St Michael & All Angels –

John 1.47-51 / Revelation 12.7-12


Before I start my sermon, I’d just like to begin by saying a few words. Our service today commemorates St Michael and All Angels, and our main passage is taken from the book of Revelation, a book which is notoriously difficult to understand, because it’s full of sign and symbolism and falls into a category of writing known by scholars as Apocalyptic literature which means that things can seldom be taken at face value or literally because they are not meant to be, not only because the language is very poetic but the symbolism often relates to things, times and situations which we are just not familiar with and so it is hard to decipher. It’s almost like a code, which would have been much more obvious to the Jewish people of Jesus’ day than it is to us today so many years later. Also all of this talk of angels may seem to us to be quite fanciful and fantastic belonging to the realm of science fiction, myth and legend which therefore makes us quite dismissive of the passages, because we can’t see, understand or perceive how they can possibly be relevant to us in our modern daily lives, which is why on the whole preachers tend to concentrate on the first three chapters of Revelation which are the letters to the seven churches which are much more straight-forward and applicable, and the passage from Revelation 21, which we associate with funerals which is very glorious and comforting. All the rest seems to be just a bit too hard for a Sunday morning and I’m not remotely pretending to be an expert on this kind of writing – so why are we doing it? Simple, because if we do it right, it can enhance our vision, widen our perspective of how things come together, and increase our appreciation of the magnitude and scope of the Gospel as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ throughout creation, heaven and earth. It’s a mighty story of cosmic proportions – and if we can get a handle or grip on even just a tiny part of it – then it will significantly enhance our understanding of our place within the Gospel story, and have a huge impact on the way that we think and live out our Christian lives.

Let us begin.

7 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
Revelation 12.7 (NIV)

I don’t think we always appreciate how incredible and shocking that image is! To think that there might be war in heaven, that not what we imagine or are accustomed to thinking – is it? Isn’t this the place where all of that has been done away with? Isn’t this the place where we are told that God will wipe away every tear, and where there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain because the old order of things will have passed away. Yes! Of course it is! Yes a hundred times yes! That’s the ultimate prize, destination and victory but that prize came at a cost – even in heaven and in the spiritual realm – and this thought is something new, something that we have to grapple with!

Why are there wars on earth? Well because we all live in a fallen world and because the world is not perfect– because God in his love and mercy gave us freedom, and with it he gave us freedom of choice and free will. We can therefore choose how we want to live and the values that we wish to set our lives by.

That’s the story of Genesis and the Garden of Eden. God loved Adam and Eve, but he also gave them the choice as to whether they would live according to his pattern and standards or not – and they chose not to, and in consequence the perfect world that God had created became corrupt as sin spread throughout and took hold. With each person living as if they were God and doing what they saw fit. But strangely and profoundly enough, freedom of choice does not only exist on the earth it exists in heaven too, and the Bible tells us that not everyone in heaven, that is God’s space, thought the same way as God, for Satan decided to do things differently! In fact time and time again the Bible reveals how, Satan tries to subvert God and the truth and put himself in charge and in the position of power. And that’s why we see a conflict in the heavenly realms.

7 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
Revelation 12.7 (NIV)

Michael and his angels! Before we consider this passage, we need for a moment to try to get a distinction and even a disassociation between the biblical passage and our modern popular concept of angels. Now in our modern day and age, we tend to think of angels usually as attractive young women with wings, inspired I think initially by the images that we see in stained glass windows and paintings, a concept which has itself spiralled off into all sorts of peculiar and less helpful new age and superstitious ideas, but that is not how angels are portrayed in the bible. They are usually portrayed as malakim which is the Hebrew word means messenger, a word when directly translated into Greek becomes angellos or angel. Actually, as messengers the word angel can apply to both human and spiritual beings, but they are usually those who act on God’s behalf bringing some sort of message or service to the receiver. Yes, it may be that Cherubim and Seraphim are guardians of the divine throne room portrayed as heavenly creatures with wings, but angels are consistently portrayed in the Bible as males in human form without wings. And here Michael, whose name means ‘one who is like God’ is an Archangel leading other angels into battle against a dragon.

Now this isn’t the first time that we meet Michael, for he appears in the book of Daniel 10 in another apocalyptic vision as Israel’s saviour and protector. And who is he protecting here in Revelation 12? If you look at the first verse which is just outside of our prescribed passage for today, you’ll see that he is defending a woman who is herself a most wonderful and glorious sign, a woman clothed with the sun and the moon and wearing a crown of twelve stars.

There are echoes here of Joseph’s dream of Genesis 37, where the sun, moon and stars representing Jacob (also known as Israel), his wife and the twelve tribes of Israel all bow down to worship him. Here the woman who represents Israel out of whom would come the Messiah is about to give birth to a son – but her son is in mortal danger of being devoured by a dragon and Michael and his angels are protecting her – and who is the dragon. Well we ae told quite specifically in Revelation 12. 9. He is the ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. And of course this immediately bring us back to Genesis and the serpent or snake which tempted Adam and Eve into disobeying God. In Genesis we are not actually told that the snake is the devil but very swiftly in Israel’s faith and thinking the two were equated.

There is a lot here which is difficult to comprehend with lots of snatches and glimpses of things that sort of make sense, although nothing is tied down too strictly (and perhaps its meant to be fluid). The child in the vision is safely snatched up to God’s throne room for his protection, and the woman flees for a time to the desert. As a people, Israel had been in captivity in Egypt but spent a time in the desert before they could enter the promised land. Conversely, Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus into the desert and to Egypt as they flee from King Herod and his subsequent slaughter of the innocents. The Devil is a roaring lion we are told. But the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan is ultimately played out in Jesus in the events of the Gospel, and by his journey to the cross, and his subsequent death and resurrection. For it’s there on the cross that Jesus takes upon himself the full force and brunt of the Devil’s schemes, and bears the pain and consequences of it all within his own frame and body. All that sin and shame and suffering is taken by him and endured in his own body and pinned to the cross. The Devil may have thought that he had won only to be foiled by the profound and atoning love of God, the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection. Meanwhile in a symbolic and apocalyptic sense Michael and his angels succeed in the heavenly realms by defeating the dragon and kicking him out of heaven. In other words, Michael’s war in heaven reflects the Messiah’s decisive victory on earth.

7 Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down. Revelation 12.7–10 (NIV)

There is therefore in heaven no condemnation for those who put their faith and trust in Christ – because the accuser is gone!

12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12.12 (NIV)

For now we live in that awkward time between ‘the now and the not yet’. For yes, the war may have been won, but there are still battles and skirmishes taking place – and there are still souls to be saved until Christ returns.

The devil we are told has been cast down, kicked out of heaven, but instead he has become ‘the prince of this world’. For as Jesus told his disciples in John 14.30-31

30 The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
John 14.30–31 (NIV)

And of course the love that Jesus had for his Father (and indeed for the world) was ultimately expressed by his death upon the cross. Well the Apostle Peter, in his first letter 5.8 described the Devil as a roaring lion, which may be so, but he has now become a mortally wounded lion. And mortally wounded lions can still be a very real and present danger.

Which is why Peter urged his readers despite their terrible suffering and persecution to continue to resist the devil and stand firm in the faith, knowing eventually that they would be restored.

And we get a similar picture here in Revelation.

11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12.11 (NIV)

Let’s be clear we are not tasked with defeating the devil, but only with staying loyal to Jesus and resisting the devil come what may. Neither is the text saying that we should all die as martyrs but our faith should be so robust that we would stand firm even if death became a distinct possibility. Because apart from the wonderful salvation that is achieved by Jesus and his death upon the cross, how is victory secured – how do we cement that victory in our own day and age. We stand for the truth! The first thing that will go perhaps in our modern day and age and in an age where the devil still has influence – is the truth – it is he who is the Prince of this world and ‘the father of lies’. Because the devil is both deceptive and accusatory and we mustn’t allow ourselves to be tricked and manipulated in that way. Therefore, believers need to know how to access and appropriate God’s truth, which is communicated to us through his Word. Using the sword of the Spirit, or the Word of God (Eph. 6.17; Heb. 4.12), involves much more than simply writing out or quoting verses, although that is useful too. Taking refuge in God’s truth includes knowing God’s story and how it makes sense of life, knowing parts of the biblical story that parallel your current life situation, knowing how to interpret and apply the Bible, being part of a community where God’s Word is honoured and taught well, and consistently memorizing and meditating upon Scripture.

So let us stand firm and be faithful putting on the armour of God as St Paul suggests knowing what we believe and confident of who we are in Christ. Because by faith we are already citizens of heaven and the Kingdom. For ultimately the story of St Michael and All Angels is another brick in the wall that proves that the victory has already been won, is won and will be won – both in heaven and on earth. In the name of Christ. Amen.

Preached at St Andrew’s Holme Hale – 29th September 2019