THE Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy frequently mention angels and their ministration on behalf of "them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1:14). Only rarely, however, are the names of these celestial beings given. As a matter of fact, in so far as the inspired sources of information are concerned, only three are mentioned by name. They are, Michael, Lucifer, and Gabriel. 1
Michael, which is derived from the Hebrew, mikha'el, means, "who [is] like God?" Jude 9 identifies him as being "the archangel" (Gr. ho archangelos). The only other occurrence of the word "archangel" in the Bible is found in 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 where the Lord Jesus Christ is said to descend from heaven "with the voice of the archangel," literally, "with archangel voice" (Gr. en phone archangelou; compare Darby's New Testament, A New Translation; and the R.S.V.), to resurrect the dead. Since, according to John 5:27 and 28, it is the voice of the Son of God that resurrects the dead, the natural inference would be that the archangel Michael was our Lord prior to His incarnation. This conclusion is confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy. 2
The name, Lucifer, which is a transliteration of the Latin, Lucifer, meaning, "light bearer," is derived from the Hebrew word, helel, which means, "shining" or "brilliant one." This word occurs but once in the Bible. This is in Isaiah 14:12, where it is applied to the king of Babylon. While this designation applies primarily to the king of Babylon, Isaiah apparently also had in mind the one whom the Babylonian king served, Satan. Hence, in a secondary sense, Lucifer applied to Satan. The Spirit of Prophecy confirms this identification and describes Lucifer in the following way.
Sin originated with him, who, next to Christ, had been most honored of God, and was highest in power and glory among the inhabitants of heaven. Lucifer, "son of the morning," was first of the covering cherubs, holy and undented.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 35.
The third angel named in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy, the one who is the principal object of this study, is Gabriel. This name is a transliteration of the Hebrew, gabri'el, signifying, "man of God," or "God has shown Himself strong." The Scriptures reveal the following facts concerning this angel:
1. He was sent to Daniel to explain the vision of the ram and the he-goat (Dan, 8: 16).
2. He was sent to Daniel to explain the vision of the seventy weeks (chap. 9:21).
3. He was standing on the right side of the altar of incense when he appeared to Zacharias in the Temple (Luke 1:11, 19).
4. He announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias (verse 13).
5. He declared that he stood in the presence of God (verse 19).
6. He announced the birth of Jesus to Mary (verse 26).
Aside from these facts, little else can be inferred with certainty concerning Gabriel in the writings of the Bible, but a considerable amount of additional information may be gleaned from the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.
The purpose of this study is twofold:
First, to better understand the activity of the angelic world in the plan of salvation, and, second, to provide a firm basis for further study into the ramifications of this subject and its connection with other doctrines.
One of the key statements made in the Spirit of Prophecy concerning Gabriel's office and ministry is found in The Desire of Ages, pages 98 and 99, where it says:
To the question of Zacharias, the angel said, "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee,-and to show thee these glad tidings." Five hundred years before, Gabriel had made known to Daniel the prophetic period which was to extend to the coming of Christ. The knowledge that the end of this period was near had moved Zacharias to pray for the Messiah's advent. Now the very messenger through whom the prophecy was given had come to announce its fulfillment.
The words of the angel, "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God," show that he holds a position of high honor in the heavenly courts. When he came with a message to Daniel, he said, "There is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael [Christ] your Prince." Dan. 10:21. Of Gabriel the Saviour speaks in the Revelation, saying that "He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John." Rev. 1:1. And to John the angel declared, "I am a fellow servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets." Rev. 22:9, R.V. Wonderful thought—that the angel who stands next in honor to the Son of God is the one chosen to open the purposes of God to sinful men.
Several significant facts are revealed in this passage concerning Gabriel's position and work. Without repeating the information already adduced, but rather adding to it new facts obtained from the Spirit of Prophecy (a plan which will be followed throughout the remainder of this study) we now know that—
7. Gabriel holds a position of high honor in the heavenly courts.
8. It was he who told Daniel, "There is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince," thus identifying one of the beings in Daniel 10 as being Gabriel.
9. Christ calls him, "His angel," an appropriate title for the angel who was chosen to reveal prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah, and who announced His birth to Mary.
10. He was a fellow servant with John and with John's brethren the prophets, thus identifying him as being the angel of Revelation 22:9.
11. He is the angel next in honor to the Son of God.
12. He is the angel chosen to open the purposes of God to sinful men.
Concerning the fact that Gabriel stood on the right side of the altar of incense, The Desire of Ages, page 97, says, "The position of the angel was an indication of favor." More will be said concerning this later.
A statement in The Desire of Ages, page 234, repeats three of the significant facts set forth on pages 98 and 99, already quoted. It says:
It was Gabriel, the angel next in rank to the Son of God, who came with the divine message to Daniel. It was Gabriel, "His angel," whom Christ sent to open the future to the beloved John; and a blessing is pronounced on those who read and hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things written therein. Rev. 1:3.
Another key statement will now be added to the one already given:
In the supreme crisis, when heart and soul are breaking under the load of sin, Gabriel is sent to strengthen the divine sufferer, and brace Him to tread His bloodstained path.—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Luke 22: 42, 43.
Still another significant statement relating to the same crisis is found in The Desire of Ages, page 693, where it says:
In this awful crisis, when everything was at stake, when the mysterious cup trembled in the hand of the sufEerer, the heavens opened, a light shone forth amid the stormy darkness of the crisis hour, and the mighty angel who stands in God's presence, occupying the position from which Satan fell, came to the side of Christ.
To the facts already discovered concerning Gabriel, these may now be added:
13. He was the angel who came to strengthen Christ in Gethsemane.
14. He occupies the position from which Satan fell. This, incidentally, confirms the logical inference that may be drawn from a comparison of The Desire of Ages, page 99 (Gabriel is "next in honor to the Son of God,") and Patriarchs and Prophets, page 35 (Lucifer was "next to Christ" in honor).
The Desire of Ages, page 694, makes this statement concerning the arrest of Jesus on the night of the crisis in Gethsemane:
Standing in advance of His disciples He said, "Whom seek ye?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am He." As these words were spoken, the angel who had lately ministered to Jesus moved between Him and the mob. A divine light illuminated the Saviour's face, and a dovelike form overshadowed Him. In the presence of this divine glory, the murderous throng could not stand for a moment. They staggered back. Priests, elders, soldiers, and even Judas, fell as dead men to the ground.
Another fact may now be added to the list:
15. Gabriel was the angel who caused the mob to fall back when they were about to arrest Jesus. Compare this with John 18:6.
Moving on to the events connected with the resurrection we discover this significant statement concerning the angel who took Satan's place:
The mightiest angel from heaven, he who held the position from which Satan fell, received his commission from the Father, and clothed with the panoply of heaven, he parted the darkness from his track. His face was like the lightning, and his garments white as snow. As soon as his feet touched the ground it quaked beneath his tread. The Roman guard were keeping their weary watch when this wonderful scene took place, and they were enabled to endure the sight, for they had a message to bear as witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. The angel approached the grave, rolled away the stone as though it had been a pebble, and sat upon it. The light of heaven encircled the tomb, and the whole heaven was lighted by the glory of the angels. Then his voice was heard, "Thy Father calls Thee; come forth."—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Matt. 28:2.
Having previously established that Gabriel is the angel who occupies the position from which Satan fell, four important, new facts are here revealed concerning him:
16. He is the mightiest angel.
17. He was sent from heaven with a commission from the Father on the morning of Christ's resurrection.
18. He was the angel who rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulcher.
19. He was the angel who announced, "Thy Father calls Thee; come forth."
Three more important statements related to Christ's resurrection afford a fresh insight into the ministry of the angels in Christ's work on earth:
When the mighty angel came down to the tomb, he was joined by another, who with his company had been keeping guard over the Lord's body. As the angel from heaven rolled away the stone, the other entered the tomb, and unbound the wrappings from the body of Jesus.—The Desire of Ages, p. 789.
These angels were of the company that had been waiting in a shining cloud to escort Jesus to His heavenly home. The most exalted of the angel throng, they were the two who had come to the tomb at Christ's resurrection, and they had been with Him throughout His life on earth.—Ibid., p. 832.
The Roman guard had been enabled to view the mighty angel who sang the song of triumph at the birth of Christ, and hear the angels who now sang the song of redeeming love.—Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 303.
From these statements the following facts are adduced:
20. Gabriel was joined by another angel who with his company had been keeping guard over the Lord's body.
21. He was one of the two angels who appeared to the disciples at Christ's ascension.
22. He was one of the two angels who had been with Christ throughout His life on earth.
23. He was the angel who sang the song of triumph at Christ's birth.
The fact that Gabriel had been one of the angels who had been with Christ during His earthly life opens up a new insight into certain events in Christ's life. Observe the illumination it gives to these statements from The Desire of Ages:
He [God] commissioned angels to attend Jesus and protect Him till He should accomplish His mis-sion on earth, and die by the hands of those whom He came to save.—Page 67.
Some were casting stones at Him, when suddenly He disappeared from among them. The heavenly messengers who had been by His side in the synagogue were with Him in the midst of that maddened throng. They shut Him in from His enemies, and conducted Him to a place of safety.—Page 240.
The miracles of Christ for the afflicted and suffering were wrought by the power of God through the ministration of angels.—Page 143.
Notice that Gabriel was not alone in his ministrations on Christ's behalf. Two angels had been especially close to Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. One of these angels was Gabriel, as has been shown. Who was the other angel? We are not told his name. Evidently the Lord has not seen fit to reveal it, and speculation is useless. We know, however, that he must be next to Gabriel in honor, for he and Gabriel were the "two" "most exalted of the angel throng," and since Gabriel is the highest angel, this unnamed angel must be the next highest. Perhaps it is not amiss to venture a step further. Since Gabriel took the place from which Satan fell, and Satan had been "first of the covering cherubs," Gabriel must now be the first of the covering cherubs. Since there were only two covering cherubs in the earthly tabernacle (Ex. 25:18) which was the shadow of heavenly things (Heb. 8:5), the conclusion appears to be cogent that the unnamed angel was the second of the covering cherubs. Notice this statement:
The ark of the earthly sanctuary was the pattern of the true ark in heaven. There, beside the heavenly ark, stand living angels, each with one wing overshadowing the mercy-seat, and stretching forth on high, while the other wings are folded over their forms in token of reverence and humility.—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Ex. 25:17-22.
As the hand of inspiration draws aside the curtain separating the invisible from the visible, we may profitably contemplate the activity of these two angels in relation to the events of the resurrection. Observe what Ellen G. White says in Early Writings, pages 181 and 182:
The disciples rested on the Sabbath, sorrowing for the death of their Lord, while Jesus, the King of glory, lay in the tomb. As night drew on, soldiers were stationed to guard the Saviour's resting place, while angels, unseen, hovered above the sacred spot. The night wore slowly away, and while it was yet dark, the watching angels knew that the time for the release of God's dear Son, their loved Commander, had nearly come. As they were waiting with the deepest emotion the hour of His triumph, a mighty angel came flying swiftly from heaven. His face was like the lightning, and his garments white as snow. His light dispersed the darkness from his track and caused the evil angels, who had triumphantly claimed the body of Jesus, to flee in terror from his brightness and glory. One of the angelic host who had witnessed the scene of Christ's humiliation, and was watching His resting place, joined the angel from heaven, and together they came down to the sepulcher. The earth trembled and shook as they approached, and there was a great earthquake. . . .
One of the angels laid hold of the great stone and rolled it away from the door of the sepulcher and seated himself upon it. The other entered the tomb and unbound the napkin from the head of Jesus. Then the angel from heaven, with a voice that caused the earth to quake, cried out, "Thou Son of God, Thy Father calls Thee! Come forth." . . . Jesus arose from the dead, a triumphant conquerer.
Note the following items concerning the unnamed angel:
a. He was one of the angelic host who witnessed the scene of Christ's humiliation.
b. He was one of the angelic guard stationed at Christ's tomb.
c. As the angel with the commission from the Father [Gabriel] descends from heaven, the unnamed angel leaves his post and joins the angel from heaven in his descent.
d. As Gabriel rolls the great stone away from the door of the sepulcher, the unnamed angel unbinds the napkin from the head of Jesus.
The Desire of Ages, pages 788 and 789, adds a few more interesting details:
The women had not all come to the tomb from the same direction. Mary Magdalene was the first to reach the place; and upon seeing that the stone was removed, she hurried away to tell the disciples. Meanwhile the other women came up. A light was shining about the tomb, but the body of Jesus was not there. As they lingered about the place, suddenly they saw that they were not alone. A young man clothed in shining garments was sitting by the tomb. It was the angel who had rolled away the stone. He had taken the guise of humanity that he might not alarm these friends of Jesus. Yet about him the light of the heavenly glory was still shining, and the women were afraid. They turned to flee, but the angel's words stayed their steps. "Fear not ye," he said; "for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead." Again they look into the tomb, and again they hear the wonderful news. Another angel in human form is there, and he says, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."
To the facts concerning Gabriel may be added this one:
24. He was the angel who said, "Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead."
Concerning the unnamed angel, the following fact may be added:
It was he who said, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."
The main concern of this study being the angel Gabriel, we shall leave the unnamed angel and examine another line of evidence—the annunciation of the birth of John. Three statements contain information of interest to this study:
The angel Gabriel was sent from the heavenly courts to give instruction for the care of children after their birth, that the parents might fully understand their duty.
About the time of Christ's first advent the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias with a message similar to that given to Manoah.—Temperance, p. 173.
On heaven's records of noble men the Saviour declared that there stood not one greater than John the Baptist. The work committed to him was one demanding not only physical energy and endurance, but the highest qualities of mind and soul. So important was right physical training as a preparation for this work that the highest angel in heaven was sent with a message of instruction to the parents of the child.—The Ministry of Healing, p. 379.
The third statement will be given presently. First, however, two more facts concerning Gabriel's office and ministry.
25. He gave instructions to Zacharias concerning the care of his child similar to the message given to Manoah concerning his child.
26. He is the highest angel.
On theebasis of these two statements, the inference might be made that since Gabriel was the angel who was sent to instruct Zacharias with regard to John's care, and he had been sent with similar instruction to the parents of other children, that therefore he was the angel who gave the instructions to Manoah concerning Samson. Such a conclusion does not necessarily follow from the facts, and the statement that follows shows that such a conclusion would be erroneous:
Manoah and his wife knew not that the One thus addressing them was Jesus Christ. They looked upon Him as the Lord's messenger, but whether a prophet or an angel, they were at a loss to determine.—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Judges 13:2-23.
On the basis of this statement it seems quite clear that although Gabriel did give instructions to Zacharias and other parents concerning the care of their children, it was Christ, not Gabriel, who imparted the instruction to Manoah concerning Samson.
This example gives an indication of the caution that must be exercised in drawing conclusions from seeming inferences. When supporting evidence is not available, it is better to hold suspended judgment.
We now proceed with our investigation based on the evidence that has been adduced thus far. In The Desire of Ages, page 780, where it tells of the angel who came down from heaven when Christ was resurrected, whom we have identified as Gabriel, we find the following confirmatory evidence:
It is the face of the mightiest of the Lord's host. This messenger is he who fills the position from which Satan fell. It is he who on the hills of Bethlehem proclaimed Christ's birth.
Now notice the light that this latter statement throws on a statement in The Great Controversy, page 314:
An angel visits the earth to see who are prepared to welcome Jesus. But he can discern no tokens of expectancy. He hears no voice of praise and triumph, that the period of Messiah's coming is at hand. The angel hovers for a time over the chosen city and the temple where the divine presence has been manifested for ages; but even here is the same indifference. . . .
There is no evidence that Christ is expected, and no preparation for the Prince of life. In amazement the celestial messenger is about to return to heaven with the shameful tidings, when he discovers a group of shepherds who are watching their flocks by night, and as they gaze into the starry heavens, are contemplating the prophecy of a Messiah to come to earth, and longing for the advent of the world's Redeemer. Here is a company that is prepared to receive the heavenly message. And suddenly the angel of the Lord appears, declaring the good tidings of great joy. Celestial glory floods all the plain, an innumerable company of angels is revealed, and as if the joy were too great for one messenger to bring from heaven, a multitude of voices break forth in the anthem which all the nations of the saved shall one day sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
This statement adds the following bit of information to what is already known about Gabriel:
27. He hovered over the chosen city for a time before making the announcement of the birth of Christ to the shepherds.
We conclude this portion of our study with the observation that a better understanding of the personalities of the angels who were intimately involved in the ministry of our Lord here on earth adds new life and interest to the inspired narratives of our Lord's earthly life, just as becoming acquainted with the characters in a story increases our appreciation of the story.
1 Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7; Isa. 14:12; Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26. Jewish and Christian angelology add such names as Uriel, Ariel, Raphael, Abdiel, and Jere-miel, but these have no place in this study, since_ they are not found in the writings that Seventh-day Adventists recognize as inspired.
2 The Desire of Ages, page 99. says: "When he came with a message to Daniel, he said, There is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael [Christ] your Prince.' " A comparison of Early Writings, page 164 ("Moses passed through death, but Michael came down and gave him life before his body had seen corruption") with The Desire of Ages, page 421 ("Moses passed under the dominion of death, but he was not to remain in the tomb. Christ Himself called him forth to life") confirm this conclusion.