Satan: Defeated and Dangerous
A sermon on Revelation 12 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 6/26/2005
When you hear the word “devil” what comes to your mind? Halloween costumes? Pitchforks? Jokes? (
For most Americans, Satan is nothing more than a joke, nothing more than a symbol of evil. According to a George Barna poll taken earlier this year, 60% of Americans say Satan is “not a living being, but a symbol of evil.” Even among self-described born-again Christians, 46% deny Satan’s existence
My friends: Satan is real. He is personal. And he is no joke.
He is absolutely delighted that most Americans think he doesn’t exist, for that makes them easy prey to his wiles. He is also absolutely delighted at the much smaller percentage of Americans who live in deadly fear of him. Ignore him or fear him; he’s happy either way.
What makes him tremble – what strikes fear into his heart – is when believers learn about who he is, when they learn to fight effectively against his deceptions.
That’s the goal of this morning’s text, Revelation 12: To inspire and equip God’s people to fight effectively against Satan.
For this reason, this has been a very difficult sermon for me to prepare; my preparation time this week was interrupted constantly, and I felt waves of tiredness and discouragement sweep over me.
But here we are. God has ordained for you to be here to listen to the exposition of this marvelous text. Jesus says time and again, “He who has ears, he must hear.” So listen. Pay attention. You are hear this morning to hear this message.
Though even a casual reading of Revelation 12 shows that it focuses on Satan, there are many puzzles in this chapter – including some of the most challenging puzzles in this book of puzzles. Indeed, in his more than 1100 page commentary, Greg Beale says this chapter contains “one of the most difficult problems in the Apocalypse.” We’re not going to spend much time this morning looking at these puzzles; instead, we will focus on Satan himself.
Prior to chapter 12, in Revelation the word “devil” appears once, and the word “Satan” 4 times, all in the letters Jesus dictates in chapters 2 and 3 to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Some examples:
Again and again in those letters, Jesus calls His people to resist, to overcome, to conquer Satan and his allies.
But in the pictures of conflict on earth that we’ve seen in chapters 6 to 11, there is no mention of Satan. Many times, John mentions God’s human enemies – those who dwell on earth – but not Satan Himself. For the scenes in chapters 6 to 11 are predominantly from an earthly perspective, with the heavenly reality bursting through. Chapter 12, on the other hand, now gives us a spiritual perspective on the evil we have already seen in the world. This is the battle behind all other battles.
There is an old saying: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing in chapter 12, what is new, is the focus on Satan Himself. So he will be our focus too this morning. We’ll ask ourselves: What does this chapter tell us about Satan, about our battle against him?
Answering that question leads to this simple outline:
Satan is Dangerous
Satan is Defeated
Satan is dangerous for he is mighty and powerful; he works to destroy Jesus Himself; and he works to destroy those who belong to Jesus.
Verse 3 tells us that the dragon, Satan, is great, with 10 horns, and seven crowned heads. The image is from Daniel 7, where the prophet sees four beasts come out of the sea in succession. The description of Satan seems to be a composite image of all four. But even the individual beasts in Daniel are frightening; Daniel 7:7 says the fourth beast is “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong.”
In verse 4, the dragon’s tail sweeps down one-third of the stars. Whatever else that might signify, such an action clearly displays his power.
In verse 12, a voice from heaven cries out,
“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!"
If Satan is powerful enough to cause woe to the earth and the sea, then he is mighty indeed.
These verses do not paint a picture of a little man with pointy horns and a tail carrying a pitchfork. This is not a picture of a joke. He is mighty and powerful.
This mighty one aims all his power at destroying Jesus. Look again at verse 4:
And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.
He tries to kill Jesus immediately at His incarnation. Although he fails in that mission, the very fact that he was able to try, and thought he might succeed, shows the extent of his power.
When Satan fails to destroy Jesus, he turns his attention elsewhere:
This chapter tells us of three ways that Satan attempts to destroy God’s people:
1) He is a Deceiver
Verse 9 calls him the “deceiver of the whole world.” He leads people astray. This has been true from the beginning. Remember Genesis 3? Satan convinces Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by subtly suggesting that God is not good, that God does not have her best interest at heart. So when God asks her what she has done, Eve replies, correctly, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
But Satan’s deceptions do not end in the Garden. He continues to deceive mankind throughout history. Indeed, Jesus says of Satan,
[He] has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44
Satan is much more persuasive, much more deceitful than the most manipulative used car salesman. He is a master of deceit. You, left to own devices, are without hope against him.
Satan’s biggest deception is to blind people to the glory of Jesus. As Paul tells us,
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
He succeeds in this deception with millions. But, praise God, he also fails with millions. When he fails, however, he has another tactic. His arsenal of weapons is not empty if deceit fails. He also becomes an accuser.
2) He is an Accuser
Verse 10 tells us he accuses God’s people day and night before God. Zechariah 3 is an example of this. The High Priest, Joshua, stands before God representing the people. He is dressed in filthy clothes, representing his sinfulness. Satan is standing beside him accusing him.
Satan is thus the one who points out all our sins. He repeats again and again that we deserve punishment. And he never stops! Day and night, he tells God and he tells us how guilty we are.
What is his goal? He wants to render us ineffective and unproductive in our Christian life because of guilt. He wants us to forget the cleansing, the freedom that is ours in Christ. He wants us to think God can never use us because of our sinful past, and because of continuing sin.
So Satan first deceives, then he accuses. If we fight successfully against his deceit and accusations, he turns to another tactic:
3) He Attacks God’s People
This is the theme of the last section of the chapter, verses 13-17. In verse 13, Satan pursues or persecutes the woman; in verse 15 he spews water out of his mouth, aiming to flood her; in verse 17, furious at the escape of the woman, he makes war on her offspring, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
It’s not clear what the woman represents. The main choices seem to be either the true remnant within Old Testament Israel or the true Israel of all time. But in any case, the image is clear: Satan pursues and persecutes God’s people.
This is what Peter tells us:
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9
Satan is mighty. Satan is powerful. Satan is dangerous. He is a dragon, a lion, a formidable adversary. He can deceive, and has deceived billions. He accuses, and continues to accuse you day and night. He attacks directly, and harms many.
So beware. Take care. Satan is mighty.
But, praise God, this is not the only lesson of Revelation 12!
Again and again in our text, John shows us that Satan is defeated and frustrated. In most cases, this defeat is caused by God and His angels.
Verse 5: Satan waits to devour Jesus, but the child is caught up to safety at God’s throne.
Verse 6: The women is able to escape from Satan to the wilderness, to a place prepared by God, where she is nourished. Note that the “wilderness” in Israel conjures up a different image from the American idea of wilderness. When most Americans think of wilderness, they picture a primeval forest, with tall trees, many animals, and little sign of human habitation. But the wilderness in Judea is not a forest; rather, it is dry, semi-arid, almost a desert. Furthermore, in biblical imagery, the wilderness is not a dangerous place, but a place of protection. It has its challenges, but it is a place where God’s people can get away from worldly threats and temptations. Thus Elijah flees to the wilderness when Jezebel threatens his life (1 Kings 19). Thus Jesus Himself spends 40 days in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry (Matthew 4).
Verses 7-9: Michael and other angels defeat Satan and his cohorts; there is no longer place in the heavens for him, so he is thrown down.
Verse 12: This verse indicates Satan’s power, but also the limits of his power:
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!" Revelation 12:12
As we noted above, Satan is powerful enough to be a threat to the earth and the sea. Yet he knows his time is short. He knows he is defeated. He knows he will not always be able to exercise power.
Last week, Vice President Cheney said that the insurgency in Iraq has become more violent because it is in its last throes. Knowing they are about to be overcome, the insurgents, he says, are lashing out in a desperate last gasp.
That assessment of Iraq’s insurgents may or may not be accurate. But that is true of Satan. He looks powerful; indeed, he is powerful. But this exercise of his power is his last gasp. He is overcome. He is defeated. Although he can make things ugly for a while, the end is near. His insurgency against God is almost over.
V14: As Satan pursues/persecutes the woman, she is given two wings of an eagle. This is another picture of deliverance, of a God-given means of escape. This same image is used in the Old Testament. Remember, after God rescues the people of Israel from the Egyptian army, saving them via parting the Red Sea, He brings them to Mount Sinai and says to them,
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Exodus 19:4
God’s rescue is pictured as being carried on eagles’ wings. Just so with the woman in Revelation 12:14.
But look again at the verse: The wings carry the woman into wilderness for what purpose? She is to be nourished, to be fed, to be strengthened. As for Elijah, the wilderness for her is a place of protection and nourishment, not a place of danger.
Verse 16: After Satan pours a river after her – trying to change the semi-arid wilderness into a river – the earth itself protects the woman, swallowing the river. Once again, Revelation picks up on an image from Exodus. In Exodus 15:12, Pharaoh’s army is said to be swallowed by the earth.
Thus, there are numerous pictures in this chapter of Satan being defeated by God and His angels. But this chapter also emphasizes that God’s people are not only protected by God; they themselves conquer Satan!
Look at verse 11 again. Speaking of “our brothers”, those accused by Satan, this verse tells us
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. Revelation 12:11
Thus you – if you are a brother, a true believer – must conquer Satan. You will conquer him.
“But Coty,” you might ask, “You just said how mighty and powerful he is. He throws down stars, he battles the most powerful of God’s angels, he is confident enough even to attack Jesus Himself. I can see how God will frustrate and conquer him. But me? How can I conquer him?”
To answer this question, we must examine the meaning of the word translated “conquered.” We also must understand how God’s people are to conquer Satan.
The Greek word translated “conquer” here is often translated “overcome.” Do you remember the continuing refrain in the letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3? After Jesus warns, rebukes, or exhorts each church, He then says, “To the one who conquers, I will give . . .” For example:
2:7 To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life.
3:12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.
3:21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne.
Does Jesus mean these Christians are to go out and overwhelm Satan in one-on-one combat? No. “Conquer” or “overcome” does not mean you alone finally defeat Satan. You are not David versus Goliath, alone, with the whole army of Israel depending on you.
“Conquer” means to defeat Satan’s wiles in your life, to resist his temptations. But don’t say, “Oh, that’s all it means. When you said we conquer him, I thought I had a role in destroying Satan ultimately!”
Guess what? You do have such a role! The battle in your life is one part of the overall battle against Satan!
Some of you know the history of the battle of Gettysburg. Remember, each army had tens of thousands of soldiers. But perhaps the outcome of the whole battle was determined by the actions of only a few men. On the second day, a unit from Maine commanded by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain held Little Round Top, the left end of the Union line. If the Confederate army were to succeed in overrunning this unit, the whole Union line would be in danger of collapsing. The battle might be lost. And if this battle were to be lost, the Union forces might well lose the war.
No one in the Union army expected an attack at this point, many miles from the bulk of the Confederate forces. But the First Corps executed a long march hidden from Union view, and mounted a furious attack. Chamberlain’s men were almost overrun. Out of ammunition, all seemed hopeless. But in this desperate situation, Chamberlain had his few remaining men fix bayonets, come out from behind their barriers, and attack the Southern forces. When they charged, the Confederates fell before them. The Union won at Little Round Top because of a few dozen men. Yet the entire war may have depended on those men.
Just so with us. We together are the body of Christ; we together conquer Satan. We each have a personal battle, but each personal battle is not insignificant. Satan is defeated ultimately through the millions of defeats he suffers in the lives of individual Christians. Each personal battle is part of that process of defeating Satan.
Furthermore, look again at verse 11. How do we conquer Satan? By what means? “By the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
Thus, we do not defeat Satan by ourselves, by our own power. We defeat him by the “blood of the Lamb”. What does that mean?
We defeat him by the confidence we have in Christ. So when Satan accuses us, saying, “You are guilty! God will never forgive you! You’re dirt!” we respond by saying, “Yes, I am guilty! But 1 John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” We need to remind ourselves that, like Joshua in Zechariah 3, God has taken away our filthy clothes and has covered us with the righteousness of Christ Himself, by His blood.
Furthermore, look at the last phrase of verse 11: “They loved not their lives even unto death.” As Jesus says in John 12:24-25,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Or as Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Thus, when Satan says, “You’re going to miss out on life unless you commit this sin!” you can respond, “Get behind me, Satan. That’s not the way to real life. That’s not the way to true joy. That sin results in death, not life! In God’s presence is fullness of joy – not in a life of sin! I belong to God – bought with the precious blood of Christ. I’m better off dying than giving in to your temptations.”
That’s how we conquer Satan by the blood of Jesus.
But verse 11 also tells us that these brothers conquer Satan by “the word of their testimony.” What does this mean?
Think of it this way: Each of us conquers Satan in part through the encouragement of others. As we speak the Word of God to others – through preaching, yes, but also through speaking biblical truth in other contexts - God uses His Word to protect His people. So the author of Hebrews says:
All of you, brothers, take care, lest there be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But all of you exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that not one of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13, own translation)
We are to “exhort one another” – that is the “word of their testimony”. You defeat Satan in your own life by the blood of the Lamb; you defeat Satan in the lives of your brothers and sisters by the word of your testimony as you speak the Word of God to them. In this way, you help them not love their lives even unto death.
So where are you in this?
Some of you are caught in Satan’s trap. Your eyes are blind to the glories of Jesus. You’re in church this morning, but you are duped by Satan. You don’t treasure Jesus above all things. You care more about your career, your friends, your school, or your reputation than you care about Jesus.
You are right where Satan wants you.
Friends, that’s not the way to life – that’s the way to death. True joy is found in God, and in Him alone.
So repent! Turn from these empty, useless ways of trying to find joy! See Jesus as your greatest treasure! Say, “Lord, forgive me by the blood of the Lamb. May You be my treasure!” And enter into His presence, where there is fullness of joy.
Others here this morning proclaim Christ; you say He is your Savior, your Lord, and your treasure. But:
Friends, Satan is alive and well. And he is your deadly enemy. He is exercising all his power to cause you to turn your back on Jesus. Failing that, he is exercising all his power to make you ineffective and unproductive. Is he succeeding in that?
Don’t’ take him lightly! Don’t pretend he doesn’t exist! He is mighty. He is dangerous. You cannot resist him if left to your own devices. You cannot defeat him on your own.
But God has given you the gift of His Spirit and the gift of His church. So fight him! Know his wiles! Resist him!
Lean on each other! Speak the Word to each other! Hear the Word faithfully preached! Put on the full armor of God!
Then and only then, you – and all of God’s people together – will ultimately defeat our greatest enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 6/26/05. The Barna results on Satan can be found at http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=6 .
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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