Nine eleven. Who can ever forget? September 11, 2001, could appropriately be called “Black Tuesday,” for on that day, 3,017 people died in New York, Washington, DC, and on a lonely field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.1 Most of them were victims of the first al-Qaeda terrorist attack on United States soil. And bin Laden was happy to take the credit. Prior to 9/11, his name was known to governments and their intelligence agencies around the world. Today, there’s scarcely a human being alive who hasn’t heard of him. Some people in the Muslim world extol him. Most of the world abhors him.
Bin Laden’s ambition is public knowledge: his mission was to take over the world and impose his brand of religion on every human being.
However, bin Laden wasn’t the first terrorist with that ambition. Revelation tells us about a terrorist who surpasses anything we human beings can imagine. This terrorist is supremely important because he hasn’t just attacked human beings. His first terrorist attack was on God’s home turf—a distant place in the universe called heaven. Yet you and I are all involved, whether or not we realize it. The Bible’s book of Revelation tells us about this first terrorist attack. Fortunately, God won that first round:
“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).
The world’s first terrorist was Satan, and he and his fellow terrorists—fallen angels—have spent the past several thousand years creating havoc on our planet.
a battle for the throne
But let’s go back to that first war in heaven. What were Satan and his angels doing there in the first place?
The Bible provides us with enough evidence for us to piece together a kind of prehistory of Satan. Ezekiel recorded what God said about the king of Tyre. In the prophecy, we see that God was also talking about someone else—the king represented an angel: “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 28:14, 15, NKJV).2
In the Jewish temple, the covering cherubs, representing angels, stood over the mercy seat, which represented the throne of God. So the angel that Ezekiel speaks about 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 a sense of self-worth to “iniquity”? How did he become the world’s ultimate terrorist?
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 the heavens, 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 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 4:7–10). That’s the foundation of His government. Love was all around Lucifer, but he turned away from it. And then this terrorist’s twisted mind began to picture God as the enemy, and he began to think he could do just as good a job as God at running the universe.
Try to imagine the disturbance this must have caused in heaven. This brilliant Lucifer, this cherub so near the throne of God, starts making remarks. 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 are better laws for operating the universe. Apparently, Lucifer persuaded one-third of the angels to join his rebellion (Revelation 12:4).
So how should God respond? Should He have destroyed 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.
kill the opposition?
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 order National Guard units to surround the man’s home? Would that clear the mayor’s name?
You see the point: when Satan made his challenge, he put God’s reputation and credibility on the line. Eradicating the opposition wouldn’t have answered the challenge. That would simply have made God the ultimate terrorist.
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, God will destroy all evil.
Lucifer—Satan—lost his terrorist attack 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 cut off from love.”
Sin alienates us from God and from other people. The seeds of the first terrorist attack were planted in the hearts of the parents of the human race when they sinned. The reason there is terrorism in today’s 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.
Terrorists coerce people through fear. But love refuses to coerce because love is the opposite of fear (1 John 4:18). Love lets people see for themselves and 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.
I’ll give you an example of how that happens. Nancy Shelton3 had stopped at a rest stop to catch a 45-minute nap when John Dixon dragged her from her car and forced her into his car at gunpoint. He drove her around for several hours, taunting her fears. Then he stopped in a deserted, wooded area and brutalized her physically and sexually for several hours, finally driving off, leaving her for dead. She managed to free herself from the ropes he’d tied her with and escaped to tell the story.
Hours later, Dixon was arrested at a seedy motel 10 miles away.
Nancy’s testimony at his trial ensured that he’d spend many years in prison. But Nancy was in a prison of her own, a prison called anger. Why, she kept asking, had God allowed this to happen to her?
Fortunately, she had a friend, Phil Conrad, a 63-year-old street-smart cop and committed Christian who had supported her throughout the ordeal. One day, in the midst of her anger, he confronted her. “There’s rarely a good answer to the Why question,” he said. “But you need to be free of your anger.”
“But how?” she asked.
“Forgive him,” Conrad said.
Nancy exploded. “Forgive that monster for what he did to me? He doesn’t deserve forgiveness. How can I forgive someone who doesn’t even admit he’s done wrong?”
“That’s what Jesus did for those who abused Him and nailed Him to a cross,” Conrad said.
Nancy began to relax. An hour later, she was smiling for the first time in months. There was an absolutely exquisite feeling that her burden had been lifted. God had helped her to forgive.
how it will end
The war that began in heaven still goes on in human hearts. It’s a conflict that reaches into your heart. The two forces are clashing in your life. At some point, all of us have to make an all-important choice about whom we’ll give our allegiance to. We have to choose between hatred and love, between pride and humility, between self-centeredness and serving God. Nancy chose to forgive. So can you.
The good news is that, eventually, the world’s ultimate terrorist 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 terrorist of Revelation. He will be totally destroyed. Then God will usher in a world that will be free of terror and filled with peace and harmony for all eternity.
1. This includes 2,977 known dead and the 19 hijackers. See Wikipedia, s.v. “September 11 attacks,” last modified November 29, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks.
2. Bible verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®.
3. Names have been changed.
Mark Finley is an experienced public evangelist and author of more than 70 books. He currently serves as assistant to the president at the Maryland, USA, world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.