Deciphering the Devil (Revelation 12:7-12)
Deciphering the Devil
(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)
May 26th, 2019
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 his forces and give them too much power, or we can deny, maybe not his existence, but his influence, and thus give him too little power. But what exactly does God’s word tell us about the one who is called our Enemy?
This morning I'd like to answer that important question with you. Let's start by dispelling some common myths about the devil, just to make sure we're 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 such 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.
Keeping that in mind, 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 for a broader 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. This language 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 Roman province of 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.
1. The Devil's Description (7-9a)
Notice first the description of the devil we find in verses 7 through 9.
First, the devil is represented here as a dragon. This imagery is meant to connect us to the fourth beast described in Daniel chapter 7, and show him as a combination of all the beasts in Daniel’s vision.
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 those first Roman/Greek 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's not clear from this whether the devil is himself an angel, like Michael, the archangel who is opposing him here in verse 7. II Corinthians 11 tells us that the Devil can appear as “angel of light”. Most likely he 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 taken right out of the Hebrew language without translation, means “adversary”.
2. The Devil's Designs (v. 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 heard 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 we're 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 very same goal he had with Job in the book of Job).
With followers of Christ, the devil’s work is slightly different. Why? Because in Hebrews 2:15 we read that Jesus delivered 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 writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 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, it is certainly accurate and sobering that he is called, “the deceiver of the whole world”.
3. The Devil's Defeat (vs. 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 (a defeat! The devil's defeat.). 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:
“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. This makes sense of what comes next in Revelation 12. Verse 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”. 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.
4. The Devil's Desperation (v. 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 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 right now in the days of the devil’s desperation.
III. The Devil and Your Day-to-Day
Now, there are many other passages 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? Many Christians today seem to say “no”; at least we often live our lives like it doesn't matter.
But God’s word talks about the devil for good reason. Why does this subject 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)
When we don’t recognize that there are “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12) 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 you make that same declaration? Can I? Or are we ignorant of Satan’s designs, his strategies? In the context of II Corinthians 2, Paul was writing, not weird, mystical instructions for battling evil spirits. He was writing about forgiveness. So Paul is saying he knew the devil’s designs when it comes to unforgiveness in the church... in the human heart.
So we are called to consider 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 differences 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 battles are always spiritual in nature. That must change the way we look at things.
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 complacent. His goal is to distract us; to feel we always need stimuli. 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.
Remember, acknowledging our true Enemy and recognizing his strategies is critical to fighting effectively in the war that Jesus has already won. 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. Resist him, firm in your faith…” (I Peter 5:8, 9)