Open Our Eyes
Since Balaam’s eyes needed to be opened before he could see the angel blocking his way that his donkey saw (Nu. 22:31); since the Lord had to open the eyes of Elisha’s servant before he could see a mountain full of angelic horses and chariots (2 Kings 6:17), it’s not strange that we need to have our eyes opened as we read of Michael and his angels fighting the Devil and his.
Open our eyes so we may rightly see war in heaven. Heaven is mentioned 54 times in Revelation. Only Matthew has more with 84. It’s true the word can mean the sky, the realm of stars and planets, or the abode of God. But since the end result is that the Devil and his angels are hurled to the earth and yet even after this event Paul calls Satan the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2), it seems heaven here is the abode of God. Heaven is where angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven are evermore praising God. Yet, there’s war.
Admittedly, this is a vision, a physical picture that men understand, but it’s about spiritual things. Still there was a time when Satan was free to come and go into heaven with all the other angels. The Book of Job is no vision, no allegory. And we read in Job 1:6-7: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’” Then after Satan has seen to the destruction of Job’s 10 kids, the loss of all his livestock and many servants, Satan goes into heaven again: Job 2:1-2, “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before Him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’”
Read Zech. 3:1-5. This is a vision. Here we see Satan standing before the Angel of the Lord and doing what our text says he always does, indeed what he was doing in Job 1 and 2: accusing men of their sins. What gave Satan the right to go in and out of God’s abode was God’s Holy Word and our sinfulness. Satan had rebelled before the Fall of Eden and had been sent into the eternal fires of hell that the Lord had prepared for the devil and all his angels (Mt. 25:41). But when mankind fell that didn’t happen. Man lost the right to eat from the Tree of Life, and God’s good creation went sour on him. But rather than banish all mankind to hell, the holy God didn’t enforce His holy Word. Indeed He passed over our transgressions. God was in the same pickle a parent finds himself in when he promises punishment for this or that, but he chooses not to mete it out. Another child can and will bring that up accusing his sibling night and day for that unpunished misdeed. “You promised; you said; you have to; you must.” And so the war in heaven went on. So how does Michael end up throwing Satan to earth?
Open our eyes that we might see how the Devil and his angels are overcome. By Jesus. In Passion Week, Christ speaks of His upcoming death and asks that it might glorify God’s Name. The Father booms from heaven saying, “I have and will glorify it.” And Jesus says in response: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (Jn 12:31). The Gospel reading reports of the first 72 pastors coming back from preaching the Gospel and how demons submitted in Jesus’ name. And Jesus answered: “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” Jesus saw in reality what our text shows us in pictures. What gets the Devil thrown out of heaven (heart, home, and life too) is the proclaimed Gospel.
Connect the dots. The Devil and his angels being thrown out of heaven and no longer being able to accuse sinners like you before God’s throne is connected to the death of Jesus and the preaching of the Gospel. The Greek for ‘accuser’ is the Rabbinic Hebrew kategor. The rabbi’s called Michael “the advocate of God’s people” pronounced sunegor (Vincent, II, 524). How so? In Jesus, God no longer passed over sins and sinners. Jesus, God’s only perfect Son, confessed to being guilty of the world’s sins. And on Him purposely, methodically, and completely, God punished every sin and sinner of all times. The picture is of a wronged-man at long last punishing His mortal enemy for all the harm he inflicted on him. God the Father is out of breath, out of wrath, out of rage when on Good Friday, the Son says, “It is finished.”
That reality is depicted in the pictures of our text. The Devil lost His standing in heaven because he has no Word of God to appeal to. God meted out all of His promised punishment of sins and sinners on Jesus. And in Jesus there is no unkept law anywhere that Satan can use to accuse anyone. And so we’ve overcome him, conquered him says our text: by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony. The blood of the Lamb refers to the objective fact as John records them: “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin….He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 1:7;2:1). These are the objective facts. The Word of our Testimony is the subjective side whereby we lay claim to Jesus’ holy life and guilty death individually. This is Rom. 10:10 theology: “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Under the blood, in Jesus’ blood, claiming His blood and righteousness, the Devil can’t find fault in us, so we conquer him.
Now for the tough part when we open our eyes and it’s still pitch black. This is where we look at the fact that if we’ve overcome, if we’re more than conquerors as Paul says we are in Rom. 8, why are we so beaten down, pursued hither and thither even as the end of Rev. 12:17 pictures us? There the Devil is enraged at the Lord’s Church. He goes off to make war against Her but she is hidden from him. As you know, the holy Christian Church is invisible. This enrages the Dragon further so he goes off to make war against Her seed. How does he recognize Her children? They are the ones who observe God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Open our eyes so that we might see and not be discouraged at the war going on today.
It seems to me that the Rolling Stones and Don Mclean were more attuned to this than many Christians. The Devil has been around for a long, long time and he certainly does laugh with delight when people dance to the tune of fear and despair he calls. And isn’t this what the text says? “Woe to the earth and the sea because the Devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Hear him roaring? 1 Peter 5:8 says he does: “The devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.” A lion’s roar can be heard 5 miles away and reaches the decibel level that causes humans pain.
Live with the Devil’s roar in your ears but not in your heart. Lutherans live with this contradiction. In a sermon less than year before he died Luther preached: "One devil has Saxony, [another]…[Brandenburg], [another] the Turks [cf. Daniel 10]....Wherever (the children of Adam) dwell, they are under the devil, because they swarm over us in the air" (LW, 58, 305). But in his 1535 lectures on Galatians which is a confessional document for us he cites Colossians 2:15, "'He disarmed the principalities and powers triumphing over them in Him.’” Luther then comments, “Therefore they can no longer harm the believers" (LW, 26, 282). This brings up two questions. Do we dwell in heaven or on the earth and sea that the Devil has gone down to? And question # 2: what is harm?
Rev. 12:12 says those who “dwell” in heaven can rejoice at the Devil’s defeat. It uses the word ‘tabernacle’, pitch a tent. Rev. 11:10 says those who literally “are housed permanently on earth” rejoice when the Gospel messengers are slain. This is the same divide you see in Ecclesiastes between those who dwell under the sun (Ecc. 9:10) and those under God. Paul is plain in Col. 3:1-3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” We walk, pass through, this realm of woe to which the Devil and his angels have come down to make such trouble. But we don’t dwell here but with God in Christ.
But nevertheless the devil and his demons swarm over us wreaking much havoc, pain, and fear. It’s as we confess in A Mighty Fortress. Devils all the world fill eager to devour us. This world’s prince scowls at us fiercely, but he can harm us none. And then what do we sing? “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife. Let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won.” Really? You don’t even have to take my life just make it sick. The same is true for child and wife. They don’t have to be gone just hurt and I feel like I’ve lost. Or have I? Jesus promises the 72: “Behold! I have forever given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will in any way harm you.” God can’t lie. Jesus, God the Son, can’t lie. Ps. 91, the one that promises angelic protection, explains: “A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked” (Ps 91:7-8). Does any saved soul carried to heaven in angel arms think it’s harmed or lost in any way?
Open our eyes, O Lord, to see this and so much more. Open our eyes to see what the voice in heaven says is the reality right now: “Now God's salvation has come! Now God has shown His power as King! Now His Messiah has shown His authority” (GNT)! Angels cover their faces at this sight because it’s too wonderful for even their eyes. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20230924); Revelation 12:7-12