Readings from St John’s Revelation- is the fall of Satan the spiritual naughty step or due legal process?

This week we’ve been looking at part of Revelation in our daily Bible readings- and it was from one of the more complex parts of the book (yes, there are less complex parts). Today we were looking at Revelation chapter 12, which has John’s vision of a war in heaven, and the casting down of the dragon to the earth, and the ensuing struggle on earth as the dragon vents its fury…

Its fairly clear (because it says it) that we’re meant to understand the dragon to be the Devil- and that this not the vaguely amusing pointy-tailed devil or the version played out in various Hollywood films, but the horrific expression of evil that plans the murder of new born children and the destruction of all that is good. The specific new born child mentioned is also named as Jesus (the Christ) so that helps us too. Is the mother of the child Mary or a figurative Israel and the other offspring are the Church? Maybe, but that’s not what’s got my braincells in a twist today…

The questions I’m left with are more along the lines of ‘so what does this mean today?’ and ‘so what does this tell me about life?’

First up, despite all the visual imagery and any interpretations that we may choose to read into them or take from them- and all of us do that without even noticing it, the clear outcome is the defeat of evil by God in the heavenly realms, but that there is still an ongoing struggle around us in the world we live in. In other words, on one front the victory has been won, but its still unclear exactly how things will pan out here and whether we’ll be home in time for Christmas or not.  As we look around the world its pretty hard to say that the world looks like a place where the kingdom of God has won the victory- at best its a piecemeal tapestry of hurt and healing, but the encouragement for us is that the overall victory has been won- the story is ultimately Good News.

Secondly, the way that we can read of the Devil’s defeat being in stages points towards something about how life works… but what? We were talking about this in a small group this morning, and I wanted to share the thoughts that came up…

Just to recap: theres a war in heaven; the Devil and his forces are defeated by the angels, they are thrown down from Heaven and spend time here on earth causing trouble. Later on (in a few chapters time) they will be judged for all they’ve done and destroyed (at least, thats my interpretation of what happens when something is put into a lake of lava- having watched Terminator 2 and Lord of the Rings as well as David Attenborough in the Natural World… longterm torment it ain’t).

But why the stop on the way down? What is God and the army of heaven up to in allowing the Devil to stop off on earth and torment, attack and trouble people further?

One answer we looked at is whether this is a case of due process- its how things have to work. Just as things take time and go through phases, this is a process that takes time- Jesus had to come to earth to bring salvation to earth; it couldn’t be done from heaven. When we decide to move house there is a process that takes time, and various parts of it are stressful etc… but they can’t be avoided. This makes some sense to me.

An alternative which was put forward was that the period when the Devil is on earth (whether in the past, continuing now at the present or in the future) is in some way a final chance for the Devil, and all his forces to repent- to turn from their rebellion and seek forgiveness from God… Is the earth the Devil’s last chance to sit and think about what’s been going on before a final judgement is made? This fits really well with how we see God treating us, and what we know we each need, and it also jars- just we struggle to accept that God will forgive ‘them’ whoever they are, its a struggle to consider that God could forgive the father of all lies… but it might just be true… If so, what does the ending of John’s vision mean? the picture of the devil’s destruction- is it a warning of what might happen, or a description of an unavoidable future? Its at this point that my head begins to hurt, so I think I’ll leave it there for now!

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