What is the Devil in Revelation 12?
Question: Revelation 12:7–9 seems to argue that the devil is a rebel angel. Is this the case?
Rev 12: 7-9 And there was war in heaven … and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with
This passage is often used by those who argue that the devil is a rebel angel. A JW publication puts it this way:
“In Eden, Satan used the serpent. And so the Bible identifies the Devil, or Satan, as ‘the original serpent,’ hence the one who really introduced rebellion and wickedness into the universe. – Revelation 12:9”
“Christ would then oust Satan from heaven , the seat of government, hurling him down to the vicinity of the earth, in preparation for putting him completely out of action. In the heavens the grand announcement would then be made: ‘Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ.’ But for the earth, what? ‘Woe … because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.’ (Revelation 12:5,7–9)
The devil of Revelation 12 is nowhere stated to be a fallen angel. Satan in the narrative is a red dragon (v.3), not a fallen angel, and if the red dragon is symbolic of a fallen angel, then proof that the symbol should be interpreted this way is required. The argument that Satan is a fallen angel is therefore inferred, since it is not stated that such is the case in the passage.
For those who teach that Satan was cast out of heaven before the creation of man, it needs to be noted that this cannot be argued from this passage since the book of Revelation was written about AD 96, and it contains prophecies that are stated to be about “things which [were] shortly [to] come to pass” (i.e. future to that time). (Revelation 1:1).
A discussion on Revelation 12 requires that a clear distinction be made between the literal and the figurative and that a criterion or reason by which to make the choice be established before the discussion. By a fast-and-loose treatment of the figurative and literal in a predominantly symbolic book, one can make a passage support nearly any presupposition.
It is therefore important to distinguish the literal and the figurative use of the key words in Revelation 12. The following approach aims to establish step by step that the dragon, heavens and war are all symbolic and are not to be taken literally:
The devil of this passage is a “great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth” (vv. 3,4). Is, or is not, this a literal description of the fallen-angel devil? Is the devil really a literal great red dragon?
Assuming that it is conceded that the dragon is figurative; is the heaven of v. 7 also figurative? (The answer is inevitable: “No”.) The use of the word “heaven” in the preceding verses must then be examined to show whether or not there is consistency in decision that the word “heaven” is used figuratively here.
Is the heaven of v. 1 figurative? (The reply must be “yes” since the woman is clothed with the sun and the moon is under her feet, which would be a literal impossibility). Is the heaven of verse 3 the same heaven, or a different heaven from the heaven of verse 1? (Consistency demands that the answer again be “yes)
Assuming that it is conceded that the heaven of verse 3 is also figurative, it only remains by the same reasoning to establish that the heaven of verse 7 is the same heaven, and therefore, is also figurative. Since the dragon and heaven are figurative, then the war (v. 7) must also be figurative, since one cannot have a literal war when its location and one of the combatants are figurative.
Hence we cannot use this passage to prove that the Devil is a literal fallen angel. All of these terms are being used figuratively.
We need to understand the use of the symbol “great red dragon” so that we can then understand why it should carry the label “old serpent, Devil, Satan”. This is a long discussion that is beyond a very simple note like this. However the origins of many of the symbols in the book of Revelation are to be found in the book of Daniel. Revelation goes on to elaborate the last animal in Daniel’s vision in Dan. 7 v3-7. The great and terrible beast of Dan 7 v7 can be shown to be the cruel and vicious Roman Empire.
Revelation then elaborates this beast further…
Rev 12 – refers to a great red dragon
Rev 13 – shows how the great red dragon gives its power to the beast of the sea.
Rev 17 – then shows now this beast of the sea metamorphoses into the scarlet beast
It can be shown that the various stages above relate to
The Roman Empire (pagan)
The Roman Empire (when it became so called “Christian” under the emperor Constantine)
The “Holy Roman Empire” – which existed in Catholic Europe for many years
These are all progressive sequences in a wicked cruel empire exercising corrupt and false spiritual power over the nations. This empire was against God (an adversary to him) and carried a significant set of lies (false teaching). Hence the term Satan (adversary) and Devil (liar / false accuser) could naturally be applied to the symbolic elements of this metamorphosing dragon.
We need to also understand the word “angel” in the context of this verse. The word “angel” in the Bible means messenger. There are plenty of examples of the word angel used of God’s messengers – this is the use of the traditional word”. However there are places where the word angel is translated as either messenger or ambassador – where the person concerned is clearly a human.
1Sa 23:27 But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. (messenger here is the same word for angel – clearly a human)
Hag 1:13 Then spake Haggai the LORD'S messenger in the LORD'S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD. (as above – this is the same word for angel – but here the messenger is Haggai)
So when we come across the word in Revelation we need to know if this is a real traditional spiritual angel (God’s messenger) or a human being a messenger.
Clearly in the context of Revelation 12, the angels are messengers or ambassadors or representatives of the evil Roman Empire and its subsequent metamorphosis into a corrupt religious system. Finally these angel’s being corrupt priests of a corrupt religious organisation.