The Persecution on Earth
The divine court has always included a prosecutor and a defense attorney. The prosecutor is known as the devil—that is, the Accuser. The Greek word for devil is diabolos, from dia (“through the operation of”) and ballo, “to throw repeatedly,” such as a rock. It is a picture of a rock being thrown repeatedly in order to cause a breach. In a court of law, the devil is the one who is called to bring up all of our faults and past sins continuously in order to drive a wedge between us and God and to paralyze us with uncertainty, guilt, and fear.
When the accuser was cast out of the divine court, Satan essentially lost his God-given mandate (and license) as the Prosecutor of the brethren. This was done through the blood of Jesus. In legal terms, when the full debt for sin has been paid, the law closes the books on the case, because the law has no further interest in the case. In other words, we are “not under the law but under grace,” as Paul says in Rom. 6:15. This does not give us a license to sin (Rom. 6:1, 2), but it releases us from the debt or liability due to our sin.
This is how the devil was fired as the prosecutor. It was for lack of work to do. Paul tells us in Rom. 8:1,
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
However, men do not always understand that their debt has been cancelled. They remain enslaved in their minds, thinking that God still holds their past sins against them. Though God forgives them, they do not forgive themselves. And so they continue to make payments on the cancelled debt as if they were still debtors to the law. For unbelievers, this is understandable, but Christians are often ignorant of this, although it is one of the main tenets of Christian faith.
This lack of faith in Christians and non-Christians alike is how the devil is able to continue working on earth, long after his position as the divine prosecutor was eliminated in heaven.
The New Creation Man Serves the Law of God
Romans 8 shows how the problem has persisted in spite of Christ’s work on the cross. Those who walk in the flesh, who set their minds on fleshly things, remain “hostile toward God” (Rom. 8:7) as long as they fail to walk after the spirit. Paul explains the difference between the fleshly mind and spiritual mind in the previous chapter, telling us in Rom. 7:25, “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
Paul shows that we can identify ourselves either as the old man of flesh (received from our natural descent from Adam, from Israel, or from our parents) or we may identify with the new creation man that was spiritually begotten. Each has a mind of its own. The old man desires to violate the law of God (i.e., to sin), for it functions by the law of sin and death. Paul identified with the new man, saying in Rom. 7:22, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.”
As long as men on earth are identified with the old man, dependent upon fleshly descent and genealogy, they walk in sin and death. So Paul says in Rom. 8:6-9,
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
Many have tried to understand this chapter without being subject to the law of God. They cast aside the law and think they are spiritual for doing so. But in fact, as Paul says clearly, it is the spiritual man that is subject to the law, and it is the fleshly man that is incapable of subjecting himself to the law. Because “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), to walk in the flesh is to walk in a lawless (sinful) mindset that results in death.
Those with a lawless mindset often try to keep their fleshly man from sinning. The attempt to subject the flesh man to the law of God is futile in the end, even if we may discipline that man for a lifetime. Rather than reform the flesh man, he must simply be put to death, and we must be begotten from above to become new creatures.
The overcomers are those who by faith are begotten by the seed of the gospel of Christ. Even though they still have trouble keeping the old man in the grave (as Paul shows in Rom. 7:15-24), we may all identify ourselves in the divine court as the new creation man. During our life time, this remains a legal act that gives us legal standing in the divine court. Too often we slide back into the lawless mindset of the old man. But in the end the old man will die permanently, once we are “changed in the atoms in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:51, 52).
Therefore, even though the accuser no longer has grounds to accuse us, this does not mean we are beyond his reach in practical terms. Multitudes of true believers were killed by various manifestations of the dragon over the centuries, in spite of Christ’s victory on the cross and in His resurrection. But the ability of the dragon to kill the body in no way gives him victory. The only entity that the dragon can kill is the old man of flesh. He cannot touch the new man.
So his tactic is to cause us to re-identify ourselves with the old man of flesh and renounce our identity with the new creation man. This was often done by attempting to force Christians to sacrifice to Caesar and to the pagan gods—an act of lawlessness, signifying the worship of false gods and serving mere men pretending to be gods.
Likewise, on a more personal and daily level, we are all in danger of setting up idols of the heart, which call us to give them a part of our lives and our time. This is the area of temptation that all have had to face, whether they have experienced persecution by religious and civil governments or not.
The Interim Wilderness
It is in this interim that we remain in the wilderness somewhere between Egypt and the Promised Land. It is an in-between state, in which righteousness is imputed to us, God calling what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17).
The accuser (dragon) can no longer accuse the brethren in the divine court, but in being cast down to the earth, he has opportunity to accuse and persecute the saints in earthly courts. The woman goes into the wilderness, which represents a place of testing and trial prior to entering the Promised Land. So it is in this wilderness that the accuser now comes to persecute the woman (church).
John tells us that in spite of the long persecution, the remnant will overcome the accuser (dragon).
Revelation 12:12 says,
12 For this reason, rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time. 13 And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.
We may view this on two levels. In the big picture, the woman is the collective body called the church, and her persecution and deliverance is manifested on a historic level at the end of the age. On an individual level, however, each person undergoes his or her own difficulties during the few years of one’s life. Full deliverance on a personal level cannot be achieved until the historic deliverance, so when individuals die, as Paul did, each receives his own reward posthumously (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Jesus tells John in Rev. 22:12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me.”
We learn from Heb. 11:39, 40 that the prophets and martyrs of the past did not receive what was promised, because these rewards will be given out to the saints of every generation at the same time.
39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
This principle is seen in the case of Caleb and Joshua, who, though they were overcomers having faith to enter the Promised Land, were forced to wait for the rest of that church in the wilderness. In spite of their faith, God did not allow them to receive the promise apart from the appointed time when the collective body all entered the land.
So also is it with us as individuals. Of course, those living at the end of the age will not have to wait past the grave to receive the promise, for “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51). Those who “are alive and remain shall be caught up with them [the risen ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). These too follow the pattern of Caleb and Joshua, who were promised that they would be alive to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:30).
Woe to the Earth and the Sea
Rev. 12:12 says, “Woe to the earth and the sea.” This is, in fact, an introduction to the next chapter, where we see the rise of two beasts: one from the earth, and the other from the sea. The earth and sea are subjected to the dragon that is cast out of the divine court, and a new power thus arises, which is the final manifestation of beast governments prior to the Kingdom.
The verse implies that the beast rising from the sea (Rev. 13:1) and the other from the earth (Rev. 13:11) are both inspired and ruled by the dragon. In fact, as we will see from Rev. 13:2, the beast from the sea is given power and authority by this dragon. Likewise, in Rev. 13:11 the beast from the earth “spoke as a dragon.”
In the big picture, then, these two beasts arise as a result of the dragon being cast down to the earth when Christ ascended to the throne in heaven. Their power is drawn from men’s lack of faith to believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their own sin and for the sin of the whole world.
As we will see, the beast from the sea is the Roman church, that is, the “Holy See.” The beast from the earth is a banking beast that arose at the time that the sea-beast received a fatal wound that was healed (1798-1804). The “Holy See” kept people in bondage to sin, not telling them that their debt was paid. They found Christian guilt to be useful, for then the church could continue to collect penance from the people and to pay for their relatives to be released from Purgatory.
In other words, the church failed to teach the truth about grace, for they redefined grace as God’s help to keep the old flesh man from sinning. Thus, “grace” was needed continually, because the old man of flesh can never be perfected. But in fact, biblical grace is a state where the law is satisfied and requires no further payment on past debt.
Some day the truth will be known to all, and the dragon will be fully overcome here on earth as it is in heaven.