Our text is today’s Epistle (Revelation 12:7-12): 7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (ESV)
Now war arose in heaven—just let those words sink in! War! And in the one place where you would think it would be impossible for war to arise—Heaven! That there should be war in the courts of Heaven before God’s holy presence seems unthinkable, utterly out of place. After all, remember how the angels sang at the birth of Jesus: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace… (Luke 2:14). And when Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, the pilgrims sang a similar hymn of praise: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! (Luke 19:38). And of course, that is why Jesus was born—to bring peace to earth and in Heaven through His death and resurrection.
So how could it be that war arose in heaven? To understand why, we must understand that there were two wars fought in Heaven.
The first war in Heaven arose sometime between the sixth day of creation and the fall of Adam and Eve. On the sixth day, everything—in Heaven and on earth—was very good. But then something went horribly wrong. There was a rebellion in Heaven. An angel named Lucifer wanted to be like God; he wanted to take the place of God. And so he instigated a rebellion in which a third of the angels followed him in his sinful pride. But of course God won the war. St. Jude reveals the fate of these fallen angels: the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, [God] has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day (Jude 6).
These evil angels were defeated in their rebellion and are now kept in eternal chains. But their final destiny—being thrown in the lake of fire—still awaits them. Which means that they have some freedom of movement to continue their devilish work here on earth. They are free to promote great wickedness, free to hinder and attack the work of Christ’s Church on earth. But at the same time they are bound, for they remain subject to God’s supreme dominion and control, and they cannot go beyond what God permits them to do. At times, it may seem to us that there is no limit to the evil they can cause, but really they are chained rebels whose reach extends only as far as God in His wisdom allows.
Satan is indeed chained, but his chains stretch to and fro across the entire earth. There was even a time when God allowed Satan to appear before Him in the courts of Heaven. You might wonder why Satan would ever want to visit the scene of his great defeat before God. Why would Satan visit Heaven, where he had to be reminded that he was not God and that he was no longer a permanent resident of Heaven?
The reason why Satan would appear before the courts of Heaven was simply so that he could accuse the saints before God. Satan loves to accuse the saints of their sins. And before Jesus rose from the dead, Satan was allowed to accuse the saints even before God in heaven.
There are two famous Old Testament cases of Satan accusing saints before God. First, there is the case of Job. Satan accuses Job, saying that Job would curse God to His face if God were to allow Job’s health to be taken from him. And then in the book of Zechariah there is the case of the high priest Joshua, whose sins Satan sought to lay out in the open, that God might condemn Joshua. But God turned on Satan, saying The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! God then proclaimed His forgiveness to Joshua: Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments (Zechariah 3:2, 4).
Satan loves to accuse the saints before God, with the hope that God would condemn us to the same fate awaiting Satan and his demons. But thanks be to God—there is… now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). And what’s more, ever since the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus, God has so shortened Satan’s chain that he is no longer permitted to enter heaven to accuse the saints before God.
That is what is going on in today’s reading from Revelation, which describes the second war in heaven. The first war was the original rebellion of Satan and his demons. This second war occurred soon after our Lord’s ascension, at what we call the “session” of Christ—His being seated at the right hand of the Father Almighty. All the heavenly hosts are about to celebrate the coronation of Jesus Christ as the Saviour and Champion of His people. But of course, there is no room for the dragon and his hordes at this celebration, and so before the coronation can properly begin, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, must be thrown down to the earth along with his angels.
Do you see what is happening? Jesus, the eternal God, established peace between God and sinners. Jesus established this peace through His birth, death, and resurrection. He [made] peace by the blood of his cross, for upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace (Colossians 1:20; Isaiah 53:5). Therefore,…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…for he himself is our peace (Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:14). Now, the peace that Christ is and that Christ gives is like the declaration of peace between two warring parties. Sinners reconciled to a holy God—that is the kind of peace given us by Jesus.
But at our Lord’s ascension, this peace with God which our Lord Jesus won for us on the cross, this peace is being contested by evil spiritual powers in heavenly realms. These evil powers are seeking to sever the peace between God and sinners, to destroy the peace achieved by Christ.
And that is why war breaks out in Heaven once again. At the dawn of creation, Satan had tried to usurp the throne of God. Now, we see him attempting to displace the Christ Child, the victorious Lamb who was slain. Satan wants to establish himself in the presence of God as the prince of the angels and as the one who has dominion over the world, and specifically as the one who has the authority to stand before God and accuse people of their sins. Do you see what is going on? Just before Christ is to take His rightful place at the right hand of the Father, Satan makes an all-out attempt to regain his position in the presence of God.
You could say that in the holy courts of Heaven all hell breaks loose. St. Michael and the holy angels fight against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fight back. But in the end, the hordes of hell are defeated once again. And now there is no longer any place in Heaven for Satan and his demons.
Do you understand the seriousness of this conflict? Here, our resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus is about to take His rightful throne as the Saviour and Champion of sinners. But then Satan appears before God, as he was accustomed to do, and he questions Jesus’ claim. Satan comes to claim that he, and not Jesus, has the right to represent the saints before God’s throne. And of course, we all know how Satan would represent us before God—by accusing us of our sins!
Now, if God the Father allows Satan’s claim to stand, than He would have to deny the claim of His own Son to be the rightful representative and advocate for God’s people. Which means, of course, that we would remain lost and condemned creatures forever!
But our Father in heaven rejected Satan’s claim and accepted the claim of His own dear Son. Alleluia! Christ’s victory on the cross has earned for Him the right to represent sinners; He is the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (Revelation 1:5). Therefore, the accusations of Satan are thrown out of court, and Satan himself is thrown out of Heaven. At God’s command, Michael and all the faithful angels drive out the dragon and his angels. The dragon and his hordes are not to take part in the celebration that is about to begin among the heavenly hosts—the celebration of Christ’s coronation at His ascension.
At the ascension of our Lord Jesus, Satan and his demons are thrown out of heaven. Never again can the dragon, that ancient serpent, appear before God to accuse the saints of their sins. Now the celebration can begin in earnest! If you thought there was celebrating in Heaven when Jesus arose on Easter morning, can you imagine the joyful sound resounding among the heavenly host, now that Satan no longer has access to Heaven to accuse saints, now that Jesus is crowned Saviour and Champion of His people! Imagine being there and joining that great throng in praising King Jesus: Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God!
This morning, then, rejoice! For in this war you are on the winning side, for you are saints, baptized into Christ, and you share in His victory! Jesus now is your representative and advocate before your Father in heaven. Though you come before God stained with the filth of sin, your heavenly Father graciously receives you, all for the sake of His Son. Whereas before, Satan would fill the courts of Heaven with loud accusations, now your Saviour Jesus stands besides you, holding you in His loving embrace, and He simply says: “Here, Father, here is another one whom I love, another dear one whom I have set free by My blood.”
The war in Heaven is over; Satan and his demons have been banished forever from the courts of Heaven. Now, I wish I could say that that is the end of this age-long conflict. But, of course, you know that the conflict is not yet over; rather, the evil spirits, who no longer have access to Heaven, are now waging war against the saints of God on earth. In fact, in these last days, Satan’s warring against the saints is intensifying, for he has come down to [us] in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
And so yes, thank God that in Christ you are on the winning side. But also remember: there is still fighting to be done! This is no time for you to kick back and take it easy! No, it is time to take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:11).
Dear children of God, you have been called by Christ, and in the Holy Baptism, you have been enrolled in the army which fights under Christ against the devil. Your Lord Jesus is the King who leads His Church Militant in battle here on earth. And how do we fight that old satanic foe? Well, we fight the same way saints in every age have fought. St. John tells us that the saints conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. That’s it! That is how we fight in the Lord. That is how we conquer the evil foe.
This side of Heaven, Satan and his angels will certainly attack you, tempting you to sin; seeking to turn you from the meditation on God’s Word, from prayer, from the Lord’s Holy Supper; attempting to drive you to despair and unbelief. And as you experience various kinds of affliction, Satan seeks to plant in your heart a spirit of bitterness which will poison your soul towards God. We all have lived long enough in the Lord to know how crafty that ancient serpent is and just how intense his attacks can be. If we try to fight him in our own strength, we will fail every time. But our gracious Lord Jesus calls us to look to Him alone, to His blood, to His Word of testimony.
His blood, of course, is His holy, precious blood, shed for you on the cross. That blood is the most powerful ingredient in the entire universe, and in Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution, you are washed clean of your sins in that blood, and you now drink that blood in the Holy Supper. And what’s more, you have the word of the Lord’s testimony, the precious promise that all your sins are forgiven and that you are God’s dear children and heirs of Heaven, all because of Jesus’ blood.
The evil foe is ever waging war against your soul—he wants you to suffer the destiny that awaits him. But by God’s grace, you fight against him. Even in the midst of your sins and adversities, you fight, not in your own power, but in the strength of Jesus. When the hordes of hell attack you, fight back by saying: “Be gone, Satan! Though I am a sinner and sorely afflicted, nonetheless I am baptized into Christ; I am washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and I feast on that blood as the medicine of immortality; and I cling to the Lord’s testimony that all who are baptized into Christ shall be saved!” Resist the devil in the Lord’s strength and he will certainly flee from you.
In your living and in your dying, your heavenly Father gives you the strength to cling to the blood of Christ and to His Word, so that of you, it will be said: “this dear saint loved not his life, her life, even unto death but clung to the Lord’s Word of eternal life!”
Today is the Festival of St. Michael and all Angels. Now, many people think that the primary work of angels is to serve as our guardian angels, protecting us from physical harm. And they may certainly do that on occasion. But their great work is to declare the praises of God and to minister to all who fear God and walk in His ways, that we may attain to eternal life. This morning, we join the angels in praising God. And we thank God for the role St. Michael and the holy angels played in the wars of Heaven, both at that first rebellion and at the Ascension of our Lord, when Satan sought to regain his position in the presence of God but was thrown down. We thank God for the ongoing role the holy angels play in defending us from the evil foe. Above all, we thank God that Jesus, His dear Son, [made] peace by the blood of his cross, so that now Satan may no longer accuse us before God (Colossians 1:20). Thanks be to God that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Amen.