Into the Jaws of Death—U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire. A landing craft from the USS ‘Samuel Chase’ disembarks troops of the U.S. Army’s First Division at Omaha Beach, Normandy, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
War in Heaven and on Earth
What is Revelation fundamentally about? To answer this question, let’s go to one of the key scenes in the book. In 12:7-11 we read this: “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. 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.”
Note these phrases: “war arose in heaven”; and “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” . The book of Revelation is about a war. There’s a spiritual battle raging in the Universe. Revelation is a war drama.
Our Commander’s call to courage
In times of war, great leaders will address their people or their troops to inspire them and strengthen their resolve for the conflict. An outstanding example is General Bernard Montgomery’s address to his officers the day after taking command of the British Eighth Army in North Africa in 1942. He said, “Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal. . . . . Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa; . . . . It can be done, and it will be done: beyond any possibility of doubt. . . . . I ask you to give me your confidence and to have faith that what I have said will come to pass.”. Montgomery’s Chief of Staff reported, “The effect of his address was electric―it was terrific. And we all went to bed that night with a new hope in our hearts, and a great confidence in the future of our Army.”.
In the Book of Revelation, our Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ, addresses His troops―that’s us! He’s showing us the spiritual battle we’re involved in. He’s showing us who our enemies are, and how they operate. He’s showing us how to fight, and how to overcome our enemies. He assures us of victory. And He captivates our hearts and minds with the final glory that will follow.
The flashpoint of conflict
Revelation is a war drama. That war began a very long time ago.
The very first enemy of God was Satan. It seems that Satan was once a very powerful angel who lived in Heaven. He was originally perfect and sinless. But there came a time when he became proud―so proud, in fact, that he wanted to be like God Himself. That was the moment when evil entered God’s creation. That was the moment when this war began.
God threw Satan out of Heaven. It seems that other angels joined his rebellion. They, too, were thrown out of Heaven. Satan set up his headquarters in another spiritual realm. With him are the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6:12.
The battle for planet Earth
In the first two chapters of Genesis we read how God created the heavens and the Earth. He filled Earth with all kinds of living things. And He created the first human, Adam. God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden” (Genesis 2:15). God put Adam in the garden. And He made Eve from Adam’s side.
And so we find God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (as Genesis 3:8 suggests). And as the human race multiplied and filled the Earth, God wanted the Garden of Eden’s boundaries to be extended until the whole Earth was a paradise. God wanted the whole Earth to be His paradise where He lived among His people.
Satan, it seems, had tried to be like God in Heaven. We can assume that Satan now saw his chance to do on Earth what he’d failed to do in Heaven―to be like God. He wanted to seize control of planet Earth. He wanted humans to worship and serve him rather than God. So he hatched a plan.
In Genesis 3:1 we read that the snake “was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made” . This was no ordinary snake. It may have been Satan’s messenger. Or it may have been Satan himself in disguise.
The snake tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. And so we read that Eve “ate, and . . . also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
How did the snake persuade Adam and Eve to disobey God? It did this by deceiving them.
►It made them think wrongly about God―that His word couldn’t be trusted, that He didn’t love them, that He didn’t want the very best for them.
►And it made Adam and Eve think wrongly about themselves. Now they believed that they could do without God and decide for themselves how to live.
It was through believing these lies―this false teaching―that sin entered this world.
Satan deceived Adam and Eve. He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Where in the Bible do we see Satan’s deceptive activity most graphically? Right here in the Book of Revelation.
A shattered world
Adam and Eve rebelled against God. That had catastrophic consequences on them and on this world. Sin and evil has devastated our human race and the natural world. Earth is still a wonderful place, full of beauty. But it’s also spoiled. It’s spoiled in so many different ways.
One of them is this: Satan gained power over our human race. The apostle John tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 NIV). We see this so clearly in Revelation.
Satan’s plan succeeded―or so it seemed. He did indeed gain control over this world. But we need to remember this: Satan rules human society only by God’s permission and only within God’s limits. We see this very clearly in Revelation, too.
God cursed the snake. And He said to it: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3:15).
From that moment there would be war between Satan and Eve, and between their offspring―between people who follow Satan and people who follow God.
But then we read this: “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The offspring of the woman would crush Satan’s head. A descendant of Eve would crush Satan and defeat him.
So from now on, through the Bible, we see conflict. And from now on, too, we’re looking for the descendant of Eve who would crush Satan.
The moment arrived when this descendant was born. Paul tells us “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus is the Offspring of the woman. He crushed Satan’s head on the Cross. And He rose from death and ascended into heaven. He’s now enthroned at God’s right hand, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, . . . .” (Ephesians 1:20-21).
God is now carrying out the final phase of His plan of salvation. And He’s enlisted us, His people, in His final ‘push’ to victory. Through His Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people, God is advancing His Kingdom across the globe. God’s people are plundering Satan’s domain and making disciples in every nation.
But that advance is being stoutly resisted by Satan and the forces of evil. They’re fighting a desperate rearguard action. Victory has already been won. Jesus won it on the Cross. But we’re still at war. Every Christian―in fact, every human―is involved in this war. None of us can avoid it.
But we need to remember that this war is not between evenly-matched opponents―not in the slightest. Satan and his forces have power only by God’s permission and within God’s limits. God is always in full control.
Who are the warriors in this great battle?
►The great Warrior of Revelation is the Triune God―Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s holy angels are also involved. And, of course, we believers are involved.
►Warring against God and His forces are Satan and his forces. Paul catalogues Satan’s spiritual forces in Ephesians 6. He writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). But though we don’t fight against “flesh and blood”, Satan and his spiritual forces can and do operate through people. In other words, we never fight against forces that are merely “flesh and blood”, merely human. And so, in Revelation we meet people under Satan’s domination. They’re described as ”all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” , who are “marked on the right hand or the forehead” with the “mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (13:16–17). We’ll look at this mark in session 5.
Warfare and worship
Satan wants to be treated like God here on Earth. He wants to be worshipped instead of God. And so, at its heart, the battle is about worship. Who will be worshipped and served here on Earth? Will people worship God? Or will they worship Satan and the forces of evil? One writer says, “In this war there are two sides. You are either for God or against him. You either serve God, or in one way or another you will be found worshiping Satan and his bestial agents . . . . Thus Revelation implicitly issues a challenge like Joshua: ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ (Joshua 24:15).”
And this must surely explain why we see so much worship in Revelation. We see those who worship God and the Lamb: there are seven scenes of heavenly worship in Revelation (4:8-11, 5:8-14, 7:9-12, 11:16-18, 14:1-3, 15:2-4, 19:1-8). And we see those who worship the dragon and its beast (13:4-5,8,11-12). In fact, the word ‘worship’ occurs 22 times (in the ESV)―that’s more than in any other New Testament book.
To worship God is an act of war. When we worship God, and when we declare Jesus to be Lord, we wage war on Satan.
The weapons of war
How does Satan attack us? What are his weapons?
►Firstly, he tries to deceive us. Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Paul speaks of “the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Right at the beginning, he deceived Eve with his craftiness (2 Corinthians 11:3).
►Secondly, he attacks us through persecution and the fear of persecution. Such persecution may not be just physical. It may be verbal, psychological, and emotional.
What are our weapons against Satan and his forces?
►Firstly, God’s people conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11). Jesus suffered the penalty for our sins. And God has credited us with Jesus’s perfect righteousness. Satan can no longer accuse us before God.
►Secondly, we also overcome Satan and all his forces by the truth. Right at the beginning, Satan spoke lies. And it was through believing those lies that sin entered this world. And so we defeat Satan’s lies with the truth. We can think of the war with Satan as taking place in a lawcourt. Satan and his forces are in the dock. Witnesses have been called, questioned and cross-examined. Jesus Christ Himself is “the faithful and true witness” (3:14)―a witness to God’s character, to the way of salvation, to the coming judgment. John “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (1:2). You and I are witnesses. All God’s people are witnesses. And so ‘witness’ is a key theme in Revelation, as we’ll see.
►Thirdly, God’s people are to resist the seductions of this world. John urges us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).
►Finally, God’s people respond to persecution by staying faithful to God even through suffering and even, if need be, to death. Jesus said to the suffering church in Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).
FOOTNOTES Quoted from Speech to 8th Army upon assuming command Published online here, accessed 17 September 2021.  Quoted from Destiny in the Desert: the Road to El Alamein―the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby (page not known). First published in Great Britain by Profile Books Ltd., London, in 2012. Accessed on Google Books on 2 June 2022.  Quoted from The Returning King: a Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern Sheridan Poythress, page 23. Published by P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, in 2000. Published online here, accessed on 14 July 2021.
CREDITS ► Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts ► Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.► Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.