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Jesus Defeats Satan -- an anticlimactic study of Revelation 12

Yes, it's that simple.


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Revelation 12

This very abbreviated overview of John's vision hits the high point: Jesus wins.


Getting Started: Things to Think About

This is one of those lessons where I think we spend the majority of our time simply teaching the verses and what they mean. The point of the passage is obvious: Jesus has won, but Satan keeps fighting. That simple statement explains a whole lot about the world we live in. But if you want to use an icebreaker, try clouds or optical illusions (do you see an old woman or a young woman?). People debate what they see in those things, and the truth is that there might be more than one right answer to what a picture holds. The same is true of Revelation. We debate (endlessly) what these images mean, and they may actually mean multiple things. Consequently, we need to stay humble, and focus on what we know to be true: however it actually plays out, Jesus is victorious over all of His enemies, and we will share that victory.


This Week's Big Idea: Interpreting Revelation

I was given this great summary of the challenges with respect to Revelation. I’ll keep them in this column for your quick reference, and I’ll give you more details about them in the appropriate places. If you want to do your own research, this gives you the names to look for and the terms to use.


Three Types of Literature

  1. Epistle: standard letter

  2. Prophecy: definitive word from God

  3. Apocalyptic: sweeping vision filled with dramatic symbols

Four Methods of Interpretation

  1. Preterist: everything in Revelation took place in the first century

  2. Historicist: Revelation predicts a long chain of events that has been unfolding for two thousand years

  3. Futurist: Revelation primarily deals with future, end-of-time events

  4. Idealist: Revelation is mainly symbolic, thus not worried about fulfillment

Four Views of the Millenium

  1. Amillenialism: Revelation does not refer to a literal thousand-year reign of Christ but the growth of the church

  2. Postmillenialism: Christ returns to Earth after the thousand-year reign of the church (this view was quite common before World War I)

  3. Dispensational Premillenialism: This is the Left Behind view that there will be a rapture of Christians before the Great Tribulation of the Revelation

  4. Historic Premillenialism: In this view, Jesus physically reigns for a thousand years following the Tribulation, but Christians experience the Tribulation together with the rest of the Earth.


Background: An Outline of Revelation

We really don’t have time to go into all of this, but I think it will be helpful to have a rough context of the vision in today’s passage. Remember this outline:

  • Scene 1 (1:1-3:22): Christ and messages for the seven churches

  • Scene 2 (4:1-8:5): The seven seals of judgment on rebellious humanity

  • Scene 3 (8:6-11:19): The seven trumpet judgments

  • Scene 4 (12:1-15:8): The war between Christ and Satan in seven visions

  • Scene 5 (16:1-16:21): The seven (final) bowl judgments

  • Scene 6 (17:1-18:24): The fall of Babylon

  • Scene 7 (19:1-20:15): The return of Christ and the 1000-year reign

  • Bonus Scene (21:1-22:21): The new Jerusalem and the wedding feast of the Lamb

Here is a chart of the various judgments in Revelation. I've also included the plagues in Egypt as a reference -- you can see that God used those plagues as a foreshadowing of the judgment to come. It starts with the seal judgments, designed to demonstrate that God is righteous in his judgment of sin. There are a number of scholars who say that the trumpet judgments and bowl judgments are the same (when you compare them, you can see why they say that). Here’s my take: the trumpet and bowl judgments are two different series; the trumpet judgments prepare the way for the bowl judgments, which are/represent God’s wrath being poured out fully on His enemies.

Reveal sin

Revenge of martyrs

Wrath on enemies

Setting precedent

The 7 Seals (6-8)

The Trumpets (8-11)

The Bowls (15-16)

Egypt's plagues

White horse

1/3 earth burned

Sores

Blood

Red horse/war

1/3 sea destroyed

Destroy the sea

Frogs

Black horse/famine

1/3 rivers bitter

Destroy rivers

Gnats

Pale horse/death

1/3 darkness

Scortch by sun

Flies

Martyr's cry

Scorpion-locusts

Darkness

Disease

Natural disasters

1/3 men slain

Prepare for beast

Boils

[interlude martyrs]

[interlude witness]

Final earthquake

Locusts

7 = trumpets

7= bowls

[fall of Babylon]

Locusts

[interlude visions]

Darkness

Death

The reason I believe that has to do with our lesson today. In between the trumpets and the bowls are seven visions/images/signs:

  1. the woman,

  2. the dragon,

  3. the beast out of the sea,

  4. the beast out of the earth,

  5. the Lamb,

  6. the 144,000,

  7. the angels and the harvest of the earth.

John calls them “signs in heaven” which indicates this is an interlude from the judgments. When you read the signs, you get a sense that this is a swath of all of history from the fall of Satan to the final battle (i.e. they show us things that have happened and things that have yet to pass). Why is it here? Because God is showing John exactly why He must pour out His wrath in such dramatic and cataclysmic ways. Satan came to destroy everything good in God’s creation, and people chose to follow Satan rather than God. They will all receive God’s wrath.

 

Part 1: Satan Defeated (12:1-9)

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in labor and agony as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: There was a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven crowns. 4 Its tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. And the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she did give birth it might devour her child. 5 She gave birth to a Son, a male who is going to rule all nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be nourished there for 1,260 days.
7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, 8 but he could not prevail, and there was no place for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him.

I know this is “cheating”, but let me paste in some images I found on the web. These might help me make my point. When you actually try to put Revelation 12 on paper, it’s astounding. It’s the space opera to end all space operas. Images so grand and cosmic that you can’t help but think these are capturing all of history.

  • The woman: Not Mary; Mary is never described in these terms. Israel, however, is (see Joseph’s dream in Gen 37, specifically noting the sun, moon, and twelve stars). The woman is the people of God out of whom came Jesus.

  • Pregnant: I think this is the condition of Israel when Jesus was born. They cried out for a deliverer in Egypt (Moses), and for a Messiah (Jesus) in their pain. Jesus also uses birth-pains as a metaphor (Matt 24:4-8).

  • The dragon: Clearly Satan. The 7 heads/crowns represent power and show how arrogant he was. The 10 horns represent power. That there are 7 and 10 prove that Satan was trying to usurp the place of God.

  • The stars: In this case, angels. We have a potential reference to Satan himself as a star in Isa 14:12, and clear references to angels as stars in Judg 5:20 and Rev 1:20. This simply tells us that Satan was powerful enough to draw away 1/3 of God’s angels in rebellion. How can we stand against that?

  • The child: I believe Him to be Jesus. The dragon tried to kill Him (likely a reference to the murders in Bethlehem). He was “snatched up” to God, meaning that the dragon could not reach Him, i.e., death could not hold Him.

  • The desert: This is where my approach parts ways with someone like Tim LaHaye. He tries to find a literal escape to the desert (like the Jews at Masada). I am fine calling this a symbol of our hard life in a hateful world.

  • 1260 days / time, times, half a time: Another symbol, the equivalent of 42 months (11:2). If a year were 12 months of 30 days, these would all represent 3 1/2 years, or exactly half of 7. I think that’s the point. This era may very well be exactly 7 years, but I think the use of these numbers paints the picture that the time period is perfectly set by God, and God’s people will be preserved (by the way, this verse is where some people get the idea of a mid-tribulation rapture of the church)

  • War in heaven / timeline: This is where things get muddy. When you read Isa 14:12, you get the sense that the cosmic war between Michael and Satan was waged a long time ago. Here, it seems like the battle was fought immediately after the child was born, or immediately after the woman escaped to the desert. Again, remember that these were signs and symbols. Here’s my take: When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, Satan realized he had been defeated. In his rage, he waged open war in heaven (according to Job, Satan was allowed in heaven for at least a time). When he was defeated, he and his army turned their full attention to destroying God’s good creation on earth. It is in this time that God preserves the church (the people of God). Using my theory, it is possible to interpret the 1260 days as symbolic of the time until Jesus returns. I really don’t know; that’s why I like to keep my options open.

However we choose to interpret these signs, everybody must be able to agree on three main points: (1) Satan could not destroy Jesus; (2) Satan has now turned his fury against mankind, and (3) Jesus will preserve His people and defeat Satan ultimately. For those who believe that these verses speak of the 7-year Tribulation, then it is obvious that persecution will become horrific during the first half of that time. For those who believe the numbers are symbolic, the fact of persecution cannot be disregarded or overlooked. And maybe it refers to both . . .


Application: I think those three statements explain our experiences quite well. Why is life so hard? Because Satan is actively trying to destroy us. Imagine what our lives would be like if God were not preserving us?

 

Aside: Christus Victor

When we study the atonement of Jesus Christ (what He accomplished on the cross), most conservative, reformed folk emphasize the idea of forensic justification. I.e., because Jesus took our punishment on the cross, God renders a verdict of not-guilty on us. There are actually quite a few other ways the cross has been understood.


In ancient days, people put forth two main theories: the bait-and-switch (ransom to Satan), and the ransom to God. In the first, God tricked Satan into accepting Jesus as a ransom payment for humanity, and then took Jesus back. Obviously, we don’t like that theory. In the other, Jesus was the sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin (remember propitiation?). In the middle ages, picked up again by liberalism, they came up with the moral influence theory. I.e., Jesus died on the cross to prove God’s love for us and woo us to God.


The ancient church also had an additional theory that was rediscovered in the 20th century: the Christus Victor theory. In this, the cross demonstrated God’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Jesus subjected Himself to the full weight of sin and Satan’s power, and none of it was enough to keep Him. The cross is a celebration of Christ’s victory.


I see that theory in Revelation 12: the child was attacked by Satan but still reached the throne of God, upon which Satan’s armies were thrown out of heaven. And ultimately, those armies will also be defeated on earth. Praise God for our victory in Jesus Christ.

 

Part 2: The Lamb Praised (12:10-12)

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been thrown down.
11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; for they did not love their lives to the point of death. 12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows his time is short.

This section is “just” an interlude; some say it was included as the angels’ way of “sticking it” to Satan for rebelling against God and losing. When he was cast down from heaven, Satan poured his attention into humanity. “Satan” literally means “adversary” or “accuser”, which indicates that he was given this name after falling from heaven. We do not know his name before (many people say “Lucifer”, but that is Latin for the Hebrew word “day star” which is never explicitly connected with Satan as his proper name).

Satan continues to accuse “the brothers” or the people of God. And frankly, we are guilty of probably most of what he accuses (if you think about it, all Satan has to do is mix a little lie with a whole bunch of truth and he can sway most of the world), but that doesn’t matter anymore! How do the brothers overcome him? By (1) the blood of the Lamb, and (2) the word of their testimony. You could do the entire lesson just on this verse! First, Jesus has overcome Satan. We don’t have to; Jesus already has. Second, our testimony is the proof of our overcoming. Our “testimony” is not just the explanation of our salvation experience but primarily our manner of living after our salvation. Our testimony is who we are in Jesus. And people can see that; there is no fooling the world around us. Because we are not frightened by the devil’s schemes, we overcome him. He has no real power over us; he is a bully who bluffs for a living. He has no power over us. And boy does that make him furious! And that leads us to the final point -

 

Aside: Who Is the Beast?

Boy, this gets people riled up when we talk about it. The Beast and the Dragon are two clear characters in Revelation. We can say that the Dragon is Satan, and most people consider the Beast to be the final Antichrist. You might remember in 1 John that there are many antichrists (anyone who stands against God), but one sticks out at the end of time. In the early church, many thought the beast was a symbol of Rome, and they looked at the emperor as the single representative. Ancient writings identified Domitian (as Nero come back to life) as the beast. They even translated 666 into “Nero Caesar”.


But there are actually two beasts in Revelation: a beast out of the sea and one out of the earth. Historically, many have taken the beast out of the sea to be the Antichrist (the sea represents the chaos that Satan’s world produces). The beast out of the earth, then, is the system that fools people into worshiping the Antichrist. The ancient church considered it to be the emperor-cult of Rome.


As time passed, Christians continuously reidentified the beasts as contemporaneous figures. Church leaders argued if Satan himself would possess the first beast, or if there would be two antichrists, one in Rome and another in Jerusalem. Augustine interpreted these chapters allegorically, viewing the Fall of Rome not as an act in Revelation but proof of the ongoing war between Christ and Satan.


When the Catholic Church took primacy in the Middle Ages, the views turned very political. Enemies of the church were called the beast (Mohammed, William the Conqueror), and those who did not like the Catholic hierarchy routinely called the pope the beast and the Catholic church the second beast. Luther and Calvin called the pope the Antichrist. In England, in particular, once Henry VIII declared independence, everything about the Catholic church was Antichrist. Their wars against Spain and France were religious, a new kind of crusade against Satan. Of course, those who disagreed with the king’s power over religion (including the early Baptists!), the king became the Antichrist and the Anglican Church because the second beast!


Once things got political, Antichrist appeared everywhere. Peter the Great and Lenin were both in Russia. Africans considered the Europeans Antichrist. The Kaiser, Hitler, and Stalin were all Antichrist. Some even said Henry Kissinger (a Jew) was the Antichrist.

World systems are now regularly identified as the second beast. The United Nations, the World Council of Churches, the Eurozone, all have been called the second beast. Systems of thought, including communism, humanism, and new age-ism have all been called the second beast (because they turn people from Christ).


What are we to do? Stop labeling things the Antichrist/beast for one. I think Satan will be very subtle in what he does to fool God’s people.

 

Part 3: The Dragon Regroups (12:13-17)

13 When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent’s presence to her place in the wilderness, where she was nourished for a time, times, and half a time. 15 From his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river flowing after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth. 17 So the dragon was furious with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep the commands of God and hold firmly to the testimony about Jesus.

Now things get weird again. Lots of symbols, and it’s hard to tell for certain what is literal and what is figurative. Most of the images carry over from the previous section, so I won’t repeat them. The “wings of an eagle” imply divine protection and security. Whether we’re talking about the experience of the church from Jesus’ ascension until now, or about the experience of the church in the Great Tribulation, God will protect us. As Kathie emphasized, those who are saved have been sealed by the Spirit, and we will be spared the wrath of God.

Some view the role of the earth and the river from Satan literally. Other view the flood from the dragon as a metaphor for a flood of lies and deceit, and the role of the earth is to be a kind of witness against Satan. So, then the dragon turns his attention to the other offspring of the woman. If I am right in calling the woman the people of God, then this would specifically be Christians, the “children” of the original people of God, namely the descendants of Abraham.


This makes my timeline somewhat awkward. Does this mean that the believing Jews are no longer on the scene, or set aside to safety in some “desert” hideout? Maybe. I really don’t know. But I do know this: the point of the passage is to call Satan a triple loser. He failed to destroy the Jews. He failed to destroy Jesus. And He will fail to destroy the Christians. And that will make him upset.


Important Application Question. I didn’t see this in the leader guide, so let me ask it for us. Why doesn’t God just wipe out our enemies now? He obviously can whenever He wants to, so why doesn’t He? Some people even accuse God of being unloving for this very reason. But remember how Kathie described everything.

  1. By experiencing pain and loss, we can truly enjoy comfort and joy for eternity.

  2. By enduring the wrath of Satan, we can appreciate why God took these judgments so seriously.

  3. By not wiping our enemies out, he is giving us more time to rescue people around us from the snare of Satan.

It is actually God’s mercy on our enemies that He has not “blown the whistle” on history yet. Ask your class about things they are going through, particularly things they believe Satan is stirring against them: how do these words encourage them? What might be God’s purpose in allowing you that experience? In what way is God revealing His provision to you? No matter what, make sure that you end class with an extensive prayer for God’s protection, provision, and guidance. Ask your group to keep that prayer going for one another all week long!

 

Closing Thoughts: Who Is Michael the Archangel?

Michael is the preeminent of all the angels mentioned in the Bible. He is the first to be mentioned by name (Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1). The word “Michael” is Hebrew for “who is like God [El]?” It is an apt name in that Michael is God’s herald, and it implies that God has given him special tasks. In Daniel 10:13, he is called the “chief prince”, and it seems that he is the likely counterpart to Satan (Jesus is God, not an angel, so it would be inappropriate to put them on the same level). Michael starts making more frequent appearances in the Jewish apocryphal works (books inbetween the Testaments); he is first called an archangel in 1 Enoch 71:3. Apparently this means he is a commander of angels (3 Bruch 11:4), and he is also called a warrior (Testament of Moses 10:2). Yet, he is also lauded for interceding for peace and seeking peace (1 Enoch 89:76, 4 Baruch 9:5). Finally, Michael is identified as the angel who throws the rebellious Jews into the Abyss at the end of time (1 Enoch 90) and Satan and his armies (1 Enoch 54:6).


Those references are not found in the Bible but Jewish tradition. However, references to Michael in the New Testament bear out that they had understood Michael’s role in Daniel correctly. Jude said that Michael disputed with the devil himself about the body of Moses (Jude 9), and Revelation says that Michael led the armies of God in battle against Satan’s armies (Rev 12:7). Certainly, Michael is a commander and on the same level as even Satan. We don’t know very much about him—he makes 5 total appearances in the Bible—but we know that we are very glad to be on his side!

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