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Revelation 12 focuses on Satan and his war against the Church. Satan previously was able to enter God’s courts, albeit briefly, as he wandered to and fro on the earth (Job 1). The Accuser—since Satan is a title like Christ and not a proper name—opposes the saints, even though his accusations are frequently false (Zechariah 3:1-5; Jude 9; John 8:44). Even if he speaks about the past, he does not speak the truth, because the saints, covered with the Lord’s righteousness, can no longer be justly accused of them. They are gone, never to be brought up again (Psalm 103:12). Satan’s accusations, then, are a direct assault on God, which is why he is rebuked for speaking against the saints.

Satan’s foolishness knows no bounds, however, because he sought to destroy the male child of Revelation 12:5. This action prompted a reaction from heaven. The war of Revelation 12:7 is against the dragon, and the dragon is in a defensive posture. His judgment has come, because the fullness of his sin flowed forth from his attempted murder of the boy. God is not deaf to the plight of His Church on earth, and all the powers of heaven wage war in her defense.

The identity of Michael is a disputed question. Some think that this refers to Christ Himself. Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?”, is described in Jude 9 as an archangel. This is sometimes rejected on the grounds that Jude is part of the antilegomena (a weak argument, in my opinion, since Revelation itself belongs to that category). Further, the corresponding passage in Zechariah 3 states that the Lord Himself rebukes Satan, a statement attributed to Michael in Jude. The two are not mutually exclusive. The Lord is often described as speaking through agents, just as we often use similar language to say things like “The king waged war on the kingdom.” Even if the king’s generals and soldiers actually carried out the war, that hardly means that the king had no part in it.

Regardless of who Michael is—and I tend to think that it is the archangel—it does not change the meaning of the passage. The outcome of this war against the devil is his utter defeat and subsequent banishment from heaven. Nor do I think that we need to figure out the timing of this war. The general message is clear: even as the devil wages war on earth against the Church, he is already defeated and his final defeat is certain. He is fighting a losing battle, and God Himself fights for His Church. Whatever he might throw at us, Satan’s doom is certain, and he cannot win.

I think it’s worthwhile to mention that the word “dragon” carries a lot of cultural baggage with it. The image of a four-legged, winged, fire-breathing lizard is a much later concept. “Dragon” or perhaps “drake” in Greek describes a large snake. It is used in conjunction with the more general term “serpent” in Revelation 12:9. He is not an ordinary snake, to be sure, since he is described as having “seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” (Revelation 12:3). But we must be careful so that we do not impose our cultural images upon the Bible. Yet this imagery recalls Genesis 3, where the snake tempts Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. As Satan sought our destruction from the very beginning, he remains a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

However, Satan is defeated by “the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). The death and resurrection of Jesus silenced the devil who had previously tried to tempt Him to sin. Christ’s resurrection proves that the devil is a liar, because it is undeniable proof of His righteousness. Yet Satan is also defeated by the witness of the saints, because the reign of Christ is not yet complete (Hebrews 2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:25). Bearing witness about the hope within us is an assault on the powers of darkness (2 Corinthians 10:4). This is Christ’s work within us, engaging us as soldiers in His victorious campaign to put all things under His feet.

Therefore, Satan should not make us abnormally afraid, as if he had the power to do as he pleases. “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). The shield of faith extinguishes his flaming darts (Ephesians 6:16). He should not be underestimated, of course. His anger is fierce and he is unwavering in his rage. But he stood no chance against heaven. If God Himself is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)? Those who are with us are more than those who are with him (2 Kings 6:16).

Historically, the lectionary consisted of only two readings: an epistle and a Gospel. Adding a third reading, typically from the Old Testament, is a fairly recent innovation. I believe that this is a salutary practice, because too often the Old Testament functions as only a preliminary to the New. Highly typological interpretations, seeing signs and portents in the strangest of places, only highlights this problem. Adding an Old Testament reading to the historic lectionary is highly beneficial for the Church.

However, because of this, feasts and festivals tend to add a third reading from the New Testament rather than from the Old. Reformation Day is one such example of this, though there are several which do this, including next week on All Saints. While there is certainly no law mandating one way or the other, one might wish for an Old Testament reading also on those days, if only to emphasize the unity of all of Scripture.

Revelation 14:6-7, the “first reading” for Reformation, is actually the traditional epistle reading. The use of Romans 3:19-28, highlighting an important aspect of the Reformation, is more recent, though perhaps more fitting to the occasion. Choosing Revelation 14:6-7 for Reformation is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the selection is entirely too short. It separates the first angel of Revelation 14 from the other two, and in the process somewhat distorts the intent of the passage. These three angels are harbingers of God’s coming wrath upon the earth. The second angel, for example, follows after the first, crying: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The third also follows after and foretells the coming torment of those who worship the beast. Their torment will be unending and they will have no rest day or night. Therefore, while the first angel calls forth a cry to fear God and worship Him, the emphasis falls upon the judgment. Fear God and give Him glory, because He is about to demonstrate His righteousness and holiness in judging the earth. This judgment is indeed a source of joy for His people, as the Psalm declares “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:12-13). But the message of the three angels is one which should cause the earth to tremble and not to rejoice. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12).

Second, for this reason, the tenor of the passage is somewhat dischordant with the tenor of the day. The intent of Reformation Day is not an exercise in glory, but a giving thanks for what God has done through the Reformation. As such, it seems appropriate to talk about the distinctive emphases highlighted in the Reformation, such as the nature of grace and the glory of God. Speaking of God’s coming wrath is always important, of course, and it must not be neglected, but commemorations tend to reflect on God’s mighty works in the past as a comfort for the present. His wrath is needed lest we forsake Him who has been so faithful toward us sinners, but we need to recall the things He has done as well.

Third, there has been a tendency to interpret this passage as a Biblical reference to Martin Luther. It certainly has a long pedigree, dating back as early as Matthias Hoe von Hoenegg (1580-1645), who in 1612 could not see the first angel as referring to anything other than Luther and the coming of the Reformation (source, in Latin). On the one hand, it is not impossible that the Bible would point to coming historical figures. God is the Lord of History, and all things are in His hand. That is, after all, the point of books like Revelation. It is difficult to see how a passage like Daniel 11:3 could refer to anyone other than Alexander the Great, for example.

On the other hand, however, interpreting Revelation 14:6-7 as a reference to Luther seems to rely on this very separation of the first angel from the other two. Hoenegg could see Luther as proclaiming judgment upon Papal darkness, but this interpretation seems too uncertain. What would a passage like this mean for the Christians in the midst of pagan darkness, if it could only refer to the Reformation and to Luther? Would that not also mean treating the book of Revelation as a play-by-play of the End Times? Better, I think, to recognize that the angel proclaims a judgment upon sin which comforts God’s people. Sin and the devil will not triumph. Though you suffer now, God will render judgment upon His enemies. Luther and the Reformation is a historical example of the faithfulness of the holy God, whose victory will be complete. Babylon, with her many faces and many forms, will fall, and the kingdom of our Lord shall be established forever and ever. Amen.

The Lord God does not need any help to carry out His will, because He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wills to do.  However, in His wisdom, God chooses to use His messengers, the angels, as a means of interacting with and protecting men.  The feast of St. Michael and All Angels provides an excellent opportunity for talking about the angels, perhaps mostly for dispelling common misunderstandings.

Angels are mostly anonymous in Scripture, but some of them are known to us.  Jude 9 refers to the “archangel Michael,” and Michael also fights against the dragon in Revelation 12:7.  Michael also appears in the book of Daniel, which appears to be the only reason why Daniel 10:10-14 and Daniel 12:1-3 are the Old Testament readings for this feast.  It is true that the most common “angel” in the Old Testament is the Angel of the Lord, which is a way of speaking of God Himself (Judges 6:22; 13:21-22).  The angels in general, while appearing throughout the Old Testament, are only rarely the primary focus of a passage (Psalm 91:11-12 is one example).  All of this should emphasize how little we know of the angels, which provides an excellent opportunity also for speaking about how we must remain silent where Scripture does not speak.  Even with this understanding, however, the readings from Daniel, chosen because they refer to Michael, violently rip up their context and lead to several misunderstandings.

They are part of the last major section of the book of Daniel, beginning at Daniel 10:1.  This vision comes to Daniel in the “third year of Cyrus, king of Persia.”  Cyrus, the Persian king who had conquered the kingdom of Babylon, made a proclamation in the first year of his reign that the exiles should return to Jerusalem and that the Temple should be rebuilt (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).  Daniel himself lived in Babylon “until the first year of King Cyrus” (Daniel 1:21).  Therefore, this final vision of Daniel occurs after the exiles have returned from Babylon.  Daniel himself is not in Jerusalem during the time of the vision, for it happens while he is near the Tigris river (Daniel 10:4).  He has moved from Susa, the Persian capital further east (Daniel 8:2), westward as far as the river, but it is not clear whether he is now dwelling there or travelling.

While in mourning, Daniel sees a vision of a man.  While some of the details differ, this man is the same as the appearance of the Son of Man to the Apostle John in Revelation 1:12-20.  “Beryl” in Daniel 10:6 is too vague a term to determine actual color, but the wheels of Ezekiel’s vision are described as shining beryl (Ezekiel 1:16; 10:9), which may suggest that this word is meant to describe the brightness of the man more than the actual color of his body.  The primary difference between Daniel and Revelation is that the Son of Man in Revelation holds the seven stars (the seven angels), stands among the seven lampstands (the seven churches), and has a sword going out of His mouth.  However, Christ tells John that “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18). Therefore, the victorious Christ appears to John, while it seems that Christ who was yet to come appears to Daniel.

The message in both cases is also the same.  Christ raises up Daniel and John, both of whom had fallen as though asleep or dead at the sight, and gives to them a message of what is to come (Daniel 10:10-11; Revelation 1:17-19).  John suffered because of Christ and was on Patmos; Daniel may have been suffering because of the arrogance of the Persian kings (Daniel 10:13).  Daniel 10-12 and Revelation as a whole therefore have the same purpose:  they are a message to those suffering of what is to come so that they would not lose hope.  God in His Providence will bring all these things to an end, and He will reign triumphant.  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).  “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23).

Daniel 11, being a detailed historical overview from the time of the vision until the time of the end, therefore shows that God knows all things.  History does not just happen by accident.  While an exhaustive overview of this chapter would run too long, it might be enough to say that Daniel 11:1-4 describes Alexander the Great, his conquest of the Persian empire, and the division of his kingdom after his death.  This may only be seen clearly after the fact, which should drive home Christ’s warning that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  Daniel is not given a key to determine by current events where he is on a timeline.  Daniel himself is told “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9).  But even if we do not know when the Lord will accomplish His purposes, the prophecy tells us very clearly that it will come.  It is a divine comfort to know that, even though we must wait, God is in control of all things.

Michael, however, figures into this prophecy of the end, but he is not the main focus.  He is described as “one of the chief princes.”  He assisted God the Son in opposing the kings of Persia (Daniel 10:13).  He also is described as having “charge of your people,” or perhaps “standing over” (Daniel 12:1).  Angels therefore aid the Lord in carrying out His work, including His judgments, and they are also set over His people for their good (also perhaps over individuals in Matthew 18:10).  All of this may be inferred from the readings, to be sure, but it is not the main point of Daniel 10-12.  One should be wary of choosing texts solely because of word associations.