Who is the Archangel Michael? Analyzing an Angel

The Bible uses the term “archangel” only twice and references Michael, the angel, in only four chapters. To better understand Michael, one has to analyze the archangel.

Dec 29, 2023By Eben De Jager, PhD New Testament, MTh Christian Spirituality

who is archangel michael


The Archangel Michael is an enigmatic character. He is only identified as an archangel once in the New Testament, though the Old Testament mentions him more often. The word “archangel” only appears in the Bible twice. In one instance, the Bible says that Christ will return with the voice of an archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16). In the other, the Bible identifies the Archangel Michael as being in conflict with the devil over the body of Moses. That is not much information to work with at face value, though the word archangel and the name Michael have more to offer than meets the eye.


There is Only One: The Archangel Michael

St Michael defeats the Devil, Saint-Sulpice ceiling painting, by Eugène Delacroix, 1854 – 1861, via Wikimedia Commons


Michael means “who resembles God” or “who is like God,” which implies a likeness, most likely of character. The word “archangel” is a transliteration of the Greek archangelos. The term combines  “archon,” which means “chief,” and “angelos,” which translates to “messenger” or “angel.”


Both Bible references to an archangel come from the New Testament. The first tells us that Christ will return with the voice of a chief angel, and the second that the chief angel, who engaged in a confrontation with the devil, was somehow like God. It is common for names in the Bible to say something about the individual’s character, so Michael resembles God.


According to the Apocrypha, there are many archangels. The Book of Enoch mentions four archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel, each with a distinct function. The Testament of Solomon, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and the Apocalypse of Paul add to the list of archangels the names Sariel, Raguel, Jeremiel, and others. Other extra-biblical books also refer to several archangels.

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The Bible, however, knows only one archangel: Michael. The Bible refers to Michael in Daniel 10:13,21, 12:1, Jude 1:9, and Revelation 12:7. These verses will tell us much more about Michael and may support his connection to the title archangel.


St Michael Expelling Lucifer and the Rebel Angels, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1622, via the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum


Michael is called “one of the chief princes” (Daniel 10:13). The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, suggests he is the first in rank or power and foremost to appear. He is the chief and highest in rank. The Hebrew word translated as “one” is “echâd” and could also be translated “alone”, “only”, or “first”, identifying Michael as the only archangel or first in rank.


A couple of verses further, Michael is called “your prince” (Daniel 10:21), and implies Michael is the heavenly prince of his exiled nation. Later, Daniel 12:1 calls Michael “the great prince who has charge of your people,” reinforcing the idea of Michael as the head of the exiled Jews.


Revelation 12:7-9 depicts Michael as head of the heavenly armies. It reads:


“Then a war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels fought back. But it was not strong enough, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon was hurled down. That ancient serpent, called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was hurled down to the earth, along with its angels.”


The text shows the Archangel Michael as the leader of the heavenly angels, in direct opposition to Satan and his angels. He is victorious in battle and defeats the forces of evil.


The Archangel Michael’s Office

Archangel Michael defeats Satan, by Guido Reni, 1636, via Wikimedia Commons


The Bible points to Michael as being a warrior-like individual. He is always interceding to protect his people, whether in the one-on-one confrontation over the body of Moses (Jude 9) or as the head of the heavenly host (Revelation 12:7).


Way back, when Israel began their takeover of the promised land, Joshua encountered an individual who identified himself as “the commander of the army of the LORD” (ESV) or “captain of the host of the LORD,” according to the King James Version (Joshua 5:14). Since Joshua was the leader of God’s people at that time, the commander of the Lord’s army had to be the leader of God’s heavenly host and therefore was not human. As the leader of the people of God on earth, Joshua “fell down” and worshipped this commander, asking what he, a servant of the commander, could do for him.


What is noteworthy is that this commander of the army of the Lord accepted the worship. He could, therefore, not have been a regular angel since unfallen angels would never agree to be worshiped (Revelation 19:10). In this case, like with instances where the Bible mentions Michael by name, the context is a conflict situation where the leader of the heavenly host acts to protect God’s people. It closely parallels the contexts that mention Michael.


Burning Bush, by Sébastien Bourdon, 17th Century, via Wikimedia Commons


One distinctive characteristic of the commander of the Lord’s army is that he held a “drawn sword” in his hand, ready for battle (Joshua 5:13). Only in two other instances does the Bible describe a heavenly being with a drawn sword. The first is the well-known story of Balaam and the talking donkey (Numbers 22). Here the one wielding the sword is referred to as “the angel of the Lord,” and he is protecting God’s people from the evil actions of the prophet Balaam (Numbers 22:23, 31).


In the second instance, David sinned against God and sees the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword, about to meet out punishment. David and his company “fell upon their faces,” a phrase used to indicate worship. The angel of the Lord does not prevent them from worshipping him, which again shows that this is no regular angel but rather a divine being.

The angel of the Lord is not always associated with combat. Sometimes he only delivers a message. Such was the case with Hagar when she fled Abraham’s residence because Sarah treated her harshly. The angel of the Lord then appeared to her and told her to return home.


When Menoah, Samson’s father, encountered an angel, he initially believed it was a regular angel (Judges 13:16). When he eventually realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he told his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (Judges 13:22). The angel of the Lord is a manifestation of the Divine (Joshua 2:1 cf. Exodus 20:2). It was, after all, the angel of the Lord that spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-4). He not only protects and acts on behalf of his people, but he sometimes also conveys messages to them directly.


The Messenger, the Angel, and the Temple

Bileam und der Engel, by Gustav Jäger, 1836, via Wikimedia Commons


As indicated before, the word angelos (Malak in Hebrew) translates to angel or messenger. The context usually determines which one to use but it does not matter much because an angel is a messenger. The words malak and angelos do not necessarily refer to created beings. The angel of the Lord is Divine and defined as an angel.


Malachi 3:1 states, “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming.” This verse can only refer to Christ. In some Bibles, the translators preferred “angel of the covenant” over “messenger of the covenant” (MKJV, AOV). It makes no difference which one the translators use since Christ was, in word and deed, the messenger or angel of the covenant. It would, therefore, not be strange or inappropriate to refer to Christ as an angel, neither would it imply he was a created being.


The Archangel Michael by Other Titles

The Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor with the Prophets Elijah and Moses with Saints John, Peter, and James, and the donor Jacob Rassler, by Kaspar Memberger, 1618, via Wikimedia Commons


Peter and the sons of Zebedee saw Moses in physical form on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9). That could only have happened if Moses resurrected. It follows that the argument between the Archangel Michael and the devil (Jude 9) was about Moses’ resurrection, not just about his body. Christ alone has the authority to mediate on man’s behalf before God (1 Timothy 2:5). The archangel Michael by performing that task, showed his divine nature.


The angel of the Lord, the commander of the Lord’s army, and the Archangel Michael hold the same position and perform the same functions. It seems that these three are indeed the same entity. The angel of the Lord is none other than the commander of the army of the Lord. Jude 9 more closely identifies them as the Archangel Michael.


We find a vivid description of Christ as leader of the heavenly host when “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses” (Revelation 19:11-14). Christ presents himself as “the commander of the armies of the Lord” or “the chief angel, who resembles God.” It is, after all, what the term “the Archangel Michael” means.


Archangel Michael: In Conclusion

Hagar und Ismael in der Wüste, by Nicolas Colombel, before 1682, via Wikimedia Commons


An analysis of the Archangel Michael leads us from the commander of the army of the Lord, to the angel of the Lord, to a Divine entity worthy of worship. It would explain why Archangel Michael is called the “chief prince” and “your prince” (Daniel 10:13,21) and “the great prince who has charge of your people” (Daniel 12:1). It also clarifies why Christ will return with the voice of an archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and why Michael interceded with God on behalf of the body of Moses (Jude 9). The Archangel Michael, as head of the heavenly host of angels, in juxtaposition to Satan and his angels, would also make sense since Satan desired the position of leader of all the angels (Isaiah 14:13).

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By Eben De JagerPhD New Testament, MTh Christian SpiritualityEben is a theologian, presenter, author, and public speaker with more than a decade of experience in Christian apologetics. His fields of interest are the gift of tongues and eschatology, especially the books of Daniel and Revelation. He holds a PhD from North-West University, a MTh (Christian Spirituality) from the University of South Africa, a BA(Hons) in Theology from the University of Johannesburg, and a BA in Theology from the Rand Afrikaans University.