The book of Revelation is difficult to understand. The symbolism is so vague that wildly diverse interpretations of it are equally plausible. One rule we may follow is this: no interpretation of vague symbolism in Revelation can contradict the much plainer witness to Jesus in the Gospels and the rest of the Bible.
Just before today’s passage, in 12:1-6, we have a woman, clothed with the sun, who gives birth to a baby boy destined to rule the nations. We have a dragon eager to devour the child the moment it is born. God saves both mother and child from the dragon.
This symbolism has many meanings. For our purposes today, let us just say that the woman represents Mary, the child is Jesus, and the dragon is Satan. Satan, of course, understands the significance of Jesus, sees Jesus as the mortal enemy he is, and goes immediately on the attack. While Satan pretends to be all-powerful, God remains wholly free in relationship to him. Consequently, God effortlessly accomplishes his will to save us through Jesus by saving Mary and Jesus from death at the hands of the dragon.
Let’s look at Satan for a moment. The word, “Satan,” means “accuser.” Satan is the spirit of accusation or slander. We may find a nice example of his work in the book of Job (chapter 1). In Heaven, God praises Job to Satan. Satan responds by accusing Job of being God’s man only because God is useful to him. To God, Satan declares, “But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”(Job 1:11).
In 12:1-6, we learn of the birth of Jesus. From other passages in the New Testament, we know that Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man. With his birth, then, God overcame the rupture between himself and all of us human beings. He closed the gap in which Satan and his minions could work their accusatory ways.
Consequently, in today’s passage (12:7-17), we learn that Satan loses his foothold in heaven. He and his minions have no more place to stand. Heaven no longer echoes painfully with their accusations, false or true, against us. Instead, Jesus stands in our place and Satan and gang are thrown out.
This has consequences which are ultimately wonderful but presently painful. Because of his unity of divinity and humanity, Jesus objectively saved all human beings, you and me included, from the accusatory power of Satan (12:10). Even now, we subjectively participate in that victory and witness to it by affirming it in our own lives and telling others about it (12:11a). That’s the wonderful part.
The painful part is that Satan doesn’t want people to know about the victory of Jesus over him. He doesn’t want us knowing that Jesus has already saved us from his power. So in his frenzy of defeat, Satan uses any means necessary—even murder—to silence our witness to Jesus (12:11b-12).
Today, on the liturgical calendar, is All Saints' Day. Let us remember we are all saints. As holy ones, as people devoted to God, we are all called to radiantly witness to the victory of Jesus over Satan and the accusatory power Satan once had over us.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.