The reality of the spiritual realm bears on this Sunday with texts that set, front and center, events in Heaven, angelic beings, and even demonic hordes. But this does not mean the Law and the Gospel get displaced. Revelation 12 posits the availing work of Christ amidst happenings between Michael the Archangel and the Dragon. Despite the apparent challenges from the book of Revelation, this is a good text for preaching pure, Biblical content and doing so with focus on the Victory of Christ, while not neglecting the festival season remembering Saint Michael and All Angels.
The sermon may be framed by pursing the resolution of a puzzle. The puzzle in Revelation 12:7-12 concerns who actually gets the victory over the Dragon. Unmistakable is the fact that a decisive victory has been won, but it seems two different groups have been involved in winning the, “war in Heaven.” In the dimension of Heaven (Heaven and Earth are the two dimensions which make up our single reality), Saint Michael (where “saint” means “holy one”), the great Archangel of Daniel 10, summons all his angels to fight against the Dragon and his angels; these are Satan, the Accuser, and the demonic hordes. Revelation 12 states it plainly: Michael the Archangel has already won, and the Dragon—who is the accuser of humanity and Grand Insurgent of all that is good, holy and true—is humiliatingly defeated. This devastating and divesting loss comes with a stinging consequence. Satan is thrown down to the earth, ejected from Heaven altogether, banished from the dimension where God rules in holiness and uncontested power.
So, let me restate it for clarity. Our one reality has two dimensions: Heaven—the invisible dimension of reality, and Earth—the visible and manifest dimension of our reality. In Heaven a decisive battle took place and St. Michael was triumphant. Satan and his legions were soundly defeated and banished, cast down to the Earth.
But wait a minute, the song of victory which follows this great event gives credit for the victory not to Michael and the heavenly hosts, but to God’s people on Earth. It gives credit for the victory to the visible Church of God. “They conquered him,” says the loud voice from Heaven, “and they conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word of their testimony, because they did not love their lives unto death” (v.11). In other words, Christ’s blood atonement, His propitiation of sins, His expiation of sins, and the Word of the Gospel, the Word of Christ’s kingly victory and reign by the Holy Spirit, which abides in their mouths, that is what crushes Satan’s dominion, powers, and efforts. That is how the Church, the Church in which we experience life, gets the victory… or was it St. Michael? Who actually defeated the Dragon? Was it Michael, or was it the holy martyrs of the Church, those saints we name, remember and celebrate throughout the year – like Stephen, James and Polycarp?
In a sense it was both. The heavenly reality of the victorious battle is umbilically joined to the earthly reality of the martyrs’ deaths. This continuity between Heaven and Earth, this cooperation or participation between the heavenly hosts and the saints on earth, but also the departed martyrs, plays itself out in our liturgy when we sing during Holy Communion, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of Heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You.” In other words, Heaven and Earth have a contiguous union, and implications upon each sphere are an interlocking, interpenetrating union. This is reality as we experience and rightly know it.
Now, as followers of the Lamb—those true disciples whose allegiance to Christ is with reckless abandonment, even of life and limb, so devoted to the King are they—they own the truth. They have already been saved by His blood. They have been baptized into His death and resurrection. Therefore, His self-giving unto death and resulting resurrection life is the pattern which they must now follow. That is what wins the battle. It is a cruciform battle already complete and total in Heaven where Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Lamb of God who sits on the Throne and who exacted the expulsion of Satan at the hand of St. Michael, but also a battle engaged and availing where Heaven touches Earth in and through the holy Church. This is in no place more definitive than where the blood of the Lamb avails and where the crimson stain of the martyrs proclaims victory in Christ. Here Christ reigns victorious in the Gospel testimony of the martyrs, the good news announcement of His victory for all who believe—both Jew and Gentile.
Preach the implication of the good news: Our enemies are defeated. Heaven itself is an abiding witness of the victory of Christ. St. Michael and All Angels, including guardian angels, are abiding witnesses of Christ’s victory. The Martyrs of the holy Church who we remember, venerate, and emulate are abiding witnesses to the victory of Christ. Take courage. Be mindful of their witness and presence, their voices and testimony in the Word of God, the church calendar, and at Holy Communion. The victory is won. The outcome is certain. Christ is victorious. St. Michael is our patron of victory.
The victory, again, is not like an election victory or a defeat of anti-heroes like the Las Vegas Raiders. No, it is over a deadly and vicious enemy bent on the destruction of humanity, destroying human beings, and murdering souls—the Dragon who is the Accuser. The early Church learned to see this supernatural “accusing” activity standing not far behind all the “accusations” leveled against them. They were the ones being accused. Accusations alone can have the power and import of destroying reputations, wrecking families, and ruining lives. In the early Church, such accusations included both the informal ones, whispered by their critical neighbors, wondering why these people were not joining in with the usual pagan festivities, especially the imperial cultic religion, and the more formal ones, brought by the authorities, and carrying an official penalty, often death. And this is the thing to remember—accusations are poised and purposed to a particular end: judgment, condemnation, conviction, and punishment. That is the point of an accusation, to make public the culpability and guilt of the accused and thus to also make public—at least theoretically—a just judgment and punishment. So, they endured all kinds of accusations as slander and lies were told about the early Church: infanticide, cannibalism, incest, atheism, etc. The Christians learned to see them for what they were: accusations from, “the father of lies,” and combated them with two things: the defensive and offensive power of the truth and a willingness to suffer and even die for the truth, where Christ Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Once again John is positioning his hearers on the map of the great cosmic drama. This includes you and me. They, and we, are to know and celebrate the great victory which has already been won. “The Accuser” has no place any more in Heaven, because the death of Jesus has nullified the charges which the celestial Director of Prosecutions would otherwise bring. For all those in Christ Jesus there is full justification by God’s grace through faith. Christ has suffered and died on our behalf. Jesus has repented and merited perfect righteousness for us. He is our scapegoat, our salvation, our vindication and our holiness. But this vile accuser will do his best, in the time remaining, to attack the woman—the image of the Virgin Mary but also the Holy Church—who has fled into the wilderness, even though, as in Exodus 19:4, God has given her eagles’ wings so she can fly away. In the history of redemption this happened when Jesus’ mother Mary, led by her husband Joseph, Guardian of our Lord, retreated into Egypt while Herod the Great murdered the children of the surrounding region of Bethlehem. And then, the holy Church is taken into the wilderness, that is, outside of the realm of geopolitical entities into the right-hand Kingdom of God. Indeed, the Kingdom of God, outside of the auspices of Imperial Rome or any other temporal government, is protected and shaded by the wings of Christ our King.
What follows is a series of symbolic snapshots which advance the drama, not with literal descriptions of events, but using Old Testament imagery that is packed with meaning and significance. The Dragon spits out a jet of water like a river to carry the woman off. The earth opens its mouth to swallow up the river. The woman escapes and the Dragon, angry, turns his attention elsewhere—precisely to the woman’s “children,” further defined as, “those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, once again, you too (John is saying to his readers) are part of this drama. The Accuser turns his wrath on the Church—but not the departed saints in Heaven (he has permanently lost that battle). The saints in Heaven are impervious to his schemes. Departed saints, as well as angels and archangels, do nothing but bask in the ultimate victory of Christ Jesus and the expulsionary hand of St. Michael. No, Satan has been cast down to Earth with aspirations to disrupt, where and when possible, the Kingdom of God. So, do not be surprised when the Dragon is out to get you with more of his foul but powerful accusations, spat out like a flood, to condemn you for your sins, guilt, regrets, and shame. He will accuse you with the mouths of others and through the influences of our society—where any and every other name but Christ’s will claim you and own you and destroy you. But remember, recall the testimony of the martyrs. Hear the good news of St. Michael: Christ has conquered by His blood, and the Kingdom of God and His will shall, in fact, be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Trust the God of creation and the victorious, resurrected and reigning King will look after you. Take courage! This is what the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels is about. Take courage because we stand with all the company of Heaven and the great cloud of witnesses, the noble company of martyrs strong, declaring the Gospel testimony: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ shall come again!
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Revelation 12:7-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Revelation 12:7-12
Proper 21-Check out Concordia Theology for helps on the texts for Proper 21.