“Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them. But oh! The horror for the earth and sea! The devil has come down to you with great rage, for he knows that he only has a short time.” — Revelation 12:12, CEB
Well there is a motivating, hope inducing quote from the Scriptures! In all seriousness, the Revelation to John, the closing text of the Bible, is not usually regarded as a “go-to” Scriptural source of encouragement. Yes, you will get the odd quote from chapter 21 regarding the New Heaven and New Earth in reference to someone’s passing or hope for the future, but this is like skipping to the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to avoid all the messy stuff in the middle. You miss some excellent material like chapter 12, verses 1-12, which we will be looking at today!
Typically, we hear that Revelation is a scary book about the end of the world. This is partially true. After all, it is about heaven and earth being renewed under the reign of God. All evil is destroyed, and creation is brought back into the blessed state of Eden. However, like most biblical prophecies, Revelation is primarily concerned about a real-time acceptance of certain truths, and it is a call for change and endurance on the part of all Christians in all times and places, including ours!
Bearing that information in mind, let’s look at the passage for today, Revelation 12:1-12. This is a particularly fun section because it is loaded with the symbolism that defines Revelation and other biblical prophecies. It is also one of the more misunderstood sections of Revelation, mistakenly quoted as the origin story of Satan. Most importantly, though, the struggle represented in this particular section is one prime example of Revelation’s intent: to provide hope and call for faithful endurance on the part of Christian believers.
Looking at the first section of this passage, verses 1-6, we have some interesting symbolism that on the surface, sounds a little crazy. We have woman “clothed with the sun” with a twelve star crown on her head, giving birth to a male child “who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (v. 1 and 5). This child is snatched up to God’s throne due to a “great fiery red dragon” who wanted to eat this child (v. 3-4). Interesting and slightly terrifying, yes?
Let’s start with the middle, because that is how I do things and I am the one writing. Who is this male child? Can you think of a male child who was born, essential to the Christian faith, and destined to rule the nations? Jesus! Exactly. The Messiah, the Christ, the One who is sent for the salvation of the world, that’s who we are most likely talking about here. His being “snatched up to God” in verse 5 is an interesting description of Jesus ascending, which effectively removed him from dealing with the dragon, who we learn to be Satan in verse 9. We will come back to this.
The woman giving birth, then, could be assumed to be Mary. This is a fairly common interpretation. However, the woman, whose description is very similar to other goddesses of the time, could also be a symbolic representation of Israel, the nation that gave birth to the Messiah, as well as the twelve tribes and disciples (“crown of twelve stars on her head,” verse 1). For those of you who don’t know, the nation of Israel is originally composed of twelve tribes, representing the twelve children of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, renamed “Israel” after a wrestling match with a divine being. So there you go. Moving on!
So in the first section, we have the Messiah being born and exalted, removed from the power of the dragon, the devil. This brings us to the second half, which is often interpreted as an origin story for the devil, in which the devil is an angel, thrown to earth for making war in the heaven, at which point he ceases to be an angel and becomes Satan, whilst his angels become demons. Sound familiar?
“But wait,” you ask, “The devil was already in the first section! This is all after Jesus is born and exalted, and Satan is older than that!”
Also, if you’re a persecuted Christian in the 1st Century, do you think you would care about where the devil came from as opposed to why you are suffering and what to do about it? Probably not. What exactly are we dealing with, then?
Satan is making war in heaven, and Michael, a warrior angel, throws him and his angels from heaven (see verses 7-9). So what does this have to do with persecution and hope and all that mess we talked about earlier? Let’s look at verses 10-12.
Satan no longer has any footing in the realm of God. You see Satan was a divine being. We see this in Job and in the Gospels when he tempts Jesus. His job is to test the faithfulness of people, indicated by his name, meaning “Adversary.” However, he is pretty wicked about the way he tests people, and one of the ways this testing is perceived is through the persecution of the church on the part of certain Jewish communities and Roman authorities.
At this time, however, Satan is cast to earth, and the Messiah is exalted in heaven (“The salvation and power and kingdom of God, and the authority of his Christ have come,” verse 10). As we see in verse 11, “The accuser has been thrown down.”
The good news of this text is that Satan has already lost. God is victorious, and Christ is the one who is really in charge, not the devil, not Caesar, and not the powers of evil and suffering that continue to wound us today.
“But wait,” you interrupt again, “if that is true, how come they still suffered? Why does the world still look like it does today?”
Look at our verse for the day, which kicked off this post.
“The devil has come down to you with great rage, for he knows that he only has a short time” (12:12).
While Satan is not a power in heaven, and while the ultimate victory belongs to God, evil is evil precisely because it does not acknowledge the rule of God. We are still a free creation, able to choose the paths we take, and as long as that is the case, evil will always be a possibility, and it is one that we choose all too often.
What’s great, though, is that through this text we can see the truth. Evil and suffering don’t have the final word with God, and they shouldn’t with us. It is easy to be swept up in the negativity and pain of the world. It is often easier to participate in it, whether directly or indirectly (ignoring it).
The hard thing to do is to live faithfully by making Jesus the authority in our lives. The hard thing to do is to let love and compassion guide us as opposed to our own self-interests. The hard thing to do is to live with awareness and concern for others. These difficult tasks, however, are exactly what we are called to do in order to usher in the reign of God in the world. It has to be done with our free will. We have to choose to believe and live in the Light, otherwise the worst parts of this world will only grow stronger.
This is not a call for you to drop everything and go to an African country to build wells (although, if you want to, go for it). The ministry of Christ is not confined to big, church-organized activities that make us look good. Being a follower of Christ, living in the Light, is about how we go about our daily lives. Work, school, family, friends, sports, any and all of our daily doings are opportunities to start living with more love, more compassion, and more faith. If we all make a commitment to heed this good news from Revelation, if we recognize our role in this world, and if we choose to do something different (repent?), then we can expect to experience a joy that pierces through the darkness and pain in order to transform it all into something beautiful.
Peace be with you!