The Fall of the Evil Angels
As we have had occasion to note before, our Confession devotes no little attention to the subject of the evil angels, or devils, and their fall. First of all, in speaking of the creation of the angels, the Confession says: “. . . some of whom are fallen from that excellency, in which God created them, into everlasting perdition; and the others have, by the grace of God, remained steadfast and continued in their primitive state.” And concerning the fallen angels our Confession goes on to describe their depravity as follows: “The devils and evil spirits are so depraved, that they are enemies of God and every good thing, to the utmost of their power, as murderers, watching to ruin the Church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all; and are, therefore, by their own wickedness, adjudged to eternal damnation, daily expecting their horrible torments.”
It is but natural, perhaps, especially in the light not only of the fact that Scripture furnishes us so little data concerning this fall of the angels, but also because the Devil and his host play so large a part in the history of salvation, from the very beginning of the fall of our first parents to the time of the final manifestation of the Antichrist, that we should want to inquire into the circumstances of their fall. When did the angels fall? How and why did they fall? What was the sin of the angels who fell? And what is the present status of the fallen angels, their power, their work? And it certainly is not improper to make such inquiries in the light of Scripture. This is more than idle curiosity and speculation. For if we consider the Devil and his host to be our enemies, enemies of. the cause of Christ, and consider too that according to all Scripture the demonic hosts constitute a very formidable foe of the church of Christ, as also our Confession emphasizes, and play no little part in history, so that, for example, the binding and loosing again of Satan himself forms an integral part of the events which lead to the consummation of all history (Rev. 20), then it is certainly necessary that we understand as much as possible of this formidable foe of the church of Christ.
When facing these questions, however, we may also note at once that there is little mention of these matters in Scripture. First of all, the Bible nowhere sets forth the history of the rebellion and fall of the angels. This is rather assumed; and, after creation, sacred history deals immediately with the temptation and fall of our first parents, which was instigated by the Devil, who had by that time already brought about the rebellion in the angel hosts. Now this is an interesting and significant fact concerning the Scripture record. And it is undoubtedly due to this, that Scripture is not interested as such in the history of the angel world and its fall and salvation, but in the fall and salvation of the church. Hence, as far as is necessary the Bible brings in the actions of the angels and of de devils too; but for the rest, it assumes, rather than states, the various circumstances and occasions and causes and events which lie behind this appearance of the devils upon the scene of human history. In the second place, we may also note that there are a few passages which refer rather directly to the fall of the evil angels, or demons. Let us, in order to have all the significant data before us, quote these at the outset. In John 8:44 the Lord Jesus refers to the Devil as follows: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the fader of it.” In I Timothy 3:6, in speaking of the requirements of a bishop, the apostle writes: “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” This is a reference which, I believe correctly, has often been interpreted as pointing to the fact that the sin of the Devil was that “he was lifted up with pride.” In the epistle of Jude there is, first of all, verse 6: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” And in vs. 9 of the same epistle we find reference made to the relation between Michael and the Devil, as follows: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” (Cf. also II Peter 2:4, 11.) And finally, there are references in Revelation 12,—the passage which probably became the occasion of some of John Milton’s poetic fantasies in “Paradise Lost,”—which also shed some light on our questions. First of all, in vss. 3 and 4 mention is made of “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. . . .” This dragon, according to the same passage, is the Devil himself, for we read in verse 9: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” And, secondly, we must not overlook verses 7 and 8, even though they do not speak-directly of the original rebellion and fall of, the angels under Satan: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels; And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” These are the main passages of Scripture which make reference to the fall of the Devil and his demons. There are, of course other passages which shed some light on our questions; but to these we may refer as occasion warrants.
When we ask as to the time of the fall of the evil angels, we receive no definite answer from Scripture. We may, however, pinpoint the time of that fall in relation to creation, on the one hand, and the fall of man, on the other, and say that it must have taken place some time after the former and sometime before the latter. This is based, of course, on the obvious fact that at the time when the Devil, through the serpent, came to tempt Eve, he had himself already fallen from his own high estate and dragged a goodly number of angels along with him. And, in the second place, we know too that prior to, and including the seventh day also, there was no sin: for “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. . . . And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” If, therefore, as we may properly assume, the host of heavenly spirits is included in the above, it certainly follows that the fall of the evil angels took place after the seventh day and before the temptation and fall of Eve. Further than that the Scriptures do not go in delimiting the exact time of the fall. If, however, we may believe that God does not delay in executing His counsel, but follows a straight course toward the omega of the day of Christ, then we may also assume that the state of rectitude did not long endure, either for the angels or for man, and that the fall of the Devil, followed soon by the temptation and fall of man, took place not long after the seventh day. With exactitude, however, the time of the fall cannot be stated.
As to the nature of the sin and rebellion of that part of the angel hosts which fell away, there has been a good deal of speculation. How did this fall take place? How did sin arise among the angels? What was its occasion? While, in the case of man, there was a tempter in the form of the serpent and a temptation that was concretely attached to the tree’ of knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, how did sin and the temptation to sin arise among the angels?
It is probably in part the very scarcity of Scriptural information on these questions that has tempted many to run wild in speculation. The Sadducees of Jesus’ time already altogether denied the existence of angels and spirits, and therefore also of devils. This is the position of ‘rationalism, which also today makes the same denials, and which; in so far as it troubles itself with Scriptural mention of these realities, attributes such mention to poetic imagination. Our Confession also rejects flatly the theory of the Manichees, a sect to whom the church father Augustine was attracted in his youthful days. These took the dualistic position that the devils have their origin of themselves, were not created, and certainly were not created good, but are the embodiment of an eternal principle of evil. And while such crass dualism today finds no acceptance among Christians, yet a certain practical dualism, according to which the Devil and his host are conceived of as powers next to and alongside, of God, rather than as creatures who even in their fallen state are strictly subject to His sovereign counsel and providence, may well be warned against.
Certain it is, too, that the angels were all created originally good. The very thought that God created evil creatures and is thus the Author of evil is blasphemous. That limits us, therefore, to the general position that the Devil and his host were created good, that somehow sin was introduced after creation among the heavenly hosts, and that the Devil (as chief) and with him a large part of the angels fell into condemnation, having rebelled against the Most High. But then the questions remain as to how this sin arose among the angels that were originally created good, and what was the nature of their sin. And perhaps in no little degree some of these questions must remain unanswered as to the details.
The poet Milton (“Paradise Lost”) has, as we said, a highly imaginative presentation of these events. His entire conception of the history of creation and his view of a first creation, preceding the present one, is, of course, apart from Scripture. But in some respects his suggestion concerning the sin of the angels is at least attractive, though it undoubtedly cannot be Scripturally substantiated. For the sake of interest, let me quote a few excerpts from Book V of “Paradise Lost,” in which Raphael is relating to Adam the fall of the angels. I begin at line 594:
. . . . “Thus when in orbs
Of circuit inexpressible they stood,
Orb within orb, the Father Infinite,
By whom in bliss embosomed sat the Son,
Amidst, as from a flaming mount, whose top
Brightness had made invisible, thus spake:—
“‘Hear, all ye Angels, Progeny of Light,
Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,
Hear my decree, which unrevoked shall stand!
This day I have begot whom I declare
My only Son, and on this holy hill
Him have anointed, whom ye now behold
At my right hand. Your head I him appoint,
And by myself have sworn to him shall bow
All knees in Heaven, and shall confess him Lord.
Under his great vicegerent reign abide,
United as one individual soul,
For ever happy. Him who disobeys
Me disobeys, breaks union, and, that day,
Cast out from God and blessed vision, falls
Into utter darkness, deep engulfed, his place
Ordained without redemption, without end.’
“So spake the Omnipotent, and with his words
All seemed well pleased; all seemed, but were not all.
. . . . But not so waked Satan—so call him now; his former name
Is heard no more in Heaven. He, of the first,
If not the first Archangel, great in power,
In favor, and pre-eminence, yet fraught
With envy against the Son of God, that day
Honored by his great Father, and proclaimed
Messiah, King Anointed, could not bear,
Through pride, that sight, and thought himself impaired.
Deep malice thence conceiving and disdain,
Soon as midnight brought on the dusky hour
Friendliest to sleep and silence, he resolved
With all his legions to dislodge, and leave
Unworshipped, unobeyed, the Throne supreme,
Contemptuous, and, his next subordinate
Awakening, thus to him in secret spake:—”
(And then follows a further account of the supposed conspiracy among the angels. H.C.H.)