With the recent Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29), we have come to Michaeltide. The overall theme of Michaeltide is endurance, namely “standing one’s ground” in the midst of struggles in this vale of tears.1 This year, we have chosen LSB 661, The Son of God Goes Forth to War, as our Michaeltide seasonal hymn. The hymn, though originally written for the December 26 Feast of St. Stephen, beautifully expresses the Michaeltide theme.2
The first stanza evokes the image of the final coming of Christ “with glory to judge both the living and the dead,”3 (c.f.Revelation 19:11-16). The Son of God, the Faithful and True Word goes forth in righteousness4 to make war. He is crowned with many crowns, signifying His absolute kingly and lordly power.5 He Himself is the banner; His robe having been dipped in His blood shed at Calvary, along with that of His enemies.6 He calls us to rally around Him, because as members of His Body, we can expect to drink from the cup of woe from which He was forced to drink.7 We know that as we suffer for His sake now, we ultimately triumph and share in His glory.8 He faithfully bore His Cross, giving us the endurance to bear our crosses, even to the point of death, as “follow in His train,” that is to follow Him.9
The second stanza recalls the martyr’s death of St. Stephen.10 Faced with an angry mob following his sermon at his trial before the council, Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw his Master, the Lord Jesus, at the right hand of the Father. While being stoned, he maintained his focus on his Savior. Stephen called out to Jesus to receive his spirit, using words similar to those Jesus cried out from the Cross.11 Further echoing the words of Christ from the Cross,12 Stephen prayed to God to forgive his executioners. God’s great gift of His Faith to Stephen enabled him to endure in the midst of persecution to the point of death. We have been gifted with that very same Faith, which enables us to endure as did he.
The third stanza points to the twelve apostles who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day.13 They too were able to “fight the good fight of The Faith,.”14 They endured in persecution, even unto death. In our Baptism, we too are gifted with the Holy Spirit, enabling us to follow in their example.15
The fourth stanza expands on the theme, “The noble army of martyrs praise You,” from the Te Deum.16 The great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and race, having endured in The Faith through the great tribulation and clothed in robes made white by the blood of the Lamb, worship and glorify God in thanksgiving for His gift of salvation.17 We pray that God would grace us with such Faith and endurance that we would be in their number.
Thus, the hymn begins with Jesus’ example of Faith and endurance, then moves on to Stephen, the 12 Apostles, and finally all Christian martyrs. Each of the events recalled in this hymn follow God’s opening of heaven for the author or the subject/s of the pericope.18 His Divine Service, God opens heaven for you, as you receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Word and Sacraments. You receive Jesus’ Faith, that Faith that enabled Him to endure, with the saints whocame before you. That Faith will enable you to endure the struggles that you might face in this vale of tears. It keeps before you the glory that awaits you in eternity. We thank God for bringing you into our midst today and pray His richest blessings on you throughout Michaeltide and into eternity.
- The word in Koine Greek is ὑπομονή (hupomone)
- The background information on the hymn may be found in David Rogner, “The Son of God goes forth to war,” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019), pp. 852-854.
- C.f. Nicene Creed, Second Article
- The Koine Greek word in the Revelation text, δικαιοσύνῃ (dikaiosune), is the same as that for justification.
- See Louis A. Brighton, Concordia Commentary: Revelation (St. Louis: CPH, 1999), pp. 509-510; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943 and 1963) p. 552. Regarding “many crowns,” see also LSB 525.
- For the Lord as banner, see for example Exodus 17:15; Isaiah 11:10,12. Regarding “robe having been dipped…” see Brighton, pp. 505-506, 511-512 and Lenski, p. 553 (c.f. Isaiah 63:1-6; Revelation 7:14). Note that the root of the Koine Greek word for “dipped” here, βάπτω (bapto) is related to that for “baptism,” βαπτίζω (baptizo).
- Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:38
- Romans 8:18
- Luke 9:23-24. Note that the “armies of heaven” in Revelation 19:14 are likely angelic and not God’s saints, as it is the angels who elsewhere in Scripture are the ones who accompany Christ at the time He executes judgment. See Brighton, pp. 513-515; Lenski pp. 554-555.
- Acts 7:54-60
- Luke 23:46
- Luke 23:34
- Acts 2:1-4
- 1 Timothy 6:12
- Titus 3:5-8
- LSB 223
- Revelation 7:9-17, pericope for the Feast of St. Lawrence as well as All Saints Day.
- Acts 2:2, 7:56; Revelation 4:1 (regarding St. John’s vision in Revelation 7), 19:11.