“To Teach Them War” (6): Knowing War’s Origin: In the Angelic Realm

Previous article in this series: February 15, 2014, p. 232.

What a lovely world of beauty and perfect peace God made in the beginning! All creatures in the heavens above and earth beneath were fully consecrated to God’s glory. “Good,” declared God, beholding all He had made, “very good.” The divinely inspired narrative of literal history in Genesis says so.

Then, without any warning, a talking, man-tempting, God-slandering serpent appears on the scene (Gen. 3:1). Evil. Very evil. It gets worse. The serpent tempts the woman Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve sins. Eve tempts her husband Adam. Adams sins. Because Adam is the federal (covenant) head of humanity and the king of creation, all men become enemies of God and all of creation comes under God’s curse. This is unseemliness and disharmony. This is rebellion against God. This is war.

Who is this serpent? What is his origin? How is he evil? Why is he against God? From where did this evil creature in the good creation come?

The opening chapters of Genesis, and what follows in Scripture, emphasize God’s dealings with man, providing the history and details of man’s creation, fall, and redemption. Only gradually, as the revelation progressively unfolds, do we come to an understanding of the angelic realm. To that angelic realm we must turn our attention in order to understand the introduction of warfare into God’s good creation.

That talking, tempting, slandering serpent was the devil (Rev. 12:9). Or, more accurately, the devil was the rational, moral subject speaking through the serpent. The devil belongs to the angelic realm. Therefore, we must go back, past Adam and Eve and past the serpent, to the devil to get a proper understanding of warfare in creation and in history. What the Genesis account presupposes, we must explain, namely, that actual warfare against God in His good creation was introduced by Satan into the angelic realm, and from the angelic realm warfare extended to the human race through the serpent. The very first assault upon God and His kingdom was orchestrated by Satan. Warfare against God did not begin on earth with man, but with the angels in the heavens before the throne of God.

Satan’s Assault on God

Under the righteous God’s sovereign government, according to the righteous God’s eternal, determinative counsel, and for the glory of the righteous God’s own name, warfare broke out in the heavenly realm—warfare that came under the righteous God’s heavy condemnation. Nowhere does Scripture furnish a comprehensive historical account of the creation and fall of angels. Scant but sufficient are the little details scattered throughout the Bible to piece together the story.

Angels were created. Just because the opening chapters of Genesis do not tell us angels were created does not mean they are eternal beings or have their origin of themselves, as the Manichees of old taught. We do not know precisely when in the six days of creation the angels were created, but they were created (Col. 1:16). Satan is an angelic being (Matt. 25:41; II Cor. 11:14; Jude 6; Rev. 12:9), one of the many angels God created.

It seems Satan was created as the highest angelic being. He is prince. He is called “the prince of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” (John 12:31; John 16:11; Eph. 2:2). Some have even said Satan was probably greater than the archangel Michael who, when contending with Satan about the body of Moses, “durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee (Jude 9).

Like all the creatures, this princely angel Satan was created good. He was morally upright and devoted to God. He was “in the truth” (John 8:44). His primitive state was most excellent.

But Satan sinned and fell. The Bible does not tell us when. It does teach he “was a murderer from the beginning,” (John 8:44). Sometime after the first seven days, when all was declared good and before the serpent came to Eve, Satan fell. Nor does the Bible answer the question older catechumens occasionally ask, “How did evil arise in this good creature Satan?” We know that at some point Satan was filled with pride. I Timothy 3:6 warns against appointing a novice to office, “lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”

Evidently, Satan became proud and attempted to seize God’s throne. He was not content. He wanted what God had. He did not want to be a prince of the angels, qualified to lead them all in loving service to God. He wanted to be God. He wanted God and all creatures under him and serving him. Although the Lucifer of Isaiah 14:12ff. does not refer directly to Satan, but to the king of Babylon, that Lucifer is a type of the coming antichrist and an example of the devil in attitude and conduct. Of Lucifer we read, “How art thou fallen from heaven…! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Is. 14:12-14).

Satan was the first adversary of God. He is forever the greatest foe of God. As God is pure goodness and love, Satan is pure evil and hatred. Satan hates God, hates God’s good creative work—chiefly man as God’s greatest work, despises God’s Son in man’s flesh, hates the church, hates the Bible, hates the gospel, and hates you and me. He is an unimaginably powerful liar and murderer. He lives for God’s destruction. His aim is to dethrone God. The greatest of all battles is not between the world and the church, or the antichrist and the Christ, but between Satan and the triune God. To our tremendous comfort, Satan is not merely God’s enemy; he is also and always God’s unwitting servant. God uses Satan for His good purposes, and when finished, will cast him into the lake of fire and brimstone to be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10). When we go to heaven in the last day, we will never face this enemy again.

Satan was not content as the only foe of God. His hatred for God was so intense he instigated an uprising by rallying many angels around him and against God. To this Revelation 12:4 refers when it states that the tail of the great red dragon “drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.” The devil now has “his angels” (Matt. 25:41). They are “angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation” (Jude 6). Not all the angels fell. Satan was not a federal head in whom every angel fell. Many angels remained steadfast in their primitive state and are “holy” (Mark 8:38) and “elect” (I Tim. 5:21). Those angels who were seduced by Satan and who willingly revolted against God are reprobate and reserved unto judgment (II Pet. 2:4).

What an awful assault against God! Instead of beholding the face of the Father in heaven, doing His commandments, and hearkening unto the voice of His Word as joyful hosts, the fallen angels dwell in Satan’s camp, follow his marching orders, fight for his cause against God, and to the utmost of their power watch to ruin the church and every member thereof. How the elect angels must have been filled with righteous indignation and how they must have watched in horror as war was declared against God! A creature declared war against the overflowing Fountain of all good, in whom all live and move and have their being?! Evil. Very evil.

Although God was angry with the creature Satan, God did not destroy the creature Satan immediately. Rather, He would use this enemy, who would become increasingly foolish and wicked throughout history, to accomplish His redemptive purposes in Jesus. It was this enemy of God named Satan who came to man through the serpent in the garden, seducing man to join him and his angels in his militaristic cause of wickedness in assaulting the most High.

An Important Consideration

A consideration of the origin of warfare in the angelic realm is important. The importance must not be overstated, so that we make more of the angelic realm than the Bible permits. Nonetheless, this early mark on the timeline of history, subsequent to the mark of creation, is important. First, it gives the background to the greatest enemy of our God, to our Savior Jesus Christ, to the universal church, and to you and me in our own personal life of spiritual warfare. Later in this series, we will examine our enemies and take special note of the devil in his methods and wiles. Here we note his identity, nature, and origin. We must know everything Scripture teaches about our enemy, so that we are better prepared to resist him. We must not become practical Sadducees who speak of Satan and his angels, but regard him so lightly in our daily life of spiritual warfare that we essentially deny him.

Second, what the devil did personally, in the beginning, in the heavens, he will do in climactic fashion through the antichrist, at the end, on the earth. The obscure but literal history of Satan’s uprising against God was a beginning no man saw. But the end all the living shall see. The antichrist whose coming is after the working of Satan will oppose and exalt himself “above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4-9). He, as the head of his world-kingdom, will attempt to lead all men against God in worship of himself (Rev. 13). Knowing Satan’s beginning prepares us for his efforts in the end.

Third, knowledge of Satan’s beginning moves us to humble adoration of God’s sovereignty. What a dramatic beginning of history! What an apparently sudden turn of events! Very good to very evil. It is almost frightening. It is almost discouraging. Until we confess and apply the truth that Scripture proclaims from beginning to end: God is God, and therefore sovereign. God ordained this disturbing introduction of warfare and this Lucifer to serve the purpose of His own glory in Jesus Christ. According to God’s perfect plan there had to be, through all of history, a chief antagonist to the kingdom that Jesus would establish and perfect. There had to be a chief antagonist whom Jesus could triumphantly crush, as He reconciles His people and the whole creation to the Father through the cross. In that way, Jesus could not only be our King (and kings are glorious), but our triumphant King (and triumphant kings who subdue great opposition are especially glorious).