revhead.gif (4972 bytes)

Revelation 12:7 to 12:17
Last update: June 1, 2003

With verse 7 we begin to see a transition from a purely Beriatic vision to one where events "play out" in time.

7   And there came war in the heaven; Michael and his messengers did war against the dragon, and the dragon did war, and his messengers,

Traditional commentaries on this "battle" typically convey the idea of a "fight" between these two spiritual entities. However, we know that haSatan's role is that of "accuser" and this puts a different spin on what is going on "behind the scenes." This is alluded to in verse 9, where John uses the term "adversary," and also in verse 10 where he is called, "accuser of our brethren."

Author Raphael Patai, in his classic work, "The Messiah Texts" puts it as follows:

Part of the contest ...- is not a combat between opposing powers ... but a legal conflict between Michael, the celestial prince of Israel, and Samael, the celstial prince of Edom-Rome, epitomizing the nations of the world. Samael accuses Israel of the same sins for which Michael demands the punishment of Edom. Finally it is only God Himself who can present the clinching argument in defense of His children. This is in keeping with the old Jewish idea that the fate of Israel and the relations between Israel and the nations depend on the degree of piety of Israel. 1

This idea is found in the Midrashim on Ruth and Exodus:

Midrash Rabbah - Ruth Prologue I - AND IT CAME TO PASS, IN THE DAYS THAT THE JUDGES JUDGED (I, 1). R. Johanan introduced his exposition with the verse Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee (Ps. L, 7). R. Johanan said: Evidence is given only in the hearing [of the defendant]. R. Judan b. R. Simon said: In the past, Israel had a name like all the nations, [for instance] And Sabta, and Raamah, and Sabteca (Gen. X, 7); henceforth they are called solely ‘My people’, thus: ’Hear, O My people, and I will speak’: Whence have ye merited to be called ’ My people’ ? From the time of ' and I will speak’, from that which ye uttered before Me at Sinai and said, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and hearken (Ex. XXIV, 7). R. Johanan said ’ Hear, O My people ‘, to that [which was said] in the past; ‘and I will speak’ in the future; ‘Hear, O My people’ in this world; ’and I will speak’ in the World to Come, in order that I may have a retort to the princes of the nations of the world, who are destined to act as their prosecutors before Me, and say ‘Lord of the Universe, they have served idols and we have served idols; they have been guilty of immorality and we have been guilty of immorality; they have shed blood and we have shed blood. Why do they go into the Garden of Eden while we descend to Gehenna? ' In that moment the defender of Israel keeps silence. That is the meaning of the verse And at that time shall Michael stand up (Dan. XII, 1). Do they then as a rule sit in Heaven? Did not R. Hanina say, there is no sitting in Heaven, as it is written I came near unto one of ka'amaya (ib. VII, 16), the meaning of this word ' ka'amaya ‘ being that stood by, as it is written, Above him stood the seraphim (Isa. VI, 2), and it s also written And all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and on His left (II Chron. XVIII, 18)? And yet the verse says ‘shall [Michael] stand up’!.What then is the meaning here of ’stand up’? ‘Stand silent,’ as it is said, And shall I wait because they speak not, because they stand still, and answer no more? (Job XXXII, 16). And the Holy One, blessed be He, says to him: ' Dost thou stand silent and hast no defence to offer for My people? By thy life, I will speak righteousness and save My people! ' With what righteousness? R. Eleazar and R. Johanan:-one says: The righteousness which ye wrought for My word in that ye accepted My Torah, for had ye not accepted My Torah, I should have caused the world to revert to void and desolation. For R. Huna said in the name of R. Aha: When the earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved (Ps. LXXV, 4) means that the world would long have gone into dissolution had not Israel stood before Mount Sinai. Who then set the world firmly upon its foundation? I myself establish the pillars of it (ib.). By the merit of ‘I’: I have established its pillars for ever. The other Rabbi says: By the righteousness which ye wrought unto yourselves in that ye accepted my Torah; for were it not for this, I should have caused thee to disappear from the nations.

Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XVIII:5 - To what may Michael and Samael be compared? To an intercessor and an accuser before a tribunal: each speaks in turn, and when each has finished the intercessor sees that he has triumphed, and he begins to praise the judge that he may issue his verdict; and when the accuser wishes to add anything, the intercessor says to him: ‘You remain quiet and let us hear the judge.’ So also do Michael and Samael both stand before the Divine Presence; Satan accuses, while Michael points out Israel's virtues, and when Satan wishes to speak again, Michael silences him, because, as it says: I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for He will speak peace unto His people (Ps. LXXXV, 9).3 This is the meaning of: ’In the night I will call to remembrance my song’ (ib. LXXVII, 7),4 referring to the miracle of Hezekiah.

8   and they did not prevail, nor was their place found any more in the heaven;

The verse speaks of these evil entities being cast out of heaven (Beriah). See comments to verse 12.

9   and the great dragon was cast forth -- the old serpent, who is called `Devil,' and `the Adversary,' who is leading astray the whole world -- he was cast forth to the earth, and his messengers were cast forth with him.

Verses 9 through 12 make a transition from a thematic Beriatic view to the physical manifestation of "preordained" events.

The following text discusses how evil "descends" from the "Left" above when Israel's "faith" falters. The term "Community of Israel" is a reference to both the Shekinah and people of Israel (similar to the "woman" of verse 1 above). Again, we see the idea of events "above" and "below" being directly tied to one another:

Soncino Zohar, Bemidbar, Section 3, Page 197a - R. Abba discoursed on the passage beginning: "If thou know not, O thou fairest among women", etc. (S.S. I, 8). ‘The Community of Israel’, he said, ‘is she that gathers in from all the camps above, and holds in all that she gathers, letting it escape only by drops like dew, because there is not sufficient faith below. For if She were to find faith as it is found in her, She would pour the light on every side without restraint, and they would give to her also gifts and presents without stint. But it is those of the lower world who restrain them and restrain her, and therefore she is called Azereth (the restrainer). Nevertheless, as a mother gives to her sons in secret and unbeknown, so she does with her children, Israel. We have learnt from the Sacred Lamp [Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai of the Zohar], that when She ascends to receive delights and dainties, if then there is a blemish in Israel She is separated from her Spouse a fixed number of days. Then it is known above that there is a blemish in Israel and the Left awakens and lets down a thread below. Then Samael quickly rouses himself to assail the world, as it says, "And he called Esau his elder (lit. great) son" (Gen. XXVII, 1). He is indeed great with the camps of the "other side" and he steers all the ships of the sea of accusations with the evil breeze to sink them in the depths of the sea. Now when the Holy One, blessed be He, is in merciful mood, He gives to him all the sins of Israel and he casts them into the depths of the sea-for so his camps are called-and they take them and flow with them to all other peoples. Are, then, the sins and guilt of Israel scattered among their people? The truth is that they wait for gifts from above like a dog at a table, and when God takes all the sins of Israel and throws them to them, they think that He is diverting from Israel the gifts which He intended to give them, and giving to them instead, and they straightway rejoice and throw them to the other peoples.

10   And I heard a great voice saying in the heaven, `Now did come the salvation, and the power, and the reign, of our God, and the authority of His Messiah, because cast down was the accuser of our brethren, who is accusing them before our God day and night;

See Midrash Rabbah above in verse 7 for the dragon being the "accuser." Note that the accusations were made "before God," i.e., at the level of the Throne Room (Beriah). The process of rectification of each world (Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyyah - as mentioned in our earlier chapter notes) is linked directly to the "coming of the salvation, power and reign of God and authority of Messiah."

11   and they did overcome him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life -- unto death;

See comments on Smyrna in chapter 2 notes regarding those "faithful unto death." Viewing this as "overcoming" the accusations brought forth by Samael (haSatan), the brethren are able to do this due to a combination of two things:

  1. the "blood of the lamb"
  2. the word of their testimony

Two principles of Judaism come into play here:

  1. the atonement provided to others by a Tzaddik
  2. associating oneself with that Tzaddik in order to receive this atonement

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatton (RaMCHaL) in his classic work, Derech Hashem, states that these concepts are fundamental to Judaism:

"... suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree ... In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole." 2

As mentioned in our background study on Messiah and Atonement, the idea of the "shed blood of the tzaddik" is considered with regard to bringing atonement to others. The Zohar directly associates this "one righteous person" with the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53:

Soncino Zohar, Bemidbar, Section 3, Page 218a – Why is it that whenever sinners multiply in the world and punishment impends over the world, the virtuous among them are smitten for them, as we have learnt, that for the guilt of the generation the holy and righteous are seized upon? Why should this be? If because they do not reprove mankind for their evil deeds, how many are there who do reprove but are not listened to (though the righteous do humble themselves before them)? If it is in order that there may be no one to shield them, let them not die and let them not be seized for their sins, since it is a satisfaction to the righteous to see their destruction. He replied: It is true that for the guilt of the generation the righteous are seized upon, but we may explain this on the analogy of the limbs of the body. When all the limbs are in pain and suffering from sickness one limb has to be smitten in order that all may be healed. Which is the one? The arm. The arm is smitten and blood is drawn from it, and this is healing for all the limbs of the body. So men are like limbs of one body. When God desires to give healing to the world He smites one righteous man among them with disease and suffering, and through him gives healing to all, as it is written, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities... and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. LIII, 5). A righteous man is never afflicted save to bring healing to his generation and to make atonement for it, for the "other side" prefers that punishment should light upon the virtuous man rather than on any other, for then it cares not for the whole world on account of the joy it finds in having power over him.

Here, Yeshua is in the role of the great Tzaddik, Messiah ben Joseph, who is able to take upon Himself the sins of Israel (and the world). As Messiah ben Joseph is seen as being "slain" throughout kabbalistic literature, and as the tzaddik is likened to the "foundation" of the world (see background studies), so is Yeshua the "lamb slain since the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).

Atonement through "association" with the Tzaddik is done by "walking as he walked" (which meant walking according to the Torah, i.e., 1st John 2:3-6, Romans 3:31, Matthew 5:17-21, etc.) and "drinking his blood and eating his flesh" (John, chapter 6) a Hebraic euphemism for following Torah as Yeshua taught it. John makes this clear in verse 17 below, where he plainly refers to the keeping of the Torah's commandments as a sign of being associated with the Messiah.

12   because of this be glad, ye heavens, and those in them who do tabernacle; wo to those inhabiting the land and the sea, because the Devil did go down unto you, having great wrath, having known that he hath little time.'

Three groups of inhabitants are mentioned here, those of the heavens (Beriah), the land (Asiyyah) and the sea (Yetzirah). The inhabitants of the heavens are made glad by the removal of the evil presence. Those of the lower realms are warned of his "arrival." This includes the human inhabitants of Asiyyah, as well as the angels of Yetzirah.

The following text reflects these themes:

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 35b - AND THE SERPENT. R. Isaac said: ‘This is the evil tempter’. R. Judah said that it means literally a serpent. They consulted R. Simeon, and he said to them: ‘Both are correct. It was Samael, and he appeared on a serpent, for the ideal form of the serpent is the Satan. We have learnt that at that moment Samael came down from heaven riding on this serpent, and all creatures saw his form and fled before him. They then entered into conversation with the woman, and the two brought death into the world. Of a surety Samael brought curses on the world through Wisdom and destroyed the first tree that God had created in the world. This responsibility rested on Samael until another holy tree came, namely Jacob, who wrested the blessings from him, in order that Samael might not be blessed above and Esau below. For Jacob was the reproduction of Adam, and he had the same beauty as Adam. Therefore as Samael withheld blessings from the first tree, so Jacob, who was such another tree as Adam, withheld blessings, both upper and lower, from Samael; and in doing so Jacob but took back his own. It is written: AND THE SERPENT WAS SUBTLE. This serpent is the evil tempter and the angel of death. It is because the serpent is the angel of death that it brought death to the world.’

The idea of evil "intensifying" as its time grows short is described by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in terms of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) which is often synonymous with haSatan:

The Baal Shem Tov compared the evil inclination's "last stand" to a warrior who knows his end is near. An enemy who is dying throws everything he has into a last attempt to save the day. 3

Beginning with verse 13 John "repeats" the theme of the dragon seeking to destroy the offspring of the woman and her being protected by God -- only the scene takes place in the physical realm. In this case, no immediate mention is made of her child being "taken up" to God.

13   And when the dragon saw that he was cast forth to the earth, he pursued the woman who did bring forth the male,

14   and there were given to the woman two wings of the great eagle, that she may fly to the wilderness, to her place, where she is nourished a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent;

The reference to a "time," "times" and "half a time," may again be understood as related to the "forty-two months" in terms of 1 year, 2 years and a half year. the woman is said to protected from the "face" of the serpent, which again is allusion to its physical manifestation.

The "wilderness" mentioned in verse 14 may include an area outside of Israel as the Shekinah is said to follow Israel outside of the land with regard to protecting them:

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 166a - ”Jacob said when he saw them, etc.” (Ibid. 3). It was from these angels that he sent a mission to Esau, as it says: “And Jacob sent angels” (mal'akhim).’ R. Isaac said: ‘Why, in one place in the Psalms does it say “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them” (Ps. XXXIV, 8), in the singular, and in another place, “For he will give his angels charge over thee” (Ibid. XCI, 11), in the plural? The reason is that the term “angels” is a reference to angels proper, whereas in the verse: “The angel of the Lord encampeth”, the reference is to the Shekinah, as in the verse: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Ex. III, 2). Thus “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about those who fear him” to deliver them; and when the Shekinah abides within a man, ever so many holy legions rally round him. David uttered this verse when he escaped from Achish the king of Gath, because the Shekinah encompassed him and delivered him from Achish and his people, and all those who assailed him. It is written in the same connection: “And he feigned himself mad (vayitholel) in their hands” (I Sam. XXI, 14). The term vayitholel here, in place of the more usual vayishtagea’, contains an allusion to the kindred term used formerly by David when he said: “For I was envious of the madmen (holelim)” (Ps. LXXIII, 3). God thus said in effect to David: “As thou livest, since thou enviest madmen, thou thyself wilt yet be driven to play the madman”; and so it came to pass when he was brought before Achish and his life was in danger; he then “feigned himself mad (vayitholel) in their hand”, that is, he behaved like one of those madmen (holelim) whom he had once envied; and only then did the Shekinah come to his rescue. How, it may be asked, could this be, seeing that the Shekinah abides only in her own heritage, the Holy Land? The answer is that from there only she bestows blessings, but for purposes of protection she is to be found elsewhere also. So here, when Jacob departed from Laban, all the holy legions surrounded him, so that he was not left by himself.’

15   and the serpent did cast forth after the woman, out of his mouth, water as a river, that he may cause her to be carried away by the river,

In kabbalistic literature, "water" is often an allusion to the "watery" mixed realm of Yetzirah. The concept of "rivers" has to do with the idea of transmission of power from a higher to lower realm:

Midrash Rabbah - Exodus IX:4 - Another reason why he told him to perform the miracle of the serpent was because Pharaoh was like a serpent, as it is said: The great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers (Ezek. XXIX, 3)

Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 28a - R. Hiya asked R. Jose: ‘As the Holy One knew that the Egyptian magicians were able to turn their rods into serpents, why did He command Moses and Aaron to perform this sign before Pharaoh? There was nothing wonderful in this to him.’ R. Jose replied: ‘Pharaoh's dominion originated with the Serpent, and therefore his punishment commenced with the serpent. When the magicians saw it they rejoiced because they knew that they could do the same, but then Aaron's serpent turned into a dry rod again, as it says, “and Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods” (v. I 2). Then they were astonished, realizing that there was a superior Power on earth. Thus Aaron showed in fact a double sign, one above and one below: one above, by showing to Pharaoh that there was a higher Serpent which ruled over theirs, and one below by making wood subdue their serpents. Do not think that the magicians’ performance was mere make-believe: their rods actually did “become serpents” (Ibid.). It is written: “Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon (tanin) that lies in the midst of his rivers” (Ezek. XXIX, 4). It is from there that the Egyptian magicians derived their power of witchcraft, but the source of their wisdom was the lowest of all grades.’ Observe that their wisdom consisted in subjecting the lowest grades to higher grades, the chiefs of their dominion. These in turn derive their power from the Dragon underneath whom they are situated, as is indicated by the phrase, “who is behind the mill “ (Ex. XI, 5).

The following text delves deeper into the theme of "dragons and rivers," decribing a total of ten dragons and ten rivers. This may be seen as associated with the ten horns of the dragon mentioned in verse 3:

Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 34a-b - R. Simeon continued: ‘It is now fitting to reveal mysteries connected with that which is above and that which is below. Why is it written here, “Come (bo) unto Pharaoh”? Ought it not rather to have said “go” (lekh)? It is to indicate that the Holy One, blessed be He, guided Moses through a labyrinth right into the abode of a certain supernal mighty dragon-that is to say, Egypt's celestial representative - from whom many lesser dragons emanate. Moses was afraid to approach him, because his roots are in supernal regions, and he only approached his subsidiary streams. When the Holy One saw that Moses feared the dragon, and that none of the supernal messengers was able to overcome him, He proclaimed: “Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon (tanim) that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said: My river is my own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezek. XXIX, 3). Yea, truly, the Lord Himself had to war against this dragon, and no lesser being. This is the mystery of the “great dragon” for those who are familiar with the esoteric lore.’ Said R. Simeon further: ‘It is written: “And God created the great dragons (taninim) and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind” (Gen. 1, 2I). This verse’, he said, ‘we have already discussed, but the words “He created the great dragons” contain a yet more special and particular mystery: they refer to the Leviathan and his mate, which last was slain and is preserved by the Holy One for the regaling of the righteous (in the days of the Messiah). The great dragon reposes between nine rivers, the waters of which are turbulent; and there is a tenth river whose waters are calm, and into the depth of which the blessings of the waters of Paradise descend three times a year. Into this river the dragon enters, making there his habitation; and thence he sallies forth and swims down to the sea, and devours there fish of all kinds, and then returns again to the river. The nine swift rivers are banked by trees and fringed with flowers. The parent river issued from the Left Side and from it three drops fell into a certain channel, and each of the three was divided again into three, and every drop became a river. These are the nine rivers which flow through all the firmaments. And from the final moisture that remained when all the drops had issued forth yet another drop was formed, which issued gently, and of this drop was formed that tenth river, which flows calmly. Into this river also flows a drop from the blessings poured forth from the Right side by the “perennially flowing stream”, and it is greater than all the rest. When the four rivers which flow out of the Garden of Eden divide, the one called Pison flows into and is fused with the calm tenth river of which we have spoken. Out of the calm river, thus augmented, are fed and filled all the other rivers; in each of which a dragon dwells, so that the number of the dragons is nine. And each of these nine has a hole in his head, and the great dragon as well, because each of them emits breath upwards and not downwards. It is written: “In the beginning God created...” and also “And God created the great dragons”. This indicates that all the ten acts of Creation had their counterpart in these ten rivers, on each of which one of the dragons breathes heavily. Now, that great dragon, when he raises his fins, heaves up the waters around him, and all the earth is shaken and all the lesser dragons, and this takes place every seventy years.’ Said R. Simeon: ‘Verily, though the members of the Fellowship are students of the story of Creation, having knowledge of its wonders and perception of the paths of the Holy One, blessed be He, yet even among them there are few who know how to interpret it in connection with the mystery of the great dragon.

16   and the land did help the woman, and the land did open its mouth and did swallow up the river, that the dragon did cast forth out of his mouth;

The following texts link God "swallowing up death" to His removal of the power of the serpent which seeks to polute Israel:

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 54a - Therefore a man should be on his guard on every side against the side of this evil serpent, which otherwise will gain the better of him. God has promised one day to remove it from this world, as it is written, “I will cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land” (Zech. XIII, 2), and also “He will swallow up death for ever” (Is. XXV, 8).’

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 70b - ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, will one day sweep away the unclean spirit, as it is written, “And the unclean spirit I will cause to pass out of the land” (Zech. XIII, 2), and further, “He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth, for the Lord hath spoken it” (Is. XXV, 8). The Holy One, blessed be He, will also one day restore the moon to its full light, and dissipate the darkness brought on her by the evil serpent, as it is written, “And the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days” (Ibid. XXX, 26), the reference here being to the primordial light which the Holy One, blessed be He, stored away during the period of the creation.’

17   and the dragon was angry against the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, those keeping the commands of God, and having the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah.

The "keeping of the commands of God" (the Torah) is of paramount importance with regard to protection during these dark times:

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 151a - R. Hiya and R. Hizkiah were once sitting underneath a tree in the field of Ono. R. Hiya fell into a slumber and beheld Elijah. He said to him: ‘The whole field is illumined with your presence.’ Elijah answered: ‘I am come to tell you that Jerusalem is about to be laid waste together with all the towns of the sages, for the reason that Jerusalem is the embodiment of judgement, and is preserved by judgement, and now judgement demands its destruction; and Samael has already been given power over it and over its mighty ones. I have therefore come to advise the sages thereof so that they may try to obtain for Jerusalem some years of grace. For so long as knowledge of the Torah is found therein it will be spared, the Torah being the tree of life by which all live. But when the study of the Torah ceases below, the tree of life disappears from the world. Hence so long as the sages cling to the Torah, Samael has no power over them, as Scripture says: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. XXVII, 22). The voice is the Torah, which is termed the voice of Jacob, and so long as that voice pours forth, the utterance also dominates and prevails (over the hands of Esau). Hence the study of the Torah should never cease.’

1. The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai, 1979, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, p. 90.

2. Derech Hashem (The Way of God), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.

3. Mashiach - Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?, (an exposition of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov), Chaim Kramer, Breslov Resarch Institute, Jerusalem, p. 187.