Who is Called the Devil and Satan (Revelation 12:7-12)
Passage: Revelation 12:7–12:12
I. Dispelling the Myths
“The devil is in the details.”…”The Devil made me do it.”….”Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.”…”If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”…”Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”…”Well, speak of the devil…”
While the Devil might fill some of our everyday phrases, I think it’s fair to say that for most, the reality of his existence has been relegated to the closet of superstition.
C.S. Lewis describes our belief in the devil or devils like this: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors..." (C.S. Lewis)
As followers of Christ, we can easily fall into one of these traps, can’t we? We can put our focus on the Devil and give him too much power, or we can deny, maybe not his existence, but his influence, and thus give him too little power. But what does God’s word tell us about the one who is called our Enemy?
This morning we begin a two-part study exploring what Scripture teaches us about the Devil and how we can resist him. But let me first do this; let me first, very quickly dispel some common myths about the Devil, just so we can be sure to start our study on some common ground.
Myth #1: The Devil is red, has horns and a pointy tail, and carries a pitch fork. Wrong. The Bible never gives us a description of the devil. It uses some very different images to describe him: on one hand he is called a serpent (or dragon), on the other he can appear as an angel of light.
Myth #2: The Devil is in Hell and rules over Hell. Wrong. The Bible describes the Devil as a “spirit”, and “as the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He is the leader of those “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Hell, or the Lake of Fire, is described not as his eternal palace, but as his eternal punishment.
Myth #3: The Devil’s name is Lucifer. Wrong. Lucifer is the Latin name for the planet Venus. This idea is based on the incorrect belief that Isaiah 14:12-15 is speaking about the Devil. The context there makes it clear that it is the king of Babylon who is being taunted as the “morning star”, as Venus, since though he shines brightly now, after the dawn he will soon be eclipsed by the sun. I believe the same misreading of poetic, hyperbolic language is often made in Ezekiel 28.
Myth #4: The Devil is God’s exact opposite. Wrong. The Devil may be opposed to God and opposite to God in terms of righteousness and unrighteousness, but he is not the “ying” to God’s “yang”. He is not an eternal power of evil that provides balance in the universe. As the book of Job makes clear, the Devil does not fight against God as His equal, he only flails around on God’s leash. Even though he thinks otherwise, the Devil always and only does what he does in accordance with God’s ultimate purposes.
Turn with me to Revelation chapter 12.
II. The Passage: "The Devil Has Come Down to You" (12:7-12)
This morning, I’d like to use Revelation 12:7-12 as a guide to a larger study of Scripture in regard to the Devil. Let’s look at what God has revealed here in Revelation 12:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Now, as is the case with whole book of Revelation, we are listening here to a language of imagery and symbolism. And we can easily get off track in this book if we don’t hold onto the foundation laid for us in chapters 1 through 3. In those chapters we learn that the whole book was written specifically for seven churches located in western Asia Minor, which is the modern country of Turkey.
These churches were facing not only internal challenges from false teachers and temptations to immorality, but were also being persecuted by Jews and by the Roman authorities. As Jesus states in chapter 1: “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this” (1:19) or “the things that must soon take place” as 1:1 expresses it. Jesus not only wanted to speak to these churches about what they were currently going through, but also about what they should expect soon.
Now with that in mind, let’s look at what we learn from Revelation 12 about the Devil.
A. The Devil's Description (7-9a)
Notice first some of the descriptions of the Devil that we find in verses 7 through 9.
First, the Devil is represented here as a dragon. The the imagery of the dragon, described in 12:3, is intended to connect this beast both to the Fourth Beast described in Daniel chapter 7, and show him as a combination of all the beasts in Daniel’s vision.
This idea, taken in connection, with the similarity of the beast who comes out of the sea in Revelation 13, I believe this idea, this imagery was meant to show the first readers how the Devil was the true power behind the Roman Empire and the Roman Emperor. Thus, he is appropriately called “the ruler of this world” in John 12 and the “god [little “g”] of this world” in II Corinthians 4.
Second, we see here that the Devil has angels who serve him. These angels are most likely the same spirits who are called demons in the Bible. It is not clear from this whether the Devil is himself an angel, like Michael, the archangel who is opposing him in verse 7. II Corinthians 11 tells us that the Devil can appear as “angel of light”. He most likely is an angel, but his history is never clearly spelled out in Scripture.
Jesus says in John’s Gospel: He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
John himself later writes: Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (I John 3:8)
Third, we also see here that Devil is also called “that ancient serpent”. Though Genesis never tells us that the serpent in the Garden was anything but a serpent, this label seems to revealing that the Devil was the true power behind the snake who deceived Eve. Interestingly, this is the clearest place in the Bible that makes this connection.
In verse 9, the write concludes his description by speaking about, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan. The term Devil, which is diabalos in Greek (where we get our word “diabolical”) means “accuser”, and the word Satan, which is take right out of the Hebrew without translation, means “adversary”.
B. The Devil's Designs (9b)
Those two names provide a good transition for us to talk about what we might call the Devil’s designs, that is, the Devil’s plans or strategies or purposes. What is the Devil’s ultimate goal? Look at how verse 9 goes on to define it:
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil [the accuser] and Satan [the adversary], the deceiver of the whole world…
The Devil’s goal in all that he does is deception. He is, as we already saw from John’s Gospel, he is the “father of lies”. And of course, he’s not interested in deceiving people in regard to the color of the sky or the capital of Bolivia. He’s wants to deceive people and does deceive people about the things of God, or more specifically, about the gospel.
This is why Paul writes in II Corinthians 4:4: In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Satan’s number one goal is to keep people from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the lives of those without Christ, Scripture tells us that he works in them to keep them on the path of “disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2) and uses the “fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14, 15) to enslave them, so that they will “do his will” (II Timothy 2:26).
This does not mean that Satan possesses people and forces them do what they really do not want to do. It means that as they choose to believe his lies, they become his pawns, used by him to deceive others and reinforce his lies.
The Devil can even inflict physical pain, as we see from Luke 13, where were told that the woman who was hunched over was one “whom Satan bound for eighteen years”. Again, his goal was not simply to make this woman miserable, but ultimately, to harden this woman toward God because of her condition; the same goal he had with Job in the book of Job.
With believers in Jesus, the Devil’s work is slightly different. Why? Because in Hebrews 2:15 we read that Jesus delivers us from the “fear of death” and the “lifelong slavery” it brings. Satan cannot blind believers to the truth of Christ in the gospel, but he does work to undermine our faith in the gospel. This is why Peter, as we saw last week, says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith…” (I Peter 5:8, 9)
The Devil can devour followers of Christ by tempting them, just as he did Adam and Eve, just as tried to do with Jesus in the wilderness, by tempting them to doubt the goodness and truthfulness of God. Under the pressure of persecution, Peter did not want his readers to begin doubting that God was in control and faithful to His promises.
Even though Satan is not everywhere at once, through his army of fallen angels, he certainly is called “the deceiver of the whole world”.
C. The Devil's Defeat (9c-11)
But look at what is emphasized in verse 9: And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
The Devil, Satan [the Adversary], suffers a major blow here. He is thrown down to the earth, him and his angels. But the question that has long puzzled scholars is, “When did this take place…OR…when will this casting out take place.” Was Satan cast out sometime in eternity past, or is that event still somewhere in the future?
The first clue that helps us answer this question is the identity of the woman and the child mentioned in 12:1-6. Based on the application of Psalm 2 in verse 5, the child appears to be Jesus. But notice what verse 17 reveals about the woman:
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
This woman has other offspring who are followers of Jesus, their brother. In light of the twelve stars on her head in verse 1, the best explanation is that the woman represents the faithful Jewish remnant that was the foundation of the early church.
Thus the Dragon’s activity here symbolizes the strong Satanic opposition that Jesus faced in His ministry and the persecution of the early Jewish church. Subsequently, the child being caught up to God and the throne of God is most likely a reference to Jesus ascension after His resurrection.
And it is this chronology that lines up perfectly with what the Bible itself tells us about Satan being cast out. Listen to Jesus: The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:17, 18)
John’s Gospel makes this even clearer in John 12: "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)
The earthly ministry of Jesus, culminating in His death on the cross, delivered the decisive blow in the devil’s defeat. Paul stresses this same point about the cross in Colossians 2:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities (i.e. demonic powers) and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
This makes sense of what comes next in Revelation 12:
10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Though Satan might accuse, we can overcome him because of “the blood of the Lamb”. Because of what Jesus did, Paul can ask:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33, 34)
One of our praise songs puts it this way: When Satan tempts me to despair, And tells me of the guilt within, Upward I look and see Him there, Who made an end of all my sin. Because the sinless Savior died, My sinful soul is counted free, For God the just is satisfied, To look on Him and pardon me.
D. The Devil's Desperation (12)
One reason the imagery of this chapter was important for the seven churches in Revelation is that it helped explain something about their current circumstances. Look at 12:12…
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
The writer in Revelation 12 has communicated to us the Devil’s description, something of his designs or devices, and most importantly a confirmation of the Devil’s defeat. But here, we are told something about the Devil’s desperation. The death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus has begun the countdown for his complete defeat and punishment.
Because of the cross, Satan is flailing. In failing to corrupt Jesus in the desert, he then tried to confuse him through disciples with misplaced priorities. One of these ended up betraying him, and the Devil foolishly believed that the cross was the end of Jesus. But the dragon could not devour the child. And now, he is flailing with rage.
This is what the seven churches addressed in Revelation were beginning, just beginning to experience. What we know from history confirms that it did get much worse. And today, we see the Devil’s designs and desperation revealed in even more ways.
Like Nazi Germany after the D-Day invasion, with the messiness of Russia on their Eastern Front, our Enemy knows his days are numbered. Because of Jesus, because of the hope of the gospel, we are living in the days of the Devil’s desperation.
III. Why It Matters
Now, there are many other passages that we could talk about in regard to the Devil. I’m sure I’ve already given you a lot to chew on. But the key question in this is, “So what?”
If he really is a defeated Enemy, and ultimately constrained by God’s plan, do we really need to know anything about Satan in order to live a life pleasing to God? Couldn’t we just obey God, and grow in grace, and share His love, and sing His praises, couldn’t we just do these kinds of things, and forget about the Devil? Many evangelical Christians often live precisely this way today, me included.
But God’s word does say a lot about the Devil, and for good reason. So why does understanding the reality of the Devil matter? It matters because acknowledging our true Enemy and recognizing his strategies is critical to fighting effectively in the war that Jesus has already won. (x2)
Let’s take that statement apart. We need to acknowledge our true enemy. Paul writes: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
When we don’t recognize that there are “cosmic powers”, “spiritual forces of evil” at work against God’s work through the church, we can very easily find ourselves blaming other people, trusting in politics and programs, and making our fight an earthly battle of words, or finances, or egos. God wants to constantly remind us that this is a spiritual battle.
Second, we also have to recognize the Devil’s strategies. Paul told the Corinthians early in his second letter, that he writes what he writes so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (II Corinthians 2:11)
But can we say that with Paul? Or are we ignorant of Satan’s designs, his strategies? In the context of II Corinthians 2, Paul was writing, not some weird, mystical instructions about battling evil spirits. He was writing about forgiveness: Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (Paul knew the Devil’s designs when it comes to unforgiveness)
Listen…A right knowledge of the power of God should drive us to see the good that God brings out of every circumstance we encounter. In the same way, a right knowledge of the power of Satan should drive us to consider the evil that our Enemy has designed in the circumstances we encounter.
This does not mean seeing the Devil behind every bush, but it does mean recognizing the spiritual consequences and spiritual implications of everything we experience. A family member’s disinterest in the gospel does not mean we give up. That would be the Enemy’s design. A spouse’s or a friend’s coldness to our request for forgiveness should not harden us to their condition. That would be the Enemy’s design. Financial prosperity should not be seen as an indication that we have spiritually arrived. That would be the Enemy’s design. Political, ideological, even theological difference should not become a justification for speaking about or treating another person in an ungracious, unloving, un-Christlike manner. That would be the Enemy’s design.
Remember, the ultimate causes and the ultimate battle are always spiritual in nature. It does not ultimately come down to what we can or cannot do. We have an enemy who is working to frustrate us and our efforts for Christ. That must change the way we look at things.
And what is the Devil’s goal in all this when it comes to those of us who are following Christ? His goal is to get us to give up. His goal is to get us fat and content. His goal is to distract us. His goal is to make us self-righteous. His goal is to get us wrapped up in our own sanctified justifications for not doing what God would have us do.
And he always seeks to accomplish his goal by tempting us to doubt’s God’s goodness and faithfulness to his promises. He seeks to do this by turning our eyes away from Christ and the gospel, the Good News.
Remember, acknowledging our true Enemy and recognizing his strategies is critical to fighting effectively in the war that Jesus has already won.
How will you fight this week? Think about the challenges you are facing this week. Think about where the pressure is mounting in your life. Think about those difficult relationships. Or think about the blessings that could cause you to look away from the Blesser. If the Devil had a plan to undermine your faith through these kinds of things, how would he do it?
The application here is to take any or all of these challenges and consider them carefully and prayerfully through the eyes of Jesus’ victory. What has God promised you in Christ? How are the Devil’s temptations shown to be lies in light of the gospel? What accusations against you can be rendered powerless by Jesus’ forgiveness and the fact that He gives you His own righteousness?
Brothers and sisters, don’t be shaken the reality of the Devil. Be vigilant.
In the weeks and months after the September 11th attacks, our government called the entire country to a new vigilance. We were told to be aware of what was going on around us, in our neighborhoods; to report suspicious activity. People thought twice about going to large functions or traveling by plane. They looked differently at abandon cars or strangers in their workplace. But after a while, a sense of peace and safety tempted most of us away from that vigilance.
Are you vigilant in light of the reality of an even more dangerous enemy? Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith…” (I Peter 5:8, 9)
More in The Enemy
October 11, 2009Standing Against the Schemes of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-20)