In Revelation 12, John pulls back completely the curtain on the Seven Churches’ physical persecution. Behind the persecutions of the Roman government, the economic embargoes on Christians and their businesses, the ways in which people are making their Christian neighbors feel ostracized and unwanted, behind all of this is the fury of Satan who has been cast out of heaven and is on his way down to the pit of fire. In this cryptic book, this may be the clearest John gets as to why this is happening. For that reason, some commentators have called it the center of the book, which it pretty much is chronologically too.
Satan — that ancient, devious, seven-headed red serpent (12:9) — is a defeated foe. He knew enough (prophecies? conversation with God? his own observation?) to know that Jesus would be his undoing. He sets out to kill this child at birth. But this plan is thwarted, and Satan and his angels are cast onto the earth. Knowing he cannot get to the child, he goes after his mother (a character that no one before the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages interpreted as Mary, rather is either the true Israel with stars for the twelves tribes or more likely the Church where the twelve stars would be the apostles). Further punctuating his waning power, Satan does not even succeed in drowning the woman with his terror.
Satan is defeated. Do you believe it? He does.
We probably have a hard time believing Satan is a conquered enemy because Jesus’ victory over Satan is an “already– not yet” victory. Think back to yesterday’s post. Satan suffered his fatal blow at the cross. That was D-Day. He is “already” conquered, but the complete victory has “not yet” come. That V-E Day will be at Christ’s return when the New Creation comes and Satan and his friends Death and the Grave are thrown into the destroying pit of fire.
The original readers of this chapter would have had a hard time believing that Satan was losing power, too. Evil raged about them. Rome was Satan’s puppet, and Rome seemed to be winning. For the recipients of Revelation, their “victory day” was still in the future, in fact they would not see it this side of the second death. John acknowledges this:
Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to wage war against the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus. (12:17)
Rome will not touch the whole Church, but these seven churches in Asia Minor are within Rome’s grasp. Satan is defeated, but he is trying to take as many down with him as he goes.
In this pivotal chapter of Revelation also comes the greatest piece of advice the Christians of Asia Minor will get in this book. How is Satan defeated?
They conquered him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they did not love their lives unto death. (12:11)
The power of victory resides in the blood of Jesus. He has purchased their rescue. But they have a role to play in the reversal of Satan’s power as well. They must stay true to God. They must spread the news about the Lamb. They must let go of the pleasures of this life, not fearing even death itself. The testimony of their witness — both in their words and their actions of faithfulness to the end — render the power of Satan and Rome powerless to stop them.