In my last post, I described what I think are the most significant battles in military history. In this post, I will give an overview of the war the Bible describes between spirit beings in heavenly realms. The two greatest battles in this conflict occur at the beginning and end of world history, but the Bible teaches that there is a constant, ongoing struggle between Satan’s forces and God’s forces.
The war in the heavenlies began when Satan, who like the other angelic beings was created morally perfect but with the ability to choose to confirm this perfection or to rebel against it, pridefully coveted God’s lordship of the universe and determined to rebel (Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:14-15). (For more detail regarding the interpretation of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, see volume 4 of my Interpretive Guide to the Bible.) Satan left his station as the cherub who covered God’s throne (Ezek 28:16) and persuaded large numbers of other angels (one-third, according to Rev 12:4) into following him in an attempt to take over heaven (Isa 14:12-14; Rev 12:3-12). Presumably Satan promised to make them princes in his new world order. Satan then attempted to storm God’s throne and take it for himself. Although Satan could never win a direct battle with God, in fact he was not even able to break through to the divine Presence: a great battle was fought between Satan’s angelic army and God’s angelic army, and God’s angels won this battle decisively. Satan and his angelic followers were cast down to earth for a time (Isa 14:12; Ezek 28:16; cf. Rev 12:9), and the lake of fire was created immediately to be the place of eternal punishment for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41). Satan then continued his war against God on the earth by tempting Adam and Eve to sin (Gen 3:1-6), and the rest of the Bible tells the story of how God comes to the rescue of the fallen human race.
Daniel 10 describes how Satan and his angels are fighting God’s angels in the present age. It describes how heaven’s second most powerful angel (excluding the four cherubim) was sent to deliver a critically important message to the prophet Daniel, but was blocked en route to Daniel by Satan. While Satan and this powerful angel were fighting each other, many other good angels and evil angels joined the fray; however, Satan successfully blocked this angel’s path for twenty-one days. Daniel continued to pray throughout the twenty-one days, until finally God dispatched Michael, the chief angel (archangel), who freed the other angel from Satan’s grasp and enabled him to reach Daniel. Before this angel revealed his prophetic message to Daniel, he described how he had been engaged in a constant conflict with Satan since the establishment of the Persian Empire, with the object of their struggle being influence over the king of the empire. He described, further, how he would return to this conflict with Satan immediately after he left Daniel, and how this conflict would continue in the new Greek empire after Alexander the Great had conquered Persia. Angelic beings are capable of exerting a powerful influence over human thought and behavior in ways that we do not fully understand, and Satan’s forces are fighting God’s forces for influence in the governments of every country in the world. The conflict which the prophecy of Daniel 11 describes between kings, between governments, and between wicked rulers and the people of God, is the visible manifestation of the invisible conflict between armies of angels; what is happening in the spiritual realm drives what happens in the physical realm.
Since the object in the war between good and evil angels is influence in the human realm, it stands to reason that Christians are participants in this spiritual battle. Indeed, Ephesians 6:10-20 teaches that the Christian’s real and primary battle is in the spiritual realm. However, we do not fight this battle the way the angels do, since we do not possess supernatural powers. We fight this battle by using all the tools at our disposal—prayer, the Bible, fellow believers, and the exercise of our faith—to lead a righteous and holy life that is pleasing to God. This is the way to resist the devil’s influence, and thereby to win victory in our spiritual war. James 4:7 teaches that by subjecting ourselves to God we are resisting the devil, and he will flee from us.
Christians also have a duty to pray for the leaders of government, in order to have peace and stability in their land (1 Tim 2:1-2). While there is a spiritual battle being waged in every country in the world, I believe that today powerful Satanic forces are fighting in Washington, D. C. with the angel who appeared to Daniel, in order to influence the government of the world’s most powerful country. Michael is identified as the special guardian angel of the nation of Israel (Dan 10:21; 12:1), which means that he is very likely in Jerusalem today, fighting with powerful Satanic forces who want to block the fulfillment of biblical prophecy by removing the Jewish people from their land. The prayers of believers have a profound effect on these struggles, as demonstrated by Daniel 10.
At some point after the fall of man, Satan and his angels (the demons) were given access to heaven once again, but only to present themselves before God (not to fight—see 1 Kgs 22:19-23; 2 Chr 18:18-22). Satan’s main activity in heaven in the present age consists of slandering God’s people on earth for their real or alleged faults (see Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Rev 12:10). But at the end of history, when he knows his time is short, Satan will make one more attempt to do what he originally set out to do—to gather all his forces and make an all-out assault on heaven in order to cast God off His throne (Rev 12:7). The release of large numbers of particularly bad demons from the abyss (Rev 9:1-11) will augment Satan’s forces, and Satan’s henchmen (the antichrist and the false prophet) will be in the process of seizing political power over the earth at the same time (Rev 13). However, Satan’s second attempt to storm heaven will be just as unsuccessful as his first attempt, and when Satan and his angels are cast out of heaven by Michael and his angels, they are expelled for all time (Rev 12:7-10). The final 3½ years of the tribulation period, which occur after Satan’s final fall from heaven, will be particularly difficult from a spiritual point of view because the energies of Satan and his forces are focused exclusively on the earth (Rev 12:12-17).
The resolution of the war between spirit beings comes at the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth, when Satan is bound for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3) and his angels are judged by the saints and sent to the lake of fire forever (Isa 24:21-23; 1 Cor 6:3; Rev 20:4). The ensuing thousand years (the “millennium”), in which Jesus and the resurrected saints rule over a human population with mortal bodies, will be a time of great peace and order, since the world will be entirely free from the destructive influence of Satan and his angels. But at the end of the thousand years, Satan is briefly released from his prison in order to reveal which people are genuine followers of God and which were insincere (it turns out most were insincere—Rev 20:7-8). Satan shows that he has not changed, as he leads the people of the world to surround Mount Zion in yet another attempt to cast God off His throne. Satan’s followers are killed, but are raised shortly thereafter for the final judgment, while Satan himself is immediately sent to the lake of fire for all eternity (Rev 20:9-15). In the final creation (the “eternal state”), the saints are entirely separated not just from their own personal sin, but from the very presence of evil, which is confined to the lake of fire (Rev 21:1–22:5). The spiritual conflict which is now being fought in the heavenlies will have been won forever, with God, God’s angels, and God’s saints fully triumphant.