When it comes to angels, the most commonly known are the archangels. Their duties are simple in nature. They complete tasks assigned to them by God; usually as those tasks relate specifically to humanity.
However, there seems to be a great deal of dispute as to how many archangels actually exist as well as which angels actually fall into that category. The number varies everywhere from just three to over a dozen.
Many contend that the actual number is seven because the Book of Revelations refers to seven archangels. But they cannot seem to agree upon the names of those seven angels.
Suggested ones include Adabiel, Adonael, Aniel, Arael, Azrael, Baradiel, Beraquel, Camael, Chamuel, Gabriel, Iaoth, Haniel, Israfel, Jehudiel, Jophiel, Kafzeil, Michael and Orfiel. They also include Raphael, Remiel, Raquel, Sabrael, Sahaquel, Satquiel, Setiel, Shachaquiel, Sidriel, Simel, Simief, Uriel, Zachariel, Zadkiel, Zaphkiel and Zerachiel.
The only three known archangels that almost everyone can agree upon are Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. That is because they are mentioned in the Old Testament and other important scripture.
Michael is the best known of all the archangels. He is specifically mentioned in the Bible, in the Book of Daniel as a “great prince”. Some theologians attribute him with actually being the ruling prince of the archangels since his name translates to “he who is like God.”
Michael is also believed to have been the angel assigned to watch over Adam after his creation. It was likely he who had the task of ushering Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden after their unfortunate fall from grace. Many even believe he spoke to God on Adam’s behalf after his death.
Michael’s name has also been associated with that of Moses. Some believe he was given the duty of ushering the great leader’s soul to heaven upon his death. He is also attributed with carrying the soul of Jesus’ mother, Mary, to heaven as well.
This fits well with one of the four roles assigned to Michael by certain religions. There he holds the honored titled of angel of death. As such, he would bring the souls of all dead to God for final judgment.
Others believe that Michael is the patron saint of God’s Chosen People and the church’s supreme guardian. Finally, he is identified as Satan’s mortal enemy because of his power to bring souls to God for judgment and redemption.
It is this role as Satan’s nemesis for which Michael may be best known. He is expected to play a key part in Armageddon, where he will battle Lucifer. Known as the angel of light, it is he who will be God’s warrior, seeking to eliminate all darkness from the world.
In some places, Michael is also recognized as a healing angel. But that honor remains unclarified. It isn’t known if his abilities refer to the capability of healing the body, the soul or both. Either way, the true power is God’s and God’s alone.
Angels are servants of God and have to divinity of their own. They must not be worshipped as idols or saints. That is not their role and, of all God’s angels, Michael seems to have the clearest grasp of that fact.
Unlike some angels, Michael is usually pictured with wings. His countenance is effeminate in look, although he is generally pictured clothed in full armor; sword and shield in hand. Sometimes he is pictured in flowing white robes with wings made from emeralds; holding scales to indicate judgment and balance.
No matter how he is depicted, one thing remains the same. He is one, if not the best loved, of all God’s angels.
Gabriel is another beloved archangel. His name means “God is my strength.”
Gabriel is also mentioned multiple times in both the Old and New Testaments. He is credited with announcing the impending birth of not only John the Baptist, but that of Christ himself. It is he who likely delivered the wonderful news to the Virgin Mary.
Gabriel is well known for his power and strength, which will become most evident on judgment day. It is he who will blow the final trumpet for the end of days. For that reason, he is often pictured with that musical instrument. He also considered the angel of judgment and, therefore, like Michael is sometimes shown with a set of scales.
Some believe it was Gabriel is also the angel of birth. He may be the angle that carries souls from heaven to earth when it is time to be born. He guards his charges while in the womb and teaches them of heaven. However, he removes that knowledge at the time of birth, giving the infant free will as is assigned by God. The cleft in a human lip is supposedly where Gabriel has touched him or her just before birth.
Gabriel plays a key role in the Islamic religion. He is believed to be the angel that dictated the Qur’an to Mohammed. He was also awarded the honor of carrying Mohammed’s soul back to heaven upon his death.
Gabriel is usually pictured as masculine in look and stance. However, some theologians argue that the angel’s association with birth could indicate a more feminine touch. Most agree; however, that like the other angels of heaven, he is really of neither gender.
Often pictured as golden or light haired, he usually wears flowing robes. Like Michael and other archangels, he possesses wings.
Raphael, the last of the fully accepted archangels is believed to be the head of the guardian angels. Perhaps that is because he is closely associated with humanity. His name translates to mean “God has healed,” which is apt since some believe him, not Michael, to be the angel of healing.
Unlike his fellow archangels, Raphael is not usually pictured with wings. Instead, he appears as a traveler or a shepherd. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that he is considered the shepherd of humanity on behalf of God.
Great acts for which he is credited include helping Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with his healing powers. He is also credited with assisting Solomon in the construction of the great temple and imparting the knowledge to Noah for building of the ark.
Some theologians believe that Raphael was given the guardianship over the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. He may well also hold the knowledge of the exact location of the underworld.
Angels A to Z by Matthew Bunson, Three Rivers Press, 1996