Tag Archives: Michael as Jesus Christ

Further arguments from Revelation 12

Since writing up the above blog sequence and presenting it at the annual meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies in San Antonio (November 2023), I have observed further aspects of the context of Revelation 12:7 that lean me in favor of identifying Michael with Jesus Christ. For one thing, the male child appears in verse 5 never to be mentioned again. When the scene moves to heaven, Michael appears as the adversary of the dragon/Satan. It is likely that Michael and the male child are two ways of describing the same historical entity, Jesus Christ. Michael is powerful enough to cast out Satan (Rev 12:9-10) and make way for the authority of Jesus Christ (12:10). Outside of God and Christ, Michael is the only person in Revelation powerful enough to defeat Satan. Designations of Jesus Christ switch frequently in Revelation, He is the “son of man”, the “Lamb”, “the male child”, the rider on the white horse, “Christ”, and “Jesus Christ”. Adding Michael to the list is not a stretch. Also the language of Revelation 12 recalls the messianic premotions of the Old Testament, such as Psalm 2 (“rule with a rod of iron”) and Genesis 3:15.

In fact, according to Ekkehardt Mueller, the entirety of chapter 12 reads like a midrash on Genesis 3:15. The “male child” of 12:5 echoes the male offspring of the woman in Genesis 3:15 that will crush the serpent’s head. The renaming of the dragon/Satan as “the ancient serpent” (12:9, cf. 12:14) introduces a structural parallel to Genesis 3, making Genesis 3:15 a foretaste of the cosmic conflict language in the rest of Scripture. The use of language like “seed of the woman” in 12:17 to describe the enmity between the dragon and the remnant would be rather odd if we were not dealing with an allusion to Genesis 3:15. So the warfare between the dragon and the woman, and between the dragon and “the remnant of her seed”, and the ultimate defeat of the dragon, all reflect John’s awareness that Genesis 3:15 is a prototype of the whole plan of salvation; which culminates in the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and heavenly reign of Jesus Christ. In that larger context, equating Michael with Jesus Christ makes the most sense.

Perhaps even more decisive is the fact that the Greek word for “war (polemos) appears 14 times in the book of Revelation. Eleven times the warfare is either neutral or is engaged in by the enemy powers of Revelation (Rev 11:7; 12:17; 13:7; 17:14; 19:19, etc.). Only three times is war waged by positive powers, in Revelation 2:16, 12:7, and 19:11. In Revelation 2:16 it is Jesus who makes war against the Nicolaitans. In Revelation 19:11, it is the rider on the white horse (Jesus) who judges and makes war. In both cases, the means of Jesus’ warfare is by “the sword of his mouth”. I take this odd metaphor to mean that He fights the war with persuasion rather than force. In Revelation 12:7-8, it is Michael and his angels who make war with the dragon and his angels. It seems that is also a war of words (Rev 12:9-11). It was through words that the ancient serpent deceived Eve (Rev 12:9). It is through accusations that Satan seeks to gain an advantage in the war (Rev 12:10). It is through the “word of their testimony” that the people of God counter those accusations (Rev 12:11). This use of war language as a metaphor for heavenly conflict over the character of God is further evidence within Revelation that Michael is Jesus Christ by another name.

A Literary Pattern

The previous blog was a short summary of the debate among biblical scholars regarding the identity of Michael. In this blog, I would like to explore some fresh evidence regarding the identity of Michael drawn from a literary pattern in Revelation. I’ve noticed that whenever the author of Revelation introduces a new character, it is as if he hits a pause button on the vision and gives a visual description of the new character, followed by a glimpse of the character’s back story. John then continues the vision. including the new character into the narrative. A few illustrations should suffice to establish the pattern. In Revelation 1, the voice of a son of man breaks into John’s self-introduction (Rev 1:9-11). When John turns to see who is speaking, he sees a glorious image of the heavenly Christ (1:12-16) followed by a brief back story (1:17-18). The vision then continues with messages from the same Jesus to the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22).

In Revelation 13, the vision of the dragon and the remnant (12:17) adds a beast from the sea and a beast from the earth. The beast from the sea (Rev 13:1-10) gets a visual description (13:1-2) followed by a considerable back story (13:3-7). The sea beast’s actions within the vision follow in 13:8-10 and are also mentioned in passing in 13:12-18. The beast from the earth (Rev 13:11-18) gets a very brief visual description (“two horns like a lamb”—13:11b) followed by an equally brief back story (“it spoke like a dragon”—13:11c). The beast from the earth then plays a major role in the rest of the vision (13:12-18). What adds to the picture in chapter 13 is that the visual descriptions and back stories are told in past tenses (13:1-7, 11), while the ensuing visionary sequences are in present and future tenses (13:8-10, 12-18). So the distinction in these literary elements seems quite clear.

I recently realized that the above literary pattern had implications for the identity of Michael in Revelation 12:7. Michael is the fourth of four new characters that are introduced in Revelation 12. The first of these new characters is the woman of 12:1-2. It is quite evident that the literary pattern applies to her. When the woman appears, John hits the “pause button” and offers a distinct visual description of her in verse 1 (“And a great sign was seen in heaven, a woman dressed with the sun. The moon was under her feet and upon her head was a victory crown of twelve stars”, my translation). This is followed by her back story in verse 2 (“She was pregnant and she cried out in pain as she labored to give birth”). Then a new character appears in verse 3 of the vision, a seven-headed, ten-crowned dragon (“And another sign was seen in heaven; a great, fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven crowns”). This is followed by the dragon’s back story (“His tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth in order that when her child was born, he might eat it up”). Up until now, Revelation 12 follows the literary pattern with detailed precision.

A third new character is introduced in Revelation 12:5. It is the male child. But in contrast to the woman and the dragon, there is no visual description of the male child at all. And instead of a back story, there is mention of the child’s future (“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is about to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne”). The most likely reason for this shift is because the male child needs no introduction. He is clearly identified as Jesus by His birth and His ascension to heaven. So the male child has been in the story before, as the son of man in chapter 1 and the Lamb in chapter 5.

After noting the woman’s flight into the desert (Rev 12:6), the narrative moves to the war in heaven (12:7-8). The dragon, seen previously on earth (12:4), is now seen in heaven (12:7—“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels gathered to fight against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels also fought.”). The male child, snatched up to God in verse 5, is nowhere to be seen in this battle. Instead, a new character named Michael appears. He is not called an archangel here, but he is clearly commander of the angels in the heavenly conflict.

The awkward Greek of the verse (tou polemesai meta) mirrors the Greek (Theodotion) of Daniel 10:20, where Michael battles the satanic “prince” of Persia. As was the case with the male child, the narrative of Michael in Revelation 12:7 is missing the typical visual description and back story. The most likely explanation for this absence is that, like the male child, Michael is a character who has appeared in the story before. Who would that be? I would suggest the son of man in chapter 1, the Lamb in chapter 5, the male child earlier in this chapter, and Christ in 12:10. The great antagonist of Satan in Revelation 12 would be none other than Jesus Christ, from His birth as the male child (12:5), to His heavenly battle as leader of the angels, to His casting down of the dragon/Satan, to His enthronement in heaven (Rev 12:10).

Response to the Counter-Arguments

While the counter-arguments against equating Jesus and Michael are impressive in their own right, they overlook another line of evidence. Portraying Jesus as an angelic figure is compatible with early Judaism, which often portrayed the coming Messiah in angelic terms. Some scholars have referred to the picture of Christ in Revelation 1 as “angelomorphic Christology”. The mighty angel of Revelation 10:1-2 bears striking resemblance to both the exalted Christ of Revelation 1 and the man clothed in linen of Daniel 10:5-6 and 12:7. The Son of Man appears in the midst of a series of angels in Revelation 14:14. Since the angel that appears in 14:15 is dubbed “another angel”, it could be inferred that the son of man on the clouds is also an angel. While angels are created beings, so are humans, and Jesus’ humanity was an act of creation (John 1:1-3, 14). So spending time in the form of an angel is not inconceivable for Christ. Evidence that the incarnation of Christ should not be limited to a single act is found in Genesis 18, where both Yahweh and two angels appear to Abraham as “men” (Gen 18:2, 10, 22; 19:1).

Counterarguments Against Michael Being Christ

While the identification of Michael as Jesus Christ finds support in certain passages, many scholars and theologians maintain that Michael is solely an angelic being, distinct from Jesus Christ. This is often done to protect the divine nature of Christ and the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Identifying Jesus with the angelic figure Michael, to many, seems to threaten the full deity of Jesus Christ.

There are other counter-arguments. In Daniel, the Christ figure (portrayed as the son of man in Daniel 7:13-14 and 10:16) is distinct from Michael (Dan 10:21). In Revelation, worship of angels is discouraged (19:10 and 22:8-9), while Jesus Christ is clearly an object of legitimate worship (Rev 5:9-14). Christ is connected to God in Revelation by the common use of the divine titles “the first and the last”, “the beginning and the end”, “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Angels, on the other hand, are created beings. Only God is worthy of worship (Rev 4:8-11), no created being deserves worship. For John, therefore, Jesus is clearly superior to the angels. If John had intended to identify Michael with Christ, he could easily have done so, but he does not.

Identifying Michael as Jesus Christ

Identifying Michael as Jesus Christ is widely supported by reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Paul there associates the Second Coming of Jesus with the voice of the archangel. The word archangel (Greek: archangelos, archangelou) appears only two times in the New Testament. In Jude 9 the archangel is named Michael, in 1 Thessalonians, the archangel is not named, but is present at the Second Coming. In both instances, the archangel is involved in the resurrection of the dead. It is a small step from there to the conclusion that the archangel Michael and Jesus Christ are one and the same person, although this is not explicit in 1 Thessalonians or Jude.

Further evidence for identifying the two is the fact that both Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Rev 12:7) and Jesus Christ (Matt 4:1-11; Rev 12:7-8) do battle with Satan. Michael is one of the chief princes (Dan 10:13—he is chief ruler in the Greek: archōnton tōn prōtōn), the great prince (Dan 12:1), and an archangel (Jude 9). Jesus Christ is king of kings and lord of lords (Rev 17:14; 19:16), the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5). In Revelation 13:4, the worshipers of the sea beast (who is portrayed as a counterfeit of Christ) cry out, “Who is like the beast?” This cry echoes the name of Michael (Rev 12:7), which means, “Who is like God?” So there is significant evidence that at least some writers of the New Testament identified Michael with Jesus Christ.