The Angel Gabriel
Angels make a couple appearances in the Christmas story. The first is told by Luke:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – Luke 1:26
Is your pulse quickening? Are your eyes wide with wonder? Have you moved to the front of your seat? Of course not, you are too familiar with this part of the story. It’s easy for us all to think, “I’ve heard this a million times. I’ve seen the cute little angels floating above the nativity scene. Blah, Blah, Blah, Got it, let’s move on…”
If you quickly pass over Gabriel you will miss some of the significance of Christmas. We can become so accustomed to the appearance of Gabriel in the Christmas story we no longer see his meaning. Our minds are no longer blown. This whole part of the story is now cliché.
The Christmas season I hope you will appreciate the role of Gabriel. Can you believe it? Ladies and Gentlemen…we have an angel on our hands. Not just any nameless angel, however, Gabriel is standing in Nazareth and has just spoken to a little teenage girl named Mary!
Let’s back up a little bit. I wish we knew a lot more about angels. The Bible provides only a few clues about them. Here’s what we know for sure:
Angels and humans are the only two self-conscious intelligent beings in all the universe. Put another way, God created two types of beings within which he could have an intelligent conversation. Humans are not and never become angels.
Humans are created in a way where we procreate. God created Adam and Eve, they had the hots for each other, and here we are several thousand years later. God designed angels completely different. All angels were created around the same time. We know there are innumerable angels (Hebrews 12:22). Every one of these innumerable angels are extremely old. How old are the angels?
Theologians differ on dating the age of angels. Some believe they were made on the very first day of creation. Genesis 1:1 says, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Then in the very next verse it says, “the earth was without form and void.” Since only the earth is described as being void, there is a possibility heaven is filled with millions of angels by the end of the first day.
In Job 38 we read, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” at the time when God laid the “cornerstone” of the earth and sunk its “bases” in the process of forming or founding it. This adds support to the idea of angels being created early in the first day in order to watch as worlds were being formed.
In Genesis 1:31 God looked out and saw everything He had made and declared it “very good.” Heaven and earth were both created, sin did not exist.
Something dreadful happened between the creation of angels and the unfortunate encounter between Eve and the serpent. Some of the angels sinned. 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment.”
There is debate about exactly what happened, what the Bible verses mean, who was involved, and what the punishment entails. We do know some things for sure. An angel named Satan is the leader of all fallen angels now known as demons. Satan has been active throughout the Bible. He tempted Eve, tried to tempt Jesus, was defeated by Jesus on the cross and will ultimately lose.
Only 3 Named Angels
How does all of this relate to Christmas? First, of all the created angels we only know the names of three angels. Can you believe that! Only three angels have formally been introduced to us by God. The first one, and the one we know the most details about, is the fallen angel Satan. The name Lucifer has also been attached to Satan. The name Lucifer comes from Isaiah 14:12. There’s a chance this verse discusses the fall of Satan. The Latin word for “morning star”, in Isaiah 14:12 is lucifer. Christians took that latin term and made it a proper name. Christians then started to believe the name Lucifer was Satan’s angelic name before he fell. All of this is possible but not straightforward. Since God and the angels probably weren’t speaking Latin in heaven before the creation of the earth, it is most likely Satan was not named “Lucifer.”
The second angel ever named in Scripture is the archangel Michael. Because he is referred to as an “archangel” in Jude 9, we see there is a hierarchy among the angels. In Daniel 10:13 he is also called “one of the chief princes.” Furthermore, in Revelation 12:7-8 we are told, “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated.”
Ok, here’s where it all comes home. The only other angel mentioned by name in all of Scripture is Gabriel. Yes, the Gabriel who came to tell Mary she would have a baby. We know very little about Gabriel. Outside the Christmas story he is only mentioned in one other place. In the book of Daniel he is sent to explain some visions to Daniel. When Daniel sees Gabriel he is so scared he falls on his face. Gabriel sticks around for a few chapters. Daniel, living around 600BC, is terrified by his mighty presence. Interestingly, Daniel was a stud. He didn’t seem to be terrified at all by being thrown into a pit of starving lions. Yet, the angel Gabriel was something entirely different. There are at least three areas where Gabriel’s appearance during the Christmas story should always be extraordinary.
First, it’s very interesting that battle-hardened Daniel was terrified by Gabriel while the teenage girl Mary seemed to be unmoved by his presence. A multi-thousand year old angel is standing before her in Nazareth and she seems unmoved. Amazing. I wish Mary would have interviewed Gabriel a little bit. I wish she would have said something like, “Wow, Gabriel, we haven’t heard from you in more than 600 years…what have you been up to since you talked with Daniel? What are angels really like; what do you really do?” The situation, however, was too important for chit-chat. Gabriel had a message to proclaim. Here’s the rest of his message to Mary recorded in Luke 1:27-38:
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
A second aspect of Gabriel that should blow us away is the message he is honored to bring. Imagine that ancient angel given his marching orders for that day. He would have the privilege to communicate to humanity the reality of their coming Savior. The only hope for humanity to spend an eternity in the presence of God is through the person of Jesus. As Gabriel filled his lungs (if he has lungs) with air he exhaled the truth of Jesus coming into the world. Notice the last words of Gabriel to Mary. It’s in verse 37. Gabriel says, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” I’m sure Gabriel said this with a bit of a smile. An angel who possibly saw worlds brought into existence is now speaking from observation and experience when he tells Mary nothing is impossible with God.
The last thought I want to leave with you regarding Gabriel is to join me in asking the question: Why? Why was Gabriel chosen to communicate this message to Mary? Why is Gabriel even named in the Bible? I’m going to move into the realm of sanctified imagination. I think there is a strong possibility that Gabriel is a mighty angel. I think it’s very likely Michael, Gabriel and Satan were all three archangels. They are the only three named angels, they are all given prominent roles in the Bible, and I think the wording of Daniel 10 leaves the door open for Gabriel to also be “one of the chief princes” like Michael.
Why do I mention this? Don’t forget angels have faithfully served, worshiped and loved God free from sin for thousands of years. Michael and Gabriel certainly knew Satan before he forever turned his back on God. I think Michael and Gabriel probably hate Satan more than we could ever imagine. We humans have not been privy to the interactions between angels and demons. We know they will battle in the book of Revelation. Gabriel, however, may already have scars from his battles with Satan. Perhaps the angels even have holidays today where they celebrate great victories against the kingdom of darkness.
Here’s where it gets really awesome. Gabriel, possibly an archangel, announced to Mary the one who would defeat the works of Satan! Did you catch that?! Imagine if you have been fighting for millenniums against a strong enemy. It’s nearly impossible for us to imagine such a long, conscious battle. Can you picture how thrilled you would be when after so long God says, “You can go now and tell that little girl Jesus is on His way!” The Victorious One is coming to the earth to destroy the works of Satan and make things right again.
I’m sure the opportunity to announce the coming of Jesus to the world was one of the greatest days in the long life of Gabriel. The powerful race of angels love Jesus as much as we do. Let the announcement made by Gabriel remain extraordinary. He tells of an extraordinary Savior.