What does the phrase "Michael . . . will arise" (Dan. 12:1, NIV) mean?
The full text reads: "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people-everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered" (NIV). In interpreting this passage we have to pay close attention to the terminology used and its context. (On Michael, see Adventist Review, June 10, 1999, p. 11.)
1. Structure of the Passage: It is always useful to examine the way biblical writers organized the thoughts expressed in a passage. In this case we find a neat literary structure organized around the four usages of the word "time" (cēth). The first and last usages are associated with salvific events, while the second and third refer to a period of unprecedented anguish. This concentric literary structure serves to clarify events that will take place when Michael arises (A. At that time Michael will arise; B. It will be a time of anguish; B'. until that time; A'. at that time God's people will be delivered). The time of anguish is emphasized, but it is framed within God's liberating actions indicating that salvation is God's last word for His people, not anguish.
2. The Time of Michael's Arising: The passage is introduced by the temporal phrase "at that time" to help the reader place the events described in the verse within a particular historical sequence. In order to find that historical moment we have to examine the previous verses. Daniel 11:40 introduces a specific historical moment: "At the time of the end the king of the South . . ." (NIV). In Daniel the time of the end is a period during which end-time events will occur that will lead to the establishment of God's kingdom on earth (Dan. 7:17, 18, 21, 22, 26). Daniel 11:40-45 describes the activity of God's enemies during that time, culminating in their attempt to exterminate God's people (verses 44, 45). It is at that particular moment that Michael will arise. While Daniel 11:40-45 describes the work of evil forces on earth, Daniel 12:1 describes God's work in heaven on behalf of His people.
3. Michael Will Arise: The verb "to arise" (Heb. cāmad, "to stand") is a versatile verb used in a variety of ways in the Hebrew Bible. The main usage in Daniel 11 is military, that is to say, king after king stands or arises in human history after defeating others to reign for specific periods. For instance, four Persian kings will arise (verse 2) to be followed by a powerful Greek king (verse 3). After him the kings of the north and the south will constantly stand against each other (e.g., verses 7, 15, 20), against God's people (verse 16), and against God (verse 31). Then at the end Michael arises (Dan. 12:1).
However, Michael does not simply arise as a military-royal figure to occupy his place within the flow of history. His standing is associated with several important events that help to answer your question: There will be a time of anguish; God's people will be delivered; the book of life had already been examined; a resurrection will take place; and eternal rewards will be given. This information has led many scholars to correctly conclude that the setting of the scene described in our passage is that of a court of law.
The judicial usage of the verb "to stand" is common in the Old Testament (e.g., Ps. 130:3; Isa. 3:13; 50:8; Jer. 49:20; Eze. 44:24). During legal proceedings judges usually sat, but at the conclusion of the proceedings they arose to announce the verdict (Prov. 20:8; Isa. 16:5; Ps. 76:9, 10). In Daniel 7:9 God sits at the beginning of the final judgment, and now at the end of the legal proceedings Michael stands. His rising is directly related to the proceedings during which the heavenly book of life was examined and the verdict of eternal life or perdition was pronounced. In that judgment setting Michael was the mediator of His people-He is the one "who protects [cāmad, 'stands for'] your people." He stands to announce the verdict, and consequently there is no longer any mediator. The result is unprecedented anguish on the planet and the consummation of the salvation of God's people.
I am looking forward to the time when "Michael . . . will arise." Aren't you?