PMT 2015-095 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
A reader asks:
Dr. Gentry, I just got done watching your Revelation series on DVD. I just had a few questions.
I noticed you didn’t really touch much on Rev 12:4, and I’ve always been curious as to the meaning of that verse. A lot of people use it to say that when Satan rebelled he took a third of the angels with him. But that verse doesn’t seem to be talking about his rebellion at all, but rather his defeat during Christ’s earthly ministry. If that’s the case, then are there any other verse that talk about a “third of the angels”? Or is Scripture actually silent about that?
Thanks for watching my lectures on Revelation in the “Survey of the Book of Revelation” DVD set. Obviously I could not deal with every verse and every topic in the twenty-four lectures, but this is a good question and deserves a reply. Please consider the following comments on Rev 12:4. Clearly, the dragon is Satan, as John makes clear in Rev 12:9. But what does he mean we he speaks of his “tail” which “swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth”?
Most commentators recognize that John draws his imagery here from Dan 8:10 where the “small horn” of the ram “grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth.”
How does John intend us to understand Satan’s sweeping down these stars? We know that he often re-interprets and re-applies his OT sources. For instance, G. K. Beale states: “Though Dan. 8:10 first had application to Antiochus, John now applies it in an escalated way to the devilish power behind Antiochus.” Craig Keener argues here that “Revelation rarely takes over Jewish symbols … even those from the divinely inspired Old Testament, without reapplying them.”
So then: What is John doing here as he re-applies Daniel’s reference?
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Twenty-four careful, down-to-earth lectures provide a basic introduction to and survey of the entire Book of Revelation. Professionally produced lectures of 30-35 minutes length.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
The action so vividly recorded here states that the dragon’s tail “swept away” a third of “the stars of heaven” (12:4a). The word translated “swept away” is surei, which means to “drag, pull, draw, drag away.” This word is used of Christians being dragged to prison (Acts 8:3) by Paul’s exercising the authority given to him from the high priest (9:1–2). It is also employed where Christians are being hauled before “city authorities” in Thessalonica (Ac 17:6). Thus, it shows the exertion of power or the exercise of authority over an object or person.
Here in 12:4 the verb is a pres. act. indic. (lit., “drags”) functioning as a historical present in order to vividly portray this past action. After these “stars” are dragged from heaven, the dragon “threw them to the earth” (12:4). The word translated “threw” is ebalen, an aor. act. indic. signifying a past action. But again: what is going on here? What do these stars and this Satanic action represent? I believe the following captures John’s point.
This does not speak of Satan’s original fall near the beginning of history. The immediate context of this chapter clearly shows the dragon is engaging in persecution, not only of the woman (ideal Israel, Rev 12:6, 13, 15), but her male child (Jesus Christ, 12:4b) and her other offspring (the first-century Jewish Christians,12:17). According to the NT, Satan involves his lesser cohorts, the fallen angels, in prompting persecution (Lk 22:3; Rev 2:9–10; 13:1–2, 6–7). Here Satan’s action in Rev 12:4 ironically anticipates the divine counterpart in 12:9: “the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
As Gordon Fee expresses it: 12:4 “serves here primarily as an identity marker, thereby setting up for Satan’s being cast out of heaven.” When we compare 12:3 and 12:9 we understand John’s ironic point to be: though Satan himself throws his angelic forces to the earth to afflict God’s people, God will throw Satan and his angels out of heaven in utter defeat.
The stars represent angels (supernatural spiritual beings). Perhaps the majority of scholars hold that these stars picture angels. Stars can represent angels in Scripture (Jdg 5:20; Job 38:7; cp. 1 En. 18:13–16; 86:1–6; 90:24). In Rev 9:1 the star that falls from heaven appears to be “the angel of the abyss” (Satan). As noted above, 12:4a anticipates 12:7–10, presenting the irony involved in Satan’s fall.
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A basic survey of Revelation from the preterist perspective.
It sees John as focusing on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
The reference to the “third of the stars” continues the pattern of partial, one-third destruction recently transpiring under the seven trumpets (Rev 8:7–12, 15, 18). Satan is focusing a sizeable portion of his demonic hordes on his current evil work in the first century. Satan’s power is great, but not as great as God’s, for God’s power is truly “almighty” (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). Though Satan’s “craft and power are great” and he is “armed with cruel hate,” to exercise his power in the important field of battle before him requires that he marshal an army of demons (12:9; Mt 25:41; Lk 11:18).
That Satan throws his angelic forces “to the earth” indicates that he rapidly moves his troops to the field of battle to confront Christ and his people. The phrase “to the earth,” should be translated “into the Land” (eis t n g n), i.e., of Israel. The focus of the Satan’s full-scale assault is during Jesus’ ministry and comes especially to a head in his crucifixion. Israel is small in comparison to the rest of the world (“you were the fewest of all peoples,” Dt 7:7) which Satan seeks to dominate (cf. Dt 32:17; Job 1:7; 2:1; Ac 26:18; 1Co 10:20; 2Co 4:4). Nevertheless, she is the central battleground for Satan’s assault on the kingdom of God.
Hence we see an enormous outburst of demonic activity at Christ’s coming: his casting out demons is a sign that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28//). Because of this, at the very beginning of his ministry the Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tested by the devil (Mk 1:12//) and during his ministry “he cast out many demons” (Mt 8:16; 10:8; Mk 1:34; 6:13). As he establishes his kingdom the Lord authorizes his disciples to cast out demons (Mt 10:8//). Near the end of his ministry; the devil inspires Judas to betray him (Jn 13:2, 27).
Thus, Rev 12:4 is not speaking of Satan’s original fall into sin, but is picturing his own evil action in casting his demonic hordes into battle against Christ. And Christ’s victory ends up having Satan himself thrown out of heaven. This all comes to a dramatic conclusion in the context of AD 70 where his forces are defeated in their effort to destroy Christ’s people.