They overcame him because of the Lamb’s blood and because of their testimony.

Revelation 12 11If Satan was defeated through Christ’s death, why would “their testimony” also be required, and who are they?

This is the fourth article on the War in heaven.  The first article identified the role-players in this war; the Male Child, who was caught up to God, His mother, who existed both before and after Christ, and the Dragon, that stood ready to devour the Child as soon as He is born.  The Child was caught up to God in heaven, Michael wages war against the Dragon, who deceived many angels to his side.

The second article discussed the chronological sequence of the war in heaven, the ascension of the Male Child, the victory in the war, Satan cast down to earth and the woman hiding in wilderness.

The third article explains how Michael overcame Satan.  Satan deceives and accuses, but was overcome by “the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony.”  To reconcile these facts, the articles explains how evil originated, God’s judgment of evil, and how evil defends itself against God.

Purpose

Verses 7 to 9 indicate that Christ’s death enabled Satan’s  defeat, but verse 11 implies that “the word of their testimony” was also required

10 “… The accuser of our brethren has been thrown down,
he who accuses them before our God day and night.
11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Revelation 12)

This article discusses these two verse, particularly to identify whose testimony this is, and why their testimony was required to banish Satan from heaven.

Our brethren

Verse 10 mentions “our brethren” as the beings accused by Satan.  This is the first time that “our brethren” are mentioned in this chapter.  Are they people or angels?

It is in Satan’s nature to deceive and accuse (vv9-10).  He certainly must have at least attempted to deceive and accuse Michael and his angels “before our God.”  For that reason, “our brethren” arguably include angels.

However, the term “our brethren” implies two distinct groups; us and them.  Since the loud voice came from heaven, it spoke on behalf of the heavenly beings.  This implies that “our brethren” refer to non-heavenly beings, and therefore presumably God’s people on earth.

They overcame him

Revelation 12 11After verse 10 refers to “our brethren,” verse 11 continues, “they overcame him.”  It is possible to read this as saying that “our brethren” (people) overcame the accuser.  But according to verses 7 to 9 Michael and his angels defeated Satan.  It is therefore proposed that the antecedent for “they” in verse 11 is Michael and his angels.

Their testimony

If “they” earlier in verse 11 refer to angels, then “their testimony,” in the same verse, may also refer to angels, which would mean that the testimony of angels helped to overcome Satan.  But for two reasons it is proposed that it is the testimony of God’s people that is in view:

1. It is a testimony given “when faced with death,” and angels do not die, as far as we know.

2. In Revelation it is always people that are killed for their testimony; never angels, for example:

Those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (6:9; cf. 12:17).

Those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4).

Pronouns in verse 11

The “they” and the “their” in verse 11 therefore have different antecedents.  It is proposed that verse 11 be read as follows:

Michael and his angels overcame Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the testimony of God’s people, for God’s people did not love their life, even when faced with death.

God’s weapons

John writing RevelationThey overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11).

This verse uses the phrase “because of” twice.  It is therefore proposed that this verse refers to two weapons that were used to defeat Satan:

1The blood of the Lamb” (Jesus is the Lamb, e.g. 5:6), and
2The word of their testimony

Their willingness to die for what they believe is not a third weapon in God’s arsenal, but indicates the strength of their commitment.  The testimony that overcomes Satan is a testimony that is proven real when one’s life is in danger.  Satan said to the LORD, “all that a man has he will give for his life” (Job 2:4), but these people prove him wrong, for they are willing to die for their faith.

The text therefore implies three victories:

1.  The Lamb overcame by His blood (death).
2.  God’s people overcame by their testimony.
3.  Michael and his angels overcame Satan because of the other two victories.

Why was the testimony of God’s people required?

They overcame Satan “because of the word of their testimony.”  This means that, without the obedience of God’s people, Michael and his angels would not have been able to defeat Satan.  The blood of the Lamb alone would not have saved anybody if God’s people did not remain faithful, “even when faced with death.”  The reason is that people will be judged by their deeds.

Reformed Christians will object that this sounds like salvation by “the works of the law,” and it is clear that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20).  However, one must distinguish between “the works of the Law” and “deeds.”  The one that seeks to be justified by “the works of the Law” attempts to obtain God’s approval through the rituals of the Law.  But “God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6).  In this phrase the word “deeds” does not refer to compliance to the rituals.  “Deeds” are determined by our love for God and for our neighbor, or the lack there-of.  On the basis of our deeds we will be judged:

The dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12).

I will give to each one of you according to your deeds” (Rev. 2:23; cf. 20:13; 14:13).

Each of the letters to the seven churches ends with the words, “To him who overcomes …”(e.g. 2:7).   To “overcome” refers to their “deeds:”  “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end …” (2:26).

That people will be judged by their deeds does not mean that they earn salvation.  They certainly do not, for they are sinners.  They are “justified as a gift by His grace” (Rom. 3:24).

Summary

Previous articles concluded that Satan defeated through Christ’s death, but verse 11 mentions both “the blood of the Lamb” and “their testimony” as the means by which Satan was defeated.  The question then is, who are they, and why was their testimony required to expel Satan from heaven?

Our brethren” in verse 10, who were accused by Satan, refer to God’s people, but the phrase “they overcame him” in verse 11 does not refer to people, but to Michael and his angels, for they won the victory over Satan in heaven.

However, “their testimony,” a bit later in verse 11, is not the testimony of Michael and his angels, but the testimony of God’s people, for angels do not die and in Revelation it is always people that are killed for their testimony.  Without their testimony, Michael would have been unable to obtain the victory.

The testimony of God’s people was required because people will be judged by their deeds.  “Deeds,” which reflect one’s love or the lack there-of, must not be confused with “the works of the law.”

Articles on Revelation 12’s War in Heaven:

1. Who are the Male Child, His mother, the Dragon and Michael?
2. When was Satan Defeated?
3. How did Michael overcome Satan?
4. Who are they who overcame Satan because of “their testimony?” (Current)
5. What evidence did Christ provide that refuted Satan’s accusations(Next)
6. Why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross?

Galatians 2:15-16

 

2:15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.


For a discussion of the word ”Justified”, please refer to the relevant page.  It is argued on that page that the Greek word does not imply a legal process, but is equivalent to “reconciled to God” (2Cor. 5:20) and is perhaps best translated as ”put right with God”.

Since Paul argues that “man is not justified by the works of the Law” (2:16), we can assume that “the party of the circumcision” (2:12) argued the opposite, namely that man is justified by the works of the Law.  This is confirmed later in the letter, where we read that the Galatians were seeking “to be justified by law” (5:4).

Still another way to confirm this is from Acts 15.  Galatians only contains Paul’s arguments.  We only see reflections of his opponents’ arguments in Paul’s arguments.  But his opponents’ arguments are recorded more directly in Acts 15.

For the following reasons it is proposed that the church council meeting in Acts 15 was called to settle the dispute in Antioch that is recorded in Galatians 2:

  • Both disputes arose after men arrived in Antioch from Judea (Acts 14:26; 15:1; Gal. 2:11-12 – from James = from Judea).
  • In both disputes Paul opposed these men from Judea (Acts 15:2).
  • Both disputes were about the circumcision of Gentiles (Acts 15:3, 5; Gal. 2:12, 14)
  • Both disputes were about how people are justified (Gal. 2:16; Acts 15:1).

If we conclude that the church council in Jerusalem was called to settle the dispute in Antioch that is recorded in Galatians 2:11-14 (Acts 15:2), or even if it is only agreed that the same issues were involved, the arguments of Paul’s opponents, as recorded in Acts 15, helps us to understand the issue in Antioch, and therefore in Galatia. They argued:

  • “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
  • It is necessary to circumcise them (the Gentiles) and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).

Therefore:

Paul’s opponents not only demanded that Gentile Christians be circumcised, but also that Gentile Christians “observe the Law of Moses”.

They justified their demands by saying that this is required for salvation. Salvation is the same as to be justified. This explains why Paul in Galatians argues that “man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16). In chapter 3 Paul provides various arguments in support of this view , while chapters 5 and 6, being more practical in nature, returns to focus more specifically on circumcision itself.

There is nothing recorded as happened in Antioch that supports Paul’s view on circumcision, apart from Paul’s own arguments, but if we accept that the council meeting in Acts 15 is an extension of the events in Antioch, then we obtain support for Paul’s view from the church council’s decision.  The issue on the table was whether Gentiles must be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 3, 5), and the decision of the church council was that “we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (Act 15:19-20).  The church council therefore supported Paul’s stance that Gentiles should not be circumcised.

The question before the council as well as their decision did not include the circumcision of baby boys from Jewish Christian homes, and it did not involve the question whether Jewish Christians must observe the Law of Moses.  The implication is that Jewish Christians continued to observe the Law of Moses.  They had Christ’ teachings, and His teachings focus on the internal issues of the heart and mind (love & faith), in contrast to the Judaism of Christ’ day with its focus on external works, but Christ did not preach against the Law of Moses.  Christ’s teachings did not contradict the Old Testament, but was consistent with the prophets that repeatedly pleaded for the circumcision of the heart.  The Law of Moses, as received from God, was not a system of justification by works, but it developed into one through the addition of the elaborate ancestral traditions.  It was only some years after His death that God sent Paul to preach the message as contained in Galatians.  The change took years and decades to complete, and at the time of the events in Acts 15 the Jewish Christians still continued all practices of the Law of Moses.

For further information, see the pages on the historical context and on the ancestral traditions.

The council decision did not deal with the moral laws, such as killing or hating people, but Gentile Christians obviously had to adhere to the moral laws as explained by Christ; referred to by Paul as “the law of Christ” (6:2).

The Law relevant in Acts 15 is the “Law of Moses” (Acts 15:1, 5). This implies that the “Law” in 2:16 and in most of Galatians is the Law of Moses.  This is confirmed by 3:17 and 4:24-25, as will be discussed below.  The only part of Galatians that does not deal with the Law of Moses is 5:13-6:10, where the Law of Christ is discussed (6:2).  When Paul therefore argues that “man is not justified by the works of the Law”, he is specifically referring to the works of the Law of Moses, not “works of the Law” in general.  This is important, because later he would argue that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Romans 2:13; compare Gal. 6:2-8), where he is referring to a different Law, namely the Law of Christ.

To return to Galatians, Paul not only explains that “man is not justified by the works of the Law” (2:16).  He also provides the correct alterative, namely that man is justified “through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16).  He thereby contrasts “faith” and “the works of the Law” (2:16; 3:10):

  • “Works” refer to external deeds.  “Faith” refers to the internal mind-set.
  • “Works” seeks to earn justification.  “Faithrelies on God’s merciful-kindness (grace) to justify one.

2:16 is therefore a pivotal verse in the letter to the Galatians. The remainder of this article refers back to this verse several times.

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