The Church: Play Park or War Zone?

Revelation chapter 12 explores two key themes. The first major theme is spiritual warfare. Revelation is about the battle between good and evil, it is about the war between Christ and Satan and the hordes of hell versus the hosts of heaven.  Not only does it explore the theme of spiritual warfare, it highlights God’s victory through Jesus Christ.

Spiritual warfare

Spiritual warfare is a phrase that produces a variety of effects in different believers. Just the mention of the phrase is enough to send some Christians into a flurry of hyper-active, Jesus Marching; Territorial Mapping; Stronghold Binding; Victory Confessing; Curse Breaking – good ole fashion’ spiritual warfare. It is no wonder that the words ‘spiritual warfare’ spark the opposite response in others. Many wish to avoid any concept of the demonic realm; they instead focus on the war between the flesh and the spirit. Others influenced by rationalism, prefer to think of evil in purely moralistic and philosophical terms. The bible however presents us with a spiritual realm. It presents us with not only a personal God but a personal devil.

C.S Lewis tackled the problem of extremities in relation to spiritual warfare, as we approach this study it is worthwhile to keep the following advice in mind:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils." He claimed that one mistake “is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." 

Lewis argued that evil spirits are:

“equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Salvation History

The second major theme is salvation history, in other words, God’s plan of redemption as revealed through the ages.

In verses 7-8, the apostle John draws our attention to the Fall of Satan and the rebellion in heaven:

7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.

The rebellion in heaven leads to the rebellion on earth:

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. (12:9)

We also see God’s intervention on the earth:

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. (Rev12:1)

Who is this woman? It is not initially clear, but as the passage unfolds it becomes clear that the woman represents the people of God. In particular Israel, it is very likely that the twelve stars refer to the twelve tribes of Israel. This passage is the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s plan of redemption: the formation of God’s people Israel.  This is made clear in the verses which follow:

She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (Rev 12:2)

The woman gives birth to a child who is born to rule the nations:

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. (Rev 12:5)

These verses make it plain that the woman gives birth to the Messiah. These verses are referring to the Birth of Christ. God promised that a deliverer would come from the seed of a woman (Gen 3:15). He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his seed. God’s plan of redemption was to set apart a people in order that salvation may come to the nations. In a very real sense it is Israel who gave birth to the Messiah.   

The birth of the messiah leads to immediate conflict between Satan and Christ:

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. (Rev 12: 4)

This was the ‘enmity’ between the serpent and the seed of the woman that is predicted in Genesis chapter 3.  We see this conflict played out in the pages of the New Testament when Herod seeks to destroy the new born Christ because it is claimed that He is a king.

And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (Rev 12: 5)

This verse speaks of the victory and ascension of Christ. It is through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ that the powers of darkness are overcome. The victory of Christ demonstrated through his ascension is a constant theme of the New Testament. The apostle Paul was eager that the Church understood the power and authority of the ascended Christ:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:18-23)

However, although Christ has secured the victory, the battle still rages on earth and the warfare is now between Satan and Church:

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. (Rev 12:17)

Who are the offspring of the woman? It is the church of Jesus Christ. The verse makes this clear – the Devil is waging war against those who hold to the ‘testimony about Jesus’, in other words Christians who confess that Jesus is Saviour and Lord. The Devil is waging war against those who are seeking to keep ‘God’s commands.’ Make no mistake about it, the Devil hates the church. He hates those who testify about Jesus and he hates those who obey God’s commandments.

The apostle John, in chapter 12, reveals a twofold purpose of Satan:

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. (12:9)

According to the apostle, the Devil is involved in leading the world astray. We see this don’t we? He is a deceiver. He led astray Adam and Eve and he has been leading their descendants astray ever since. The world thinks that it has no need of God. Top level academics have pronounced that faith is folly and the masses follow this thinking blindly. People pursue fulfilment, wealth, power, health and reputation – anything other than God. The world has been effectively led astray.

According to the apostle, the Devil also seeks to wage war against the church. He hates the church. Why? The church is a constant reminder that God is on the throne. The church is a sign post which points to the glory of God. The church is a testimony that God is in the business of rescuing souls from the Kingdom of darkness. The church is a constant reminder that Satan’s Kingdom is toppling and one day shall be completely overthrown.

Consequently the church is in a battle. This world is not our home. The forces of darkness are working overtime to bring down the church. If Satan cannot tempt the church to compromise, the forces of darkness will spark persecution. All over the world the church is engaged in the battle of resisting temptation or enduring persecution.

This also means that every Christian has an enemy. No Christian is immune. There can be no peace treaty with the Devil. If you are for Jesus, you are against Satan. If you love Jesus and are seeking to follow him, the Devil hates you. 

However, Revelation 12 does not focus on the problem; it highlights the solution:  

They 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. : (Rev 12: 10-11)