Michael is a mighty archangel described in Scripture as commander of God’s heavenly armies. Many of us call upon him daily as a defender and protector. But in what sense does he protect? And what is the battle really about?
Scripture describes Michael casting Satan out of heaven (Revelation 12), battling with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude 9), or battling a spirit described as “the prince of Persia” (Daniel 12).
If angels are spiritual and immortal beings, what does it even mean for them to “fight”? They cannot be wounded or killed – so how can there be any battle, any victory or defeat?
The real battleground is over human freedom, and all that is impacted by our “yes” or “no.” This battle has implications for each one of us individually, but also cosmic ones – because God makes us his stewards.
Each and every human person is created in God’s image and likeness. The devils envy and hate each one of us, and relentlessly seek to ruin us. But God also placed the entire cosmos under human stewardship. God invested us with true authority – an authority the devil has always envied and hated. He seeks to steal it away by seduction and lies. He seems to succeed – both with Adam and Eve and with each of us. They and we give away what is not his to take. And then he thinks he can hold us captive.
Enter Jesus as the new Adam. He ushers in the Kingdom of God, the new creation, new heavens and a new earth. Those who are willing to die with him and rise with him through Faith become members of his Body. Under his headship, every enemy is placed under his feet, until at last even death itself is destroyed (Ephesians 1-2). All this happens by human agency, by the exertion of human freedom – his human freedom, but also yours and mine. In due time, our human destiny is to become higher than all the angels as we behold God face to face and become like him (1 John 3).
We tend to esteem our own dignity and freedom far less than God does! He never forces us to do anything. For that matter, evil spirits cannot force us to do anything either. Had Adam said “no” and told the devil to leave, the devil would have had to honor Adam’s God-given authority! The same holds true for us, though we need the power of Jesus to reclaim and restore that which we have given away. United with him and in him, we need never fear evil spirits. Indeed, it is they who fear us as we shine with restored glory!
When I say that God honors our freedom, that also means that he allows our freedom to have its consequences. We were the stewards of this current cosmos, and we failed in our stewardship. Though it still bears stunning goodness and beauty, this cosmos is irreparably damaged. The world as we know it is passing away.
[NOTE – I am using the original Greek word kosmos, which can be translated either as “world” or “universe”]
Jesus tells us that he came into this cosmos not to condemn it but to save it (John 3:17). He will cast out the devil, the ruler of this cosmos (John 12:31). But in what manner? Jesus does not stop us from dying, and he does not stop this universe from coming to its just demise. His kingdom is not of this world – because we the stewards have truly ruined it by giving dominion over to the devil. The devil will have his pound of flesh. But the devil has never understood love or the new life that springs forth from love.
In his dying and rising and ascending, Jesus crushed the head of the serpent. And he ushered in the new creation. Like his risen body (or rather, AS his body) this new creation is both the same and new. We already participate in it! In Christ the head, the battle is done. It is finished. Love wins. In us the members, the battle is still playing itself out – we need only give over our freedom!
In the early Church, the Letter to Diognetus taught that we Christians are in the world, but not of the world. In one sense, we live and act just like everyone else. But we actually live in an entirely different dimension! In the 300’s, Gregory of Nyssa observed that “the foundation of the Church is the creation of a new cosmos.” More recently, Pope Benedict XVI explained the Ascension of Jesus as opening up a new dimension of human existence.
That is where Michael comes in. He is the mighty guardian of this new creation. He is God’s answer to the devil. His name is not a name but a menacing question: “WHO IS LIKE GOD??” The devil styles himself a god, but is not. Michael brings God’s Truth and Love to full light and casts out the devil. All that is true and good and beautiful is resurrected in the new creation. All that is disordered, all that tends toward ruin or destruction, all that spirals towards nothingness – that belongs to the devil, who will ultimately be the ruler of nothing.
But back to human freedom. If we want Michael’s protection, we must choose to abide in the new creation, rather than cling to this world, which is quickly passing away. That means becoming willing to die to what is easy or familiar and trust in the newness that is coming. We gain glimpses and tastes of that newness, but are not yet ready for it in all its fullness.
It is truly challenging to abide in the “already but not yet” of Hope. Even now, we possess the Kingdom and already participate in it. But we are not yet ready to see God face to face, and not so completely transformed as to share in the fullness of the ascended glory of Jesus. We call on Saint Michael again and again to defend us in that in-between place, in which we are still vulnerable to the attacks of the evil one. Michael willingly and faithfully defends us. He safeguards the space in which grow. but only we can do the growing!
The more we become who we are, the fewer entry points the devil even has to attempt an assault. God’s light shows us the weak spots where the devil will predictably attack us. We ask Michael’s protection – but we also cooperate with Christ to repair those breaches!
Gregory the Great calls the earthly Church “the Dawn” – surely and certainly ushering in the full light of Day, but still mixed up with the darkness. We eagerly await the full Day, when Christ will always shine, and when Michael’s protection will no longer be needed. In the meantime, we engage our journey of change and growth, until Christ becomes all in all.
This post was originally published on Abiding in Love and Truth and is reprinted here with permission.
Image of Saint Michael from St. Spyridon church in Trieste, Italy: Depositphotos.