Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (26): The Time of Jesus and John

Someone noticed number 26 was missing. I wrote this and somehow never posted it. So here it is, in belated fashion.

The result of the dragon’s attack in 12:4-5 is to split up the woman and the child. He is snatched up to heaven and she flees into the desert, under God’s protection but still on earth (Rev 12:6). When the male child reaches heaven war breaks out there, with the result that the dragon and his angels lose their place in heaven and are hurled down (evblh,qh) to earth (12:7-9). When did this casting out take place? Verse 10 clearly addresses the same point in time as the war of 7-9. “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been hurled down.”

The time of the war in heaven is the time when the kingdom of God and the authority of Christ were clearly established (12:10). In the book of Revelation, this took place at the enthronement of the Lamb in as a result of His overcoming at the cross (Rev 5:5-6, cf. 3:21). Throughout the New Testament the Kingdom of God was seen as a present reality in the person of Jesus (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:20-21, etc.) and was established in force at His ascension when He joined His Father on the heavenly throne (cf. Heb 8:1-2, etc.). “Accuser of our brothers” (12:10) is a play on the Hebrew meaning of the word Satan (12:9), which means “the one who accuses.” Apparently up until the cross, Satan and his accusations still had a certain credibility in heavenly places (Job 1:6; Zech 3:1-2), but now this is all over. The accused can now overcome Satan by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (verse 11). Beale addresses this matter in a fascinating way, “The emphasis on Satan’s accusatorial role in 12:10 reveals that the angelic battle of vv 7-9 was figurative for a courtroom battle between two opposing lawyers, with one losing the argument and being disbarred for employing illegal tactics.”

The language of 12:7-9, however, is also reminiscent of 12:4, where the dragon hurled (e;balen) a third of the stars from heaven to earth. But that event occurred before the birth of Christ, and the war of 12:7-9 occurred after the ascension. So there are two separate events in this chapter in which a hurling down from heaven occurs, one is prior to the birth of Christ (12:4), and the other is after His ascension (12:7-10).

How long before the birth of Christ did the dragon sweep a third of the stars from heaven to earth? The traditional Adventist answer is “before creation.” The exact timing of that action is not addressed in this chapter, but a strong hint is found in Rev 13:8, where the Lamb is described as “slain from the creation of the world” (tou/ evsfagme,nou avpo. katabolh/j ko,smou). This comment finds no context in the entire book unless the dragon’s action in 12:4 represents that primeval attack on the Lamb. If that is the case, the war in heaven of 12:7-9, while clearly in the context of the cross in Revelation 12, nevertheless speaks in the language of that earlier conflict, as noted by scholars such as Adela Yarbro Collins.
In His earthly life, therefore, Jesus was participating in a war that had begun in heaven before His arrival on earth (Rev 12:3-4,7-9). At His ascension, Jesus establishes His kingdom and casts the “accuser of the brothers” (Rev 12:10) out of heaven. Since the dragon had already been cast out of heaven physically, according to the symbolism of 12:4, the language of 12:7-12 implies that after the Christ-event, Satan has no more influence over heavenly deliberations. This casting out is, therefore, more spiritual than physical. It is interesting, that while the dragon appears in all four stages of the conflict in chapter 12, the actions of Jesus, expressed in the images of the male child, the Lamb, Christ, and probably Michael, are confined to the second stage, the time of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly rule (Rev 12:5-10).

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