5-32 Michael And The Great Dragon
Revelation 12: 7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his
angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his
angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more
in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent,
called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he
was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him”.
This is one of the most popular passages used to suggest that there
was a rebellion in heaven amongst the angels, resulting in the devil
and his angels being thrown down to earth, when, in the form of
the serpent, they began to create trouble and sin on earth.
1. All that we have learnt so far in this study must be brought
to bear on this passage. We have seen that angels cannot sin and
that there can be no rebellion in heaven. Thus this passage - which
is the only one of its kind - must be interpreted in a way that
does not involve angels sinning or there being sinful angels making
people sin on earth, seeing that sin comes from within us, not from
outside of us (Mk. 7: 20-23).
2. The serpent is cast out of heaven, implying it was originally
there. But the literal serpent in Eden was created by God out of
the dust of the earth (Gen. 1: 24-25). There is no implication that
the devil came down from heaven and got inside the serpent. The
language of “cast down” and “cast out” does not require literal
downwards movement- Babylon is “thrown down” in Rev. 18:21. The
O.T. basis of “cast out” is in the nations / beasts being cast out
from God’s presence in the land of Israel. In Rev. 12 we have another
woman in the wilderness, who enters the Kingdom [cp. the land] once
the beast is cast out. In Dan. 7:9 the thrones of the beast / kingdoms
are “cast down” before the Kingdom is established on earth, just
as the beast is cast down before the establishment of the Kingdom
in Rev. 12. The idea of being cast out of Heaven was and is common
in Semitic languages and even wider culture for a loss of power-
thus Cicero comments about Mark Anthony: "You have hurled your
colleagues down from heaven".
3. Note carefully that there is no reference here to angels sinning
or rebelling against God, only to a war in heaven.
4. After the drama of vv. 7-9, v. 10 says that there was “a loud
voice saying in heaven, now is come salvation and strength,
and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the
accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before
our God day and night”. If vv. 7-9 occurred at the beginning of
the world, before the time of Adam and Eve, how could it be said
that after satan’s fall there came salvation and the kingdom of
God? After Adam’s sin, mankind began his sad history of slavery
to sin and failure - a state hardly to be described as “salvation”
and the kingdom of God. There is rejoicing that the devil - the
accuser - has been cast down to earth. Why should there be rejoicing
if his coming to earth was the start of sin and disaster for man?
If a fall from heaven to earth is understood figuratively rather
than literally, as representing a fall from authority (as Is. 14:12;
Jer. 51:53; Lam. 2:1; Matt. 11:23), much more sense can be made
of all this. If all this happened before the time of Adam, or at
least before the fall of man, how could the devil have been accusing
“our brethren”, seeing they did not then exist?
5. There is nothing indicating that all this happened in the Garden
of Eden. A vital point is made in Revelation 1:1 and 4:1 - that
the Revelation is a prophecy of “things which must shortly come
to pass”. It is not therefore a description of what happened in
Eden, but a prophecy of things to happen at some time after the
first century, when the Revelation was given by Jesus. Any who are
truly humble to the Word will see that this argument alone precludes
all attempts to refer Revelation 12 to the Garden of Eden. The question
has also to be answered as to why the identity of the devil and
information about what happened in Eden should be reserved until
the end of the Bible before being revealed.
6. “The great dragon was...that old serpent” (Rev. 12:9). The dragon
had “seven heads and ten horns” (v. 3), therefore it was not literally
the serpent. It being called “that old serpent” shows that it had
the characteristics of that serpent in Eden, in the sense of being
a deceiver, as the serpent was. Thus the devil is not literally
the serpent. If it is, then the dragon is the snake. But the dragon
is a political power, manifesting sin 9satan). Pharaoh is likened
to a great dragon (Ez. 32:2) but we can’t reason that therefore
he was a literal dragon. Similarly, “the sting of death is sin”
(1 Cor. 15:56), but that does not mean that death is a literal snake.
It has the characteristics of the snake, through it’s association
7. The devil was cast down onto the earth and was extremely aggressive
“because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (v. 12). If the
devil was cast down in Eden, he has had the opportunity to torment
man throughout his long history - which is hardly having only “a
short time” in which to wreak havoc.
8. How could the devil have deceived “the whole world” (v. 9) before
he was thrown out of heaven seeing that there was no one in the
world before Adam?
9. Verse 4 says that the dragon drew a third of the stars of heaven
to the earth with his tail. If this is read literally - and Revelation
12 has to be read literally to support the Popular Interpretation
- the sheer size of the dragon is immense - a third of the whole
universe (or solar system at least) could be contained just on his
tail. There is no way the planet earth would be big enough to contain
such huge creature sprawling over it. Most of the stars of the solar
system are bigger than our earth - how then could a third of them
land on earth? And remember that all this happened, or will happen,
after the first century A.D., when this prophecy was given.
10. In view of this and many other things in Revelation 12 (and
the whole prophecy) which are just incapable of any literal fulfillment,
it is not surprising that we are told first of all (Rev. 1:1) that
this is a message that has been “signified” - i.e. signified - put
into sign language, or symbol. As if to emphasize this in the context
of Revelation 12, Revelation 12:1 describes the subsequent action
as “ a great sign” (A.V. margin).
11. In reading of what the devil does when he is on the earth,
there is no description of him causing people to sin; indeed, vs.
12-16 show that the devil was unsuccessful in his attempts to cause
trouble on earth once he arrived there. This contradicts the popular
12. One of the key questions in understanding whether this passage
supports the idea of a literal war in heaven, is whether the “heaven”
spoken of here is literal or figurative. We explained earlier that
“heaven” can figuratively refer to a place of authority (see “Suggested
Explanation” No. 7 of Eph. 6:11-13). Revelation being such a
symbolic book, we would expect this to be the case here.
13. In their eagerness to show that Rev. 12:7-9 refers to fallen
angels at the beginning of the world, apologists for a personal
satan have rather overlooked the context of the passage. A woman
in Heaven, in the agony of childbirth and resting her feet on the
moon, is faced by a dragon, whose tail throws down a third of the
stars of Heaven to earth (Rev. 12:4). She gives birth, and the child
"was caught up unto God, and to his throne" (Rev. 12:5).
Clearly enough the "heaven" where all this occurs isn't
the "heaven" where God lives and where His throne is.
Next we read of a power struggle "in heaven", and the
dragon and his angels are "cast out" (Rev. 12:9). The
dragon throws one third of the stars of Heaven to earth- are these
Angels? If so, how come the dragon and not God casts them to earth?
That's quite the opposite of the scenario painted in Paradise
Lost. How can a literalistic reading of this passage cope with
the two episodes of Angels being cast down to earth? At
the very least, care in thought and exposition is clearly lacking
in the orthodox reading of this passage. The woman, who is never
recorded as leaving "Heaven", then flees "into the
wilderness" (Rev. 12:6). Once the dragon is cast to the earth,
then he starts persecuting the woman by hissing huge volumes of
water at her (Rev. 12:13). The earth opens and swallows this water
(Rev. 12:16)- even though the woman is never recorded as losing
her "in heaven" status. All this is reason enough to not
interpret "heaven" and "earth" in this passage
in any literal manner. The appearance of the woman and dragon "in
heaven" is described as a semeion, a "sign",
something that needs to be interpreted, rather than a literal fact
14. When we read that the devil-dragon "deceives" people,
this is defined more specifically in Rev. 19:20 as referring to
deceiving people in the very last days by false miracles worked
in conjunction with the "false prophet". Thus the deceit
is not to be understood as a general inciting of humanity to sin
in their hearts- the deceit is specified as occurring only in the
last days, immediately prior to the Kingdom of God being established.
15. The Greek word ballo translated "cast out"
doesn't necessarily mean to throw down- Greek has words
for this specific idea and it's significant that they're not used
here. Here are a few examples of the usage of ballo, showing
that it really means to expel or re-place:
- A wind "arose" (Acts 27:14); a crowd "threw"
dust up into the air (Acts 22:23); a sword is "put
up" into a sheath (Jn. 18:11) imply the word can mean
to throw up as well as to throw down.
- Men "cast" stones (Jn. 8:7,59), "strike"
another man on the face (Mk. 14:65), "put" fingers in
the ear (Mk. 7:33), people "lay" upon a bed (Mt. 8:6,14;
9:2; Mk. 7:30)- horizontal movement.
- We "put" bits into the mouths of horses (James 3:3)-
no vertical movement there. Thomas "thrust" his hand into
the Lord's side (Jn. 20:27).
- Believers were "cast" into prison (Acts 16:24,37; Rev.
2:10)- the idea of vertical movement isn't there. Likewise love
"casts out" fear (1 Jn. 4:18).
- The dragon casts water out of his mouth (Rev. 12:15,16), horizontally
along the ground. Here the word clearly doesn't mean to throw down
from a height- and the same word is used in that context for the
devil being "cast out", i.e. ejected, from Heaven.
- Men "cast" dust on their own heads (Rev. 18:19).
16. The language of 'war' is surely metaphor rather than literal
description. What begins as a literal battle ends as a legal one,
as the metaphor changes to the law court, with accusers, judge and
Satan's case rejected. If the legal language isn't to be taken literally,
why should the 'war' language be so literal?
The Chronological Problem
The woman of v. 1 is “clothed with the sun, and the moon under
her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”. These heavenly
bodies, as well as the woman, apparently suspended in heaven, cannot
be literal. She could not literally be clothed with the sun, or
have stars as big as the earth on her literal head.
Another sign appears in heaven in v. 3 - a red dragon. This is
commonly taken as a literal heaven, but why should it be, seeing
that the same heaven is referred to in v. 1 and that is clearly
figurative? Verse 4 shows the dragon casting a third of the stars
of heaven to earth. We have seen that because of the size of the
stars and earth, this cannot therefore refer to literal stars or
heaven. The Kingdom of God is to be established on earth (Dan. 2:
44; Matt. 5:5), which will not be possible if the earth is destroyed
(which it would be) by huge stars falling onto it.
The woman in “heaven” then delivered her child, who was “caught
up unto God and to his throne” (v. 5). God’s throne is in heaven.
If the woman was already in heaven, why would her child have to
be “caught up” to heaven? She must have been a symbol of something
on earth, although in a figurative “heaven”. She then flees “into
the wilderness” (v. 6). If she was in literal heaven, this means
there is a wilderness in heaven. It is far more fitting for her
to be in a figurative heavenly place, and then flee to a literal
or figurative wilderness on the earth.
We then come to v. 7 - “there was war in heaven”. All other references
to “heaven” in Revelation 12 having been figurative, it seems only
consistent that this was war in a figurative heaven. This must be
the case, as there can be no rebellion or sin in literal heaven
(Matt. 6:10; Ps. 5: 4-5; Hab. 1:13). The common view claims that
wicked angels are locked up in hell; but here they are in heaven.
They are not therefore literal angels.
I sometimes ask those who believe in the orthodox idea of the devil
the following question: ‘Can you give me a brief Biblical
history of the devil, according to your interpretation of Bible
passages? The response is highly contradictory. According to ‘orthodox’
reasoning, the answer has to be something like this.
a) The devil was an angel in heaven who was thrown out into the
garden of Eden. He was thrown to earth in Gen. 1.
b) He is supposed to have come to earth and married in Gen 6.
c) At the time of Job he is said to have had access to both heaven
d) By the time of Is. 14 he is thrown out of heaven onto earth.
e) In Zech. 3 he is in heaven again.
f) He is on earth in Mt. 4.
g) He is “cast out” at the time of Jesus’ death,
according to the popular view of “the prince of this world”
being “cast out” at that time.
h) There is a prophecy of the devil being ‘cast out’
in Rev. 12.
i) The devil is “chained” in Rev. 20, but he and his
angels were chained in Genesis, according to the common view of
Jude v 6. If he was bound with ‘eternal chains’ then,
how is he chained up again in Rev. 20?
From this it should be obvious that the popular view that the devil
was cast out of heaven for sinning cannot be true, seeing that he
is described as still being in heaven after each occurrence of being
‘cast out’. It is vital to understand both heaven and
the devil in a figurative sense.
"That old serpent"
"That old serpent" (Rev. 12:9) is often misread to mean
that the original serpent in the Garden of Eden is now a dragon
in the sky. But care in thought and Biblical exposition is lacking
in such a view. The orthodox understanding is that Satan sinned
in Heaven, and was thrown down to earth, where he tempted Eve in
the form of a serpent. But Rev. 12:9 is a prophecy of the future,
just prior to the return of Christ to earth, saying that then
there will be a conflict "in heaven"- which we understand
to be figurative language. The orthodox interpretation does violence
to the obvious chronology, and is evidently an opportunistic grabbing
hold of Biblical phrases with no attention at all to their context,
and stringing them together to justify popular Christianity's adoption
of Jewish and pagan myths about the Devil. In passing, note how
Gen. 3:15 prophesies that God will put hostility between
the serpent and the woman. This is not what we would expect to hear
if this were indeed speaking of a pre-existent Christ and Satan.
According to the orthodox understanding, the enmity between them
occurred in Heaven before Satan supposedly came down to
earth. Notice, too, that according to the Biblical record in Gen.
3:15 it is God who created this hostility, whereas the common view
implies it was Satan's hatred of God which was the original enmity.
We read that the dragon / serpent's "place" was not "found"
in Heaven as a result of the final struggle (Rev. 12:8). The same
term is to be found in Rev. 20:11, where we read that the 'Heaven
and earth' had no place found for them in Heaven as a result of
Christ's final sitting in judgment. Clearly, 'Heaven and earth'
are figurative- used here, as so often in the Bible, to refer to
a system of things. Notice how the Devil / dragon / serpent are
thus paralleled with the 'Heaven and earth'. This worldly system
of things in the last days, the dragon / serpent power, will be
no more after the final judgment seat of Christ. We see all this
prefigured in how the rejected Esau came before his father Isaac,
typical of the rejection of the wicked at the final judgment, and
"found no place", despite his tears and gnashing of teeth
(Heb. 12:17). The rejected people at the final judgment
will "not be able" to enter God's Kingdom then (Lk. 13:24)-
and the same Greek word is used in Rev. 12:8 to describe how the
serpent / Devil system of people will not "prevail". Clearly
the reference of Rev. 12 is to the very last day, when Christ returns
to earth in judgment. The serpent 'not prevailing' and 'finding
no place' with God in 'Heaven' refers [in the light of the same
terms used in other Bible passages] to what happens at the final
judgment, at Christ's second coming, and it is therefore not
descriptive of some past events in Eden. It's also noteworthy that
the serpent / Devil is 'cast down' from Heaven to make "woe"
for "the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea" (Rev.
12:12). This hardly sounds like the orthodox Satan of Paradise
Lost being thrown down to earth to make trouble for just Adam
and Eve. The people who inhabit "the sea" rather than
the earth surely indicates that we are to understand all this literally.
And it is "the serpent" who is thrown down from Heaven
to the earth / sea. Orthodox thinking holds that Satan was cast
down and became a serpent here on earth rather than being a serpent
"in Heaven" as Rev. 12 requires. In any case, the woman
in Rev. 12 is persecuted by the serpent rather than being charmed
and tempted by him; and she escapes from him by fleeing into "the
wilderness", which makes the serpent mad with her (Rev. 12:13-17).
None of this Biblical testimony fits the orthodox interpretation
of the passage- it directly contradicts it.
The "old serpent" may be a reference to the characteristics
of the serpent whom we meet in Genesis. The serpent-Eve incident
played itself out in history, and still does, in that the children
of the woman [God's people] are tempted and now threatened by the
powers of sin and sinful organizations. Thus Paul could say that
in the same way as the serpent tempted Eve, so Jewish false teachers
in the early church were tempting the true bride of Christ (2 Cor.
11:3). So it was again in the persecution of true Christians by
the Roman empire, which Rev. 12 initially refers to; so it was throughout
history; and so it will be in the time of the final tribulation
before the second coming of Christ. My specific suggestions as to
the fulfillment of Rev. 12 in the latter day tribulation can be
found in The
The Greek archaios, translated "old" in Rev.
12:9 and Rev. 20:2, can easily be misread as meaning simply 'the
archaic / very old' serpent. But archaois is a form of
the Greek root arche- the dragon power of Rev. 12 is the
arch-serpent, the archetypical serpent. It doesn't necessarily mean
that the serpent is very old. For the serpent who tempted Eve suffered
from the curse which came upon all other "beasts of the field"
(Gen. 3:1), and died. We see serpents today eating dust and crawling
on their bellies, living and dying like any other creature. The
arche serpent doesn't therefore mean 'the very very old
serpent, the animal who tempted Eve, is still actually alive'. We
meet the word arche elsewhere in the context of meaning
'archetype' rather than 'having been in existence from the beginning
of Biblical history': "The principles (Gk. arche)
of Christ" (Heb. 6:1); "the first (Gk. arche)
principles of the oracles of God" (Heb. 5:12); and quite commonly
arche is simply translated as "magistrates",
"rulers", "principalities"- the ordering, arch-principles
and foundations of society (Lk. 12:11; 20:20; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor.
15:24; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10,15; Tit. 3:1). In
line with this understanding, I think we could fairly paraphrase
Rev. 12:9 as: "The great dragon, the classic, typical serpent,
the thinking and behaviour of Eden's snake played out all over again
in classic role, the Gentile / Roman Devil and the Jewish Satan,
an evil system adversarial to God's true people".
Austin Farrar coined the term "a rebirth of images" (1)
to describe what's going on in Revelation. Old Testament images
are taken up and given a new focus; and this is what's happened
with the images of the serpent. It's not a reference to the
same serpent as was in Eden- but a rebirth of that image. G.B.
Caird has commented on the very common error of interpretation made
with Rev. 12: "Later Christian tradition, by the fallacy of
misplaced concreteness, treated this as a precosmic event... quite
failing to recognize that John's imagery had an earthly referent"
(2). What Caird is saying, in dense theological language, is that
Christian folk have over literally interpreted the reference to
the serpent, assuming that Rev. 12 is talking about something happening
before creation, when in fact it is referring to things happening
on earth in John's own generation.
The Deception Of The Devil (Rev. 12:9)
The dragon power is associated with "the false prophet"
and the doing of fake miracles (Rev. 13:14; 19:20)- this is the
basis upon which the dragon / Satan / adversary of God's people
"deceives" the world (Rev. 12:9). There are multiple connections
between the Lord's Olivet prophecy and the prophecy of the book
of Revelation. Almost every commentary on Revelation brings these
out, and I have listed many of them in The
Chapter 12. The Lord Jesus repeatedly warned His followers not
to be "deceived"- using the same Greek word as in Rev.
12:9 about the dragon / Devil 'deceiving' unbelievers. But He warns
time and again that the source of this deception will be from "men...
false prophets... false Christs... false prophets" doing false
miracles (Mt. 24:4,5,11,24). Jesus says nothing about some fallen-Angel
'Satan' being behind these men. He simply warns His followers to
beware of human deceivers- and Rev. 12 fills out the picture
by specifically painting these men as part of a massive
human system called Satan, the adversary, who would have
all the characteristics of the serpent in Eden, just as the adversaries
of God's people always have had. This system of opposition, in the
first century context, was both Jewish and Roman- hence the dragon
is called both "the devil and satan" in Rev. 12:9- diabolos
being the Greek term for the Hebrew satan. They are practically
interchangeable- but both terms occur here, I suggest, in order
to show that the opposition to Christianity was coming from both
Jewish and Gentile sources. Time and again the New Testament writers
warn the Christians of both Jews and Gentiles, men [not
demons, spirits, fallen Angels, Satan etc.- but men] who
"seek to deceive you" (1 Jn. 2:26; 3:7; James 1:16). "Be
not deceived" is a watchword of Paul (1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal.
6:7). It is the world which is deceived by wicked men (1
Tim. 3:13; Tit. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:25)- just as Rev. 12:9 says that the
dragon / Satan system will deceived "the whole world".
That system was thus composed of wicked men. In all these
passages, the very same Greek word occurs which is translated "deceive"
in Rev. 12:9. Again we have to ask- why did Jesus, Paul, Peter,
James and John not spell out to their converts that it was really
Satan who was tempting them and likely to deceive them?
Why do they repeatedly stress that it is men and the human
heart (Heb. 3:10; 1 Jn. 1:8) who are the deceivers? Why do we have
to wait until the very last book of the Bible to be told that actually,
it's Satan who's doing this? How can belief in a personal Satan
be so crucial to many churches, when the earliest Christian converts
[made before Revelation was given] had been taught nothing about
any Angel falling from Heaven and being responsible for temptation?
Was there one Gospel for them, but another for the 21st century
The Serpent In God's Presence (Rev. 12:10)
The 'accusation' of God's people "before God" by the
serpent / Devil doesn't mean he has to be literally in Heaven (Rev.
12:10). The same term is found in Jn. 5:45 where the Lord Jesus
states that the long-dead Moses 'accuses' the Jews to God. Our own
thoughts accuse us to God (Rom. 2:15). What all this surely means
is that things done on earth, good and bad, even thoughts and feelings,
are somehow represented before the throne of God, perhaps by representative
Angels there, and God [to continue the figure] 'judges' those reported
accusations. But this doesn't require our literal presence in Heaven
to do this. The first century mind, especially those from a Jewish
background, would likely have picked all this up with no problem;
it is the European insistence on literalism in semantics which has
lead to so many of the problems in interpretation which these verses
have given rise to. We have to somehow shed our slowness and hesitancy
to accept that figures [e.g. of a judgment court replete with literal
books, throne, accusers, witnesses] are just that- figures.
1. To try and expound this chapter fully is out of the scope of
our present notes. A full explanation of these verses requires an
understanding of the entire book of Revelation in order to get them
2. The conflict in figurative heaven - i.e. a place of authority
- was therefore between two power groups, each with their followers,
or angels. Remember that we have often identified the devil and
satan with the Roman or Jewish systems.
3. That the devil-dragon represents some kind of political power
is indicated by it having “crowns upon his heads” (v. 3). Revelation
17:9 -10 also comments on this dragon: “Here is the mind that hath
wisdom” - i.e. don’t try and understand this animal as a literal
being - “The seven heads are seven mountains...these are seven kings”.
One of the kings continuing “a short space” perhaps connects with
the devil-dragon having “but a short time” in Revelation 12:12.
Revelation 12: Deconstructing Pagan Myths
Various scholars have shown that this passage is full of allusion
to contemporary pagan myths (3). This is in keeping with what we
have seen elsewhere in the Scriptures- pagan myths are alluded to
in order to deconstruct them. Surely the point of all the allusions
here in Revelation 12 is to say: 'Take your attention away from
all these myths of what supposedly is going on out in the cosmos.
Get real. Here on earth, you are going to be persecuted by Rome
[or some other adversary]. Prepare for it in your hearts. The real
enemy isn't a dragon in the sky. It's Rome'. Other scholars have
demonstrated that Revelation 12 and 13 contain many allusions to
contemporary Jewish writings- e.g. Rev. 12:9; 13:14 speak of the
beast / Satan "leading astray those that dwell on the earth",
quoting from the Apocalypse Of Abraham and Enoch
54.6 about the armies of Azazel / Satan who "lead astray those
that dwell on the earth". The point is that pagan Rome and
the Jewish 'satan' were those who were leading astray, and who would
be punished in the cataclysm of AD70; and in a last days context,
it is the latter day Satan / beast who will lead astray many and
be destroyed by the second coming of Christ.
For 15 years Dr. David Pitt-Francis applied an exceptional mind
to trying to get to grips with the book of Revelation (4). His conclusion,
written up in chapter 9 of his book, was that not only does Revelation
12 not teach the existence of a personal Satan, but it actually
is a parody of the whole belief in a sinful Satan figure existing
in Heaven. He follows the approach that Revelation 12 alludes heavily
to pagan myths of a Satan figure existing in Heaven, and that the
whole idea of the chapter is to show that given the victory of the
Lord Jesus over all evil, those pagan ideas are just no longer tenable
in any form. The idea of a Satan figure in Heaven has been 'cast
down' for the serious believer in Christ: "Satan was imagined
to have dominated at least a third of heaven in pre-Christian times.
Babylonian, Zend and Teutonic thought assumed ‘Satan’ or his equivalent
to be in possession of about a third of heaven. Jewish apostate
thought (as in Enoch) also imagined a third of heaven to be in the
possession of rebellious angels. The vision of a dragon occupying
a third of heaven, and specifically defined as the ‘devil and Satan’
is provided at this stage, not to indicate some literal fact, but
to summarise the preconceptions about the devil which had existed
in pagan thought before the coming of Christ, and that had even
crept into Judaism... It was primarily the task of Christianity
to show the world that evil could have no place in heaven, that
it did not occupy a place in heaven except in the imagination of
mankind, and that it could be vanquished by the grace of Christ,
and the Word of His testimony... the casting forth of Satan from
heaven is a powerful symbol of what would happen to the human concept
of evil as a result of the teaching of Christ. The woman and the
dragon cannot coexist in heaven... Could there have been such a
literal ‘devil’ or even a ‘literal’ dragon, who perverted a third
of the angels in heaven and cast them to the ground, as Jewish apocalyptic
writers had actually believed? If we adopt this literalistic stance,
we not only fall into the error of those books against which the
Revelation was written but miss the main message of the chapter,
that since the advent of Christianity to disprove the concept of
imagined evil in heaven, no ‘devil’ has ever had any place there".
He goes on to suggest that 'Satan' in post-Christian religions [e.g.
Islam] has always been envisaged as a being living under the earth,
in a supposed "hell", rather than in Heaven. Whether or
not we feel happy with this kind of 'spiritualized' interpretation
of Revelation, the allusions of Revelation 12 to material in the
book of Enoch about Heavenly rebellions, Enoch being caught up to
God etc., cannot be gainsaid. And I suggest that such allusions
are indeed, as David Pitt-Francis suggests, in order to deconstruct
these wrong ideas.
Revelation 12: Judgment On Rome
It may be helpful to take this line of thought further. Revelation
is a description of events on earth from the perspective of what
happens in Heaven- encouraging the early Christians that God and
His Son and His Angels are in fact intensely aware of the crises
going on, and actually the whole scenario is playing itself out
in the court of Heaven. All powers and individuals and organizations
on earth have in Heaven their Angelic representatives, and the situations
are tried by God before His throne- with the result that it is those
on the side of Christ who are vindicated. The language with which
John's Apocalypse achieves this is shot through with allusion to
earthly realities, often deconstructing the claims of pagans. Rome was the great reality of the first century world; it was appropriate for the Jewish mind of the time to understand the "serpent" / adversary figure as referring to Rome. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "the Serpent is spoken of as Harasha', "the Wicked One," in Gen. R. xx., Bek. 8a (compare Targ. Yer. Gen. iii. 13); and Rome as the wicked kingdom, Malkut ha-resha'ah (Gen. R. lxxvi.)" (5).
Roman coins depicted the goddess Roma, THEAN ROMEN, as queen of
the gods and mother of the world's saviour. John speaks of she who
claims to be the queen of the earth (Rev. 18:7)- and portrays her
instead as nothing but a prostitute, who is soon to be destroyed.
The fact Revelation alludes to the goddess Roma in this way doesn't
mean that 'she' actually existed in Heaven in reality. And the way
John in Rev. 12 likewise alludes to myths about dragons and beasts
doesn't mean they exist either. The material in Rev. 12 has some
twists in it which debunk the legends- thus it is not emperor of
Rome who slays the dragon, it is the victory of Christ on the cross,
through His blood, which is the real means of victory against all
opposition on earth. The telling paradox is that the escape for
the persecuted child is through death, through blood, rather
than through some dashing heroic victory in battle. When Jeremiah
compared Babylon to a dragon gulping down Jerusalem whole, we don't
for a moment think that Babylon was a literal dragon (Jer. 51:34);
likewise when Ezekiel calls Pharaoh a dragon lying in a stream (Ez.
29:3). The message was that the real dragon / chaos monster was
earthly powers- and God would break them. And so it is with Revelation's
message, although more attention is given to the idea of those earthly
powers having Angelic representatives in the court of Heaven.
The language of judgment is really common throughout the Bible.
In fact we could say that legal language is disproportionately common
in the Bible. The idea of a Divine, heavenly court is common. God
is the judge who upholds the weak, those who are condemned by human
judgment (1 Sam. 24:15; Ps. 9:4; 43:1; 140:12; Lam. 3:58; Mic. 7:9);
He is even portrayed as the one appealing for justice (Ps. 74:22).
If God is the only and ultimate judge, then His judgment
is all that ultimately matters, and in this sense human 'sentences'
or judgment from the court of human opinion are reversed by Him
(Prov. 22:22,23). Yet the pain of being judged by those around us
is highly significant to us mortals; and time and again, Scripture
is reminding us that we should not pay deep attention to this, because
God's judgment is what ultimately matters; and the Divine court
is sitting in session right now, at the very same time as those
around us are judging us with their meaningless human judgments.
This, then, is the ultimate answer to the pain of being slandered
and defamed, being misunderstood and misrepresented, or feeling
that persecution by worldly powers is not noticed by God.
The traditional reading of Revelation 12 makes out that there was
a rebellion in Heaven, the Devil came down to earth, and then trouble
started down here. But the whole idea of Revelation's visions of
'heaven' is that we are being given snapshots of the 'throne room'
of Heaven, the Divine court... which is a reflection of what is
actually going on here on earth, and what will subsequently follow
from this in the future. I wish to stress this point, because I
think it's fundamental to understanding Revelation. Those visions
aren't historical descriptions of what happened before creation,
before human history. They are insights into how God right then
in the first century viewed what was going on there in the Middle
East on planet earth, showing us how He judged the situations and
Governments and individuals involved, and what would follow from
this. Thus when we read that no place was found for the opposing
forces in Heaven (Rev. 12:8), we are to imagine the representative
of those forces, the barrister as it were, being thrown out of court.
They would simply disappear from the Heavenly court room, thrown
out of court as it were, perhaps reflected by the Angel representing
them leaving the court. What makes interpreting Revelation so confusing
is that there are so many layers of allusion going on in the text
at one and the same time. Thus Rev. 12 alludes to the surrounding
myths, and yet also on multiple further layers to Old Testament
themes. The vision of Rev. 12 clearly has in mind Pharaoh pursuing
the escaping Israelites as a dragon pursues (Ex. 14:8), Israel like
the early church carried on eagles' wings to some safety (Ex. 19:4),
Pharaoh trying to destroy Israel by drowning them in the water of
the Nile, God providing for His people in the desert. Again, these
allusions are to a real historical situation that happened here
on earth- and not to some Biblically unrecorded drama somewhere
out in the cosmos.
Deconstructing Jewish Myths
Revelation not only deconstructs pagan myths, but Jewish ones too. The obvious question is: 'Why does Revelation 12 appear to use language so similar to the idea of cosmic conflict, dualism and sinful Angels if in fact these things do not exist?'. My answer is that the passage is clearly alluding to the Jewish myths expressed in 1 Enoch 10, where we have the Angel Raphael binding the Angel Azazel, the Angel Gabriel destroying the children of the Watchers, and the Angel Michael binding the Angel Semjaza and his followers. I have noted elsewhere, especially in The Real Christ, that because early Christianity was Jewish-based, the roots of many false doctrines were actually in Jewish myths which entered into the early church. The way the New Testament writers often deal with this problem is to allude to the ideas and deconstruct them. Because they do not use the system of quotation marks and footnoted references which we do, we from our distance can easily miss the fact that allusion or even quotation is going on. We can easily make the mistake of thinking that the uninspired literature being alluded to is in fact being quoted as true- when in fact the context requires us to understand that actually, that literature is being quoted and deconstructed. In Revelation 12, the simple message is that the conflict between Christians and their oppressors is not unnoticed by God in the very throne room of Heaven itself; all that happens here on earth is played out before Him by the Angels who are representative of the entities on earth who are persecuting God's people. And thus there is a refocusing of attention away from the Jewish myths of Angelic conflict in Heaven- back onto the earthly realities which were so painfully relevant to the first readers and listeners.
(1) Austin Farrar, A Rebirth Of Images (Boston: Beacon
(2) G.B. Caird, The Language And Imagery Of The Bible
(London: Duckworth, 1988) p. 55.
(3) Neil Forsyth, Satan And The Combat Myth (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1989) chapter 13. For example, the Greeks
believed that the dragon Python attempts to kill the new born son
of Zeus but is stopped the escape of the child's mother, Leto, to
the island of Delos; Apollo then comes and slays the dragon. For
the Egyptians, Set the red dragon hunts Isis but is then killed
by her son Horus. In other myths, the dragon of darkness tries to
kill the sun god but is killed by him. There are other examples
of the sun god myth being alluded to in Revelation. Take the description
of Jesus as having eyes as a flaming fire and feet of pure bronze
(Rev. 2:18). This is said to the Thyatira ecclesia- and the god
of Thyatira was Apollo, the sun god, know locally as Tyrimnos, who
appeared in this very form on the city's coins. The point of the
allusion was that actually, there is no sun god- for the Christians
in Thyatira, that means Jesus.
(4) David Pitt-Francis, The Most Amazing Message Ever Written
(Irchester, UK: Mark Saunders Books, 1983).
(5) Jewish Encyclopedia, article on Ahriman [available online at www.jewishencyclopedia.com].