Satan’s Stratagem, part 1

The first entry in this series can be found here.
The previous entry can be found here.

In Matthew 16, Jesus makes a popular and–though divisive–critical statement.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it

Matthew 16:18

The division comes in the identification of “this rock.” Catholics believe it refers to Peter himself–and thus the Catholic Church, as founded on popes and bishops and cardinals. Protestants believe it refers to Peter’s confession in verse 16:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Regardless, Jesus’ words are critical. “The forces of Hades will not overpower [the Church].” This is essential. At the end of the day, the Church is in a war. And it’s not a war against competing denominations. It’s not a war against culture. It’s not a war against secular governments. It’s a war against the powers of hell. And while Christians are eternally guaranteed victory, the fact remains that there are temporal steps that must be taken to secure that victory eternally.

Satan is trying to overpower the Church. He has been since Christ rose from the dead. He has strategies for this objective. In our current Revelation passage (12:18-13:10) and the next (13:11-18), John describes Satan’s stratagems:

[The Dragon] stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. He had 10 horns and seven heads. On his horns were 10 diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like a bear’s, and his mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but his fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”

A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. He was also given authority to act for 42 months. He began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme His name and His dwelling—those who dwell in heaven. And he was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. He was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered.

If anyone has an ear, he should listen:

If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes.
If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed.

This demands the perseverance and faith of the saints.

Last time, we looked at the fact that the dragon “left to wage war with the rest of her offspring” (12:17). As such, everything that occurs in this portion of the text is the devil’s (the dragon’s) preferred method of warfare.

Additionally, it is worth noting at this point that the focus of Revelation has switched since Revelation 12:1. Whereas the portion of Revelation from 4:1-11:19 focused on the world as a whole, the portion from Revelation 12:1-19:21 zooms in first on the plights of Christians (12:1-14:20), and then focuses on the judgment awaiting the persecutors of Christians (15:1-19:21), which stands as an answer to the prayers of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10-11.

They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number would be completed of their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been.

We clearly notice the theme of persecution in Revelation 1-3, but it essentially disappears in Revelation 4-11 (the clearest exception being 11:7-10), and it comes on-screen in high definition in Revelation 12-19–especially chapters 12-13. And this is exactly where we find ourselves today.

There are a handful of things to note in this passage. But first, we must remember that this is Satan’s preferred method of warfare against the Church. In these verses, we see three of his strategies.

Mimicry

First, Satan tries to mimic God. I wrote more in-depth on this concept in this passage here. But it’s worth pointing out here that the devil is described in Revelation 12:3 as “a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.” In our text today, the beast is described as having “10 horns and seven heads. On his horns were 10 diadems.” As far as appearance (excluding crowns) these are identical. We will understand the significance of the crowns when we get to Revelation 17, but for now it is enough to know that the beast is a physical manifestation of the dragon (a spiritual, invisible entity). The beast is “the image of the invisible dragon” (cf. Colossians 1:15). We will see next time that the devil also tries to mimic the Holy Spirit.

But the devil starts his plot against Christianity by deceiving the world. He offers up an alternative worship system to divide Christians. Jesus praised Ephesus for being on the lookout for infiltrating, false religion.1 And when Christians are divided, the world doesn’t know who to believe, so the devil’s alternative looks more appealing, especially when persecution is absent.

Augustine described his own day (c. 426):

There is that other heartache of seeing heretics, too, using the name and sacraments, the Scriptures and the Creed of genuine Christians. They realize how many would-be converts are driven into perplexed hesitancy because of heretical dissension, while the foulmouthed find in heretics further pretext for cursing the Christian name, since these heretics at least call themselves Christian.2

We desperately need to return to the days when Tertullian’s words (c. 200) can be realized again:

See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. And they are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren; for no other reason, as I think, than because among themselves names of consanguinity are assumed in mere pretence of affection. But we are your brethren as well, by the law of our common mother nature, though you are hardly men, because brothers so unkind. At the same time, how much more fittingly they are called and counted brothers who have been led to the knowledge of God as their common Father, who have drunk in one spirit of holiness, who from the same womb of a common ignorance have agonized into the same light of truth! But on this very account, perhaps, we are regarded as having less claim to be held true brothers, that no tragedy makes a noise about our brotherhood, or that the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives.3

Tertullian, in a defense of Christianity, pointed to the selfless love Christians had for one another–even being willing to die for one another–as proof of Christianity’s validity. Today, we try to argue people into believing Christianity is the superior choice. Satan is winning.

Obviously, we know he won’t ultimately win, but he will continue stealing souls to perdition if we don’t stop our petty squabbles in the name of being “right” or “orthodox” or “biblical.” If we’re called to love even our enemies, then it should be easy for us to love those different from us who also believe in Jesus for salvation.

Longevity

The second strategy of Satan against God’s people is the longevity of the beast’s power. According to verse 5, the beast is given power for 42 months. According to 12:6 and 14, the Church is persecuted for “1260 days” and “a time, times, and half a time.” All of these equal three and a half years. This is equal also to the time the witnesses (the Church) witness in Revelation 11:1-3, before being destroyed by the beast. The beast exists for the entirety of the Church age, even if he will eventually emerge as an ultimate adversary–just prior to the return of Christ. But it’s clear that the time of the Church overlaps entirely with the deception and persecution of the beast.

Lest we doubt this, it’s clear that John is pulling his imagery here from Daniel 7.

Daniel said, “In my vision at night I was watching, and suddenly the four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea. Four huge beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion but had eagle’s wings. I continued watching until its wings were torn off. It was lifted up from the ground, set on its feet like a man, and given a human mind. Suddenly, another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, with three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up! Gorge yourself on flesh.’ While I was watching, another beast appeared. It was like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back. It had four heads and was given authority to rule. While I was watching in the night visions, a fourth beast appeared, frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong, with large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and it trampled with its feet whatever was left. It was different from all the beasts before it, and it had 10 horns.”

Daniel 7:2-7

Daniel’s explanation describes four different beasts. As it is explained later (cf. Daniel 7:16-28), these beasts are four different kings. But what does John say? “The beast I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like a bear’s, and his mouth was like a lion’s mouth” (Revelation 13:2). The beast is a conglomerate of all of the beasts in Daniel’s vision. This means that it is incorrect to identify specific individuals as the beast (Antichrist). There are many antichrists in the world (cf. 1 John 2:18-19), and this will continue until Christ returns.

This means we must always be ready. We must always pursue love and unity with fellow Christians. We must strive to live in holiness. We must study the genuine faith so that we can recognize counterfeits (it is not enough to study counterfeits since there are a billion forms that counterfeit faith can take).

Violence

Satan’s third strategy against God’s people is violence. When Christians fail to fall for his counterfeit religion, he must silence them so that they can’t speak out against his strategies.

But at this point it is worth noting that John says, “he was permitted” to commit violence against God’s people. While the nearest antecedent for the implied “by [someone]” is the Dragon, we must remember again that the Dragon receives all his power and authority from God. Anything the dragon is permitted to do, he is permitted to do within the umbrella of God’s sovereignty. Nothing happens–not even satanic activity–outside of God’s perfect, secret will.4

Then John draws our attention to a very specific Old Testament citation. “If anyone has an ear, he should listen.”

Yes?

If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes.
If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed.

Revelation 13:10; Jeremiah 15:2; Jeremiah 43:11

This passage was originally proclaimed in the context of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The punishment for their sin was exile and death. Here, John flips this on its head and essentially says that faithfulness to God will result in the same consequence (positive now) that unfaithfulness met with in the Old Testament. The seeming insanity of this statement is what leads John to conclude by saying, “This demands the perseverance and faith of the saints” (13:10).

If we’re to conquer Satan, we must be willing to die for our faith. The question isn’t whether or not you had faith when you were five. The question is whether or not you have faith now. Is your faith persevering? One way in which we can tell if our faith is persevering is by the quality of our love for others.

  • “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?” (James 2:14).
  • “Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come” (Matthew 24:12-14).
  • “Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).

Love and faith are a one-flesh union like husband and wife. To separate them is to betray a lack of both and to play MVP for Satan’s team. We know his strategies; let’s unite and beat him.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it

Matthew 16:18

Faith (working through love; cf. Galatians 5:6) is the rock that will enable the Church to never be overpowered by Satan.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Fide
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura

Thanks for reading.

The next entry can be found here.


  1. If we were focusing on eschatology on its own, there is something to be said for the idea that the beast arises out of the Church (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12), which thus makes the theology of Ephesians critical to the topic of eschatology. If we want to prevent the rise of Antichrist (the Beast), then we must be unified in faith, hope, and love. Division should be the exception, not the norm (like it is today in evangelicalism). The “man of lawlessness” theology is especially interesting as regards ecclesiology, Augustine, and the Donatist controversy (see Maureen A. Tilley, The Bible in Christian North Africa: The Donatist World [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997]; Pamela Bright, “‘The Spiritual World, Which Is the Church’: Hermeneutical Theory in the Book of Rules of Tyconius,” Studia Patristica 22 [1989]: 213-218; Bright, Pamela. “The Church and the ‘Mystery of Iniquity’: Old Testament Prophecy in Fourth Century African Exegesis,” Consensus 23, no. 1 [1997]: 39-49).
  2. Saint Augustine, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, The Fathers of the Church (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), section 18.51, pg. 173.
  3. Tertullian, “The Apology,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, trans. S. Thelwall, ANF3 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), section xxxix, pg. 46.
  4. I can’t find textual support for this statement, but it is a theological truism in the theological camps in which I’ve run most of my Christian life.

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