The identity of Jesus is the most important question that we can wrestle with. Forget the age of the earth. Forget the dating of the Gospels. Who is Jesus? That is what we need to know.
Every religion and philosophy has a different answer to that question. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the answer is the archangel Michael.
For Christians encountering that claim for the first time, it seems rather bizarre. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, find the claim quite convincing. The key verse is:
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV)
The argument is that when Jesus returns, it is his voice that will cry out and that voice is identified with the archangel. Since the only one identified in the Bible as an archangel is Michael (Jude 9), then Jesus should be understood as Michael.
How should Christians respond to this?
One response is to question why the voice that accompanies the return of Jesus should be identified with Jesus. It would be normal in the ancient world for a servant to announce the appearance of a king rather than the king announcing his own arrival. See for example the numerous trumpet calls in Revelation, including the one that announces the return of Jesus.
Another response could be that the Bible never says that Michael is the only archangel. Jewish tradition suggests that there were five to seven archangels with Michael just being one of them. Paul could have been clearer if he wanted to identify Jesus with Michael.
The strongest response is that the Bible is explicit in stating that Jesus is not an angel.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:3–4 ESV)
How can Jesus be an archangel when the Bible says he is not an angel? Jehovah’s Witnesses would respond by saying that Jesus is not an angel, he is simply the head of the angels. But that is not what arch means. In other biblical titles with the prefix arch, it means one within the rest of the group who has a position of authority. For example, the chief or high priest is not just in charge of the priests, he is a priest. To make things worse for Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the few biblical passages that mentions Michael questions his unique position.
“The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:13 ESV)
Michael is described as “one of the chief princes,” hardly a description of the one archangel who would be the saviour of humankind.
So who is Jesus? I believe Jesus to be God incarnate, the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, the first fruits of the resurrection. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope that you see that the argument for Jesus being Michael is far from strong. If you are interested in this topic, please see my book, The Watchtower and the Word.