The Book of Revelation talks about the reality of Satan and evil spirits in a number of passages. You have the hostile horde of locusts that come from the Abyss, a multitude of 200 million, in chapter 9. Then you have Satan and demons mentioned here in chapter 12. We will bump into them again in Revelation 16:12-16, where evil spirits proceed from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet and also in chapter 18, where the city of Babylon is described as the haunt of demons. Finally, in chapter 20, the devil is judged and thrown into the lake of fire.
Many people have difficulty with the reality of the demonic realm. I know that I did. I was sitting in a class at Princeton Seminary on St. Augustine. There were 120 students in the class. Augustine, who lived in North Africa in the last part of the 4th Century and the first part of the 5th Century, believed in and talked about Satan and demons a lot. One day, the professor asked the class, “How many of you believe in a real personal devil?” Hardy anyone raised their hand. My hand was lifted half way. It was not that I didn’t believe that Satan and demons existed, the Bible references Satan and demons throughout, especially in the NT. I had only rarely considered them in my everyday life; Satan and demons were not perceived as a real or imminent threat. I have since changed my mind.
I think we find it hard to believe that Satan and demons exist for three fundamental reasons. First, there is western worldview blindness. By that I mean that we in the western world, including Christians, have been so influenced by the secular worldview that the demonic realm is excluded as mythological and superstitious. Second, there is Evangelical blissful ignorance. Many Bible believing Christians would just as well dismiss the demonic realm due to fear and ignorance. Third, there is the weirdo factor. Many people who believe in the demonic realm appear to be unstable, imbalanced, and just plain weird. But what do we do with all of the biblical references to Satan and demons? Where did they go? Some people will admit that demons exist in some far away country like Africa, but they are not perceived as a real threat here in America. But if we can’t keep illegals out of the country, who are physical and material beings, then how are we to keep spiritual entities out of America, which we cannot see? Is there fence high enough?
Our passage for today notes that: “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to wage war against the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus (12:17). NT Wright comments that John wrote this to encourage and warn believers then and now that we need to be on guard against spiritual forces of wickedness. We are given the same advice by the Apostle Peter when he says: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Just as Satan tried to devour Jesus in Herod’s attempt to kill all the children 2 years old and younger, so, too, Satan is seeking our destruction. Without being weird, imbalanced, or spooky about it, I have come to believe that the war is real and that we need to be on the lookout for this roaring lion.
Some years ago I was at the Detroit Zoo. My family and I were viewing a brand new exhibit. Two leopards were added to the African cats section. We watched as the leopards paced back and forth in their cage. They were trying to leap over the wall. We were amazed at how high they could jump. We left the leopards and soon found ourselves at the ape exhibit. A little while later, the loudspeaker system announced a warning. The two leopards had escaped from their cage. We were instructed to proceed as fast as possible to the front gate. People began running. I was running. Then, the thought occurred to me, “leopards can run 70 mph!” No way could I outrun them. I decided to keep close to the herd of people and especially ahead of the slow overweight ones in the rear (bad thought, I know!).
What’s my point? It is one thing to view leopards at a safe distance, thinking that they can’t do anything to you. It is quite another thing to have real live leopards out of their cage in your midst. In the same way, it is one thing to think that our enemy, the devil, is not really real or that we can blissfully ignore his threats. It is quite another thing to realize that he is looking for someone to devour and that someone could be me!