Revelation 12 is one of the most interesting passages in the Bible, because it brings the reader to a subject that the Bible has been dealing with from the beginning, and that is the ultimately unsuccessful warfare of Satan against God. Indeed, by calling Satan a dragon, this chapter brings us back to the original understanding that Adam and Eve had of Satan as a serpent and reminds us that however much Satan may attempt to appear as an angel of light that he has always remained hostile not only to God but to the servants and followers of God. In this inset chapter that takes a step back from the actions in heaven that will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His millennial kingdom over the earth, John provides readers with a panoramic look at Satan’s involvement in various troubles over the course of human and angelic history.
Revelation 12:1-17 reads: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
There is a lot going on here, and a reader’s understanding of these passages will be richly enhanced by examining the symbolism and how it is connected with other biblical passages, but our present interest is to discuss the role of Satan. Let us take a chronological view of Satan’s activities here. Satan’s machinations and deceptions led a third of the angels to rebel against God but they were defeated by Michael and his angels (here again we see Michael and Satan contending as in Jude :9), and Satan deceives the whole world and takes out his anger at having been thrown out of heaven on believers. Not only has this happened periodically throughout history but it is prophesied to become more intense as the time of Satan’s overthrow nears. Of course, Jesus Christ is the agent of his overthrow and it is little wonder that the birth of Jesus Christ and then of the church is viewed with such hostility by Satan, who wishes to destroy Jesus Christ through Herod but is foiled (although many children are killed in the area, a reminder of the Satanic hostility against godly offspring that has always been an aspect of ungodly regimes). And, of course, Satan’s desire to destroy the end-time church, the protection of that church, and Satan’s impotent but deadly rage against those believers who keep God’s commandments are well-known to many Bible readers.
What does this passage say about Satan, though? It should be noted that everything that Satan does in this chapter is unsuccessful. He tries to deceive the angels and overthrow God in heaven but can only muster 1/3 of the angels and finds himself and his followers defeated and limited in their freedom. Finding himself thrown down to earth and unsuccessful, he tries to kill Jesus Christ at birth and is unsuccessful, tries to destroy the church and fails, and takes out his failures on the people he is able to reach, who themselves will be raised up into eternal life as martyred believers. Everything Satan tries to do in Revelation 12 ends up going against him, and all of his anger and all of his deception and all of his scheming winds up being completely futile, which is a fitting picture of Satan’s behavior throughout the entire Bible if one has been paying attention so far.