No one likes a tattletale, chime the playground kids. Mob bosses tailor concrete boots for rats. “Snitches get stitches,” as the saying goes. When it comes to our sinful secrets, there is no doubt that we loathe them being divulged, and those that spill them win the Oscar of betrayal, an unforgiveable award. However, a tension chides our hatred, for rats often speak the truth. Whistleblowers are concerned for justice and truth against corrupt power structures. Does our desire for privacy outweigh the matters of righteousness? Well, since the beginning of time, the Accuser has been blowing the whistle on our sin before God, and this brief episode before us in Revelation 12:7-12 dramatically displays how Christ permanently silenced our demonic tattletale.
This battle scene trails one of the most sweeping images of all of redemptive history in 12:1-6. Here, the woman who pictured the church from Eve to Mary and beyond is assaulted by the seven-headed dragon. A pregnant lady versus a fanged Norwegian Ridgeback posing as a midwife—the contest hardly seems fair. But the man-child is victoriously swept to heaven garbed in the imagery of Psalm 2. This babe will shatter the nations with his iron scepter. The seed of the woman has crushed the head of that ancient serpent.
This next scene, however, does not follow chronologically after the opening panel; rather, John revisits the same events from another perspective. He employs one of his favorite techniques in Revelation, recapitulation, which is to retell the same episode from a different angle. This recapitulation is marked by the repetition of the phrase ‘in the heaven’ in v 7 from v 1 and v 3. So, in verses 7-12, John retells the birth and snatching up of the child from a heavenly perspective. Michael’s combat with the dragon is the heavenly analogue to the birth and ascension of the Christ child.
Who, though, is Michael? Michael refers to the angelic figure from Daniel 10 and 12 where Michael is revealed as Israel’s (the church’s) heavenly representative and protector against the forces of evil. In Daniel, Michael is further aligned with the Son of Man figure in Daniel 7. Michael is the proper name of the messianic Angel of the Lord. Therefore, Michael here depicts Christ either as an angel representing Christ’s person and work or Christ disclosing himself as the Angel of the Lord. The activity of Michael is to be identified with the work of Christ. It is fitting, then, for this figure to bear the name Michael, which means “Who is like God?” This name is a question of incomparability. No one equals God in power and glory. In Michael the divine glory of Jesus shines forth.
Where as the woman and child faced off with the dragon on earth, so Michael goes toe to toe with the dragon upon the heavenly battlefield. The lens widens to showcase a terribly awesome battle scene. Michael and his hosts clang sword to shield on one side. The dragon and his foul minions hiss on the other. Yet, as soon as the armies are arrayed the brawl is over. The dragon goes down with the first punch—with no place in heaven he was cast down to earth. And in the dragon’s obituary John publishes his driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. We are given the full identification of this dragon.
First, the dragon is the same Ancient Serpent of Genesis 3—the cunning tempter of old who enticed Adam and Eve into sin. He is humanity’s chief adversary longing for their condemnation. Secondly, he is the Devil and Satan. Devil is the Greek word meaning slanderer or adversary. He slanders that which is holy and pure, blaspheming the things of God. In Hebrew, Satan is the accusing adversary of God’s people, who brings charges before God against the church in hope of condemning them. Finally, the dragon wears the nametag of “the Deceiver of the whole world.” His forked tongue weaves the lie that life and equality with God is found in him. He instigated every gross depravity within humanity. These titles or names for the dragon are like hyperlinks to the Old Testament that spell out the history of the dragon.
Yet, with the dragon being pitched into the turf, a great voice sounds in heaven. We are introduced to the two-part structure of this scene in verses 7-12: 1) the battle and defeat in verses 7-9 and 2) the victory song in verses 10-12. And the triumphal hymn or poem interprets and clarifies the previous celestial war. What did Michael’s conquest win? “The salvation…and authority of his Christ!” Michael’s rout of the dragon is the salvation of God’s people performed by Christ. It is the dawn of the Kingdom of God and the granting of all authority and power to Christ. The cross-resurrection-ascension of Jesus is mirrored in the victory of Michael.
The heavenly voice, though, adds the basis for the salvation of Christ: “because the Accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them before God day and night.” The dragon is given one last title, which is basically the meaning of Satan. He is the accuser and his accusation takes place within a courtroom setting. The accuser is the prosecuting attorney lobbying for a conviction, marshalling evidence for a guilty verdict.
Hence, the name “Accuser” clicks the hyperlink titles that take us to the Old Testament. In Job 1, Satan stood before God in the divine counsel to sling accusations against Job. Satan mocked God’s praise of Job, charging that Job only loved God for his money. Take away the blessings and Job will curse God proving his impiety. In Zechariah 3, Satan again donned the wig of the solicitor general and screamed about the filth-covered robes of Joshua.
And these two instances are not exceptions to the norm; rather, night and day Satan has been accusing the brotherly saints before God. Like a dripping faucet he will not stop. He will not shut up. And what is the Accuser’s argument? He plays the card of the law and he has all the sound evidence for our sin. Satan was tattling on us to God, but he was right. Like a high-powered attorney the dragon does not miss a point. From the juror’s seat, our guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. The Accuser’s case is so air-tight that our conviction will be certain. We shudder in hopelessness. We stand guilty before a holy God with no way to pay for our sins. We cannot win the case against us, but against all expectations the voice shouts, “They have overcome him.” The accused brethren conquer the dragon!
How is this possible? From where does this victory come? “They conquered by the blood of the Lamb.” The victory hails from another; it was won by the Lamb’s blood. Michael booted the dragon out of heaven, but he used no sword; rather, he laid down his life as the Messiah. Eve’s Son crushed the Serpent’s head by being bruised. By his blood Jesus paid the complete debt of our sin. The crimson blood of Jesus transforms us into snow white. In the imagery of Zech 3, the Lamb’s blood strips off our sin-stained clothes and adorns us with pure vestments of his righteousness.
And being declared righteous in Christ, who can bring a charge against God’s elect? No one! Hence, the Accuser has been silenced. Christ has stuck a cork in the Serpent’s mouth. The Devil can open his mouth against us but nothing comes out. The blood of the Lamb severed the vocal cords of the dragon so that the Father only hears now, “Your beloved children in Christ.” No wonder the voice breaks into song—such a salvation is too wonderful for prose.
The saints’ victory in the Lamb’s blood ushers them into being like Christ. The victory also includes the word of their testimony. The saints keep the good confession that Christ is Lord and King no matter the crucible of pain torturing them to recant. Moreover, as Christ loved us to the end, so we love not our lives even unto death. Our affections will cling to Him over our lives. Yes, the dragon throws his temper tantrum on earth. He can afflict us and kill the body. But, little does the mute Snake know that to die in Christ is blessed gain. Besides, the dragon’s time is short. Our suffering in Christ is but a moment, a blink of the eye, compared to the eternal light of the Lamb’s face.
Therefore, the next time your assurance wavers, when your conscience feels like someone is tattling on you to God, remember Christ muted your Serpentine Accuser. The only voice that remains is singing of our salvation, a voice we can joyfully join now in worship and forever in glory.
Zach Keele is the pastor of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Escondido, CA, an associate professor at Westminster Seminary California, and author of The Unfolding Word: The Story of the Bible from Creation to New Creation.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published at MR on September 24, 2019.