John’s third interlude, so far, has depicted the birth and reign of Christ from His incarnation. We arrive at a pericope in the discourse often interpreted as a prelapsarian spiritual war that brought Satan to the earth in order to tempt Eve. The text does not rest that way in John’s vision. For at the moment Satan is cast down from heaven, like the nations of Babylon and Israel (cf. 9:1; 12:1-6), he begins making accusations against the church, and Christ ascends to the davidic throne (v. 10)—which is the theme of John’s third interlude. To place the casting down of the dragon in the primeval or prelapsarian eras is to place Christ’s inauguration on the dividic throne prior to Adam and Eve, which is nonsensical. Premillennial and dispensational interpretations ironically and consistently interpret the text as Satan’s prelapsarian fall from heaven—an interpretation that necessarily makes them more radical postmillennials than any post- or amillennial I know. No one I know about actually claims Christ ascended to the davidic throne prior to the First Century AD; Such an interpretation of the war in heaven pericope neither fits with any theological viewpoint I am aware of nor in the context of John’s Revelation. John is revealing victory in Jesus, not defeat in Adam. So, what do we do with this selection? Well, we exegete it and exposit it like we do any other biblical passage.
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
War in heaven (v. 7-9)
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.
John envisions a war in heaven, which is a sign (v. 1, 3) and not literalistic. In his vision, Michael and his angels wage war against the dragon. “And,” the conjunction, indicates that John sees this sign in conjunction with the dragon, who previously tried to devour the child born to Israel until the child’s ascension. The child is Christ. This symbolic war in heaven is seen in conjunction with Christ’s literal ascension to heaven.
The dragon and his angels, whose origin the story is not actually revealed, are not strong enough, and their invasion into heaven is halted. The dragon is not strong enough to devour the child or slay the heavenly angels in order to consume the child. The child, Christ, reigns, and the dragon cannot devour His kingdom like he could the kingdoms of the world (cf. v. 4).
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
“And,” another conjunctive statement, the dragon is thrown down from heaven like the nations mentioned previously in John’s Revelation that fell from their places in glory or grace (cf. 9:1; 12:1-6). It is unclear who throws Satan down, but I believe it is the recently ascended Christ. Here, John identifies the dragon as the serpent of old, the devil, Satan. Satan is the one who deceives the whole world, even before he was thrown down from heaven in this heavenly vision. Satan and his angels, juxtaposed with Michael and his angels, were thrown down to the earth. Instead of honoring Christ, they try to devour Him and His kingdom—which is forever.
War on the earth (v. 10-12)
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down.”
John hears a loud voice in heaven proclaiming the establishment of Christ’s kingdom and authority. The mark of the establishment of Christ’s kingdom is the throwing down of Satan from his high place—the binding of Satan. Because the accuser of the brethren has been thrown down from his high place, the salvation, power, and kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come. If we schedule this prior to the tempting of Eve, then Christ’s kingdom was established prior to humanity’s fall and the establishment of the dividic throne. Christ did not come to redeem humanity prior to humanity’s own fall from her heavenly estate. If we schedule this event at some point in the future, then we must say that Christ has not yet ascended to heaven. John continues to point us to the cross of Christ as if the person and work of Christ on Calvary is entirely sufficient to redeem the whole world. We see, once again, that Christ’s kingdom was necessarily established in His incarnation. We see that one mark of the establishment of Christ’s kingdom and inauguration as the federal head of creation is the binding of Satan.
In conjunction with Satan’s permanent exile from his high place, he accuses the brethren—the church, which will be confirmed in verse 17. One sign that Satan is, indeed, bound, is his accusation and war against the church Jesus Christ is building for Himself. Satan can no longer deceive the nations concerning the Gospel. He can no longer devour national Israel (cf. v. 1-6). All he can do is accuse, which means he has lost what he tried to take in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3). He lost in conjunction with Christ’s ascension to heaven and the davidic throne.
When people experience tribulation in this life, they will often quip, “I’ve read the last chapter, and I know who wins in the end.” I guess they skipped everything leading up to the last chapter because Scripture teaches that Christ has already won and we have present victory in Him. The church’s tribulation prior to Christ’s bodily return is proof that Satan is bound and not powerful enough to deceive or devour because Christ has crushed Him, and he has been cast down from his high place.
We also see one way in which people appropriate the Scriptures in order to piece together a story that is not actually in Scripture and, yet, claim it biblical. Nowhere in Scripture do we read that Satan was an angel of light who rebelled against God in heaven and was thrown down to the earth prior to tempting Eve. People take pieces of the Bible, knit them together in a new way, and try to tell a story that isn’t really that biblical—but it sure does sound religious. Here are a few of the verses people knit together:
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Luke 10:17-22, emphasis added).
Jesus’s statement is not isolated from its literary context. While the seventy were on their mission trip, Jesus was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning—which coincided with Jesus’s own authority and His delegating His authority to the seventy. It seems John agrees with Luke about the fall of Satan—he was cast down from his high place during the incarnation of Jesus Christ–he was unable to overcome and devour Christ.
Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God, You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created Until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire (Ezekiel 28:12-16, emphasis added).
The king of Tyre was “cast as profane form the mountain of God” and referred to as a covering cherub, not Satan particularly. Satan’s fall in Luke and Revelation is like the fall of the king of Tyre—a casting down from his high place.
…you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon, and say, “How the oppressor has ceased, And how fury has ceased! The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, The scepter of rulers Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes, Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution. The whole earth is at rest and is quiet; They break forth into shouts of joy. Even the cypress trees rejoice over you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Since you were laid low, no tree cutter comes up against us.’ Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; It arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth; It raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones. They will all respond and say to you, ‘Even you have been made weak as we, You have become like us. Your pomp and the music of your harps Have been brought down to Sheol; Maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you And worms are your covering.’ 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!” (Isaiah 14:4-12, emphasis added).
The star being cast from heaven to the earth is the king of Babylon. Satan’s fall is described like the king of Babylon’s fall. John’s imagery does not necessitate that Satan began in heaven as an angel of light. He might have, but we don’t get that information anywhere in Scripture. He might have as easily been created as a devil from the start, masquerading as an angel of light and sweeping people from their high places like we read in verse 4. John’s sign signifies that Satan, who once devoured the nations, is now devoured by Christ. The serpent bit off more than he could chew and got crushed. The justice, here, is ironic. Satan is now tormented the way he tormented the nations. He is swept from his high place just like he swept away a third of the nations before Christ’s inauguration. Christ is setting all things right and bringing justice to His earth as creation’s federal head. Satan has already lost and is now merely lashing out from his cave with the inevitable end in sight. He’s a wounded snake trying to strike whoever puts his hand close enough. He is the ruler of a pretend kingdom that is dying.
“He who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”
Since Satan has no power to devour, he accuses the saints before God, trying to persuade God to devour them. But, they overcome his mere accusations by the blood of Christ—who was their substitutionary atonement—and because of the word on their lips—the Gospel. The saints do not love their own lives even when faced with death. Because Christ reigns, the gates of Hell are trying their damnedest to cause the kingdom of heaven to implode. Satan is a mocker. He accuses the saints so that God might judge them. His accusations work not. How weak must Satan be from the fatal blow dealt at Calvary if he must beg the Almighty to strike for him? God has delivered His people in Christ and they currently have victory over the accusations of the serpent—not by their own work but by the atoning work of Christ alone on the cross.
“For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
For this reason, the saints have victory over the curse in Jesus Christ and Satan is bound from devouring national Israel and the church, the voice instructs the heavenly hosts during John’s time and ours to rejoice.
The voice speaks a woe upon the earth and sea because the devil is lashing out. His lashing, again, is like the whimpering of a dying snake lashing out as its breaths become shorter and shorter. He is dealing damage, but only because he sees the dark at the end of the tunnel. So, we rejoice in tribulation because, the fiercer the serpent’s strikes, the nearer his final inhalation.
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