Rev. 12:7 – Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, 8but he could not prevail, and there was no place for them in heaven any longer. 9So the great dragon was thrown out – the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before God day and night. 11They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death. 12Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time. (HCSB)
We are taken from the “great signs” of the pregnant woman and the great fiery red dragon (vv. 1-6) to a cosmic battle between Michael and the dragon involving good and evil angels. The conflict is severe, and Michael emerges victorious. Satan and his angels are thrown to earth. No longer does the “accuser of our brothers” have access to the throne of heaven. While the victory is won at the unseen level, John is careful to record that the Devil is conquered “by the blood of the Lamb” and by the testimony of Christian martyrs. The heavens rejoice in Satan’s defeat, but the earth is warned that the evil one descends with fury, knowing his time is short.
Who is Michael? When and where does this war in heaven break out? Whose loud voice in heaven do we hear? And why are the earth and sea warned of the Devil’s final days in power? These six verses are shrouded in mystery, yet they tell us a great deal about the angelic host and the ongoing battle between good and evil.
War broke out in heaven
John records in verse 7: “Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought …”
This verse alone raises several questions:
When did this war break out? Because this verse follows John’s description of the ascension of Jesus, many commentators conclude that the battle between Michael and the dragon occurs roughly at the start of the church age. Some commentators even argue that the battleground is the church itself. Others say this scene describes the dispute between Michael and Satan for the body of Moses (Jude 9), or the long-ago rebellion of angels “who did not keep their own position” (Jude 6). Futurists argue that this battle has yet to occur, but it will take place just before the Great Tribulation on earth; in fact, Satan’s banishment from heaven precipitates his furious persecution of Israel and the tribulation saints.
One commentator lists 10 possible times this war could occur:
1. Before Gen. 1:1
2. Between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2
3. In the Old Testament after Job 1–2
4. In the Old Testament after Zech. 3
5. In the Old Testament as in Isa. 14:12; Ezek. 28:15; and the Apocryphal II Enoch 29:4–5
6. In the New Testament after Jesus’ temptation (cf. Matt. 4)
7. In the New Testament during the mission of the seventy (cf. Luke 10:18)
8. In the New Testament after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (cf. John 12:31)
9. In the New Testament after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (cf. Eph. 4:8; Col. 2:15)
10. At the end-time (cf. Rev. 12:7, possibly as Satan storms heaven in search of the Child) (R.J. D. Utley, Volume 12: Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Study Guide Commentary Series, p. 91)
It’s important to note that this war is set in the context of Christ’s ascension and the declaration that “the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come” (v. 10). The Son of Man is “seated at the right hand of the Power” and is poised to come “on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). As He hears reports of the 70 disciples sent out to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, and as they joyfully report that even the demons are subject unto them, Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash” (Luke 10:18). Later, as He predicts His crucifixion and listens to the Father’s booming voice from heaven declare that His name was and will again be glorified, Jesus says, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31).
Other New Testament authors confirm that Jesus accomplishes a great victory over Satan through His death, burial and resurrection. The apostle Paul writes that because of His finished work on the cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him” (Col. 2:15). And the writer of Hebrews points out that Jesus added to His deity sinless humanity “so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the Devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15).
So perhaps it is best to understand this war in heaven as contingent upon the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, through which He defeats Satan and his works, reclaims the title deed to earth, and seals the doom of Satan and his minions for whom hell is created (Matt. 25:41). Today, the Devil is seen as our adversary, “prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Meanwhile, many demons are free to possess, persecute, torment, and deceive people (although some are bound; see Jude 6). Their focus seems to be on the earth and its inhabitants, and they wreak havoc everywhere.
If, however, the war in heaven is yet future, then we are in for a time of unspeakable darkness, for Satan has yet to do his worst and the loud voice in heaven is justified in warning us: “Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, for he knows he has a short time” (Rev. 12:12b).
We may not be able to know with certainty whether the war in heaven already has occurred or is yet to come. But we know the outcome, for the day is coming when the Devil, his demons, and all those who oppose the Son of Man will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). And we can declare confidently that “in all these things we are more than victorious [conquerors] through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
Where is the heavenly battleground? A second question this passage begs is, “Where is the heaven in which this war takes place?
It appears we are not in the “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2), or the dwelling place of God. There is only peace, joy, reverence and worship in the place where God sits enthroned. In John’s vision of heaven, he reports nothing of the evil one, or his demons, or sin. There is no whiff of rebellion against the Holy One. The four living creatures, the 24 elders, the angels, and the redeemed all join in perfect unity, proclaiming their allegiance to God. So the “heaven” described here cannot be our future state in the presence of God.
Some argue that Satan has access to the throne of God based on Job 1-2 and Zech. 3, but these are Old Testament references and the New Testament writers do not record Satan or his demons standing in God’s presence after the coming of Christ. This does not prove that Satan lacks access to heaven today, but it raises a fair amount of doubt.
One additional note on the third heaven: “God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well” (“Heaven, Heaven, Heavenlies,” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology). So, in a sense it is accurate to say that this war rages in God’s presence in heaven because all things are in the presence of our omnipresent God, but it may be stretching the text to declare with certainty that the battle plays out in the very place where God’s redeemed bow down in worship before his throne.
There are two other “heavens’ to which the scriptures allude – the atmospheric and celestial heavens, which comprise the “physical heavens” (as opposed to the “third heaven” or spiritual reality in which God dwells). Is one of these heavens the scene of this great battle? While angels and demons operate in the spiritual dimension, angels can take on physical appearances and demons can possess created beings. However, it doesn’t make much sense that Michael and Satan would duke it out in the skies, amidst the fowls of the air and the storm clouds, or among the galaxies in outer space. Their battle has to do with the earth – more specifically, with Israel, Christians and the kingdom of God.
So where does this war take place? Perhaps this battle is waged “in the heavens” or “in the heavenlies.” This phrase is used only five times in the New Testament, and only in Ephesians, but it is used in two ways. First, Paul tells us our heavenly blessings depend on Christ’s exalted position at the Father’s right hand (1:3, 20). We share a spiritual union with Christ and are, in effect, seated with Him in heaven (2:6). At the same time, Paul writes of “the heavens” as the realm of spiritual powers, particularly holy angels, Satan and demons (3:10; 6:12). He specifically reminds us that our battle is not in the physical realm but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (6:12). It is in this unseen world where an angel (perhaps Gabriel) battles for three weeks with demonic forces before he is able to deliver an answer to Daniel’s prayer, thanks to help from Michael the archangel (Dan. 10:13).
It might make the most sense to see this war between Michael and the dragon as taking place in “the heavens” – the unseen spiritual realm in which angelic forces vie for supremacy on behalf of their leaders (God or Satan) and for their leaders’ claim of sovereignty over the earth. If this view is correct, then it seems to support the futurist position that Satan and his demons have yet to be confined solely to the earth. At the same time, there is merit in the view that Michael’s victory is contingent upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross; His ascension into heaven and His position at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor places us before the throne, leaving Satan no basis for accusations any longer. We are “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
Henry Morris writes about the nature of this war: “With what weapons and tactics this heavenly warfare will be waged is beyond our understanding. Angels cannot be injured or slain with earthly weapons, and such physical forces as we know about are not able to move spiritual beings. But these things do operate in a physical universe, so there must exist powerful physic-spiritual energies of which we yet can have only vague intimations … It is with such energies and powers that this heavenly battle will be waged” (The Revelation Record, Rev. 12:8, quoted in “A Testimony of Christ,” www.biblestudytools.com).
Who is Michael? A third question that arises is, “Who is Michael?”
John writes that “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon” (v. 7). Who is this Michael that, along with his angels, has the power to defeat Satan and his demons? The name Michael means “Who is like God” and is synonymous with Micaiah and Micah. Eleven biblical characters have this name, but it seems that in this great heavenly battle we encounter Michael the archangel (Jude 9). He is regarded as the patron of and intercessor for Israel, according to pseudepigraphic literature (1 Enoch 20:5; 89:76). In the Book of Daniel he is the guardian of the Jews from the menace of demonic forces behind Greece and Persia (12:1). Daniel is told that Michael is “one of the chief princes” and “your [plural] prince,” meaning prince of the Jewish people (10:13, 21).
Michael fights Satan here but has encountered him before. Jude 9 records that Michael once contended with the Devil over the body of Moses, the great leader of God’s people to whom an angel (perhaps Michael) speaks on Mt. Sinai (Acts 7:38). It seems fitting that Satan fights for the body of Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, with the same intensity that he seeks to deny the physical resurrection of Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant. In both cases, death without resurrection is part of the evil one’s plan, particularly in the case of Jesus, for without Jesus’ physical resurrection the gospel falls short and our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
Some commentators write that Satan’s interest in Moses’ corpse is to use it as an idolatrous emblem, causing it to lie perpetually in state like Lenin’s body to be gawked at and revered. Having failed to procure the prophet’s body, Satan turns his attention on Jesus in an effort to undermine His finished work. He tries in the wilderness but cannot entice Jesus to take the easy way out, so he fills the hearts of Judas and others to put the Son of God to death. Perhaps that will be the end of Him, Satan reasons. But Sunday morning comes and Jesus rises triumphantly from the grave and ascends into heaven to be seated at the Father’s right hand.
What is Satan to do? He plants tares in Christ’s wheat field. He raises up false teachers and their ticklish-eared followers who focus on a limited view of Jesus the man, denying His deity and physical resurrection. Outside the church, the evil one ensures a distorted view of history’s most important figure. Most of the world’s major religions have a place for Jesus the man, or even Jesus the god. Islam reveres Jesus as a great man. So does Buddhism. Hinduism has no problem placing Jesus in its pantheon of gods. All profess high regard for this great, compassionate teacher. Some even acknowledge His untimely death at the hands of misguided people. There is nothing that troubles Satan in the teaching that Jesus is a good man who died. But the story must end there. There can be no resurrection – and if there is, it must be a spiritual resurrection only, or a re-creation of Jesus the man into an angel – for a physical resurrection is the defeat of the Devil and his works.
Michael plays a role in all of this as God’s angelic warrior, but some commentators take it too far and equate Michael with Jesus. But this cannot be so. Michael is “one of the chief princes” and “your [plural, meaning Jewish people’s] prince,” while Jesus is superior to the angels (Hebrews 1) and the Prince of Peace for all people. In contending with the body of Moses, Michael tells Satan, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9), while Jesus is the Lord Himself and may rebuke the Devil directly. To equate Michael with Jesus is to tread perilously close to the doctrines of the Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses), which denies the deity of Christ, denies the Trinity, and insists that Jesus is a creature rather than the Creator.
John summarizes the battle between the dragon and Michael succinctly: “The dragon and his angels also fought, but he could not prevail” (vv. 7-8). D.R.W. Wood and I.H. Marshall have an interesting perspective on this: “It was fittingly ordered that, as the rebellion arose from unfaithful angels and their leader, so they should be encountered and overcome by faithful angels and their archangel, in heaven. On earth they are fittingly encountered, and shall be overcome, as represented by the beast and false prophet, by the Son of Man and His armies of human saints” (New Bible Dictionary, p. 763).
Some commentators argue that in the last days Satan will make one final assault against the very throne of God, but Michael and his heavenly host will defeat them. Warren Wiersbe comments: “After the church is taken to heaven, believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and have their works examined. On the basis of this judgment, rewards will be given (Rom. 14:10–12; 1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:10–11). It seems likely that Satan will be present at this event and will accuse the saints, pointing out all the “spots and wrinkles” in the church (Eph. 5:24–27)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 12:1). This assumes, of course, that Satan still has access to heaven in the last days, and it requires that the war described in Revelation 12 takes place then as well.
Michael is depicted with great power. He is perhaps God’s only created being with the authority to defeat Satan. In Daniel 10, Daniel fasts and prays for three weeks before an angel breaks through and brings him an answer. “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” the angel says, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for 21 days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia” (Dan. 10;12-13).
The angel later says, “I must return at once to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I leave, the prince of Greece will come. No one has the courage to support me against them except Michael your prince” (Dan. 10:20-21).
Now, in Revelation 12, we see Michael’s final battle with Satan, although it’s possible he plays a role in the binding of Satan (Rev. 20:1-3) and the casting of Satan into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). The great dragon – the accuser of our brothers, the father of lies, the adversary, the great counterfeit who masquerades as an angel of light – will be banished from heaven and cast down to earth. Michael does it. And yet it is important to remember that unlike Satan, who is lifted upwith pride and declares that he will make himself like the Most High, Michael does not even dare to bring an abusive condemnation against him, but says simply, “The Lord rebuke you.” Such is the nature of God’s greatest angelic warrior.
Next: The great dragon was thrown out – Rev. 12:9