Who Are the Archangels in the Bible?

This is a post by guest author Lindsay Kennedy.

Given that only two angels are explicitly named in Scripture (Michael and Gabriel), it is unsurprising that they have garnered a lot of attention, speculation, and reverence throughout the centuries—in both religious tradition and popular media.

Some even believe Michael was the pre-incarnate Jesus.

With the help of Michael Heiser’s Angels, we will consider what the Bible says about Michael, archangels, and some other important angels.

Michael and archangels

Michael is identified as “one of the chief princes” (Dan 10:13).

Technically, only Michael is called an archangel in the Bible (Jude 1:9). Our identification of Gabriel as an archangel is due to non-canonical Second Temple Jewish literature. 1 Enoch also names additional archangels such as Raphael and Phanuel. Jewish texts like 1 Enoch associated “archangels” with the more numerous “sons of God” and “watchers.”

The number of archangels in these texts is not certain, ranging from four to seven. If this view is correct, then archangels are the high-level sons of God and “princes” in Daniel who were assigned oversight of the nations. There was much speculation in the Second Temple period about these angels, their ranks, and achievements.

In both Daniel (Dan 8:16, 9:21) and Luke (Luke 1:19, 26), Gabriel functions as an interpreter and messenger to Daniel and Mary.

Contrary to popular belief, Michael is not identified as the commander of Yahweh’s army. Rather, he is “the great prince who has charge of your people [Israel]” (Dan 12:1). In other words, Michael is a special guardian over Israel, much like the other divine “princes” that ruled over other nations (Dan 10:13; Ps 82; Deut 32:8–9).

The Angel of Yahweh

“The angel of the LORD” is the most referenced angel in the Bible. According to Heiser, “this figure is actually Yahweh himself in the visible form of a man” (p. 57).

This can be seen when one understands the importance that Yahweh’s “name is in him” (Ex 23:20–22). Yahweh’s name is his very identity (Isa 30:27–28; Ps 20:1), “another way of referring to himself” (p. 60).

Some think that the angel of the LORD is merely Yahweh’s representative, but the connection is closer (e.g. Gen 31:11–13; 48:14–16; Hos 12:3–4). This angel is the same as Yahweh and yet different, suggesting that he is, in fact, the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God who would take on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth.

The Commander of Yahweh’s Army

An individual identified as the commander of Yahweh’s army appeared to Joshua before the conquest began:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (Josh 5:13–15)

Note that this individual was not the angel “of Israel” or “of Israel’s army.” Rather, he was the angel of Yahweh’s army. This passage recalls Moses’ encounter with the angel of Yahweh in the burning bush (Exod 3:2; Acts 7:30-31).

This indicates the commander of Yahweh’s army is one and the same with his angel, the visible embodiment of Yahweh himself. That is, the commander of Yahweh’s army is synonymous with the angel of the Lord.

‘The Prince of the Host’

An enigmatic figure in Daniel is the “prince of the host” (Dan 8:11). He, too, is one and the same as the commander of Yahweh’s army seen in Joshua 5:14, a manifestation of Yahweh himself.

But what about the belief that this prince is Michael? That is unlikely. There are several passages that refer to a “man” distinct from Gabriel and Michael and apparently superior to them (see Dan 8:15–26; 10:4–21). In Angels, Heiser suggests that this is the prince of the host of Daniel 8:11. This makes sense, since he commands angels, as is expected of one named the “prince of the host” (Dan 8:11).

As Heiser concludes, “Daniel 8:11 suggests that there is a ‘prince’ over the entire host. In addition, Daniel 8:25 refers to a ‘prince of princes.’ Michael is but one of the chief princes, and so he cannot be the prince that is over all the other princes” (p. 72).

Conclusion

So who are the different princes? The biblical data suggests that Michael is the sole figure identified as an archangel, Gabriel is an important messenger to Daniel and Mary, and the angel of the LORD, commander of Yahweh’s army, and prince of the host are synonymous and refer to God himself manifested in physical form.

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For more biblical teaching about angels, see Michael Heiser’s newest book, Angels.

Comments

  1. Great post. Thanks.

  2. Enoch mentions 7 chief angels by name, including Michael and Gabriel:

    [Chapter 20]
    1,2 And these are **the names of the holy angels** who watch. Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is 3 over the world and over Tartarus. Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits of men. 4,5 Raguel, one of the holy angels who takes vengeance on the world of the luminaries. **Michael, one 6 of the holy angels, to wit, he that is set over the best part of mankind and over chaos**. Saraqael, 7 **one of the holy angels, who is set over the spirits**, who sin in the spirit. **Gabriel, one of the holy 8 angels**, who is over Paradise and the serpents and the Cherubim. **Remiel, one of the holy angels, whom God set over those who rise**.

    We know of Michael and Gabriel from the scriptures and there is some evidence that at least some of the NT writers took it seriously. What about Remiel? Is he being alluded to here?:

    [1Th 4:16 KJV] 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

    Is it possible that the “spirits” of verse 7 are the same as the seven spirits here?:

    [Rev 1:4 KJV] 4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; **and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne**;
    [Rev 3:1 KJV] 1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
    [Rev 4:5 KJV] 5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and **[there were] seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God**.
    [Rev 5:6 KJV] 6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns **and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth**.

    Notice that these chief angels are referred to as “the angel(s) of His [God’s] presence”:

    [Isa 63:9 KJV] 9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and **the angel of his presence saved them**: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.

    [Rev 1:4 KJV] 4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; **and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne**;

    [Luk 1:19 KJV] 19 And the angel answering said unto him, **I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God**; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

    Might Gabriel, who is in charge of “Paradise and serpents and the heavenly animalia (“cherubim”) be in view here?:

    [Gen 3:24 NKJV] 24 So He drove out the man; and He **placed cherubim** at the east of the garden of Eden, **and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.**

    Is Uriel, who is over “Tartarus” mentioned here?:

    [2Pe 2:4 YLT] 4 For if God messengers [angels] who sinned did not spare, but with chains of thick gloom, **having cast [them] down to Tartarus**, did deliver [them] to judgment, having been reserved,

    [Rev 9:1-2 KJV] 1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. 2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.

    I wish we knew for certain the date of Enoch’s composition to know who was copying whom, if anyone.

  3. From my studies, this is a correct interpretation of who “Michael” is, one of the many names for Christ. In Daniel 12:1 we see one of the few references for Michael where it states that Michale stands up, and the time of trouble begins soon after. This signifies that the Judgment is finished and the division between God’s people and the rest of the world is complete. Soon after God’s people are delivered. Who else but Christ or the Father can do this? I am also glad that you connected “The Prince of the Hosts” and “The Angel of the Lord”. One more thing the word “Archangel” (H7223) means the leader or foremost, head, or chief, of the angels. Christ most certainly is the Head or Chief Prince of the angels.

  4. I recently had an epiphany regarding Stephen’s vision of Jesus “standing at God’s right hand” that I think explains the Jewish background of his vision.

    https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/17114/in-acts-756-why-does-stephen-see-jesus-standing/29271?r=SearchResults&s=1%7C55.1147#29271

    This in turn provides the background for Revelation 12 where Michael and his armies fight God’s enemies. Michael is the messiah in the same way as Elijah is John and Jesus is David. The enemies are the Jews who killed Christ, the destroyers of the land, Spiritual Sodom, etc. who are defeated by Rome/Michael and the “Devil” of the Jewish authorities is killed or sent into captivity.