If you’ve watched Supernatural, the movie The Prophecy or anything in that style, you’ve probably seen many stories about warrior angels. The archangel Michael frequently appears as a character in those TV shows or movies, often portrayed as the angel equivalent of Superman, smacking down foes with every step. The biblical description of Michael doesn’t fit that role exactly, but it’s just as interesting in its own way.null
Who Is the Archangel Michael?
The archangel Michael is a being mentioned in three books of the Bible. Each one gives a little bit more detail about Michael’s duties. He is one of the few angels that the Bible actually mentions by name, along with Gabriel (a messenger angel) and Satan (the head of all fallen angels). Like Gabriel, Michael is an intimidating figure and has particular duties that he performs. The descriptions of these duties give us hints of what angels do in God’s domain and will do in the future.
What Do We Know about Him from the Bible?
The archangel Michael is first mentioned in Daniel:10. There an angel appears to Daniel, tells him not to be afraid, and begins giving him a message. The angel adds in passing that he would have come sooner except that “the prince of the Persian kingdom” detained him and another angel named Michael had to come and help fight the prince before this angel could arrive (Daniel 10:13). The angel goes on to describe a coming conflict, kings fighting against each other and rebelling against God, and a time where “Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Daniel 12:1). Since this prophecy is apocalyptic, there’s a lot of debate about what future conflict the angel was describing and how to understand the “king of the South” and other terms mentioned. Many believe that the “prince of the Persian kingdom” refers to a demon assigned to a particular territory, and angels had to fight against him in order to meet David. The fact that Michael is called a “great prince” may suggest that like the demon, Michael is a figure with great power and subordinates performing different tasks. In other words, there appear to demons with different levels of responsibilities, a bit like the junior devil Wormwood and the senior devil Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. In the same way, there are angels with different levels of responsibilities.
The next time that the Bible mentions the archangel Michael is in Jude 1:9. There, Jude describes Michael arguing with Satan after Moses died, “contending” over Moses’ body and rebuking Satan’s attempt to claim it. Deuteronomy 34 doesn’t mention demons or angels fighting over Moses’ body after he died. It just says that Moses was buried (possibly by God himself) at an undisclosed location in a Moabite valley opposite Beth Peor (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). Scholars have gone back and forth about where Jude got this information about Michael and Satan fighting over Moses’ body, with many claiming that he is citing a scene from one of the obscure Jewish apocryphal books (probably the Apocalypse of Moses or the Testament of Moses).
The third and final time that the Bible mentions the archangel Michael is in Revelation 12. There, John has a vision of a war in heaven where Michael leads an army of angels against a dragon, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9). Ultimately, the dragon loses the battle and is cast out of heaven, but on earth, he leads people astray. Like the Book of Daniel, Revelation is apocalyptic and the exact timeline of events is hard to determine. However, it’s often understood that John is seeing a vision of a battle that took place before the creation of the world, a battle where Satan rebelled against God and fell “like lightning from heaven” as Luke 10:18 puts it. Isaiah 14:12-14 is often cited as talking about the same event, with Satan being the person referred to as “morning star” (or “light-bringer,” where we get the name Lucifer from).
What Is He Known For?
As the above section shows, the Bible always describes the archangel Michael in military terms. In Daniel, he fights the “prince of Persia” and it is foretold that he will defend the Israelites in a coming conflict. In Jude, he’s described as fighting Satan over what to do with Moses’ body. In Revelation, he leads angel armies against Satan. Therefore, Michael is a warrior angel, who apparently specializes in fighting dark spiritual forces. The fact that he’s described as leading whole armies in Revelation and fighting against one particular demon in Daniel suggests that Michael fights both on a large scale and on a more local level, depending on what’s needed.
We don’t get exact details about how angels are organized and how many tasks that they can perform. However, the Bible refers multiple times to angels performing tasks that seem to be specialist roles, the one thing that particular angel focuses on doing. Destroyer angels (or “messengers of death”) are mentioned in Job 33:22 and one is sent out to kill Assyrian soldiers preparing to invade Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35). The angel Gabriel is mentioned in Luke 1 and Daniel 8-9, both times giving messages to people or explaining visions to them, which suggests his particular job is relaying news from God. Since the Bible also talks about powers and principalities attacking the earth (Ephesians 6:12) and alludes many times to the earth as a warzone that God and Satan are fighting over, it makes sense for there to be warrior angels as well.
The term archangel (from Greek, literally “chief angel”) is a theological term to specify that Michael has a senior role over other angels. As Revelation shows, Michael is a general with angel armies under his command. The Bible doesn’t make it clear whether Michael is the only archangel or one of many archangels.
Why Is There a Hierarchy of Angels?
The precise reasons why God has a hierarchy of angels aren’t known to us. However, part of the answer is that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and as such he is a God of order, not chaos. The extent to which we understand that order is limited because we are mortal and do not know all things. However, God does essentially make sense, and while the earth is tainted by sin, it fits in a universe designed with order and reason. G.K. Chesterton highlights this idea in “The Blue Cross,” his first detective story featuring the character Father Brown. In the last scene, Brown is talking to a thief posing as a priest, and the thief keeps talking pretentiously about other worlds where reason may not exist. Father Brown calls this attack on reason “bad theology” and argues:
“Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don’t they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don’t fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’”
Since God is a God of order, and the universe that he created is a reasoned and ordered place, it should not surprise us that there are layers of organization to things. Even angels have codes they have to follow, responsibilities to fulfill, and chains of command to respect.