Angel Time

St MichaelToday being Michelmas, the Feast of St. Michael, Archangel, I was inspired to re-read the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, since it’s there that Michael’s celestial war against that other angel, Satan, is described. It’s quite short, so I can give you it in full (Revelation 12, 7-9, King James Version):

7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the Dragon; and the Dragon fought and his angels,8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 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.

(In case you were worried, at a later point in the story, Satan is cast into a bottomless pit for a thousand years, and then subsequently into the pit of fire, so his being cast “into the Earth” should not be a concern.)

The meaning and intent of Revelation has been a subject for debate practically ever since it was written. And it is an exceptionally early piece of Christian literature, plausibly dated to before 100 AD, decades before the texts of the Four Gospels, say. The author identifies himself as “John”, leading to the widespread belief among Christians (mainly the more naive sort) that he was also both the Disciple John, and the writer of the Gospel of John.

John seems to have been a Greek hermit or holy man on the island of Patmos, although perhaps “hermit” is misleading, because Revelation is actually a letter to “the seven churches of Asia”, so he mustn’t have been a recluse in the sense of being out of touch. But I think that idea of the pastoral letter gives a clue to what he was actually trying to do with Revelation.

After a section in which John addresses each of the seven churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea) and offers praise and criticism to each, he goes off into the prophetic and apocalyptic part. The vivid imagery must surely be allegorical, but at this distance in time and culture we can usually only guess at the exact meaning. The beast “like unto a leopard” which served the Dragon had seven heads, which have been suggested as representing seven successive Roman Emperors. “The Lamb”, clearly, represents Jesus.

But even if the detail is obscure, the overall story is clear enough: tribulation, sorrows, oppression, followed by the triumph of the Kingdom of God. The early Church needed that encouragement; to keep the faith and hold on, in the belief that things would get better. John was just giving them the Spielberg version.

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