Angels, spirit messengers from God, feature prominently in Christmas stories and carols. Though angels have names,[1] we know the names of only two, Michael and Gabriel. Most angels remain unnamed so that the focus will be on the message and not on the messenger.

Gabriel appears on the world stage in three time frames, all of them related. He first appeared to explain Daniel’s prophetic visions. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, Gabriel appeared several times, though he is not always named. And he will have a role to play in the future when the time comes for Daniel’s prophecies to be fulfilled.

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Daniel first met Gabriel in a dream which puzzled him.[2] In that dream Daniel asked Gabriel the meaning of his dream, and Gabriel interpreted it for him. Over the next 17 years Daniel had more visions, and each time Gabriel interpreted them for him.

During that time Daniel remembered from prophecy that Israel’s exile would last seventy years. Realizing that the seventy years of exile were almost over and had not brought about complete repentance, Daniel turned to the Lord in prayer and fasting.[3] In answer to Daniel’s prayer, God again sent Gabriel to give him understanding about the 70 years: Seventy years is not enough. It will take an additional 70 “sevens” to put a stop to Israel’s rebellion against God and to bring in everlasting righteousness. The solution to their sinful nature is the Anointed One, the Messiah, who alone has the power to change people from the inside out. He will be “cut off” or killed at the end of 69 sevens.

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            Within a century of Daniel’s time, God’s voice through His prophets went silent and remained silent for 400 years. During those silent years, some of Daniel’s visions were fulfilled. Persia and Greece rose and fell. Then Rome became the world power and ruled over the Jews with an iron fist. God’s people became increasingly desperate for their Messiah to appear.

Time passed and the 70 “sevens” were only a few sevens from being complete. The Anointed One must be born soon. He must grow to manhood before the end of the 69th “seven,” when He would be killed—or “cut off” as Jews more delicately expressed it.

Such an important milestone in human history must be announced. Whom would God choose to announce it? Outside of God Himself, no one in heaven was more interested in human history than Gabriel. Ever since he explained to Daniel that God’s master plan was to send the Anointed One, Gabriel had been counting earth years in sevens. So Gabriel was chosen to break heaven’s long silence.

Part of God’s master plan was to heighten people’s longing for the Messiah to return. A forerunner was needed to “prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”[4]

God’s first step was to send Gabriel to tell Zechariah that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear him a son.[5] They were to name him John—known to us as John the Baptist. John’s mission in life was to prepare people for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. To Gabriel’s surprise Zechariah received the announcement not with joy but with skepticism.

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Gabriel was stunned at the response.

“I am Gabriel,” he thundered. “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to tell you the good news. How dare you not believe me? Now you won’t be able to speak another word until this all comes true.”

Gabriel then struck Zechariah dumb for his insolence. He would not speak another word until his son was born.

When the baby was born, the family wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. Zechariah wanted to scream in protest but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to be dumb for the rest of his life. He motioned for a writing tablet and quickly wrote, “His name is JOHN!”

Immediately his tongue was loosed and he was able to speak again.

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            But we are getting ahead of the story. Before baby John was born, Gabriel had a couple of other assignments. First, the Messiah’s mother-to-be had to be notified.[6]

In Nazareth was a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary.

“She is the chosen one,” the Ancient of Days informed Gabriel. “Tell her the news.”

Gabriel was surprised to learn that the special mother-to-be lived in the disreputable town of Nazareth, but he quickly swallowed his surprise. He knew better than to question the Ancient of Days. Gabriel would gladly obey Him to the letter. When Zechariah’s wife was six months pregnant, Gabriel paid Mary a visit.

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel quickly reassured her.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will conceive, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus.” 

Before Mary could say anything, Gabriel hurried on.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Gabriel paused, giving Mary time to absorb the wonderful message. Finally she spoke.

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Mary was not, like Zechariah, expressing disbelief. She was wondering what was next.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you,” the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

While more questions swirled in Mary’s head, Gabriel dropped another bombshell.

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. Nothing will be impossible with God.”

The news about Elizabeth put the announcement to Mary in a new light. If God could enable a barren old woman to conceive, Mary reasoned, He could do the same with a young virgin. She looked up and saw that Gabriel was waiting for a reply.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let everything you have said happen to me.”

Satisfied with Mary’s answer, the angel left her. He was relieved that she hadn’t responded like Zechariah.

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            Things went well for the next few months. Mary hurried to the hill country of Judah where Elizabeth lived. She had so much to share with old Elizabeth, whom she hardly knew. Now they had lots in common despite their age difference. Both of them were pregnant. Both carried miracle babies. Both of their babies would grow up to fulfill centuries’ worth of ancient prophecies. What a wonderful time of sharing the two women had!

Three months later Mary returned home. Elizabeth was due any day now, and Mary had to break the news to her fiancé Joseph that she was pregnant.

He did not take the news well. Joseph knew the baby was not his. Mary was still her sweet loveable self, and she loved the Lord with all her heart. But the excuse she gave for being pregnant! What a wild story! She was still a virgin? God did it to her? Preposterous!

In Jewish culture, a betrothal was as legal as a marriage. Breaking the pledge of marriage must be done legally. Broken in heart, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly.

The Ancient of Days quickly called for Gabriel to stop Joseph from getting a divorce. The Messiah must have an earthly father. He must grow up in a normal two-parent home. Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream.

“Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus [He Saves], because he will save his people from their sins.”[7]

Joseph woke up. The dream was so vivid that he knew it was from God. He remembered the words of Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”[8] He knew that Immanuel means “God with us.”

Joseph was convinced. Mary had not made up a wild story. She truly was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible records what happened next: “He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”[9]

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            Heaven was emptier after the Holy Spirit came upon Mary. God the Son was now on earth, growing in Mary’s womb. Gabriel watched Mary’s pregnancy with great interest. When the baby was born, he exploded with excitement. He approached the Ancient of Days.

“Lord Most Holy,” he said bowing reverently before the throne in heaven, “I have followed this story for centuries. May I break the news?”

“Absolutely.”

“But whom can I tell? It’s the middle of night in Bethlehem. The whole world is asleep.”

“Not everybody. There are shepherds in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks.”

“Poor shepherds! Can’t I wake up the high priest and tell him?”

“The high priest and religious rulers are more interested in protecting their turf than in a baby born to a couple of peasants. They don’t understand My way of doing things. Why do you think I am sending a forerunner to prepare the way? The only ones ready now to hear and understand the good news are the shepherds. They raise lambs to be slaughtered at Passover. They will be the first to grasp that this baby is the Lamb of God. When He is slaughtered, He will put an end to the slaughtering of Passover lambs forever. Go! Tell the shepherds.”

Gabriel disappeared from heaven’s throne room in a flash. When he appeared to the shepherds, the hillside lit up bright as day with the glory of the Lord. The shepherds were terrified, but Gabriel quickly reassured them.

“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city. This is how you will recognize him: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”[10]

Suddenly, a great company of angels appeared with Gabriel. They all wanted to share in breaking the news. But how can thousands talk at once and still be understood? You guessed it. They sang! And what a song it was! The old hymn puts it well: “Heaven’s arches rang as the angels sang”:[11]

“Glory to God in highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

 

The angels disappeared and darkness descended once more on the shepherds and their sheep. Gabriel watched with satisfaction the shepherds’ response.

“Let’s go to Bethlehem!” they said to each other. “Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

                    They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Everything happened the way the angel had told them.

After seeing the baby, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were amazed. As the shepherds returned to their flock, they glorified and praised God for everything they had seen and heard.

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            More than a year later, Magi from the east showed up in Jerusalem looking for a little king of the Jews so they could worship him. King Herod was very interested.

“As soon as you find him, report to me,” Herod instructed the Magi, “so that I too may go and worship him.”

Of course Herod had no such intention. He wanted to kill the child who posed a threat to his throne. Once again a heavenly messenger was needed to intervene. Once again Gabriel was called upon to follow up on his assignment which began long ago.

After the Magi found the Christ child and worshiped him, Gabriel warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod; so they returned to their country by another route. Then Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream.

“Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

After Herod was dead, Gabriel appeared once more in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and told him it was safe to return home.

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            The baby Jesus grew up to adulthood and ministered in public for about three years. God’s clock was still ticking. The 69th “seven” that Gabriel had explained to Daniel was complete. It was time for the Anointed One to be “cut off.” This was the plan that had been agreed upon before the creation of the world. The plan of redemption had been put in place before humans were created—before they sinned, necessitating a redeemer.

Before the Lamb of God was sacrificed on the cross, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Knowing how terrible the ordeal would be, Jesus struggled to submit to his Father’s will. Finally he prayed a prayer of submission.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”[12]

Then we are told: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”

Was this Gabriel? Who would be better to remind Jesus that his suffering was part of the plan, not just from centuries ago, but from before the world began? To back out now would destroy the whole purpose for which mankind was created, which was to expand God’s family beyond the Holy Three to include multitudes of human beings.

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            The Anointed One was cut off at the end of the 69th seven. Jesus died and rose again. Following the 69th seven is a time gap, a gap which has now stretched to almost 2000 years. Some day, some day soon, the 70th seven will begin. The angel Gabriel told Daniel a lot of details about what would happen in those seven years, details which Daniel heard but did not understand, details which he recorded. Gabriel told him, “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.”[13]

The angel who announced Jesus’ birth is watching—watching for His second coming, watching for the Anointed One to “put an end to sin… and bring in everlasting righteousness,”[14] watching for the time of the end.

John, the author of the book of Revelation, saw the future and described it for us:

The Ancient of Days is sitting on his throne in heaven as he does every day. But this day is different. He has a scroll in his hand. The scroll has writing on both sides and is sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel—Gabriel means “God is mighty” or “God’s mighty one”—notices the scroll. He interrupts the worship in the throne room with a thundering question: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” Who will get the end times rolling? [15]

John weeps and weeps, thinking no one can open the scroll. Then one of the worshipers says to him, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah … has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

The Anointed One of Daniel’s vision, the Lamb of God, now the Lion of the tribe of Judah, opens the seals one by one. For those who have rejected the Lamb, this is bad news; judgments begin to fall on the earth. But for those who have received Jesus as their personal Lamb of God it is good news.

John describes it for us: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”[16]

Daniel had also described it in his vision: “He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.”[17]

As Gabriel told the shepherds: “Fear not!” Jesus’ birth is “good news of great joy” and is “for all people.”

Jesus came to bring peace between God and man. If we accept Him, we have nothing to fear—now or in the future.

 

[1] See Heb. 1:4.

[2] Daniel chapter 7. Though the angel is not named here, what follows strongly suggests that it was Gabriel.

[3] Daniel chapter 9, esp. vs. 13, 17-19.

[4] Isaiah 40:3

[5] See the full story in Luke chapter 1.

[6] Details in Luke 1:26 – 38.

[7] Matt. 1:20-21, GW

[8] Isaiah 7:14

[9] Matthew 1:24-25

[10] See the story in Luke 2:8-20.

[11] “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” words by Emily E. S. Elliott, 1864.

[12] Luke 22:42

[13] Daniel 12:4

[14] Daniel 9:24

[15] Revelation 5:1-5

[16] Daniel 7:9-10

[17] Daniel 7:14

 

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