Myths of the war in heaven between good and evil go back to the beginnings of human civilization, and can be found in ancient Babylonian writings in the story of Etana and Utu. In Christianity, an abbreviated form of the story comes from the New Testament Book of Revelation, also called the apocalypse of John. The first Semitic reference to the story can be found in the more ancient Book of Enoch, the oldest fragments of which have been dated to the third century BC. It is likely that the story goes back much further. The book of Enoch was not included in the Jewish Torah or the New Testament, but fragments of it were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and thus it was known by the Jews and early Christians during biblical times.
The New Testament reference to the war in heaven is quite short, and also short of specifics. It does not speak of Lucifer or Satan at all, and instead speaks of a great dragon which appears as a vision from heaven and attempts to devour the divine child of God. God and his angels thus destroy the dragon and throw him “into the earth”. This account is contained in the book of revelation, chapter 13. The divine child was interpreted to be Jesus, and the woman who bore Him was seen as the land of Israel. The Dragon, of course, was the embodiment of evil.
The story of the defeat of evil at the hand of God and His angels remained in this abbreviated condition until the fifth century AD when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths leaving its inhabitants in a depressed state of shock. In order to restore the citizens’ faith in the Catholic Church, St. Augustine wrote The City of God as an argument for the truth of Christianity over competing religions and philosophies. Augustine was familiar with the Book of Enoch and his book contained the story of an ancient war between God and his angels, and the forces of Lucifer. Although most common people in his day could not read or write, the story made for compelling sermons and became very popular. In 1667 John Milton published his epic poem “Paradise Lost” which was based on St. Augustine’s City of God. It was a tremendous publishing success and as a result, the war in heaven became the popularized official (mythological) account about the fall of Lucifer and the formation of Hell.
It goes like this: Lucifer, God’s number one in heaven, and the angel endowed with the most free will took offense to God’s creation of human beings. God had decreed that the Son of God (Jesus) specifically, and human souls in general, would outrank the angels, even the great Lucifer himself. Lucifer’s motivation was his own pride and his belief that he was, in fact, superior to humans, and especially to Jesus who he considered to be simply another man. He came to believe that God had committed a crime in elevating Jesus and humans above the angels, and he granted himself the right to replace God on his throne. As a superior angel, he was able to persuade one third of all God’s angels (some from all the ranks) that under his leadership, they could overthrow God and become gods themselves. This group of angelic bad guys waged a war with God and the remaining two thirds of His angelic host. Things did not go well for the mutineers.
After winning the war, God banished Lucifer and all of his followers to Hell (located under the earth) where he and all of his now-evil angels were forced to exist amid the volcanic fire and brimstone (molten sulfur) within the bowels of the earth. During his fall, Lucifer acquired all the characteristics we now attribute to Satan, and his angelic allies became devils and demons.
Bear in mind that each underling who joined Lucifer’s rebellion did so using its own limited free will. Freedom of thought and action is the ultimate key to understanding God’s kingdom. It is the misuse of free will that creates evil, as it did in the case of Lucifer and his followers. As you may recall from our discussion of theodicy in chapter 3, it was also the same point that St. Augustine was trying to make.
Demonic entities lack enough free will to act outside of the general orders dictated by their superiors, but they all have one thing in common. They hate the hells to which they were banished by God and thus their original burning desire to serve God has become transformed into a burning desire for revenge against God and service to Satan.