The first problem with seeing the fall of Satan in this chapter is that Revelation is an apocalyptic work filled with visions, symbolism, and fantastic imagery to convey a message of comfort in severe crisis; it is not historical description. This genre was popular around the time of Jesus and cannot be pressed to serve as information about the fall of Satan.
Christians were severely persecuted by Rome and desperately needed hope that the Church would survive. Assurance of victory is the message of the Revelation, and the writer uses themes and allusions from a range of sources to make his point.
There is no better summary of this message than John chapter 16:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
The Persecuted Woman and the Dragon
However, there is an even greater difficulty—the text itself. Symbolic or not, Revelation 12 attempts to tell us something. What is it?
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. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 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.
The story tells of a persecuted woman, an endangered child, and a hostile dragon so powerful that his huge, thrashing tail wipes stars from the sky. What do these characters represent?
The woman is the people of God.
The dragon is a force hostile to the Church—the Romans. The Church endured tremendous persecution under Emperor Domitian in the late first century, and this is most likely the backdrop to the apocalyptic encouragement.
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. 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.
The son seems to be a reference to Jesus who was crucified by Rome but was resurrected and ascended to God.
Rome Identified as Satan
The dragon was Rome; the Babylonians and other eastern peoples often identified oppressors with the mythical chaos dragon. Jews and Christians knew this power as Satan, so in the next paragraph Satan symbolizes Rome.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 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.
The resurrection of Jesus has great consequences for the dragon-Satan-Rome, and God prevents the dragon from destroying his people. The remainder of the chapter shows the dragon continuing its efforts against the people of God, but it does not prevail.
Is the Devil in the Details?
Let us look at details that might relate to Satan. Some see the imagery of the stars swept out of the sky as an historical detail—Satan in his rebellion persuaded a third of God’s angels to abandon God and join him. There is nothing here to suggest that, and there is nothing elsewhere in the Bible to suggest it. All the image tells us is that the dragon was huge, powerful, and overwhelming just as Rome was huge, powerful and overwhelming.
What about the war in heaven resulting in the hurling of Satan to the earth? Clearly, timing is a problem in applying this to a prehistoric rebellion. This fall is a result of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension—the dragon’s power was broken and God’s people were able to overcome it by the blood of the lamb (Jesus).
Chronologically, this relates to the time of the resurrected Jesus and not to some prehistoric era. But since the writer of Revelation borrows from many sources, might we discover one to clarify this theme for us?
I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning!
Luke chapter 10 tells about the fall of Satan, and many in the persecuted Church likely were familiar with it.
During Jesus’ ministry, he sent out seventy-two followers to spread the good news to the villages of Israel. They were told to heal people and announce the kingdom of God. They returned from the mission very excited and told Jesus, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!’
Jesus was no less excited than they were; he exclaimed:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Was Jesus referring to an event he witnessed in the mists of time past? No, he was responding to the results of his work in his own lifetime.
Revelation 12 is a story about persecution and victory. It has nothing to do with the fall of Satan. Then where did the myth originate? We will talk about that next time!
Articles in this series:
Is the Fall of Satan a Myth?
The Fall of Satan in Isaiah 14
The Fall of Satan in Ezekiel 28
The Fall of Satan in Revelation 12
The Fall of Satan in the Book of Enoch
Satan in the Old Testament
Was Satan the Serpent in Eden?
Was Satan in the Desert with Jesus?
Does Satan Exist?
Do Demons Exist?