War in heaven? A celestial civil War? Revelation chapter 12 informs the reader that Gods champion, Michael, with his angels fought against a Dragon and his angels. Talk about the supreme cosmic showdown! Why delay until the final few pages to introduce a major element into a books framework?
But wait, isnt heaven supposed to be a place of eternal bliss and the epitome of peace and tranquility? What could possibly be the cause of such a cosmic conflict? What could have provoked the shattering of celestial calm?
The reality of a universe wide war, not clearly established until the closing chapters of the Bible, can be seen as an invitation to re-read the book, this time with an eye open for the reasons and causes of such a conflict. The New Testament is full of clues that allude to the fact that the death of Christ achieved a reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth, bringing an end to hostilities by the blood of his cross. But just how did the life and death of Gods son settle the conflict and bring peace to the universe?
In the opening scenes of Genesis, the apparent peace and harmony of the idyllic garden of Eden had a point of tension. In the center of the garden was a tree identified as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. From the very name of this forbidden tree comes the generalization that the war, whose nature we seek to understand, is a battle between Good and Evil.
While this is no doubt valid and helpful, such a broad and simple explanation may actually hinder the discovery of the wars true cause. In a startling verbal exchange between a woman and a talking serpent the real nature and underlying issues of the war begin to unfold.
The words are simple enough but they contain profound implications. First, both the woman and the serpent agree that although one could eat of the fruit from all the trees in the garden, this one tree was an exception. To eat of this tree was strictly forbidden by God.
The serpent, however, presents a radically different perspective on Gods apparently straight forward warning and says to the woman, You will not surely die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
This is a direct contradiction of God. The serpent clearly is calling God a liar. By asserting that death will not result from eating the prohibited fruit, God is accused of being untruthful. Worse, however, is his charge that God, by telling this untruth, is actually withholding from her a higher state of existence. This hints strongly that God is unfair, a claim lent seeming credibility by the serpents having already achieved such an elevated status. Since there is no apparent reason to deny a lofty position to an obviously noble individual such as she, God has seemingly given an arbitrary command whose sole purpose was to prohibit any other being access to god-like rank and privilege.
Darker and more sinister implications follow from these bold charges against God. In a subtle shift of emphasis, Gods simple warning that, you may not eat lest you die now becomes a threat. Having assigned a motive to God for denying her attainment of God-like enlightenment, the insinuation is made that God is ready to use force to ensure that He gets His way. Instead of understanding Gods prohibition as a gracious caution and a warning of the dire consequences of acting outside of Gods loving will, the words are twisted into a threat of punishment for any who would dare act contrary to his commands.
Having thus accused God of lying about death, planting the suggestion that God was in actuality denying humans a higher level of existence, the serpent then makes it appear that if death does in fact happen, then it must be at the hand of God. God will kill any who disobey. Surely, it could be inferred, that such a dramatic response to such a seemingly trivial thing as eating fruit, would be grossly excessive.
The use of the death penalty as punishment for such a minor offense could then be portrayed as God being severe and vengeful. A God who would react with such an apparent excessive response to such an insignificant infraction of a rule must be quite exacting, especially when the rule itself appears unfair and quite arbitrary.
In this startling but brief exchange between a talking serpent and the mother of all living, there is opened a fascinating window into the nature and issues that lead to war in heaven. Lies, misrepresentations and accusations made against God himself.
While the serpent first makes his appearance in the third chapter of Genesis, it is only in Revelation 12 that his true identity is exposed. There the serpent is clearly identified. He is called the Dragon, the ancient serpent, the Devil or Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. Jesus spoke of him as being a liar from the beginning.
Satan, formerly Lucifer, the light bearer, charged God with using force and deception to run His universe. He accused God of relying on power and lies to maintain his position. Satan convinced angels to join his rebellion and sought to take over heaven itself. With His character and government at stake, God must now demonstrate the truthfulness of his word before the on-looking universe. He must provide evidence that He is not the kind of person that Satan has made him out to be.
Satan has been working for millinea on developing this ultimate political smear campaign against God. The onlooking universe has witnessed the Devils actions and sees him for what he is: The Father of Lies.
To read the Bible from beginning to end with the understanding that there is a controversy raging over the character and government of God allows one to catch a glimpse of the wider, behind-the-scenes issues. Now such statements as Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right? or Can one who hates right govern? take on new meaning.
The Bible now becomes a record of Gods dealing with the charges leveled against him. Convincing testimony about Gods actions found in the history, the stories, the images and drama unfolded in the Scriptures gives us evidence on which to change our minds about him, thus winning us back to a trusting relationship. But more than merely saving wayward men and women, the gospel story becomes a vindication of His character and the way that God effectively wins the war.