An article about Jesus and Michael on the Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Research Institute site i was sent in by a good friend of Reachout, asking for comment. I thought this interesting enough to merit an article. First a little background.
Trouble With Trinity
The 19th century, certainly in America, can be dubbed the Adventist century. Any number of groups sprung up and embraced the fad of speculating the imminent return of Jesus. These included Millerites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, the Word-wide Church of God, established in the early 20th century by Herbert W Armstrong (1892-1986) who was heavily influenced by Adventism.
Such groups spring up in times of upheaval, whether political, military, social, even rapid development and change can see people reaching for fundamentalist certainty.
Close attention to the second advent leads to reassessment of ‘settled’ issues, one being the person and identity of Jesus. These groups develop and share an antitrinitarian position and from there, somehow, Jesus is demoted and/or man is exalted(as in Mormonism). This issue within the SDA Church has changed over the generations, as they readily admit themselves, but the early pioneers of the movement were all antitrinitarian.
Having rejected the established doctrine of the Trinity, they faced the challenge of finding a more ‘biblical’ definition of the Godhead. Their whole understanding of Jesus is founded on what they reject, never a good place to start. What a stumbling block this project has proved for these groups.
Jehovah’s Witnesses make Jesus ‘a god’ in John 1:1, effectively giving us two gods (they don’t accept the personal nature of the Spirit)
Mormons make God an exalted man and Jesus his literal son, therefore a lesser God, but one in a pantheon of gods.
Christadelphians insist ‘Jesus is the Son of God but not God the Son.’
Who is the Adventist Jesus?
The SDA article I was sent asks, ‘Is Michael Another Name for Jesus?’ Ironically, the short answer is found at the beginning of the article:
The name Michael is used five times in the Bible to designate a celestial being (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). He is nowhere explicitly identified with Jesus…’
Surely, that should be enough. The Bible doesn’t make that connection, move on. There is a lesson here for us all. What the Bible doesn’t say is as important as what it does say and nowhere does the Bible explicitly identify Michael with Jesus. This is an important point since Adventists, in addressing the Trinity question, insist the Bible does not explicitly teach the Trinity.
In this article, however, they ‘speculate’ and ‘assume’ Jesus’ identity with Michael even as Adventists accuse Trinitarian believers of ‘speculating’ and ‘assuming’ the Trinity. They press this charge of assuming and speculating throughout discussions of the subject:
“While no single scriptural passagestates formally the doctrine of the Trinity, it is assumed as a fact by Bible writers and mentioned several times”. (Review and Herald, Special issue, Volume 158, No. 31 July 1981, ‘The Trinity)
“Because human philosophy is called to be subject to the Bible, and since divine philosophy is already available in the Scriptures, our understanding of God must stand free from human speculations.” (Fernando L. Canale, the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia Volume 12, page 105, ‘Doctrine of God.)
“The concept of the Trinity, namely the idea that the three are one, is not explicitly stated but only assumed.”(Fernando L. Canale, the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia Volume 12, page 138)
The words ‘sauce’ ‘goose’ and gander’ spring readily to mind. So, what is the SDA position on Jesus and the Godhead? In the ‘Signs of the Times’ in 1985 Pastor Frank Holbrook wrote:
“The Scriptures were designed by God for practical living and not for speculative theorizing. Hence, they contain no systematic exposition on the nature of the Godhead. The Christian statement regarding the Trinity is an attempt to state the biblical paradox (which Scripture never attempts to resolve) that there is one God (see Deuteronomy 6:4: James 2:19), yet existing in three Persons (see Matthew 28:19: 2 Corinthians 13:14).” (Frank Holbrook, Signs of the Times, July 1985, ‘Frank answers’)
They take the position that:
“What we can know about God must be revealed from the Scriptures.” (Fernando L. Canale, the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia Volume 12, p. 105, ‘Doctrine of God.) ii
Effectively, if the Bible contains no systematic exposition on the nature of the Godhead we should not speculate, we should simply stick to what is revealed from the Scriptures, settle for the paradox. Ellen G White’s husband, James White, wrote in 1878:
“We do not believe in the three-one God of the Trinitarians nor in the low views of Jesus Christ held by unitarians (sic). We believe that Christ was a divine being, not merely in his mission, but in his person also; that his sufferings were penal and his death vicarious.” (Review and Herald, June 27th 1878 ‘To correspondents’)
Neither Trinitarian, nor Unitarian, where does all this leave today’s SDA believer? The issue is compounded by this statement from E J Waggoner, an early Adventist:
“In arguing the perfect equality of the Father and the Son, and the fact that Christ is in very nature God, we do not design to be understood as teaching that the Father was not before the Son.” (Ellet J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times’ article ‘The Divinity of Christ (continued)’, April 8th1889)
“It should not be necessary to guard this point, lest some should think that the Son existed as soon as the Father; yet some go to the extreme, which adds nothing to the dignity of Christ, but rather detracts from the honour due to him, since many throw the whole thing away rather than accept a theory so obviously out of harmony with the language of Scripture, that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God.” (Ibid)
In this way, he goes on to argue, the Father was prior to the Son, the Son being begotten not created. This will sound familiar to students of early church history.
It is misleading to characterise the deliberations of early councils of the church on this issue as simply going beyond Scripture. The church councils were not convened to satisfy the theological curiosity of scholars. Nor were they convened to ‘sort out the doctrinal mess of the early church,’ as some would have us believe. They gathered to address heterodoxical threats to the settled doctrines of the church.
The question addressed by Nicea was the exact one addressed by these Adventist thinkers, i.e. the nature of Jesus in relation to the Father. Was he of the same substance, or similar substance with the Father? Nicea decided on the former, the Arians the latter.
Ironically, the SDA Church fully subscribes to the deity of Christ and I wonder how they would have responded to the Arian controversy. I don’t think, ‘He just is!’ would answer the need. Yet Nicea is where they find themselves with this issue in what is an unresolved state. Here is the problem:
The Trinity doctrine bears well the idea Jesus is of the same substance.
Arians insist Jesus is of a different substance, created by God as the Logos, and had a beginning.
Adventists seem to want to straddle these to irreconcilable positions. Jesus is of the same substance but is not the second person of the Trinity.
The fourth chapter of Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2005) their, ‘exposition of the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’ is entitled ‘God the Son.’ Here they say, ‘God the Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ…’ and later in that chapter they write, ‘Scripture calls God’s being manifested in the flesh “the mystery of godliness.” (1 Tim.3:16)’ (p.49 The Two Natures of Jesus)
And it is this mystery of godliness they hide behind. The Bible doesn’t explicitly develop the Trinity doctrine so let’s leave it there. However, is this satisfactory? More, does it answer the challenge of Arianism, with which they don’t agree, but seem ill-equipped to meet?
The Christian Church, through its councils, creeds, and confessions, has done the work for us, while continuing to confess the mystery. They have met, and continue to meet the challenge of heterodoxy and heresy. Since the only objection they have is to the technical formulation of the Trinity, what’s wrong with that? It’s not as though the Adventists have done an outstanding job of it. As if that wasn’t bad enough…
Is Jesus the Archangel Michael?
I ought say, a search on the official SDA site turns up nothing about Michael. Neither is there anything in the official ‘What do Seventh-day Adventists Believe’ about Michael, or his possible identity with Jesus. That said, the Biblical Research Institute site covers the question of Jesus and Michael, and other groups, notably JWs, make the same connection. So here are some thoughts taken in part from Doug Harris’ book Awake to the Watchtower.
The Bible does give very good reasons to believe Jesus is not Michael. What does the Bible show?
Dan.10:13 says that Michael is one of the princes. When we compare Dan.8:25 we find that Jesus is the Prince. Michael is one of many, Jesus is one of a kind. How can they be the same person?
Jude 9 tells us, ‘When the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgement, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”’
When on earth, Jesus rebuked Satan and the demons directly and they fled before Him. It would have been blasphemous for Michael to presume the authority to judge, but not Jesus. How can this be the same person?
Heb.1:7/8 shows beyond doubt that Jesus is not an angel.
‘Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
But of the Son he says,
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom…’
The context of this verse is Psalm 104:
‘Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendour and majesty…’(v1)
Significantly, the previous psalm ends:
‘Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the LORD, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the LORD, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!’ (Ps.103:20-22)
Back in Hebrews we read:
‘And again, when he brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
Let God’s angels worship him.’
In both texts the role of angels is clearly described as subordinate, the role of the Son superior. Angels are among the hosts of heaven, the hosts instructed to worship the Lord, along with the ‘mighty ones who do his word,’ and all his works and dominions. The Son has the sceptre of kingship, is addressed as God, and is worshipped. The Jesus and Michael question is settled, Angels serve and worship, Jesus is worshipped.
Equal With God
In John’s gospel we read:
‘This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.’ (John 5:16-23)
From verse 16 we know that Jesus was being persecuted for healing on the Sabbath. In verse 17 Jesus makes a simple statement ‘My Father’. From this the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be equal with God (v.18). Some argue it was the Jews who failed to understand Jesus and accused him of making a claim he didn’t make.
Jesus could teach so that no-one could understand Him (e.g. the parable of the Sower – Matt.13). But here He spoke plainly so that the people understood. Jesus was a Jew and understood howthe Jewish mind worked. He knew that when He said, ‘My Father’ the Jews would understand that He was claiming to be of the same substance as the Father.
If Jesus is not equal with God, who is at fault -Jesus for misleading them, or the Jews for believing what Jesus said? If they had misunderstood his intentions, why didn’t he correct them?
Is an angel equal with God?
Is an angel to be honoured as God is honoured?
Will we really stand condemned for failing to honour an angel?
My Lord and my God
Later John writes about the risen Christ:
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John20:26-29)
John20:28: This is the second time that Jesus appeared to the disciples but the first time that Thomas saw Him. His immediate response is to acknowledge Jesus as ‘my Lord and my God’.
It clearly says ‘Thomas said to Him’ (Jesus)“my Lord and my God”. He said in Greek ho theos, the a phrase that identifies God. Thomas literally says, ‘the God of me’. Furthermore, in verse 29 Jesus commends all those who will believe the same as Thomas believed. Believe what? That Jesus is God. The Jesus and Michael question is settled. In the midst of those who would go out to teach the early church, Jesus accepts the acclamation of God. Clearly not an angel.
Finally, in Revelation we read:
‘And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped.’ (Rev.5:13/14)
Here Jesus is in His heavenly ministry. Who is receiving this honour, glory and worship? The One on the throne (the Father) and the Lamb (Jesus). Are we not to do what heaven, including angels, is doing?
Creation worships Jesus (Ps.103:22)
The heavenly hosts worship Jesus (Ps.103:21)
Thomas and the apostles worshipped Jesus (cf Mt.28:16/17)
Every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth worships Jesus (Rev.5:13/14)
All angels (including Michael) are commanded to worship Jesus (Heb.1:6 cf Ps.104)
‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philip.2:9-11 cf Rom.14:11;Is.45:23)
Assumptions and speculations aside, does this sound like an angel, even an archangel?
i Not to be confused with the Christian Research Institute
ii I got my quotes from one in a series of papers here