Jesus and Michael

Question
Is the archangel Michael the same as Jesus Christ?
Answer
No, Michael and Jesus are not one and the same. The suggestion that they are one in the same is based on a poor understanding of Hebrew as well as on some very incorrect interpretations of particular passages.

The name "Michael"

For instance, one of the most common arguments is that the name "Michael" means "who is like God" or "he who is like God." This is completely false. Rather, the name means "Who is like God?" It is a question, not a statement. The Hebrew word my (which forms the "Mi" in "Michael") is an interrogative pronoun; it asks the question "who?" It is never used as a relative pronoun (as in "the one who," "the one that" or "the one which"). The relative pronoun in Hebrew is asher — which is not a component of Michael's name.

Even if "Michael" meant "he who is like God" — and again, it most assuredly does not — the argument that names regularly identify the character of the one named is also false. It is true that God's names identify his character, but creaturely names that refer to God do not attribute divine attributes to the ones so named. Rather, they are intended as memorials that honor God. The Bible is full of names that do this, such as "Elijah," which is composed simply of two names for God: "El" (usually translated "God") and "Yah" (a short form of "Yahweh," the name commonly translated as "Lord" or "Jehovah"). Elijah's name does not indicate that Elijah is both El and Yahweh. Rather, it is a memorial that means "Yahweh is God." In fact, "Michael" is also a memorial. The rhetorical question "Who is like God?" assumes the answer "No one is like God," so that it means "God is Supreme."

Besides, even if "Michael" meant "he who is like God," and even if this meant that Michael himself was "like God," this would not imply that Michael was Jesus. On the contrary, it would demonstrate that Michael was not Jesus. After all, Jesus is not merely like God — Jesus is God.

The term "prince"

Michael is called a "prince" (sar in Hebrew). This term typically refers to leaders, military counselors, angels, chiefs, etc. In the ancient Hebrew worldview, and in reality, God assigns angels to govern and influence human governments (cf. e.g., 1 Kings 22). These angels are referred to as "princes." In Daniel 10:13, we learn that the prince of the pagan nation Persia opposed the angelic messenger sent to Daniel. In other words, the prince of Persia was a fallen angel.

We are also told that Michael is the prince set in charge of Daniel and his people, the Israelites (Dan. 10:21; 12:1). In this context, the reason that only Michael comes to the aid of the messenger is that only Michael has been assigned by God to help the messenger, probably because the messenger is currently in the service of Michael's people (particularly Daniel). God's angels are not omnipresent, and there is an ongoing spiritual war in which they have assigned posts. They cannot simply pick up and move to a new battleground when the mood strikes them. They cannot leave their posts in order to aid random messengers in foreign battlefields.

That Jesus is a prince is not a point of dispute — he is the supreme prince. But there are many princes (cf. "one of the chief princes" in Dan. 10:13). He is also a king and a man, but that does not imply that Old Testament human kings with divine components in their names are actually manifestations of Jesus.

God and the angel of the Lord

It is sometimes also argued that Michael is the angel of the Lord, and that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ or a similar manifestation of God. Let's deal first with the identification of the angel of the Lord with Christ/God.

The argument that the angel of the Lord is a manifestation of God himself has some merit, though I believe it also has problems. First, the argument tends to rely on there being only one angel of the Lord, whereas Scripture does not explicitly say whether or not there are multiple angels of the Lord. Sometimes the angel is described as a physical manifestation of God himself (e.g., Exod. 3:6), but sometimes the angel is clearly distinguished from God's physical manifestation (Exod. 14:19). Since the angel of the Lord cannot be both God and not God, this inclines me to conclude that one of the following is true: (1) there is more than one angel of the Lord, one of which is God and the others of which are not; (2) the angel of the Lord is God, and the passages seeming to show that he is distinct from God have been misunderstood; (3) the angel of the Lord is not God, and the passages seeming to show that he is God have been misunderstood.

Now, in the ancient world, kings would often appoint emissaries that spoke on their behalf and with their authority. For instance, God commonly appointed prophets to speak on his behalf. Often these prophets spoke as if they were God, proclaiming such things as "I am the Lord" (e.g., Lev. 18:2; 19:2-3). It is not unreasonable to think that the angel of the Lord was a non-divine being who sometimes spoke in this manner.

Further, the Bible does not shy away from saying that God manifested himself in physical form, such as a pillar of cloud/fire (Exod. 13:21) or a man (Gen. 3:8; 18:1ff.; Isa. 6:1). There would seem to be no reason for the biblical writers to speak so cryptically as to refer to a physical manifestation of God as a "messenger" or "angel" rather than describing him plainly as "God."

In some passages, the angel appears to be quite distinct from God himself (Exod. 14:19; 23:20), so that the text appears rather plainly to portray the angel as being someone other than God himself. Granted, theologically speaking, God could have been manifested in both, but this makes little literary sense of the accounts. For instance, what motivation could Moses have had to portray God in such a way? And why would God speak of the angel in the third person? At the same time, if the angel was never God, why leave us with the impression that it was okay for Moses to think that he was (Exod. 3:6)?

In the New Testament, the data is not much different. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, God descends with the voice of the archangel. This does not mean that archangel's voice will come out of God's mouth; it means that he archangel will give the battle cry and call to arms at the head of God's army when both God and his army descend to earth.

My best guess is that the angel of the Lord was usually or always a distinct entity from God himself. The most troublesome passage is Exodus 3:6, but even that might be explained in the following way: the angel of the Lord (not God) set the bush ablaze, then, once Moses responded, God manifested himself in the bush as well. I'm not convinced that this is correct, but it is not an unreasonable reading. In no event do I think it is possible that the angel was always God — the passages showing him to be distinct are too many and too blatant.

Michael and the angel of the Lord

This conclusion is largely based on the assumed role Michael plays in Daniel 10-12 and Revelation 12:7, and on that played by the angel in such passages as Joshua 5-6 (assuming this to be the angel of the Lord, though he is not called that here). This is not an unreasonable suggestion. Their roles are similar enough to think that perhaps they are the same. But the Bible never makes their identification explicit, and the possibility that they are two distinct beings is equally likely. On the one hand, they have similar jobs, but on the other hand, they have different names/titles.

Most importantly, Michael is never confused with God. Nowhere in Scripture does anyone mistake him for God, and nowhere does he speak in a way that might cause him to be confused with God.

Michael and Jesus

As much as we might wonder at the precise identity of the angel of the Lord, and whether or not his name was Michael, there can be no doubt that Michael was not Jesus. Perhaps the best text to illustrate this is Jude 1:9. There we are told that Michael did not dare to accuse Satan, but deferred to the Lord. In essence, Michael said, "I don't dare rebuke you, Satan. I leave that to the Lord, and I ask him to do it." Jesus, on the other hand, rebuked Satan personally and directly — even before he had defeated Satan on the cross (Matt. 4:10). Jesus had the authority and prerogative that Michael lacked.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.