Proper 21 • Revelation 12:7–12 • September 29, 2013
By David Schmitt
On the celebration of St. Michael and All Angels, it would be easy to expand a sermon on this text in Revelation into a larger discussion of angels and their service before God. In fact, the Collect of the Day encourages such a broader emphasis. What happens, however, if you read the text more closely? How might that shape your celebration of this feast day?
In this text, we are offered a brief heavenly vision that encourages the church on earth. Notice how the story of Michael and the war in heaven (12:7–12) is surrounded by another story of the experience of the church on earth. Before this vision of heaven, John offers an account of events on earth (12:1–6). Through symbolism, he speaks of the birth and ascension of Christ, leaving the church in the wilderness, awaiting the full manifestation of Christ’s rule. After this vision of heaven, John again focuses on life on earth (12:13–17). This time, John reveals the raging war of a defeated Satan against the members of Christ’s church and the ways in which God intervenes to give them protection and strength.
By weaving these accounts together in this way, John helps us understand the purpose of seeing this war in heaven. The church on earth is living in the midst of a much greater story, the story of Christ and his triumph over Satan. When Christ ascended into heaven, Satan was cast out of the heavenly council and his role as the accuser ended. The heavenly realms that used to be filled, day and night, with accusations (consider Job 1:6–12) are now filled with eternal celebration and the confession of faith that God’s people make on earth is a participation in this victory of Christ that endures eternally (v. 11).
For now, however, the church on earth is under persecution, hunted by a raging but defeated Satan. In the face of such suffering even the voice of heaven cries “woe” (v. 12). How does the church live in such a world?
This brief but powerful heavenly vision offers a way. The church lives by trusting that the kingdom of God has come (v. 10a), and Christ’s authority has been established (v. 10b), by resting assured that on account of Christ all accusations have been silenced (v. 10c), by participating in the victory of Christ through faith in the blood of the lamb (v. 11a), by confessing this faith in life (v. 11b), by loving Christ more than the preservation of our own lives (v. 11c), by lifting our voices to join in the angelic song of redemption (v. 12), and by remaining confident that our confession of faith which may seem small and insignificant in this world, a source of controversy for some and ridicule for others, is actually part of a much larger story: Christ’s ultimate triumph, our earthly participation in his heavenly battle, and an eternal cry of joy.
In preaching on this text, the preacher might open the sermon with an image of a roadside shrine. There, on the bend in the road, just before the telephone pole, are Mylar balloons, handmade cards, and wilting bouquets of flowers. Those who drive along the road, see a brief vision that interrupts their journey to remind them of the dangers of driving and of the value of life.
John’s vision of Michael and the war in heaven is like that shrine on the side of the road: brief but powerful. By giving us a glimpse of an event in heaven, it changes our way of life on earth. God has given the church this brief vision to guide it during its journey on earth. This vision calls to mind the dangers of the world we live in, where a defeated Satan rages against God’s people, and encourages us with the victory of Christ, so that we value faith in Christ, our victor over Satan and our eternal source of life.