Revelation chapters 12-14 offer an overview of the history and final outcome of the Great Controversy between God and Satan. From Ezekiel 28 we learn that Satan was once the most magnificent angel in heaven, but by focusing on himself he fell into sin and became hostile toward God. Section 12: Origin of Satan and Sin of The Book explains how evil could arise in a good and sinless creation.
God was not responsible for the origin of evil, but he has taken responsibility for it, going so far as to die in order to pay the full penalty for sin. Ultimately He will bring sin and evil to an end, but even for the omnipotent Creator it is not easy to eradicate sin in a way that preserves the freedom of His creatures and insures that sin will not arise again.
One of the most important scenes of the Great Controversy is the war in heaven, described in Revelation 12:7-9, “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth and his angels were cast out with him”.
We should not suppose that this was a physical warfare with weapons. It was a war of ideas. We can get the best idea of the issues involved by looking at Satan’s contentions in the Garden of Eden. In His instructions to Adam and Eve, God had emphasized His lavish liberality, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat”, while still emphasizing that they were beings with freedom of choice: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:16,17). Satan, laying the groundwork for his first lie (because he changed the emphasis and thus the meaning of God’s message) said, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” While logically the meaning was the same, the emphasis on God’s restriction totally misrepresented His character. In answer to Eve’s repeating of God’s warning, that if she ate of it she would die, Satan essentially called God a liar: “You will not surely die”. He held out the promise of a more exalted state— “your eyes will be opened… knowing good and evil”. Finally, he zealously tried to convert Eve to his own sinful ambition: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:1-5).
Thus we see the issues of the Great Controversy between God and one of the brightest of His created beings. Satan claims that God is restrictive, that He is a liar, that He has a high position that he wants to selfishly retain exclusively for Himself and that He does not have the best interests of His creatures at heart. He asserts that we don’t need God to tell us what is good and bad, but can judge for ourselves. He claims that we can have a better life independent from God, that being wise is more important than being righteous (obedient) and that through rebellion and disobedience God’s creatures can elevate themselves to the exalted position of being “ like the Most High”.
We can understand other issues in the Great Controversy from Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Satan said, “Command that these stones become bread” (v. 3)— in other words, you should exercise personal spiritual power independent of the Creator. “Throw yourself down, for… He (God) shall give His angels charge over you” (v.6)—the creature can manipulate the Creator rather than obeying Him. “The devil said… ‘fall down and worship me” (v.9)— this is the ultimate desire of Satan, to have worship directed to himself. All of these characteristics are seen repeatedly in the various false religions of the world.
It appears that Satan was cast out of heaven in two stages. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In the Garden of Eden we find Satan here on earth. But from the book of Job we learn that Satan still had access to heaven— “There was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ So Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth” (Job. 1:6,7). In Revelation 12 we see what he did in heaven: he was “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:10).
These accusations are most likely a survival tactic for Satan. He knows that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and so he, along with every other sinner, is condemned to die. He also knows that God wants to save His children, so with his accusations he tries to prove that there is no real difference between them and him— if God is going to let them live, He has to let him live too. But by dying on the Cross Jesus paid the wages of sin, and He offers life to everyone who believes.
Satan knows that he cannot prove that he believes; this is why he tried so desperately to keep the Book of Life (the sealed scroll of Revelation 5) from being opened, because it has within it the evidence that God’s children believe in Him.
The Cross refuted the accusations of Satan, so after the resurrection and ascension one of the first things Jesus did was to cast Satan out of heaven. “The dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:8,9).
Of course Satan did not just give up; he simply shifted the battlefield. “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12).
The remainder of chapter 12 and all of chapter 13 tell the story of the continuation of the war that began in heaven, and how it will come to a climax at the end of time. For more information and scriptural support see chapter 12 of The Book.