- This took place when Christ defeated Satan through His death on the cross (Hebrews 2:14-15).
- This is a symbolic depiction of the victory over Satan that the saints win through their spiritual warfare that takes place again and again throughout history (Revelation 12:11, Ephesians 6:10-20).
- This is a future event that will take place at the beginning of the Tribulation period (Revelation 12:12 and 13:1).
- The Kingdom of God has come. (12:10a)
- This is because the accuser of “our brothers” has been cast out of heaven. (12:10b)
- The brothers overcame him by the blood of Jesus, their testimony, and their willingness to die. (12:11)
- Satan is filled with fury because he knows he has little time left. (12:12)
- We must keep in mind that Jesus stated that He saw Satan fall. (Luke 10:18) He stated this in connection with the victorious mission of the disciples. As Ladd stated (referenced above), victory over Satan is a function of the presence of the Kingdom.
- We are taught that the devil was defeated by the cross: Hebrews 2:14-15.
- We are taught that the devil will be defeated after “the thousand years are over” and after Satan is released briefly from the Abyss and stages a rebellion: Revelation 20:7-10, especially verse 10.
- We are told in Ephesians 6:10 that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” If we assume that “heavenly places” would include the heaven that is mentioned in Revelation 12:7, then this verse in Ephesians indicates that our present warfare is with evil spiritual forces that even reach to heaven.
- Furthermore, in Revelation 12:10 Satan is called the “accuser of our brothers.” He “accuses them day and night before our God.” This indicates that at some point Satan is in heaven with access to God.
- We further observe in Revelation 12:11 that “they” have conquered Satan. “They” are the “brothers” of 12:10. In verse 12:11, the brothers are given credit for conquering the dragon, even though in verses 12:7-9 it is Michael and his angels who get the credit.
- If we consider that the weapons of verse 12:11—the blood of the Lamb, the word of testimony, and loving not their lives—have been employed by saints from the day of Pentecost to the present and will be employed through the Tribulation period, then the victory over the dragon is something that occurs all the time throughout the life of the church. On the other hand the victory of 12:7-9—and reflected in 12:10—appears to be a one-time event. This is especially true in 12:12b-13, in which a short time for the devil is referred to.
- The first is the decisive victory over Satan by the cross of Jesus Christ. It was the “blood of the Lamb”—the death of Christ—that defeated Satan. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
- A second kind of victory is the ongoing defeat of the devil that is attained by the saints in their faithful living and dying. This victory means that the dragon’s accusations in heaven against them have no effect because they plead the blood of the Lamb. It means that the lies the dragon tells people on earth are counteracted by the testimony of the saints. It means that the dragon’s intimidation and bullying and persecution on earth are to no avail because they do not love their lives even unto death. In these cases, the saints appropriate the victory of Christ into their own lives.
Analysis, part 2. The announcement of the Kingdom (12:10a):This is the second announcement of the Kingdom. It was also announced in 11:15. That announcement is followed by the second half of Revelation. We can consider it as a “proleptic announcement” that understands the certainty of an event that is yet in the future. Or we can consider it as an announcement that is the culmination of the seven seals and seven trumpets, but we must await considerable more detail before we see the realization of the Kingdom. After chapter 11, the clock is turned back and we start over again.The announcement of the Kingdom in 12:10 seems to me to fall in the other category—the “proleptic announcement.” It understands the certainty of the event, but the fulfillment of that event is yet future to the announcement. The reason for the certainty is the defeat of Satan.The Kingdom is announced by a voice that is not identified. A “voice” from an unknown source is heard in 6:6, 9:13, 10:8, 11:12, 11:15, 14:13, 16:1, 16:17, 18:4, 19:5, 21:3. In my imagination, this has the dramatic effect of a “voice over” in a play, movie, or TV drama. We can hear one of those powerful bass voices filling the air with the thrilling announcement. The announcement is fulsome: it fleshes out the Kingdom to include the salvation and power of God and the authority of Christ. Salvation in the New Testament is a present reality, but also a future promise. The Kingdom in the gospels was illustrated by the powerful acts of Jesus. These demonstrated that the Kingdom brings God’s power to bear on the human condition. The Kingdom includes the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When Jesus is Lord, the demoniac comes to be in his right mind, the waves become still, and the dead come out of the graves.This “proleptic announcement” can be made because of the casting out of Satan from heaven. He is confined to the earthAnalysis, part 3. The expulsion of Satan (12:12):There remains the question: Why has this expulsion of the dragon brought about the Kingdom of God, as stated in verse 12:10? I think that perhaps the key is in verse 12:12. In this verse, the devil is depicted as being thrown to earth and recognizing “that his time is short.” Actually, this is the “kairos” time and not the “chronos” time. The latter is concerned with the simple passage of time. The former is concerned with time in its significance. So, “opportunity” is implied. The devil recognizes his opportunity is limited by the brief time that he has. At the same time, the fact that the devil has been confined—both in the sense of losing access to heaven and in the sense of being squeezed for time—means that the Kingdom is very near. Jesus spoke of how “the ruler of this world [will] be cast out.” (John 12:31) This was as He was speaking of His own crucifixion. So, his death was powerful to defeat Satan (see Hebrews 2:14-15). See also Luke 10:18: “And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” This was at the time of the mission of the seventy-two disciples. Thus, Satan gets roughed up again and again, and those occasions of his defeat signal the closeness of the Kingdom. Thus we have a tautology: The nearness of the Kingdom brings about the defeat of Satan, and the defeat of Satan signals the nearness of the Kingdom. So, the statement that the Kingdom “has come” in 12:10a (culminative aorist: emphasis on the results) is a statement of the certainty of the Kingdom because of the ouster of Satan.The “short time” that is referred to in 12:12 is, as I have indicated, a statement of a limited opportunity. Satan now is motivated to bring about all the evil he can in a short time. Thus, two powerful motivations are ascribed to Satan in chapter 12: His hatred of the woman and her child plus his brief remaining opportunity. This provides the background for chapter 13, especially, in which the Beast/Antichrist and the False Prophet are depicted. It is strongly implied that these are inspired by Satan. Later, we encounter Babylon, and that city, too, can be understood as the work of Satan.Commentators:Rist understands the extended quotation in 12:10-12 to be “the singing of a song of mingled woe and rejoicing.” Though this might indeed be a song, it is not identified that way. Furthermore, he believes it is sung by a group of people. He bases this on the use of plural “our” in more than one place. However, the participle that introduces the quotation (“saying”) is singular. This can be understood to mean that a single voice was heard by John, but that voice was the spokesman for a group. He believes that probably martyrs in heaven are singing this song and referring to their brother martyrs on the earth. Their song, he writes, is “martyrological.” He understand the defeat of Satan to be “initial” and not the final defeat. His comment on verses 8 and 9 expands this idea. The expulsion that is described in 12:9 (and referred to in 12:10) is “by no means final.” (Rist, 457-458) Furthermore, he understands this fall to be within our present history (that is, first century AD): “In Revelation this fall to earth of Satan and his forces may explain why he, not God, in in immediate control of the world and the people of the world, why he is the ruler of this present age, and why both this world and this age are irretrievably evil and corrupt; but it also assures his final complete doom.” (Rist, 457)Morris does not agree that the speaker or speakers in 12:10-12 are necessarily human, since an angel can refer to a humans as brothers (Revelation 22:9). Morris does not discuss the idea of the coming of the Kingdom. His comment on the list of entities in 12:10a is that the “complete sovereignty of God is in mind. Satan “urged the sins of the brethren in the very highest court” (referring to his accusations). But now he is defeated. He notes that there is emphasis on “they” (the saints) as the victors. He notes the “by the blood of the Lamb” means that what “the Lamb has done avails for the Lamb’s followers.” In commenting on the testimony of the saints, he writes: “To give way in the face of persecution is to fall away from Christ and to lose everything.” He notes that the reference to death puts the emphasis on martyrs, but “the same quality of devotion is required from all the followers of the Lamb…” In commenting on verse 12:12, he states that the little time left for Satan “will be that before the second advent.” He also notes that the “troubles of the persecuted righteous arise not because Satan is so strong, but because he is beaten. He is doing all the harm he can while he can.” Morris seems to ascribe this situation to our present time in history (not to the Tribulation period necessarily).Ladd believes the voice in 12:10 might be one of the martyrs mentioned in 6:9-11. He considers the announcement to be the “triumph of God’s Kingdom,” which, he says, is “the establishment of his rule over every hostile demonic power.” He considers that this is a “proleptic” (anticipatory) announcement of the “consummation.” But Satan is already defeated, and this “leads to the establishment of the authority of the Messiah in the world.” The defeat of Satan was through the blood of the Lamb: that is, “in history at the cross.” Ladd emphasizes the “background of martyrdom” in the words of 12:11. The martyrs, though they lost their lives won a “spiritual victory.” The fact that there is still danger on earth (12:12) means that Satan has been defeated but not “destroyed.” He is still able to add to the number of martyrs by attacking the Christians on earth. This gives the background “for the last convulsive effort of Satan to crush the church and destroy the saints.” (Ladd, 172-173)Metzger sees the “triumph song” of 12:10-12 as an explanation or interpretation of the “war” in heaven that is described in 12:7-9. The song reminds us “that the vision of Michael fighting the dragon is symbolic, representing the real victory won by the atoning death of Christ and the preaching of the gospel.” (Metzger, 74)FURTHER COMMENT: WHERE DOES“MYTHOLOGY” STOP AND REALITY TAKE OVER?The commentators have displayed a range of opinions and interpretations of this passage, 12:7-12. I would summarize their views as best as is possible as follows:
- The third victory is the confining of the dragon to the earth. This appears to happen at the start of the Tribulation period. It takes place through the efforts of Michael and his fellow angels. However, it also takes place because of the faithfulness of the saints and, more than anything, because of the blood of the Lamb. The cross of Christ had already dealt a death blow to the dragon. That victory was then manifested throughout history in the lives of the saints. And that victory results in the dragon’s being thrown down to the earth.
Symbols and mythology: The term “mythology” is a loaded term that means many different things to many different people, especially when it comes to Bible interpretation. The same could be said of “symbols.” It is necessary to address some issues surrounding these terms when one attempts to interpret chapter 12 of Revelation.The first problem that should be addressed is literal interpretation. It seems reasonable to me (but perhaps not to everyone) that the depiction of Satan as a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns is not to be understood literally. The first reason is that Satan is depicted in Scripture as an angel or spirit being. Such a spirit being, we infer, is not subject to our present order of existence. Thus, the constraints and laws of the physical and biological universe are irrelevant to such a being. That would mean that his physical appearance is not relevant to his identity. Thus, Paul says that he can appear as an “angel of light.” So the depiction of the dragon is intended to convey the spiritual reality of Satan and not his physical appearance. In the same way, the woman of Revelation 12 is described in terms that surely do not depict a physical reality. For any being to stand on the moon and have twelve stars in its crown is not astronomically possible. Again, the portrayal of the woman’s appearance is communicating spiritual realities and not literal physical appearances.Thus, we have to “loosen up” in dealing with such passages in Revelation (and almost every passage in the book has some non-literal elements). It is just simply true in this case (as much as I sometimes hate the expression) that “we can’t take the Bible literally.”In addition to appearances, the narratives of events in Revelation are often depicted in ways that must be understood in non-literal ways. Again, the woman’s son is said to be born and immediately ascend to heaven. The description of the son as the one who will rule the nations makes us certain that He is Jesus Christ. We know that He did not ascend to heaven immediately after His birth. It is apparent that only the pertinent facts of Christ’s career are mentioned. Of course it is also true that he was not born to a woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet. Thus, 12:1-6 depicts the people of God and the Christ and the devil in a “mythological” way, describing them in larger-than-life terms without regard for astronomical, biological, geographical, or historical “realities.” The presentation imparts to us a fresh understanding of the people of God, of Christ, and of the devil in vivid ways. At the same time, we must understand this depiction as true and to be tied to real events. The depiction is true in describing the devil as a real person who is immensely powerful and who has a large following of evil angels. It is true in describing the devil as the archenemy of Jesus Christ and the people of God. It is true in describing Jesus’ victory—through crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—as a victory not only over sin and death, but also over the devil. But not only does the mythological narrative convey truths, but also it conveys those truths in a close adherence to historical events. Thus, Jesus was born to the people of Israel, the people of God. Jesus did ascend to heaven after His passion and resurrection. Though we have limited knowledge of the “life story” of the devil, we can assume that there was a time when he led a rebellion of the angels.If we now consider the narrative of 12:7-9 and the poetic commentary in 12:10-12, we can, I think, assume these same principles hold. The depiction of a war in heaven is, most likely, “mythological.” It is difficult to accept that two groups of angels would be engaged in hand-to-hand combat or would shoot flame throwers at one another or drop nuclear bombs on one another. What would be the nature of angelic warfare? We have no experience or categories to understand or answer that except what little information concerning spiritual warfare that Scripture gives us. I shall return to that issue, but first we must consider how the involvement of the angels relates to other persons in spiritual warfare.I have already described the three victories over Satan that we know of. The first is Christ’s victory at the cross. The second is the victory that Christians attain through faithful living. The third is this particular victory that is described in 12:7-9. It seems to me that the connection is made among these three victories in 12:11. That verse does not mention Michael or other angels, but rather mentions the saints and the Lamb. It seems to me that somehow all three sets of actors are involved in the victory in 12:7-9.
- Rist: One must keep in mind that Rist is seeing the passage through what he believes are John’s eyes, not his own. So, John believes that there is a “kingdom of Satan” that is allowed to rule before the final kingdom of God comes. This kingdom is especially manifested in the Roman Empire. The defeat of Satan is not his final defeat, which will come when the kingdom of God comes. The fact that Satan is expelled to earth means that he now is the ruler of the earth. A consequence of that is martyrdom. The song of the martyrs who are in heaven is heard in verses 12:10-12.
- Morris: Morris understands that the “little vision” of the war in heaven (12:7-9) is a depiction of a spiritual warfare that we Christians are a part of—our struggles are part of something bigger than we realize. He understands that this struggle is present throughout the church age and that it brings about the threat, and sometimes reality, of martyrdom. He recognizes the spiritual battle involves a sort of appropriation of the victory of the cross in the individual Christian’s life: “What the Lamb has done avails for the Lamb’s followers.” He understands that the short time still left for the devil will be ended at the Second Coming. He does not calculate that short time in terms of the Tribulation period.
- Ladd: Ladd understands 12:7-9 as “mythology” that is intended to convey the defeat of Satan. These verses are not intended to depict a real war among good and bad angels. The means of defeat is not what is depicted, rather the fact of defeat of Satan is the message. He cites verse 12:11 in which the “blood of the Lamb” is mentioned in order to contend that the victory over Satan was completed at the cross. This event was “in history”—not in a mythological heavenly battle. This defeat makes possible the “proleptic” announcement of the Kingdom. The martyrs are the ones who sing the song of triumph in 12:10-12. They have lost their lives but won a spiritual victory. However, Satan is still capable of adding to the number of martyrs. These verses give the background for the last efforts of Satan against the church, which will be depicted in coming chapters.
- Metzger: He believes that 12:10-12 explains 12:7-9. Verses 12:7-9 are a symbolic representation of the defeat of Satan by the cross of Christ as well as by the preaching of the gospel.
What, then, is the nature of angelic warfare? I mentioned this question above with a promise to return to it. We observe that the weapons of our warfare are described in 12:11, in Ephesians 6:10-18, and in II Corinthians 10:4-5. In 12:11 they are our faith, testimony, and integrity. In Ephesians 6 they are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. In II Corinthians 10 they are the demolition of arguments and pretensions against the knowledge of God and the submission of our thoughts to Christ. These weapons are all in the realm of ideas, attitudes, belief, and trust in God. We can then speculate that angels actuate those categories in the spirit world. For example the accusations of Satan that the saints are sinful are countered by the angels who declare that the saints have been saved, not by their works, but by faith. Christ Himself, of course, advocates for us before the Father, but, somehow, the angels seem to be involved in this also. Beyond this we cannot speculate. As I think about this, I am reminded of Morris’ comment on 12:7-12: “This little vision reminds the believer that he is caught up in a wider conflict than the one he sees.” (Morris, 160) Indeed. Paul put it this way: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)In this passage there is a time element that should not be dismissed. Notice two things are put together: the ejection of Satan and the announcement of the Kingdom (12:10). Then in 12:12 the statement is made that the devil’s time is short. If we accept that this is a “last days” scenario, then we would understand that the seven years of the Tribulation period is in mind. The fact that 3 1/2 year periods are mentioned in 12:6 and 12:14 (in language similar to phraseology in Daniel and found also in 11:2-3) indicates that the Tribulation period is being alluded to. The statement in 12:12—that the devil’s time is short—could be taken as a general statement regarding the age in which we live. For example in II Peter 3,the issue of the delay of the coming of the Lord is dealt with and Peter assures us that God is not slow (II Peter 3:9). In I John 2:18 we read that it is the “last hour,” although this was written in the first century. So, it is not out of line with these Scriptures to understand the statement that “his time is short” is a general statement of the New Testament era. However, it seems to me that, in the context of this chapter, with its references to “Tribulation” time periods in 12:6 and 12:14 as well as the statement that the Kingdom has come in 12:10, we should understand that a very short time period is referred to in 12:12.This conclusion about the brief time left to the devil leads me to believe that the event described in 12:7-9 is not to be understood as a dramatization of the defeat of Satan by Jesus through the cross or his defeat through the faithfulness of the saints throughout the church age. Rather, the ejection of Satan from his access to heaven and from his ability to accuse the saints is a one-time event that will occur shortly before the return of Christ. We should understand from 12:11 that this action by Michael and his angels is a consequence and manifestation of the victory of the cross of Jesus Christ and of the faithfulness of Christians. We should also understand that the principles of spiritual warfare that are referred to in 12:11 are valid throughout the New Testament era. We should also understand that they apply to the spiritual warfare that is described in Ephesians 6. Nevertheless, the victory over Satan in this passage seems to me to be a unique victory that will be won in the last days.There is combined with that victory a warning. For that victory will be the occasion for a final unleashing of wrath from Satan. The fact that his time is short causes him to seek to do all the evil he can in that short period. This sets the background for the description of the Beast/Antichrist in chapter 13.SUMMARYThe passage begins with warfare in heaven between Michael and Satan and their fellow angels. The result is that Satan is ejected from heaven and no longer has a “place” there. Although this is believed by some to be a mythological story that dramatized the victory of the cross of Christ over evil, I believe there are good reasons to believe that this narrative is about real events that will take place in the future. The nature of this angelic warfare is, I believe, an actuation or spiritual realization of the warfare of the saints. This warfare is accomplished through faithfulness in all aspects of the Christian walk.There follows a poetic celebration of this victory that includes an announcement of the Kingdom—a proleptic anticipation of the realization of the Kingdom on earth. This poetry includes the ascription of the victory of the angels to the saints and, ultimately, to the shedding of Jesus’ blood. The poetry also announces that Satan, who is confined to activity on earth, has only a short time. Knowing this, he is full of wrath.Although the passage includes elements that are “mythological” in form, we should acknowledge that the mythological forms are tied to real events. I believe that we should understand that those events are future and will occur in conjunction with the Tribulation period shortly before the Second Coming.REFERENCESCrossway Bibles (2008-10-15). ESV Study Bible. Crossway. Kindle Edition.Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code. Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” Exegesis. The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. XII. Nolan B. Harmon, Ed. New York: Abingdon Press, 1957.
- The Lamb is, of course, the central victor in the struggle. He shed His blood, and that redemption ended the power of Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15, see also I John 3:8b). However, it is evident from Scripture that the working out of that victory is contingent on certain other persons.
- The saints are listed as the victors in 12:11. Their victory came about “by the blood of the Lamb.” The implication is that the saints “used” the blood of the Lamb to defeat the devil. My understanding is that their faith in the blood of the Lamb was applied in their warfare against the devil. So, Christ’s death was appropriated into the lives of the saints through their faith. The victory also came about “by the word of their testimony.” The testimony of the saints is a public open confession of Christ that is personal. I was in a very bad situation many years ago. I mark the turning point of deliverance from that situation to be when I testified to an acquaintance that Christ died for our sins. That testimony changed everything for me. Our testimony lets people know and it lets the devil know where we stand. Jesus made it clear that we need to confess Him before people so He can confess us before His Father. (See Matthew 10:32-33.) Finally, the saints “loved not their lives even unto death.” The bottom line for the saints is that they will stay true no matter what the consequences are. For many throughout history and even today, the consequence has been death. This says that it is the integrity of the saints that defeats the devil. The willingness to die means that the devil really cannot win. The devil may bring about physical death, but he cannot destroy body and soul—only God can do that (Matthew 10:28).
- Michael and “his” angels are listed as the victors in 12:7-9. Is this only a symbolic statement? Does it only tell us that the devil is defeated, but that that victory was won at the cross? Does not 12:11 seem to contradict the idea that the angels won a victory? We find that angels are very active throughout Revelation. What are we to make of them? Notice 22:8-9. John starts to worship his angel “tour guide” through all these visions. The angel forbids him and explains that he is not to be worshiped because he is “a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book.” (Revelation 22:9b) I Peter 1:12 says that angels “long to look into” the deep things of our (human) salvation. What we gather from these glimpses is that angels are rational beings. They join with us and are deeply involved in our walk of faith. They are not recipients of redemption and cannot fully comprehend our salvation, but they do join us in the whole venture (each is a “fellow servant”). Thus, the saints in 12:11 appropriate Christ’s victory into their own lives through faith, through testimony, and through willingness to die. The angels in 12:7-9 in some way actuate the victory of the saints by ejecting Satan from heaven. Angels pour out God’s wrath (Revelation 15-16), ride with Christ as an army to defeat the Beast and his army (19:14), bind the devil in the Abyss (20:1-3). They are persons that do the will of God and work as partners with God and with the saints. We could say that we really don’t defeat the devil—God does. We could even say that the devil is just a symbol for evil and that all of this is just saying that God wins out over evil. But the Scripture does not say that. The Scripture implies that it the defeat of Satan in our individual lives is contingent upon our own faithfulness. And the strong implication of Scripture is that the work of God is contingent upon the obedient work of our fellow servants the angels.