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War in Heaven

May 18th, 2015

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 that 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 12:7-9

To me, this is one of the most startling statements of the Bible, and it should shock us.

Many such passages have that effect, especially when heard for the first time. John 3:16, for example, upon the first reading has shocked many people. “God loves me?” they think in amazement. And it is heart warming news because it was contrary to what they had assumed, that they lived merely under His displeasure or under His absence and apathy.

The news that there was war in heaven should also shock us – the one place in the universe we would assume would never have war, heaven, had one. I believe this passage describes the origins of the spiritual conflict we find ourselves in today. It describes an event in time but in the early days of the creation of God, before the fall of mankind from sin. Before Adam and Eve sinned, there was war in heaven. In the execution of the conflict, God did not command the rebellious forces into oblivion, rather He gave the task to Michael. Daniel 12:1 describes Michael the angel as a “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of Your people.” See also Daniel 10:13, where he is called “one of the chief princes” and in Daniel 10:21, “Michael Your prince.” He was called an “archangel” in Jude 9 and the term is used also in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

The Bible does not teach us very much about angels, whether good or evil, but that does not mean that we have no information. God’s Spirit, as He always does, has given us the information we need and those matters that are too great for us to comprehend He has omitted for our spiritual benefit. But one of the ideas among Christians from antiquity is that there were three archangels – Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer, who became Satan – who ruled or administered the vast angel population, each having one third.¬† And this coincides with the statement in Revelation 12:4 about the fiery red dragon, “His tail drew a third of the stars in heaven and threw them to the earth.” Though this could very well be the case, there is also too little biblical information on the subject of angels to insist that this is the only valid understanding.

Frankly, when we study the subject of angels in the Bible, we enter into a subject with little biblical information, and a matter we should be careful of being too curious about. But the Bible does give us enough information to teach us and protect us.

Good Angels: Contrary to some common belief, the Bible does not say that we become angels at death. Angels are separate creations of God, “Ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). Christ said that at the resurrection we redeemed humans would be “like the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30) in that we will not be married or marrying in heaven, and this has been sometimes misunderstood.

The word “angel” comes into English from the biblical Greek and it means literally “messenger,” and it is the same root which shows up in words like “evangelist,” “evangelism,” “evangelical,” etc. The Hebrew equivalent, malak, also means “messenger.” So they are under the authority of God, sent to do His will. Michael, it is said, “stands watch over the sons of Your people” (Dan. 12:1). We have quaint ways of expressing such sentiments, such as each person having a “guardian angel” watching over them, and though the Bible does not precisely teach this idea of each one having his own angel, the Bible does clearly affirm that this is an important role of angels.

We can categorize the roles of the good angels into three basic tasks: proclamation, protection, and executing judgments of God. Often they are used of God to deliver an important message to people, as Gabriel told Joseph and Mary about the Christ (Matt 1:20-24 and Luke 1:26-38, also Luke 2:8-15; Luke 24:4-6 and Acts 1:9-11). In terms of protection, this is a very broad category of their ministry and they serve in mysterious ways, according to the will of God, to protect us – physically, emotionally, and especially spiritually. It was an angel who rescued Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 21:17. Angels ministered to Christ after His temptations, Luke 4:11. An angel rescued Peter from prison, Acts 12:5-11. In terms of executing judgments, angels disciplined the people of Israel (1 Cor. 10:10 and 2 Samuel 24:16), killed armies (2 Kings 19:35 and Isaiah 37:36) and an angel took Herod’s life (Acts 12:24).

The means by which the accomplish their tasks are as mysterious as God’s ways are. And angels are agents of both the blessings of God in our lives as well as the discipline we need to help us mature. They are curious, the scripture says, about matters pertaining to our salvation (1 Peter 1:12). They are 100% loyal to God, for there is no redemption for angels when they sin. They are greater creations than we are, we are made a “little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5), and they are passionate and obedient to the purpose and plan of God.

Yet there is a limitation to their role. They are clearly not to be worshiped (Col. 2:18), neither do we need to try and use them as messengers from us to God. God may use them because our hearts are hard and our minds often insensitive to spiritual matters, but God is always able to hear our heart. It is His Spirit who intercedes for us, and not angels (Romans 8:26-27) and it is Christ who is our Advocate before the Father, and not angels (Hebrews 7:25 and 1 John 2:1).

Evil Angels: The original sin of Satan was to lust after the position of God. 1 Timothy 3:6 says that Satan’s pride was his downfall. Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-18 are looked at by many Bible¬† students as having dual meanings – prophesying about kings of Babylon and Tyre, but also revealing the origins of Satan. Though, again, we are short of information to prove this connection, but it does not conflict with other scripture and this position may be held by permission, as a possible interpretation – especially in light of the Revelation 12 passage.

In this interpretation, Ezekiel 28:12-15 says, “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were on the holy mountain of God … You were perfect in all your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” Clearly the king of Tyre was never in Eden and someone else is the focus of this prophecy. We read on, “You became filled with violence from within and you sinned; therefore I cast you out of the mountain of God… your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground…” (Ezek. 28:16-17).

And Isaiah 14:12-14 says, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! … for you said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … i will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'” Clearly these expressions of pride and lust were part of the original rebellion of Satan and his evil angels.

In his rebellion against God he led astray other angels, “the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode” (Jude 6). These are his demons, and Satan’s kingdom is organized on earth, as we learn from Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Are spirits territorial? Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air” describing a worldwide kingdom, and certainly that is the idea in Revelation 12:9, that he was cast down to earth. Yet we also see some verses that can be interpreted with some degree of the idea of territorial powers. Daniel 10:20 speaks about the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece,” and it can be assumed from the context that this refers to demonic powers, and not to earthly powers. In what we read about the demons in Jesus’ day also can be understood this way – the evil spirits in Gadara (Luke 8:26-39).

Their goal on earth is to deceive and disrupt and oppose the work of God, namely the redemption of the human race. Satan accuses us and deceives us but his power does have some limitations placed on him by God (Job 2:6). Satan does not have the same powers as God. He is not omniscient, omnipresent, nor omnipotent. He is not equal to God, neither are his demons equal in number to the good angels. “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

How to overcome him: We will examine this topic more in detail tomorrow, but the short answer is found in the text: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” – describing our original salvation experience through faith, when we were covered with the righteousness of Christ; “and by the word of their testimony” – describing the faithful witness of the followers of Christ through the centuries to proclaim the gospel – the lies of Satan are defeated by the proclamation of the truth of God; “and they did not love their lives to the death” – they lived for eternity, not this world, and were willing for their lives to be given for the sake of Christ, whether in service or in persecution or in martyrdom.

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