“You will be eaten by cannibals!” These words came out of the mouths of Christians and pastors who were seeking to dissuade a young man named John Paton from taking the gospel to the New Hebrides Islands. These islands were long known as a center of violent barbarism and yes, rumors of cannibalism abounded. Yet, Paton felt called and compelled to go to them, and could not in good conscience neglect “the awful danger of the unsaved…” and prayed asking that God might through him “…bring the perishing to the Savior.”[1]

In the well-known biography of John Paton the evidence is clear of how violent and wicked these islanders truly were yet Paton’s resolve remained firm. He wanted to not only live among them, earn their trust, and learn their language. He wanted to do this these things so that he could bear testimony to the blood of Christ that saves all who believe. Well, what happened? After having lived among them for twenty-five years most of the island was converted and many churches had been planted and established.

Question: how can one person succeed when such an overwhelmingly violent people hate you and hate everything you’ve moved there to tell them? The answer is found all over Scripture, but it’s powerfully present in our text this evening. Revelation 12:11 puts it like this, John Paton and many like him “…have conquered…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” I begin with the example of John Paton tonight because his life is an example to what our passage testifies to.

Here’s where we’re headed. In Revelation 12:1-6 we were introduced to the main characters in a holy war. Notice in v1 and v3 calls them signs but then labels them as a woman, her son, and a great red dragon. That they’re signs means they signify something or represent something. The woman represents God’s people, or the Church, through which God brought His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into the world. And the great red dragon represents the devil. v1-6 show us how this great dragon is defeated by the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of this Son. Once we arrive at v7 and continue on until v17 the war continues but the aim of the dragon changes. His rage now is directed at those who follow Christ, the Church.

War in Heaven (v7-10)

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”

After the great victory over the dragon the son born of the woman ascended to God and to His throne. Immediately we then see war in heaven. This isn’t new to see Michael fighting. In many places throughout the book of Daniel we see these things, but specifically in Daniel 2 and Daniel 10 there are parallels to this. In Daniel 10 we see Daniel praying for help, for restoration, asking God to forgive His people. Another angel was sent to Daniel to tell him his prayer had been heard and it’s then we see Michael show up. Described as one of the chief princes of the angels, he helps and brings aid to Daniel. Then as the book of Daniel ends in 12:1 we hear that Michael will once more arise and fight the enemies of God for the people of God. What we’re seeing here in Revelation 12 is this long foretold battle.[2] Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon and his angels. Michael is victorious and in v8 we learn there was no longer any place for them in heaven. So what happens? In v9 the great dragon, who is Satan, is thrown down, thrown out of heaven to earth, with all his defeated host. Because of this a loud voice calls out in the heavens rejoicing and praising God, ascribing to God and Christ salvation, power, the Kingdom, and authority. Why do they ascribe these things to God now? We see it as v10 ends, “…for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”

This means what Satan could once do, he can do no more. It was Old Testament reality that Satan could come in and out before the presence of God. Job 1:6 shows this, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” Even in his fallen state he could come in and out before the Lord. What did he do that day? He accused Job of many sins and the rest of the book of Job shows us how this played out. This is after all why the devil is called Satan. Just as God’s names reveal all the good He is and does for us, the devil’s names reveal all the evil he is and does against us. Satan means the accuser, and the setting in which he loves to accuse is the courtroom of the heavenly host gathered together in God’s presence. Therefore, do not miss the might displayed for our benefit in this passage. In Revelation 12:10 this coming in and out is forever stopped. What does this mean? As Christ ascended to rule in heaven as our advocate, Satan is kicked out as our accuser![3] James Hamilton comments on this saying, “Christ accomplished the victory, and apparently God sent Michael to enforce it.”[4] Paul has this in mind when he pens the famous words of Romans 8:31-34, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

This then leads to two implications: the devil can no longer bring any accusation against us in heaven, praise God! But nonetheless this also means the devil is now waging war against us on earth. What do we do in response to him waging war on us? We wage war against him. How?

A Threefold Strategy (v11-12)

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Against the raging of the devil we have three strategies:

By the Blood

The basis of Satan’s former accusations against us in the heavenly courtroom was about sin, about us not keeping God’s Law. The evidence was abundant and we do not get around it by denying it. But when God put forth Jesus to be the propitiation or atoning or wrath absorbing sacrifice for our sins and paid our penalty, dying in our place, there was no longer any claim against God’s people. The Law had been satisfied; sin had been removed. Thus, there is no charge that sticks; no accusation that can damn! Yes we have sinned, there is no denying it. But the blood of Jesus cleanses us who believe of all sin. We conquer by the blood.

By the Word of Their Testimony

Satan would love nothing more than for the good news of Christ’s victory and his own defeat to be kept silent. But see here that a true part of our war against him is our testimony of, or our bearing witness to the good news of the gospel of Christ. It might be true that a believers testimony includes their own story from death to life, but even then, the story of Christ’s work, of His wrath bearing atonement, of His own going from death to life to rule in the heavens, that story must hold central place in our story (this will become clearer in v17). We conquer by the blood and by the word of our testimony.

By A Superior Love

Notice how v11 ends by saying, “…for they loved not their lives even unto death.” This is our last of three strategies and it has to do with what we love. Because of who God is and what God has done for us in Christ, we love our Triune God more than life itself. So when it comes to remaining alive or remaining faithful to the message of Christ, we hold fast to the gospel even to point of death. In the devil’s war against us he can kill us, but he can never eternally condemn us. It is better, infinitely better, to die trusting Christ and clinging to the gospel than to go on living by forsaking Christ and denying the gospel.[5] After all, death might be an enemy to God’s created order, but to the Christian what is death but our chauffer to the King of kings Himself in glory? 

Yes this battle is fierce, but we conquer by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony, and by loving God more than life itself. Notice v12? After v11, v12 comes in with a kind of response or twofold call. The first call is for joy in the heavens…because what better news can there be than that Christ has been enthroned and the devil removed and kicked out?! But the second call is a woe on the earth…because though the devil’s time is short his rage is great, and all will feel it to varying degrees. His earthly rage in his war on earth against the Church and God’s response to it is then the focus on the remaining verses in v13-17.

War on Earth (v13-17)

“And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.”

Once the dragon, or the devil, is thrown down to the earth he doesn’t take time to collect himself, or rest, or take a breather, no. His rage keeps on and because he can no longer make any kind of attack against Christ he comes against those who are united to Christ. Specifically in v13, ‘the woman who had given birth to the child’ or the Church. But when His people are under attack the enthroned Christ doesn’t stand by idly. v14 indicates the Church was taken care of, it doesn’t say who did this, but I’d venture to say it was Christ caring for His own, by giving His Church ‘the two wings of the great eagle’ so she can escape the devil to a place where she can be nourished and revived in her strength of soul. That the devil is now called the serpent is I think an explicit link with the garden narrative of Genesis 3, the woman being attacked/deceived, and yet the serpent still ends up being crushed![6]

There is much Old Testament imagery at work here to see. I’d say Exodus imagery is mainly in view and general Israelite experience is also in view. Or to say it another way, the language used here brings to mind much that Israel first experienced in the Exodus and then experienced again throughout their history. Recall, Israel was once under the harsh enslavement and yoke of Pharaoh in Egypt, yet after God saved them out from under Pharaoh’s hand He led His people…where else but into the wilderness to a specific place where they’d be nourished (just as v14 speaks of). Where was this place? God led Israel out into the wilderness to worship with Him at Sinai where they would be nourished with His Law and His presence. Deut. 32 even mentions language used here, likening the way God led Israel out of Egypt to Sinai to an eagle that leads, loves, and cares for their young. And I would miss a great mark if I did not mention Isa. 40:31 where this eagle imagery is famously repeated, saying those who love and follow the Lord ‘mount up on eagles wings.’ But note more. That the Church is nourished ‘for a time, and times, and half a time’ is a reference to the whole period of wandering Israel experienced after the Exodus, which is similar to the experience of the Church now living in exile and wandering though nourished by Christ Himself in between the first and second coming of Christ. Also in v15-16 there is imagery of the devil seeking to sweep the Church away in a river or flood coming out of his mouth and the earth coming to Church’s aid by swallowing it up. Was this not how Pharaoh tried to destroy the Israelites as they walked out of Egypt? He hoped the Red Sea would be their death yet it turned on Pharaoh and was his end. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself that God didn’t save Israel in this instance by opening the earth to swallow anything, but listen to how Moses describes God’s rescue from Pharaoh and the Red Sea in Exodus 15. The chapter begins in v1-3 proclaiming, “I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is His name…” The song continues on after this wondrously so but direct your attention to the language used by Moses a few verses later in 15:11-12, “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out Your right hand; the earth swallowed them.” Hear that last part? The earth swallowed God’s enemies? The same imagery is used here and Rev. 12:16 to define how God saves His people from their enemies.

As v17 comes to us there is a concluding statement. Because of his failed attempt to get at Christ and because of his failure to get at the Church, the dragon became furious and went on in his fury to attack more offspring of the woman, or more of the Church, who are described as those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (notice now what was first presented to us in v11 is made clearer. It’s not primarily their own testimony but testifying of Christ). But do we lose hope? No sir! Just as God defended and ultimately delivered His people in the past, He’ll do so and does so right now with us.

So Church, there are two takeaways for us in this passage, at least.[7]First, see the reality of spiritual warfare: our Christian experience isn’t intended to be easy. We don’t live in a peace time, we live in war time when the dragon, the serpent, the devil of old is coming against in his fury. Do we recognize it? One of biggest tricks of our enemy might just be convincing many of us that this battle doesn’t exists, or if we know of it he’ll tempt us to think it isn’t as serious as it truly is. The question comes to us from this text. Are we prepared for this fight? Or are we just on cruise control throughout the Christian life? May we wake up and set ourselves to work. What will God do if here in our city took this passage seriously about how we’re to live our lives? If we rejoiced in the victory of Christ over the devil, if we rejoiced that Satan our accuser has been thrown down and Christ our Advocate has been seated in power, if we proclaimed the testimony of Jesus and the power of His blood, and if we loved not our lives even unto death, if we did these things, what would happen to us? Whether alive or dead, the answer is clear: we’d conquer. What would God do if we lived this kind of life? This answer is also clear: much! John Paton lived this kind of life and one of the most violent islands of history was transformed. This call to love God deeply and live for Him boldly must not only be proclaimed anew to every generation, it must be embraced by every generation. Church, everything changes when dying is gain.

Second, see the importance of spiritual nourishment amid spiritual warfare: God led the woman, representing the Church, to a place of spiritual nourishment even though war raged all around her. What does it mean for us to be nourished by God? What does this mean for us individually and corporately? I do hope this text has been something like a yearly physical. Just as we learn how healthy or unhealthy we are at those visits, this text presses the question of our spiritual health home to us. Are we Christians who are nourished or malnourished? If we find ourselves to be malnourished, how do we ever expect to be ready for war? We can’t. If we find ourselves to be nourished and strong, can we afford to stop being vigilant? No, war isn’t over yet. Until peace time comes we must press on to know the Lord, evermore!

[1] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2017), 352.

[2] Phillips, 354.

[3] Douglas Kelly, quoted in Phillips, 354.

[4] James M. Hamilton Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 251.

[5] Hamilton Jr., 253.

[6] G.K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2015) 264.

[7] Beale, 265.

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