Synopsis: The saints overcome the Dragon and his forces through the death of the Lamb and their faithful witness, “even unto death” – Revelation 12:11.
In Chapter 12 of the book of Revelation, the “sign of the Great Red Dragon” appeared, a sign that war had commenced “in heaven,” the battle between the Dragon and Michael the Archangel. This “war” is the heavenly counterpart to the earthly events described in the passage: The Dragon’s attempt to devour the Son at his birth from the Woman clothed with the Sun. This “son” is a messianic figure destined to “shepherd” the nations. But the Dragon fails when the Son is exalted to God’s throne (Revelation 12:1-12. Compare Revelation 5:5-12, Psalm 2:7-9).
The image of a “war” between the Dragon and Michael uses language from the prophet Daniel’s vision of Michael standing to fight for God’s people. The victory of the Son by means of his death has its heavenly counterpart (Daniel 12:1).
Having failed in the attempt, no place remains for the Dragon in the courts of heaven, an allusion to the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar of a great image comprised of multiple materials. Daniel interpreted it to represent four “kingdoms” symbolized by it four components. At the end of the vision, a “stone cut out without hands” smote the image and, thereby, the kingdoms that it represented, crushing them into dust; thereafter, “No place was found for them” and the stone became a great mountain that filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:35).
The book of Revelation pictures the commencement of that vision’s fulfillment in the exaltation of the Son. But first, the Dragon and his army must be defeated and expelled from heaven. The Dragon is “the Ancient Serpent,” an identification that links him to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Like Eve, the Woman clothed with the Sun is the mortal enemy of the “Serpent” (Genesis 3:1, 3:14).
The Dragon is also the “Devil and Satan.” The terms mean “slanderer” and “adversary,” respectively. The ancient Serpent claimed that God’s command to Adam was untrue and, thus, slandered Him by insinuating that He had ulterior motives (Genesis 3:1-5).
The Devil is described as the one who “is deceiving the whole habitable earth.” This, likewise, echoes the Genesis story when Eve excused her disobedience by blaming the Serpent; “the Serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). The reference to the “habitable earth” demonstrates that humanity is the target of his deceptive activities, not the planet earth itself (Greek – oikumené)
Satan is called the “Great Red Dragon,” an echo of Ezekiel 29:1-3 where the king of Egypt was compared to a “Great Dragon.” This is part of the book of Revelation’s practice of folding imagery from the story of ancient Israel into its narrative of the Lamb and his people.
The expulsion of Satan did not occur at some primeval point in the remote past nor is it still waiting for a future event. In Revelation, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the defeat of the Devil is the result of the past death and exaltation of the Son (Luke 10:18, Colossians 2:14-15, Hebrews 2:14).
The “casting” of the Dragon from heaven parallels the earlier image of a “great mountain burning with fire being cast into the sea,” the later picture of the “casting” of the Great Harlot, Babylon, and the “casting” of Satan into the Abyss. The description of a burning mountain being cast into the sea when the second trumpet sounds uses language from Jeremiah’s long judicial pronouncement against ancient Babylon. In each of the three instances in Revelation, the Greek verb used for “cast” is ballō (Jeremiah 51:25, Revelation 8:8, 18:21, 20:3).
The “loud voice heard in heaven” interprets the vision as it breaks into a hymn of praise, an interpretive pattern found elsewhere in the book (e.g., Revelation 1:10, 5:6-14, 7:9-17,14:2-5, 15:3-4). The hymn declares that the defeat of the Dragon in “heaven” and reflects the victory of the Lamb on the earth. The Devil lost his legal basis to accuse the saints before God; they are now declared “not guilty” in the heavenly court and exempt from the “second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:6).
With the victory of the Lamb, the Devil’s role under the Old Covenant of ‘accuser’ has come to an end (Job 1:9, 2:5, Zechariah 3:1-2, Luke 10:18). However, though knocked down, he is not yet out of the fight. Following his expulsion, he assumes the role of the deceiver of the “whole habitable earth.”
Satan’s defeat means the inauguration of the “kingdom of our God” and the start of the reign of the Messiah (“Now, has come the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ”). The language echoes the messianic promises from Psalm 2:6-10 and reiterates words heard earlier when the seventh trumpet sounded:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign unto the ages of ages.”
While the kingdom of God may wait until the end of the age for its consummation, its commencement began with the death and resurrection of the Lamb.
The martyrs of the fifth seal were told that they must wait for vindication “a little while until the number should be made full of their fellow-servants also…who were going to be slain as even they.” The “little time” allotted to the Dragon refers to this same period, as do the twelve hundred and sixty days, the forty-two months, and the “time, times and half a time.” As he persecutes the “seed of the woman,” the Dragon only succeeds in sealing his own doom (Revelation 6:9, 11:2-3, 12:6-14, 13:5-6).
“You who are tabernacling in heaven.” This group is contrasted with the ungodly, “those who dwell on the earth.” The language is not about geographic location; it does not refer to angels or disembodied spirits. Instead, the saints who follow the Lamb are those “who tabernacle in heaven”; their lives are oriented toward God, not the fallen world order. They belong to the realm from which Satan was ejected and they are no longer under his legal jurisdiction. (Revelation 7:15, 11:1-2, 13:6).
“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the Devil has come down to you having great fury.” This warning concerns the attacks of the Dragon against the “seed of the woman, not the “inhabitants of the earth.” In Revelation, “wrath” and punitive judgments are directed against the “inhabitants of the earth” at the instigation of God, not the Devil. In contrast, Satan’s attacks always target the saints (Revelation 11:7, 13:7-10, 20:7-10).
Finally, the declaration of victory for the saints by the “great voice in heaven” provides a clear explanation for how they overcame the Dragon: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death” (Revelation 12:10-11).