Demons are spiritual forces of wickedness that possess people.

Angels are mentioned nearly 200 times in the New Testament, but they are called “spirits” only once:

Ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebr. 1:13-14).

In contrast, the New Testament uses the Greek word pneuma many times for “unclean spirits,” also called “demons,” for example:

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out” (Mt. 10:1; cf. Mark 6:7; Mt. 12:28).

A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit … kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. … And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark: 7:25-30).

Demons possess people.

It is not recorded that Jesus ever encountered these “unclean spirits” by themselves.  Rather, the demons interacted with the physical world by possessing people (Mat. 8:16).  In fact, many demons may exist within a single person:

Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8:1-3).

Jesus told the story of an unclean spirit that goes out of a man, but find no place to rest.  It then goes back to the man and “finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.”  “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Mat 12:43-45; cf. Luke 11:24-26; cf. Luke 11:24-26; Mark 5:2-16).

Demons possess animals.

The following is another example of many demons possessing a man, but in this instance, these demons were also able to possess animals; in particular pigs:

Jesus and His disciples sailed to the country of the Gerasenes.  “When He got out of the boat,” He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.” The man “ran up and bowed down before Him (Jesus); and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me! For He had been saying to him, Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ … He was asking him, ‘What is your name?’”  “And he said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.

The story goes on to relate how the legion of “demons” went out of the man and into the swine, and how the entire herd of about 2000 pigs drowned in the sea.  But “the man who had been demon-possessed” was “sitting down, clothed and in his right mind.” (Mark 5:2-16)

Cast out

To cure possessed people of these demons, Jesus cast them out, for example:

They brought to Him (Jesus) many who were demon possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word” (Mat. 8:16; cf. Mark: 7:25-30; Mark 1:21-26).

Jesus also gave authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, to His twelve disciples (Mt. 10:1; cf. Mark 6:7; Mt. 12:28).

Intelligent Beings

Sometimes it seems as if these unclean spirits were really only a natural disease, such as epilepsy or seizures, for example:

One of the crowd answered Him, ‘Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it. … Jesus … rebuked the unclean spirit … ‘I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again’. … The boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead’! But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. … His disciples began questioning Him privately, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’ and He said to them, ‘This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.’” (Mark 9:17-29; Luke 9:37-43).

In this case, the spirit did not speak and probably was only a natural illness. However, these spirit beings were able to speak through the people they possess.  For example, Philip performed many signs. “In the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice” (Acts 8:7; cf. Acts 19:12).

These demons also knew that Jesus was “the Son of God,” something which ordinary people did not realize:

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’” (Mark 3:11)

Some Jewish exorcists “attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’” But the evil spirit said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:13-16)

In Capernaum “there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.”  When Jesus entered, the man cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”  After Jesus “rebuked him, … the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him.” (Mark 1:21-26).

These unclean spirits, therefore, were intelligent beings.  In modern times we find it difficult to believe in the existence of demons possessing people, but if we believe the Bible, we have to.

Controlled by demons

In addition to speaking through the people they possess, these demons are able to control people in other ways.  In one instance they caused the possessed man to attack people (Acts 19:13-16).  These evil spirits also actively infuse people with false teachings:

The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

In one instance a man, possessed by an evil spirit, was in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-26).  This shows that demon-possessed people also attend church and we are not aware of it.  But Jesus’ presence forced the unclean spirits to present themselves.

Spiritual forces of Wickedness

Jesus described the unclean spirits as “the enemy:”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’” Jesus then said, “Behold, I have given you authority … over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

This reminds me of Paul’s words:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

The prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1).

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).

These are indications of the war in the spiritual realm. See War in Heaven.

SUMMARY

Angels are mentioned nearly 200 times in the New Testament, but only Hebrews 1:13-14 refers to them as “spirits.”  In contrast, the New Testament uses the Greek word pneuma many times for “unclean spirits,” also called “demons.”

Possess people

It is not recorded that Jesus ever encountered these “unclean spirits” by themselves.  Rather, these demons interacted with the physical world by possessing people (Mat. 8:16).  Many demons may exist within a single person (Luke 8:1-3; Mat 12:43-45; cf. Luke 11:24-26; Mark 5:2-16).  There is one incident where demons also possess animals; more specifically, pigs (Mark 5:2-16).

In addition to speaking through the people they possessed, these demons are also able to control the people they possess in other ways.  In one instance they caused the possessed man to attack people (Acts 19:13-16).  These evil spirits not only passively possess people; they actively infuse them with false teachings (1 Timothy 4:1).

To cure possessed people of these demons, Jesus cast them out (Mark: 7:25-30; Mark 1:21-26).  He also gave authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, to His twelve disciples (Mt. 10:1; cf. Mark 6:7; Mt. 12:28).

Intelligent beings

Sometimes it seems as if these unclean spirits were really only a natural disease, such as epilepsy or seizures (Mark 9:17-29; Luke 9:37-43).  However, these spirit beings were able to speak through the people they possess.  They also knew that Jesus was “the Son of God” (Mark 3:11; Mark 1:21-26; Acts 8:7; Acts 19:12) and they knew about Paul (Acts 19:13-16).  They, therefore, were intelligent beings.  In modern times we may find it difficult to believe in the existence of demons, but if we believe the Bible, we have to.

In one instance a man, possessed by an evil spirit, was in the synagogue.  This shows that demon-possessed people also attend church and that we are unable to recognize such people.  But Jesus’ presence forced the unclean spirits to present themselves.

Spiritual forces of wickedness

Jesus described the unclean spirits as “the enemy” (Luke 10:17-20).  This reminds of Paul’s words:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; cf. 2:1; 2 Cor. 4:4).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.

Who are the woman, the dragon, the child and what is the war in heaven?

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.

SUMMARY

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.

The dragon also represents the earthly kingdoms through which Satan persecutes God’s people.

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.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

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)

Woman, clothed with the sunWe 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)

Great Red DragonThen 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. (For specific identification, see The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation.)

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 in heaven, verses 8 to 12 describe Michael’s victory.

SATANS’ WEAPONS

With what weapons are the war in heaven 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).

AccuserHe 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 the 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.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES 

The following are the articles in this series on the war in heaven as described in Revelation 12:

    1. Michael and his angels waged war against the dragon and his angels. Who are the Male Child, His mother, the Dragon and Michael? Current article
    2. The wilderness period is mentioned both before and after the war in heaven. What is the chronological sequence? When was Satan defeated and driven out of heaven?
    3. Satan deceives & accuses God of arbitrary judgment when He forgives some people their sins but condemns others.  How did Christ’s death refute Satan’s accusations?
    4. While Revelation 12:7-10 describes Michael’s victory over Satan in the war in heaven, verse 11 describes the victory of “our brethren” over Satan because of “their testimony?” Who are they?
    5. God made peace in heaven by the Lamb, but Revelation 12 indicates that the war continued on earth. Why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross?

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.