Subscribe to our Compelling Mail Newsletter:

The angel Gabriel – who is he?

Subscribe to our Compelling Mail Newsletter:

The Bible mentions three appearances of the messenger angel, Gabriel. Some angels, like Michael, function as warriors, protecting people from Satan's evil forces (Daniel 10:13, 21; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7). However, Gabriel is exclusively presented as a bearer of God's messages to man. First, he appears to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8) and then to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–26). Lastly, he appears to Mary, the virgin mother of Christ (Luke 1:26–38). Gabriel was the one to tell Mary to name the baby Jesus, and he also gave her the news that Jesus would reign over a kingdom without end.

The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said: "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:28). The Bible does not say where the angel met Mary, or what Gabriel looked like. We imagine him appearing suddenly in Mary's bedroom in the dead of night, with huge feathery wings and an ethereal glow. But none of these details are from the Bible. It is quite possible that Gabriel approached Mary in the market or on the road near her home, and he perhaps looked like a man. Mary was not frightened by Gabriel's appearance, though "she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be" (Luke 1:29). The angel Gabriel perceived her concern and told her not to be afraid. Then, he delivered his message. When Mary asked how the conception and birth would happen—because she was a virgin—Gabriel explained that the child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).

A few months earlier, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, a relative of Mary's. He told Zechariah that despite their advanced years he and Elizabeth would have a son, and that child would be filled with the Holy Spirit "even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). This was, of course, the news about the birth of Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist. The appearance of Gabriel had a different effect on Zechariah. The angel appeared suddenly next to the altar of incense while Zechariah was serving in the temple. "And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him" (Luke 1:12). Also in this passage we learn that the angel Gabriel stands in the presence of God and is sometimes sent by God to deliver messages (Luke 1:19). This is apparently his function, though we do not know if it is his only function. The Bible doesn't say if there are any other messenger angels, or if this job is exclusively Gabriel's.

The appearance of the angel Gabriel to Daniel is very different from his appearance to Mary and Zechariah (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). First, Daniel heard the instruction to the angel Gabriel. In this case, Gabriel was not told to deliver a message, per se, but to "make Daniel understand" a vision. When Gabriel approached, Daniel was so terrified and overwhelmed by the angel's presence that he fell on his face and went into a deep sleep (Daniel 8:17–18)! Gabriel did not comfort Daniel as he did Mary or Zechariah, but instead he woke him from his sleep and made him stand, and then said: "Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end" (Daniel 8:19). After the angel Gabriel finished showing Daniel the vision, Daniel was "appalled" and lay sick for days (Daniel 8:27). Later, Gabriel appeared to Daniel again, this time to give him "insight and understanding" and to show him another end-times vision. Gabriel also told Daniel he was greatly loved (Daniel 9:21–23).

It seems from these accounts that the angel Gabriel's appearance may in some way correspond to the nature of his message, and may be tempered to his audience. A joyful tiding about the birth of the Messiah brings little fear to a young virgin, while a grown man is overwhelmed and sickened by a vision of the end times. The angel's job was perhaps not only to relay information but to relay God's emotions as well. In any case, the angel's changing appearance reflects well the depth of God's character, who can be as a Lion or as a Lamb, as a refreshing spring of pure water, or as a consuming fire (Revelation 5:5; John 1:29; Jeremiah 17:13; Hebrews 12:29).

Related Truth:

Michael the archangel – who is he?

Who or what is the angel of the Lord in the Bible?

What different types of angels does the Bible talk about?

How did angels appear to people in the Bible? Do they appear to people today?

What are angels according to the Bible?

Return to:
Truth about Angels

Compelling Truth HOME