Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven between two groups of angels. What did they fight about? What weapons did they use?
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the book of Revelation and from the NASB translation.
This article identifies the male child as Jesus. His mother symbolizes God’s people. The dragon that stands ready to devour the male child, as soon as He is born, is Satan, but also represents the world powers through which Satan persecutes God’s people. This article then discusses the war in heaven, and identifies Satan’s weapons as deception and accusations.
The Male Child (12:5)
Verse 5 is a useful place to start this discussion because it points to a specific point in history:
“She gave birth to a son, a male child,
who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron;
and her child was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).
Rod of Iron – Revelation 19:11-21, describing Christ’s return, presents Jesus as the One using the rod of iron. He sits on “a white horse” (v11). “The armies which are in heaven … were following Him on white horses” (v14). “He will rule them (the nations) with a rod of iron” (v15). “His name is called The Word of God” (v13). John—the author of Revelation—also wrote the gospel of John, and in it He refers to Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1). Since the male child will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” He is Jesus Christ.
He will use the rod of iron when He returns. Then “the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him (Jesus) … and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:20). It will be a time of extreme sorrow for believers. They have been praying so much for their loved ones. Now their loved ones are killed. But the pain of the believers will be nothing compared to the sorrow in God’s heart.
Caught up to God – The male child “was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5). This is His ascension to heaven. Mark 16:19 reads, “the Lord Jesus … was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” Verse 5 therefore covers the entire period from Christ’s birth to His ascension.
The Woman (12:1-2)
We are now able to identify the woman of verses 1 and 2:
“A great sign appeared in heaven:
a woman clothed with the sun,
and the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
and she was with child; and she cried out,
being in labor and in pain to give birth.” (12:1-2)
Before Christ – Since the child she carries is Jesus Christ, she is a symbol of all people in the time before Christ expected the Messiah. She is beautiful in God’s sight, for she is “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Because she is beautiful, and because literal Israel was not always that beautiful, we should not identify her as literal Israel, but as all believers in the time before Christ, both inside and outside Israel, and also prior to the time of Israel.
After Christ – After Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne,” His mother remains on earth and flees to the wilderness (12:6, 13-14). “The rest of her children” (children other than Christ) “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). Now she represents God’s New Testament people. The mother therefore represents God’s people of all ages.
On earth and in heaven – In verse 1 John saw her in heaven. Later the woman flees to the wilderness (v14). Here she is presented as on earth. In other words, she is literally on earth, but in a sense she (God’s people) is also in heaven. Compare with 15:2, where “those who had been victorious over the beast” are represented as “standing on the sea of glass,” which is before God’s throne (4:6).
The Dragon (12:3-4)
“Then another sign appeared in heaven:
and behold, a great red dragon
having seven heads and ten horns …
His tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth,
so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” (Rev. 12:3-4)
Satan – Verse 9 identifies the dragon as “the devil and Satan”. It “stood before the woman … so that when she gave birth he might devour her child” (v4). Ever since God told the serpent that the seed of the woman “shall bruise you on the head” (Genesis 3:15), Satan has been watching, expecting the Messiah, and standing ready to thwart His mission.
Seven heads and ten horns – But the dragon has seven heads and ten horns, just like the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 and the scarlet beast in 17:3. “The seven heads are … seven kings” (17:9-10) and “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings” (17:12). The dragon therefore also represents the earthly kingdoms through which Satan persecutes God’s people.
Caught up to God – Satan stood ready to devour her child as soon as He was born (v4), but Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne” (v5). This means that Satan was defeated and that Christ won the victory when He came to this earth.
War in Heaven
Verse 7 mentions the war in heaven briefly:
“And there was war in heaven,
Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon.
The dragon and his angels waged war”
Michael – It is a war between two groups of angels. The name of the leader of God’s angels is “Michael” (12:7). This name means “who is like God.” He is mentioned four times in the Bible; mostly resisting evil angels, for example:
Michael is “the archangel” and he argues with the devil “about the body of Moses” (Jude 1:9).
Daniel wrote that, when he saw the angel whom God sent to him with a message, “no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength” (Dan 10:8). This therefore was a mighty angel, but he was delayed for three weeks by “these forces” (v13). “These forces” are therefore powerful supernatural forces. The angel said that Michael is the only one “who stands firmly with me against these forces” (v 13). (Cf. Dan 12:1)
Satan – Michael and his angels wage war against Satan and his angels. This means that Satan has deceived a large number of God’s beautiful angels to his side.
Victory – While verse 7 mentions the war, verses 8 to 12 describe Michael’s victory.
With what weapons are this war waged? The Dragon is identified as:
“the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan,
who deceives the whole world” (v9)
“the accuser of our brethren …
he who accuses them before our God day and night” (v10).
Serpent – “The serpent … said to the woman” (Gen. 3:1). “Serpent” therefore refers to Satan’s deception of Eve.
Satan – The name Satan means adversary (opponent). He is God’s adversary, but also of all angels and people who side with God.
Deceives – He “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). Deception is one of his key strategies. In other words, he tells lies to get people and angels to do and say the things he wants them to do and say. Jesus said of him, “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Accuser – He is “the accuser of our brethren:” He “accuses them before our God day and night.” Zechariah 3 shows Satan accusing Joshua the high priest of iniquity. Another example is when Satan said that Job fears God only because God protects him (Job) on all sides, but if all of Job’s possessions are taken away, then Job would curse God (Job 1:10-11).
Devil – His role as accuser is also reflected in the name “devil” (diabolos). This Greek word means “slanderer; false accuser; unjustly criticizing to hurt (malign) and condemn.” The NASB, in a few places, also translates this word as “malicious gossips.”
Satan’s weapons are therefore not physical in nature. He deceives and accuses.
Male Child – The “male child” is Jesus. He was “caught up to God and to His throne.” This is His ascension. Verse 5 covers the entire time from Christ’s birth to His ascension to heaven.
The woman, who is “clothed with the sun,” symbolizes God’s people on earth. At first she is presented as pregnant; expecting the Messiah. In this phase she represents all believers in the time before Christ that were looking forward to God’s Messiah. After Jesus was “caught up to God,” she remains on earth. Now she represents God’s New Testament people.
The dragon is “the devil and Satan.” It “stood before the woman … so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” Ever since God told the serpent that the seed of the woman “shall bruise you on the head,” Satan stood ready to thwart Christ’s mission. But Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne.” This means that Satan failed in his mission.
War in Heaven – The leader of God’s angels is the archangel Michael. His enemy is Satan and his angels, for Satan has deceived a large number of God’s beautiful angels to side with him. Satan’s weapons are deception and accusations. He deceives angels and people into sin, and then accuses them before God.
Articles on Revelation 12’s War in Heaven:
1. Who are the Male Child, His mother, the Dragon and Michael? (Current)
2. When was Satan Defeated? (Next)
3. How did Michael overcome Satan?
4. Who are they who overcame Satan because of “their testimony?”
5. What evidence did Christ provide that refuted Satan’s accusations?
6. Why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross?