Warfare in Heaven
Images taken from Gustave Dore's illustrations of Paradise Lost, with the exception of the last, which is an illustration from Dante's Divine Comedy by the same artist.
The Bible tells a titanic struggle between good and evil. We might enjoy reading about the clash between the forces of good and evil in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but in the Scriptures, we read of a far epic and cosmic conflict. The warfare between the kingdoms of light and darkness is waged not just over this earth, but in the heavenly realms too.
The universe was created for God's glory. The glory of God is the chief end of all creation. He created the universe to be under His sovereign rule, to be ordered according to His purposes. However, Satan one of His angels sought to usurp the throne of the most high. We read of this in the Old Testament:
12: How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13: For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15: Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Satan or Lucifer became lifted up by reason of his great beauty and privilege in God's eternal kingdom. He desired to exalt himself.
Satan was joined in his rebellion by many angels. Revelation 12 would suggest that a third of the angels joined with Satan. Satan thus established his own counterfeit kingdom in the heavens. Just as God has His angels who serve Him, Satan has his own angels. Together they make up a hierarchy of evil, for they are called thrones, dominions, principalities and powers. This kingdom of opposition will wage war until its final defeat by the kingdom of God.
When did this rebellion begin? The Scriptures do not tell us. However, it would seem that it began in prehistory before the creation week of Genesis 1. There are good reasons for thinking that there is a period in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. We do cannot know how long and those who use this theory to explain geological time have many difficulties. Nevertheless, the state of formlessness in which we find the world in Genesis 1:2 is likely the result of Satan's original rebellion. Teh original would thus have been created to be inhabited and administered by angels, yet this creation fell into ruin and was replaced by the world in which we now dwell.
God closed the former dispensation of pre-history and began a new work with mankind. He entrusted to them the dominion of earth. Humanity, made a little lower than the angels was chosen to be the new custodians of God's kingdom.
Yet though Satan's original rebellion was judged and halted, he did not cease his war and corrupted the new creation by obtaining the loyalty of man. Through capturing the hearts of men, Satan was able to re-establish his rule over the world. So we find in Scripture that Satan is called the prince or god of this world. His kingdom holds sway over it. The apostle Paul tells of this kingdom of darkness and its influence over the world:
12: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
We read in Daniel of a 'prince of Persia', no doubt a fallen angel of great power, who presumably exercised dominion over the heathen people of Persia. There are some Charismatic Christians who make much of 'Territorial spirits' and seek to do spiritual warfare against such beings. This is folly. We do not begin to have the knowledge to know how to fight such beings directly, nor do we need to know the details of how Satan's kingdom works in some particular location. The Christian should not trouble about the details of what territorial spirits there might be and rather fight through simple prayer and the preaching of the Word. That is our place in this cosmic conflict.
It is necessary to mention a second fall of angels. There are some who connect this with Satan, though there is not sufficent evidence to make that connection. This is the fall of the sons of God, in the time of Enoch and Noah, who saw that the daughters of women were fair, as we read in Genesis 6. From the wicked intermarriage of angels and humans came a race of giants who were wiped out in the flood (though the giants of Canaan were probably a similar race). It is likely that the demons are the disembodied spirits of these beings.
God wasted no time in judging the angels of this second rebellion:
6: And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
We do not know how the course of the warfare in heaven effects events on earth, but we have reason to believe there is some connection, however mysterious. Deborah sang of how the battle on earth was waged in heaven too:
20: They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
Elisha's servant was given a vision of the legions of angels who were on the side of Elisha:
2 Kings 6
15: And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
16: And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
17: And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
The marvellous thing about this story is not the vision that the servant received, but that Elisha had no need for it. By faith he knew of the spiritual forces that were on his side.
We must not forget to look at Job. At the beginning of the book of Job, we see Satan in heaven with the sons of God. We learn from this story that Satan's actions are limited by God's control. Satan cannot act outside the sphere that God limits him to.
The warfare in heaven will come to a climax in the end times, at the middle of Daniel's Seventieth Week. We read in Revelation chapter 12:
7: And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8: And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9: And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10: And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11: And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
12: Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
Satan will be defeated in heaven and he and his angels will be sent down to earth. There he will aid the Beast and the Antichrist in opposing God on earth through persecuting the church and the remnant of Israel. Once he is expelled from heaven, Satan will no longer be able to domminate the affairs of earth with the same governmental authority. He will have to rely entirely on his human intermediaries. After the defeat of his followers at Armageddon, he will be bound for a thousand years. He will no longer be able to wreak havoc in the earth.
Once Satan is removed from heaven, the celesital realms are ready to be purified and made fresh. They shall burn with fire at Christ's coming, as we read in 2 Peter 3:12.
The removal of Satan and his angelic kingdom is a vital step in God's purposes. For the new heavens shall be the seat of government for a new celestial hierarchy. The Lord has prepared a replacement for the old angelic government of angels in a people He has gathered to Himself. This is the church and the resurrected saints of the Old Testament. They shall reign with Christ and consitute a new celestial aristocracy to govern the universe. By grace, the fall of Satan and his angels made way for the uplifting of man to the highest place in the universe. All things shall be subject to mankind (the son of man and those that are in Him).
The final battle shall take place after the millennium. Satan shall be let out and shall again gather a rebellion of wicked men. Though the earth shall be governed in the millennium by peace and righteousness, the heart of man is wicked. Sinful man can never be satisfied with God's goodness. People shall turn again to Satan's lies. Yet they shall be defeated swiftly. Though they may hope that Satan might have some last trick to save them, they will be vanquished and sent to the lake of fire forever, to be tormented day and night with Satan, the one to whom they offered their lives.
With the ultimate defeat of death and sin, God may be all in all. The cosmos shall be restored to perfect fellowship with God and all of creation, man, woman, beast, angel shall all be joined in harmony with the eternal love of the Triune God, experiencing the perfect fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and being transformed and transfigured by that divine love.