A Question I Was Asked:

When Does the 'War in Heaven' Occur?

The Question:

When does the 'War in Heaven' occur? (Revelation 12:7). I heard two ministers on this question. Both agreed it is yet future, but these men, I'm pretty sure, were dispensationalist in theology and I fear this could effect their understanding. Even worse, one of them said, "certain things must happen before we reach that point." Surely that is a very, very dangerous thing to say?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Yes, I must agree with you regarding that last statement. The "...certain things must happen before we reach that point," comment is very dangerous. Truth is: nothing must happen before Christ returns; He could return next week. It is just a question of how bad God will allow things to get and none of us know that. The danger, and it is a serious danger, is in having a list of "prophecies yet to be fulfilled" before the Second Coming. Time after time people with just that approach do not have the knowledge on prophecy which they seem to think that they have and some of their favoured "prophecies yet to be fulfilled," were - in actuality - fulfilled a long time ago. We should all agree that the Second Coming, Resurrection of the Dead and Great Judgment are yet future but we need to be very cautious of getting drawn into the detail over other prophetic matters.

Re: the bigger question, first of all, we need to check out any Revelation Scripture with The Seven Parallel Sections of the Book of Revelation, I don't say this because I wrote that article but because the approach is based on the finest biblical exegetes (such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, William Hendriksen etc.,) and avoids the 'American adventuristic' approach to this book which went straight into Adventism, the cults and sects and, lamentably, into the dispensationalism of Irvine/Darby/Scofield as well. It saddens me that most US-based evangelicals have fallen for this approach.

Okay, Revelation 12 falls into section four of Revelation (Rev. 12:1-14:20). This section's meaning is The Persecuting Dragon: The Church Must Expect Persecution. It is an overall look at how Satan will attack true believers between the first and second comings. Of the great Bible commentaries I think that the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown gets closest to the meaning of Revelation 12:7. Of the looser Bible handbooks etc., it is Henry Halley (yet again!), who is very strong. But let us look at this chapter in full first (I quote the NIV throughout):

1. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
2. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
3. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.
4. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.
5. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who "will rule all the nations with an iron scepter." And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
6. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
7. Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
8. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.
9. The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
10. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
12. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."
13. When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
14. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach.
15. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.
16. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.
17. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring - those who keep God's commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

Here is my brief outline of the meaning of these verses:

Verse 1: The woman is intially probably Israel, later in the chapter unquestionably she becomes the Church.

verse 2: Mary (representing Israel) was about to give birth to Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

verse 3: We should all know who this persecuting dragon is, it is of course, Satan who currently has the kingdoms of this world in his power, being able to manipulate them to persecute the Church. The 'seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns' represent the completeness of this beast's control over earthly government; it's a big mistake to spend hours trying to identify every horn or crown etc.

verse 4: The "third of the stars" almost certainly refers to the dragon's demonic army which he is able to manipulate like a mere swish of a great animal's tail. They followed him at the beginning and he now assembles them to attack the Christ child at His birth (through Herod).

verse 5: This plainly refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.

verse 6: The woman is now the Church and the wilderness refers to her existence during this current age. The Church should be separate, not of this world. The 1,260 years is, of course, entirely symbolic referring to this age of the Church. God protects His Church, as a spiritual body; nothing on earth can prevent it from continuing to exist.

verse 7: Now we come to the verse which is being questioned. Dispensationalists mostly insist that this 'war in heaven' occurs at the Second Coming. Probably most of Christianity (and I agree with this approach) sees this as being fulfilled by Christ at His sacrifice and resurrection. War breaks out in Heaven between Michael and Satan. Satan is no longer able to bring accusations to God's throne. Now we will shortly see why this must refer to Christ's victory at the cross.

verses 8-10: So Satan is now banished from Heaven. This happened at the time of this 'war in Heaven,' when - please note - Satan and all his demons are cast down to earth.

Luke 10 tells us exactly when this happened:

17. The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.
18. He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
19. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
20. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20).

The Devil and demons became earthbound at the time that the Gospel first went forth:

8. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Jesus spoke about the need to 'bind the strong man' in order to plunder his goods (Mark 3:27). Satan may still be able to go after the weak stragglers in the pack but he is presently substantially bound, totally unable to prevent Christ from adding to His Church. Actually Satan is now all froth and bluster, he can intimidate and threaten (mainly through the actions of others) but can only target unbelievers.

Moreover, as Jesus was going to the cross, He could say the following:

31: Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
32: And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself. (John 12:31-32; my emphases).

So the point when salvific victory was satisfied was when our Saviour was 'lifted up from the earth' (the resurrection). The judgment of true believers also commenced at that point. The going forth of the Gospel was - necessarily - when Satan was expelled from Heaven. Let us also not forget that Jesus had said,

28. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
29. Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house and spoil his goods, unless first he binds the strong one, and then he will plunder his house. (Matthew 12:28-29).

I think that those verses should settle most questions on the timing of this matter; Satan was expelled from Heaven (but bound) back in the first century AD. His binding means he cannot prevent the called and chosen from being added to the Church of Jesus Christ (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:14-38). He can intimidate, persecute, harass, place obstacles along the path and stir people up to be anti-Christian; only 'stragglers in the pack' believers are open to more direct attacks (1 Peter 5:8-9), plus the world in general. Of course, in certain cases he has undoubtedly stirred up persecution of Christian individuals even leading to their martyrdom, but that still does not prevent them from being added to the church and inheriting Eternal Life; so he cannot succeed against the 'called, chosen and faithful.'

Okay, back to Revelation 12:

verse 11: This is a clear reference to the Christian martyrs of this age of the Church.

verse 12: Satan is currently angry because he knows that his time is short and he cannot prevent the called and chosen from being added to the body of Christ.

verse 13: Yes, the dragon and his evil army are currently going after the Church of God; they can upset, harass, cause problems, but not stop the Church from moving forward in its mission.

verse 14: More or less a repeat of verse 6. The Church is currently protected as a body. Nietzsche said that the Church would have died out by now but he was wrong because it is divinely protected, she will undergo attacks, persecutions, she will be scoffed at, yet will complete her mission. The gates of the grave will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18), this can be understood in two ways: a. The Church will not die out before its mission is fulfilled. b. The grave cannot hold the 'called, chosen and faithful,' rather, they are assured of an entrance into Heaven.

verse 15: Satan has sent a flood after the Church, this may well refer to a specific persecution, two or three major ones occurred under the Romans, the Neronian one and the one under Diocletian (313AD). The 'flood' could well refer to an army. Halley believed that the flood referred to several attempts of the Roman Empire to stamp out the Church.

verse 16: God divinely protected the Church on that occasion and can go on doing it. Henry Halley thought that the 'earth swallowing the river' referred to Constantine becoming the first Christianity-supporting emperor, thereby stopping persecution of the Church around 325AD.

verse 17: The dragon makes war on "the rest of her offspring," this is intriguing. Who are the 'rest of the Church's offspring'? This could refer to great persecutions coming upon those who are not 'Church' but somewhat influenced by her teachings. This could refer to those sub-Christian cults and sects who do have the name of Jesus (even if they abuse it by their false doctrines). Unable to seriously affect the Church, Satan could go for an all-out assault on these groups, even possibly eradicating one or two. The attack will be on the sincere, God-fearing members of such groups, those who strongly obey as much truth as they understand.

It should always be borne in mind that when I say "Church" throughout this article I refer to the body of Christ - not to any specific denomination.

So the most likely meaning by far of Revelation 12:7 is that this was/is fulfilled in the victory of Christ at the cross when the powers of darkness suffered a major defeat. They are not yet completely negated but are restricted and their time is now short.

Robin A. Brace. January 22nd, 2012.