Tag Archives: Michael in Revelation 12

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).

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.

Michael in the New Testament

The first reference to Michael in the New Testament is found in the book of Jude, where he is referred to as “the archangel Michael” (Jude 1:9), one of the leaders among the angels. This is compatible with the testimony of Enoch, noted above. The passage in Jude recounts a dispute between Michael and the devil over the body of Moses, a narrative which is drawn in part from Zechariah 3 and in part from the lost ending of the Testament of Moses, as noted above. According to scholarly reconstructions of the Testament of Moses, the story went something like this. Moses on Mount Nebo sent Joshua back to the camp of Israel to tell them Moses was dead. When Moses dies, God sends the archangel Michael to recover the body of Moses and bury it in an unknown location. The devil appears in his role as the accuser, slandering Moses’ right to an honorable burial on the grounds of his murder of the Egyptian. Michael, who was Moses’ advocate, not his judge, did not take it upon himself to reject the devil’s accusation, but rebuked him in the name of the Lord. At this, the devil then fled, and Michael buried Moses.

Jude uses this illustration to expose the arrogance of his opponents. If the archangel Michael himself refused to slander Satan when the opportunity showed itself, then the false teachers Jude is writing about are on dangerous ground in blaspheming (slandering) the glorious ones of Israel’s history, like Moses (Jude 1:8). What Jude contributes to our investigation is the affirmation that Michael is a major adversary of Satan, a role that is reminiscent of Daniel 10. But while the scene in Jude is clearly one of conflict, warfare language is not used, so Michael’s role as commander-in-chief of the angels is not in view here. And there is also no hint in Jude that the author equated Michael with Jesus Christ. Jude has mirrored Michael’s traditional roles of archangel, advocate of the righteous, and opponent of Satan.

The last biblical reference to Michael is in Revelation 12:7, the text at the heart of this paper topic. While there are many references to angels in the book of Revelation, Michael is the only angel that is mentioned by name. In Revelation 12:7-9, there is a cosmic war between Michael and his angels, on the one hand, and the dragon/Satan and his angels, on the other. One might have expected John to have placed Christ in this role rather than Michael. Throughout Revelation, Christ is presented as a conqueror or victor (Rev 3:21; 5:5; 17:14; 19:14-15). Be that as it may, Michael emerges victorious in this conflict, casting the dragon/Satan out of heaven. This narrative aligns with the widespread New Testament theme of the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan through his death and resurrection (John 12:31-32). And the mention of Satan as the “accuser of the brethren” reminds readers of the New Testament of Satan’s accusations against Moses in Jude 9, and of Michael’s response in defense of Moses. So the actions of Michael in Revelation 12 raise the possibility that he is more than just one of the archangels, more even than the leader of the archangels, he is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. In that case, the Michael of Old Testament and Jewish narrative would, in fact, be the pre-existent Christ. But this identification is not made explicit in Revelation, hence the need for further study.

Michael Outside the Bible

Outside the biblical canon, Michael’s presence is widespread in Early Jewish texts (see the extensive listing of Jewish sources in David E. Aune, Revelation, 3 vols., Anchor Bible, 2: 694-695). Michael is particularly noteworthy for his benevolence and healing virtue toward humanity (1 Enoch 20:4; 40:9). But his role is generally less powerful in the Jewish sources than it is in Daniel. He is one of the four heavenly archangels in Ethiopic Enoch (1 En 9:1; 40:1-11; 54:6; 71:8-9, 13). He is one of the seven archangels in other parts of Enoch (20:1-7; 81:5; 90:21-22) and in Tobit (12:15). When the job descriptions of the seven angels are differentiated, Michael is the one who attends to the prayers and supplications of God’s people (see, for example, Slavonic 3 Apocalypse of Baruch 11:4 and Origin, de principiis 1.8.1).

In Ascension of Isaiah (3:16), on the other hand, Michael is more than just one of the archangels, he is “the chief of the holy angels”, the “commander-in-chief” (see also Rescension A of the Testament of Abraham [1:4; 2:2; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1; 7:11; 9:8; 10:12; 14:5, 12; 15:1; 19:4, cf. Rescension B, 4:5], 3 Apocalypse of Baruch [11:4, 7, 8], and the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra [4:24]) and the one who opens the graves in the resurrection. In Enoch, Michael is a key figure in the events that led to the fall of the rebellious angels and their punishment. He is the intermediary between God and Israel when the law is delivered to Ezra (The Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 1:3). In the Assumption of Moses (also called Testament of Moses), a lost Jewish work mentioned by Origen, Michael is the angel who buries Moses after his death. So, even in early Jewish texts, Michael is treated as more than just one of the archangels.

Major Earlier Studies on Michael the Archangel

The earliest major work on the archangel Michael that I am aware of is by Wilhelm von Luecken (Michael: Eine Darstellung und Vergleichung der jűdischen und morgenländisch-christlichen Tradition vom Erzengel Michael [Gőttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1898]). His particular interest, however, is understanding the worship of angels in early Jewish and Christian traditions. While many of the roles of Michael that are expressed in current scholarship were already explored in Luecken’s work, he shows little interest in Revelation 12, mentioning it only in passing and even then only on pages 27, 106 and 109.

A century later, the book by Darrell. D. Hannah (Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christology in Early Christianity, WUNT 2/109 [Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999]) seeks to update and replace Luecken’s work on Jewish angelology and also explore its role in early Christian christology. It serves as a history of the Michael traditions within the larger field of Jewish angelology. In the New Testament portion of the book, Hannah concludes that functions associated with Michael are attributed to Christ without implying that Michael and Christ are the same individual. Another narrowly focused major work is by J. P. Rohland (Der Erzengel Michael: Artzt und Feldheer: Zwei Aspekte des vor- und frűhbyzantinischen Michaelskultes [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977]). This book focuses on Michael’s roles as healer and field marshal in pre- and early Byzantine theology.

Several recent dissertations come much closer to the topic. One of these is the dissertation of Leo. R. Percer (“The War in Heaven: Michael and Messiah in Revelation 12” [Ph.D. Dissertation, Baylor University, 1999]). Percer’s dissertation examines the role of Michael in Revelation 12 from two perspectives; 1) the ideal, first-century audience, and 2) that of the author of the book. His study considers the roles of Michael and the Messiah in Revelation 12, seeking to understand the relationship between the two. He concludes that Michael is subservient to the Messiah in Revelation 12 rather than equated with him.

A more tangential dissertation on Michael the Archangel is by Lewis O. Anderson (“The Michael Figure in the Book of Daniel” [Ph.D. Dissertation, Andrews University, 1997). The focus of Anderson’s dissertation is limited to the evidence concerning Michael in the book of Daniel. Anderson poses the research questions: Who is Michael? and What is his function in the book of Daniel? He concludes, in contrast with Percer, that Michael is identified in Daniel with the Prince of the host of Yahweh (a veiled reference for God) and with the messianic Son of Man. He is equivalent to the Angel of the Lord, found elsewhere in the Old Testament.

More recently, and closest to the specific purpose of this paper, is the dissertation by Michael O. Akpa (“The Identity and Role of Michael in the Narrative of the War in Heaven: An Exegetical and theological Study of Rev 12:7-12” [Ph.D. Dissertation, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 2007]). He concludes, in direct contrast with Percer, that Michael in Revelation 12 is the same entity as the male child (Rev 12:5), Christ (Rev 12:10), and the Lamb (Rev 12:11). Michael functions in the narrative as both a divine warrior and as a judge. It is evident from this quick survey of the three relatively recent dissertations that the identity of Michael the Archangel in the Bible is not a settled issue.

The Identity of Michael in Revelation 12

Among Seventh-day Adventists, the quick and dirty solution to the identity of Michael in the Bible is that Michael is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, who leads the cosmic conflict against Satan (SDABC, 7:809, cf. 3SG 38; DA 99; Appendix to PP 761). Adventists tend to take their lead from Ellen G. White, who in Desire of Ages, page 99, quotes Daniel 10:21 as follows: “There is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael [Christ] your Prince.” Her assertion is affirmed by the editors of Patriarchs and Prophets, who comment on page 761: “Christ . . . was revealed to [the prophets] as the Angel of Jehovah, the Captain of the Lord’s host, Michael the archangel.” But nowhere in Scripture is Jesus called ever Michael. That equation may be implied in some places, but it is not stated beyond a reasonable doubt.
Aside from incidental genealogical references, the name Michael, as a heavenly being, appears five times in the Bible; three times in the book of Daniel and one each in the New Testament books of Jude and Revelation. In this blog series, I survey the major positions on Michael in the Bible and offer a contribution or two to the topic drawn from the literary context of the Michael reference in Revelation 12. Since Revelation 12 is probably the key chapter in the Bible for the cosmic conflict, this study will also contribute to understanding of that larger theme. To be continued. . . .