Jesus (and?) the Archangel

(system) #1

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul responds in 4:13-17 to their deep concern about those in their midst who had died. Just as Jesus died and was resurrected, Paul argues, so also would believers from their community who had died be resurrected. In fact, Paul asserts that at Jesus’ second coming, first the dead in Christ would rise to meet Jesus (4:16), and then those who were still alive would be “caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air,”[1] with the joyous result that all believers would live with the Lord Jesus forever (4:17).

In this passage Paul describes the triumphant manner of Jesus’ anticipated return to Earth in the following way: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (4:16, English Standard Version [ESV]). Paul’s reference to the term “archangel” is one of only two such references in the New Testament (cf. Jude 9). And it is this enigmatic reference and its relation to other biblical texts that I will be discussing in this essay that can only briefly touch on the subject.

Seventh-day Adventists teach that this reference to the term “archangel” in 1 Thess 4:16 is a reference to the archangel Michael.[2] While the name “Michael,” which means “Who is like God,” occurs numerous times in the Bible in reference to various individuals,[3] on just five occasions it refers to a celestial being.[4] Consequently, neither the name nor its meaning automatically indicates the human or celestial nature of the one who holds the name, and context must be determinative. But Seventh-day Adventists furthermore teach—unlike most Christians—that the biblical references to the celestial Michael are references to Jesus himself in his pre-incarnate state. This teaching was advocated by William Miller and other Millerites in the 19th century.[5] While this is not a fundamental belief of Seventh-day Adventism,[6] it is a belief that Seventh-day Adventists have promoted.[7] And according to Seventh-day Adventist teaching, the text that most closely associates the archangel Michael with Jesus is 1 Thess 4:16. When Jack J. Blanco’s The Clear Word Bible: A Paraphrase to Nurture Faith and Growth was published in 1994, for example, his version of this verse reflected Seventh-day Adventist teaching and stated: “When Christ descends from heaven, He, as the archangel, will give a shout of command—the trumpet call of God to the dead—and the dead in Christ will rise first.”[8]

In contrast to the similar belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses,[9] however, Seventh-day Adventists adamantly deny that Jesus is thus a created being like other angelic beings.[10] While the similar term “angel” simply means “messenger” or “envoy” and may refer not only to celestial messengers but also human messengers,[11] prophets,[12] and priests,[13] we do not believe that the title “archangel” indicates the nature of Jesus but rather his role as leader or ruler over the angels (cf. Rev 12:7: “Michael and his angels”).

This Seventh-day Adventist teaching about Jesus as the archangel Michael has resulted in a firestorm of criticism and protest by other Christians.[14] Seventh-day Adventists have been considered heretical and cultic as a result of this belief, since it appears to others to denigrate the majesty and deity of Jesus and demote him to the level of created angels.[15]

So what does the Bible say about Michael and archangels? As I indicated earlier, the celestial Michael occurs in only five texts: Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; and Rev 12:7. As for reference to archangels, the terminology congruent with “chief angel” (Greek: archaggelos) only occurs twice: 1 Thess 4:16 and Jude 9 (the same text in which Michael is mentioned).

In Dan 10:13, the celestial Michael is introduced for the first time in Scripture, and there Michael, “one of the chief princes” helps the unnamed celestial interlocutor of Daniel fight against the “prince of Persia.” In 10:21 Daniel is told that Michael is “your [plural!] prince.” This is later clarified in 12:1, where Michael, “the great prince, the protector of your [singular] people,” “arises” at the “time of the end” (cf. 11:40).

With regards to 1 Thess 4:16, Paul strongly emphasizes that it is Jesus himself (Gr.: autos ho kurios) who descends from heaven. Abraham J. Malherbe notes that “the long sentence, which elaborates the ground of comfort, begins with ‘Lord himself’ and ends with ‘and so we shall always be with the Lord’ (vv 16-17).”[16] This is important to keep in mind as one reads through the verse. Jesus descends “with a commanding shout” or “summons” (en keleusmati), but the emphasis on Jesus indicates that this is not a commanding shout from another to him to begin his descent but rather from him to the dead in Christ to rise.[17] This concept is mirrored in John 5:25-29, where the dead hear the voice of Jesus and come to life. The phrase en keleusmati is apparently further explained by reference to the “voice of the archangel” and the “trumpet of God.”[18] The apocalyptic End was associated with both angels (e.g., Matt 13:40-41; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 13:27) and a trumpet (e.g., 1 Cor 15:52). The “Son of Man” sends forth his angels with a trumpet sound in Matt 24:31, and the idea that a voice could sound like a trumpet is clear from Rev 1:10-11 and 4:1.[19]

The phrase in which “archangel” occurs is anarthrous (i.e., without any article) in Greek. This would suggest that the reference to “archangel” is indefinite, meaning any one of a number of archangels.[20] And according to extrabiblical Jewish writings, there were several archangels of which Michael was one.[21] Nevertheless, grammatical indications regarding the lack of an article in a construction with a word in the genitive case strongly suggest rather that Paul meant that Jesus would come “with the voice of the archangel.”[22] As such, the most likely archangel would be the one named Michael, since he is the only archangel named in the Bible.[23]

In Jude 9 the archangel Michael disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses. Jude makes this reference to highlight that in this situation, Michael “did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander” against the devil but instead said “The Lord rebuke you.” Here Jude is contrasting the behavior of Michael with “certain intruders” into the Christian community (verse 4) who have slandered angelic beings (verse 8). The implication is that Michael did not slander what he knew, but they slandered what they did not know (verse 10).

Finally, in Rev 12:7 war broke out in heaven when “Michael and his angels” fought against the dragon, and “the dragon and his angels fought back.” This verse shows Michael to be a military leader with angels under his command.

D. Stuart observes that “in the rather baroque angelology of noncanonical Jewish and Christian apocalyptic, Michael’s character and role are elaborated far beyond the biblical evidence.”[24] Numerous apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works not only refer to him but significantly fill out his resume: he is not only patron angel of Israel, but he is a military leader, intercessor for Israel and the entire world, heavenly high priest, mediator of the giving of the law at Sinai, recording angel, blower of the trumpet at the final judgment, guardian of heavenly secrets, gatekeeper of Paradise, and so on.[25]

The Seventh-day Adventist position on the relation of Jesus to Michael is intriguing, and it is attractive in that it provides more substance to the “long” picture of the one we know as Jesus working on behalf of his people before his incarnation as a human on Earth. It is not an airtight interpretation, however, for a number of reasons, of which I will list a few. First, nowhere is Jesus clearly and explicitly identified with either Michael or an/the archangel. Second, Dan 10:13 refers to Michael as “one of the chief princes,” and from the standpoint of Hebrew it is problematic to interpret this as “the first of the chief princes.”[26] Third, is it really true that the Bible insists on only one archangel, in opposition to those who believed in four or more? If so, why is it not more clearly stated? Fourth, the verb used in Jude 9 to describe the archangel Michael not “daring” to bring a charge against the devil does not seem to fit the character of Jesus. Fifth, from a literary standpoint, the war in heaven in Rev 12:7-9 takes place at or after Jesus’ death on the cross, since the voice in heaven later associates the saints overcoming the Accuser/Devil who has been hurled down from heaven with the blood of the Lamb (12:10-12). Furthermore, why does Michael’s name show up in 12:7 for the only time in John’s work if Michael is Jesus? These are significant concerns, but they are not necessarily unassailable.

Despite such concerns, there are several interpretational issues typically not highlighted that point in the direction of the Seventh-day Adventist interpretation. I will just mention three of them. First, it is clear that Jesus had a pre-existence before his incarnation, and this can be understood—at least partly—in terms of the “angel of the Lord” concept that appears a number of times in the Old Testament. In other words, appearances of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament are often appearances of the one later known as Jesus, the Son of God. Interestingly, some of those adamantly opposed to Jesus as Michael have no problem with Jesus as the Angel of the Lord.[27]

Second, Daniel’s Michael is not only explicitly described as a “prince” but implicitly as a “king.” In 12:1 Michael “stands up,” and the Hebrew verb for this concept occurs in over a dozen verses in chapter 11, where in most cases a king victoriously arises to rule. Michael is the last “king” to “stand up” and victoriously rule. The one who receives dominion from the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 is the “Son of Man” (Dan 7:14; cf. verse 27), and some have identified this “Son of Man” as Michael.[28] In this sense Michael would be understood as more than just a “prince” or “archangel”—he is the eschatological king who not only delivers his people but receives dominion and rules.[29]

And third, Michael traditions within Judaism were transferred by some (such as Justin Martyr in Dial. 61.1, 62.4-5) to Christ in early Christianity without implying that he had an angelic nature. Darrell D. Hannah notes that the usefulness of these Michael traditions in early Christology “was real, even if they cannot be said to have been the most important element in emerging Christianity’s efforts to understand and elucidate the significance of Jesus Christ.”[30] Association of Jesus with Michael is not a recent phenomena but an ancient one. Why?

I do not believe that Seventh-day Adventism has come to its conclusions on the relationship of Jesus to Michael simply because it is interested in (arch)angels or even in understanding Jesus more. Rather, I would suggest that Seventh-day Adventists speak about “Jesus as Michael” because of four reasons (in no particular order): (1) our understanding of the “Great Controversy,” primarily from the “war-in-heaven” motif in Revelation 12;[31] (2) our emphasis on the second coming of Jesus, with 1 Thess 4:16 the touchstone text here; (3) early Adventism’s strong interest in the book of Daniel (despite all references to Michael there in perhaps the most neglected portion of Daniel by Adventists—chapters 10-12); and (4) Ellen White’s statements on the subject.[32]

While within Seventh-day Adventism there are succinct teachings on the subject and lengthier defenses against critics, one finds very few scholarly works on the subject. A comprehensive study of Michael from the standpoint of the Old Testament does exist in Seventh-day Adventist literature,[33] but I am unaware of any sustained, detailed study of this material in relation to the important New Testament texts that mention Michael and/or “archangel.” Such a study, particularly since it would focus on the person and work of Jesus and related topics of high interest in Seventh-day Adventism, should be a priority.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all English biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

[2] Intriguingly, the companion book to the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide for Seventh-day Adventists (July - September, 2012) on 1 and 2 Thessalonians does not mention this in its discussion of the passage (Jon Paulien, Letters to the Thessalonians [Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2012], 96-100).

[3] Num 13:13; 1 Chron 5:13-14; 6:40; 7:3; 8:16; 12:20; 27:18; 21:2; Ezr 8:8; Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev 12:7.

[4] Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev 12:7.

[5] Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series 11 (1996 ed.), s.v. “Michael, the Archangel.”

[6] I have been unable to find any reference to this teaching in either the listed fundamental beliefs or the associated exposition in Seventh-day Adventists Believe: An Exposition of the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2nd ed. (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 2005).

[7] Cf., e.g., Doug Batchelor, “Who is Michael the Archangel?”, available at (accessed on August 13, 2012); Shawn Boonstra (the former speaker of the media ministry It is Written), “Michael the Archangel—Part I,” available at (accessed August 13, 2012); idem, “Michael the Archangel—Part II,” available at (accessed August 13, 2012); Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream, 2nd ed. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), 72; Desmond Ford, Daniel (Nashville: Southern Publishing, 1978), 242; Frank B. Holbrook, “The Great Controversy,” Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen, Commentary Reference Series 12 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 977-78; Robert Leo Odom, Israel’s Angel Extraordinary (Bronx, NY: Israelite Heritage Institute, 1985); Gerhard Pfandl, Daniel: The Seer of Babylon (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2004), 103, 116; William H. Shea, Daniel: A Reader’s Guide (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2005), 238; Zdravko Stefanovic, Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2007), 389; Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages: The Conflict of the Ages Illustrated in the Life of Christ (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1898), 99, 421; idem, Early Writings of Ellen G. White (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1882), 164; idem, The Story of Patriarchs of Prophets: As Illustrated in the Lives of Holy Men of Old (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1958), 478-79; idem, The Story of Prophets and Kings: As Illustrated in the Captivity and Restoration of Israel (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1917), 572.

[8] Jack J. Blanco, The Clear Word Bible: A Paraphrase to Nurture Faith and Growth (n.p., 1994). His translation of Jude 9 refers to “. . . Lord Jesus Christ, also called Michael, the archangel in charge of the entire angelic host. . . ,” while his translation of Rev 12:7 refers to “God’s Son Michael.” A later edition, entitled The Clear Word: An Expanded Paraphrase to Build Faith and Nurture Spiritual Growth (n.p., 2003) translated 1 Thess 4:16 as “When Christ descends from heaven as the Archangel . . .”; and Jude 9 as “. . . the Lord Jesus, also called Michael the Archangel, for He is over the entire angelic host. . . .” In this edition Rev 12:7 still refers to “God’s Son Michael.”

[9] Cf., e.g., Insight on the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York / International Bible Students Association, 1988), s.v. “Michael”; Revelation: Its Grand Climax At Hand! (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York / International Bible Students Association, 1988), 180-81.

[10] Cf. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, s.v. “Michael, the Archangel”; Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine: An Explanation of Certain Major Aspects of Seventh-day Adventist Belief (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1957), 71-86.

[11] Cf. Deut 2:26; Josh 6:17, 25; 7:22; 1 Sam 6:21; 11:3, 4, 7, 9; 16:19; 19:11, 14-16, 20-21; etc.

[14] For reaction to the teaching about Jesus and Michael by Jehovah’s Witnesses, see, e.g., Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993), 173-94.

[15] See, e.g., Walter Martin, “The Puzzle of Seventh-day Adventism,” revised and edited by Gretchen Passantino, in Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, rev. 35th anniversary ed., ed. Hank Hanegraaff (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997), 605. The Internet also provides a number of harsh critiques of the Seventh-day Adventist position.

[16] Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Anchor Bible 32B (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 273.

[17] Cf., e.g., Ernest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 196; F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary 45 (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 100; I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians [A Commmentary]: Based on the Revised Standard Version (Vancouver, Canada: Regent, 1983), 128; David J. Williams, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, New International Biblical Commentary, New Testament Series (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 83; Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle, England: Paternoster, 1990), 173. Malherbe cautiously states that such an interpretation is “natural” (Letters, 274).

[18] Cf. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 101; James Everett Frame, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians , International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1912), 174; Malherbe, Letters, 274; Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 129; Wanamaker, Epistles, 173-74.

[19] On the association of a trumpet sound with a voice in the Sinai narrative, see also Exod 19:19; 20:18-19; and Heb 12:18-19. On the relation of the shout of God and the sound of a trumpet in the Greek version of Psa 47:6 (LXX 46:6) and this text possibly being a background to 1 Thess 4:16, see C. F. D. Moule, The Origin of Christology (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 42. Cf. also LXX Josh 6:20 and Psa 97:6 (Eng. 98:6).

[20] So Leon Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 93; Williams, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 83-84. The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guideon 1 and 2 Thessalonians, with Jon Paulien as the principal contributor, says this: “The second coming of Jesus is a noisy event. It is accompanied by a commanding shout from an archangel and the trumpet of God” (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, July – September 2012 [Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2012], 68 [standard edition]).

[21] Lists typically include four or seven archangels. 1 Enoch 20:1-7 lists Suru’el/Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqa’el/Sariel, Gabriel, and some versions of this chapter also include one named Remiel. Raphael indicates in Tob 12:15 that he is one of seven angels who “enter before the glory of the Lord.” This is similar to Rev 8:2, which mentions “the seven angels who stand before God.” 1 Enoch 40:9 lists Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Phanuel as the primary angels in God’s presence. On the varying numbers and names, see J. W. van Henton, “Archangel,” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD) (1999), 80-82.

[22] See the discussion of Apollonius’ Corollary in Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 250-52.

[23] See the suggestions of Frame, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 175; Colin R. Nicholl, “Michael, the Restrainer Removed (2 Thess. 2:6-7),” in his From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Society for New Testament Studies 126 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 231; D. Stuart, “Michael,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1986 ed.), 347-48; Duane F. Watson, “Michael (Angel),” Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), 4:811. Cf. M. Mach, “Michael,” DDD (1999), 569-72.

[24] Stuart, “Michael,” 347.

[25] On this, cf. the references in Nicholl, “Michael, the Restrainer Removed,” 230-32; Stuart, “Michael,” 347-48; Watson, “Michael.”

[26] See Lewis O. Anderson, Jr., “The Michael Figure in the Book of Daniel” (ThD dissertation, Andrews University, 1997), 145-49. However, Jacques B. Doukhan disagrees (Secrets of Daniel: Wisdom and Dreams of a Jewish prince in Exile (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 163.

[27] See, e.g., Charles A. Gieschen, “The Identity of Michael in Revelation 12: Created Angel or the Son of God?” Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010):143, and cf. idem, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence, Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 42 (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 325, n. 33, where he associates Jesus with the archangel in 1 Thess 4:16. On Jesus as the Angel of the Lord, cf. Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1992; Gunther H. Junker, “Jesus and the Angel of the Lord: An Old Testament Paradigm for New Testament Christology” (PhD dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2001).

[28] E.g., John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel, Harvard Semitic Monographs 16 (Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977), 144-47; idem, Daniel, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 304-10, 318-19; John Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 35 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 151-78; André Lacocque, The Book of Daniel, trans. David Pellauer, ed. André Lacocque (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979), 133-34; Benedikt Otzen, “Michael and Gabriel: Angelological Problems in the Book of Daniel,” in The Scriptures and the Scrolls: Studies in Honour of A. S. van der Woude on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, ed. F. García Martínez, A. Hilhorst, and C. J. Labuschagne, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 49 (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 118; and N. Schmidt, “The Son of Man in the Book of Daniel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 19 [1900]: 22-28.

[29] See the discussion in Jacques B. Doukhan, Daniel: The Vision of the End (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1987), 100.

[30] Darrell D. Hannah, Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christology in Early Christianity, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2nd series, 109 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999), 220.

[31] See Holbrook, “The Great Controversy,” 977-78.

[32] See the references in note seven above.

[33] Anderson, “The Michael Figure.”

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at