“War in Heaven”
I must admit that before studying Revelation 12:7–12, I thought these verses were dealing with the fall of Satan, as the result of that battle that took place in heaven after creation but before the fall into sin. I thought these verses were referring to that great battle in which Satan and his minions, in their rebellious pride, made war against Christ and His angels, seeking to take Christ’s throne (Isaiah 14:12–15).
Instead, much to my delight, I found that these verses were dealing with something much greater, something much more glorious. Verses 7–8 tell us that “war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.” This is not a reference to that battle that took place in heaven after creation and before the fall into sin. This is not a reference to that battle in which Satan and his minions arose in rebellious pride against Christ and His angels, seeking to take Christ’s throne. Rather, this is a reference to that battle that took place in heaven at the time of Christ’s ascension, when He cast Satan out of heaven forever. Christ won the victory on earth through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. He then ascended into heaven as the King of Glory. The gates of righteousness were thrown open unto Him—they could not do otherwise. The gates lifted up their heads—they could not remain closed. Christ, the King of Glory, had completed His work, and by that finished work had earned heaven for Himself and for all His elect, and that, in such a way that every accusation against us has been answered once and for all. This is what is communicated to us here in Revelation 12:7–12. This is what happens in heaven as a result of Christ’s victory on earth.
“Michael and His angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought.” Who is Michael? He is mentioned in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; in these passages He is clearly referred to as the Protector of His people. He is mentioned again in Jude 9, a rather obscure and enigmatic passage, in which He is called the “archangel,” One who contends with the devil. But who is Michael? I would submit to you that Michael is none other Christ Himself! Calvin also adopts this position in his commentary on Daniel. In reference to Daniel 10:13, Calvin writes these words: “Some think the word Michael represents Christ, and I do not object to this opinion. Clearly enough, if all angels keep watch over the faithful and elect, still Christ holds the first rank among them, because he is their head, and uses their ministry and assistance to defend all his people.”1 On Daniel 10:21, Calvin writes that some think Michael to be the Christ, and he says: “I do not object to this view, for he calls him a prince of the church, and this title seems by no means to belong to any angels, but to be peculiar to Christ.”2 On Daniel 12:1, Calvin writes these words, “Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defense of his elect people.”3
Here in Revelation 12:7–12, then, we find Christ as the supreme defender of His people. That is why we find Him here under the name of Michael, because He is protecting His people. Notice how powerfully He defends His people: He attacks the dragon. It is not the dragon who attacks Michael; it is Michael who attacks the dragon. It is not Satan who attacks Christ; it is Christ who attacks Satan. Christ and His angels take the offensive against Satan and his minions. It is not Satan who takes the battle to Christ, it is Christ who takes the battle to Satan, and that on behalf of His people.
At the time of creation, but prior to the fall, it was Satan who took the battle to Christ, resulting in Satan’s fall. But here it is Christ who takes the battle to Satan, resulting in Satan’s final banishment from heaven. The result is pictured in verse 8: “Michael and His angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.” The dragon and his angels did not prevail; the Greek says literally, they “were not strong enough.” That great, fiery red dragon appears so powerful; he has seven heads. He appears so mighty; he has ten horns. He appears omnipotent; he has seven diadems. He appears to have such great strength; with his tail alone he drew a third of the stars out of heaven and cast them to the earth. Indeed, his craft and power may be great; he may be armed with cruel hate; on earth is not his equal. But One has entered heaven who is more powerful than he! One has entered heaven for whom the dragon is no match. In heaven there is One who is mighty, powerful, and omnipotent. His name is Jesus Christ, and in comparison with Him, Satan has no strength at all. And so, the dragon and his minions did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.
Verse 9 is more emphatic still: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Notice here in verse 9 that John has done something quite out of the ordinary in the book of Revelation. He has interpreted the sign for us. He tells us exactly who the great, fiery dragon is. He is “that serpent of old.” He is “the Devil.” He is “Satan.” John interprets the sign for us here because he wants to be very clear in his message that Satan has been cast out of heaven. He wants to be very clear that Satan has been defeated. John wants to be very clear that we now do battle with a vanquished foe. John knows that Satan’s deception is great; indeed, “he deceives the whole world”; and so to combat that deception, John interprets the sign of the great, fiery red dragon for us here. There can be no doubt about it: the dragon is Satan.
Even as John wants us to know that the dragon is Satan, so he wants us to know what Christ has done to Satan. Three times in verse 9 John refers to the casting out of Satan and his minions. “So the great dragon was cast out . . .” “he was cast to the earth . . .” “and his angels were cast out with him . . .” Satan and his minions have been cast out of heaven forever. In the Old Testament Satan was allowed some degree of access into heaven, and there he made his accusations against God and against God’s people. He appeared before God and challenged Him with regard to Job (Job 1–2); he disputed with Christ over the body of Moses (Jude 9); he accused Joshua the post-exilic High Priest of filthiness and sin (Zechariah 3). But now Satan and his minions have been cast out of heaven forever. Satan can never appear in heaven again. He has been cast out forever!
And you see the results of that. Verse 10: “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.’” As a result of Christ’s triumph at the cross, salvation has come. The kingdom of God has come. The power of Christ has come. Don’t miss the statement: “The accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” The Greek reads literally: “Now have come salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ, for cast out is the accuser of our brethren who accused them before our God day and night.”
Do you see the glory of this? Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, Satan can bring no more accusations against the saints of God. In the times of the Old Testament, he did, and to a certain extent he had a case. After all, the saints of the Old Testament were saved on the basis of the promise that Christ would come and shed His blood and fulfill all righteousness. But until Christ came, that promise was just that—a promise. And thus Satan made his claim: no blood had been shed to cover the sins of the Old Testament saints; no righteousness had been rendered to clothe the Old Testament saints. Thus, Satan made his accusations. But now Christ has come and has fulfilled all righteousness and has shed His blood; His people are now truly washed by His blood and clothed in His robes of righteousness; this is no longer a matter of promise; it is a matter of fulfillment. The promise has been fulfilled. Satan therefore has no case. Every accusation against God’s elect has been answered once for all! There is no place for him in heaven any longer!
Satan has been cast out of heaven forever. He can never appear in heaven again to accuse the saints of God. What profound comfort is here: the great enemy of your soul can never appear in heaven again to accuse you. Christ has answered every accusation that could ever be made against you. In heaven no accusation can be brought against you. Christ will not allow it! He has shed His blood for you. He has clothed you in His righteousness. Paul puts is so powerfully in Romans 8:33–34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Christ has silenced every charge that could ever be brought against us. Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?! No one, not even Satan himself!
Verse 11 goes on to say, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Here we are directed to our life-blood, even the blood of the Lamb. We live by means of His death. We are washed by means of His blood. We are clothed by means of His nakedness. We overcome the attacks of the evil one by the blood of the Lamb. Question and Answer 60 of our Catechism puts it so well: “Q. How are you right with God? A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.”
Here we come back to the centrality of justification. Luther and Calvin were exactly right when they said that justification is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls; it is the hinge upon which the church turns. If the church does not understand the doctrine of justification she will necessarily fall, for she will have no message left to bring, no good news to proclaim, no gospel to preach. The church has only one message to bring, and that is the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is what His gospel proclaims: because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, God will never hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of our sins, nor our sinful nature, which we need to struggle against all our life. No accusation can be brought against us. Not our past sins. Not our present sins. Not our future sins. Not our continual struggle with sin. Not our backsliding. Not our waywardness. Not our straying. None of these can or will be held against us. Christ our Savior has made a complete and full satisfaction for all our sin. We are in Him. No one can bring a charge against us. That is the glory of the gospel. Our standing before the throne of God has been settled once and for all, and that by the blood of the Lamb. This is the gospel that nourishes us. This is the gospel that is proclaimed to us in the preaching of the Word. This is the gospel that is proclaimed to us in the sacraments. This is the gospel that truly nourishes our souls unto everlasting life. This is the gospel we need!
It is this gospel proclamation that then leads to the Christian life. Jesus Christ has been so beautifully pictured to us in Revelation 12 as a child. Do you begin to see the irony of it all? In the great fiery red dragon, we have the complete antithesis of the child. Satan sought to exalt himself to the throne, and was instead cast down in utter humiliation, Christ triumphing over him at the cross, making a public spectacle of him at the cross. But Christ, who humbled Himself, was exalted. And so it for us: any who would seek to exalt themselves will be humbled and cast down; any who would humble themselves will be exalted and lifted up. That is the way of the gospel: you exalt yourself, and you will be humbled; you humble yourself and you will be exalted. You must become like a child, depending entirely upon Christ for your salvation.
And so you hear the command in heaven: “Rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!” The Greek says literally, “Rejoice, O heavens, and you who in them tabernacle!” The language is beautiful, for it is referring not only to those who have died and gone to heaven; it is referring to the church presently; it is referring to the status of the Christian presently. Did you know that even now, presently, you are tabernacling in heaven? Did you know that even now, presently, you are secure in heaven? Do you think that after Christ went through the great travail of redemption in order to cast Satan out of heaven, thereby securing your redemption, He would allow Satan to accuse you once again? Certainly not! Dear Christian, rejoice! Your dwelling place is heaven itself! Your standing before the throne of God has been made secure!
And yet notice that that security is pictured to you here in terms of tabernacling. While in principle you have been seated in the heavenly places, you still live here below. And while heaven has been made secure, the earth is not. “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (v. 12b). The church still faces the persecutions of the devil here on earth. No accusation can be laid against us in heaven, but the devil will continue to torment our consciences here on earth. With all the greatness of his wrath, and with all the urgency of knowing that his time is short, he tries to get you to take your eyes off Jesus, for if he succeeds in that, he will torment you and buffet you and make you most miserable.
The remedy is here set before you. Your security is in Christ. The hymn puts it so well: “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control: That Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed His own blood for my soul!” Satan may persecute you; he may torment you; he may buffet you; he may even use his minions to kill you, but here is your victory: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35–37). Tribulation will only drive you to your Savior. Distress will only drive you to your Savior. Persecution will only drive you to your Savior. Nakedness, peril, and sword will only drive you to your Savior. They may kill you, even counting you as sheep for the slaughter; it will only drive you to your Savior. You are more than a conqueror; nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Here is the glorious liberty and freedom you are looking for: you bear your sins no more! “My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought—my sin not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” We go on to sing, “O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight; the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul!”
Let us rejoice and sing, and let us eagerly look for the consummation, when Satan shall finally be cast into the lake of fire, and we shall behold our dear Redeemer face to face.
1. John Calvin. Calvin’s Commentaries. Volume XIII. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993. p. 253.
2. Ibid., p. 266.
3. Ibid., p. 369.