Ever since the first edition one of the key things I tried to impress upon you was the need to recognize traditional, Christian wiring. If you don’t remember, feel free to check the archives for a refresher. It’s not that tradition is necessarily bad, but left unchecked it can cause us to essentially shut off our ability to think critically and put our brains on cruise control. A car with no brakes is a car waiting to crash. I’m a firm believer that so many people crash - struggle with God and their own faith - simply because they fail to think critically; to simply use their God given intuition and ability to think rationally, not emotionally, through scripture as well as life. Where we go in the next few editions will elucidate the importance of this skill. You will need to remember to question your own beliefs, where you received them and why you hold them. Yes, this is a big task. But you’re smart. You can do it.
Today we’re going to right our thinking on an event that is so massively misunderstood it is mind boggling. What makes this misunderstanding so incredible to me is not the complexity of the events or scripture’s way of expressing them. It is actually the opposite. It’s a simple story that has been twisted and made complicated to fit specific narratives. This event, is the story of how Satan and the fallen angels arrived on the earth.
Just about every Believer can explain the traditional narrative of Satan’s fall. It goes like this: There was an angel named Lucifer, who was one of God’s greatest angels. Out of jealously he decided to usurp God’s throne and overthrow His kingdom. A war broke out in Heaven and Satan and a third of his angels were cast out. Satan then enters Eden and deceives Adam and Eve, causing the fall of humanity.
Sounds familiar, right? Now this is where I tell you that story isn’t scripture. Well, part of it isn’t. While Satan and his angels were cast out of Heaven, the Bible doesn’t actually tell us Satan was an angel, nor does it tell us a third of the angels fell. These ideas were concocted some time ago within the Church and then repeated as if it’s doctrine. But it’s not. And since it’s not an issue of salvation, many Believers don’t care to dig into this story to learn the facts. However, you simply can not find one verse that claims Satan is an angel, or that a third of the angels were tossed out of Heaven. In fact, as we’ve seen already, Ezekiel tells us exactly what Satan is; a guardian cherub. And yes, there’s a difference.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. - Ezekiel 28:14 (ESV)
Now you might think this is splitting hairs, but rest assured if the Bible gives specifics it’s important. Satan is not an angel. He’s a cherub, part of the Cherubim race of beings. And the fact scripture communicates his nature tells us there’s a distinction within God’s divine creatures. In fact there is order, rank and duties spread amongst the different divine beings God has created. Now, back to the story.
If you’re familiar with the traditional narrative you may or may not be aware that its origin story starts in Revelation 12.
4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. - Revelation 12:4 (ESV)
In John’s prophecy we get the introduction of the great red dragon that appears for the purposes of devouring a woman’s male child. The word stars is commonly misunderstood to mean angels. The supposed reasoning is the early Greek writers may have viewed this part of the text symbolically since so much of John’s writings were full of symbolism. But let’s use some critical thinking shall we?
First, scripture says stars, not angels. And while there’s much symbolism in John’s prophecy that doesn’t give us the liberty to turn everything into a symbol to fit our own narratives. We can only do that when the context instructs us in a clear way and in this case it doesn’t. In fact as you’ll soon see, scripture clarifies this confusion for us.
Second, we see that it was the dragon (his tail swept down…) that cast a third of the stars down, not God. It doesn’t make sense for Satan to cast his own angels out of Heaven if he’s trying to overthrow it. So it is clear that the word stars is not referencing angels. Best case scenario one could try to argue that Satan was casting out a third of God’s angels, however even that idea falls short since Satan doesn’t have the authority to cast God’s angels out of Heaven.
Are you following so far? Good. Let’s keep going.
When we get into verse 7, we see the woman has already given birth and now, the war breaks out.
7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. - Revelation 12:7–9 (ESV)
The war occurs after the woman gives birth. It is at this point Michael and his angels fight the dragon. The dragon and his angels are defeated and cast down to the earth. Why is this detail so important? Because it corrects the timeline and begins to right our understanding of Satan. Which timeline you might ask? The one where it’s taught Satan was cast down to the earth before or at the time of Adam and Eve. Please hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying Satan didn’t appear on the earth before or at the time of Adam and Eve. I’m simply saying he wasn’t officially kicked out of Heaven at the time of Adam and Eve. How do we know? Because the Bible tells us so. Let’s keep going.
Next, the dragon angrily pursues the woman after being cast out of Heaven.
13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. - Revelation 12:13 (ESV)
Who is the male child? The male child is Jesus. How do we know? Let’s pop back up to verse 5.
5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, - Revelation 12:5 (ESV)
Who do we know that was to rule all nations and ascended to the right hand of God? Yep, Christ, Yeshua our Lord (See Hebrews 12:2). This entire event, is purely about the coming of Christ to bring salvation. When it was established that the Son of God was to enter the world all hell literally broke out. There was a war in Heaven and an attempt by Satan to ensure God’s promise to Eve back in Eden would not be fulfilled:
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” - Genesis 3:15 (ESV)
The dragon - Satan - who failed at murdering Christ before His time, redirects his energy to making war with Christ’s people.
17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. - Revelation 12:17 (ESV)
You and I, are the offspring who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Our enemy is Satan and his angels.
This is the story according to scripture, not tradition. Up until the point of Christ, Satan had the ability to traverse between the earth and Heaven, while being a royal pain to the human race. Once Christ was set to arrive to reconcile fallen humanity, Satan mounted an attack to keep the promise of salvation from being fulfilled. Because our God is, well, God and He is great, Satan’s plan failed. He was subsequently cast out of Heaven for good along with those who followed him.
The ability to think critically through the text is important to me. While this topic is not an issue of salvation, I don’t believe that means we should negate our responsibility to understand and know what God has communicated to us. If He cared enough to give us these details we should care enough to receive them. If it is in the text, it is for a reason. My challenge to you would be to continue this exercise as you read your Bible. Use critical thinking, absorb all of the surrounding context. Be sure to ask questions starting with why not just how. We will continue breaking down Satan’s story a bit more next week.