Revelation 12: Who is God?

In Revelation Articles

As we have discussed, the “war in heaven” described in Revelation 12 represents the central theme of the book of Revelation. Last time we identified the dragon in this conflict to be Satan, the slippery snake in the tree, the sentient being described in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, and the person responsible for initiating this war with God that occurred prior to the creation of Adam and Eve. Our question for this time is with regards to Michael who makes only one appearance in the book of Revelation, but it is precisely at this critical juncture. Who is Michael? The meaning of the name Michael is a question: “Who is God?”, “Who is like God?” or “One who is like God.” Perhaps implied in this is the question, “What is God like?”

Here is perhaps a more accurate translation of this famous verse which implies that Satan was the instigator of the conflict: “And war burst forth in heaven: Michael and his angels had to fight with the Dragon…” (1) Several individuals have commented on this strange cameo appearance of Michael. “When the dragon has been defeated the kingdom is awarded, not to Michael and his angels, but to Christ.” (2) And, “It is strange for it to be Michael, rather than the Messiah, who overcomes the dragon.” (3)

It is interesting to note that Michael keeps showing up in the Bible specifically in the context of direct conflict with Satan. Daniel was told by the angel Gabriel, “The angel prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief angels, came to help me… Now I have to go back and fight the guardian angel of Persia. After that the guardian angel of Greece will appear. There is no one to help me except Michael, Israel’s guardian angel. He is responsible for helping and defending me.” (4)

Later Daniel refers to him as “the great prince” (5) and in Jude he is called “the archangel” (6) when he disputed with Satan over the body of Moses. It is the voice of the archangel, this title given to Michael, who is associated with the raising of the dead at the 2nd coming. “There will be the shout of command, the archangel’s voice, the sound of God’s trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first…” (7) The relationship between the resurrection and Michael is reinforced in Daniel when, “the great angel Michael, who guards your people, will appear…many of those who have already died will live again…” (8)

But yet Jesus told us that it is his voice that will raise the dead. “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will come to life…the time is coming when all the dead will hear his voice and come out of their graves…” (9) Could Michael represent Jesus? It is interesting that in Revelation 12, Michael is the leader of the angels in the fight against Satan, but yet later in Revelation 19, it is Jesus who leads the charge as “The armies of heaven followed him.” (10)

Perhaps the biggest resistance to this idea is that Michael is referred to as an angel, while Jesus is none other than the living God in human form. On this point it is helpful to recall the many times in the Old Testament where God is referred to as an angel. It was “the angel of the LORD” that helped Hagar in the desert, but yet she would say, “Have I really seen God and lived to tell about it?” (11) It was “the LORD’s angel” who came to Gideon, but during the conversation it was “the LORD” who answered Gideon, and Gideon asked, “Give me some proof that you are really the LORD.” (12) At the burning bush, it was “the angel of the LORD” (13)  who appeared to Moses, but yet this “angel” told Moses, “I am the God of your ancestors.” God said, “I am who I am. You must tell them: The one who is called I AM has sent me to you. Tell the Israelites that I, the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, have sent you to them.” (14) What is even more remarkable is that Jesus claims this same title for himself: “And you will die in your sins if you do not believe that ‘I Am Who I AM” (15); “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will know that “I Am Who I Am” (16); “I am telling you the truth, Jesus replied. Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am.’” (17)

Finally, who led the Israelites through the desert? “My angel will go ahead of you and take you into the land of the Amorites…” (18) But yet Paul says that the One who led the Israelites through the desert was none other than Jesus! “They drank from the spiritual rock that went with them; and that rock was Christ himself.” (19)

Jesus, of whom the Father declares, “Your kingdom, O God, will last forever and ever!” and “You, Lord, in the beginning created the earth, and with your own hands you made the heavens” (20), in gentle and condescending manner, allows himself to appear as an angel – though he is God. But appearing in the form of an angel was far from the greatest condescension that God would make! God spent 9 months in the womb, spent his first night on earth in a feeding trough, and then grew up in Nazareth, from where it was said, “Can any good come from Nazareth?” (21) Jesus, our Creator and Eternal God, stoops to meet us in our need, as the Angel of the LORD, God of the Old Testament, Son of Man from Nazareth, and as the Prince Angel Michael when in direct conflict with Satan.

We need a God that we can really identify with and so God became a human being. Just a thought, but is it possible that the angels needed a unique revelation of God as well? It is interesting to consider that even about things like the Good News that these are “things which even the angels would like to understand” (22) and this is referring to the 2/3 loyal angels that did not join Satan’s rebellion.

“If, as most interpreters find unlikely, Michael represents the pre-existent Jesus in angelic form, his leading role in the war in heaven begins with a retrospective allusion to the pre-incarnational reality, and the Michael designation corresponds to the vantage point of the Old Testament. Michael fights and wins this war; his opponent ‘is not strong enough’ (12:8), and it is implied that strength in this context is not measured according to a physical scale. When, in a closely related tableau, Jesus fights and wins (19:11), the text need not describe that Jesus has superseded Michael but that the identity of the figure represented as Michael blends into the other. In this paradigm Jesus stands at the centre of the conflict throughout, and, as the figure of the slaughtered Lamb will bring out more clearly (5:6), it is important to see him at the centre because the resolution of the conflict depends entirely on him.” (23)

In fact, in Isaiah 14 when the angel Lucifer is referred to as “the bright morning star”, the book of Revelation ends with Jesus saying “I am…the bright morning star” (24) , “and, implicitly, ‘my adversary is not.’” (25)

So, who is God? What is he like? When we think of “God” this is the typical imagery that comes to mind: “While I was looking, thrones were put in place. One who had been living forever sat down on one of the thrones. His clothes were white as snow, and his hair was like pure wool. His throne, mounted on fiery wheels, was blazing with fire…” (26) This same individual is described in Revelation 1: “His hair was white as wool, or as snow, and his eyes blazed like fire; his feet shone like brass that has been refined and polished, and his voice sounded like a roaring waterfall.” (27) Instinctively, do we imagine this description as referring to the Father or the Son?

The book of Revelation takes us on a journey to the heart of the question that was raised in the beginning of the cosmic conflict – “Who is God and what is he like?” Notice this spectacular progression in the description of the “Lord God Almighty”, the “first and the last”, the “Alpha and the Omega”:

“I am the first and the last,’ says the Lord God Almighty, who is, who was, and who is to come.” (28)

Father or Son?

“It is done! I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end. To anyone who is thirsty I will give the right to drink from the spring of the water of life without paying for it.” (29)

Father or Son?

The conclusion of the book of Revelation leaves us with no doubt!

“Listen!’ SAYS JESUS, ‘I am coming soon! I will bring my rewards with me, to give to each one according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.’” (30)

The heart and center of all that is important is that Jesus is the perfect representation of who God is. Jesus is the answer to the question of questions. Jesus is proof that God can be trusted with infinite power and that he is not vengeful, arbitrary, exacting, or a punishing taskmaster. It’s hard to really take in the fact that the One who is infinite in power is equally kind, humble and gentle – –  but, as hard as that is to believe, it’s true! As I’ve heard Greg Boyd say so many times (in approximately these words), “However good your picture of God is, he is infinitely better than that.” While it’s true that we are only scratching the surface on God’s goodness, let’s stop scratching and get out the shovels and sledgehammers! God’s character as revealed by Jesus is the subject matter that we should be putting all of our energies into.


Footnotes:

  1. Charles, “Revelation”, I, 322
  2. Collins, “The Son of Man and the Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel”, 65
  3. Ford, “Revelation: A Translation with Introduction and Commentary”, 30-7, 194
  4. Daniel 10:13,20; 11:1
  5. Daniel 12:1
  6. Jude 9
  7. 1 Thessalonians 4:16
  8. Daniel 12:1,2
  9. John 5:25,28,29
  10. Revelation 19:14
  11. Genesis 16:7,13
  12. Judges 6:11,16,17
  13. Exodus 3:2
  14. Exodus 3:13-15
  15. John 8:24
  16. John 8:28
  17. John 8:58
  18. Exodus 23:23
  19. 1 Corinthians 10:4
  20. Hebrews 1:8,10
  21. John 1:46
  22. 1 Peter 1:12 – Good News Bible
  23. Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 88
  24. Revelation 22:16
  25. Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation, 87
  26. Daniel 7:9
  27. Revelation 1:14,15
  28. Revelation 1:8
  29. Revelation 21:6
  30. Revelation 22:12,13