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Frank Peretti wrote a novel, This Present Darkness, that caused a sensation in Christian circles. The plot revolved around various characters in a small town and the moral choices they had to make. But the real action took place in the supernatural realm, where the forces of good and evil battled it out. Peretti did his best to imagine what that supernatural world might be like.

I want to tell you about an angelic conflict that overshadows anything we human beings can imagine. This battle is supremely important because it’s really a battle about who God is. And you and I are all involved, whether or not we realize it.

The book of Revelation tells us that a war broke out in heaven: “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 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” (Revelation 12:7–9).

a battle for the throne

Christ and Satan warring in heaven? What was Satan doing there?

From the Bible, we can piece together a kind of prehistory of Satan. Ezekiel recorded what God said about the king of Tyre, but it becomes obvious as we read the prophecy that in chapter 28 God was also talking about someone who was much more than the king of Tyre. He was a symbol for an angel. Here’s part of what Ezekiel wrote about him: “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. . . . You were the anointed cherub who covers. . . . You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:12–15, NKJV).*

In the Jewish temple, the covering cherubs, or angels, stood over the mercy seat, which represented God’s throne. So this angel had been given a special place near God’s throne. But something happened to this wonderful angel. “Iniquity was found” in him. Ezekiel said, “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty” (verse 17). How did this angel cross the line from being a supremely good being to one who was filled with iniquity?

In a prophecy similar to Ezekiel’s, Isaiah wrote of a being named Lucifer who fell from heaven: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; . . . I will make myself like the Most High.’ ” (Isaiah 14:12–14).

Lucifer developed an attitude. Being next to God’s throne wasn’t enough. He wanted a throne of his own “above the stars of God.” He wanted to be as powerful as the Most High. He wanted to have the authority of the Most High. That’s how this angel began his tragic fall.

The apostle John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). That’s the foundation of His government. Love was all around Lucifer, but he turned away from it. And then his twisted mind began to picture God as the enemy, and he began to think he could do just as good a job of running the universe as God!

Try to imagine the disturbance this must have caused in heaven! This brilliant Lucifer, this cherub so near the throne of God, starts questioning God. He wonders why God has to have all the glory. He wonders why every created being has to obey God. Maybe there’s an alternative. Maybe there’s a better way to run the universe. Evidently Lucifer persuaded one-third of the angels to join him in his rebellion (Revelation 12:4).

So, how should God respond? Should He destroy Lucifer and the other rebels before their evil has a chance to spread? Think about what that would have said to all the watching angels.

kill the opposition?

Suppose that a Los Angeles councilman were to accuse the mayor of being arbitrary and dictatorial. He claims that the mayor doesn’t really have the city’s citizens’ best interests in mind at all but is using his office to further his own selfish agenda.

Should the mayor have a SWAT team from the police department eliminate the councilman, or should he order National Guard units to surround the man’s home and arrest him? Would that clear the mayor’s name? You see the point. God’s reputation and credibility were at stake when Satan made his challenge, and eradicating the opposition wouldn’t have answered the challenge.

Instead, God chose a wiser course. He chose to allow sin to exist for a while. When it has been fully demonstrated that rebellion against God brings disaster rather than happiness, then and only then will God destroy all evil.

Lucifer—Satan—lost his battle in heaven. But he gained a foothold on Earth by tempting Adam and Eve to follow him. So in effect, God told Satan, “OK, set up your alternative system. Let the whole universe see what happens in a world cut off from love.”

Sin alienates us from God and from other people. The seeds of the first war were planted in the hearts of the parents of the human race when they sinned. The reason there’s abuse in the home, the reason there’s so much animosity in this world, is that sin has infected the human heart.

However, back when Lucifer first rebelled against God, no one other than God Himself knew how much misery Satan’s alternative would create. We—meaning the whole universe—had to discover that for ourselves through seeing evil in action. We had to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God’s way is best, because that’s the only way God could solve the problem of evil once and for all. He wants every question that Satan has ever raised to be answered; He wants every doubt that Satan has ever cast to be resolved.

Love doesn’t coerce. It lets people see for themselves so they can decide for themselves. God wants us to love Him for who He is. And that can happen only if we really do have free choice.

Fortunately, we can be sure that Satan’s long war against God will fail and that he will have a permanent end. And Revelation reveals what that end will be: “The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 20:10). An earlier prophecy pictures God saying of Satan, “I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground. . . . You have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (Ezekiel 28:18, 19).

That’s the fate that awaits the villain of the book of Revelation. He will be totally destroyed!

God has a plan

God gives us great assurance about how things will turn out, and He also gives us great assurance about how we can live successfully, even in a world that Satan has scarred.

the great controversy

All humanity is now involved in a great conflict between Christ and Satan over the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in exalting himself, became Satan and led a large number of his fellow angels to join him in his rebellion against God. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin.

Our human sin has resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity and the disordering of the created world. Our world became the arena of this universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist us in this conflict, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain us in the way of salvation.

Right after Adam and Eve sinned, God told the tempter, “I will put enmity between you and the woman [Eve], and between your offspring and hers; he [Christ] will crush your head, and you [Satan] will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

God’s promise is that we don’t have to continue to be victimized by Satan. We can get out from under his control. How? Through the Offspring of the woman—the Promised One. Revelation 12, the chapter that pictures the great war in heaven, echoes that assurance: “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). The blood of the Lamb overcomes Satan every time. Jesus can help us to live triumphantly even in a world assaulted by sin.

Let me give you one wonderful example of how that happens. In 1971, John McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. On Christmas Eve, the POWs held a worship service. They began with the Lord’s Prayer and then sang Christmas carols. McCain read a portion of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke between each hymn.

The men were nervous at first. A year earlier the guards had burst in on their secret worship service. They’d dragged the three men who were leading it to solitary confinement and entombed the rest of them in three- by five-foot cells for 11 months.

Still, the prisoners wanted to sing this night, and so they began: “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant . . .” They sang barely above a whisper, their eyes glancing anxiously at the barred windows.

Huddled below a naked lightbulb, they appeared to be a rather sorry congregation. Several shook from fever. Some were permanently stooped as a result of torture. Others leaned on makeshift crutches. But they kept singing. “O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem! Come and behold Him, born the King of angels . . .”

The prisoners grew bolder. Their voices lifted a little higher until they filled the cell with “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” When they started “Silent Night,” tears rolled down their unshaven faces. As they sang with feeling the final refrain, “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace,” they realized that a transformation had taken place. McCain said, “We had forgotten our wounds, our hunger, our pain. We raised prayers of thanks for the Christ Child, for our families and homes. . . . There was an absolutely exquisite feeling that our burdens had been lifted.”

The war that began in heaven still goes on. It’s a conflict that reaches into our hearts. The battle lines don’t always stand out clearly, but they are there. Two forces are clashing. They represent opposing values.

At some point all of us have to make an all-important choice about whom we will give our allegiance to. We have to choose between pride and love, between self-centeredness and serving God.

All of us can lift up a song of triumph, a song of defiance against the enemy of the human race. Yes, we can be joyful and triumphant, even in the midst of sorrows and cares. Such a life becomes our privilege as we place our faith in the One who was born King of kings on that silent night in the little town of Bethlehem.

* Scripture marked NKJV is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How Evil Began

by Mark Finley
From the June 2016 Signs