29 September 2016

Revelation 12:7-12

“The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (v. 9)

Psalm: Psalm 103


Today the Church celebrates the feast of St Michael and All Angels.

The visions in the book of Revelation offer challenge and comfort - not always in equal measure. They paint a picture using images drawn from the Old Testament (particularly the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah) of spiritual forces operating behind our earthly reality. Some passages offer a 'behind the scenes' tour of the present - others reveal the future, as disclosed to the author, John (which passages are which, of course, has been hotly contested over the years). The visions are addressed to first-century churches under threat from persecution, false teaching and complacency. They aim to warn the churches against such dangers and to offer reassurance that Jesus Christ has already won the decisive victory over sin and death and that, one day, suffering will be no more.

Dr Paula Gooder has made an extensive study of the biblical threads that have been woven together to make up our mental picture(s) of heaven and hell, including the figure of Satan (you can listen to her rough guides to heaven and hell here). In this passage, Satan appears as a dragon with "his angels" (v. 9, a possible link to the fallen angels in Genesis 6). Michael, the guardian of God's people (eg Daniel 12:1) and an archangel (Jude 9), defeats Satan and his angels - and all those who oppose God are thrown out of heaven.

This passage raises a great many questions (you might like to look back at the thoughts and suggestions given by Word in Time authors on the feast of St Michael and All Angels over recent years - the easiest way is to use the search facility for 29 September). In Luke 10:18, Jesus rejoices in a glimpse of the same vision. For all its challenging imagery, it offers the comfort of knowing that, after a great many struggles, we will share in God's ultimate victory over sin and death. As they say in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, "it will be all right in the end. And if it's not all right, it's not yet the end."

To Ponder

  • Some people interpret this vision of a battle in heaven as purely figurative - a metaphor for the battle between forces of good and evil in our own lives. Do you think it is intended to be literal, or figurative, or both?
  • What are the challenges facing the Church in the 21st century? Is the same message (of challenge and comfort) needed today? Why (or why not)?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.