War In Heaven

The Book of Revelation describes a war in heaven between angels led by the Archangel Michael against those led by “the dragon”, identified as the devil or Satan, who are defeated and thrown down to the earth.[1][2] Revelation’s war in heaven is related to the idea of fallen angels, and possible parallels have been proposed in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Fall of the Rebel Angels; right hand panel of Hieronymus Bosch's The Haywain Triptych, c. 1500

An angel leading a soul into hell. Oil painting by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch. circa 1540

Revelation 12:7–10

7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

— Revelation 12:7–10 (NIV)

Michael casts out rebel angels. Illustration by Gustave Doré for John Milton’s Paradise Lost.


The Christian tradition has stories about angelic beings cast down from heaven by God, often presenting the punishment as inflicted in particular on Satan. As a result of linking this motif with the cited passage of the Book of Revelation, the casting of Satan down from heaven, which other versions of the motif present as an action of God himself, has become attributed to the archangel Michael at the conclusion of a war between two groups of angels, of whom (because of the mention of the dragon’s tail casting a third of the stars of heaven to the earth) one third are supposed to have been on the side of Satan, in spite of the fact that the casting down of the stars (Revelation 12:4) is recounted as occurring before the start of the “war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7).

Commentators have attributed Satan’s rebellion to a number of motives, all of which stem from his great pride. These motives include:

  • a refusal to bow down to mankind on the occasion of the creation of man – as in the Armenian, Georgian, and Latin versions of the Life of Adam and Eve.[3]Islamic tradition holds a similar view: Iblis refuses to bow down to Adam.[4]
  • the culmination of a gradual distancing from God through use of free will (an idea of Origen of Alexandria).[5]
  • a declaration by God that all were to be subject to his Son, the Messiah (as in Milton’s Paradise Lost).[6]

Jonathan Edwards states in his sermon Wisdom Displayed in Salvation:

“Satan and his angels rebelled against God in heaven, and proudly presumed to try their strength with his. And when God, by his almighty power, overcame the strength of Satan, and sent him like lightning from heaven to hell with all his army; Satan still hoped to get the victory by subtlety”.[7]

In the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) article “St. Michael the Archangel”, Frederick Holweck wrote: “St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time.” He added that Michael’s name “was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the enemy and his followers”.[8]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that Revelation 12 concerns an actual event in the pre-mortal existence of man. The Book of Moses, included in the LDS “standard works” canon, references the War in Heaven and Satan’s origin as a fallen angel of light.[9] The concept of a war in heaven at the end of time became an addendum to the story of Satan’s fall at the genesis of time – a narrative which included Satan and a third of all of heaven’s angels. Evidence for this interpretation comes from the phrase “the dragon and his angels”[10]; this specific phrasing became paramount to the reinforcement of the notion that people associated angels with the devil preceding the writing of Revelation.

Several modern Bible-commentators view the “war in heaven” in Revelation 12:7–13 as an eschatological vision of the end of time or as a reference to spiritual warfare within the church, rather than (as in Milton’s Paradise Lost) “the story of the origin of Satan/Lucifer as an angel who rebelled against God in primeval times.”[11][12][13][14] Some commentators have seen the war in heaven as “not literal” but symbolic of events on earth.[15][16]

Hebrew Bible parallels

Parallels are drawn to the passage in Isaiah 14:4-17 that mentions the “son of the morning” that had “fallen from heaven” and was “cast down to the earth”. In verse 12 of this passage, the Hebrew word that referred to the morning star was translated into Latin as Lucifer. With the application to the Devil of the morning star story, “Lucifer” was then applied to him as a proper name. The name Lucifer, the Latin name (literally “Light-Bearer” or “Light-Bringer”) for the morning star (the planet Venus in its morning appearances), is often given to the Devil in these stories. The brilliancy of the morning star—which eclipses all other stars, but is not seen during the night—may be what gave rise to myths such as the Babylonian story of Ethana and Zu, who was led by his pride to strive for the highest seat among the star-gods on the northern mountain of the gods (an image present also in Ezekiel 28:14), but was hurled down by the supreme ruler of the Babylonian Olympus.[17] Stars were then regarded as living celestial beings.[17][18] The Jewish Encyclopedia states that the myth concerning the Morning star was transferred to Satan by the first century before the Common Era, citing in support of this view the Life of Adam and Eve and the Slavonic Book of Enoch 29:4, 31:4, where Satan-Sataniel is described as having been one of the archangels. Because he contrived “to make his throne higher than the clouds over the earth and resemble ‘My power’ on high”, Satan-Sataniel was hurled down, with his angels, and since then he has been flying in the air continually above the abyss. According to Jewish thought, the passage in Isaiah was used to prophesy the fate of the King of Babylon, who is described as aiming to rival God.[17]

Dead Sea Scrolls

Some scholars discern the concept of a war in heaven in certain Dead Sea Scrolls, namely, the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, also known as the War Scroll (1QM and 4Q491-497), the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, Song 5 (4Q402), and the Melchizedek document (11Q13).

In the War Scroll, according to Menahem Mansoor, the angels of light, who are identified with Michael, the prince of light, will fight in heaven against the angels of darkness, who are identified with Belial, while the Sons of Light fight the Sons of Darkness on earth, and during the last of the seven battles described in the scroll will come and help the Sons of Light win the final victory.[19]

James R. Davila speaks of Song 5 of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice as describing “an eschatological war in heaven similar to that found in 11Q13 and to traditions about the archangel Michael in the War Rule and the book of Revelation”.[20] He suggests that Melchizedek, who is mentioned both in the Melchizedek document and the fifth of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, may be a divine warrior who is involved in the conflict with the archangel Michael in the futurist sense.

That the Melchizedek document (11Q13) concerns a war in heaven is denied by Fred L. Horton, who remarks that “there is no hint in the extant portion of the 11Q Melchizedek of a revolt of heavenly beings against the heavenly council, and the only dissenting spirit is the traditional Belial”;[21] the view of Davila, however, is that the document originally was about an eschatological war in heaven, with Melchizedek as angelic high priest and military redeemer.[22]


The motif of the fall of Satan and his angels can be found in Christian angelology and Christian art, and the concept of fallen angels (who, for rebelling against God, were downgraded and condemned to being earthbound) is widespread.[23]


Anatole France in the 1914 novel La Révolte des Anges adapted the Christian references to make a parable about revolts and revolutionary movements.

In Milton’s Paradise Lost (1674), the angel Lucifer leads a rebellion against God before the Fall of Man. A third of the angels, including pagan angels such as Moloch and Belial, are hurled by God from Heaven.[24]


  1.  Revelation 12:7-9
  2.  Joan Young Gregg (1997). Devils, Women, and Jews: Reflections of the Other in Medieval Sermon StoriesState University of New York. p. 28. ISBN0-7914-3417-6.
  3.  Sections 14-15 of the Armenian,Georgian, and Latinversions of the Life of Adam and Eve
  4.  Quran7:11-12
  5.  Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN978-0-19-280290-3), article Origen
  6.  Book 5, lines 654-668 “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 16 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-29[…] but not so wak’d / Satan, so call him now, his former name / Is heard no more [in] Heav’n; he of the first, / If not the first Arch-Angel, great in Power, / In favour and præeminence, yet fraught / With envie against the Son of God, that day / Honourd by his great Father, and proclaimd / Messiah King anointed, could not beare / Through pride that sight, and thought himself impaird. / Deep malice thence conceiving & disdain, / Soon as midnight brought on the duskie houre / Friendliest to sleep and silence, he resolv’d / With all his Legions to dislodge, and leave / Unworshipt, unobey’d the Throne supream / Contemptuous […].
  7.  Jonathan Edwards; Sereno Edwards Dwight; David Brainerd. The Works of President Edwards: With a Memoir of His Life …Books.google.com. p. 87. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  8.  Holweck, Frederick (1911). “St. Michael the Archangel”. New York: The Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  9.  Top, Brent L. (1992), “War in Heaven”, in Ludlow, Daniel HEncyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 1546–1547, ISBN0-02-879602-0OCLC24502140
  10.  Matthew 25:41
  11.  M. Eugene Boring; Fred B. Craddock (2004). The People’s New Testament Commentary. Westminster: John Knox Press. p. 799-800. ISBN0-664-22754-6The ejection of the Accuser from heaven is not (as in Milton’s Paradise lost) the story of the origin of Satan as an angel who rebelled against God in primeval times. Neither here nor elsewhere do biblical authors give speculative ‘explanations’ about the origin of Satan or evil. Such a myth had developed in pre-Christian Judaism (1-2 En.), and there are fragmentary echoes of it in the New Testament (Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4). That is not the picture in this story, which does not take place in primeval times but at the eschatological time of the establishment of God’s kingdom by the life, death, and exaltation of Jesus […].
  12.  Compare: “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 21 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-28It is generally agreed by the most learned expositors that the narrative we have in this and the two following chapters, from the sounding of the seventh trumpet to the opening of the vials, is not a prediction of things to come, but rather a recapitulation and representation of things past […].
  13.  Compare: “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 21 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-19It is generally agreed by the most learned expositors that the narrative we have in this and the two following chapters, from the sounding of the seventh trumpet to the opening of the vials, is not a prediction of things to come, but rather a recapitulation and representation of things past, which, as God would have the apostle to foresee while future, he would have him to review now that they were past, that he might have a more perfect idea of them in his mind, and might observe the agreement between the prophecy and that Providence that is always fulfilling the scriptures.
  14.  “Revelation 12 Matthew Henry’s Commentary”Mhc.biblecommenter.com. Retrieved 2016-12-0112:7-11 The attempts of the dragon proved unsuccessful against the church, and fatal to his own interests. The seat of this war was in heaven; in the church of Christ, the kingdom of heaven on earth. The parties were Christ, the great Angel of the covenant, and his faithful followers; and Satan and his instruments. The strength of the church is in having the Lord Jesus for the Captain of their salvation. Pagan idolatry, which was the worship of devils, was cast out of the empire by the spreading of Christianity. […] The servants of God overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb, as the cause. By the word of their testimony: the powerful preaching of the gospel is mighty, through God, to pull down strong holds. By their courage and patience in sufferings: they loved not their lives so well but they could lay them down in Christ’s cause. These were the warriors and the weapons by which Christianity overthrew the power of pagan idolatry; and if Christians had continued to fight with these weapons, and such as these, their victories would have been more numerous and glorious, and the effects more lasting. The redeemed overcame by a simple reliance on the blood of Christ, as the only ground of their hopes.
  15.  One hundred and seventy three sermons on several subjects: Volume 1, Page 137 Samuel Clarke, John Clarke, J. Leathley ((Dublin)), 1751 “7. that X. there was War in Heaven ; Michael and his Angels *- fought against the Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his Angels … But the Meaning of this Passage is not literal, as if the Devil had Power to fight against the Angels or Ministers of God’s government”
  16.  Smith, Charles Edward (1890). “The Church and the Dragon”. The World Lighted: A Study of the Apocalypse. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 128-129. Retrieved 2018-10-18What, now, is the war in heaven ? Of course not literal war, nor literally in heaven; not the actual clash of arms between Michael and his angels, and Satan and his wicked cohorts. But something on earth worthy to be represented by such a Titanic contest. What can that be, if not the contest in the visible church concerning true and false doctrine ?
  17. “Lucifer”JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  18.  Job 38:7
  19.  “Mansoor “seven battles described” – Google Search”.[dead link]
  20.  James R. Davila (2003). The Dead Sea scrolls as background to postbiblical Judaism and early Christianity: papers from an international conference at St. Andrews in 2001. Leiden: Brill Publishers. p. 252. ISBN978-90-04-12678-7.
  21.  Fred L. Horton (2005). The Melchizedek TraditionCambridge University Press. p. 81. ISBN978-0-521-01871-5.
  22.  Joseph L. Angel (2010). Otherworldly and Eschatological Priesthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Brill. pp. 153–154. ISBN978-90-04-18145-8.
  23.  “Fall Of Angels”JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  24. {{http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_1/text.shtml}

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