(Rev. 12:4, 9) When did Satan sweep a third of the angels away to the Earth? When was Satan cast out of heaven?

CLAIM: John writes, “His [Satan’s] tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Rev. 12:4). Later in the same chapter, we read, “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” (v.9). When did this event occur?

RESPONSE: There are three main options for the timing of this event:

VIEW #1: The original fall of Satan in the Garden of Eden (or before).

Genesis 3 places Satan in the Garden of Eden before humanity fell. Moreover, Ezekiel 28 places Satan’s fall in the Garden. Both of these passages point toward a pre-human fall for Satan. There are several reasons for adopting this view:

First, John uses the imagery of Genesis 3 to identify Satan (“the serpent of old” verse 9). By doing this, John could be identifying this event with the fall of Satan in the Garden of Eden (“You were in Eden, the garden of God” Ezek. 28:13-16; Gen. 3).

Second, the events in this vision are not necessarily chronological history. These could be arranged topically—not chronologically—in a montage of events. No matter how we interpret this passage, there are prophetic gaps (e.g. between verses 5 and 6).

Third, this interpretation makes sense of the fact that there are countless demons on Earth at present. Throughout the OT and NT, there is undoubtedly a demonic presence on Earth. The fall of Satan (and a fall of a third of the angels) would fit with what we observe throughout the rest of the Bible. We believe that the most natural timeframe for a corporate angelic fall would be simultaneously with Satan’s fall. When else would this have occurred?

Fourth, Jesus places the fall of Satan (and other demons) before his death and resurrection. After a long ministry of exorcisms (“even the demons are subject to us in Your name”), Jesus told his disciples, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Lk. 10:18). This seems to place the angelic fall long before his death.

VIEW #2: The defeat of Satan at the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Advocates of this view note that in preparing for the Cross, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). Here he uses the Greek word ekballo (“cast out”), which is the same term used to describe Satan’s expulsion (“the great dragon was thrown down” Rev. 12:9). Moreover, Paul writes, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Col. 2:15). This seems to associate the defeat of Satan with the Cross of Christ.

VIEW #3: The casting out of Satan in the future tribulation.

In favor of this view, a number of arguments can be made:

First, the earthly battle with Satan occurs after the time of the Cross. The heavenly commentary on this vision relates the throwing down of Satan with the “salvation, and the power, and the kingdom” of God (v.10). This seems to place this battle with Satan sometime after the Cross—not before (cf. Rev. 12:11-12).

Second, this view makes sense of John’s mention of the 1,260 days. If this casting out of Satan was in the past (e.g. at Satan’s fall or at the Cross), then why mention the 1,260 days (which relates to the final 7 years of Israel’s history, Daniel 9:26-27)? The natural reading of the text would place this throwing down and persecution of the woman (Israel) during the tribulation (“she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days” verse 6; “a time and times and half a time” verse 14).

Third, this view fits with the context of the tribulation. For instance:

A. It makes sense of the unusual persecution of people during this time. Thomas writes, “This accounts for the unusual severity of persecution during that last three and one half years.”[1]

B. It makes sense of the comment that Satan “has only a short time” (v.12). The nearest understanding of this time measurement is the 1,260 days (Rev. 12:6) or 3.5 years (Rev. 12:14; cf. 13:5).

C. It makes sense of the unusual demonic activity during the end of human history. As we have already seen, the end of history is a time of intense demonic persecution on Earth.

D. It makes sense of Michael battling over Israel. John writes that Michael is here fighting over Israel (v.7), which Daniel also predicted during this time (“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” Dan. 12:1).

Conclusion

Which view should be adopted? We believe that verses 4 and 9 are referring to two separate events. That is, the sweeping of the third of the angels in verse 4 is separate from the casting out of Satan in verse 9. Verse 4 refers to the fall of Satan in the past, while verse 9 refers to the casting out of Satan in the future.

Based on the arguments for View #1 above, we believe that verse 4 is referring to the fall of Satan. But based on the arguments for View #3, we believe that verse 9 is still future in the tribulation. Thus we hold that John is explaining the fall of Satan (v.4) and the expulsion of Satan (v.9). He is explaining the beginning of Satan’s rebellion, as well as its end. Thus, verses 4 and 9 are describing two different events.

Notice that verse 4 does not say that Satan was thrown out of heaven; it says that his angels were thrown down. While Satan “threw” (Greek ballo) a third of the angels to the Earth (v.4), he will be “thrown down [ballo]… his angels with him” (v.9) in the future.

This view makes sense of the expulsion of Satan from heaven in the future, because Satan told God that he was “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19). Of course, Satan could be thrown out of heaven, but he could still come back to make accusations. At this point in the future (v.9), Satan will no longer have this luxury.

In a sense, John is conflating the fall of Satan with the expulsion of Satan. As believers are being ravished in the tribulation, they will no doubt ask: How did the persecution get this bad? John is answering that question by revisiting the fall of Satan with his casting out. No matter how we interpret this passage, it is clear that John is giving a full panorama to place the tribulation in its historical context in God’s overall plan.



[1] Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1995. 129.