Satan’s sphere is now restricted, and his time is short, Part 1 of 2

More from Don Carson’s book Scandalous.

In Revelation 12 there is a pregnant woman (the messianic people from whom the Christ came) and a red dragon (Satan). The woman gives birth to a male child and the red dragon is determined to snatch away and eat this male child. He does not succeed in doing this because the woman’s son is “snatched up to God and to his throne”. So the dragon then turns his full attention to the woman in an attempt to destroy her.

This, says Carson, is a depiction of Satan’s rage against God’s people. The Son born of the woman has been taken up to God and reigns from his throne so he is now far beyond the dragon’s reach. The woman though has now become the sole focus of the dragon’s rage.

Here is what Carson says:

Once Satan has been hurled to the earth (v.9), John “heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ’” (v. 10a). The kingdom has dawned. It is here. It is not yet consummated, but it is now come. It has started. One of the ways in which this has been demonstrated is that Satan himself has been decisively defeated. Or in terms of the symbolism of 12:7-9, Satan has been cast out of heaven. He has no standing before God whatsoever. He cannot bring accusations against the brothers anymore, “for the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down” (v. 10b). Satan, though doubtless he has been operating on earth since the beginning of the creation, is now restricted to the earth and has lost his access to God that enabled him to accuse us before God so directly.

So Satan turns all his rage and vengeance upon the woman (i.e., upon us, the messianic community): “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (v. 13). It is precisely the Devil’s restriction in authority that is the fundamental reason here for his rage in this restricted sphere. Satan is not only wicked; he is frustrated, angry, and vituperative. “He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (v. 12). Satan is full of rage not because he is so spectacularly strong, but because he knows that he is defeated, his end is in sight, the range of his operations is curtailed — and he is furious. He knows that in principle he is already undone.

Carson goes on to give examples from the first Gulf War and the Second World War, showing how Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler both reacted to their imminent defeat (they were both facing impossible odds) by causing as much destruction as possible. Hussein set hundreds of oil wells alight and sent many of his troops to die and be taken prisoner in vain. Hitler, in his fury at his impending demise, sent thousands of his troops to fight the Russians on the Eastern front. The fighting that ensued was some of the bloodiest of the whole war, yet there was no way it could have led to victory for Hitler. Like Hussein, he was a dictator in decline. and he was furious.

This is how Carson explains Satan’s current position, and his ongoing destructive rampage against the church.

And he suggests that it’s in this context that we’re to see the suffering, the division, and persecution the church is facing, and has faced for the past 150 years. The causes are not primarily political, or social, or cultural, or psychological. They are primarily spiritual.

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