War in Heaven

Revelation 12 mentions a war in heaven between two groups of angels. Why did they fight? What weapons did they use? When and how was the victory won? Why is the war continued on earth?

Purpose – Revelation 12:7-12 mentions a war in heaven between two groups of angels.  The purpose of this article is to explain the cause, the time, the place, the nature and the weapons of that war, how the victory was won as well as the consequences of the victory.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the book of Revelation and from the NASB translation.

SUMMARY

The conclusions in this article may be summarized as follows:

Male Child – Verse 5 is a good place to start the discussion because it gives us a definite point in time.  The “male child” is Jesus.  He was “caught up to God and to His throne”.  This is His ascension.  Verse 5 covers the entire time from Christ’s birth to His ascension to heaven.

Woman, clothed with the sun

The woman in verses 1-2 is “clothed with the sun”.  Since the child she is expecting is Christ, she is a symbol of all believers in the time before Christ that were looking forward to God’s deliverance.  After Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne”, she and her other children are persecuted (v6, 14, 17).  Now she represents God’s New Testament people.  She therefore represents God’s people in all ages.

The dragon in verses 3-4 is identified in verse 12 as “the devil and Satan”.  It “stood before the woman … so that when she gave birth he might devour her child” (v4).  Ever since God told the serpent that the seed of the woman “shall bruise you on the head” (Genesis 3:15), Satan has been standing ready to thwart Christ’s mission.  The dragon also represents the earthly kingdoms through which Satan persecutes God’s people.

Caught up to God – Satan stood ready to devour Him as soon as He was born (v4), but Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne” (v5).  This means that Satan failed and that Christ won the victory when He came to this earth.

WildernessVerses 6 and 14 both describe the woman’s wilderness period.  In both verses the woman flees into the wilderness where she has a place prepared where she would be nourished for the same period of time.  The wilderness is a place of suffering.  The holy city (Rev. 21) is her destination, but she must go through the inhospitable wilderness to reach her city.

War in Heaven – The verses between verses 6 and 14 describe the war in heaven.  The name of the leader of God’s angels is “Michael” (12:7).  He is “the archangel” (Jude 1:9).  He wars against Satan and his angels.  Satan has deceived a large number of God’s beautiful angels to side with him.

Satan’s weapons in this war are deception, accusations and slander.  Satan would like to use physical force, but God would not allow him.  Satan deceives angels and people into sin, and then accuses the people whom God’s identified as His own, effectively accusing God of unfair or bad judgment.  This describes the nature of the war in heaven.

War – We should distinguish between the war and the victory.  The war existed before the “male Child” was born.  For instance, we see evidence of the war in heaven in the time of Daniel, where Michael and Gabriel are at war with the supernatural “Prince of the Kingdom of Persia“.  And in Jude “Michael … disputed with the devil … about the body of Moses”.

Victory – The war existed before Christ, but the victory was won after Christ’s ascension and as a consequence of the Cross.  From an earthly perspective the Cross was a defeat for the Son of God, but Revelation 12 reveals that it was a major victory, causing Satan’s downfall.

Who? – But who won the victory?  The text seems to contradict itself.  The victory was gained through Christ’s death, but according to verse 7 it is a war between two groups of angels. To complicate matters further, verses 10 and 11 seem to say that God’s people won the war.

Angels and Our Brethren – But this is not a war between angels in heaven, it is a war fought in both heaven and on earth, involving both angels and people.  Michael does not fight for himself; he is the guardian of God’s people on earth and he fights for them.  His angels are “all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebr. 1:14; cf. Mt. 18:10).

Christ and Our Brethren – Revelation 12 teaches that Christ’s ascension was Satan’s downfall.  But why does Revelation also teach that “our brethrenovercame him (Satan)?

Principles – Before we answer this question, note also the following principles from the text:

Accuser of the Brethern

The war in heaven is a war of accusations.

Our brethrenovercame him … because of the blood of the Lamb”.  Without Christ’s death it would not have been possible to overcome Satan.  They secondly overcame “because of the word of their testimony … even when faced with death”.  The testimony that overcomes Satan is a testimony that is proven real in adversary.

By specifically accusing the people whom God calls His own, Satan effectively accused God of bad judgment.  Since Christ’s death made an end to the war in heaven, His death confirmed the accuracy of God’s judgment.

Satan is not overcome by physical force.  Satan was not literally or physically thrown out of heaven; he was thrown out of heaven in the sense that he was no longer able to accuse God’s people before God.

Through the blood of Christ the Father made peace with the “things in heaven”, but the war continued on earth.

The traditional explanation – The traditional explanation for why Christ had to die is that the death of Christ satisfied God’s need for justice, implying that God is angry and needed to be changed and was changed by Christ’s death.  But the Bible reveals God as love and as the Driver behind salvation.  The traditional view is therefore not accepted here, but viewed as unbiblical.

Who overcame Satan? – Considering the principles above, and also considering the previous articles in this series, the question who overcame Satan—Christ or “our brethren” —may then be answered as follows:

  1. Lucifer probably has the most brilliant mind ever created. Before his fall, all angels trusted, loved and admired him.
  2. But he became selfish and proud, desiring to be worshiped like God.
  3. By slandering God he convinced many angels to side with him, but even the loyal angels were unable to fully understand and answer Satan charges against God.
  4. God condemned Satan and his angels to “the eternal fire”. But because the angels did not fully understand what Satan did wrong, God allowed Satan to continue until all understand.
  5. To defend himself and his angels against this judgment, Satan also deceived mankind and claimed that they must now also be condemned to the eternal fire.
  6. But God forgave many people their sins.
  7. Satan consequently accused God of unfair judgment.
  8. God, on the basis of His principle of freedom, allowed this.  He became the accused and the universe had to judge.
  9. The evidence required, to confirm God’s judgments, is that His elect will remain faithful to Him, “even when faced with death”. Through the centuries many of God’s people remained faithful, but no one remained perfectly faithful.  Satan was always able to point to sins in God’s people.
  10. But then Christ became a human being and remained perfectly faithful through every test, “even when faced with death”. This decidedly confirmed the fairness of God’s judgments.

To summarize, “our brethren” overcame Satan, but “our brethren” include our brother Jesus.  Without Jesus’ perfectly sinless life, the testimonies of “our brethren” would not have overcome Satan’s accusations.  But since Jesus confirmed the accuracy of God’s judgment, the testimonies of His brethren become very valuable.

War continues on earth. – The Cross brought peace and unity in heaven, for no longer are evil angels able to justify their own sins by pointing to the sins of God’s people, but the war continues on earth.  That is the subject of the next article in this series.

SERIES

This is the fourth of the following series of articles:

  1. Origin of Evil
  2. Satan thought he could succeed
  3. Why did God not destroy evil immediately?
  4. War in Heaven
  5. Why was evil not destroyed after the Cross?
  6. Why does God not create a separate galaxy for Satan and his followers?

Male Child (12:5)

Verse 5 is a good place to start this discussion because it gives a definite point in time.  It reads,

she gave birth to a son, a male child,
who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron;
and her child was caught up to God and to His throne
” (12:5).

In 19:11-21, in the description of Christ’s return, we read again of this rod of iron:

Him Who sat on the White Horse

I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it … in righteousness He judges and wages war. … He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. … From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron … the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

Here we see that the “Word of God” (19:13) will “rule” the nations “with a rod of iron” (19:15).  John, the author of Revelation, who also wrote a gospel, in his gospel referred to Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1).  The male child is therefore Jesus Christ.

Caught up to GodHe “was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).  This is His ascension.  Mark 16:19 reads, “the Lord Jesus … was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God”.  Verse 5 covers the entire period from Christ’s birth to His ascension to heaven.

Rod of Iron – The rod of iron is what Christ will use at His return.  Then “the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him (Jesus) … and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (v20).  It will be a time of extreme sorrow for believers.  They have been praying so much for their loved ones.  Now they see them die.  But the pain of the believers will be nothing compared to the sorrow in God’s heart.

Woman (12:1-2)

We can now read verses 1 and 2, where John saw:

A great sign appeared in heaven:
a woman clothed with the sun,
and the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
and she was with child; and she cried out,
being in labor and in pain to give birth.
” (12:1-2)

Before Christ – Since the child she carries is Christ, she is a symbol of all people in the time before Christ that were looking forward to God’s deliverance.  She is beautiful in God’s sight.  She is “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”.  Because she is beautiful, and because literal Israel was not always that beautiful, we should not interpret her as literal Israel, but as all believers in the time before Christ, both inside and outside Israel, and also prior to the time of Israel.

After Christ – After Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne”, she remains on earth and flees to the wilderness (12:6, 13-14).  Her other children (other than Christ) “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17).  Now she represents God’s New Testament people.  She therefore represents God’s people in all ages.

On earth – John saw her in heaven, but physically she is on earth.  Later a great voice says “woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath” (v12), causing the woman to flee to the wilderness (v14).  Here she is presented as on earth.

Dragon (12:3-4)

Next John saw:

Great Red Dragon

Then another sign appeared in heaven:
and behold, a great red dragon
having seven heads and ten horns
And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth,
so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
” (Rev. 12:3-4)

12:9 identifies the dragon as “the devil and Satan”.  It “stood before the woman … so that when she gave birth he might devour her child” (v4).  Ever since God told the serpent that the seed of the woman “shall bruise you on the head” (Genesis 3:15), Satan has been watching, expecting the Messiah, and standing ready to thwart His mission.

Seven heads – But the dragon has seven heads and ten horns, just like the beast coming out of the sea in chapter 13.  The seven heads and the ten horns are symbols for the kings of the world (17:9, 12).  The dragon therefore also represents the earthly kingdoms through which Satan persecutes God’s people.

Caught up to God – Satan stood ready to devour Him as soon as He was born (v4), but Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne” (v5).  This means that Satan was defeated and that Christ won the victory when He came to this earth.

Wilderness

To understand the chronological sequence of events in Revelation 12 one has to understand that verses 6 and 14 describe the same event.  In both verses the woman flees into the wilderness where she has a place prepared where she would be nourished for the same period of time:

Wilderness

Then the woman fled into the wilderness
where she had a place prepared by God,
so that there she would be nourished
for one thousand two hundred and sixty days
” (Rev. 12:6).

two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman,
so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place,
where she was nourished
for a time and times and half a time
” (v13-14).

The “time and times and half a time” in 12:14 is the same as the 1260 days in 12:6.  [“A time and times and half a time” = 3½ times = 3½ years = 3½ x 12 x 30 days = 1260 days. In Old Testament times months were counted according to the moon cycle, giving 30 days per month.]

The wilderness is a place of suffering.  The “time, times, and half a time” is first mentioned in Daniel 7:25, where it is the period when the “saints of the Highest One … will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time”.

Later in Revelation John is invited to come and see “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9).  What he saw was “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (21:10-11).  The holy city is her destination, but she must go through the unfriendly and inhospitable wilderness to reach her city.

The next article, which deals with the question why evil was not immediately destroyed after the Cross, indirectly says more about the woman’s wilderness period.

War In Heaven

The verses between verses 6 and 14 describe the war in heaven.  Verse 7 mentions the war briefly:

And there was war in heaven,
Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon.
The dragon and his angels waged war

Michael – It is a war between two groups of angels.  The name of the leader of God’s angels is “Michael” (12:7).  His name means “who is like God”.  He is mentioned four times in the Bible; mostly resisting evil angels:

acrhangel

In Jude 1:9 Michael is “the archangel” and he argues with the devil “about the body of Moses”.

In Daniel 10 Michael is the only one “who stands firmly with me (God’s messenger) against these forces” (v 13).  Daniel wrote that, when he saw God’s messenger, “no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength” (Dan 10:8).  But this mighty messenger was delayed for three weeks by “these forces” (v13).   This shows that “these forces” are powerful supernatural forces.

Satan – Michael and his angels war against Satan and his angels.  Satan has deceived a large number of God’s beautiful angels to his side.

While verse 7 mentions the war, verses 8 to 12 describe the victory.  Various aspect of the war and the victory will now be discussed.

Satan’s Weapons

Satan is described as

the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan,
who deceives the whole world
” (v9)

the accuser of our brethren
he who accuses them before our God day and night
” (v10).

This explains his methods:

Satan – The name Satan means adversary (opponent).  In the first place he is God’s adversary.  But consequently he is also the adversary of all angels and people who side with God.

Deceives – “Serpent” refers to his role in the deception of Eve; he “deceives the whole world” (v9).  Deception is therefore one of his key strategies; he tells lies to get people and angels to do and say the things he wants them to do and say.

Accuser – Satan is “the accuser of our brethren”; he “accuses them before our God day and night”.  In Zehariah 3 Satan accuses Joshua of iniquity.  In the book of Job Satan said that the only reason why Job fears God, is that God protects him on all sides, but if all of Job’s possessions are taken away, then Job would curse God (Job 1:10-11).

Devil – His role as accuser is related to the name “devil” (diabolos).  This means “slanderer; false accuser; unjustly criticizing to hurt (malign) and condemn”.  The NASB in a few places also translates the Greek word as “malicious gossips”.  Satan does not accuse all people; he only accuses “our brethren”.  These are the people whom God claims as His own, like Job and Joshua.  But Satan is actually accusing God of unfair or bad judgment.  While Satan is rightly able to accuse us of sin, God is perfect.  Satan therefore unjustly criticizes God; He slanders God.

Nature of the war in heaven – Many preachers understand the war in heaven as physical in nature; not fought with earthly weapons, but by supernatural physical means; using powerful physic-spiritual energies of which we have only vague intimations; energies which can move mountains and change planetary orbits.  But Satan’s weapons describe the nature of the war in heaven.  Satan would like to use physical force, but God would not allow him.  It is a war of accusations.  Satan deceives angels and people into sin, and then accuses them before God, effectively accusing God of unfair judgment.

When the Victory Was Won

War before Christ – Some people want to put the war a long time before Christ, when Lucifer was “cast … as profane from the mountain of God” (Ezekiel 28:16).  Others want to put the war at the end of time, when “the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10).  It is proposed here that we must distinguish between the war and the victory.  The war existed before Christ:

Daniel – We see evidence of the war in heaven in the time of Daniel.  God sent a heavenly messenger (10:5-6) to Daniel, but the supernatural “Prince of the Kingdom of Persia” prevented this messenger for “three weeks” from reaching Daniel (v13).  The messenger was only able to reach Daniel after Michael came to his assistance (v13).  The heavenly messenger told Daniel that he must return “to fight against the prince of Persia”, and that “there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince” (verses 20-21).

Jude – Satan has “power of death” (Hebrews 2:14).  In Jude 9 we read that “Michael the archangel … disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses”.  (Note; not Moses’ spirit or soul, but his body.)  This must have been before the time of Jesus, because Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus (Mat. 17:3).  (Elijah never died, but was taken up alive into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).)

Two other examples of the war in heaven, before the time of Christ, are Zechariah 3 and Job, already mentioned above.

The Cross

Victory at the Cross – While the war existed before Christ, the victory was won by the Cross.  We see this in the following:

The emphasis on Christ’s ascension (12:5) in this section that deals with the victory in heaven implies a relationship between His ascension and the victory.

As shown above, verses 6 and 14 both describe the woman’s wilderness period.  Since this victory explains why the woman had to flee to the wilderness in verse 6, namely because “the devil has come down to you, having great wrath” (v12), the victory in the war in heaven, in verses 8 to 12, fits in-between verses 5 and 6.  The victory in heaven therefore follows after His ascension in verse 5.

Verse 13 reads, “when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child”.  This describes the time immediately after Satan “was thrown down to the earth” and implies that “the dragon … was thrown down to the earth” after the male Child was caught up to heaven, otherwise Satan would still have tried to devour the Child.

They (our brethren) overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb”.  This not only means that they therefore overcame Satan after the Lamb’s blood has been spilled, but also that “the blood of the Lamb” was the cause of Satan’s defeat.

Direct evidence from outside Revelation includes Christ’s words when, talking about His approaching death, He said “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:27, 31).

It is therefore concluded that the victory in the war in heaven was won after Christ’s ascension and as a consequence of the Cross.  Christ’s ascension to heaven was Satan’s defeat.  While Christ went up from earth to God’s throne (v5), Satan went down from heaven to earth.  From an earthly perspective the Cross was a defeat for the Son of God, but Revelation 12 reveals that it was a major victory, causing Satan’s downfall.

The chronological sequence of events is therefore as follows:

Dragon

  1. Dragon standing before the pregnant woman, ready to devour her child (v1-4)
  2. Male child born and ascends to God’s throne (v5)
  3. Victory in the war (v8-12); Satan thrown down;
  4. Woman flees to the wilderness (v6, 14)

Stated differently, the events in the chapter are given in their chronological sequence, except for verse 6, which must be read with verse 14.

Who Won the Victory in Heaven?

But the text seems to contradict itself.  Satan was expelled from heaven after Jesus was “caught up to God and to His throne”, but according to verse 7 it was a war between two groups of angels.  To complicate matters further, verses 10 and 11 seem to say that God’s people won that war:

When the great voice announces the victory in this Great War (12:10-12), it describes Satan as “the accuser of our brethren” and says that “they (by implication our brethren) overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death”.  This sounds as if “our brethren” (the accused) are people and as if they won the victory over Satan.  The great voice does not mention Michael or his angels.

So the question is, who overcame Satan?  Was it Michael and his angels or Christ or God’s people?

Angels Or People?

It must firstly be noted that it is a single war fought both in heaven and on earth, involving both angels and people, as indicated by the following:

It is said to be a war in heaven, but John also saw the woman and great red dragon in heaven (12:1, 3), while they are actually on earth, respectively representing God’s people and the earthly authorities through which Satan persecutes God’s people.  The war could therefore also be on earth.

Also note that Michael is introduced in Daniel 10 and 12 as “the great prince who stands guard over … everyone who is found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1). He is, in other words, the guardian of God’s people on earth. The implication is that, when Michael wars with Satan, he is not fighting for himself; he is fighting for God’s people.  Satan has appointed evil angels to protect and inspire evil people in their war against God and His people, but similarly God has appointed Michael to “stands guard over” His people.  His angels are “all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebr. 1:14).  “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  The people of God are the object of the devil’s wrath.  If it was just us human beings against “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places”, God’s people would have been destroyed long ago.

It would therefore be wrong to distinguish between the war in heaven and the war on earth; it is a single war fought on both fronts, involving both angels and people.   We should not distinguish too much between heaven and earth.  Heaven is actually very close to earth.

Christ Or People?

As argued above, Revelation 12 implies that Christ’s ascension was Satan’s downfall.  The Bible also elsewhere teaches that God overcame Satan through Christ:

it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him (Christ) to reconcile all things to Himself (God), having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

He (the Father) made you alive together with Him (Christ), having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).

But why then does Revelation teach that “our brethrenovercame him (Satan)”?

Principles – Before we try to answer this question, note also the following principles from the text:

Answered accusations – The war in heaven is a war of accusations.  Since Christ’s death made an end to that war, it means that Christ’s victory made an end to Satan’s accusations.  Since God does not use force, it means that Christ’s death made it impossible for Satan to accuse by answering all of Satan’s accusations.

Blood of the Lamb – They firstly overcame “because of the blood of the Lamb”.  Without Christ’s death it would not have been possible to overcome Satan.  Paul wrote:

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  … having now been justified by His blood … we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8-10)

Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:25).  (Propitiation, in normal English, means a sin offering, by which the wrath of the deity shall be appeased, but the Greek word translated “propitiation” in this verse is the word for the covering of the ark, which was sprinkled with the atoning blood on the Day of Atonement.  Propitiation, in this verse, therefore means the place where guilt is finally taken away; Christ is where our guilt is taken away.)

Testimony to death – They secondly overcame “because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death”.  This statement contains the concepts of “testimony” and “death”.  These two concepts should not be separated.  Testimony and death are also combined elsewhere in Revelation:

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (6:9).

When they have finished their testimony, the beast … overcome them and kill them” (11:7)

John saw “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand” (20:4).

The testimony that overcomes Satan is therefore not superficial testimony; it is a testimony that is proven to be real in adversary, “even when faced with death”.  As God said of Job, after Satan destroyed all his possessions and killed all his children, “he still holds fast his integrity” (Job 2:3).

A person’s testimony includes what one does.  For instance, in 20:4, quoted above, “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus“, refused to worship the beast. A person’s testimony is what Paul calls faith; it is to “be faithful until death” (2:10).  Faith is not just a nice feeling; it is what you are; it permeates the entire being; the thoughts, the desires, the words and the deeds.

Accusing God

Confirmed God’s judgments – Satan did not accuse people who side with him.  By specifically accusing God’s elect, Satan effectively accused God of bad judgment.  Since Christ’s death made an end to the war in heaven, we can conclude that His death confirmed the accuracy of God’s judgment beyond a shadow of doubt.  This is confirmed by Romans 3:26, which indicates that the death of Christ demonstrated God’s righteousness so that He may justify sinners merely on the basis of faith.

No Physical Force – Satan is not overcome by physical force.  Satan deceives, accuses and slanders.  God’s army responds, not by physical force, nor by mere claims, but by a faith (testimony) that is strong enough to make them willing to die for what they believe.  Satan’s weapons, and the means by which Satan was overcome, confirm that this war is not fought with physical force.  The outcome in the war in heaven is not determined by who has the most physical power.

Not literally thrown out – Since this is a war of accusations and slander, Satan was defeated and thrown out of heaven in his capacity of accuser.  He was not literally or physically thrown out of heaven; he was thrown out of heaven in the sense that he was no longer able to accuse God’s people before God. This conclusion is consistent with the geography: Satan “accuses them before our God” (12:10), and God is in heaven (4:1-2).  When “there was no longer a place found for them (Satan and his angels) in heaven” (12:8), Satan no longer has access to God to accuse them.

Satan is a devouring Lion

War continues on earth – After Satan was thrown out of heaven (12:8), a loud voice said “rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath” (12:12).  The victory in this war therefore solved a crisis in heaven, but the war continued on earth.  We read of this elsewhere:

God reconciled “all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20).  Christ’s death is critically important for human beings, for without it we could not be saved, but through the blood of Christ the Father also made peace with the “things in heaven”.

The manifold wisdom of God (is) … made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places“ (Ephesians 3:10).

Through the Cross “He (God) had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He (God) made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Christ)” (Col. 2:15 – read verses 13 and 14 for context).  Their arms (weapons) were Satan accusations against God’s elect, and therefore against God’s judgments, but through Christ God took their weapons away.  See the article Disarmed the rulers and authorities for more information.

The issues in this war and the consequences of the victory is bigger than just us humans and our sins.  Through the blood of Christ the Father made peace with the “things in heaven”, but the war continues on earth.

The Cross

The traditional explanation – These principles give an explanation for why Christ had to die that is very different from the traditional explanation.  Christians agree that without Christ’s death we cannot be saved, but disagree on how the death of Christ saves us.  The standard explanation is that the death of Christ satisfied God’s need for justice, implying that God needed to be changed and that He was changed by Christ’s death.

This view presents an unbiblical view of God as angry, requiring death as penalty for sin; only then can His wrath be appeased.  In consequence of this view we find words such as atonement (amends), propitiation (placation) and expiation (compensation) in some translations of the Bible, but these words do not appear in the original Greek Bible.   Please refer to the article on Atonement..

The traditional explanation is inconsistent with the revelation in the Bible of God as love and as the Driver behind the salvation which we find in Christ: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).  God reconciledall things to Himself … through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20).  God “disarmed the rulers and authorities” through Christ (Col. 2:15).  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  God displayed publiclyChrist Jesus … as a propitiation in His blood” (Romans 3:25).  “It was the Father’s good pleasure … to reconcile all things to Himself through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).  The Father ”made you alive together with Him (Christ), having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).  It is God, the Father that “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). God, the Father, is the One that saves; and He saves through Christ.  It is not God that had to change; we must change.

The traditional explanation is also inconsistent with Revelation 12, where the problem is identified as Satan’s accusations; it is not God that accuses.  Satan is the one that complains that justice is not done when God, in mercy, “passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25-26); it is not God that demands justice.

The standard explanation, namely that the death of Christ satisfied God’s need for justice, is therefore not accepted here, but viewed as unbiblical.

Explanation – Our question is, if Christ’s ascension was Satan’s downfall, why does Revelation teach that “our brethrenovercame him”.  Considering the principles above, and also considering the conclusions from the previous articles in this series, this question may be answered as follows:

1. As discussed in the article on the Origin of Evil, Lucifer (a beautiful name meaning light-bearer) probably has the most brilliant mind ever created. He was a covering cherub (Ezekiel 28:14), which means he served in God’s immediate presence.  All angels trusted, loved and admired him.

2. But Lucifer became the selfish and proud Satan (meaning adversary), desiring to be worshiped like God (Isaiah 14:14).  “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17).

3. By ingenious means he convinced many of God’s beautiful and mighty angels to side with him.  To do this it is assumed that he used techniques similar to what he used with Eve, causing the angels to be unhappy with what they are and have, and accusing God of keeping good things from them.  Most of the angels refused to accept Satan’s allegations against God, but even the loyal angels were unable to fully understand and answer Satan charges.  Satan was able to sell his message very convincingly: “By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence” (Ezekiel. 28:16).  Thus the war and extreme unhappiness in heaven started.

4. Following this God cast Satan “as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:16).  God condemned Satan and his angels to “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat. 25:41).  But because many angels did not understand what Satan did wrong, and because God wants His intelligent beings to understand, He had to allow Satan to continue until all would understand.

Eve and the serpent

5. “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).  God made the humans in His likeness, and “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).  God allowed Satan access to the humans.  Satan appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent and succeeded in deceiving the humans into sin.  This means that Satan already was God’s adversary when the humans were created.  Satan now claimed, if he and his angels must be condemned to the eternal fire, that the same must be done to this new race.  To shield himself and his angels from God’s condemnation, he became the accuser of the brethren, prowling around like a lion (1st Peter 5:8) to deceive believers into sin so that he may accuse them before God.

6. But God refused to condemn the humans.  God said to Adam and Eve that they will die if they eat from the tree, but they did not die.  “In the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:25), including Adam’s sin.  The same applies to all other people whom God elected; they all sinned, including Elijah and Moses, but God “passed over” their sins.

7. Satan therefore accused God of unfair judgment.  Satan is not trying to make sure that God elects the right people.  He argues that God, to be fair, may not give mercy to any person, because all people sinned.  His real purpose is self-preservation.  Satan is really warring against God and uses human beings in his effort to convince the universe that God judges unfairly.

8. God did not set Satan’s criticism and questions aside by force.  Consistent with His principle of freedom, He allows His judgment of people to be tested.  God became the accused and the universe became the judge.  God allowed this race, which He created in His own image, to be used to test His judgments.

9. For the universe to judge, it requires evidence (testimonies).  To confirm the fairness of God’s judgment, the people whom He elected and identified as His, are tested to see whether they will remain faithful to Him, “even when faced with death”.  Through the centuries many of God’s people, like Job, were tested, and remained faithful.  But no one remained perfectly faithful.  Satan was always able to point to sins in the lives of God’s people.

10. But then God “displayed (Christ) publicly … for the demonstration … of His righteousness … so that He (God) would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).   Restating this verse simply, the death of Christ demonstrated God’s righteousness so that He, in mercy, may justify sinners merely on the basis of faith.  Satan accused God of unfair judgment, but through the Cross “He (God) had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He (God) made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Christ)” (Col. 2:15).  Christ became a human being and He died as a human being.  He remained perfectly faithful through every test, “even when faced with death”.  This was the testimony (evidence) required to decidedly confirm the fairness of God’s judgments and mercy, thus overcoming Satan as the accuser by destroying all of his arguments and accusations.

To summarize, “our brethren” overcame Satan by maintaining “the word of their testimony … even when faced with death”, but “our brethren” include our brother Jesus.  Without His perfectly sinless life, the testimonies of “our brethren” would have been useless against Satan’s accusations.  But Jesus—“the blood of the Lamb”—confirmed the correctness of God’s judgment, and thereby gave meaning and substance to the testimony of His brethren.

Thrown Down To Earth

The Cross brought peace and unity in heaven, for no longer are evil angels able to justify their own sins by pointing to the sins of God’s people, but the war continues on earth:

woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (v12).

The question why evil was not eradicated and destroyed immediately after the Cross will be discussed in the next article.

TO: General Table of Contents

Disarmed the rulers and authorities.

Rulers and authorities—the supernatural beings condemned by God—use the sins of humans to accuse God of unfair judgment, but Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities.

The reader should read the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God prior to reading this article.  That article defines the problem that was solved by the Cross.  This article explains how the Cross solved that problem.

The explanation which the reader will find in these two articles is very different from the standard explanations one finds in churches today.  Paul emphasized and all believe that the Cross solved the problem, but the Bible does not clearly explain what the problem was, that was solved by the Cross.  The Bible is mostly a description of events on earth.  Very little is said of the events in the background in heaven. For that reason different people understand the problem differently.  Some believe that God was angry and had to be pacified, but since the Bible clearly teaches that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16), many others believe something like that God’s justice demands that somebody must suffer, and that the innocent Son of God suffered in our place.  This article argues that the Cross had to disarm the rulers and authorities.  These ideas are critical to one’s Christian experience because ideas have consequences.  We are saved through faith by grace, but some ideas destroys faith and trust in God. We must make sure that our understanding of the problem, and of the solution provided by the Cross, is Biblical.

SUMMARY

In Colossians 2:13-15 we read about three events:

  • We have been made alive when our transgressions have been forgiven.
  • The certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us has been canceled by being nailed to the cross.
  • God disarmed the rulers and authorities through Christ.

As discussed on a separate page, this “Certificate of debt consisting of decrees” is the penalty for our sins.  The second event is therefore the same as the first.

As also discussed on a separate page, the Rulers and Authorities are supernatural beings—different ranks of angelic beings (Rom. 8:38, Eph. 1:21, 3:10 and 6:12).  Since God had to triumph over them, we understand that they oppose God; they are His enemies, under Satan’s leadership.   The purpose of this page is to explain how the Cross disarmed them.

It is concluded below that the “rulers and authorities” used our sins as weapons against God, who “passed over the sins previously committed” by the believers (Rom. 3:25).  Satan refused to accept His judgment, and continued to accuse God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of the believers.

Through the Cross God “disarmed” the “rulers and authorities”.  The Cross demonstrated God as faithful to the principle of love, but revealed Satan and his “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers.  In this way the Cross confirmed the justice and fairness of God’s judgment; showing that God acted fairly in forgiving the sins of the believers.  Thus Satan was disarmed.  He is no longer able to accuse the believers and he is no longer able to accuse God of unfair judgment.

DISCUSSION

In Colossians 2:13-15 we read:

having forgiven us all our transgressions,

14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

God “disarmed” them (Col. 2:15), which means that God took their weapons away.  The purpose of this page is to identify the weapons of the “rulers and authorities” and to explain how they were “disarmed”.

Our sins are their weapons.

Revelation 12:7 describes this heavenly conflict as war:

there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels” (Rev. 12:7)

The “dragon” is “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9).  He is also “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10) because he accused the believers “before our God day and night” (Rev.12:10).  The “war in heaven” therefore was a war of words and Satan’s weapons were the sins of the believers.  Satan accused “our brethren”, but because God forgave them their sins, he effectively accused God of injustice; of unfair judgment for forgiving (justifying) the believers.

We see this same principle in Romans 3:25-26, which states:

That the cross demonstrated God’s righteousness, and

That it was necessary to demonstrate God’s righteousness because “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25).

In other words, Satan attacked God’s “righteousness” for passing over “the sins previously committed”.  He used those sins of God’s people to accuse God of unfair judgment.

This is also the implication of Col. 2:15, where disarming the “rulers and authorities” is mentioned in the context of forgiveness (v13) and cancelling the penalty for sins (v14).

Satan was disarmed by the cross.

God “triumphed over them through Him (Christ)” (Col. 2:15).  This means that God disarmed Satan through the cross.

Col. 2:14-15 also says that God “disarmed the rulers and authoritieswhen He “canceled out the certificate of debt … having nailed it to the cross”.  In other words, the rulers and authorities were disarmed by cancelling the certificate of debt, which was done through the Cross.

We see this also in Revelation 12, where Michael’s victory over the dragon and his angels is symbolized by the throwing down of the dragon and his angels (v9) from heaven (v8) to earth (v12).  When did this happen?  As shown in the discussion of Revelation 12, the “time and times and half a time” in verse 14, which the woman spends in the “wilderness”, is the same as the 1260 days in verse 6 during which she was nourished in the wilderness.  It is therefore proposed that the description of the conclusion of the war in heaven—the triumph of Michael over Satan, described in the verses between these two “wilderness” verses—jumps back in time, and parallels 12:5, which says that “her child was caught up to God and to His throne”, which refers to the Cross.  Further evidence for this is the statement in 12:11 that Satan was overcome by the blood of the Lamb.  The conclusion is therefore again that Satan was disarmed through the Cross.

Disarmed Rulers and AuthoritiesTo conclude, Satan’s weapons were the sins of the believers, which Paul refers to as the Certificate of debt consisting of decrees.  By nailing it to the Cross, God canceled it and “has taken it out of the way” (Col. 2:14), thus disarming Satan’s rulers and authorities.

The Cross cancelled out the “Certificate of Debt” through demonstration.

According to Romans 3:25 Christ Jesus was “displayed publicly … to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousnessso that He (the Father) would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”.  In other words, the Cross demonstrated that it is just for God to forgive (justify) the guilty “who has faith in Jesus”.

Also in Col. 2:15 Paul used the words “public display”, but here it says that the cross “made a public display of” the “rulers and authorities”.

The words “demonstration” and “public display” means that the Cross demonstrated or showed something, and that this revelation cancelled the penalty due for our sins, with the consequence that Satan and his followers are no longer able to accuse “our brethren” or to use those sins to accuse God of unfair judgment.  The public demonstration of the Cross verified the justice and fairness of God’s judgment, and disarmed Satan by proving his arguments as false.

In Revelation 12, where Satan is described as accusing “our brethren … before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10), Satan is “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8).  This is interpreted as that the Cross of Christ convinced the heavenly beings that God is right and Satan is wrong, destroying any credibility which Satan still had with the heavenly beings that still were loyal to God.

To summarize, the Cross did not change God, as many seem to think; it changed the heavenly beings.  The Cross gave them conclusive evidence. As discussed in the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God, Satan accused God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people and the angels were not able to determine conclusively who is telling the truth; God or Satan.  But the Cross gave them the evidence they needed.  We see this symbolized in Revelation 5, where there is a sealed book (5:1), and nobody is able to open it (5:3), but then the Lamb overcomes (5:5) and is worthy to open the book because He was slain (5:9).

The Cross did not make an end to human sin, and our sins remain clearly visible to the heavenly beings, but God took away Satan’s ability to use those sins to accuse God of poor judgment.

Verses 13 to 15 of Colossians 2 therefore all deal with the same subject; the sins of the believers:

  • Verse 13: These sins have been forgiven.
  • Verse 14: The penalty for those sins have been cancelled.
  • Verse 15: The rulers and authorities are no longer able to use those sins to accuse the believers.

The cross revealed character.

Christ’s death did not publicly display anything to human eyes, for human eyes see in the Cross only defeat and weakness.  The Cross was a “public display” essentially to heavenly eyes only.

The Cross revealed God’s character (Rom. 3:25).  The Cross shows that Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).  The Father “triumphed over them through” Christ (Col. 2:15), not by the mere fact that Christ died on the Cross, but by Christ remaining faithful to God’s principles of service to others, while suffering to death through the most intense form of physical and mental torture.  On the cross He could not see the future and He lost His continual contact with the Father, for He cried out: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46; Mark 15:34)  But still He did not use supernatural power to relieve His pain.  “Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant … Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).  Jesus once said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Christ behavior therefore revealed God’s character to the universe as contrary to the way in which Satan depicted God.

The Cross also displayed Satan’s character and that of his “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers of their Innocent Creator, for it was the madness of the evil angels that activated the Jews to kill Him.

The cross therefore demonstrated both sides of the war in heaven for what they really are.  For that reason Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven (Rev. 12:9); they lost all credibility which they previously might have had with the heavenly beings.

To bring an end to the war God provided evidence through Christ’s death. The Cross was a decisive battle in the ongoing war in heaven.  The war in heaven was concluded on earth.  The Cross was not for human beings specifically; it was for the entire universe.  The Cross has all-important consequences for us as human; but because it made an end to the war in heaven, it was equally important for all beings in God’s universe.

Rome was the greatest military power on earth at that time.  Judaism (church) conspired with Rome (State) to kill the Son of God. Angry at His challenge to their sovereignty, they stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and in human eyes triumphed over Him.  But the paradox of the cross is that Jesus, in reality, took the spiritual powers animating these earthly powers and stripped them, held them up to contempt, and publicly triumphed over them.

The war shifted from heaven to earth.

The Cross made an end to the war of words in heaven, but as Revelation 12 indicates, Satan continues the war on earth:

… rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12 ).

The battleground has changed.  The war has shifted from heaven to earth.  Why does the war continue after the Cross?  Why is God still tolerating sin?  See The Seven Seals of Revelation for a discussion of God’s glorious purpose.

TO: General Table of Contents

Colossians 2:15

SUMMARY

God “triumphed over” His enemies in heavenly places.  Through the death of Christ He disarmed them.  They remain enemies, but they are now powerless.

Before Christ died His enemies accused the believers “before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10).  By accusing the believers, Satan effectively accused God of unfair judgment.  It therefore was a war of words.  This does not mean it was easy.  Revelation calls it “war” and according to Daniel only the archangels Michael and Gabriel stood “firmly … against these forces” (Dan 10:21).  Since Satan and his angels waged war by accusing God’s followers, their weapons were the sins and guilt of the believers.

The cross made an end to this war through public display.  On the one hand Christ was “displayed publicly” (Rom. 3:25) before the eyes of the universe.  The Cross shows that Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).  The Father “triumphed over them through” Christ, not by the mere fact that Christ died on the Cross, but by Christ remaining faithful to God’s principles, while suffering to death through the most intense form of physical and mental torture.  It was a display of Christ’s character.

On the other hand the cross publicly displayed His enemies as evil murderers.  It was the madness of the evil angels that drove the Jews to kill Him.

The cross therefore demonstrated both sides of the war in heaven for what they really are.  This displayed the fairness of God’s judgment.  It showed that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  In other words, the cross showed that it is just for God to justify guilty people simply on the basis of “faith in Jesus”.

In that way the cross “disarmed” His enemies.  It took away their ability to accuse.  The cross made an end to the war of words in heaven, but Satan continues the war on earth.

2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

When – at the cross (2:14)

Rulers and authorities – Since God had to triumph over them, these “rulers and authorities” are His enemies.  As discussed in 2:9-10, the “rulers and authorities” are supernatural beings.  Christ’s death did not publicly display these rulers to human eyes, for in the cross human eyes only saw defeat and weakness.  It was a “public display” to heavenly beings.

Disarmed – this verse shows that, through the cross, God did three things to the “rulers and authorities“; He “disarmed’ them, He made a “public display’ of them and He “triumphed over them”.  This was all done “through Him” (Christ).  The means was the death of Christ.  By the death of Christ He “triumphed over them” by disarming them.  In other words, He took away their weapons.  What were their weapons?

This is related to the discussion in 1:20-22 of the “war in heaven”:

there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels” (Rev. 12:7)

The “war in heaven” was a war of words.  Before Christ died the supernatural rulers and authorities accused the believers “before our God day and night” (Rev.12:10).  Their weapons therefore were the sins and guilt of the believers.  Satan accused the believers, but effectively he accused God of unfair judgment.

The cross “disarmed” them.  It took away their ability to accuse.  To explain:

On the one hand Christ was “displayed publicly” (Rom. 3:25) before the eyes of the universe.  The Cross shows that Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).  The Father “triumphed over them through” Christ, not by the mere fact that Christ died on the Cross, but by Christ remaining faithful to God’s principles, while suffering to death through the most intense form of physical and mental torture.  On the cross He could not see the future and He lost His continual contact with the Father.  He cried: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46; Mark 15:34)  But still He did not use supernatural power to relieve His pain:

Philippians 2:5  … Christ Jesus, 2:6 who, although He existed in the form of God … 7 … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant … 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth

On the other hand the cross was a public display of His enemies: the “rulers and authorities” that accused the believers “before our God day and night”.  The cross publicly displayed the real nature of the “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers of the Innocent because it was the madness of the evil angels that instigated the Jews to kill Him.

The cross therefore demonstrated both sides of the war in heaven for what they really are. “This was to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousness” (Rom. 3:25, 26) “so that He (the Father) would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  Stated differently, the question is how it is just for God to justify guilty people simply on the basis of “faith in Jesus”.  The cross verified the fairness of God’s judgment.  The public display demonstrated God to be just when He justifies repentant sinners.  For that reason the rulers and authorities are now unable to accuse the believers (Rev. 12:10).  The gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:15).

The cross made an end to the war of words in heaven, but as Revelation 12 indicates, Satan continues the war on earth:

… rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12 ).

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: 2:16

Colossians 1:20-22

Summary:  These verses can be analysed into the following statements:

  1. Before Christ’s death there was “war” between God and His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.
  2. That war was caused by the aggression of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.
  3. God was not angry with His enemies.
  4. To bring an end to the war, God changed the minds of His enemies by providing evidence through Christ’s death.
  5. The intelligent beings in heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross
  6. God forgives completely.

1:20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 1:22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—

Before Christ’s death there was “war” between God and His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.

Through Himthe Father reconciled “all things to Himself” and also “made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him” (1:20).  To reconcile therefore means to make peace between God and His alienated intelligent creatures.  This is also seen in verses 21 and 22, where it is stated that the Colossians previously were “hostile in mind”—which indicates a lack of peace—but now are “reconciled”.  Since God had to make “peace”, there previously was war.

The blood of Christ not only reconciles humans to the Father; even the “things in heaven” are reconciled to the Father through His blood (1:20).  This means that there also was war in heaven.  The Bible is generally silent on the war in heaven.  With the exception of a few places (Job 1:6-; Eph. 1:10; 3:10; Col. 1:20-22; etc.) the Bible only describes events on earth.  But right at the beginning of the Bible we read that Satan came to deceive our first parents.  Sin therefore did not originate on earth; the rebellion against God started elsewhere: in what we may call heaven.  Revelation 12:7 describes that war as between two groups of angels:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war

This “dragon” is a symbol for Satan (Rev. 12:9).  Satan and his angels are alienated from and hostile towards Him, to quote from Colossians 1:21.

It is this war that spilled over to earth when Satan deceived our first parents, and which is continued today:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places“ (Eph. 6:12).

That war was caused by the aggression of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.

Notice the ‘before’ and ‘after’ conditions of the Colossians:

Before they were reconciled, they were “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (1:21).

After they were reconciled and at “peace” with God, they were “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22), i.e. the absence of evil deeds.

It is not God that is described as “hostile”, but His intelligent creatures.  God is perfectly good.  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.

God was not angry with His enemies.

Since “Him” and “His” in the current verses refer to Christ, these are things which the Father did “through Him”.  It is important to note that it is God that made peace with His enemies; His enemies did not make peace with Him.  The Father took the initiative and through Christ unilaterally acted to reconcile His enemies to Himself.  This means that it is not the Father that is angry with His enemies; it is His enemies that are angry with God.  They are trying to exclude Him from their lives in all possible ways.  A common method is to insult God by using His name in vain, and even to use His name as a swearword.

Some people conclude from the Bible that God is angry and that Christ died to pacify Him.  The current verses present His enemies as angry, and God as the One that seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).

To bring an end to the war, God changed the minds of His enemies by providing evidence through Christ’s death.

The previous verses explained who Christ is.  By using the word “through” four times, the current verses (1:20-22) shift the focus to what God did through Christ, indicating that Christ was the Means of reconciliation:

The Father “through Him … reconcile all things to Himself … through the blood of His cross; through Him” (1:20).  That includes the Colossian Christians, who were “reconciled … in His fleshly body through death” (1:22).

We should not think that His literal blood has any magical power.  “Through the blood of His cross” (1:20) means “in His fleshly body through death” (1:22).  “Blood” is therefore a symbol of His death.

The question now is how Christ’s death succeeded “to reconcile all things to Himself” (1:20):

According to Colossians 2:15 the cross made a “public display” of the “rulers and authorities”.  These are supernatural beings. (See discussion of 2:10)

According to Romans 3:25-26 the cross made a “public display” of Christ to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousness; to show the Father as just in spite of the fact that He justifies (forgives) people.

In Revelation the victory of “Michael and his angels” over “the dragon and his angels” is expressed as that the “dragon” and “his angels” were “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8) to earth (v12).  Since Satan is represented as accusing “our brethren … before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10), his being “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8) implies that the cross of Christ made it impossible for him to further accuse “our brethren”.  The analysis of Revelation 12 concludes that this victory was won through “her child“ (Christ), when He “was caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev. 12:5).

For the following reasons it is therefore proposed that God reconciled His enemies with Himself by changing the minds of His enemies by providing evidence:

  • Christ’s death is said to be a “public display” (Col. 2:15; Rom. 3:25-26).
  • Christ’s death is said to be a demonstration of God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25-26).
  • Christ’s death is said to have made an end to Satan’s ability to accuse “our brethren” (Rev. 12:8-10). As stated by Colossians 2:15, the cross “disarmed the rulers and authorities”.

To combine these thoughts: by accusing “our brethren”, Satan was actually accusing God of injustice for forgiving (justifying) “our brethren”.  Somehow the public display and demonstration of both Christ and the “rulers and authorities” through the cross made it impossible for Satan to further accuse “our brethren” because it has been shown the justice of God.  In other words, Satan’s arguments were proven false by the public demonstration of the cross.

To take this idea further, we need to ask what Christ’s death revealed of Christ, of God and of Satan.  This will not be discussed now.

If the cross made peace, why are we still involved in the war?  In the words of Revelation, peace came to heaven when Satan was cast out of heaven, but he was given more time on earth (12:9-12).  Why?  This issue is addressed in the discussion of the seals in Revelation.

The intelligent beings in the heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.

This brings us to the perhaps surprising conclusion that the intelligent beings in the heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.  The war that is started in heaven is ended on earth.  The struggle that you and I are involved in, has cosmic implications.

God forgives completely.

Lastly, the Colossian Christians were reconciled “to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22).  As verse 23 indicates, this must still happen.  But the point here is that God will not hold the sins of His people against them.  God is the great Physician.  He wants to heal us of a deadly cancer.  Yes, our evil deeds are aggression against Him, but once we are healed from this cancer He will not hold it against us.

Atonement

Another way in which the Bible expresses the “reconcile”-concept is “make atonement”, as indicated by the following definition of “atonement”:

Atonement: reconciliation … specifically the reconciliation between God and humanity effected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  … The New Testament rarely uses a word for atonement. The basic Greek word is katallasso, usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship. (Holman Bible dictionary)

The original meaning of “atonement” is “at-one-ment”, which means to be “at-one”, which means to be reconciled.  That is what “atonement” meant when the Bible was first translated into English.  In the Bible it is God, because He loves us, that sent His Son (“the Lamb of God”-John 1:29) to bring His people back to Him (John 3:16).  But the forensic doctrine of salvation caused the meaning of “atonement” to change over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  This doctrine presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  Therefore “atonement” has today come to mean “reparation for an offence or injury” (Merriam-Webster).

But that is not how we should understand the purpose of Christ’s death.  It is not God that must change.  The blood of the Cross did not change how the Father feels about sinners.  The opposite is rather true, namely that the blood of Christ was the means by which the Father changed the hearts and minds of His creatures; to be reconciled to Himself (1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  The current verses (Col. 1:20-22) indicate that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).  And in Romans 5:10 we read:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: 1:23-28