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The Book of Revelation describes a "war in heaven" between angels led by the archangel Michael versus those led by "the dragon", identified with "the devil and Satan", who are defeated and thrown down to the earth. Revelation's "war in heaven" has been compared to the idea of fallen angels and possible parallels have been proposed in the Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls.
Modern Bible commentaries, in general, 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, seeing it as "not (as in Milton's Paradise Lost) the story of the origin of Satan/Lucifer as an angel who rebelled against God in primeval times." Some Christian commentators have seen the war in heaven as "not literal" but symbolic of events on earth.
In Milton's (1608–1674) Paradise Lost, a war in heaven follows the rebellion by Satan and other angels before the Fall of Man. A third of the angels are hurled from Heaven, including pagan gods such as Moloch and Belial.
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) said 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 subtilty".
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."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that Revelation 12 concerns an actual event in the pre-mortal existence of man. The Book of Moses, which is a part of their standard works, references the War in Heaven and the origin of Satan as a fallen angel of light. This image of a war in heaven at the end of time became added to the story of a fall of Satan at the beginning of time, including not only Satan but a third of all angels as well, in view of the phrase "the dragon and his angels".
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 degraded and condemned to a life of mischief or shame on earth or in a place of punishment) is widespread. 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).
A number of catalysts have been proposed to explain the rebellion of the Devil. All of them essentially stem from his pride, via various means. The possible means suggested include:
Parallels are drawn to the passage in Isaiah 14:4-17 that mentions the Morning star 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. Stars were then regarded as living celestial beings. 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.
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.
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". 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"; 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.
The fall of superhuman beings punished for opposing gods also appears in Greek mythology. Homer's Iliad says that Hephaestus was cast down from the heavenly threshold by Zeus and landed on the island of Lemnos nearly dead. Hesiod's Theogony recounts that the gods, after defeating the Titans, hurled them down to Tartarus (the Titanomachy) as far beneath the earth as earth is beneath the sky.
War in Heaven by Pieter Paul Rubens, 1619
Michael fights rebel angels, by Johann Georg Unruhe 1793
Michael fights rebel angels, by Sebastiano Ricci, c. 1720
Michael and Satan, by Guido Reni, c. 1636
St Michael's Victory over the Devil, by Jacob Epstein
The fall of the rebel angels, by Charles Le Brun, after 1680