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War in Heaven
by Brent L. Top
When Latter-day Saints speak of the "war in heaven," they generally mean the conflict in the premortal life that began when Lucifer, in a rebellion against God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, sought to overthrow them. The result was that Lucifer and his followers were cast out of heaven. The prophet Isaiah (Isa. 14:12-15) and John the Revelator (Rev. 12:4-9) both referred to the war, and Jesus himself spoke of having "beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:17-18). Latter-day revelation gives additional insight, which is supplemented by the teachings of latter-day prophets.
To "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39), God the Father instituted the eternal Plan of Salvation, which centered on mankind's agency, anticipated the fall of man, and provided a savior. Although previously known in the heavenly realm, the plan was formally presented to the spirit children of God at a Council in Heaven. "Whom shall I send?" (Abr. 3:27) was the Father's call for someone to be the redeemer. His eldest Son (D&C 93:21; Col. 1:15), known also as Jehovah, one "like unto God" (Abr. 3:24), and chosen from the beginning (Moses 4:2), officially accepted this role and responded, "Here am I, send me" (Abr. 3:27). He also stated, "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever" (Moses 4:2). With this formal acceptance and selection of the future Messiah, the spirit children of God "shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). It was also a time to signify individual commitment to the Father's plan.
Not all accepted, however. The scriptures state that Lucifer, an "angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God" (D&C 76:25), rebelled and offered himself as the proposed redeemer, saying to the Father, "Behold, here am I, send me" (Moses 4:1). His offer was not well-intentioned and was a defiance of the Father and his Only Begotten Son. Lucifer's proposal was couched in his own interests: "I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (Moses 4:1). His proposal, if accepted, would have destroyed mankind's agency (Moses 4:3). Lucifer possessed character flaws, which finally manifested themselves in jealousy of the Christ and rejection of the Father's plan. Just how he proposed to save every soul is not explained but it apparently allowed either no opportunity for sin or, if sin did occur, no condemnation for sin. As his reward for saving everyone, Lucifer demanded that God surrender his honor and power to Lucifer (Isa. 14:13; D&C 29:36; Moses 4:3).
Although Lucifer made a false offer of salvation without individual responsibility, he gained many followers, and "war in heaven" ensued. Michael, the archangel (who later was Adam), led the "forces" of Jehovah in a battle for the loyalties of the Father's spirit children. The exact nature of this war is not detailed in the scriptures, but there can be little doubt that it involved the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and how mankind was to be saved. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, "The contention in heaven wasJesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him" (TPJS, p. 357).
Lucifer and his followers, who were "a third part of the hosts of heaven" (Rev. 12:4; D&C 29:36), made open warfare against the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the eternal Plan of Salvation and were cast down to earth (cf. Jude 1:6), eternally deprived of being born into mortality with physical bodies, and never to have salvation (TPJS, pp. 181, 297-98). So tragic was the fall of Lucifer that "the heavens wept over him" (D&C 76:26).
Known on earth as Satan or the devil, Lucifer and his followers still continue the war against the work and the people of God, being permitted to do so to give people opportunity to exercise agency, being "enticed by the one or the other" (2 Ne. 2:16-25). They will persist until the day of judgment, when Michael, the archangel, and his armies will ultimately prevail and cast them out forever (D&C 88:111-115).
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Premortal Existence home page)
McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. 3, pp. 513-19. Salt Lake City, 1973.
Top, Brent L. "The War in Heaven." In The Life Before. Salt Lake City, 1988.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 4, War in Heaven
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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