War in Heaven
The Christian Bible's Book of Revelation describes a "war in heaven" between angels led by the archangel Michael versus those led by "the dragon", identified with "the devil and Satan", who are defeated and thrown down to the earth.12 Revelation's "war in heaven" has been compared to the idea of fallen angels and possible parallels have been proposed in the Old Testament and Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Book of Revelation, which consists principally of eschatological visions3 and opens with the words, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place",4 includes in those events a war in heaven.
Among its visions of things to come is one of "a great sign (that) appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars",5 and "another sign appeared in heaven: behold a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it."6 This is followed by:
- "Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 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."7
Some scholars discern the concept of a war in heaven in certain Dead Sea Scrolls, namely, the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, also known as the War Scroll (1QM and 4Q491-497), the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, Song 5 (4Q402), and the Melchizedek document (11Q13).
In the War Scroll, according to Menahem Mansoor, the angels of light, who are identified with Michael, the prince of light, will fight in heaven against the angels of darkness, who are identified with Belial, while the Sons of Light fight the Sons of Darkness on earth, and during the last of the seven battles described in the scroll will come and help the Sons of Light win the final victory.8
James R. Davila speaks of Song 5 of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice as describing "an eschatological war in heaven similar to that found in 11Q13 and to traditions about the archangel Michael in the War Rule and the book of Revelation".9 He suggests that Melchizedek, who is mentioned both in the Melchizedek document and the fifth of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, may be a divine warrior who is involved in the conflict with Michael the Archangel in the futurist sense.
That the Melchizedek document (11Q13) concerns a war in heaven is denied by Fred L. Horton, who remarks that "there is no hint in the extant portion of the 11Q Melchizedek of a revolt of heavenly beings against the heavenly council, and the only dissenting spirit is the traditional Belial";10 the view of Davila, however, is that the document originally was about an eschatological war in heaven, with Melchizedek as angelic high priest and military redeemer.11
Parallels are drawn to the passage in Isaiah 14:4-17 that mentions the Morning star that had "fallen from heaven" and was "cast down to the earth". In verse 12 of this passage, the Hebrew word that referred to the morning star was translated into Latin as Lucifer. With the application to the Devil of the morning star story, "Lucifer" was then applied to him as a proper name. The Jewish Encyclopedia states that the myth concerning the Morning star was transferred to Satan by the first century before the Common Era, citing in support of this view the Life of Adam and Eve and the Slavonic Book of Enoch 29:4, 31:4, where Satan-Sataniel is described as having been one of the archangels. Because he contrived "to make his throne higher than the clouds over the earth and resemble 'My power' on high", Satan-Sataniel was hurled down, with his angels, and since then he has been flying in the air continually above the abyss. According to Jewish thought, the passage in Isaiah was used to prophesy the fate of the King of Babylon, who is described as aiming to rival God.13
The Judeo-Christian tradition has stories about angelic beings cast down from heaven by God, often presenting the punishment as inflicted in particular on Satan. The name Lucifer, the Latin name (literally "Light-Bearer" or "Light-Bringer") for the morning star (the planet Venus in its morning appearances), is often given to the Devil in these stories. The brilliancy of the morning star, which eclipses all other stars, but is not seen during the night, may be what gave rise to myths such as the Babylonian story of Ethana and Zu, who was led by his pride to strive for the highest seat among the star-gods on the northern mountain of the gods (an image present also in Ezekiel 28:14), but was hurled down by the supreme ruler of the Babylonian Olympus.13 Stars were then regarded as living celestial beings.1314
Modern Bible commentaries, in general, view the passage about a "war in heaven" as an eschatological vision of the end of time or as a reference to spiritual warfare within the church, seeing it as "not (as in Milton's Paradise Lost) the story of the origin of Satan/Lucifer as an angel who rebelled against God in primeval times."15
In John Milton's (1608–1674) Paradise Lost, a war in heaven follows the rebellion by Satan and other angels before the Fall of Man. A third of the angels are hurled from Heaven, who include pagan gods such as Molech and Belial.16
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) said in his sermon, Wisdom Displayed in Salvation, "Satan and his angels rebelled against God in heaven, and proudly presumed to try their strength with his. And when God, by his almighty power, overcame the strength of Satan, and sent him like lightning from heaven to hell with all his army; Satan still hoped to get the victory by subtilty".17
Frederick Holweck, in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911), article St. Michael the Archangel, wrote: "St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time." He added that Michael's name "was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the enemy and his followers."18
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons) believe that Revelation 12 concerns the pre-mortal existence of man and take the scripture literally, except that the "War in Heaven" is considered a spiritual, not physical war. The Book of Moses, which is a part of their standard works, references the War in Heaven and the origin of Satan as a fallen angel of light.21 This image of a war in heaven at the end of time became added to the story of a fall of Satan at the beginning of time, including not only Satan but other angels as well, in view of the phrase "the dragon and his angels".22
The motif of the fall of Satan and his angels can be found in both Jewish and Christian angelology and Christian art, and the concept of fallen angels, who for rebelling against God were degraded and condemned to a life of mischief or shame on earth or in a place of punishment, is widespread.23
As a result of linking this motif with the cited passage of the Book of Revelation the casting of Satan down from heaven, which other versions of the motif present as an action of God himself, has become attributed to the Archangel Michael at the conclusion of a war between two groups of angels, of whom, because of the mention of the dragon's tail casting a third of the stars of heaven to the earth, one third are supposed to have been on the side of Satan, in spite of the fact that the casting down of the stars (Revelation 12:4) is recounted as occurring before the start of the "war in heaven" (Revelation 12:7).
A number of catalysts have been proposed to explain the rebellion of the Devil. All of them essentially stem from his pride, via various means. The possible means suggested include:
- A refusal to bow down to mankind on the occasion of the creation of man as in the Armenian, Georgian and Latin versions of the Life of Adam and Eve.24 A similar view is held in Islamic tradition, in which Iblis refuses to bow down to Adam.25
- The culmination of a gradual distancing from God through use of free will (an idea of Origen of Alexandria).26
- A declaration by God that all were to be subject to his Son, the Messiah (as in John Milton's Paradise Lost).27
- Inciting a war against God for choosing his Son (the Messiah) to be the Redeemer of God's plan of salvation that emphasized the necessity of mankind's having agency during their mortal probation. Afterwards, as their Savior, a few are lost and nearly all are redeemed from their sins and return freely to God's presence. Satan proposed a similar, self-serving plan with himself as "Savior", but mankind would serve their mortal probation without Agency. Thus no one could ever sin, all are saved, and none can be denied God's presence.(the Latter-day Saints view).28
- An obsessive pride in his own power and magnificence, turned violent and hateful towards the rest of creation; of which he was a guardian (Ezekiel 28:15-17). In delusions of grandeur he wanted to be greater than God, and thus corrupted with sin was cast down (Isaiah 14:13-14).
The fall of superhuman beings punished for opposing gods also appears in Greek mythology. Homer's Iliad says Hephaestus was cast down from the heavenly threshold by Zeus and landed on the island of Lemnos nearly dead.29 Hesiod's Theogony recounts that the gods, after defeating the Titans, hurled them down to Tartarus (the Titanomachy) as far beneath the earth as earth is beneath the sky.30
Angels of heaven blow trumpets in triumph, by Gustave Doré
Michael casts out rebel angels, by Gustave Doré
Michael fights rebel angels, by Johann Georg Unruhe 1793
Michael fights rebel angels, by Sebastiano Ricci, c. 1720
Michael and Satan, by Guido Reni, c. 1636
Defeat of rebel angels, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Michael's victory over the devil, by Jacob Epstein
The fall of the rebel angels, by Charles Le Brun, after 1680
- Revelation 12:7-9
- Joan Young Gregg, Devils, Women, and Jews: Reflections of the Other in Medieval Sermon Stories, page 28 (State University of New York, 1997). ISBN 0-7914-3417-6
- Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Revelation, Book of
- Revelation 1:1
- Revelation 12:1
- Revelation 12:3-4
- Revelation 12:7-9
- Menahem Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Brill Archive 1964), p. 107
- James R. Davila, The Dead Sea scrolls as background to postbiblical Judaism and early Christianity: papers from an international conference at St. Andrews in 2001 (Brill, Leiden 2003 ISBN 978-90-04-12678-7),p. 252
- Fred L. Horton, The Melchizedek Tradition (Cambridge University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-521-01871-5), p. 81
- Joseph L. Angel, Otherworldly and Eschatological Priesthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Brill 2010 ISBN 978-90-04-18145-8), pp. 153–154
- Paradise Lost Book III, lines 739-742
- Jewish Encyclopedia: article Lucifer
- Job 38:7
- The People's New Testament Commentary, by M. Eugene Boring, Fred B. Craddock (Westminster John Knox Press 2004 ISBN 0-664-22754-6), p. 800; cf. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible; Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary; Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible.
- Paradise Lost, Book VI
- The Works of President Edwards
- Holweck, Frederick. "St. Michael the Archangel." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Retrieved 28 January 2010
- One hundred and seventy three sermons on several subjects: Volume 1, Page 137 Samuel Clarke, John Clarke, J. Leathley ((Dublin)), 1751 "7. that X. there was War in Heaven ; Michael and his Angels *- fought against the Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his Angels ... But the Meaning of this Passage is not literal, as if the Devil had Power to fight against the Angels or Ministers of God's government"
- Charles Edward Smith The world lighted: a study of the Apocalypse 1890 "Of course not literal war, nor literally in heaven; not the actual clash of arms between Michael and his angels, and Satan and his wicked cohorts. But something on earth worthy to be represented by such a Titanic contest."
- Top, Brent L. (1992), "War in Heaven", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 1546–1547, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140.
- The phrase "the devil and his angels" in the probably earlier devil preceded the writing of Revelation.citation needed shows that the idea of angels associated with the
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Fall of Angels
- Sections 14-15 of the Armenian,Georgian, and Latin versions of the Life of Adam and Eve
- Quran 7:11-12
- Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Origen
- Paradise Lost, Book V, lines 600-615
- War in Heaven, "LDS Bible Dictionary", KJV (LDS) (LDS Church), 1979
- Iliad 1:590-594, translation
- lines 718-726, translation
- Christoph Auffarth, Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Eds.): The Fall of the Angels. Brill, Leiden 2004 (Themes in Biblical Narrative, 6), ISBN 90-04-12668-6.
- Mareike Hartmann: Höllen-Szenarien. Eine Analyse des Höllenverständnisses verschiedener Epochen anhand von Höllendarstellungen. Lit, Münster 2005 (Ästhetik – Theologie – Liturgik, 32), ISBN 3-8258-7681-0.
- Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan & the Combat Myth (Princeton University Press) 1987.