Thursday, April 21, 2005

THE STARS CAST DOWN BY THE DRAGON

WHO ARE THE STARS cast down by the dragon in Rev 12.04?

It’s tempting to interpret the stars dragged from “the sky” (NIV) by the dragon as representing angels who joined Satan in his primeval rebellion. Indeed, this verse is the proof text for the idea that a third of God’s angels followed Satan in that rebellion (cf. Barackman’s Practical Christian Theology (Kregel, Grand Rapids, 1981), p. 235). This interpretation seems plausible at first glance for the stars that are “cast down to the earth” in 12.4 are paralleled by the satanic angels who are “cast down to the earth” in verse 9. Furthermore, stars in the Revelation are interpreted as angels in 01.20 and a star seems to represent an angel in 09.01.

However, the angels of Rev 01.20 are probably human messengers from the churches, and the entity in 09.01 is not explicitly identified. As for the parallel between the “casting down to earth” in 12.04 and 12.09, it does help us by way of revealing the negative connotation of the verb (Gk ballo = fling, hurl, cast or throw) in our context. This casting down is a defeat in both 12.04 and 12.09. The dragon in 12.04 does not win a third of the stars as his followers, but rather throws down these stars in a destructive defeat.

Who then are these stars flung down, that is, defeated by the dragon? A fellow student asked, “who else would be in heaven but angels?” A good question, but we must consider several things. First, the vision of Rev 12 is not constrained by normal spatial boundaries. The “great sign” appears in heaven (en to ourano) but it concerns events that occur physically on earth, namely Israel giving birth to Messiah. Secondly, Rev 12.04 does not strictly say, as the NIV translates, “stars out of the sky,” but rather uses the genitive case to speak of “the stars of heaven.” While at first glance this would seem to mean stars [up] in heaven, the emphasis is actually on the fact that these stars belong to heaven, or are under heaven’s jurisdiction. Their heavenly domain seems to be contrasted with the earth to which they are cast, but even if they are stars already on earth (as the star-angels of Rev 01.20) they can still be flung to the ground or earth in defeat. Finally, we must remember that the heavenly domain is not spatially limited to some place up beyond the sky, for even now we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2.06). With these things in mind, we must consider the possibility that the stars cast down by the dragon are actually human entities. But if they are people, which people are they?

Our first clue is in Rev 12.01. The woman framed by the sun, moon and stars represents Israel, for the symbolic picture is taken from Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37.09, where the stars represent the 12 sons (tribes) of Israel. In fact, stars in the Bible often represent Abraham’s descendants, for as a symbol they allude to God’s thrice repeated promise to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens (Gen. 15.05; 22.17; 26.04; see also Exo 32.13; Deu 01.10; 10.22; 1Ch 27.23; Jer 33.22).

Is it descendants of Abraham then that the Dragon casts down? Yes, as confirmed in Daniel 08.10-12. In Daniel’s prophecy it is the dragon’s agent, the “little horn,” i.e., the Antichrist, who casts the stars down to the earth. The involvement of the Antichrist alerts us to the fact that the defeated stars in view are earthly, not just heavenly luminaries. Furthermore, the agency of the “little horn,” that is, of the Antichrist, tells us that this “casting down” is yet future and, therefore, is not the primeval rebellion of Satan’s angels.

Gabriel interprets Daniel’s vision for him, explaining in Dan 08.24 that a future “stern-faced” king will “destroy the mighty men and the holy people.” In other words, the Antichrist will bring down Israelite “mighty men” —whether spiritual or military leaders is not clear— and saints. This is exactly what is in view in Rev. 12. The dragon persecutes the woman (Israel), her son (Christ) and the rest of her offspring (Christians). As Daniel’s vision explains, the stars swept from heaven by the dragon’s tail are Israelite luminaries, either spiritual or military leaders who are defeated —at least physically— by the Antichrist.

The star imagery, when used to symbolize people, emphasizes the heavenly aspect of those people. The people in view either have a heavenly calling (Heb 03.01), are already experiencing heavenly blessing (Eph 1.03), or are at least under heavenly protection (2Ti 4.18). The star symbolism emphasizes the top window (= spiritual realm) aspect of these people, and may even allude to their guardian angels (cf. Mat 18.10).

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