The angel Gabriel is a messenger who was entrusted to deliver several important messages on God’s behalf. Gabriel appears to at least three people in the Bible: first to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8:16); next to the priest Zechariah to foretell and announce the miraculous birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19); and finally to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would conceive and bear a son (Luke 1:26–38). Gabriel’s name means “God is great,” and, as the angel of the annunciation, he is the one who revealed that the Savior was to be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
The first time we see Gabriel, he appears to Daniel after the prophet had a vision. Gabriel’s role is to explain the vision to Daniel (Daniel 8:16). Gabriel’s appearance was that of a man (Daniel 8:15; 9:27). When Gabriel visited Daniel a second time, he came to him “in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Daniel 9:21). Gabriel’s “flight” might suggest wings, but wings are not mentioned. It is also clear that Gabriel’s appearance was rather terrifying, as Daniel fell on his face at the sight of him (Daniel 8:17) and was sick for days after his experience with the angel and the vision (Daniel 8:27).
In Daniel 10 we see another interaction between the prophet and “one in the likeness of the children of men”; however, no name is given to this messenger. The angel says he has come to help Daniel understand his vision, so it is very possible that this passage is also referring to the angel Gabriel. From the language in the passage, it is also possible that there are actually two angels with Daniel—one speaking to him and another strengthening him so that he can respond (Daniel 10:16, 18). The angel also refers to a battle occurring in the spiritual realms. This angel, who we can reasonably assume is Gabriel, and the angel Michael were apparently engaged in battle with a series of demonic kings and princes, including those called the king of Persia (verse 13) and the prince of Greece (verse 20).
Gabriel says that he was sent from heaven in specific answer to Daniel’s prayer. Gabriel had left to bring the answer as soon as Daniel started praying (Daniel 10:12). But Gabriel ran into trouble on the way: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days” and actually kept him from coming to Daniel as quickly as he might have otherwise. Here we have a glimpse into the spiritual world and the battles taking place behind the scenes. The holy angels such as Gabriel are performing God’s will, but they are resisted by other spiritual beings who only want wickedness in the world.
Gabriel’s message to the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was delivered in the temple as Zechariah was ministering before the Lord. Gabriel appeared to the right of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11), a symbol of prayer, and told Zechariah that his prayers had been heard (verse 13). Zechariah’s barren wife, Elizabeth, was going to conceive and bear a son; this miraculous child was to be named John, and he would fulfill the prophecy of the coming of Elijah (verse 17; cf. Malachi 4:5). Gabriel’s message was met with disbelief, so Gabriel struck the doubting priest dumb until the day of the child’s circumcision (Luke 1:20, 59–64).
Gabriel’s appearance to Mary was to announce the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mother of the Messiah was assured of her favor with God (Luke 1:30) and told that her Son would fulfill the Davidic Covenant: “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” (verses 32–33). In response to Mary’s question about how this was to happen, since she was a virgin, the angel Gabriel said the conception would be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in her, and therefore “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (verse 35).
In all three appearances, Gabriel was met with fear, and he had to begin his conversations with words of comfort and cheer for Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary. It is possible that Gabriel was also the angel that appeared to Joseph in Matthew 1:20, but this is not certain, since that angel is unnamed in Scripture. What we do know is that Gabriel is one of God’s good and holy angels. He has a favored position as an angel who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19), and he was selected to deliver important messages of God’s particular love and favor to individuals chosen to be part of God’s plan.