A series by Malcolm Goodwin
Jesus, Michael, and Archangels
The verses cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses for linking the identity of the Archangel Michael with Jesus are included below in an excerpt from their publication “Reasoning from the Scriptures” (p218):
“Is Jesus Christ the same person as Michael the archangel?
The name of this Michael appears only five times in the Bible. The glorious spirit person who bears the name is referred to as “one of the chief princes,” “the great prince who has charge of your [Daniel’s] people,” and as “the archangel.” (Dan. 10:13; 12:1; Jude 9, RS) Michael means “Who Is Like God?” The name evidently designates Michael as the one who takes the lead in upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty and destroying God’s enemies.
At 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (RS), the command of Jesus Christ for the resurrection to begin is described as “the archangel’s call,” and Jude 9 says that the archangel is Michael. Would it be appropriate to liken Jesus’ commanding call to that of someone lesser in authority? Reasonably, then, the archangel Michael is Jesus Christ. (Interestingly, the expression “archangel” is never found in the plural in the Scriptures, thus implying that there is only one.)
Revelation 12:7-12 says that Michael and his angels would war against Satan and hurl him and his wicked angels out of heaven in connection with the conferring of kingly authority on Christ. Jesus is later depicted as leading the armies of heaven in war against the nations of the world. (Rev. 19:11-16) Is it not reasonable that Jesus would also be the one to take action against the one he described as “ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil? (John 12:31) Daniel 12:1 (RS) associates the ‘standing up of Michael’ to act with authority with “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” That would certainly fit the experience of the nations when Christ as heavenly executioner takes action against them. So the evidence indicates that the Son of God was known as Michael before he came to earth and is known also by that name since his return to heaven where he resides as the glorified spirit Son of God.”
I would like to pick up with the reference to Jude 9 where they mention “the archangel”. It is interesting that “Insight on the Scriptures” (vol.2 p393) says this:
Michael is the only one said to be “the archangel,” meaning “chief angel,” or “principal angel.” The term occurs in the Bible only in the singular. This seems to imply that there is but one whom God has designated chief, or head, of the angelic host
The point being subtly made here is that the use of the definite article and the singular noun implies that Michael is the only archangel. Firstly, in context, the use of the definite article defines the specifics of “Michael” not the “archangel” i.e. it is “Michael the archangel” rather than “Michael the gardener” that is in mind. To suggest it is the other way around would open up the consideration that there was another Archangel not known as Michael but by some other name i.e. “the archangel, Michael” rather than “the archangel, Gabriel.”
The fact that archangel only appears in the singular is primarily because in the local context a specific archangel is in mind, namely Michael. However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses suggestion that there is only one archangel from this point would be an argument from silence. When we investigate Jude’s reference material for Michael, this argument is quickly undone as we discover that Jude would have been aware of at least 4 archangels. 1 Let us first review what Jude says before reviewing some of his sources.
Jude v5 – v14 speaks about ungodly false teachers and compares their rebellion to the rebellion of God’s angels. For Jude, the history of that rebellion reaches back to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, hence v5 names Jesus as the person who saved the people out of Egypt. This is an interesting back reference to the last article and the question of who saved Israel out of Egypt! This pertains directly to the theophany study we have reviewed so far and must serve as a clear and explicit scriptural injunction that Jesus is not only the Angel of the Lord but is YHWH himself. (See Ex.13:21-22; 14:19-24)
In verse 6, Jude speaks of angels that did not “stay within their own position of authority” (ESV)2 but rather “deserted their proper dwelling place” (LEB)3. This verse tells us two things about Angels. Firstly, they work within a certain sphere of authority and secondly, they can wilfully exceed themselves and go beyond their remit. These, Jude explains, are the fallen angels, and are paralleled on earth by these false teachers who blaspheme the “glorious ones” (i.e. angels).
Jude then makes a very salient point in verse 9, namely that not even the Archangel Michael would blaspheme Satan but rather says, “The Lord rebuke you.”
This opens up several lines of thought for us to consider:
Firstly, Jude’s primary point is that Michael (even as an archangel) does not exceed his sphere of authority by issuing a blasphemy4 against another angel.
Secondly, Michael is not the “Lord” that he speaks of issuing the rebuke! Earlier in verse 4 Jude identifies “our only Master and Lord” as “Jesus Christ.” In context, it seems incredibly unlikely that there can be another Lord (cp only master and Lord) that Jude could be alluding to. After this, up to v13, Jude explains the outcome of rebellion.
Then, in v14 Jude refers to Enoch, and quotes him. This quotation comes from the Book of Enoch5 which is part of the Pseudoepigrapha which is a Jewish work of some theological significance which helps us understand the development of Jewish thought just prior to the New Testament. Its significance is that it is quoted by Jude and crucially involves the identification of Michael.
Jude states that Enoch is “the seventh from Adam” which is an allusion to 1 Enoch 37:1-3 where the ancestral line is counted out. Jude then goes on to make reference to a direct quotation from 1 Enoch 1:9 where the Holy One is said to come with the ten thousands of His holy ones.
Elsewhere in the Book of Enoch, though, are more interesting verses that clearly distinguish Michael from other key figures, which shows what Jude’s understanding of who Michael was, as well as who the other contrasting characters are.
Thus Michael is
- Only an archangel
- NOT the “Elect One” otherwise known as “The Son of Man” or “The Head of Days”
See 1 Enoch ch 70 & 71 [scroll to end of the hyperlinked section for these chapters to get to this reference]
Also, Michael is
- One of 4 archangels (the others being Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel) [cp Dan.10:13]
- Distinguished from the Head of Days (71:9-12 – verse 12 especially links back to Enoch 1:9)
So, we have established that in Jude’s mind, quoting from the book of Enoch, he most certainly would have seen Michael as one of FOUR archangels who are distinguished from the “Son of Man.”
Continuing with other verses cited, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) asks a question regarding Jesus’ “call” and Michael acting as an Archangel: “Would it be appropriate to liken Jesus’ commanding call to that of someone lesser in authority?” And from there, they make a jump to equating Jesus and Michael without justification. Well, let us look more closely at that verse about the call or shout.
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” 1Thes.4:16 6
- Firstly, let us examine this verse closely. In context, the opening “For” sets up the implication that this pertains to something that precedes this verse. Here the Greek word ‘hoti’ is used which stands in contrast to ‘gar’ used in v14 and v15 where ‘gar’ links two similar compounding reasons being stacked up in a chain, whereas ‘hoti‘ adds a new reason or thought. Thus, this verse opens with a key emphasis for the preceding promise it will fulfil or explain.
- The next point of note is that “the Lord himself” will descend…i.e. he’s not sending a messenger for this job!! His angels are clearly going to be with him (according to Jude myriad upon myriad!) But, he is clearly going to be there at the head in person.
We are told that the Lord himself will descend “with a shout of command.” Who is commanding who? To whom does this shout belong? The JW’s insist that this is the archangel’s cry, but why so? There is nothing in the text to demand that. In fact, anyone with military experience will recognise the event plainly as having parallels in battlefield communications, namely the Commander in Chief (for us Brit’s that’s the Queen; for our American cousins, it’s their President) gives an order [the shout of command]; the senior ranking officer (usually a general or captain) then gives the call [the voice of the archangel] to the bugler and the army advances according the encoded signal from the bugle call [the trumpet of God.] Its not rocket science, but the wood is often missed because of the trees!
In our verse at hand, Jesus himself gives the order, relays it to the archangel who is heard to cry it out, and the trumpets of God are sounded as a battle cry (see 2Chr.13:12-15 & Neh.4:16-20 esp v18 for a similar situation) 1Cor.14:8 warns us against a shoddy and indistinct signal in battle. I should say this event would not fall into that category!
But, the “voice of the archangel” should not be conflated with the “shout of command” from Jesus himself. To do so, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ hermeneutics, would make Jesus the archangel…but by the same token, coming with the trumpet of God would make him God!! Consistency and context should enable us to clarify who commands, who shouts and who trumpets! It’s a simple chain of command in battle.
“ONE of” you say….
Finally, in Dan.10:13 it is clearly shown that Michael is ONE of the Chief Princes. So how many Chief Princes are there?
Jude’s recounting of Enoch shows that the prevailing Jewish thought was that there were 4 archangels and not just one. The “one having the appearance of a man” spoken of in Daniel (i.e. Jesus) is said to be “Prince of Princes” (Dan 8:25) not just ONE of the princes.
However, we can see from other direct scriptures pertaining to Jesus that he is not an angel (i.e. angelic class of heavenly being) of any kind, archangel or otherwise.
Jesus is UNIQUE
Firstly, Jesus is unique, one of a kind (gk monogenes) (Jn 1:18). There is no other being in his class or category! I will be returning to this verse specifically when we consider the “existential” element of personal identification when I consider the identity of Jesus in John’s gospel.
However, to close this section, it should be clearly noted that Jesus is not an angel. Chapter 1 of the book of Hebrews tells us clearly who is who, using contrasts (Heb 1:1-13.)
V4. He is superior to in nature as well as in name.
Here the word ‘kreitton‘ is used which means to be better in nature (cp. Jn.14:28 “…for the Father is greater than I” where greater translates ‘meizon‘ which simply means relatively better ie higher in rank or position.)7
V5 To which of the angels did Jehovah say…?
– a rhetorical answer is NONE! This stands with v7 “and concerning his angels” but both verses stand in contrast to verse 8 “but concerning the Son.”
V6 Angels worship the first-born showing his superiority
V7 Concerning the angels ….
V8 BUT concerning the SON
V8-12 OT quotes CONCERNING the Son (See Ps.45:6-7; Psalm 102:25–27)
V13 But to which of the Angels….rhetorical NONE!
Next I want to pick up and revive evidence first presented by Duane Magnani in his work “Who is Michael” now out of print. Also, see Reachout’s JW Teaching Notes (section 2 on Michael)
Watchtower, Michael & Jesus – not the same person!
Another piece of background, a thread, that is helpful here, is to understand both the historical understanding of who Jesus was according to Arius (and what he understood about Jesus being an angel and how that differs from the WBTS), and also to understand the full implications of Watchtower teaching on what a person is and how this affects their theology on who Michael and Jesus are. This is where a systematic review of WBTS theology undoes their doctrine on Michael, angelology and Christology.
Arius’ thought about Jesus being an angel.
Arius taught that Jesus was a created being, and speculated that he might be an angel. (Williams, 2002) This was not so dissimilar to the speculations within Judaism during the intertestamental times leading up to the birth of Christ, where a messenger was an awesome ethereal being at one end of the spectrum or a special messenger at the other. (McNamara, 1968) However, ultimately, Arius and his followers preferred to think of the Word as coming from nothing rather than from the Father. (Hanson, 2006, p. 205)
Keep in mind, that Arius was based in North Africa, and was part of a “school” who could not accept that God could come near us or enter in the world. For them, he was totally impassable. Thus, they held their beliefs honestly and fervently, but from the orthodox perspective, they were like so many schools of thought that veered too far from the central truth about Jesus. I won’t go into this for now, but will leave you with a diagrammatic representation (adopted from McGrath, 2010, chap. 11) on how the early heresies moved away from the central truth about Christ:
Figure 1: Pictorial representation of early heresies about Christ’s dual nature. (Adopted from McGrath 2010)
The WBTS teaching on personhood and its implications for who Jesus is and who Michael is!
The teachings of the WBTS take this one step further than these early heresies, namely, identifying Christ as the Archangel Michael. The WBTS published a Bible encyclopaedia originally as “Aid to Bible Understanding” revised later as “Insight on the Scriptures”. Therein, the WBTS indicates that Jesus pre-existed as the Archangel Michael (WBTS-It, 1988, p. 393 v.2) Very early in their existence, the then Zion’s Watchtower instituted a definition of a person requiring both a body and a “life force” which continues to present times:
“There can be no being or existence without life and body both. Withdraw life and the being or existence ceases, for life is but a power or principle, the same in the lower animals as in man; the difference in qualities between man and the brute, consisting not in a different kind of life, but in a different kind of body.” – Zion’s Watchtower, April 1881, p. 1 (Russell, 1881)
However, the WBTS also teaches that only the life force of Jesus was transmitted at his human birth, and not the “spirit-body” of Michael:
“Mary, a creature, was not and could not be the mother of God the Creator, nor of ‘The ‘Word’’ whom God used to create all other things. At most, Mary could be only the earthly mother of the Son of God, and could be such only for the time that he was a man on earth. The life-force of Jesus as ‘The Word’ in heaven was transferred from heaven to the ovum or egg-cell in the womb of the unmarried Mary, and thereby she was blessed with the privilege of supplying Jesus’ human body. It was a perfect body, because its life was not from the sinner Adam, but was the original life of the ‘Word from the great Life-giver Jehovah God. The holy spirit or’ active force of Jehovah God kept that body of Jesus holy and free from sin and imperfection, even though nurtured in the womb of the virgin daughter of the sinful Adam. (Hebrews 7: 26) Hereby Jesus could serve as ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’.” The Kingdom Is At Hand, 1944, p. 49 (WBTS-ki, 1944, p. 49)
Echoing the stance taken by Arius as to immutability, the WBTS opine that this life force is linked to God’s “chief angelic Son”:
“As mankind’s source of salvation Jehovah God provided the perfect man, whose life could ransom the human race, by transferring the life force of his chief angelic Son in the heavens to the womb of a virgin. Because the child that was born did not receive its life through Adam’s line of descent but from God, it was perfect. Thus Jesus Christ became equal to Adam and able to ransom mankind by laying down his perfect human life. “Just as the Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul [or life] a ransom in exchange for many.”—Matt. 20:28.” The Watchtower March 1st 1960 p133 (WBTS-w, 1960b)
It should be noted here that the reference to the “chief angelic Son” is a reference to Michael the Archangel:
“As Daniel states, this will be at the time when the great prince Michael stands up on behalf of God’s people. The Bible identifies Michael as Jesus Christ, who wars against God’s enemies in order to sanctify Jehovah’s name. Appropriately, then, the name “Michael” means “Who Is Like God?” for it is Michael who proves that no one can successfully challenge Jehovah’s sovereignty.—Daniel 12:1, 4; Revelation 12:7-10.” Let Your Kingdom Come Ch.4, p34 para2. (WBTS-kc, 1981, p. 34)
“No imperfect human could possibly provide that. (Psalm 49:6, 7) Someone would have to step down from the heavenly realm. Appropriately, the one to do this was the firstborn Son of God. He had to become a perfect man and yet not lose his continuity of life. His life-force was not to be extinguished but would be transferred to the ovum of the virgin girl, Mary. She, ‘overshadowed by the protective power of the Most High,’ could produce a perfect body for the babe Jesus.” The Watchtower 15th February 1982 p7 (WBTS-w, 1982, p. 7)
“Is Jesus Christ the same person as Michael the archangel?
The name of this Michael appears only five times in the Bible. The glorious spirit person who bears the name is referred to as “one of the chief princes,” “the great prince who has charge of your [Daniel’s] people,” and as “the archangel.” (Dan. 10:13; 12:1; Jude 9, RS) Michael means “Who Is Like God?” The name evidently designates Michael as the one who takes the lead in upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty and destroying God’s enemies…. So the evidence indicates that the Son of God was known as Michael before he came to earth and is known also by that name since his return to heaven where he resides as the glorified spirit Son of God. (Reasoning from the Scriptures, p209” WBTS-rs, 1985, p. 209)
Here we see a different name, a different category of being, and a different point of reference being conflated and confused.
Finally, the life force is said to be impersonal:
“Organism. All things having life, either spiritual or fleshly, have an organism, or body. Life itself is impersonal, incorporeal, being merely the life principle. In discussing the kind of body with which resurrected persons will come back, the apostle Paul explains that those created for different environments have different bodies. As for those having life on earth, he says: ‘Not all flesh is the same flesh, but there is one of mankind, and there is another flesh of cattle, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.’ He says also that ‘there are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies; but the glory of the heavenly bodies is one sort, and that of the earthly bodies is a different sort.’—1Co 15:39, 40.” Insight on the Scriptures v2 p246 (WBTS-It, 1988, vol. 2 p246)[emphasis mine]
Therefore in considering the above WBTS texts in toto, the person who pre-existed (allegedly as Michael) is not the same person who lived on earth as Jesus, as it was merely an impersonal life principle that was transmitted. The WBTS teaching on Jesus’ resurrection similarly shows that it was his life-force and a separate new resurrection body that appeared and ascended, thus the mediator in heaven was NOT the person who made the sacrificial offering for us on the cross.
Thus, there are three different persons: the one that pre-existed, the one that lived on earth and died on the cross, and the one that ascended into heaven.
Nowhere does the WBTS deal with this incongruous and confused doctrine in concert beyond mere statement of the separate facts; it does not consider or deal with the points collectively nor with the implications for soteriology (study of salvation) and Christology (Study of Christ).
2 Anon, 2001. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
3 Harris, W.H., III et al. eds., 2012. The Lexham English Bible, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
4 Here, blasphemy is injurious speech against a sacred thing. See Vine’s Dictionary under Blaspheme.
5 The Book of Enoch raises an interesting controversy. Why a scriptural book such as Jude references a non-canonical book such as Enoch is a question worth asking. Well, part of the answer lies in our education about the development of Christianity. Many of us have a map of development that includes Christianity going north through Israel, hanging a left and proceeding through Greece into Europe, and then into England (then considered to be the end of the Roman Empire) before an excursus into Ireland, then Scotland, the North of England before then continuing into Scandinavia and the rest of northern Europe. (See “The Conversion of Europe”) All of which is true! That’s fine – it relates us Brits to the Biblical World. BUT…we forget the development of Christianity that ran east along the silk route as far as India (check out the Thomasine Christians of India and see “The Lost History of Christianity”) and China, as well as the tradition that moved south from Israel into Northern Africa including Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea (see a “What does history say about the first Christians of Africa?” and “A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present”.) Both the Ethiopian (the most ancient extant Christian tradition) and Eritrean Churches still accept Enoch as canonical. We should also note that at the time of writing, Jude did not have, as we have today, a completed canon of scripture. The OT canon was finalised probably during the first Century BCE but certainly Josephus mentions the completed canon around AD90. There is debate about whether the Council of Jamnia was a final settlement; it is thought that this was about other matters. The NT canon was probably complete though perhaps not ratified by circa 130-40 CE when Marcion (speaking against some of the orthodox church) names the new testament as a collection. Some books were contested up to about mid 200’s.
6 Harris, W.H., III et al. eds., 2012. The Lexham English Bible, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
7 I will expand on this in a separate article on Jn.14:28 cp Heb 1:4
Hanson, R.P.C., 2006. The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. Baker Academic.
McGrath, A.E., 2010. Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Edition. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Malden, MA.
McNamara, F.M., 1968. Logos of the Fourth Gospel and Memra of the Palestinian Targum (Ex 1242). The Expository Times 79, 115 –117. doi:10.1177/001452466807900405
Russell, C.T., 1881. Zion’s Watchtower. Magazine 2.
WBTS-It, 1988. Insight on the Scriptures. Volumes 1 and 2. Watch Tower Bible Tract Society.
WBTS-kc, 1981, 1981. Let Your Kingdom Come. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York.
WBTS-ki, 1944. The kingdom is at hand. The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, New York.
WBTS-rs, 1985, 1985. Reasoning from the Scriptures. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
WBTS-w, 1960. What Is God’s Way to Salvation? in The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom; “The Watchtower Library” software 2013 edition, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Pennsylvania, USA.” 133.
WBTS-w, 1982. The Virgin Birth—Should You Believe It? in The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom; “The Watchtower Library” software 2013 edition, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Pennsylvania, USA.”.
Williams, R., 2002. Arius: heresy and tradition. W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich.
In the Introduction to this series we asked the question Who is God?
In Part 1 we looked at how God Relates to His Creation.
In Part 2 we considered how God reveals Himself to us.