellings of this word because of variant manuscripts and each spelling has a slightly different meaning so I have listed them all. (1) Beelzebul means “lord of the dung.” It is a name of reproach and uncleanness for Satan. (2) Beelzebub means “lord of the flies.” This has the same implication as the above. (3) Beelzeboul means the “lord of the dwelling.” This may portray Satan as the leader and head of the unclean spirits of demon possession! This best fits the context of Matthew 10:25 and 12:29 and has the best manuscript evidence behind it. Note that Matthew, Mark and Luke all define Beelzeboul as the prince of demons.
(13) “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” (Rev. 9:11). Abaddon is the Greek form and Apollyon is the Hebrew equivalent. They mean “destroyer” or “destruction.” As seen previously this name connects Satan with the demons of the Abyss (their leader) and their work of destruction on earth in the Tribulation. Primarily, however, it stresses his character and activity as the great source of destruction and ruin in the world.
Activities of Satan (9-12)
In verse 9 Satan is spoken of as the one “who deceives the whole world.” The Greek text strongly stresses this as a continuous aspect of Satan’s character and activity. He is the deceiver. Then note that he deceives “the whole world,” literally, “the whole inhabited earth.” Satan, of course, is not omniscient nor omnipresent, but through his network of demonic powers and deceiving spirits he is able to operate all over the earth and at all times. Satan never takes a rest.
“Deceives” is the Greek planaw, a causative verb meaning “to lead astray, cause to wander, mislead, deceive, delude.” He causes men to miss the plan and truth of God by his many methods of deception as: (1) lying against the truth; he is the father of lies (John 8:44, Gen. 3:1-5); (2) denying the truth (cf. 1 John 4:3 with 2 Pet. 2:2); (3) counterfeiting or imitating the truth (2 Cor. 11:3-15); (4) perverting or distorting the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5 with Gal. 3:1-3). Satan has many traps and tricks that he uses to deceive. These include the traps of occultism (things covered over, mysterious, hidden, the area of spiritism); religionism (man doing good deeds from a works mental attitude in order to get God’s blessing); the sin trap (luring people deeper and deeper into sin and rebellion with the lie that happiness comes in hedonism); the miraculous trap (i.e., if it is miraculous then God must be behind it); the emotionalism trap (seeking the experiences of emotionalism as a sign of spirituality and God’s blessing); and the materialism trap (happiness comes in the abundance of the things you possess). These are not all of Satan’s traps, but they comprise some of the major ones.
Verse 9. The atmosphere of our earth has been the special domain and sphere of Satan’s operations as Job 1:7; 2:2; and Ephesians 2:2 make clear. However, throughout our history and into the middle of the Tribulation Satan also has access into God’s presence, by God’s permissive will, to accuse believers. He has had access into the ultimate regions of heaven. This is clear from Job 1:6; 2:2 and Revelation 12:7f. In the middle of the Tribulation, following this angelic conflict in heaven, Satan and his angels will be “thrown down to earth” (Rev. 12:9). “Thrown down” in verse 9 in both incidences is the verb ballw, “to cast, throw” or “to put or place.” The accusing activity of Satan at this point will be brought to a close. This means the time of his judgment is drawing near (cf. Rev. 12:12 and 20:1-3).
Verse 10. At this point a voice is heard in heaven. It is a voice of praise announcing the millennial kingdom with its salvation accompanied by the power of God and authority of Christ. Salvation in this context refers not to one’s personal salvation from sin’s penalty, though this is included, but to deliverance from the reign of Satan and the Tribulation and to the completion of that which God will do to establish the reign and rule of Christ on earth.
With the casting down of Satan one more step, and a very important one at that, has been accomplished in moving toward the reign of God on earth. This must occur before peace can be established on earth. The angelic conflict and the slandering accusations of Satan that God has allowed throughout history to demonstrate His divine essence, especially His holiness, will at this point be just about over. Note that verse 10 gives the reason this step has been taken. It says “For the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, Who accuses them before God day and night.” “Accuser” is the Greek kathgoros and “who accuses” is a present adjectival participle of habitual characteristic action of the verb kathgorew. Both the noun and verb are used of the formal accusations in a legal battle or court scene (cf. Acts 23:30, 35; 24:2, 8, 13, 16, 18, 19; 25:5, 11, 16; John 8:10). These words are also used of informal accusations (Matt. 12:10; Luke 6:7).
In Satan’s accusations against believers, he is actually, according to the illustration of Job 1 and 2, attempting to malign and impugn the character of God. When believers sin, Satan accuses us before God. Perhaps it goes something like this: “There is John Doe, and he has just done such and such, and he is one of yours, why don’t you judge him,” or “There is Jane Doe, and she regularly does such and such. You see she doesn’t love you.”
The accusations are many and varied and they go on night and day, but the Lord Jesus stands there at God’s right hand to intercede and plead our case as our Advocate and Great High Priest (Rom. 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2). Perhaps Christ’s answer to these charges goes something like this: “Yes, they have sinned, and yes they do not love me as they should, but I have loved them, and I have died and paid the penalty for their sins—all of them. All aspects of God’s character and divine essence have been propitiated or satisfied by my person and work. Be gone Satan, you have no case. Your judgment, Satan, stands and God is holy, righteous, loving and just.”
In regard to the accusations of Satan, let’s remember that he likes to promote his own dirty work. Accusing others is one of his chief activities. Let’s not help him. Let’s leave the dirty work to him.
Verse 11. Though anticipating Satan’s wrath, this verse teaches us how Tribulation saints will overcome Satan and his attacks in the Tribulation. Three reasons are given for their victory over Satan. “Overcame” is a culminative aorist looking at the conclusion of their battles with Satan, i.e., the victory.
“They overcame by the blood of the Lamb.” The blood of the Lamb, the basis of victory, refers to the person and work of Christ on the cross. This is the place, point in time, and the means of Satan’s defeat (cf. John 16:8f; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). At the cross Jesus answered the accusations of Satan proving that God is perfectly consistent with His divine essence. The cross demonstrated that He is perfect righteousness, justice, holiness, love, mercy, and grace. Therefore men can always resist and overcome Satan if they will turn to Jesus Christ (see 1 John 5:4-6).
“And because of the word of their testimony” draws our attention to the activity that overcomes and defeats the attacks of Satan. The word of their testimony refers to the proclamation of the Word, Bible doctrine and the truth of Jesus Christ both by life and by lip. By the word of God known, believed, and applied by faith in consistent Christian living, believers are able to put to silence the accusations of Satan and to reveal him for what he is. Jesus Christ, our Advocate, answers his accusation in heaven, but we too can answer them by proclaiming and living the Word. Satan and his world system claim that God is not what man needs; the world claims man’s need is human knowledge, science, and the material things of life. But we demonstrate the world to be wrong when we do not live as materialists, when we love not the world nor the temporal things in the world (1 John 2:15-17). When we seek to live by God’s Holy Word and live as sojourners rather than by the temporal details of life, we counter Satan’s accusations (cf. Job 1 and 2 with Matt 4:4).
“And they did not love their life even unto death.” Here we see the attitude which overcomes Satan. In this statement, we see two vital attitudes of faith that give the capacity to serve the Lord regardless of what Satan might throw at us. First, there is the perspective of eternity that sees this life as a vapor, a training ground, and a preparation for eternity (1 Pet. 1:17-2:12). But this leads to a second attitude of faith, self sacrifice even unto death, for this life is not the end, it is only the beginning. Obviously then, lying at the foundation of such attitudes of faith is more Bible doctrine—the doctrine of death or dying, the doctrine of our eternal hope and our inheritance, an inheritance that is untouched by death, unstained by evil and unimpaired by time (1 Pet. 1:3-5; Matt. 6:19-21; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 5:10).
Verse 12. In the middle of the Tribulation all hell will literally break loose on earth and this verse gives us the reason.
“On account of this” refers to the victory of the saints along with the casting down of Satan. Two things are said. First, there is to be rejoicing by the inhabitants of heaven. Satan no more can enter into the heavens and God’s kingdom is about to be established on earth with Satan put away. Second, a woe or warning is pronounced upon those living on the earth because Satan who will then be restricted to earth knows his time is short. Knowing this fact, he becomes exceedingly wrathful, all of which he will turn against the world. The verses which follow 12:13-13:18 describe part of the activity of his wrath.
In this section Satan as the great opponent of God is pitted against the Lord Jesus in the following ways: (a) As the accuser he stands in opposition to Christ as Priest and advocate of believers (Rev. 12). (b) As the dragon and source of the beast, the world dictator, he stands opposed to Christ as King of kings (Rev. 13:1-10). (c) As the source of the second beast he stands opposed to Christ as the Prophet, the one who truly reveals God (Rev. 13:11-18).
War on Earth: Phase II
The Persecution of the Woman (13-16)
With the mention of Satan’s wrath and his very short time, the scene moves back to earth and Satan’s final activities on earth before he is cast into the abyss (20:1-3). It is important to note that the persecution of the woman who is Israel (12:13-16), the persecution of the godly remnant of believers (12:17), and the rise of the system of the beast (13:1f) all proceed as a result of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and restriction to earth for the last half of the Tribulation.
Verse 13 shows us that it is when he realizes his time is short that Satan promotes his attack against Israel. His expulsion from heaven is proof of this. This is the motivating force behind many events that occur during the Tribulation, events that are all related in some way. For instance:
(1) It is probably at this point when the King of the North (which many believe is Russia or at least countries that lie in the southern portion of what used to be the Soviet Union) will move against Israel; this is one of the ways Satan tries to persecute the woman (cf. Ezek. 38:1-11; Dan. 9:27). This occurs when Israel is in peace and safety living in unwalled villages and trusting in the treaty with the Roman prince.
(2) God destroys the King of the North while evidently still on the mountains of Israel, before she and her allies ever get to Jerusalem (Ezek. 38:16-23). Ezekiel 39:1f could refer to a second invasion at the end of the Tribulation after Russia has somewhat recovered from the first defeat.
(3) This creates a vacuum in the power struggle of the world and the Roman prince now sees his chance for world dominion. This is where he makes his move as the beast under Satan’s direction. So he will then move into Palestine, break his treaty with Israel, commit the abomination of desolation and begin to persecute the woman, Israel (cf. Dan. 9:27b; 11:36-41; Matt. 24:15-22). All of this is the beginning of the Great Tribulation.
Verse 14. In this verse we see the first provision of divine deliverance figuratively portrayed as “the two wings of a great eagle.” This is based on two Old Testament passages, Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11-12, where God’s protection and deliverance of Israel is likened to an eagle who carried her to safety from the clutches of Egypt. So likewise, God will work to deliver Israel from the clutches of Satan. Matthew 24:16 refers to this same flight where Christ exhorts those in Judea to flee to the mountains when they see the abomination of desolation take place in the city of Jerusalem.
Some writers try to find an historical counterpart by which many of these events may take place. Hal Lindsey is an illustration of this. He suggests that this deliverance could refer to a massive airlift out of the country to some natural fortress like the ancient city of Petra, the city of the Rock in the Jordanian wilderness south of the Dead Sea. He also suggests “since the eagle is the national symbol of the United States, it is possible that the airlift will be made available by aircraft from the U.S. sixth fleet in the Mediterranean.”151
Regardless of how God will accomplish this, the point of verse 14 is that there will be some kind of supernatural care and deliverance. However, Zechariah 13:8 reminds us of a sobering truth; two-thirds of the nation of Israel in the land will perish. Evidently many will ignore the warning of Matthew 24:16 and refuse to flee. These will be put to death.
The length of this persecution and protection in the wilderness is described as “a time, and times, and half a time.” “Time” is singular and refers to one unit or year, “times” is plural and refers to two units or two years, and “half a time” is half a unit or six months. Again we have a reference to the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 7:25; 12:7).
Verse 15. The water poured out like a river to destroy the woman figuratively refers to Satan’s all out effort to destroy the Nation in the greatest anti-Semitism the world has ever known. Regarding the flood here as literal water, Walvoord points out, “the contour of the Holy land, and the fact that Israel would probably not all flee in the same direction combine to make a physical interpretation … improbable.152
Verse 16 declares that the earth helps the woman by swallowing the flood. This would again figuratively refer to the nature of the terrain of the wilderness and the country around Palestine. This area is unpopulated, rocky, mountainous, and would provide for many places of refuge for fleeing people as with the city of Petra. In other words, in this way the earth would protect Israel and swallow up her persecutors.
The Persecution of the Godly Remnant (17)
Some see this verse as pointing to a geographic contrast between the persecution of Israel in the land (vss. 13-16) and Israel outside the land in other portions of the world (vs. 17). However, the contrast is more likely between the nation as a whole symbolized in the term “the woman” versus the godly and believing remnant, “the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (vs. 17). The godly remnant are believers in the Lord Jesus, those who during the Tribulation will turn to Christ. The word used here for the remnant translated by the NASB as “the rest” is not the same word used in Romans 9:27 (%upoleimma) or in Romans 11:5 (leimma). Here the word is loipon, but they all come from the same verb, leipw, and the context clearly shows that the believing and godly remnant are in view.
This verse serves to emphasize that the dragon will become totally frustrated and enraged over his inability to wipe out the woman, but he will become particularly angry with the believing remnant who will turned to Jesus Christ, believe the Word, and stand ready to die for their faith in the Savior.
From the standpoint of cause and effect, the way is now prepared for the events of chapter 13, the rise of the beast and his unholy system.
In this twelfth chapter we are given a kind of panoramic view of the angelic conflict and of the supernatural forces of darkness that are ever at work in the world and have been since the fall of Satan when he drew with him a host of angels who chose to follow Satan rather than God. Here is a sure fact of human history. Though generally unseen with the physical eye, it is quite clear through the revelation of God and occasionally obvious in certain demonic activity seen in the world in the demon possessed. Even then, many reject the cause as demonic and attribute it to some other paranormal source. But the Apostle Paul makes clear reference to this conflict in Ephesians 2:2 and again in 6:11-12. In Ephesians 6:11-12 we are told: “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
But in Revelation 12 we also see the anticipation of Satan’s doom and that of his kingdom, though the rest of the story or the prophecy of his final doom is withheld until chapter 20. The great promise of the Bible is twofold: First, believers are victors through the victory of the Lord Jesus. Our need is to put on the full armor of God and to resist the devil in the victory of the Savior by always drawing near to the Lord. The second great promise is that Satan is a defeated foe whose days of freedom to create misery and pain and deception are numbered. Truly, may we rejoice with the heavens and those who dwell therein as they are told to do in 12:12. Why? For “The God of peace (the One who alone can give peace with God [reconciliation], the peace of God [the peace that comforts hearts], and world peace [an end to the turmoil we know today in our strife torn world]) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Rom. 16:20)
148 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 510.
149 For historical details regarding the mother-child cult, see The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop, Loizeaux Brothers.
150 See Rienecker/Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Regency, p. 534; Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, p. 34; Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, Electronic Media.
151 Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming, Harvest House Publishers, p. 178.
152 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 195.
Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)