A number of years ago, author 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 we’re 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 God’s 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 something God said about the king of Tyre. In the prophecy, we see that God was also talking about someone else. The king of Tyre represented an angel: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. . . . You were anointed as a guardian cherub. . . . You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till iniquity was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:12, 14, 15).
So this angel had a special place near God’s throne. But something happened to this wonderful angel. “Iniquity was found” in him. Ezekiel wrote, “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty” (verse 17).
How did this angel cross the line from perfection to 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 14:13, 14).
Lucifer developed an attitude. Being near God’s throne wasn’t enough. He wanted a throne “above the stars of God.” He wanted to be as powerful as God. He wanted to have God’s authority. He wanted to be God.
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 things as God!
Try to imagine what kind of disturbance this caused in heaven. This brilliant Lucifer, this cherub so near the throne of God, began making remarks. He wondered why God had to have all the glory. He wondered why every created being had to obey God. Maybe there was an alternative. Maybe there was a better way to run the universe. Evidently, Lucifer persuaded one-third of the angels to join his rebellion (Revelation 12:4).
Kill the opposition?
So how should God respond? Should He destroy Lucifer and the other rebels before their evil had a chance to spread? Think about what that would have said to all the watching angels. Suppose a Los Angeles councilman were to accuse the mayor of being arbitrary and dictatorial. He claims the mayor doesn’t really have the citizens’ interests in mind at all but is using his office to further his own selfish purposes.
Should the mayor have a SWAT team from the police department eliminate the councilman, or should he ask for National Guard units to surround the man’s home? Would that clear the mayor’s name? You see the point. God’s reputation and credibility were at stake when Satan made his challenge. 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 into following him (Revelation 12:9; Genesis 3:1–6). So God told him, in effect, “OK, set up your alternative system. Let the whole universe see what happens in a world that’s 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 is abuse in the home, the reason there is so much animosity in this world, is that sin has infected the human heart.
Back then, however, no one besides God knew how much misery Satan’s alternative would create. We—and the whole universe— had to see that for ourselves. 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 to be answered, every doubt settled. Love doesn’t coerce. It lets people see for themselves and then 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.
Eventually, however, the enemy is going to have an end—a permanent end. We can be sure that his long war against God will fail. 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 as 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 assurances about how things will turn out, but He also gives us great assurances about how we can live successfully, even in a world that Satan has scarred.
Right after Adam and Eve sinned, God said to the tempter, “I will put enmity between you and the woman [Eve], and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you 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” (verse 11). The blood of the Lamb overcomes Satan every time. Jesus can enable us to live triumphantly even in a world assaulted by sin.
A modern illustration
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 had 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 fevers. 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. The two forces are clashing. They represent opposing values.
At some point, all of us have to make an important choice—an all-important choice on whom we’ll give our allegiance to. We have to choose between pride and love, between being self-centered and serving God.
All of us can lift up a song of triumph, a song of defiance against the enemy who “has done this.” 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.