War in Heaven - Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Behold He Cometh - Chapter 30Index to "Behold He Cometh"

Revelation 12:7-12)

7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.


I think that in the portion quoted above we have a parallel, and, in a way a continuation, of the first part of Chapter 12. You will remember that we have taken the position that in Chapter 12 we have a description of the spiritual agencies which are back of the power which rises out of the abyss and which exalts itself against the two witnesses, against the church of Christ, in this dispensation. In the first portion of this chapter we found a description of the two signs in heaven; and we discussed the identity of each sign, as well as their mutual relation and the attitude of the second against the first. As to the first sign, we found no difficulty in recognizing in it the symbol of the church upon earth. We found that in the sign of the woman with child we have the symbol especially of the church in the old dispensation, before Christ was born. The second sign is that of the great red dragon, which, as we interpreted, and as is literally expressed in the chapter, is none other than the devil himself. The devil stands before the woman throughout the old dispensation in an inimical attitude for the purpose of devouring her child as soon as it has been born. However, his efforts are vain. Christ is born, performs His work, and is exalted to highest glory at the right hand of the Almighty. Now parallel with this effort of the dragon against the woman runs the incident recorded in the words of our text and which speaks of the battle of the spirits in heaven.

The Combatants In This War

If the preceding portion depicted a battle of the devil against the church of the old dispensation to prevent the realization of the promise given in paradise, the present passage speaks of another war, also waged by the devil, but this time fought in person by him and by his angels, this time fought in heaven instead of upon earth, this time fought against his fellow angels who remained faithful to God at the time when the devil and his angels fell away.

We must conceive of this battle as being very real. There is no mention here of signs and symbols. There is absolutely nothing in the text which indicates that we must explain this portion in the allegorical fashion, as has been done in various ways. I take it, therefore, that we have here the record of a real battle in the real heaven. It is not a battle in aerial places, as some would have it, so that the idea would be that Michael and his angels are on the offensive, come down to fight with the devil and his host; but it is a battle in heaven, in the abode of the good and holy angels, before the very countenance of God. And I take it that the devil and his host are on the offensive and that they are challenging the holy angels to fight a spiritual war with them. A real battle, therefore, it is.

But it is well that we remember from the outset that all real battles are not fought with material weapons. It is not necessary to have sabre and bayonet or to bring forth cannon and gun in order to fight this battle. This battle has often been pictured poetically. But such a battle is inconceivable between the opposing sides that are here pictured. And we would lose the point in question altogether if we would thus picture to our minds the battle that is here described. No, this battle is a purely spiritual battle. It is fought not with material but with spiritual weapons, with weapons of intellect and shrewdness and subtlety, with the spiritual weapons of law and righteousness. For the combatants in this war are spirits pure and simple. They are, moreover, immortal spirits, at least in the sense that they have no body and that therefore they cannot die the physical death. They have no flesh and blood, so that they cannot be wounded physically. It is a war between angels, a real and fierce battle indeed, but nevertheless a purely spiritual one, fought with ,spiritual means, and therefore also with a purely spiritual outcome.

On the one hand, so we read in the text, stand Michael and his holy angels. It is not the Christ, as some interpreters would have it, appealing especially to his name and greatness. True, his name means "who is like God." But Christ was not merely like God, but very God Himself, the Person of the Son of God. True, he is described as very great and powerful. But are there not powerful and mighty angels that are mentioned by name in Scripture? True, he fights against the opponent of Christ. But is it so peculiar that the angels stand on the very side of Christ and fight His battles against the devil and his host? Hence, we must not interpret this as referring to the Christ, but to a mighty angel. Especially is this clear from Daniel 10, where Michael is mentioned by name. And you will find at a careful reading that he is clearly distinguished from the Christ.

Who is this Michael?

We find him mentioned once more in the New Testament besides in the portion of our text. Jude, verse 9, speaks of him as Michael, the archangel, who was "contending with the devil" and disputed with him about the body of Moses. Little it matters at this point what the dispute really implied. But we learn from this portion in regard to Michael:

1) That he is an archangel. How many of these archangels there are we know not. A Jewish tradition has it that there were seven. Of course, this is not impossible; but it is nevertheless without Scriptural basis. Sufficient it is to know that Michael is an archangel. He is a chief, one of the chiefs, of the angels, and therefore occupies a great and exalted place in heaven. He is clothed with great power and authority, no doubt.

2) That he contends with the devil, the enemy of God, just as in the words of our text.

3) That he fights in behalf of one of the great among God's people.

In the Old Testament we find him mentioned in Daniel 10:13. There we find that Michael contends with an evil prince for influence with the king of Persia, and that again in behalf of the people of God. The meaning evidently is that an evil spirit tries to influence the king of Persia against the people of Israel. But Michael comes and fights with this evil spirit and prevails. In verse 21 of the same chapter in Daniel, Michael is mentioned again: and there he is directly called the prince of the people of God. And, finally, in Daniel 12:1 we read: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time." Also here we find that Michael is great, and that he is a prince among the angels, and that he stands for the people of God and in their defense in a time of great trouble, when they are evidently in great danger.

Hence, taking into consideration at the same time the words of our text, we may draw the conclusion that Michael is a great angel, a chief and prince among his fellow angels. Originally he perhaps had his equal as to power and authority only in the devil. For we read in Jude that this great Michael, acknowledging the original power and authority of the devil, did not dare to curse and blaspheme him, but left it to God. A great angel, clothed with much authority, set perhaps, as we gather also from our text, over many angels, is especially appointed by God to fight against the devil and to lead his angels against him. And he is at the same time the great guardian and combatant on the side of the people of God in time of trouble. And therefore we may surmise from the outset that as Michael, also according to the words of our text, fights with the devil, the people of God must be involved. He does not fight alone, but has his angels with him. As we have indicated already, this does not necessarily mean that all the good angels fight on the side of Michael, but merely that he is chief of a certain number of angels in heaven and that now he leads his army of good angels against the devil and his host.

For the latter is the opposing side. The dragon and his angels are fighting here with Michael and his angels. We need not dwell very long upon their identity and power. We have seen that the devil is a most powerful monster, bloodthirsty and fierce, with terrible hatred in his bosom against the man child, as the great opponent of God and His kingdom, who has usurped the power of the kingdom but who is limited in his power by the decree of God. At present we need not pay any more attention to him. He is here called the old serpent, the devil, the old deceiver, and Satan. And no doubt these names are here given him with a special purpose. But the meaning of these we shall learn later, as well as the purpose for which they are given to him in this connection. He comes with his angels. No doubt he has a large army of them, as we have learned from the preceding portion: he dragged along in his fall from God a third of the angels in heaven. And though I do not think that he has all these evil spirits at his own disposal at any time, nevertheless we may well imagine that he is there with a large and powerful army, to give battle to Michael and his angels. Such, then, are the combatants in this war. It is a spiritual war between the mightiest among the mighty of God's spiritual creatures: those who fell away from Him and hate Him and strive after His authority, on the one hand; and those who remained obedient and subject to God and who therefore fight His battles, on the other.

The Time Of This Warfare

It will be of importance to ascertain, in the second place, the time of this battle. For this will help us to determine the significance and the object of this war to a large extent. As we have said in the beginning, we understand this portion as running parallel with the preceding, so that the time of the devil's opposition against the woman and the time of this battle coincide. The scene differs, the stage of the one being upon earth, of the other in heaven; but the time is the same.

We must therefore not think of a spiritual battle in heaven before Satan entered into paradise to deceive man. It is true that at a superficial reading we may receive the impression that this is the battle referred to and that we are here taught that when Satan and his angels rebelled against God, the Lord employed the good and holy angels to expel them from heaven. It is also true that some have interpreted this passage in that sense, and that especially poetic imagination is fond of drawing this picture in this connection. Then it should seem as if the text were really explained. It is a battle in heaven, and therefore it was fought when Satan was still there. It is a battle the result of which is that the place of the devil is found no more in heaven, exactly corresponding with what we know of the rebellion of Satan before he came to the earth. And, in the third place, the devil and his angels are cast down to the earth, again explaining his work in paradise and ever since. Nevertheless this explanation is soon proven to be impossible if we only study the text once more. The great voice in heaven tells us of more results of this spiritual battle. It tells us that now the salvation and the power of the kingdom of God have come, that the authority of Christ has appeared, - things which surely could not be said immediately after the first rebellion of Satan and his angels. There was as yet no salvation. There was as yet no manifestation of the authority of Christ. But there is more. The devil is here called "accuser of our brethren." And by "brethren" is here meant the saved in Christ Jesus evidently. It is in that capacity evidently that he fought this spiritual battle. It is also in that capacity that he was defeated. For the joy in heaven is caused especially by the fact that the accuser of the brethren as such is cast down. The same great voice speaks of the fact that there were saved in Christ who have overcome through the blood of the Lamb and the testimony which they gave. All this gives us an entirely different impression. The time during which this battle is fought is not before the entrance of the devil into paradise: for at this time there are already saved in Christ Jesus, brethren who fight through the blood of the Lamb and who overcome, who have loved not their lives even unto death. And at this time the devil already appears as the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before the countenance of God day and night.

On the other hand, it cannot be the time of the end that is here referred to. Thus other interpreters have it. There are some who maintain that the woman referred to in the first part of this chapter is the visible church and that the man child whom this woman is about to bring forth is the church invisible, the real spiritual children of God. Their birth is their final glorification. When all the children of God shall have been gathered into glory, the visible church, as pictured in the sign of the woman, shall have finished her giving birth to the church invisible; and the latter shall be caught up in glory to God's throne. But now, after the final glorification of these real spiritual people of God has taken place in the end of time, the devil makes a last and bold attack upon them, in order to draw them down to hell. And in this last attack they are defended by Michael and his holy angels. In itself this were possible, were it not against the plain indication of the text. First of all, it is against the simple meaning of the text to make of the man child the church invisible instead of the Christ. Such an explanation leads us into all kinds of difficulties from which we cannot extricate ourselves. But besides, when the birth of the man child in the sense of the church invisible shall have been completed, there shall be no more people of God upon earth. Or, to speak plainly, if the giving birth to the man child represents the visible church giving birth to the invisible in her final glorification, then it is plain that when this birth is finished and all the people of God shall have been caught up to the throne of God, there shall be no more children of God in the church militant upon earth. Yet we read that after this battle is finished there is still the woman, there is still the church of God upon earth. For the devil persecutes her in his wrath. And not only is it true that there is still a church of God on earth, but there are also faithful children of God who keep the commandments of God and who hold the testimony, verse 17. All this makes it sufficiently plain that this battle is not fought at the time of the end, when all the people of God shall already have been taken up into glory. And therefore also this interpretation must evidently be discarded.

Finally, we also discard the interpretation which has it that this battle is fought immediately after the exaltation of Christ. This interpretation imagines that in this chapter we have a strictly chronological order of events. First the devil stands watching the people of God to devour the great seed they are to bring fort?. Then, when the child is born, and he fails to crush it, and it is caught up to the throne of God in heaven, the devil immediately after the exaltation of Christ also attempts to ascend to heaven, in order that he may attack the glorified Christ in heaven. But aside from the fact that we read nowhere of such an attack upon Christ in heaven, in which He was defended by Michael and his angels, it certainly must be evident that this is also against the plain indication of the text. Not the Christ, but the brethren are the immediate object of this attack of Satan. And as we shall presently see, he appears here especially as the accuser of the brethren, who is overcome by them because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. And therefore also this interpretation cannot be maintained.

There is but one possibility left. That possibility, which is fully warranted by the text itself and which satisfies all the elements, is that our text gives us a picture of a battle fought in heaven between the devil and his host and Michael and his angels all through the old dispensation. At the same time that the devil carries on a war upon earth and watches the church, in order to devour the Christ as soon as He is born, or even to prevent His birth, he also wages war in heaven with the spiritual powers that remain standing. All during this time there were brethren of whom the devil appears as the accuser. All through this dispensation there were those who loved not their life unto the death. It is, therefore, a battle fought all during this time. It is a battle, however, which must necessarily end, as we shall see, with the manifestation of Christ's glory and victory and His completed work, so that the battle is won through the blood of the Lamb. And if we take this view, we can also explain how the devil, after having suffered defeat in this spiritual battle in heaven, still can come down to the earth to persecute the rest of the seed of the woman. For these others are the faithful of the New Testament day. And therefore, as to the time of this war, we would hold that it began immediately after the death of Abel, that it continued all through the time of the Old Testament, and that it was finished contemporaneously with the exaltation of Jesus Christ.

The Immediate Object Of This Warfare

I think that this interpretation will become all the more acceptable if we for a moment consider what might be the object of the devil in making this attack in heaven upon Michael and his angels.

Was it his object to drag down these mighty ones, even as once he did with one third of the stars of heaven? Did he aim at the fall of Michael and his angels? This does not seem likely from the outset. For, in the first place, the fact that Michael is here defending and battling with the devil as the one who stands for the children of God's people and who once fought with the devil for the body of Moses immediately makes us think that also here he is fighting not in his own defense, but in behalf of the people of God. The people of God are the object of the wrath of the devil. And Michael is sent, is appointed, to defend them. Besides, in the record of the great voice, which evidently sings of the victory of this spiritual battle, there is not even mention made of either Michael or of his angels. They do not sing of victory because they have been delivered from danger, but because of the deliverance and the victory of the brethren. And therefore, it is not likely that Satan's object in this attack is the angels themselves, against whom he is fighting, but rather the people of God of the old dispensation in as far as they have already entered into glory.

This, therefore, is our interpretation. We think that all through the Old Testament days there was a battle fought in heaven for the souls of those who entered into glory before the suffering and exaltation of Christ, - a battle which was the logical concomitant of the battle the devil was fighting against the church to prevent the coming of the Great Seed. Just as certain as the devil was in his fight to prevent the coming of the Messiah, just as determined he had to be to fight this spiritual battle in heaven for the souls of the saved ones of the old dispensation. And therefore, once more, our explanation is that the devil fights a battle in heaven all through the days of the Old Testament for the possession of the souls who already had entered into glory from the days of Abel on, and that in this attack he is opposed by Michael and his angels, who stand for the children of God's people.

That this is but logical is clear. Christ had not yet come. And that meant that historically speaking the debt of the sinner had not yet been paid. Historically the sins of Abel and Enoch and Noah, the patriarchs, the prophets, had not yet been atoned for. And therefore, historically they died as sinners. Historically Christ had not yet crushed the head of the serpent, had not yet assumed dominion. Historically speaking, the devil still was sovereign, and all the world lay at his feet because of the sin of man, all during the time of the old dispensation. True, in God's counsel it was different. In God's counsel it was established. In that counsel Christ had been appointed head and mediator of His people, and all His people had been given to Him. In that counsel not only the people who should be born on earth after His own appearance, suffering, and exaltation, but also those who were born before this had been given to Christ. Also Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the saved in Christ of the Old Testament were given to this head of the covenant. They were in Him. And because God's counsel is absolutely sure, therefore these men of the Old Testament did not have to wait for their salvation till all was finished. But being justified in the decree from all eternity, they entered into glory before the Savior had actually come and paid for their sins.

But Satan did not figure with this counsel of God. Nor could he imagine how certain that counsel of the Almighty was. He could not know that all these men were justified from all eternity for the simple reason that in the counsel of God they were given to Christ. On the contrary, it was against that counsel, in as far as he knew it, that he fought the battle on earth. Satan actually must have had the hope in his devilish heart that he could so thwart the purpose of the Almighty that the Christ would never be born, would never pay for the sins of the people of God, would never enter into everlasting glory with them. And therefore, according to Satan's view of the matter, all these saints of the Old Testament entered into glory as sinners upon whom he had a righteous claim, as sinners who deserved to go to hell because their sins had not yet been atoned for. God acted according to His counsel, however; and that counsel was certain as to its fulfillment. But Satan took the historical view of the matter, and maintained that all these souls who entered into glory belonged rightfully to him, that they had sinned against the Almighty, that they according to His own sentence were condemned to death, and that therefore they might not be in heaven. And thus we imagine that the devil goes to heaven to accuse the brethren.

Now we also understand the text. Now we understand why he is called the old serpent, the devil, that is, the slanderer and accuser, why he is called Satan, the old deceiver. He slanders the saints of the Old Testament before God. He lies about them. He says that they have no right to enter into glory because they are condemned sinners. He accuses them by lying and slandering, and at the same time he slanders the name and the righteousness of God Who takes sinners into everlasting glory.

Thus we can also understand the nature of the battle to a certain extent. The devil comes to fight for the souls of Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and of Moses and Samuel and of all the prophets, and of all those who had the promise and who lived and died by faith, endured the shame and mockery and persecution of the world in the old dispensation, and loved not their lives unto the death. And God sends Michael against him, to guard these souls and to defend the righteousness of God and the right of the saints to glory. The devil claims that they are sinners; Michael retorts that they are righteous. The devil maintains that they have sinned in paradise in Adam, and that they have sinned all their lives, and that therefore according to the righteousness of God they must be lost, they must go to hell. Michael replies that God Almighty has declared them righteous and- that His Word alone is sovereign. The devil maintains that they are not righteous since they themselves have never paid for their sins and no mediator has yet appeared. Michael answers that God has revealed that He would send the Great Seed to perform this work of salvation and that to Him all these saints have been given. The devil finally assures Michael that he is fighting a great war on earth and that he will surely prevent the coming of this man child, or, if he comes, will certainly devour him. Michael's answer is that God is mighty to fulfill all His Word and to crush the head of the serpent. And thus this spiritual battle continues all through the old dispensation. The battle here pictured is a battle for the possession of the saints of Christ who have died and entered into glory during the time of the old dispensation, who have not loved their lives unto death, who have clung to the word of their testimony, and who were accused day and night before the countenance of

Almighty God by the devil, that old serpent, who deceives the whole world and who slanders the people of God from age to age, day and night.

The Outcome Of The Warfare

Thus we can also understand that this battle must end with the historical realization of the salvation of Christ. When Christ comes, suffers, pays for the sins of His people, ascends to heaven, and is glorified, the contest is decided in favor of Michael and his angels. It is become plain, so plain that even the devil cannot contradict it, that the saints of the Old Testament had a right to glory on the basis of the future expiation of their sins and guilt. And therefore the conflict must end here. The devil is defeated. He cannot continue. Michael can now point to facts. He can now point to the finished work of Christ and overwhelmingly convince the devil that he fights a vain battle and that God was righteous in saving the saints of the old dispensation.

Then we can also understand why in the song of victory, sung immediately after this battle is finished, no mention is made of the angels, but only of the brethren who were accused but who had gained the victory through the blood of the Lamb and their faith in Him. Then we can understand why this great voice sings, "Now is come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ." It is the death-blow to Satan. It seems to me that Michael and all his angels shout this at the same time in the ears of Satan at the moment when Christ enters into His exaltation. Now is come, that is, now has appeared, now has been revealed, the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. All was still hidden in the Old Testament day. It had not yet been historically revealed. And therefore there was room for argument on the part of the devil, and he could wage this war. But now has come the realization of the whole thing. Satan, you must go; you have no argument left. These saints of the Old Testament day belong to Christ, and they have a right to His inheritance. For their sins have been atoned by Him. Your defeat is accomplished. The accuser of the brethren in that sense of the word is cast down. For the shout of victory which the apostle uses in this same connection may now be heard: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" The result of the war, therefore, is that Michael and his angels have the spiritual victory in this battle for the saints of the Old Testament.

There is, however, a second result. And that is that the devil will now direct all his efforts toward the persecution of the church militant. He has been cast down, and he cannot fight the battle for the church triumphant any more. And therefore that same voice shouts: "Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." What he does in this short time against the church militant we must see in the future. There is, however, one comforting thought with which I may close this discussion. It is this, that in the fight against the devil we have the company of Michael and his mighty angels. Not only in the old dispensation, but also in the new, and especially at the time of the end and in great trouble, he is the prince who standeth for the children of God's people. The Lord is our King. Directly He fights for us. And millions of His angels, with mighty Michael at the head, He sends to our protection. To be sure, the defeat, the final defeat, of the devil is certain. Stand, therefore, and overcome through the Lamb and the word of the testimony.


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