The phrase "war in heaven" may sound like a new Christian thriller or a comic book series you read growing up. In the book of Revelation, the war in heaven is a major event that has huge consequences for God, humanity, and everyone in between.
What Is the War in Heaven?
In Revelation 12:7-10, John tells us about a pre-ordained war in Heaven at the end of the age. In this war, the archangel Michael and his angelic troops contend against Satan and his fallen angels. Lacking the strength and power to defend their territory, Satan and his evil horde are “hurled” to the earth and forever evicted from Heaven.
What Is the Context of Revelation 12?
Although Scripture only provides a three-verse view of the war in Heaven, the surrounding Biblical text points to an overriding theme of war in this chapter. Revelation 12 begins by describing Satan’s original war of rebellion and ends with details about his final Tribulation period rampage.
Because John uses vivid, symbolic language to describe these three wars. Many Christians are hesitant to study Revelation 12, but God’s Scripture-wide plan of redemption is woven into its narrative. Amazingly, much of the symbolism becomes clear when we look at God’s entire Word as a key to translate itself.
Who Are the Dragon, Woman, and Child in Revelation 12?
To fully understand the context of this passage, we first need to identify three symbolic characters. The chapter begins with John describing a “great sign” in heaven. In this sign, our first two characters come to life:
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.” (Revelation 12:1-2)
The child represents Jesus (Romans 9:5).
Some scholars believe the pregnant woman in Revelation 12:1-2 could represent the Church. For example, Matthew Henry describes this passage as showing "The attempts of Satan and his agents to prevent the increase of the church, by devouring her offspring as soon as it was born."
However, when we allow Scripture to translate itself, we see a better candidate. God brought His Son into the world to be our Savior through the seed of Abraham—Israel (Hebrews 7:14, Romans 9:5, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 66:7-8, Isaiah 9:6-7).
Who Is the Dragon in Revelation 12?
The woman’s appearance gives us further evidence that she represents Israel. She’s clothed in light, has been given authority and honor, and the twelve stars that crown her head represent Israel’s twelve tribes (Genesis 37: 9–11, Revelation 7:5-8).
Another sign is revealed to John, immediately following the first. This sign introduces us to the enemy of the woman and her child:
“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” (Revelation 12:3-5)
The symbolic reference to Satan’s original rebellion not only helps us discern Satan’s identity, but it sheds light on the unfolding events in the following verses. John’s first two signs converge when the dragon confronts the woman and threatens to devour her newborn child. But the child is saved from the enemy’s clutches when He is “snatched up” to God’s throne to rule the nations.
“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.’ And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” (Revelation 12:4-5)
Verses four and five further confirm the identity of the “male child,” who ascends to God’s throne and will “rule with an iron scepter” (Psalm 2:9, Acts 1:9-11, Hebrews 12:2). He is none other than Christ Jesus.
To recap: the first five verses of Revelation 12 describe Satan’s original fall and his wicked plan to destroy the coming Messiah. This passage also reveals Christ’s birth through Israel, His escape from Satan’s scheme, and His ascension to Heaven as King. By the time we reach verse seven, the previous verses have set the stage for a war that has been brewing for centuries.
Why Does the War in Heaven Happen?
After Satan’s original fall and his treacherous dealings in the Garden of Eden, God promised that He would put enmity between Satan and man and that man would eventually produce offspring that would “crush” Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15).
Since then, Satan’s fury has focused on one goal: destroy the human race. He specifically targeted the Nation of Israel because he knew that the promised Messiah was destined to end Satan’s evil dominion and save the very people he was trying to destroy.
Satan’s evil plot can be seen throughout Scripture – from Cain’s murder of Abel (Genesis 4:8) to the corruption of Seth’s line (Gen. 6:1–12) to Pharoah’s edict to kill all the male children in Egypt (Ex. 1:15–22) to Haman’s attempt to slaughter the Jews (Esther 3-9) and Herod’s attack against the children of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16).
The war in Heaven begins after Satan realizes that all his efforts to thwart God’s redemptive plan have failed. Christ has crushed the enemy’s head through His death and resurrection, and He is now seated on the throne Satan wanted for Himself (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Having lost the battle against humanity, Satan tries to claim God’s throne by force.
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (Revelation 12:7-9)
What Does Revelation 12 Tell Us about Satan?
These verses also provide the full scope of Satan’s identity. The Great Dragon is called by three specific identifiers that have unique meanings:
“that ancient serpent” This term echoes back to Satan’s sin in the Garden (Genesis 3:14-15).
“The devil,” diabolos in Greek – means slanderer or accuser.
"The Hebrew word satan means "an adversary, one who resists." It is translated as "Satan" eighteen times in the Old Testament, fourteen of those occurrences being in Job 1-2, the others in 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2. There is some dispute as to whether it should be taken as a proper name or a title. In Job and Zechariah the definite article precedes the noun (lit., "the satan" or "the accuser")... The word is used also of various persons in the Old Testament as "adversaries," including David (1 Sam 29:4), Rezon of Damascus (1 Kings 11:23 1 Kings 11:25), and the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:22, Numbers 22:32)...
..."Satan" occurs thirty-six times in the New Testament, eighteen of that number in the Gospels and Acts. The Greek term satanas [Satana'"] is a loan word from the Hebrew Old Testament, and twenty-eight of the total occurrences are accompanied by the definite article. Often in the Gospel accounts, Jesus is in contact with Satan directly or indirectly. He was tempted by Satan (Mark 1:13). In the famous "Beelzebub controversy" Jesus made clear his intention to drive Satan out of people's lives and to destroy his sovereignty (Matt 12:26; Mark 3:23 Mark 3:26; Luke 11:18). He liberated a woman "whom Satan (had) kept bound for eighteen long years" (Luke 13:16). Paul spoke of his being sent to turn people "from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18), and that the works of the "lawless one (were) in accordance with the work of Satan," in doing sham miracles, signs, and wonders (2 Thess 2:9). Christ will come, he wrote, to overthrow that agent of Satan."
(Excerpted from "Satan" in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
What Becomes of the Great Dragon in Revelation 12?
After Michael and his angels defeat Satan, he knows his days are numbered. No longer given access to the Heavenly realm, the Great Dragon unleashes his wrath upon “the woman” and the “remainder of her offspring” (Revelation 12:17). This includes the remnant of Israel and those who remain on earth and “keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
As horrible as these days will be for those who remain on earth, this period marks the beginning of Satan’s end. Immediately after Michael and his angels overthrow Satan, a loud voice in Heaven proclaims our victory in Christ and the Dragon’s defeat.
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God, day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:1-12)
Satan’s destiny was set in stone from the very beginning. Following the second coming of Christ, he will be bound in a pit for the thousand-year millennial reign (Revelation 20:3). Then the Dragon’s final fate will be sealed when he is thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:3).
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/serikbaib
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
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