Proper 28 • Daniel 12:1–3 • November 18, 2012
By Leopoldo Sanchez
In his struggle against the pneumatomachians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit by reducing his nature to that of a ministering spirit or angel, St. Basil (c. 329–379) highlights that good angels are “holy” only because the Holy Spirit, who is God, has made them so. The Holy Spirit uses these holy (angelic) spirits to minister to the children of God in the midst of their struggles against Satan and his evil spirits. When Jesus casts out demons “by the Spirit of God,” he declares that “the kingdom of God has come upon you,” and a sign of its coming is that Jesus “binds the strong man” (i.e., Satan) in order to free those under his bondage (Mt 12:28–29). In the ongoing fight against Satan and his fallen angels, the Spirit uses the holy angels to promote God’s plan of deliverance from the evil one through Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Scripture, chief among the holy angels is Michael, “the great prince who has charge of your people” (v. 1, cf. Dn 10:13: “one of the chief princes”), who in the last day (“at that time”) will lead the church to God’s eschatological deliverance (Dn 12:1). Michael is the defender of God’s people, the “archangel” who contends with the devil (Jude 9, cf. Dn 10:21), the warrior who leads an army of angels to fight against and ultimately defeat “the dragon and his angels” (Rv 12:7–9). Not surprisingly, Michael is portrayed in Christian iconography and art as the warrior saint with a sword who tramples on and slays a dragon, serpent, or human representation of a defeated Satan.
Surely, the “sword” at work in the defeat of Satan by Michael and all angels is none other than “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17), the same word that points Christians to the Lord Jesus, in whose strength they stand firm against the attacks of the devil (cf. Eph 6:1–13). Like the Holy Spirit who makes them holy and directs their work, the holy angels do not draw attention to themselves. They point people to the word of God and so to Jesus. As Luther sings it in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: “God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side. Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!” (LSB 657).
While “the kingdom’s ours” now by faith in God’s promise, the future eschatological blessings of this kingdom will be ours in their fullness and thus “forever” at the last day: “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dn 10:1; cf. Rv 20:12–15). There will be an awakening of the dead (“those who sleep in the dust of the earth”) “to everlasting life” (v. 2)—i.e., for “those who are wise” and, by their witness to Christ, “turn many to righteousness” (v. 3). There will also be a resurrection “to shame and everlasting contempt” (v. 2; cf. Jn 5:28–29, Rv 20:14). At that time, “the voice of an archangel”—Michael would be a good candidate—will herald the Lord’s coming and the resurrection of the dead will take place (1 Thes 4:16–17). As we await and long for the final realization of our Lord’s kingdom in our lives at the last day—which includes, of course Christ’s final defeat of Satan (cf. Rv 20:7–10)—God’s people are personally assured even now of their protection from the evil one through the ministry of the archangel Michael and all angels. We pray with Luther: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
The doctrine of angels can be used, on the one hand, to warn secure sinners against the practice of sin and evil, and on the other, to comfort sinners who struggle with the devil’s attacks with the promise of God’s protection through his holy angels. With Luther, the preacher may instruct the saints to be vigilant and stand firm against the devil’s attacks (tentatio) by using God’s own arms for battle, namely, the word (meditatio) and prayer (oratio). The preacher may declare God’s people delivered from bondage to Satan in the name of Jesus. He may also declare them delivered from sin and death on account of Christ’s final victory over the forces of evil through his life, cross, and resurrection.