Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

There are few explicit references to angels in the earlier books of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek angelos and simply means a ‘messenger’.

They begin to appear in the later books, for instance, in the Book of Daniel and seem to date from after the Babylonian exile. However, in chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of Genesis, there are the three men who visit Abraham, who gives them hospitality. One of them seems to be Yahweh and the other two angels. While Yahweh stays with Abraham, the other two go on to Sodom. There they are received by Lot and while in his house, the people of Sodom come and demand to have intimacies with his visitors. The next day, the visitors urge Lot to leave Sodom with his wife and two daughters. The city, along with Gomorrah is then destroyed.

As well, angels are mentioned in the story of Jacob, who had a dream of “angels of God ascending and descending” a stairway or ladder which reached to the heavens (Gen 28:12).

According to some Jewish texts, there were seven archangels, three of whom we remember in today’s feast – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

Angels are mentioned frequently in the New Testament. Angels brought messages to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist), the shepherds at Bethlehem, angels ministering to Jesus during his fasting in the wilderness, consoling him during his Agony in the Garden, at the tomb of Jesus after his resurrection, and the angel who freed Peter from prison in the Acts of the Apostles.

Only two references are made to ‘archangels’ in the New Testament – Michael in Jude 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Revelation 12:7-9, and Gabriel in Luke 1:26.

In Jude, the author is speaking against false teachers. He says they behave immorally and revile God’s “glorious beings”, perhaps a reference to angels. But unlike them, Michael in his dispute with Satan over the body of Moses never spoke judgement against him, but left it to God’s own decision.

In the First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is speaking about the Second Coming of Christ which he believes will come in the lifetime of the present believers. At that moment:

…the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess 4:16)

The archangel here is understood to be Michael.

In the Book of Revelation chapter 12, in a passage speaking of the power of evil in opposition to God and his people, we are told that war broke out in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon, representing the powers of evil. Evil could not prevail and was driven from the presence of God.

In the Hebrew language, ‘Michael’, means “Who is like unto God?” or “Who is equal to God?” Michael has been depicted from earliest Christian times as a commander, who holds in his right hand a spear with which he attacks Lucifer (Satan) and in his left hand a green palm branch. At the top of the spear there is a linen ribbon with a red cross.

The archangel Gabriel is mentioned just once in the whole Bible – in the New Testament. It is in the lovely scene in Nazareth where he visits the virgin called Mary and tells her that she will become pregnant, that she will bear a son who will be called Jesus, and that he will the Son of the Most High God. Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph, but not yet living with him as his wife, is alarmed. But she is assured that the Child will be born by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary then submits completely and unconditionally to God’s will:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. (Luke 1:26-38)

‘Gabriel’ means “Man of God” or “Might of God”. He is regarded as the herald of the mysteries of God, especially the Incarnation of God and all other mysteries related to it. In art, he is depicted holding a lantern with a lighted taper in his right hand and, in his left, a mirror of green jasper. The mirror signifies the wisdom of God as a hidden mystery.

The archangel Raphael appears in the lovely Book of Tobit (not found in the Hebrew Testament or many Protestant Bibles). The archangel is the unrecognised friend of Tobit who goes in search of his inheritance and a bride. The girl he finds is Sarah. Alarmingly, he discovers that all her previous husbands died on the wedding night. But God’s blessing was on this relationship. Raphael also helped Tobit catch the fish whose gall would cure his father’s cataracts and restore his sight.

‘Raphael’ means “God’s healing” or “God the Healer”, and he is depicted leading Tobit, who is carrying a fish caught in the Tigris in his right hand and holding a physician’s alabaster jar in his left.

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