Then a war broke out in heaven!
That does not seem a likely place for a war. How can there be a war in heaven? Part of the answer is the two signs that appeared “in heaven” (Revelation 12:1-4). One sign represented the faithful people of God and the other Satan. One represented Israel and the other the powers of Rome. One gave birth to the Messiah while the other sought to devour him. The Messiah was born and when he ascended to the throne, a battle ensued.
The accession of the Messiah to the throne, in principle, spelled the doom of the dragon. He was already defeated. The son cannot be knocked off his throne. Nevertheless, there was a war.
While the fight, like in Daniel 10, is described as taking place in heaven between angelic beings–between Michael’s angels and the dragon’s angels, it was really a war fought upon the earth. The war in heaven is no contest, but the struggle on the earth is a test. But the contest on earth wins the war in heaven!
The dragon–Satan, the devil, the ancient serpent–is cast out of heaven. He has no power there; the throne is already occupied. The dragon, wearing diadems, seeks power. Satan wants to rule, but there is “no longer any place for [him] in heaven.” The struggle has moved from heaven to earth. The son assumed the throne through faithful obedience. Heaven is decided, but the earth is still contested. Consequently, this calls for “endurance” on the part of the saints (Revelation 14:12). Their faithfulness is the key to the battle on the earth (Revelation 13:10).
When the throne of the son was secured and the dragon was thrown back to earth, “a loud voice in heaven” heralded the situation. The announcement is significant as it lays out the stakes in the war that continues upon the earth even though heaven is at secure. Here is what the voice said (Revelation 12:10-12):
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,
who accuses them before God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They have overcome 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.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who inhabit them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows his time is short.
Similar to Revelations 11:15, this announcement proclaims the reality of the kingdom of God. Heaven is secured. The salvation of the martyrs is accomplished, and God has effected the reign of God in heaven. This is true because the accuser (Satan) is no longer present. Through the faithful obedience of the son and the martyr the accuser has been booted.
Zechariah 3 portrayed an angelic figure who stood before the Lord to accuse Israel of unfaithfulness which, in effect, prevented Israel’s restoration. That accuser, present in the heavenly court, was like a prosecuting attorney. God dismissed the accuser then and does so now as well. Once Satan accused the people of God “day and night” in the heavenly throne room, but no longer. He has been cast out, hurled down to earth.
But how was Satan defeated? Was it a mere exertion of divine power? Was it pure might rather than right? Quite the contrary. It was not power in the conventional sense at all. Rather, it was through the weakness of the cross. It was by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of the faithful. This does not refer to some kind of penal blood atonement. Rather, it refers to martyrdom which is the result of faithful obedience. It is the suffering of both the Lamb and the martyrs–together they have defeated the accuser. They gave their lives in obedience to God. They were faithful even to the point of dying; their death was their testimony. The martyrs–including the Lamb–defeated the powers of Satan. Faithfulness defeats the accuser.
In the same way Job defeated the accuser. Does Job serve God for nothing? (Job 1:6), the accuser asked. There is no one who serves God out of love; they all serve him for reward. But Job proved the satan wrong. While Job lamented and wailed (like the martyrs in Revelation as well), Job neither cursed nor forsook God. Evil is defeated by doing good; good overcomes evil. Faithful obedience subverts evil.
This is how the victory is won in Revelation. The message of the book calls saints to faithful endurance, to the faithful witness of martyrdom. There is no battle cry except the willingness to sacrifice their lives. There is no call for violent revolution but only the willingness to suffer violence from the kingdom of this world for the sake of the kingdom of God. While faithful witness defeats the dragon, violence would only serve the dragon’s interests.
Heaven rejoices because the saints do not take up the sword but put their necks under it. The “heavens” and its inhabitants (the angelic hosts) are invited to rejoice. Heaven has been cleared of Satanic powers by the faithful obedience of the Lamb and his followers.
But…and this is an important “but”…the drama is not over. The dragon has been cast out of heaven but still stalks the earth. The earth and the sea are yet subject to the dragon’s hostile activity. The destroyers of the earth (Revelation 11:18) are still at work within the creation. The devil is angry and is looking to make the most of the short time given him.
The “short time” is the same as the 1260 days (or 42 months or 3 1/2 years) that the godly woman hides in the wilderness and the two prophets witness to the nations. It represents the time God has permitted for the persecutors. It is a short time; it is not forever. But it is a deadly test, a time when the followers of the Lamb will be tried by fire.
Heaven has been cleared. The earth awaits redemption. What is our witness?