This is the second of three episodes in the vision of Chapter 12. In the first episode (vv. 1-6, cf. the previous note), there was portrayed a conflict on earth, in which a mythical dragon-being attacks a woman and her children. The detail would make clear to any Christian reader that it was a narrative regarding the birth of Jesus (as the Messiah) and his life on earth, but told in mythological language familiar to many in the Greco-Roman world, such as in the tale of the Serpent (Python) that threatened the divine child (Apollo) and his mother (Leto). This conflict on earth is picked up again in verse 13, but in between, in verses 7-12, there is narrated a parallel conflict in heaven. This yields the following outline of the chapter:
This generally reflects the ancient (religious) mindset that events and details on earth have their corresponding counterpart in heaven. In particular, conflict (or war) on earth could be indicated, or presaged, by clashes in the heavens (cf. 2 Macc 5:1-4; Josephus War 6.298-9; Lucan Pharsalia 1.578; Tacitus Histories 5.13; Koester, p. 547).
The conflict in heaven is introduced with the opening statement:
“And there came to be war in the heaven—Mîka’el and his Messengers with the Fabulous (Creature).” (v. 7a)
The heavenly being Mîka’el (la@k*ym!, Greek Mixah/l, Michael), whose name means “Who is like the Mighty One [°E~l, i.e. ‘God’]?”, is a leading Angelic figure, according to Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Daniel 10:13ff; 12:1ff; 1 Enoch 20:5; 24:6; 40:9-10, etc) . The structure of the narrative here indicates that, at the same time as the “Fabulous Creature” (dra/kwn) is attacking the Woman and her children (on earth), he/it is also engaged in battle in heaven.
There is a longstanding and well-established tradition of Angelic warfare, which is similar, in many respects, to the wars between the Gods in various Near Eastern (and Greco-Roman) cosmological myths. Such myths are typically cosmogonic (and theogonic), corresponding to the beginning and process of creation, in which the current world order was established. And, indeed, Jewish traditions regarding the Angelic battle also tend to be set in the primeval time, though the conflict is seen as extending into the present as well (cf. 1 Enoch 6-10; Life of Adam and Eve 12-16; Ascension of Isaiah 7:9-12, etc). Michael plays a key part in this conflict, serving also as the heavenly Protector of God’s people (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; 1 Enoch 20:5; and in the Qumran War Scroll [1 QM]). Jude 9 preserves an earlier Jewish tradition in which Michael contends with the Devil (over the body of Moses). He is also depicted as binding the rebellious Angels in anticipation of their ultimate Judgment (1 Enoch 10:11; 54:6).
“The Fabulous (Creature) made war, and (also) his Messengers (with him), and (yet) they did not have strength (enough) and their place was found (to be) no longer in the heaven.” (vv. 7b-8)
The idea that the Devil (or the Satan) has Angels who support him, and fight on his side, simply reflects the ancient tradition of the Angels who rebelled against God’s established order. It is, however, also specified in passages such as 1 Enoch 54:6; Testament of Dan 6:1; and Matthew 25:41. Under the name Belial, the Evil One (Satan) is depicted as ruler of evil spirits, such as in several of the Qumran texts; also by the title Mastêmâ (Jubilees 10:7ff) and the ancient Canaanite Ba’al-zebul (Mark 3:22). Here, the defeat of the Dragon’s army is described by two phrases:
- “they did not have strength (enough)” [ou)k i&sxusen]—i.e. they lost the battle, and
- “their place [to/po$] was found (to be) no longer in heaven” —that is, as a result of the battle, and as punishment for their hostility, they were no longer allowed to reside in heaven
“And (so) was thrown (out) the great Fabulous (Creature)—the snake of the beginning, the (one) being called ‘(the One) casting (evil) throughout’ and ‘the Satan‘, the (one) making the whole inhabited (earth) go astray—he was thrown (down) onto the earth, and his Messengers were thrown (down) with him.” (v. 9)
The core tradition is that of the rebellious Angels begin thrown out of heaven, down onto/into the earth (cf. above). However, the visionary here also specifically identifies the mythological Dragon with the Evil One, using a series of titles and descriptive terms:
- “the snake of the beginning” (o( o&fi$ o( a)rxai=o$)—that is, the Serpent of Genesis 3. Christians were not the first to make such an identification, i.e. of the Satan/Devil with the Serpent, as it had already been established in Jewish tradition (1 Enoch 69:6; Wisdom 2:24; Apocalypse of Moses 16; Apocalypse of Abraham, etc; Koester, p. 549). Here it may also indicate that the “Fabulous Creature” had a snake-like appearance.
- “the (one) casting (evil) throughout”, or, “the (one) throwing over (accusations/insults)” —this is a literal rendering of the Greek dia/bolo$, typically left transliterated in English as devil, or “the Devil”.
- “the Satan”, Satana=$ in Greek being a transliteration of the Hebrew /f*c*(h^), “(the) adversary”, “(the) accuser”. Cf. below on verse 10.
- “the (one) making the whole inhabited (earth) go astray” —this descriptive phrase is centered on the verb plana/w, (“stray, wander”, transitive “cause to stray”). This reflects the basic idea of the Devil as one who both tempts and deceives human beings—cf. Matt 4:1-11 par; John 8:44; 1 Cor 7:5; 2 Cor 11:14; Rev 20:8ff, etc.
For those wishing to place the rebellion and expulsion of Satan (and his Angels) into a specific historical or chronological setting, this passage is problematic, since, on the surface, it suggests that this did not occur until after Jesus’ birth. As mentioned above, Jewish tradition tends to set this event in primordial times (some would interpret Isa 14:12-15 and Ezek 28:16-17 in a similar manner, though this is questionable at best). However, far more important is the symbolism involved—that of the defeat of the forces of evil, represented by the Dragon and his heavenly allies. The expulsion, or casting down out of heaven, serves primarily as a literary device, focusing the conflict with evil entirely on earth. The parallel conflict in heaven has been eliminated. Moreover, the manifest presence of these evil forces on earth also symbolizes the increase of wickedness and persecution that is to occur in the period of distress before the end. There had already been earthly forces of evil (corresponding to the heavenly), but now they are strengthened greatly by the concentrated presence (and power) of the heavenly forces on earth.
A second aspect of the symbolism here is fundamentally Christological; that is, the defeat of the evil powers coincides with Jesus’ presence and work on earth. This idea is expressed at a number of points in the Gospel tradition, most notably the statement by Jesus in Luke 10:18:
“…I looked at the Satan falling out of the heaven as a flash (of lightning).”
Jesus sent out his disciples to minister as his representatives (vv. 1-12), and gave them authority over the evil spirits, etc, this latter point being made only upon their return (vv. 18-19). The disciples’ power over evil spirits (responsible for disease, etc), an extension of Jesus’ own power, is symbolized in terms of the defeat of Satan. It would seem that a similar line of thought is expressed here in Revelation 12 as well.
Following the defeat of the Dragon, there is a hymn of praise, introduced generally with the statement, “And I heard a great voice in the heaven saying…”. It is essentially all of heaven that is speaking, i.e. all the holy ones and heavenly beings collectively; from the standpoint of the visionary imagery in the book of Revelation, this must be understood as the people of God in their heavenly aspect:
“Now has come to be the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the e)cousi/a of His Anointed, (in) that [i.e. because] the (one who) brings down (accusation) on our brothers was thrown (down), the (one) bringing down (accusations) in the sight of our God day and night.” (v. 10)
The characterization of the Evil One (i.e. the Dragon) as kath/gwr (vb kathgore/w) reflects the earliest (and primary) aspect of the Satan tradition, as expressed in Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1, where he accuses people of wrongdoing before God’s throne (as a judicial tribunal). This aspect is generally not present in the New Testament, the role of the Satan/Devil having taken on a more common and overtly hostile dimension—i.e. deception, incitement to evil, etc. Thus the visionary here is drawing more directly upon the Old Testament tradition in describing the Satan.
The expression “our brothers”, in referring to human believers, shows the solidarity of heavenly beings with earthly beings, and demonstrates again the dual-aspect of the People of God—both heavenly and earthly. And it is with the heavenly defeat of the Dragon—the earthly defeat being yet to come—the Kingdom of God is now fully realized, at least for those in heaven; however, the promise this message brings for those on earth is also of the greatest significance. Here the “Kingdom” is comprised of salvation (swthri/a) and power (du/nami$), reflecting two interrelated aspects of God’s dominion over Creation: it is defined as the power to deliver people from the forces of evil. This power was demonstrated in the heavenly battle, but also through the saving work of Jesus on earth. The exalted Jesus is here identified as the “Anointed One”, with the e)cousi/a (i.e. ability, authority) to rule alongside God Himself.
“And they were victorious over him through the blood of the Lamb and through the account of their witness, and (that) they did not love their souls until death.” (v. 11)
Here “they” refers to believers on earth, who are facing suffering and persecution in the end time period of distress (described in the following vv. 13-17). This has been an important theme throughout the book, beginning especially with the letters to the seven churches (chaps. 2-3), where the endurance of persecution while still remaining faithful is defined as “being victorious” (vb nika/w)—cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21. Ultimately this victory stems from the sacrificial work (i.e. death and resurrection) of Jesus himself (Jn 16:33). The verb nika/w may be characterized as a Johannine term, occurring seven times in the Gospel and First Letter, and another 17 in the book of Revelation—24 out of 28 occurrences in the New Testament. Both the motifs of Jesus as the Lamb and the Gospel message of Jesus as witness are fundamental to the visionary language and imagery of the book. On the importance of believers enduring suffering even to the point of death, cf. Mark 8:34-37 par; 10:38-39 par; 13:12-13 par; Luke 17:33 par; John 12:25, and frequently throughout the book of Revelation.
“Through this you should be of a good mind, (you) heavens, and (you) the (one)s putting down (their) tent [i.e. dwelling] in them—(but) woe to the earth and the sea! (for it is) that the (one) casting (evil) throughout (has) stepped down toward you holding a great impulse (for destruction), having seen that he holds (only) a little time.” (v. 12)
The concluding statement of praise turns into an exhortation for believers in the present, shifting the attention from heaven to earth (the setting of the next episode in vv. 13-17). The heavens, and the heavenly beings, are called on to rejoice, since God’s Kingdom is now fully realized in heaven and the Devil has been cast out. But for the earth, the defeat of the forces of evil and the realization of God’s Kingdom must yet wait, at least until a short period of intense distress and persecution has passed. Believers, the children of the Woman (i.e. the People of God), must endure this period, which involves also great suffering for all of humankind (as expressed in the prior visions of chapters 6-9). This time of suffering will be relatively brief—symbolized by 3½ years—and, according to the declaration here, the Dragon is fully aware that he only has a short amount of time, and so must act aggressively. The work kairo/$ typically indicates a point or moment (rather than a period) of time, but can also refer to a particular occasion or opportunity; thus the concluding phrase could be rendered “knowing he has only a few moment(s left)”, or “knowing he has little opportunity (left to act)”. In any case, these words emphasize again for readers the imminence of the coming end.
The conjunction of the earth (gh=) with the sea (qa/lassa) foreshadows the dual-vision in chapter 13. Before exploring that vision, we must first examine the third and final episode of chapter 12 (vv. 13-17) in the next note of this series.
References marked as “Koester” above, and throughout this series, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).