Saturday, 26 November 2011

Der große Fürst Michael

"Michael, the Archangel" by Celia Fenn
Daniel 12:1a: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people...”

A theologian friend and I have been speaking about the possibility of Jesus also being Michael, the Archangel. He says that most of evangelical / protestant Christian tradition interprets Michael to be a manifestation of Jesus—and also that he disagrees with the possibility of Jesus being Michael on account of Hebrews 2 that states God has not subjugated the world to come under any angels, but under Christ alone. I disagree with my friend on both points.

First, I don't believe that most of Christianity holds the interpretation that Michael and Jesus are the same being. The Catholic tradition do not hold this view and I know of very few evangelical / protestant interpretations that equate Michael with Jesus. There are only two denominations that I know of that makes this assertion, and both are generally considered sectarian. Now let me stop here for a moment. Just because something is believed to be “sectarian” doesn't by default mean that the belief is false. When Galileo Galilei proposed heliocentrism, instead of the earth as the centre of the universe, he was called a heretic. Heretics, although in the minority, i.e. sectarian, are sometimes correct.

My second disagreement with my friend is not that Jesus must be Michael, but that Hebrews 2 does not trump the possibility for Jesus to be Michael. The Bible is filled with theophanies. A “theophany” is an appearance of a deity in a tangible form. From the Torah (Old Testament) we learn that God spoke with Adam and Eve, Cain, and Noah and his sons, although a specific manifestation / appearance is not mentioned. However, for Abraham and Sarah it seems that God manifested God-self as the Angel-of-the-Lord, an angel that speaks as God in the first person, i.e. God. God originally met Moses in the form of a burning bush. The Israelites encountered God as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The Holy Spirit (one of the three persons of God) manifested in the form of a dove at Jesus' baptism. There is therefore many examples of theophanies so that Jesus appearing as the Archangel Michael could be just one of these instances. The appearance of Michael could easily be a Christophany—which is a theophany of Christ. After all, the name “Michael” literally means “Who is like God?”. And we know from Hebrews 1 and other texts the answer to that question: Jesus Christ. If Michael is a Christophany, I cannot see how it clashes with Hebrews 2.

On a side note, the prophet Daniel described Michael (in the text quoted at the beginning of this post) as the “prince” of “thy people.” I think “prince” is an unfortunate English translation of the Hebrew word “śar” [שׂר], from which Russian derives the term “tzar”. I much better prefer the German translation: “der große Fürst Michael”—the great Force Michael. Fürst (or the Afrikaans “Vors”) better captures the Hebrew word “śar”: a great power, or force, the power that will protect you, keep you safe, one's steward. This, to me, is a comfortable description of Jesus as the protector or saviour of God's people; the One that fights on their behalf.

"Archangel Michael" by Luca Giordano
That there is a close relationship between Michael and Jesus we also learn from Revelation 12, where “Michael and his angels” fought against the “dragon . . . the ancient serpent, he who is called Devil and Satan”. Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven. Immediately after this a great voice in heaven is heard saying: “Now is come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren has been cast out . . .” There seems to be a link between Michael casting out Satan and the “salvation” and “authority” of Christ. In Luke 10:18 Christ declares: “. . . I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven”, suggesting that Christ was present when Satan was cast out of heaven.

If Michael is indeed a Christophany, it would seem that Michael is the battle-title or warrior name for Christ. Michael is the one that battles Satan, the Prince of Evil (symbolised by the Prince of Persia in the Book of Daniel). We see this in Daniel 12, in Jude 1, and in Revelation 12.

Does believing or not believing in Michael as Jesus affect any core Christian doctrine? Yes, if we believe Jesus to be merely a created angel. But this need not be the case. Michael could just be a Christophany, in which case the deity of Jesus is not questioned, and therefore no core Christian doctrine is affected.

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