by Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III
The church celebrates St. Michael and All Angels on Sept. 29. Who is Michael, and why does he matter to the church?
They would not be married until Michaelmas,” wrote Jane Austen in 1811 in Sense and Sensibility. Michaelmas? When? What was once a common, ordinary way of referring to Sept. 29, when the church celebrated St. Michael and All Angels, now requires a note for most high-school students (and perhaps some adults) to understand that the wedding Jane Austen described would be delayed about three months from the time of its original planning.
Although Michaelmas as a calendar date and as a celebration within the church is unfamiliar to many people today, Time magazine (Sept. 18, 2008) reported that not only do most Americans believe in angels, but 55 percent of Americans believe they have personally been helped or saved by a guardian angel.
While participation in formal, organized religion may have decreased over the past few decades, belief in angels has remained not only strong but also popular as evidenced by the number of television shows, movies, books, songs, toys, figurines and other items of angels. While many people can tell stories about angels, the Holy Scriptures provide us with the only reliable and trustworthy information about the angels who serve the Lord.
What does the Bible say?
Chronologically, the first time that Scripture mentions an angel is after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, shortly after creation. This reference presents the cherubim as a mighty warrior with a flaming sword, a far cry from cute, harmless baby cherubs that frequently appear in popular culture. The last reference to angels is in the Book of Revelation at the end of the world.
Sandwiched in between these references are other instances where angels appear at key moments in Jesus’ life: announcing His birth, ministering to Him after Satan’s temptation and being present both at His resurrection and ascension into heaven. In short, the angels were present at the key moments when Jesus was saving His people from their sins.
What do angels do?
The word angel comes from the Greek ángelos, which means “messenger.” An angel literally is a messenger from the Lord God, both human and supernatural. However, in Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18 and 3:1, 7, 14, the word angel refers to a pastor. The primary task of an angel, human or supernatural, is to be a messenger for the Lord, delivering the Lord’s judgment and His Gospel (e.g., at the birth of Jesus and His resurrection).
In the Scriptures, angels never act on their own. They always act as the Lord’s messengers, speaking His Word or carrying out His actions, bringing judgment or salvation. A true angel always points a person to see Jesus and His work. An angel proclaims the Gospel. Paul writes in Gal. 1:8, “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” That means that an angel of the Lord will not speak or deliver to you anything contrary to or different from the Holy Scriptures, particularly regarding our Lord, Jesus Christ. Angels love nothing more than to bring the message of the saving work of Jesus.
What is Michaelmas?
In the Western church, St. Michael and All Angels has been celebrated since the 12th century. At the time of the Reformation, the Lutherans revised the celebration of former holidays and saint days in order to give greater prominence to the work of Jesus. St. Michael and All Angels was retained in the Lutheran liturgical calendar because it was seen as a principal feast about Christ. In fact, Philip Melanchthon, a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther, even wrote a hymn about St. Michael and All Angels (LSB 522, “Lord God, To Thee We Give All Praise”).
At first, this might strike us as strange. How is a feast named after an archangel about Jesus? But as with all commemorations within the Lutheran Church, the focus is not on the person but held in grateful thanksgiving to our Lord for using this person (or His holy angels) to give glory to His name and to bring about salvation for His people. The event celebrated on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is thus important both in regard to our salvation and to the comfort it brings the Christian conscience.
What are fallen angels like?
In order to understand St. Michael’s significance more fully, it is helpful to consider those angels who fell away from the Lord’s grace. The Scriptures do not tell us precisely when the Lord God created the holy angels. It is crucial for us to recognize that angels are created beings who did not exist before the creation of all things. They are not divine.
Scripture tells us that there are myriads of myriads of angels (Rev. 5:11). For all intents and purposes, myriad (10,000) was the largest number most people conceived of in Greek thought. In other words, from the perspective of the New Testament person, the number of angels is uncountable.
Among the angels who were created to serve the Lord God day and night, a portion of them rebelled against the Lord and were cast out of heaven. Rev. 12:9 and Is. 14:12–15 describe the “ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” and his angels as cast down from heaven. These fallen angels work against every work of the Lord, seeking to destroy His special creation: human beings.
The devil, the leader of the fallen angels, is called Satan, which means “the accuser.” Satan accuses, slanders and maligns the Lord’s holy people throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Adam and Eve, Job). In Genesis 3, he accuses and slanders the Word of God by saying to Eve, “Did God really say?” Satan not only accuses and builds a case against the Lord’s people, but he tempts and entraps them into guilt and sin. It is almost like the leader of a criminal ring turning “state’s evidence” to accuse all his accomplices in evil. Considering the weakness of our sinful flesh and our inability to avoid sin, Satan serving as chief tempter and accuser is more than we can bear or resist.
What was St. Michael’s role?
St. Michael and All Angels commemorates the great battle in heaven between Satan and his evil angels and St. Michael and the angels of the Lord. The readings (Dan. 10:10–14; 12:1–3; Rev. 12:7–12; Luke 10:17–20; Matt. 18:1–11) describe how the Lord used Michael and the angels to deliver His people from the accusations of Satan. Because Jesus took all of Satan’s accusations against us on Himself when He went to the cross, Satan has nothing more to say to the Lord about us or about our sins. Every evil deed, every sin, every impure thought or intention was placed upon Jesus. Now Satan is not only silenced but is cast down from heaven, never more to stand before the Lord to deliver slander or accusation against His people.
So how did St. Michael and the Lord’s angels battle Satan and his demonic forces? With supernatural fireballs and weapons of mass destruction? No. Michael and the angels used the very same weapon the Lord has given to us: the Lord’s Word and the name of God that was given to us in our Baptisms. In Jude 9, as Michael battled Satan, he said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
When Satan was cast down out of heaven, Rev. 12:11 says, “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Satan and his evil angels are defeated not with the sword or battle tactics as we understand war strategy, but they are defeated by the blood of Jesus and His Word.
How is Satan defeated today?
Satan is still defeated by the Word of God. Every time the Lord’s Word is preached in truth and purity, Satan is defeated. The Lord’s Word silences his mouth and casts him from heaven so he can no longer accuse you before the Lord’s throne. In Luke 10:18, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Jesus said this in response to the preaching of the 72 disciples. These disciples were sent out by Jesus to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of God in His name. Demons were cast out and Satan’s kingdom was literally torn apart by the preaching of Christ. So it continues today. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Lord and His Church.
How should we pray?
The celebration of St. Michael and All Angels reminds us of how the Lord delivered us from the lying accusations of Satan. It shows us that the battle against Satan and his evil angels is not won by power, might, strength or numbers but, as Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress” confesses, “One little word can fell him.” That one little Word is Jesus and the forgiveness He gives us.
The Lord employs His holy angels to battle Satan and to silence his mouth with the Word of God and to protect us from harm and danger. When bad things happen to us, when we have a close call and when we hear of disasters averted, we can be certain that the Lord’s holy angels were involved. And when we die, we can be certain that our Lord’s angels will take us to be with our Lord forever; their job of protecting us is not finished until we are with our Lord in eternity. For the protection of the holy angels, we can and should thank our Lord as we pray daily, “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen” (Small Catechism, p. 33).
> “9 in 10 Americans believe in God” but “7 in 10 profess belief in the Devil” (Gallup).
> Read more about angels in “What about Angels?”
> According to Gallup, 75 percent of Americans believe in angels.
> Go to www.cph.org to order “Where Do Angels Sleep?” a resource on explaining angels to small children.
About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III is the director of church relations and assistant to LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison.
Lo, the Angel of the Lord
1. Lo, the angel of the Lord,
Stands with flaming double sword,
That the man of flesh and blood
May no longer taste the good
Tree of Life.
Man and wife—
Made and not begotten—
God’s Word have forgotten.
Lord, have mercy.
2. Lo, the angel vigil keeps
With a host all singing deep:
“Into human flesh and blood
Christ is born to bring you good.
Knows your need.
Christ of God begotten,
Has not man forgotten.”
3. Lo, the angel stands nearby,
Twelve and many legions nigh.
Jesus sweats His holy blood,
And His Body gives for food,
Man to save
From the grave.
He who flesh has taken
God has now forsaken.
Lord, have mercy.
4. Lo, the angel flings away
Heavy stone from where Christ lay,
Tells the women: “Have no fear.
He is risen and not here!
Flesh has He.
Now He lives forever.
He’ll forsake you never.”
5. Lo, the angel, and with him,
Cherubim and seraphim.
Saints in heaven and on earth,
Of one faith by second birth,
Sit to eat
At His feet.
Christ the Lamb has given
Us the bread of heaven.
6. Lo, the angel, and his horn,
Stands to sound the earth’s last
Christ, the Lord, of woman born,
In the flesh now does return.
Is His Word.
Sinners cringe before Him;
Saints in flesh adore Him.
Lord, have mercy.
7. Lo, the angels hide their face,
Bow before the King of Grace.
To the Father and the Son
And the Spirit—Three in One—
Let us sing,
With them bring
Praises for His pardon
In the blood-bought garden.
Text: Frederic W. Baue © 2003
Tune: Jon D. Vieker © 2003