Sunday, February 3, 2008

Satan: Accuser of the Christian? (Revelation 12)

Warning: I take Revelation in a somewhat literal sense. Allegorists, read at your own risk!

So, I have a thesis. It's somewhat corroborated by theologians and grammarians, but they don't take the thought as far as I do, I'm coming to see. Try this: what if Satan has no place in heaven anymore? What if, instead of having access to the throne as he did in Job 1-2, he's been cast to earth, and has no more place in heaven now?

Let's look at the basis for my thesis: Revelation 12.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

The Identity of the Woman and the Child

The literary genre is apparently prophecy, but let's examine details. ... a woman... most theologians will assume that this is figurative for Israel, although some think Mary, seeing as it connects her with her child, who is apparently Christ (one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron). This is backed up with apparent allusions to His ascension (her child was caught up to God and to his throne). This being established, at least through verse 5 it seems to be speaking in a historical context; these are events that had already taken place at the time that John wrote at Patmos.

Verse 6 is ambigious; the woman is protected from the dragon for 1,260 days. Assuming that we're actually talking about Israel, then this could 1) fit into an eschatological context, or 2) fit into a historical context. The understanding of this verse isn't essential to the thesis, though.

War in Heaven: Past or Future?

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 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.

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[1] has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 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. 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!"

With the idea firmly in our minds that the first part of the chapter refers to a historical event, we move to verse 6, where Michael the archangel dishes and Satan takes. The Adversary gets chucked to earth, having gotten served. The song being sung is similar to any song sung after a great victory. Deborah and Barak, Moses.

First, I think it's pretty cool that it doesn't say that "Satan waged war against God, and God fought back." Transcendent, immutable, almighty God would just vaporize Satan like a marshmallow left in a microwave overnight. Instead, the two can't even be compared; not even on the same level. Biblical theology so smokes modern conceptions, it's not even funny. Though there is good and evil, evil is absolutely crushed by good. And as I will contend, has already been crushed.

This is a key of my thesis: while prophetic literature can freely switch from future, current, and past events, Revelation 12 is not such a case. It is historical from John's perspective all the way through. I believe that this is born out not only here, but in all Johannine eschatology. My subsequent posts will go into more thorough biblical exposition and theology in order to prove this point. For now, we'll stay in this passage.

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 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. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Apparently and obviously allegorical, and tough for me to interpret. Dispensationalists will track this to Daniel 7:25 and Daniel 12:7. However, unlike this passage, in Daniel it states that the saints will be delivered into the hands of the king who will come (apparently The Antichrist). Only issue is, if we're trying to line the two up, Daniel refers to the successful persecution of God's people by the bad guy, but Revelation uses it to show the period of God's protection of the woman (whoever it might be). They don't line up here, at least. This passage, however, doesn't have as much to do with my thesis as the rest of the chapter. I'll show you why next post.

Thoughts? Press your ideas against mine; I'd like to be precise about this (even if I'm precisely wrong).