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November 01, 1999 ← Return
 
Who is Michael the Archangel?

Who is Michael the Archangel?

by Doug Batchelor and David Boatwright
An Amazing Fact: When King Humbert of Italy came to the throne, Naples was on the verge of insurrection against the monarchy. Politicians were urging violent measures to force the stubborn city into submission, but King Humbert would not allow this. Then there was a sudden outbreak of cholera and the dreaded disease raged with deadly fury in the city of Naples. Ignoring the warnings of his advisors, the young king, moved with devotion and love for even his disloyal subjects, left the palace and went alone through the crowded hospitals of Naples, ministering to his subjects with his own royal hand. Many suffering people breathed prayers of gratitude to this young medical servant, not knowing it was the very king they had spurned.

When the plague was finally checked, many people learned the true identity of the noble nurse who had cared for them during the deadly crisis. Naples then became a conquered city-conquered by the love and pity of the monarch it had once refused. From then on, the people of Naples became Humbert's most loyal subjects.

The Michael Enigma
Questions frequently arise in Christian circles about the true identity of the biblical Michael, sometimes called "Michael the great Prince" or "Michael the archangel." Some claim that Michael is the highest of the heavenly angels, one of the covering cherubs, or a special messenger like Gabriel, and as such is a created being. Others, such as the Bible commentator Matthew Henry, assert that Michael is simply another name for Jesus Himself. Can we know the real identity of this mysterious individual? The key to this puzzling question is found in the Scriptures.

A quick look in a Bible concordance reveals that there are 15 references to the name Michael. The first 10 of them are found in Old Testament chronologies and obviously refer to real people named Michael. In fact, the entry for "Michael" in the lexicon (a Greek and/or Hebrew dictionary) states: "The name of an archangel and nine Israelites." It is the identity of Michael, the archangel and prince, mentioned in the last five references that we are seeking.

The first three of these references are in the apocalyptic Old Testament book of Daniel. The last two are in the New Testament books of Jude and Revelation. During an honest study and comparison of these verses and others, clues emerge that lead us to an inescapable conclusion that the identity of Michael is none other than Jesus, God the Son, and that He is not a created angel, but God's eternal Son!

At first glance it appears that the Old Testament portrays Michael as a prince and the New Testament as an angel. But by looking at other related scriptures where similar language and wording are used, we will see a different pattern emerge.

It's in the Name
First, let's consider the meaning of some words and names. In the Greek New Testament, as compared to the Old Testament, the word "angel" means "messenger," and "arch" means "chief, principle, greatest, or highest." So "archangel" simply means "highest or greatest messenger." The Hebrew name "Michael" means "who is like God" or "Who is like God?" Whether this name is a question, statement, or a challenge will be clear by further study. One angel did profess to be like God. That fallen being is Lucifer, the covering cherub in the heavenly courts who became the devil, Satan, by claiming to "be like the most High" (Isaiah 14:14). In Revelation 12:7 Satan is opposed by "Michael and his angels" and is cast out of heaven.

It is not implausible to assume that if Christ came to earth and became a man in His battle against Satan to save human beings, He might also have identified with the angels to protect them from Satan's evil influence in heaven. In fact, there are several references in Scripture to a mysterious being identified as "the angel of the Lord" before Christ's earthly incarnation. Yet each time He is mentioned there are clues to His identity. Let's review them briefly.

Hagar
After Hagar bore Ishmael to Abraham, she and the barren Sarah could no longer coexist peacefully. Sarah mistreated her now haughty handmaid until Hagar fled into the desert. "And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness" (Genesis 16:7). The angel told Hagar to go back and submit to Sarah, and promised that her son, Ishmael, would be the father of a great nation. When the "angel" disappeared, Hagar, "called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me" (verse 13). It appears Hagar recognized that the "angel" who had spoken to her was really God.

Abraham
God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on mount Moriah. Just as he was about to plunge the dagger into his son of promise, the angel of the Lord stopped him. "And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (Genesis 22:11, 12).

It is clear that Abraham was offering his son to God and not to a mere angel. "And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, … because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:15-18). In recounting this experience of Abraham in Acts 3:25, Peter also identifies this "angel of the Lord" as God.

Jacob
While fleeing from his angry brother Esau, Jacob had a dream in which God confirmed the covenant of Abraham to him. After receiving assurance that God would be with him and bring him back safely to his home in Canaan, Jacob vowed to return to God a tithe of all his increase. He set up the stone he had been using for a pillow and anointed it with oil to solemnize his vow. Then he named the place Beth-el, or house of God, since God had appeared to him there.

Twenty years later Jacob was on his way back home, not a penniless fugitive, but a wealthy man. God reminded Jacob who had really brought him success. Here's how Jacob recounted the story: "And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I" (Genesis 31:11). In verse 13 this "angel of God" identifies Himself: "I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me."

Then, when Jacob wrestled with a heavenly being (Genesis 32:22-32), he was given a new name and blessed. Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (verse 30). In the New Testament, Jesus is the one who blesses His people and gives them a new name (Matthew 5:3-12; Revelation 2:17). Clearly, the angel of the Lord is Jesus Himself.

When Jacob was on his death bed blessing Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, he used the terms "angel" and "God" interchangeably. "God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads" (Genesis 48:15, 16). Once again we see that the angel who redeemed Jacob is another name for our Redeemer, Jesus!

Moses
Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed. "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush" (Exodus 3:2). Verse four identifies this angel: "God called unto him out of the midst of the bush." And in verse six He identifies Himself. "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The angel of the Lord identifies Himself as God!

In his last sermon before he was stoned to death, Stephen agrees with the Exodus account. "And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Acts 7:30-32).

In another instance, the children of Israel were led through the wilderness by God, "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night" (Exodus 13:21). Moses describes it this way: "And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them" (Exodus 14:19). Again, "the angel of God" is identified as God.

Balaam
In the story of Balaam and his talking donkey, the angel of the Lord again figures prominently. It is this angel who nearly kills the covetous prophet, who is on his way to curse God's people, and saves the donkey from her merciless master (Numbers 22:21-35). After Balaam's close brush with death, "the angel of the Lord said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shall speak" (verse 35). The next chapter reveals who put the words in the prophet's mouth: "And God met Balaam: … And the Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus shalt thou speak" (Numbers 23:4, 5). Here again, "the angel of the Lord" turns out to be God Himself.

Gideon
Gideon had an encounter with the angel of the Lord in the book of Judges. The angel told Gideon that the Lord was with him. Gideon pointed to the oppression of Israel by the Midianites as evidence to the contrary. "And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" (Judges 6:14). Throughout the rest of the narrative, the person speaking to Gideon is identified interchangeably as the Lord, the angel of the Lord, and the angel of God.

Manoah
Samson's mother, the wife of Manoah, was barren. "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman" (Judges 13:3). This angel told her she would bear a son who would deliver the apostate Israelites from their heathen oppressors. She quickly called Manoah, who prayed for another visit from the "man of God." When the angel came the second time, Manoah asked him his name. The King James Version of the Bible says that the angel told Manoah that his name was "Secret," with a margin notation that translates it as "Wonderful." This immediately makes us think of Isaiah's familiar prophecy that the name of the coming Messiah would be "Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). The name "Wonderful" for the angel of the Lord who appeared to Manoah connects this "angel" with the coming Messiah who was to be called "Wonderful."

No One Has Seen the Father
Suddenly we have more leads than we can follow at once. The "angel of the Lord" is clearly shown to be God. But the Bible states, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). John 6:46 tells us, "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father." Obviously, since no man has seen God the Father, all of these Old Testament sightings of God as the "angel of the Lord" must have been Jesus, God the Son, veiling His glory so they could endure His presence without being consumed.

Rebuking the Accuser
There is one more important reference where the angel of the Lord appears in the Old Testament. The prophet Zechariah was given a vision of Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. Satan is standing at his right hand to resist him. Here we see two adversaries contending over a sinful human being. In this case the sin is represented by Joshua's filthy garments (Zechariah 3:3).

In this narrative the name changes quickly from "the angel of the Lord" (verse 1) to "the Lord" (verse 2), indicating again that they are one and the same. Then the Lord makes an interesting statement. "And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan" (Zechariah 3:2) There is only one other place in Scripture, Jude verse nine, where this sentence is found, and it is spoken by Michael the archangel!

In the small New Testament epistle of Jude we see a vignette similar to Joshua and the angel in the book of Zechariah. "Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee" (Jude 1:9). The situations are amazingly parallel. Christ and Satan are contending over a sinner. A live one in the case of Joshua, and a dead one in the case of Moses. The debate is ended abruptly when Jesus says, "The Lord rebuke thee." Jesus also rebuked the devil when He was tempted in the wilderness. "And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan" (Luke 4:8).

Michael the Prince
Isaiah's prophecy about the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6) reveals a key word that bears investigating. One of the names he says that would apply to the Messiah is "Prince of Peace." This immediately reminds us of the three verses in Daniel in which Michael is called a "prince."

There is another verse in Daniel where the "Prince of princes" is mentioned. Again the cosmic conflict is being played out with Christ on one side and the devil on the other, with humanity serving as the battlefield. Symbolic names identify the two arch foes. Both struggle to gain control, Satan against our will and Christ only with our willingness.

"Prince of princes" is actually the same term that is translated "prince of the host" in verse 11. This is similar to "Lord of lords" (Psalm 136:3), "God of gods" (Deuteronomy 10:17), and "King of kings" (Revelation 19:16). All these are titles of deity. He is even referred to as "Messiah the Prince" (Daniel 9:25).

One, or First?
Daniel 10:13 is probably the most difficult verse regarding Michael: "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me." It appears at first glance that Michael is only "one of" the chief princes. This is an unfortunate translation in the King James Version. The word "one" comes from the Hebrew word "echad" which also means "first," as in "first day" (Genesis 1:5). This changes the whole meaning of the verse to Michael being first of, or highest of, the chief princes. Again, a reference to Jesus.

The Voice of Michael
If we take the term "Michael the archangel" and examine the word "archangel," we see another interesting match. The only other passage in the Bible that uses the word "archangel" is 1 Thessalonians 4:16. But look at its context. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first." It is the voice of the archangel that raises the dead in Christ, and the Lord Himself who shouts it. This indicates that they are one and the same. Jesus is the one who shouts with the voice of the archangel, or "greatest Messenger," to raise the dead!

Obviously, angels don't have the power to resurrect the dead. Only God who gives life has the power to restore it. "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. … Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth" (John 5:26, 28, 29).

In Jude we see the archangel contending with the devil for the body of Moses, who, incidentally, was resurrected and taken to heaven from whence he appeared on the mount of transfiguration to encourage Christ (Mark 9). In 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul describes the resurrection as happening in response to the voice of the archangel. Again we see the parallel between these two verses; both describe the archangel in the act of resurrecting.

When Michael stands up in Daniel chapter 12, there also follows a resurrection, and he is described as the one who, "standeth for the children of thy people" (verse 1). Commenting on this verse, Matthew Henry states: "Michael signifies, 'Who is like God,' and his name, with the title of 'the great Prince,' points out the Divine Savior. Christ stood for the children of our people in their stead as a sacrifice, bore the curse for them, to bear it from them. He stands for them in pleading for them at the throne of grace." Jesus is clearly the one who always stands in our place and for our defense.

Worshiping the Commander
In Revelation, Michael is portrayed as leading the heavenly hosts, or armies, in the war against the rebellious Lucifer that took place there. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels" (Revelation 12:7). Here the term "dragon" is a symbolic name for Satan, the leader of evil (verse 9), so it is very safe to assume that Michael is another name for Jesus, the embodiment and leader of good. But there is more evidence.

Just as Israel was preparing for its first battle after crossing into the Promised Land, Joshua had an encounter with an unusual warrior. "And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so" (Joshua 5:13-15).

Not only did Joshua worship this being, but the heavenly captain received his worship. If he had been a mere angel, he would have rebuked Joshua just like the angel rebuked John for trying to worship him (see Revelation 19:10; 22:8, 9).

In all the cases where the angel of the Lord accepts worship, it is clearly the Son of God. But where regular created angels are worshiped, they refuse it. Even Jesus reminded Satan in the wilderness, "For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Luke 4:8).

In fact, all the created angels are commanded to worship Jesus as they did during His first advent. "And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him" (Hebrews 1:6). The devil is infuriated because he knows that someday even he will be compelled to acknowledge Jesus as king and worship Him. "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10, 11).

The phrase "Lord of hosts" is found 245 times in the Bible and refers to the "commander of God's angelic army." So the "captain of the Lord's host" that Joshua saw was not an angel, but Jesus Himself. That explains why He demanded that Joshua remove his shoes. The place was holy because Jesus was there, just as Jesus' presence at the burning bush made that ground holy for Moses. So Michael, the captain of the Lord's host, or army, is another title for Jesus.

Who Is as God!
When Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Christ responded: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).

Some think that God's Son waited 4,000 years to personally intervene in the affairs of man. Not so! Though it is true that the incarnation occurred 4,000 years after man's fall, God the Son has been personally involved in the history and affairs of His people.

What a wonderful truth that Jesus, God's eternal Son, has ever been actively occupied in watching over, providing for, and protecting His children! He spoke face to face with Abraham and Moses and wrestled with Jacob. He led the Israelites through the wilderness, providing food and water and victory against their enemies.

Remember that the title "Michael the archangel" means "The greatest messenger who is as God." It was Jesus, "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15), who brought the greatest message of hope, the gospel, to our perishing world!


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