Then came war in heaven, Michael and his angels to engage in battle with the dragon. And the dragon engaged in battle, and his angels, and he did not have power, nor was a place yet found for them in heaven.
And cast out was the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one who is called Devil [Opposer], and the Satan [Accuser], the one who is leading astray the whole world—he was thrown down into the earth, and his angels with him were thrown down.
And I heard a great loud voice in the sky saying, “Even now came the salvation and the might and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ, because he was cast out: the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one accusing them in the presence of our God, day and night.”
And these conquered him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the Word of their witness and they did not love their life as far as death. Because of this be gladdened, the heavens and those dwelling in them.
Alas the earth and the sea, because the devil went down to you all, having colossal rage, perceiving that he has little time.Revelation 12:7-12
A heavenly war, a huge victory, a retreating enemy, scorching the earth in his fury …
It is an epic vision!
The archangel Michael leads a vast army of angels against the dragon and its demonic hordes. There is a cataclysmic clash, what supernatural weapons are employed—one thinks of the cherubim’s fiery swords when they guarded the gates of Eden, and the ranks of flaming chariots with fiery horses revealed to Elisha’s servant.
But the devil does not have enough power to overcome God’s angelic army, and in the end, there is no place for him in heaven. If before Satan held a position among the majesty of God’s mighty angels, he now had nothing.
The final act in this heaven-wide conflict comes with the casting out of the dragon and his renegade platoon—but he does not go humbly, admitting his defeat. Instead, Satan’s thwarted wrath turns with a vengeance to the earth.
Rejoice, said the voice to John. Rejoice, because the Accuser has been thrown down! He has no more authority nor sway in heaven. The blood of the Lamb, the Word of your witness, this is far greater, this will always be triumphant over the dragon. John would later write to his beloved students,
Little children, you are from God and have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.1 John 4:4 (NRSV)
But also, woe. The dragon is enraged, and his time is short.
If this imagery is associated with Church history, then it is an allegory of the Church’s conflict with the emperor Julian the Apostate. For three years, from 361 until his death in 363, Julian tried mightily to reestablish the Roman religious pantheon and practices of old. Still, reportedly, in acknowledgement of Jesus, Emperor Julian’s dying words were “Vicisti, Galilaee,” or “Thou hast conquered, oh thou Galilean.”
The great celebration that ensues in John’s depiction stands in for Christians’ joy in seeing Rome now ruled by Christian emperors.
Nevertheless, there is still the devil to contend with, and the woe he will bring to the earth. Historicist scholars generally point either to the persecutions to come through heretics, and later the Gothic invasions, or to the corruption of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church during the Medieval times.
Or perhaps this scene is not in chronological order with the one preceding it. Perhaps John was given a vision to explain the origin of the dragon and why it was so determined to devour the woman’s child.
Seen from this angle, “Michael” is actually the Lord Jesus Christ. Not that Jesus is an angel, or a created being, but rather John was seeing a Christophany—the preincarnate Christ, depicted as the Angel of the Lord at least seven times in the Hebrew scriptures. Here are three samples:
The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.”Genesis 16:7-11 (NRSV, modifications added)
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.Exodus 3:2 (NRSV, modifications added)
Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim and said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I had promised to your ancestors.Judges 2:1 (NRSV, modifications added)
Chief of Angels
- Archangel—Jude referred to Michael as an archangel, but the preterist interpreter explains this means Chief of the Angels, as in the Lord over the angels, and the Commander of the Lord’s army.
- Commander of the Lord’s Army—This is how the Angel of the Lord presented Himself to Joshua.
This last portrayal is especially correlative as that is how the angel is also pictured in John’s oracle above. It is also the role John will see Jesus in later in his Apocalypse.
Physical Reality, Spiritual War
In a highly symbolic way, John was seeing Jesus and His “angels” – the apostles together with the heavenly angelic company – battling dark spiritual forces, as Paul also described.
… put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:11-12 (NRSV, modifications added)
Commentators with this perspective also see the specific moment in time when Satan was cast out of heaven as
- announced by Jesus, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Jesus’s death was at the heart of the battle, and His resurrection the resounding triumph.
- echoed by Paul, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”
The Accuser is Silenced
Recorded twice in the Hebrew scriptures, Satan stood before God to accuse humankind. The first occasion was Satan’s accusation against Job, that his love for God only existed because God showered Job with blessing. Without the blessing, Satan intimated, God would be left friendless and alone, such was the shallowness of human love.
The second occasion came during Zechariah’s vision concerning the high priest Joshua. Though no specific accusation is stated, Joshua’s filthy, disheveled appearance said it all. But in a surprising twist to the courtroom scene, the Lord stepped forward to defend Joshua, remove his squalid rags, and replace them with “festal apparel.”
Expositors explain how this illustrates every believer’s story. Because Christ’s death was given for the sins of all humankind, and because His resurrection is the proof of salvation, there is no one who can bring a charge against God’s own ever again.
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.Romans 8:33-34 (NRSV, modifications added)
Every time Satan seeks to accuse, a believer calls on the blood of Christ and the Faithful Word (logos) of their witness, the Gospel.
Nevertheless, John’s original audience knew they were to be ever watchful and alert. Jesus made clear that the Gospel would be established in a single generation, severely limiting the time Satan had to crush the movement before it was too late.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg