In the 2 previous articles, I have suggested that chapter 12 lays the foundational theme for the entire book of Revelation. “The likelihood that Revelation has a chiastic structure that puts the ‘war of the ages’ at the centre of the chiasm sets this section apart as the one that gives perspective to the entire narrative.”(1) This section of the book stands out as “a fresh beginning”(2) , “an uncharacteristically abrupt fresh start” (3), and “the pinnacle of the apocalyptic prophecy.”(4) As we will see, chapter 20 provides a parallel bookend to this section which also serves to reinforce the centrality of chapter 12 as the focal point for Revelation’s unfolding story.
Revelation 12 is made up of 3 distinct sections: verses 1-6 describe a woman in the pains of childbirth and a dragon waiting to devour her child but that the child was snatched away to heaven; verses 7-12 describe a war breaking out in heaven between Michael and Satan and that Satan was defeated and cast to the earth; verses 13-17 describe this dragon as pursuing the woman who gave birth to a boy.
Perhaps the initial question to ask is whether or not these 3 sections follow chronologically. It would seem unnatural for the story to unfold this way: “Satan pursued a pregnant woman on earth, but the baby was snatched up to heaven. Having been foiled on earth, Satan then began a war in heaven where he was again defeated so he turned his attention a second time to the woman who had given birth to the boy.” Rather, I think it makes more sense to describe the second section, “Then war broke out in heaven…”, as the beginning point, not only of the book of Revelation, but as the beginning of everything that has gone wrong in God’s universe.
But first, let’s try to understand the opening section of Revelation 12:
“Then a great and mysterious sight appeared in the sky. There was a woman, whose dress was the sun and who had the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was soon to give birth, and the pains and suffering of childbirth made her cry out. Another mysterious sight appeared in the sky. There was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and a crown on each of his heads. With his tail he dragged a third of the stars out of the sky and threw them down to the earth. He stood in front of the woman, in order to eat her child as soon as it was born. Then she gave birth to a son, who will rule over all nations with an iron rod. But the child was snatched away and taken to God and his throne. The woman fled to the desert, to a place God had prepared for her, where she will be taken care of for 1, 260 days.” (5)
Last time we reviewed the extensive links between the first few chapters of Genesis and Revelation: Eden lost and Eden restored. Once again, the woman described in Revelation 12:1-6 echoes back to Eden. Adam and Eve were created in the very image of God and they were given all the power and authority to rule planet earth until they forfeited all of this by surrendering their allegiance to a slippery snake who suddenly became the “prince” or “ruler of this world.”(6) This brings us to the key parallel passage in Genesis 3 of which “there is no doubt that the author of Revelation  takes [this] Genesis statement as his point of departure and describes its fulfillment.” (7)
I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies. Her offspring will crush your head, and you will bite her offspring’s heel.’ And he said to the woman, ‘I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth.’” (8)
Genesis 3:16 and Revelation 12:2 both describes the following:
A. The “birth pains” of a women
B. The ongoing enmity between Satan and the descendants of this woman
C. That Satan would attempt to “pre-emptively murder his future vanquisher” (9)
D. That this future Son would be successful and will give Satan the boot as ruler of this planet. Now Jesus “will rule over all nations with an iron rod” (10) and he will crush the head of the serpent. (11)
While Revelation 12:1-6 brings us back to the fall in Eden and to the forward promise of a Messiah, Revelation 12:7-12 goes back in time to round out the story about this dragon that is so eager to devour the seed of the woman. Several arguments can be made for saying that the war in heaven described in Revelation 12:7 occurs prior to this conflict between the woman and the dragon.
Even within the context of verses 1-6 it is described of the dragon that “With his tail he dragged a third of the stars out of the sky and threw them down to the earth.” (12) In other words, the fall of the angels who sided with Satan had already occurred prior to the telling of the conflict between Satan and the woman. Revelation 12:7-12 is providing the reader with additional meaning about this fall.
In addition, the Revelation 12:1-6 section concludes by describing that “The woman fled to the desert, to a place God had prepared for her, where she will be taken care of for 1,260 days.” (13) This seems to be the same “take off point” for this conflict between Satan and humanity that initiates the third section of Revelation 12:13-17: “She was given the two wings of a large eagle in order to fly to her place in the desert, where she will be taken care of for three and a half years, safe from the dragon’s attack.” (14) The 1,260 days and the three and a half years refer to the same period of time when God would protect the woman in the desert. In other words, Revelation 12:7-12 is a parenthetical “intrusive narrative fragment” that Barre would describe as “John’s penchant for inserting a short scene that summarizes the action of major sections of the book.” (15)
Tonstad would conclude that “the narrative does not flow in a tidy chronological sequence on its surface but must instead be sought in the deeper thematic unity that underlies the whole composition…it is more natural to see [Revelation 12:7-12] as a distinct tableau in the composite narrative and thus to locate the description of the cosmic combat (12:7) prior to the earthly events and to interpret this defeat of Satan as a curtailment of his influence and activity as a consequence of the earthly events. Once it is realized that the author makes theology take precedence over chronology and therefore does not lay out his story according to a strict linear or chronological pattern, the breaks, flashbacks and temporal conflations in the narrative cease to be confusing…The recognized practice of Revelation to ‘telescope’ certain events or to describe kaleidoscopically helps clarify chronology, and the subject matter of the account is thereby allowed to arrange incidents in a way that preserves the linear progression of beginning, middle and ending that belongs to virtually any story.” (16)
The Revelation 12 theme of a war in heaven and Satan’s fall from heaven to earth is also reinforced several times elsewhere in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 9, “I saw a star which had fallen down to the earth, and it was given the key to the abyss.” (17) We read on in this chapter to find out that the “star which had fallen down to the earth was given a key to the abyss. The star opened the abyss, and smoke poured out of it, like the smoke from a large furnace” (18) and locusts are then described as pouring out of the abyss. But as the story unfolds, we discover in Revelation 20 that Satan’s plunge downward will continue and that an angel will eventually take the key to the abyss from Satan and cast him from the earth and into the abyss:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent—that is, the Devil, or Satan—and chained him up for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the abyss, locked it, and sealed it, so that he could not deceive the nations any more until the thousand years were over.” (19)
Notice the remarkable parallels between Revelation 12 and 20! In Revelation 12:9, “The huge dragon was thrown out—that ancient serpent, named the Devil, or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth…” In Revelation 20:1, “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent—that is, the Devil, or Satan—and chained him up for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the abyss, locked it, and sealed it, so that he could not deceive the nations any more…”
These passages have their origin in Isaiah 14, which also describes the fall of a mighty being. I think it is amazing to consider that Isaiah describes precisely the same downward spiral for Satan – initially from heaven to earth (Revelation 12) and then from the earth to the abyss or pit (Revelation 20):
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, they will ponder over you, saying ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms?” (20)
The name translated “star of the morning” in this passage literally means “shining one” or “brilliant one.” The Hebrew word is “helel” which is commonly applied to the planet Venus – a “star” so bright that it can even be seen in the middle of the day. The name is therefore also translated as “morning star”, “light bearer” or “Lucifer” in the Latin. Thus, the King James translates this as, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (21)
It seems unpopular today to claim that this “star of the morning” in Isaiah is referring to Satan. But yet the strong parallels between Isaiah 14 and Revelation 12 and 20 seem very compelling to me. They both describe a mighty person as falling first from heaven to earth, and then from earth to the pit. If we accept this parallel, Revelation 12 and 20 both clearly identify the sentient being of Isaiah 14 as “that ancient serpent—that is, the Devil, or Satan.”
Origin’s interpretation of Isaiah 14, written in the early 3rd century, would suggest that identifying Satan as the “star of the morning” in Isaiah was prevalent in the early Christian church: “He who was Lucifer and who arose in heaven, he who was without sin from the day of his birth and who was among the cherubim, was able to fall with respect to the kindness of the Son of God before he could be bound by chains of love.” (22)
Ezekiel also tells us about a powerful being who fell from heaven and was thrown to the earth. As we try to reconstruct what actually happened in this heavenly war we need to bring in every bit of evidence that he have:
‘You were the perfection of wisdom and beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone…They were given to you on the day you were created. I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire. You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you. Your great wealth filled you with violence, and you sinned. So I banished you from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian, from your place among the stones of fire. Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.” (23)
The book of Revelation pulls together a fragmentary theme that runs through the entire bible of a heavenly conflict that has spilled over to planet earth. The book of Revelation invites us to open our eyes to this universe-wide combat zone and to positively identify who the real enemy is! The real enemy is not those who Christians have typically demonized: “the abortionists”, “the homosexuals”, “the Muslims”, “the democrats”, “the liberals”, “the republicans”, “the conservatives”, the [insert here anyone who is not like me]. These people are not our enemies! These are individuals that we are called to love and serve unconditionally! When Jesus told us to love, serve and pray for our enemies he did not add, “Except for the really bad ones.” Jesus washed the feet of Judas the night before he died and we are to have the same self-sacrificial love for everyone – friend or foe – because none of the individuals I listed above are enemies. Paul would emphasize that “…we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.” (24) Our real enemy, the one who has downloaded the destructive virus into the mainframe hardware of all humanity, has a name – Satan.
So how do you fight against “the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world?” My own conviction is that our understanding of the issues in this war that began in heaven is vitally important. We need to understand how Satan managed to high jack 1/3 of the angelic population as well as the entire human race if we are to “fight” this battle in the right way.
So, questions for next time: “Who is Michael?” Surprisingly, he seems to quickly drop from the scene after a brief appearance in Revelation 12, but yet this is clearly one powerful individual. For example, in the book of Daniel, even the mighty angel Gabriel is described as needing Michael’s help, “There is no one to help me except Michael, Israel’s guardian angel.” (25) But the ultimate question we need to answer is this: “What is the central issue in this war and how did the death of Jesus end the war and establish peace in heaven?”
“Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.” (26)
– Written by Dr. Brad Cole
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 56 – If you want to read a thorough and convincing discussion on this point, I would highly recommend this book
- Rologg, “Revelation”, 139
- Bauckham, “Climax of Prophecy”, 15
- Bousset, “Offenbarung”, 335
- Revelation 12:1-6
- John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 63 and 64
- Genesis 3:15,16
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 64
- Revelation 12:5
- Genesis 3:15
- Revelation 12:4
- Revelation 12:6
- 14. Aune, “Revelation”, 691
- Barre, “Tales of the End”, 124
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation, 66 and 67
- Revelation 9:1
- Revelation 9:2
- Revelation 20:1-3
- Isaiah 14:12-16
- Isaiah 14:12
- Origen, “ComRom”, 5.10.16
- Ezekiel 28:2, 11-17
- Ephesians 6:12
- Daniel 10:20
- Colossians 1:20-22