Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

St. Michael & All Angels

Luke 10.17-20

The other lessons for this Lesser Festival are:

In addition to these exegetical notes, I am also sending notes on "angels".

These verses are part of the assigned text for Proper 9 C (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20). The longer text includes the sending out of the apostles on their missionary journey and their return. Our verses are just about their return. More specifically, related to this festival day, we hear about demons, Satan falling from heaven, the "power of the enemy," and the submission of spirits. The text assumes a realm of spiritual beings. In this case, those related to evil. The other lessons for this festival both talk about Michael and other angels in this other realm.

However, Michael is not called an "angel" in Daniel, but "a chief prince" and "great prince" who fights against an evil prince in this realm.

In Revelation, Michael is in charge of an army of angels who fight against the dragon and his angels -- and, of course, in both stories, the "good guys" win. In Jude 9, Michael is called an archangel.

This gospel also relates to "angels" in that the basic meaning of the word aggelos in Greek and mal'ak in Hebrew is "messenger." The seventy had been sent out as "messengers". Jesus also implies that there will be conflicts: "I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves" (10:3). Just as in the conflicts in the other realm from the other lessons: our verses indicate that the "good guys" win!

The seventy report that the "demons were subject" to them in Jesus' name. However, exorcism was not something Jesus told them to do in this commission, but "eat," "cure," and "say" (v. 8b-9). However, earlier the Twelve were given "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases" in 9:1.

The verb for "to be subject" (hypotasso) is used of the relationship between one with higher power and authority over those with less: parents and children (Luke 2:51; Hebrews 12:9); husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5); masters and slaves (Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18); the state and its subjects (Romans 13:1, 5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13); believers towards each other (1 Corinthians 16:16; Ephesians 2:21); Christ./God and believers (Romans 8:7; 10:3; Ephesians 2:24; Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7).

The word refers to the relationships (within that culture) between one with greater authority and power over one who did not have as much authority or power. Our text indicates that the seventy in Jesus' name have greater authority and power than the demons. The verb also appears in v. 20.

Jesus responds: "I was seeing (imperfect = continuous action in the past) Satan fall from heaven like lightning."

I don't know if anyone would want to tackle the topic of demonology or Satanology. This verse implies that Satan was still in heaven until this event. (That's where Satan is in the book of Job -- 1:6-12; 2:1-7.) The imperfect for "seeing," implies that the fall didn't happen all at once (which would use an aorist verb), but over time. That period of time may refer to the time the seventy were on their mission.

The Greek word hos, frequently designates a simile: "falling from heaven as lightning." Seldom does lightning "fall from heaven" just once. It is an event that has many "falls". Did Satan's complete "fall" occur at that time? Is Jesus still seeing Satan fall in our ministries in his name?

The image of "lightning" is frequently used as a description of beings from this other realm. It is used of Jesus' coming (Mt 24:27; Lu 17:24) and of those who were at Jesus' empty tomb (Mt 28:3; Lu 24:4, where the related verb "to flash (like lightning); to dazzle" is used).

Thunder and lightning are frequent symbols in the apocalypse of God's great power: Rev 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18.

As I quote in the other article about angels, the account of their "fall" in 1 Enoch 6-10 was by their own decision to come to earth and mate with human women.

Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible) comments on v. 19.

However, v. 19d needs some clarification. Tannehill (Luke) writes:

In addition to considering ouden as an adverbial accusative rather than a nominative ("nothing" -- nom. & acc. forms are the same for this word in Greek), the verb (adikeo - its only occurrence in Luke) carries with it the sense of "acting unjustly towards." Certainly the sufferings that Jesus and the disciples would later endure was unjust, so the phrase cannot refer to what other people might do to the disciples. If the subject of the verb is "the enemy," as Tannehill suggests, then the phrase suggests that any sufferings that he -- the enemy -- brings upon us is deserved (contrary to the book of Job). Can we say that inner turmoil caused by demonic forces is deserved? Could we, in the name of Jesus and with the gift of his authority, have defeated such powers as those first disciples did?

V. 20 suggests (as do other verses in Luke: 6:23; 13:17; 15:5, 6, 9, 32; 19:6, 37) that JOY is the proper response of Jesus' disciples. The verb is a present tense imperative: "Continue to rejoice" or "Keep on rejoicing". This implies an ongoing attitude, rather than a momentary one. However, that joy may be misplaced. It is not to be based in their authority over the "spirits" or that they are more powerful than the "spirits" or, we might even say, on the miracles they have performed. Their joy should be based on their relationship with heaven (a likely reference to God) -- the place where their names have been written. The passive verb indicates that it was someone else, not the disciples, who wrote their names there. It is likely that the spirits' subjugation to the disciples comes not because of the disciples' own power and authority, but because they were sent out in the power and authority of Jesus -- acting in his name, and their connection with heaven implied in this verse (see also v. 16). In some of the other "joy" passages, the joy is based on the salvation of other people, not one's self.

The use of "heaven" (ouranos) in chapter 10 is interesting.

10:15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.

Capernaum is trying to get up to heaven, but will not succeed. One likely reason is their arrogance. They expect God to give them heaven because they have deserved it. They want to go up, but will go down.

10:18 He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.

10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

There is also a bit of the up and down directional contrast in these verses. In the first, one from heaven falls from heaven (although it doesn't say where he falls). The direction is from heaven downward -- like lightning striking down from the sky. In the second, there is a sense that we on earth are elevated to heaven. The direction is upwards to heaven; but not because of anything the disciples have done. As I noted before, "is written" implies that someone else put their names there. They didn't do it themselves.

"Names" can stand for people. In 10:17 the demons are subject to the disciples "in Jesus' name." The word "name" represents Jesus himself. It is the power and presence of Jesus that is with the disciples. Could we then say that having our names written in heaven means that we, our presence, is already in the heavenly realm?

10:21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I think you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

It is clear that whatever happens in heaven (Satan falling, names being written there) and whatever happens on earth (Capernaum's fall, the disciples' "success") is all under the power of the Father.

There is no place in scriptures where angels or even demonic powers are presented as equals to the Father (although, at times in the OT, they are synonymous with God).

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran, Marysville, CA