by The Rev. Jacob Sutton
The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels gives a unique opportunity to properly teach the doctrine of the Church concerning God’s holy angels. September 29th is the date of the dedication in the fifth century of a small basilica outside of Rome dedicated to Michael, the first in Italy. From earliest Christian history, many churches were dedicated in Michael’s honor since he is the only archangel named in Scripture (in Daniel, Jude, and Revelation… Gabriel, by the way, is apparently not thought of as “archangel” in many early Christian and Jewish writings, although Gabriel is certainly a very prominent angel in the whole of the Holy Scriptures).
In our cultural context, so many people have a misunderstanding and downright ignorance of who and what the angels are, where they come from, and most importantly, who they serve and point to in all that they do. As one pastor at a Seminary Chapel Service in Fort Wayne said in a sermon, he was always humored by the title of the television show entitled, “Touched By An Angel,” because according to the Biblical understanding of angels, the last thing one should want is to be “touched by an angel.” Angels have two missions in the Bible, he said, either to deliver a message from God, or to kill you, or both. The show, and other similar portrayals of angels as humans leading a second life in which they are allowed to return to do good works, is symptomatic of our culture’s lack of understanding of the Christian faith. Failure to understand rightly the work of Christ for our salvation will also lead to a failure to understand other doctrines, like the Bible’s teachings on angels.
Michael, “who is like God” in Hebrew, is the great prince who has charge of Israel. (Daniel 12.1) In the later days of tribulation, everyone whose name is found written in the book [of heaven] shall be delivered, and “some” of those who “sleep in the dust of the earth” shall awake to everlasting life – those whose names are found written in God’s book. (Daniel 12.1-2) Here we have a direct connection with John’s vision in Revelation 20.12-15 of the judgment before the great white throne, where the “book of life” is opened, and “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
In Revelation 12.7-12, Michael and his angels fight and defeat the dragon and his angels. Satan and his angels are cast down out of heaven, to the earth. This seems to describe for us what happened sometime between the creation of the angels during the initial six days of Creation and the fall into sin. This battle is what Jesus was watching in the Gospel of St. Luke (10.18) – Satan falling from heaven like lightning.
Yet not only did Jesus watch that event, but by His blood has Satan been conquered (Revelation 12.11), so Jesus continually is watching Satan fall on account of His blood and “by the word of their testimony” – the logos of their marturias – the word of their martydom. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, because that blood is the preaching of Christ crucified, proclaiming the sure and certain confidence that Christ died and rose, so that they too would rise to new life in the world to come despite their earthly death and persecution at the hands of pagans. They treaded over the serpent and scorpion of death and persecution just as surely as Christ did. Both the victory of Michael in heaven, and the victory of the saints on earth, which indeed is the victory of the Gospel preached and the Sacraments given to God’s people, are on account of the blood of Christ shed for the full redemption and rescue of the entire creation.
The archangel Michael is a very Christ-like figure in Holy Scriptures, because of his very name, and since he is described as being the leader of the angelic host of armies. While Scriptures do not ever specifically say Michael is Christ, what we do know is that all the angels serve the Triune God and no other, and continually point to their Lord and ours, Jesus Christ. They fight for us in the spiritual warfare that surrounds us. They help, aid, and strengthen us even as they ministered to Jesus in His passion. Thus we pray in Luther’s catechism prayers for God’s holy angel to be with us, so that the wicked foe may have no power over us:
“For we who believe must be certain that the princes of heaven are with us, not one or two, but a great multitude of them, as is recorded in Luke that the heavenly hosts were with the shepherds (Luke 2:13). But if we were without this protection, and the Lord did not restrain the fury of Satan in this manner, we would not remain alive for a single moment… Therefore the good angels are busy in order that the fierce enemy may not inflict harm.” (Luther in his lectures on Genesis, Luther’s Works, American Edition, volume 3, page 270)
Luther’s colleague Philipp Melanchthon summarized it well in his hymn for St. Michael and All Angels day (Lutheran Service Book #522, stanzas 3,7):
They never rest nor sleep as we;
Their whole delight is but to be
with Thee, Lord Jesus, and to keep
Thy little flock, Thy lambs and sheep.
But watchful is the angel band
that follows Christ on ev’ry hand
to guard His people where they go
and break the counsel of the foe.
The Rev. Jacob Sutton is associate pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas. He is a 2007 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN, husband of Karie, and father of two.