Who is Archangel Gabriel?
Archangel Gabriel is an angel known for delivering visions and messages from God to man. Also known as Jibril, he is the spirit of truth or “Angel of Revelations” in Islamic traditions. In the bible, Gabriel appears as the messenger of YAHWEH, as he visited the Old Testament patriarch Daniel twice, to announce the return of the Hebrews from captivity in Babylon and to explain the diversity of nations.
In the New Testament, it is the archangel Gabriel who brings Mary the tidings that she is to conceive Jesus. Gabriel is also the trumpeter who will sound the Last judgement according to the book of Revelations. According to Hebrew apocalyptic literature, Gabriel is an angel of retribution and death.
The term archangel comes from the Greek word Archangelos, and roughly translates to ‘Chief Angel’ or ‘Angel who’s in charge.’ While the term archangel only ever appears a handful of times in the bible, it’s generally understood that there is something of a hierarchy between God’s angels and that the Archangels sit at the zenith of this system.
Archangel Gabriel is, therefore, no exception. Perhaps, one of the most prolific angels in the Bible given he has various roles, from helping the prophet Daniel to interpret his visions to be the one who foretells the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary.
Archangel Gabriel’s Role
Archangel Gabriel also appears across several major religious texts both canonical and non-canonical, from both Jewish and Islamic traditions, where he adopts similar roles. Those that see him often coined him as the angel of revelation, or an angel messenger, because it is he who commonly is chosen to relate God’s messages.
Many deemed Archangel Gabriel as having infinite power, and he can be in more than one place helping those that have called upon him or who may need him. He has been attributed with the conception of life, pregnancies, childbirth, and the well-being of children.
Others see Archangel Gabriel as a muse, in that he provides motivation and supports for believers to pursue wholesome and creative careers.
Archangel Gabriel’s Powers
The strength commonly associated with Archangel Gabriel can also be drawn upon when one feels weakened, as many believe that the Archangels shield them from negativity and fuels them of zeal and confidence.
Given Archangel Gabriel role in the Bible, in terms of delivering messages and interpreting visions, one may see Gabriel as a facilitator of communication, helping the voiceless to be heard and establishing clarity of heated conflict.
Traditionally, many see Archangel Gabriel as the defender or guardian angel of Israel.
Archangel Gabriel’s Appearances in the Bible
The Book of Daniel
It appears that Gabriel first appears in the Hebrew Bible—his name meaning God is my strength—serving as an interpreter to the prophet Daniel to help him understand the visions he is seeing.
It is understood in the Book of Daniel, that Daniel can receive visions from God but that these visions are often vague, ambiguous and sometimes incongruous images that Daniel cannot make sense of by himself.
Interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream
We see this in chapter 2 of the book of Daniel where King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and asks the impossible task for the wise men of his kingdom, to not only interpret the dream but to tell him what the dream was about, even though he refused to reveal any of the details about the said dream.
In this time, God shows Daniel the dream while he sleeps and also gives him the wisdom to understand the nature of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. As a result of this Daniel, becomes one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s closest advisors, and we see him interpret other dreams for the King in Chapter 4 which served as a warning from God to the king of Pride and Humility.
Daniel is summoned by Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar when he becomes king, and Daniel is asked to interpret an event that sees a floating handwrite message on the wall.
Daniel successfully interprets this as a warning that the king will find his demise soon enough because of his lack of humility and the fact that he has not honoured God.
Interpretation of the Goat and Ram Saga
Daniel continues to have visions over the next few chapters, but it isn’t until chapter 8 where he sees a goat kill a ram and sees the goats’ horns extend up to the high heavens. Daniel notes of the ram that,
“And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land.
And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground and stamped upon them.
Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him, the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.
And a host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised and prospered.” —Daniel 8: 9-12
It becomes one of the only times that Daniel has difficulty interpreting the vision as God does not appear to deliver him any wisdom or insight here. Instead, Daniel is approached by another entity in 8:15 through 17, as he states,
“And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man.
And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.
So, he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision.”
Daniel explains that he was terrified of Gabriel as the angel approached him. He does not tell us here what the angel looked like, but given his terror, some suggest that Gabriel is a fearsome entity or simply that Daniel cannot process the magnificence of the angel and therefore responds with fear.
Daniel states that he fell to the floor with his face on the ground in the wake of the angel, but Gabriel raised him so that he might explain to him the vision of the goat and the ram.
In Daniel 8:23 through 26, Gabriel tells Daniel,
“In the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.
And his power shall be mighty, but not by his power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.
And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes, but he shall be broken without hand.
And the vision of the evening and the morning which was told is true: wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.” — Daniel 8: 23-26
Daniel tells us at the end of the chapter that he lay exhausted for several days after Gabriel’s visit, and that he was appalled by the vision, for it was beyond his understanding.
It shows us the magnitude of Gabriel’s presence that by merely speaking with Daniel, he needs him incapacitated for several days and his impact on Daniel’s life is so strong that the Prophet is a guest as to what he has seen.
Interpretation of the Restoration of Jerusalem
In Chapter 9, Daniel tells us having read the scriptures, he had the stance that desolation will come to Jerusalem for 70 years. He proceeds to conduct a lengthy heartfelt prayer to show mercy upon them all, and while they have sinned and shamed, they recognized the error of their ways.
He begs God not to strike at them with his anger, not to destroy the city which bears his holy name, but to shower them with his forgiveness.
In 9:20 through 23, Gabriel returns as Daniel tells us,
“While I was still speaking and praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request for favour before Jehovah my God concerning the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was yet speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had previously seen in the vision, came to me when I was extremely weary at about the time of the evening gift offering.
And he gave me understanding, saying:
“O Daniel, now I have come to give you insight and understanding. When you began your entreaty, the word went out, and I have come to report it to you because you are someone very precious. So consider the matter and understand the vision.”
Gabriel goes on to explain to Daniel about these 70 years and gives him details about the end times and the suffering that will be caused in between, all of which lead to a virtuous eventuality.
In chapter 10, Daniel prays to God in hope that his prayers will bring some stability to the turmoil in Israel whereby he hopes to confess all of the sins of its people. Once again, Daniel’s prayer is met with another otherworldly entity, one who makes himself known as,
“…A man clothed in linen, and around his waist was a belt of gold from Uphaz.
His body was like chrysolite, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and his feet looked like burnished copper, and the sound of his words was like the sound of a multitude.” —Daniel 10: 5-6
While this man is never explicitly identified, it is understood that this being is not mortal and that he is of a supernatural composition. His presence in Daniel 10: 10 through 20 sees this entity explained to Daniel what will happen to his people, and what lies in Israel’s fate in the times coming.
What’s most interesting about these passages is that the entity, powerful as he appears to be claims that he has been resisted by the Prince of Persia and that this had delayed him in reaching Daniel.
In Daniel 10: 13 he states that the Prince of the Persian Kingdom resisted me for 21 days. Then, Michael, one of the chief princes came to help me.
Michael being another of the chief Archangels is not detailed beyond this, but we can gather that this man in question is reinforced by Michael and thus on the side of God.
Some have speculated though that this man is Archangel Gabriel, many dispute this idea given that this figure is never addressed as Gabriel in this chapter. Having already been acquainted with Gabriel, Daniel would have surely recognized the being and given how much of an impression the angel had left on him, it would not be a face he will likely forget.
So, if this man was Gabriel, then Daniel should have recognized him instead of being overcome by this awe of him, where he was noted as trembling on hands and knees. Of course, this is reminiscent of the fear that Daniel describes having seen Gabriel for the first time—it could be, as some have suggested, that Gabriel had only shown himself to Daniel in a lesser form and when he appears to him again in chapter 10, he comes as his true self, hence why Daniel only chooses now to describe the angel’s appearance and hence why his fear is still evident, perhaps, even more so.
The Book of Ezekiel
In the Book of Ezekiel, some believe Gabriel appears in Chapter 9, and he’s referred to as the ‘man in linen’ who is tasked by God to go through the Land of Israel and mark upon the foreheads of those who will be spared from his judgment.
Throughout the Book of Ezekiel, God promises to bring destruction upon Jerusalem for he deems the people there as sinners, adulterers, and those that worship false idols and neglect his name. But it isn’t until chapter 9 that his plan is put into motion, where in Ezekiel 9: 1 through 2 Ezekiel tells us,
“He then called out in my ears with a loud voice, saying: “Summon those who will bring punishment on the city, each one with his weapon for destruction in his hand!”
I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate that faces north, each with his weapon for smashing in his hand; and there was one man among them clothed in linen, with a secretary’s inkhorn at his waist, and they came in and stood beside the copper altar.” —Ezekiel 9: 1-2
In Ezekiel 9: 3 through 4, Ezekiel continues telling us,
“Then the glory of the God of Israel rose from where it had rested above the cherubs and moved to the threshold of the doorway of the house, and he began calling out to the man who was clothed in linen, at whose waist was the secretary’s inkhorn.
God said to him: “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done in the city.” —Ezekiel 9: 1-2
The six men who are present are told to follow this man in linen and ‘to kill without showing pity or compassion, slaughter the old men the young men and the women the mothers and children, but not to touch anyone who has the mark.’
By Ezekiel 9: 11, the man in linen reports that he has done as the Lord has commanded implying that those who were marked was spared, whilst those who were not were butchered by the six men that God had sent.
Of course, this man in linen could have been anyone, mortal or otherwise. However, the repeated description of him being the man in linen has led many to link this with the entity who approaches Daniel in 10: 5 through 6, who is described as a man ‘dressed in linen.’
By this, some see Gabriel as a key facilitator of the destruction of Israel, for he is the one who mocks the Israelites, in effect deciding which ones live and which ones die. Of course, it is entirely possible that God had already decreed which ones were to be marked and that this man in linen or Gabriel is simply following God’s instructions, by this, there exists some controversy as to Gabriel’s role as far as Israel is concerned.
While it alludes here that he destroys or helps destroy Israel, he’s also seen as a protector of Israel. One might say that what he may have the people’s best interests at heart, his protection is only available if God decrees it. It shows that while the Archangels may be figures of defence and safety, they serve God first and foremost and will not hesitate to vanquish that which they have been commanded to.
The Book of Luke
Gabriel appears two more times in the Bible, both accounts taking place in the Book of Luke, where he predicts the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
The Birth of John the Baptist
In Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke, the priest Zechariah is introduced as well as his wife Elizabeth. It is quickly established that they are both righteous people, but they were unable to have children as Elizabeth was unable to conceive and that the couple were both very old.
One day, Zachariah went to the temple of God and burned incest as was the custom of the priesthood, but during his time, an angel appeared to him. Zechariah was startled by the angel and much like Daniel is gripped with fear.
The angel tells him in Luke 1: 13 through 17,
“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
And many of the children of Israel shall be turned unto the Lord their God.
And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord, a people prepared for him.” — Luke 1: 13–17
Zechariah could hardly believe what he was hearing, and he will lead him to question the angel asking him how he could be sure of such a thing, after all, he and his wife were old now and far beyond the years of conceiving a child.
The angel tells him though in 1: 19 through 20,
“…I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.
And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”
The Birth of Jesus Christ
In this same chapter, we are shown that Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, and descends upon the Virgin Mary. Upon seeing him, Mary is described as being greatly troubled by his presence, but Gabriel tells her,
“And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom, there shall be no end.” —Luke 1: 30-33
Like Zechariah, Mary cannot believe what she is hearing. She asks how this can be given as she is a virgin, to which Gabriel replies,
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.
And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren.
For no word from God shall be void of power.” —Luke 1: 35-37.
By the accounts in the Book of Luke, we understand that Gabriel takes on a similar role as he does with Daniel. He seeks to aid those he is speaking with, giving him wisdom and insight, or in the case of Zachariah and Mary, gives them prophecy and essentially tells them that they are the precursors for something great.
You might say that Gabriel’s were all in the Bible is that of a messenger for God, even if you believe that the man in linen in the Book of Ezekiel is Gabriel, he still technically takes form as a messenger. He’s not directly involved in the bloodshed in Jerusalem but merely marks of those who should be killed—again, essentially delivering what you might say is a message.
Archangel Gabriel’s Appearance — What does he look like?
Gabriel’s appearance is another interesting footnote to discuss, given that many of the characters in the Bible are shocked to see him.
You might say that this is the simple shock of seeing an angel at all and that anyone who laid eyes on something so magnificent was surely reacted in similar ways. But what’s striking is the underlining insidiousness of Gabriel’s appearance.
Daniel tells us that he was appalled by Gabriel, or at least, by the visions he was shown. And that the experience with the angel had left him physically fatigued and exhausted. He later tells us that the unidentified man he meets in Chapter 10—that some belief is Gabriel—has him trembling on hands and knees, furthermore, implying that the figure before him is terrifying.
Zachariah echoes this as well as he tells us that after seeing Gabriel, he was ‘gripped with fear.’ Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary tells us that she was ‘greatly troubled.’
Some believe that because of these reactions, Gabriel is not the angelic and pristine being that is normally depicted in art, but instead, something far more gruesome. Others speculate that Gabriel’s appearance is simply too incredible to comprehend, and so the natural response to seeing something so great is to fear it—at least at first.
Notice, Gabriel is quick to tell everyone as he approaches not to be afraid and reassures them with his prophecies—except maybe with Zachariah, who though is given a true prophecy and blessed with a son, does have his voice taken away by Gabriel for a short time for not believing him in the first place.
Archangel Gabriel’s Appearances in the Quran
In Islam, Gabriel or Jibril (Jibreel), as it is pronounced in Arabic, has a much more prominent role in it he is said to be the one who brings the teachings of the Quran from God to the Prophet Muhammad.
It’s understood that the angel Gabriel would show his presence to the Prophet Muhammad with only his voice. Although, he did appear to him as a man on occasion, as he taught the words of God.
In the Hadith of Gabriel/Jibreel, one of the many records of words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, we are told that Gabriel approached Muhammad as a man whose clothes were extremely white and whose hair was extremely black. He then quizzes Muhammad about Islam, to which Muhammad answers correctly to each question.
Unlike other encounters with Gabriel, the Prophet Muhammad does not demonstrate signs of fear or signs of being struck by the Angel’s appearance; perhaps, because the angel communicated with him mainly by voice. However, it’s understood that the Prophet was the only one to ever lay eyes upon the angel in his true form—that he described him as having 600 wings that covered the sky from the earth to the horizon.
Today, some believe that Archangel Gabriel is amongst us on earth and his role as a divine messenger has not changed over time.
Some believe that Archangel Gabriel delivers on to their messages and guidance through noncorporeal means and provides clarity during difficult or stressful circumstances.
Others believe that Archangel Gabriel provides the stimulus for which creativity flows, allowing believers to achieve new levels of inspiration and ingenuity. Others believe that trumpets or hearing trumpets are a sign that Archangel Gabriel is amongst them, for the trumpets are symbolic of Archangel Gabriel ability to broadcast the message of God.
Art Sources: Thor Odenson.