The concept of angels is one of the most elusive topics in Christianity. What is known about them is infinitesimal compared to the knowledge concerning them. As humans, we have this peculiar want of knowledge. This is portrayed in the creation story where Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation of the serpent to become like God in knowledge of good and evil. Even then, angels were present. Daniel, however, has some of the more extensive writing that includes angels and it is the first book to recognize the angels with names: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia . . .” (Daniel 10:13). This verse was one that, while I was reading, caused me to double take. While there are many questions to ask pertaining to angels, this blog will focus mostly on Michael.
In examining Daniel 10—and, in particular, verse 13—there are numerous points of wonder, but the immediate cause of my stupefaction was that the prince of Persia, a mere man, kept an angel from traveling to Daniel for twenty-one days until Michael came to help him. I thought there was no conceivable way that a man could contest with an angel and subdue him. My inquiry on the matter was satisfied when I came upon the knowledge that virtually all scholars agree that the “prince” of Persia was not a human prince but rather a spiritual prince. Albert Barnes was able to shed light on this issue:
Undoubtedly, one who takes into view all the circumstances referred to in this passage would most naturally understand this of an angelic being, having some kind of jurisdiction over the kingdom of Persia. What was the character of this “prince,” however, whether he was a good or bad angel, is not intimated by the language. It is only implied that he had a chieftainship, or some species of guardian care over that kingdom – watching over its interests and directing its affairs. As he offered resistance, however, to this heavenly messenger on his way to Daniel, as it was necessary to counteract his plans, and as the aid of Michael was required to overcome his opposition, the fair construction is, that he belonged to the class of evil angels.
From this scenario, it is made known that angels, in some way, have influence (evil or good) over nations and the directions in which they go. In fact, Michael is the guardian angel of Israel in the sense that he dealt with matters concerning Israel in the spiritual realm as depicted in Jude 9: “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” This idea of Michael being the protector of Israel is further supported by the Exodus Rabba: “There is in heaven an accuser and a defender of man; the name of the former is Semoel and that of the latter Michael.” Thus, we are given insight as to how God interacts with forces behind the scenes.
Another particularly significant matter to address starts with the exhibition of Michael being a “chief prince.” Now, if the scholars’ contentions that “prince,” in this context, is referring to angels, then the phrase “chief prince” can be reworded as “chief angel” without loss of generality. This conclusion is supported by scripture in Jude 1:9 where Michael is referred to as “the archangel Michael” which literally means “Who is like God? The ruler of angels.” This simplified translation shows that Michael was not merely an angel, but he had favor in God’s eyes and ruled over the angels. As a result of the meaning of his name, some Jews even began to consider that Michael was the Messiah as “in the kabbalistic (Jewish occult) literature, the status of Mikha’el is further exalted. He is associated or even identified with the angel Metatron, himself sometimes equated with the Messiah. Mikha’el is given a role in redemption and becomes a personification of grace.”
In some Jewish scholarship, Michael is identified with Melchizedek (“Yalḳ. Ḥadash,” “Mal’akim,” No. 19); and the words “and the priest shall pronounce him clean” (Lev. xiii. 23) are explained in the “Tiḳḳune Zohar” (fol. 2b) as referring to Michael, the high priest, acting as the representative of clemency. Michael, the high priest, is the standard-bearer of God (Joseph Gikatilla, “Sha’are Orah,” p. 60c). The institution of tithes is ascribed to Michael (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxxii. 25); and his place is appointed in the east, with the tribe of Levi (“Midr. Konen,” in Jellinek, l.c.ii. 39). With the building up of these characteristics of Michael, and messianic sounding prophecies like that of Daniel 12:1, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book,” one can see how someone could come to the conclusion that Michael is the heavenly form of Jesus. There are even those who trace back the records concerning former incidences of angels such as the “commander of the army of the LORD” from Joshua 5, the angel that appeared to Gideon, etc. to be referring to Michael.
Thus, there are some viable reasons to think that Michael would be the heavenly form of Jesus. However, that is not the whole of what the text has to say on the matter. In Hebrews 1:5, a rhetorical question is asked: “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you?’ Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son?’” The answer to this, of course, is that God has never called an angel his Son. Furthermore, Barnes addresses the issue of misinterpreting Michael as the Messiah in his commentary:
There is no authority for applying this to the Messiah, as many have done, for the term Michael is not elsewhere given to him, and all that the language fairly conveys is met by the other supposition. The simple meaning is, that he who was the guardian angel of that nation, or who was appointed to watch over its interests, would at that time of great trouble interpose and render aid.
John Calvin actually interpreted “Michael,” in Daniel 12:1 to be a metaphor for Christ: “By Michael many agree in understanding Christ as the head of the Church. But if it seems better to understand Michael as the archangel, this sense will prove suitable, for under Christ as the head, angels are the guardians of the Church.”
Therefore, Michael is not the heavenly form of Jesus, but everything else attributed to him remains. There is use to a study on Michael and angels in general. What is shown here is that God uses angels for a variety of purposes. Intrinsic to the name, angels are used as messengers to God’s people. But God uses them for much more than that as seen in the example of Michael. Michael, though he is not Christ, seems to be a type of Christ as they both did similar things for humanity. In that way, we can see how he points to Christ. Also, through Aristotle’s depiction of the chain of being as illustrated in the picture below, one can see how angels point to God in likeness. Studying him also reveals the spiritual works involved “behind the scenes.” In these ways, the identification of Michael and how he is woven into history reflects God in how He interacts with us as well as giving a type to strive to be.