If you read the passage above silently, go back and read it again out loud, blessing yourself and anyone else in hearing distance (Yes, I am going to mention that every week! – Revelation 1:3).
The mask has come off and our enemy has been revealed. The red dragon, who is hunting God’s people, seeking to destroy their lives, and is behind the evil and wickedness that we see around us, has been revealed to be Satan.
Over the next couple of weeks we are going to begin to look at what John has to say in Revelation about the relationship between us, God’s church, and Satan and his demons. Topics like this are often particularly difficult to lay aside predetermined understandings, but I would encourage you to try and approach these chapters with as much openness as you can muster.
In the first few months of moving to the UK, at the age of 18, I had repeated confrontations with some sort of “dark force” (I know of no other way to describe it). On multiple occasions, as I was laying on my back in my bed, my eyes closed and not far off falling asleep, I felt something dark and heavy crawl up my body, starting at my feet and resting on my chest. The fear that raced through my mind was utterly debilitating, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t open my eyes. As I lay there, terrified, I would begin to try to say the name of Jesus. At first, I couldn’t even move my mouth, so was resigned to screaming the name with my thoughts. Slowly, whatever it was, would lose its hold on me and my thoughts would become whispers, and eventually into actual authoritative shouts of the name of Jesus.
The whole process probably lasted less than a couple of minutes, but would leave me pretty shaken up. I would spend some time praying over my room, myself, my sleep; inviting God’s Presence to come and overwhelm the darkness. To this day, falling asleep on my back will often trigger nightmares (although it is getting better), so I do my best to avoid it.
Our enemy is real, and John tells us that he is on the warpath against God’s people – that’s you and me.
If this is the first you have ever thought about wars between spiritual beings or demonic forces, than I am sure that there will be a fair amount of denial against what John is saying rising up within you. Satan is of course, the devil who “leads the whole world astray”, so this was never going to be an easy light bulb to turn on.
But deep down, I believe you know it to be true. You have had moments, possibly even seasons, of your life where you have felt “opposed”. The words to describe it never really materialised, but you probably said something like, “Life is out to get me.” Sometimes it came in the form of accusing whispers that suddenly appeared in your heart and mind, convincing you of your worthlessness, failures, guilt, and shame.
Others of you are different, because you too have had some sort of confrontation with this darkness. Maybe like me it came as attack, or felt like despair. Or perhaps it was just a feeling of darkness that gripped your heart and sent your body racing with fear as you dabbled with things our enemy has often used as a door into our lives: tarot cards and Ouija boards, Freemasonry and Wicca, horoscopes and dark movies/books, Reiki and Spiritualist churches, crystals and incantations – the list is almost literally endless.
The good news is that John isn’t telling us to run or hide or be afraid of Satan and his work against us. In fact, this is the story of how Satan has already lost.
We finished with verse 6 last week, where the church had fled into the wilderness, a dangerous but safe place. Now John tells us that a war has broken out in heaven between Satan and his angels (the third of stars that the dragon’s tale knocked out of the sky) and the angel Michael and the rest of the angels in heaven.
This is another moment in Revelation to recognize that John is not writing chronologically, because he is telling a story (after telling of Jesus’ ascension) that Jesus himself had already claimed to have witnessed in Luke 10:18.
Satan loses the war, and gets hurled down to earth with his demons with him. Yes, to the earth. Satan does not reside in some sort of fiery “Hell” where he pokes sinners with a pitchfork, his home is here in our broken world with us.
So Satan loses, completely, but by whose hand? John tells us that Michael and his angels are fighting him, but also that “[God’s people] 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.”
There it is again, God’s church being victorious THROUGH suffering and pain and death and our witness in those moments. But that’s not the main point John is trying to make here (in my opinion), he is trying to show us that our actions here on earth are profoundly connected and reflected in a spiritual realm where war is waged (a very one-sided war! There is no sort of ying and yang picture of equality here) between the forces of God and the forces of Satan.
It reminds me of the Frank Peretti novels I used to read as a teenager. These stories that wove together the moral dilemmas and prayer meetings and political uprisings of normal people with vicious battles being waged between angels and demons at the same time; both impacting each other. It is undoubtedly a hard concept to grasp, our lives being connected to such battles, but we must wrestle with it and allow God’s Spirit to help us grasp it if we are to understand where John is going to take these pictures in the coming chapters.
Once to earth, the dragon (Satan) pursues the woman (the church – us). God’s people escape with eagles wings, a picture used in Exodus 19 to talk about Israel’s escape from slavery. Then there is an almost comical moment when the dragon spits out water to sweep away the woman, but the earth swallows it up and rescues the woman. In the world of these early Christians that John is writing to, the Romans worshipped pretty much everything they saw around them – sun gods, earth gods, gods of harvest, gods of lovemaking, gods of thunder, gods of death, etc. John is aware that as he opens up these Christians’ minds to the reality of Satan, they could quickly feel like everything that exists is waging war against them, when that isn’t the case (some Christians today still live like that). So John shows them that the earth is God’s creation, and is on our side in this battle against Satan and his accusations. This picture is also a reminder that Satan’s main attacks are formed in his mouth – accusations and lies that will seek to sweep us away from our anchored hope in God.
I can still remember a particular night when our first daughter was very young. In the middle of the night she woke up wailing the house down, screaming with tears that seemed to suggest she was in great pain. We tried everything we could think of: feeding her, winding her, changing her, cuddling her, walking her around, but none of it seemed to make any difference. So we prayed (I am ashamed at how often that is the answer when all other answers have failed) and as we did I felt God impress upon my heart that there was a force (Satan or connected to him) behind this crying and that I could speak against it and silence it. She had been crying non-stop for a good couple of hours now. So, in the dark of her room, with authority from God’s Spirit pushing me to act, I spoke against the darkness working against her and told it to leave. Almost immediately she quieted and went back to sleep, as if nothing had happened. I on the other hand began to weep, angry that such forces would and could seek to harm my little baby, ashamed that I did not take up my place of spiritual leadership more quickly, and so thankful for God’s intervention.
We do have an enemy, and he is beyond angry and looking for ways to hurt us, God’s children and people, in revenge for losing his place in heaven. He will confront us and seek to hurt us. Satan will accuse us through those we know, those we don’t, and sometimes seemingly from our own hearts. With lies and deception he will seek to corrupt us, entice us to sin and fall, and breed wickedness that steals the life away from our souls. However, he has already lost this battle, and because of Jesus you will never have to surrender to his advances. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, through our own sacrifices, we can triumph over him day after day after day.
This is a continuation of our series on Revelation at Birchfield Church. So if you want to listen to my talks (and others as we go along), please feel free to visit our website here and do that. Also, Tom Wright’s book, “Revelation for Everyone”, has been a big help in understanding this book; so go and buy it now and then read it.
Grace and peace to you all.