How Should We Understand The "War In Heaven" Mentioned In Revelation 12:7?

Revelation 12:7-9 says: “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. 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.” The reference to “Michael, the great prince” in Daniel 12:1 (see also Jude 9) suggests that Michael is Christ Himself, not a mere angelical creature as some interpreters claim. On the other hand, the dragon is identified, in Revelation 12:7, as Satan. Thus, it is evident that the war in heaven was between Christ and His angels on one hand and Satan and his angels on the other.

The conflict was marked by Satan’s strong accusations against the government of God, with special reference to the person of Christ. Describing Lucifer’s strategy to persuade the heavenly angels, Ellen G. White states: “Lucifer had at first so conducted his temptations that he himself stood uncommitted. The angels whom he could not bring fully to his side, he accused of indifference to the interests of heavenly beings. The very work which he himself was doing, he charged upon the loyal angels. It was his policy to perplex with subtle arguments concerning the purposes of God. Everything that was simple he shrouded in mystery, and by artful perversion cast doubt upon the plainest statements of Jehovah.”1

But the heavenly conflict was not restricted to a fight of ideas. Revelation 12:7-9 affirms that there was “war” among the celestial beings, and Lucifer was “cast out” of heaven, and there was no longer a “place” for him and his angels in heaven. These statements make it clear that there was a physical conflict that resulted in a physical expulsion of the rebel hosts; it wasn’t just an ideological expulsion from heaven.

Ellen G. White describes the conflict in the following terms: “All heaven seemed in commotion. The angels were marshaled in companies, each division with a higher commanding angel at its head. Satan was warring against the law of God, because ambitious to exalt himself and unwilling to submit to the authority of God’s Son, heaven’s great commander. All the heavenly hosts were summoned to appear before the Father, to have each case determined. Satan unblushingly made known his dissatisfaction that Christ should be preferred before Him. He stood up proudly and urged that he should be equal with God and should be taken into conference with the Father and understand His purposes. God informed Satan that to His Son alone He would reveal His secret purposes, and He required all the family in heaven, even Satan, to yield Him implicit, unquestioned obedience; but that he [Satan] had proved himself unworthy of a place in heaven. Then Satan exultingly pointed to his sympathizers, comprising nearly one half of all the angels, and exclaimed, ‘These are with me! Will you expel these also, and make such a void in heaven?’ He then declared that he was prepared to resist the authority of Christ and to defend his place in heaven by force of might, strength against strength.”2

In reality, “there was war in heaven. Angels were engaged in the battle; Satan wished to conquer the Son of God and those who were submissive to His will. But the good and true angels prevailed, and Satan, with his followers, was driven from heaven.”3 This war and expulsion were not a mere question of ideological disagreement, as some claim, for “the battles waging between the two armies are as real as those fought by the armies of this world, and on the issue of the spiritual conflict eternal destinies depend.”4

1 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 41.

2 ———, The Story of Redemption, 17, 18.

3 ———, Early Writings, 146.

4 ———, Prophets and Kings, 176.

Alberto Timm is associate director of the General Conference Ellen G. White Estate in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.