One of the strangest events recorded in scripture is the War of the Angels where St. Michael and his angels do battle against Satan and his angels. Satan – the dragon, the great serpent of old – who loses the conflict is thrown from heaven with his followers. John has a vision of this event in Revelation 12. Jesus seems to have witnessed it, too. He tells his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning.” Other than the outcome, we know little of this terrible conflict. Angels don’t fight as we do with spears or guns. We often think of St. Michael as a warrior in armor, ready to slay a literal dragon. But this is only a helpful image because the reality is probably impossible to grasp.
However, whatever the weapons, we do have a clear idea of the heart of the conflict. Satan, in his fear and pride (those two things are always closely linked), decided he would not serve God and would set himself up as the arbiter of truth. Michael, ever faithful, laughed at such an absurd proposition. Michael is Hebrew for the question, “Who is like God?”* The question is rhetorical, of course, as the obvious answer is “No one. No one is like God.” Tradition tells us these words became a battle-cry for the faithful angels as they threw Satan from Heaven.
Ironically, Satan used similar language to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden. “Eat this,” he hissed, “And you will be like God. You will know good and evil and be the arbiters of truth.” He was lying, of course. His promise was empty. Instead of knowledge, we gained confusion and fear. We wanted to be our own masters. Instead we became slaves. We cannot become God and any attempt to do so will prove disastrous.
However, in another sense, Christ came so that we COULD be like God! Peter wrote that we “may become partakers of the divine nature.” (1 Peter 1:4, NASB). St. Athanasius wrote, “For He was made man that we might be made God.” Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” So what’s going on here? Was Satan right and St. Michael wrong?
No. Satan tried to set himself up against God, to replace him in a sense. At this, St. Michael rightly laughs. Man becomes “like God” only when we are washed of our original sin, grafted onto the True Vine, and enter into communion with the Son of God. To do all of this means we must serve. We must submit to God and rid ourselves of pride. This is the opposite of what Satan foolishly declares.
Today, the War of the Angels may seem like an obscure event from the past. But this spiritual warfare isn’t over. We still must struggle against the lies of Satan, the deceiver. The Apostle John alludes to this when he describes the fall of Satan, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Revelation 12:11, NASB) The angels aid us today, not just by protecting us physically but, by actively combating Satan and his pride. St. Michael and his courageous battle-cry remind us that humility is the most crucial weapon in this struggle. His name also reminds us that we can only become “like God” if we unite ourselves fully with Jesus. Because it is not by our strength but by the Blood of the Lamb that Satan and his lies are conquered.
* You may occasionally see the name “Michael” translated as “One who is like God.” This is incorrect. The English words “Who is like God” could be punctuated with either a period or a question mark and change the meaning of the phrase. But this is not the case in Hebrew. The name is most definitely a question.