You can almost imagine the glee of the angel assigned to roll away Jesus’ tombstone. Often compassion or command of God compelled angels to tone it down, to soothe fears, because, usually, angels needed to communicate some message, some good news, you know, like, “You will give birth to God,” “The Savior’s born,” “He is risen!” But God gave this angel carte blanche.
And he let them have it.
He shook the earth. He removed the stone. He woke the soldiers. He sat on the stone happier than a clam. He held back nothing, not even cushioning the fainting guards falling heads.
Who was that angel on the grave stone like a kid in a candy store? Was it Michael, the great prince? Michael, the archangel of God? Michael, God’s general? There’s no way to know, but, you know, I’d like to think that maybe it was. Maybe Michael reveled in this chance to shock and awe, to mock mighty Romans, Pilate, those hypocritical high priests. Yeah, this feels like Michael.
The Father tasked some angels with gentler jobs, like the post-temptation comforting of Christ in the desert and Gethsemane. Gabriel, Michael’s colleague, seemed to be Aaron to Michael’s Moses. Michael led; Gabriel talked. Gabriel interpreted visions. Gabriel announced miraculous conceptions and births. Some think it’s Gabriel in Daniel 10. Perhaps, though, a strong case can, and should be made that it was Jesus, whom Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation describe almost identically: “A man dressed in linen, with a belt around his waist…. [H]is face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”
That Easter job – earth shaking, door disposal, guard pacification – while seeming lowly, fits Michael. Daniel calls him “one of the chief princes” and “the great prince who protects your people.” Some Greek versions of Daniel call him general, matching Revelation, “There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.” Jude calls him simply “archangel,” which means that Michael descends with Christ “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Michael is God’s doer, God’s soldier, an angel who inspires fear in God’s enemies, an angel who doesn’t shrink from using force to do God’s bidding. Michael God tasked to do whatever it was with Moses’ body leading to a dispute with his former coworker, Satan. You envision Michael mustering the legions to assault Gethsemane and save Jesus. Like many general’s, maybe Michael relished the public triumph of sitting on the empty tomb’s door. What a feather for his angelic cap! Did he? Maybe. Would he? Absolutely!
This Michael receives attention today on the feast of St. Michael. Yet, not as God, but God’s servant. Augustine said it well: “…and when a man or an angel appears to aid us, when they do this of sincere affection, He does it through them, who made them good after their measure. ‘It is’ therefore ‘better to trust in the Lord, than to put any confidence in princes.’ For angels also are called princes, even as we read in Daniel, ‘Michael, your prince.’” Whether it was Michael, or Gabriel, or some other lucky angel sitting on the door to Jesus’ tomb, it remained God’s angel, a “ministering spirit,” God’s invisible governor, who like visible governments, exist “to do you good.”
Daniel writes: “A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, ‘Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.’”
Now it’s no doubt Michael, Michael coming to help his Lord. God’s general receives a new command, moving from one front to another, doing what angels do, using their muscle on behalf of God’s people. The psalmist says, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” An enemy arose in Persia that apparently deserved Jesus’ attention. Was this those Samaritans who derailed the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple sanctioned by Cyrus? That seems likely. Was there some Haman-like conspiracy hatched against the ancestors in whose body Christ laid waiting? Perhaps. Behind it all would we find Satan? Of course. Paul, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” He who is called the prince of this world uses every tool at his disposal, including Persian and Greek empires. But Michael holds the line. And if Revelation reveals anything about Michael, it tells us of his superior skill and might. “[The dragon] was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” Michael never tastes defeat.
Nor will he in the future. Jesus shows Daniel Judgment Day: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” So like Matthew 24 and 25 do these words sound, so plainly does this refer to the bodily resurrection of believers and unbelievers, that only the most deliberately forgetful claim anything else. And Judgment Day finds Michael at work.
Note his title: “the great prince who protects your people.” At a time of great distress God sends Michael to protect, and as Jesus says, to gather the elect who have been marked with “the seal of the living God.” Michael does, but as always he does God’s work: the promised weeding of God’s field. Michael brings the righteous into shining glory; he sends the unrighteous into fiery hell.
God’s servants to do you good. “Ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” Curious about eternal outcomes. Searching the Scriptures, like the prophets, to see how these things work out. Thus the Bible teaches us about angels. A far cry from “Precious Moments,” or those cherubic little cherubs with reddened cheeks and big bellies. They aren’t the departed souls of our beloved. Angels are God’s mighty ones.
Does God need angels? No. But just as he uses human servants in the visible world, He uses angels in the invisible. And that’s an incredible comfort. God is not toothless. So often it seems like the devil has all the fun and all the tools. He throws people into dictator’s prisons. He wields the tyrant’s lash. He lures us with the false teachers’ charisma and money. He sends demons to possess and harass. He unleashes diseases upon the world. He tempts with blissful immoralities.
But God, who could, if He desired, end it with a word, is not without means. He has Michael. And the ten thousand times ten thousand. He has this force, this gleeful army of servants begging to be let off the leash, begging to be given free reign for a moment, begging to do what they did that first Easter – let loose with their angelic might and sock it to the enemy, as Michael did to Persia and Greece, those demonically braced empires, now dust and ashes.
In the end not even Michael was necessary. Christ said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Not because Michael came to the rescue. Jesus did. Not because Michael came to the support of Christ, but Christ “took [his] stand to support and protect [Michael].”
Oh, with what glee did Michael fly to Bethlehem to sing with his fellow angels, “A Savior has been born to you!” With what excitement did Michael swoop through the heavens watching the earth shake, the temple curtain rip, and the tombs of the saints open! With what ecstasy did Michael march into hell with Christ as He “disarmed the powers and authorities…made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross!”
And with what eagerness does God’s general look forward to the day when the thousand years are over, when the gloves come off, when the King of kings and Lord of lords, when Christ releases Satan, only to devour him in flames! Earth and sky will flee from that presence, but not Michael, not his angels! Michael and all the angels will stand, as they have since Creation, at the side of Christ, Christ who died for the sins of the men and women Michael protects, Christ who rose to justify those same men and women, Christ who sends Michael on mission after mission to guard those men and women. They will watch the sea give up its dead and hell give up its dead. They will stand as the Son of Man opens up the book of life and sends believers to heaven, but Satan and his children into hell. That’s where Michael will be.
And by the grace of God, by the gift of faith, that’s where believers in Christ will be too. “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” Christ cautioned His apostles, and you. He’s got a guy to take care of the spirits – Michael, the archangel, the general. And what a job Michael did. The accuser of our brothers is hurled down. The devil was overcome “by the blood of the Lamb.” The blood that purchased you. The blood by faith in which you are now under Michael’s protection. The blood by which you will be delivered at that time, on that day, by that Son of Man, by Christ, who will call you from the ground, just as He was, who will call you to everlasting life, to heaven, where you will shine with the brightness of the heavens, like the stars, for ever and ever. Amen!