“A great sign appeared in heaven.” This is of true Israel, like the dream Joseph had, with the sun, moon and stars. True Israel is the church, as Christ said, he is the true vine, meaning the true Israel, with all who are in him. A great sign in heaven means a dawning of a new power to rule upon the earth. This is why Herod was afraid and killed all the babies. It’s like the heavens opening at the baptism of Jesus. In that day, this meant a new kingdom was coming to power upon earth. The baptism of Jesus was a political event, feared by the earthly powers. But the politics of the kingdom of God is service, and self-giving/ self-sacrifice, destined to renew the creation.
Israel gave birth to Christ, which is a reference to the incarnation of Jesus through Mary. Then there was another sign in heaven, the seven-headed dragon. This was the Roman Empire, the beast, ruled by satan. It swept a third of the stars of heaven to the earth. As in Joseph’s dream, stars meant human rulers of the world. Rome ruled over one third of the known world. This was not a vision of satan and the fall of angels from heaven. At the time of John, this language was referring to Rome and its rule and displacement/ ruin of the rulers of the world. This passage in Revelation was referring to Daniel 7, which spoke about the rise of the Roman beast against the church and then its own destruction in fire.
Again, referring to Daniel 7, when Rome came against Christ, Christ was caught up to the throne of God, to rule over the nations with a rod of iron. This “rod of iron” is a proverb, meaning absolute rule, but the manner of this rule was unlike Rome and the other powers of this world. His “kingdom is not of this world,” which means it proceeds through the cross, self-sacrifice, not by the sacrifice of others, which is common to all worldly rule. Then the beast came after the church, which God “hid in the wilderness” for 1,260 days.
This is the period of the Neronian persecution, as mentioned above. The “wilderness” means that God protected and nourished the church during this period. The “wilderness” was also a place of protection from Egypt, where God formed his people into a new kingdom to rule on the earth.
“War broke out in heaven.” This depicts the battle been God and satan for the nations. This was a war fought by Christ on the cross, and also by the church, who followed Christ in taking up their own cross. By the cross, the rule of the condemnation of the law within the heart of man was overcome, thus overcoming satan’s grip over the nations. Grace now replaces judgement in our hearts and in our relationships in the church and eventually in the governments and nations of the world, bringing about a kingdom of service that Isaiah envisioned. This is how the kingdoms of the word become the kingdoms of Christ and of his rule of mercy and healing.
Satan lost the battle and was thrown down to the earth. This wasn’t a literal casting out of heaven, but it is symbolic for the rule of satan over our lives being broken by the cross. “Heaven” means the place of rule over mankind and over the nations. Being “cast down to earth” means that this rule has been taken away from satan. He has lost his grip upon the nations and kingdoms of the world. This wasn’t a geographical shift regarding satan’s place of residence, but it meant his loss of power.
“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you with great wrath, knowing that his time is short.” The earth and sea are the land of Israel (Jerusalem) and the pagan realms of Rome. Satan had filled their hearts with rage, as in Psalm 2, to drive them against the church. This rage would turn them against each other and fill their lands with destruction, as it was in the years after John’s prophecy. “His time was short,” meaning satan’s initial opportunity to destroy the church through Rome and Jerusalem.
He could see that wasn’t working out as planned.
When satan saw that he had lost the battle with Christ, he then came after the church. But God hid her in the wilderness, again, meaning that he protected her during the persecution. Satan came after the church with the waters, which means through pagan Rome, the beast/ dragon described above. Waters represent pagan powers. This would also include Rome’s union with Jerusalem, which was also considered to be pagan, as they had rejected God.
Jerusalem was Gog and Magog, not Israel.
“He stood on the sand of the sea.” This takes us into Revelation 13, where satan’s work of raising up the Roman beast from the sea is further described.
This chapter, as in Revelation as a whole, is not about satan’s origin, fall from heaven before creation, and his eternal residence in a literal lake of fire. Revelation used apocalyptic language to describe satan’s initial attempt to destroy the Christ and his church, to retain his grip over a pagan world, which he lost. This is the story of Revelation, as Daniel described it: the stone cut out without hands, the new temple, the kingdom of God, which would grow and fill the earth.