Apart from Michael the archangel, the only other angel in Scripture who is specifically named is Gabri’el. His name means "God is my strength," or "mighty one." Though he is never specifically referred to as an archangel, he is a high-ranking angel. He stands in the presence of God and to him are given messages of the highest importance in relation to the kingdom of God.
One of the first things that I came to realise on studying Gabri’el is that angels have names! When you think of the accounts in scripture that indicate the thousands upon thousands of angels that God created, yet He knows each one individually and has given each one a name.
Gabri’el is only mentioned specifically in one other place in the Bible, when he appeared to Daniel. It was at a time of despair for the nation when Gabriel came to Daniel with the message of hope. He testified to the all-powerful God who was about to deliver His people from the captivity, and bring them back into the land of promise. In the midst of his message to Daniel, Gabri’el also spoke of “Messiah the Prince who is to come” (Daniel 9: 25) – so this was the first time that Gabri’el was sent with the message announcing the birth of Yeshua, some 600 years before the actual event.
Gabri’el appears to be God’s chosen messenger for the period of the nativity. He describes himself as “one who stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19), and his apostolic mission clearly originated from the throne room itself. Gabri’el is clearly not one of the Seraphim, as their function is to surround the throne of God with worship. Their ministry is totally towards God, to be caught up in an endless fascination and adoration of the One on the throne, ceaselessly gazing in wonder and awe with the multitude of eyes that covered them. No, Gabri’el was of a different order of angel, with different function and responsibility. He is God’s “malachi” or messenger, the bearer of good news, the herald of the birth of Yeshua the Messiah.
Luke gives us no description of the angel, but the fact that his first words in each instance of his appearance are “Do not be afraid” would seem to indicate that there was something fearful about his appearance and the nature of his appearing. Zachariah was startled at the sudden appearance of the angel when he thought he was in the temple alone. When he appeared to Miriam, it was the nature of his greeting that caused her to be fearful. Although Luke does not actually say so, it was almost certainly Gabriel that appeared to the shepherds on the Bethlehem hills – they were fearful because of the glory of God that surrounded him. But what a magnificent sight they must have beheld when he was joined by “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” – now that’s a time of worship I would love to have seen!
There is something that stands out in every account of the appearance of Gabri’el: he speaks with authority and he has the ability to back up his words with power as Zachariah found out when he expressed his doubts. For Miriam there was no such doubting, she was reassured by the angel’s words. It was probably Gabri’el who also appeared to Joseph, this time in a dream; angels can make their presence known in different ways, not always by physical manifestation. Again, the message was delivered with authority and was received by Joseph without question.
There are nearly 300 verses in scripture that refer to angels. They are described as “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14) and “flames of fire” (Hebrews 1:7), they are powerful (2 Thess 1:7). Their primary function is to administer the will of God, and to worship him. They are of a totally different order to man, yet they are also a created order; they are spirit, and as such they have no need of an earthly body. Scripture shows us that they can manifest themselves in different ways, both as normal human beings (Hebrews 13:2) and as terrible, magnificent and awesome beings (see Daniel 10 for an example). It is very clear that they interact with us in many ways that we are completely unaware of. Psalm 91:9-12 tells us “Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place - the Most High, who is my refuge - no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” What a wonderful promise for those who love the Lord, and a great insight into how they are involved with our everyday life. But we are also warned that we must not worship them: Colossians 2:18 warns us of the consequences of angel-worship.
Angels could be described as heaven’s civil servants – as such they are carrying out the work of the government of heaven. They are also working on our behalf. As we partner with God in prayer, exercising our God-given mandate of having dominion over the earth, God gives us authority over angelic activity. Daniel chapters 9 and 10 clearly show us that as we pray, God releases angelic assistance. If the church is truly operating as the “ekklesia” (Matthew 16) – which literally means local government – then we are the local government of heaven on earth, and the whole company of heaven’s angels (are they part of “the great cloud of witnesses”?) are available to assist us in what God has called us to do. Often people are somewhat confused between the role of the Holy Spirit, and that of angels. Perhaps this can best be illustrated by Yeshua’s experience in the wilderness – the scriptures tell us that he was led (literally driven) by the Spirit into the wilderness Matt 4); afterwards we are told angels came and ministered to him. The Holy Spirit is God, he is the one who searches the heart of the Father, therefore his role is to lead us into the will of God – it is a proactive role, so the Holy Spirit is an initiator. Angels on the other hand, can only do the bidding of God, and their role is passive in the sense that they can only do what God sends them to do. Their primary function in human lives is to strengthen, sustain, encourage and protect.
Gabri’el , the faithful messenger who stands in the presence of God, is a reminder to us that the message we have for the world is good news of great joy for all the people – a Saviour is coming!