Friday, September 29, 2017

War in heaven

The Biblical record suggests that Satan has three broad powers: the power to tempt (of course archetypically in Genesis 3); the power to trouble and oppress (as we see in the gospel accounts of demonic oppression - the explicit link to Satan is made in Luke 10); and finally the power to accuse.

From Scripture it seems clear that, as terrible as Satan's power to tempt and trouble certainly is, it is his power to accuse which is most terrible.  Zechariah 3 contains a powerful vision of Joshua the High Priest standing before the LORD's angel and being subjected to the accusatory force of Satan.  The terrifying thing about the vision is that Joshua is dressed in filthy rags.  That is to say, Joshua - the High Priest, the one who is to represent Israel before the thrice-holy God, the holy pinnacle of the people - is besmeared with sin and guilt, presumably both his own and the representative guilt of the nation.  Satan accuses him before God, and look: his guilt is apparent.  He is literally wearing his guilt.  The accusation surely must stick.

The terrifying thing about Satan's power to accuse is that it is really just a species of telling the truth.

In the vision, God and his angel (!) intervene: not to deny the truth of Satan's accusation, but to take away Joshua's guilt.  That's the only way he can be a "brand plucked from the fire".  He needs, and gets, new clothes: righteousness, salvation.

The logic of how that happens - and how it can be right - is not explored in Zechariah, except to demonstrate that God is free to be merciful.  In Revelation 12 I think we do see some of the logic, albeit wrapped in apocalyptic.  Here we see war in heaven: Michael and his angels versus "that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan" with his angels.  Michael is triumphant, the devil is cast down.  There is no room in heaven any longer for Satan.

Lest we be tempted to see this as a representation of a primeval fall of the devil, the context is clearly the birth of Israel's Child, the one who is born to rule all the nations, who is caught up to God and his throne.  Here in a couple of verses we have the whole career of Christ, and it is the completion of his great work which leads to the successful assault of Michael and his cohorts on the forces of Satan.

When Jesus went up to his throne, having conquered sin and death, Michael arose (see Daniel 12!) and made war on Satan, casting him down.  Satan can't appear in heaven anymore.

In Revelation, the saints who see this sight rejoice over Satan, and in particular they name him "the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them day and night before our God".  But he no longer has access to our God.  His power to accuse is taken away.

Satan's power to accuse me always rested on my objective guilt.  But my guilt is taken away by the Lord Jesus.  So what accusation can he bring?  The military victory of Michael rests on the sacrificial victory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And it is a complete victory.

Satan can still tempt and trouble, and he will do so.  But his power to accuse is taken away.  He can act against us on earth, but Michael and all the hosts of heaven stand armed with the proclamation of Christ's victory to prevent him from ever acting against us in heaven.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. If you're interested in the theme of spiritual powers in heaven, may I recommend the OT scholar Dr Michael Heiser's book 'The Unseen Realm'? You won't (and I wouldn't) agree with everything in there by any means, but it's the most comprehensive book I've read on the spiritual warfare/sons of God/Nephilim/national powers type stuff I've read. You can get a flavour from his online material.