The Lord Rebuke You: Michael and the Devil

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the first portion of Chapter 9: The Lord Rebuke You: Michael and the Devil.

Previously: What Are “Eternal Chains in Darkness”?

Nevertheless, these dreamers likewise defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings. Yet Michael the archangel, when he was disputing with the Devil in a debate about Moses’ body, did not dare bring an abusive condemnation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these people blaspheme anything they don’t understand, and what they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals – they destroy themselves with these things. (Jude 8-10 HCSB)

Several years ago as I trimmed grass in my yard, a small garter snake slithered out from the weeds. He coiled and struck my electronic weed trimmer. This was an odd scene, as garter snakes generally flee predators and prefer to hide their heads and flail their tails rather than move aggressively. They also discharge a malodorous, musky-scented secretion to ward off danger, or simply slither away into the brush. Even when they do attack, the mild venom in the fangs in the backs of their mouths is muted by large gums in the front, making it difficult to deliver venom to larger predators.

So, the sight of this relatively harmless snake, less than a foot in length, taking the fight to my weed trimmer, was curious to say the least. His open jaws were far too small to capture the housing of the trimmer, and he bounced backward after his first strike. Then, he recoiled and struck again. And again. Then he struck a final time, connecting with the whirring fishing line beneath the housing, which spun him around a couple of times and tossed him several feet into a ditch, where he gave up the fight (and ultimately, the ghost).

How remarkable was the snake’s tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. But even more notable was the realization that the snake could not distinguish between a lethal living predator and a buzzing weed whacker. It cost him his life.

We see a similar comparison in Jude, as the author likens false teachers to brute beasts who operate on instinct, are incapable of reasoning, and who bring swift and certain destruction on themselves as they speak arrogantly to demons, pollute their souls, and slough off the authority of their Creator.

Why does Jude call false teachers “dreamers”?

The false teachers leading Jude’s readers astray are fearless, to say the least, but not in a good way. Jude minces no words when he calls them dreamers who destroy themselves.

It takes courage to speak truth to power. We see this in Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23); in speeches by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), in Solomon’s Colonnade (Acts 3), and before the religious power brokers led by the high priest (Acts 4); and in Stephen’s sermon to his Jewish brothers (Acts 7).

But when false teachers stand toe-to-toe with demons and rebuke them in the power of their own flesh, they are more accurately described as foolhardy than courageous. Jude informs us that these false teachers are brash – and brutish. They are “dreamers” who claim dreams and visions from God, despite the fact that their words and deeds do not match the scriptural requirements for true prophets.

In the Old Testament, the term “dreamer” is synonymous with false prophet. The Lord warns the ancient Israelites several times about the “dreamer of dreams.” At one point, He advises His people to reject the dreamer as a false prophet, even if his prediction of future events comes true. The reason: The dreamer also is urging people to follow idols – a direct violation of God’s commands. In such circumstances, Yahweh may be testing His people (Deut. 13:1-5).

As for false teachers depicted in Jude, John MacArthur notes, “The wicked behavior of these men often derives from their dreaming, a term that Jude used to identify the apostates as phony visionaries.”

In describing these dreamers, Jude chooses a form of the verb enupniazo, which is used only one other place in the New Testament, Acts 2:17 – “and your old men will dream dreams.” In that passage, Peter draws from Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) to refer to revelatory dreams rather than normal ones. Thus, by employing the same Greek term Peter uses, Jude seems to be saying that the false teachers claim divine authority for their dreams. These dreams are promoted as new sources of truth, when in fact they are little more than unrestrained exercises of the imagination.

More than just “dreamers,” these religious imposters use counterfeit revelations to justify their own sexual immorality, boastful proclamations, and claims of spiritual leadership. After all, if God has divinely appointed them as teachers, He must certainly endorse their behavior.

The apostle Paul offers the Colossians a similar warning against “dreamers,” even though their doctrines are different than the ones Jude warns against: “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18 – emphasis added).

Jude’s “dreamers” engage in three sinful activities:

First, they defile their flesh, meaning they engage in immorality without restraint, fearless of opposition, and unafraid of judgment. Jude pairs the words “defile” (miaino) and “flexh” (sarx) to refer to moral and physical defilement, or sexual sin.

The word miaino means to dye or stain something, such as clothing or glass. It also can mean to pollute, contaminate, or corrupt. This word often designates sexual sin in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament – Gen. 34:13; Lev. 18:24, 27-28; Job 31:11; Jer. 3:2; Hos. 5:3; 6:10). Naturally, these false teachers do not think they are polluting their flesh. Instead, they appeal to divine visions to argue in favor of their debauchery.

Second, these false teachers despise authority. Perhaps Jude means human authorities such as local church leaders, the apostles, or governmental officials. However, the Greek term Jude uses for “authority” – kyriotes – never refers to human authorities in either the Septuagint or the New Testament. And since the next phrase likely denotes angels, Jude probably has in mind the Lordship of God and/or Christ here.

Claiming divine authority, these dreamers feel empowered by God as His agents on earth. As such, they hold themselves above human and angelic accountability, while insisting that their words and deeds are as authoritative as if uttered from the lips of Christ Himself.

Third, Jude says these interlopers blaspheme glorious beings. The word “blaspheme” is blasphemeo in the Greek and means to speak evil of someone or something, especially with respect to God or sacred matters.

The term “glorious beings” comes from the Greek doxas – literally “glories.” It’s possible Jude is referring to the defamation of honorable people, such as the “dignitaries” of Ps. 149:8 or Nah. 3:10. Or, Jude may be writing of holy angels. The NASB renders doxas “angelic majesties,” and the parallel passage in 2 Peter 2:10-11 refers to the false teachers’ blasphemy of “the glorious ones … angels.” No doubt, holy angels play a special role in establishing the very moral order that Jude’s false teachers openly flaunt (see Deut. 33:2; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2).

But in concert with verse 9, where Michael refuses to pronounce judgment on the Devil, it may be preferable to see the false teachers’ slanderous words directed at evil angels. If that’s the case, Jude’s argument runs as follows: These false teachers insult demons, but the archangel, Michael, does not even presume to blaspheme the Devil himself, preferring to leave his judgment to God. “If Michael as an angel with high authority did not even presume to judge Satan, how can the opponents be so filled with pride that they insult demons, who have a certain glory, even though they have subsequently sinned?”4

Ultimately, says Jude, these religious renegades destroy themselves. They don’t understand the full implication of their words and deeds. Jude likens them to “unreasoning animals,” who operate on instinct, thinking to secure their own preservation, but in fact hastening their demise.

The term translated “unreasoning” (alogos) means “without a word.” That is, the false teachers are like animals who cannot speak intelligibly because they cannot reason. It matters not how educated these false teachers are; how many advanced degrees they hold; how eloquently they speak; how graphically they describe their dreams and visions. They are like brute beasts. Descending the spiral of ungodliness into damnation, the false teachers profess themselves wise, when in fact they are fools (Rom. 1:22).

In the end, they pronounce their own doom, for as they speak blasphemies and promote heresies, they fill up their measure of sin and invite the wrath of God (see Gen. 15:16; Matt. 23:31-32; 1 Thess. 2:16).

Who is Michael the archangel?

Jude offers one of the few references in Scripture to Michael the archangel. He is the only archangel named in the Bible, and his name means, “Who is like God?” What a contrast to Satan, who exalts himself above God, and who tempts Eve with the promise of becoming like God through disobedience to her Creator.

Though little is revealed in Scripture about Michael, we are given enough information to draw some conclusions. He is introduced in Dan. 10:13 as “one of the chief princes.” He helps another angel, who has been battling the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” for 21 days, to deliver an answered prayer to Daniel. Because of the reference to Michael as “one of the chief princes,” it’s possible there are additional archangels, though none is named as such.

Some commentators suggest that Gabriel (“hero of God”) may be an archangel. He appears to Daniel (Dan. 8:1527; 9:20-27), and later to Zechariah (Luke 1:1123) and Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

Michael is one of God’s most powerful holy angels and the protector of God’s people. He is called “the great prince” in Dan. 12:1. He leads an angelic host in a heavenly battle against the “dragon and his angels,” defeating them so there is “no place for them in heaven any longer.” Satan is thrown to earth, and his angels with him (Rev. 12:7-9).

No doubt, Michael is a powerful angelic being who serves primarily as the champion angel of Israel. The word “archangel” comes from a compound Greek term archangelos and means “ruling angel.” It only occurs twice in the New Testament (1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9) and not once in the Old Testament.

Who Michael is not

Some commentators have filled the void between biblical revelation and human imagination with fanciful views of Michael. While it’s important to understand who Michael is, it’s equally important to understand who he is not.

Michael is not Jesus. The glory, power, and majesty of Michael – and his decisive victory over Satan in the heavenly realm – lead some to conclude that Michael is in fact another name for Jesus.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are perhaps the most vocal proponents of this view, teaching that Jehovah fashioned Michael in His first act of creation and then made all “other” things through him (see Col. 1:16 in the New World Translation). About 2000 years ago, according to the Watch Tower, Jehovah recreated Michael as Jesus the man. This is not an incarnation – God putting on human flesh – but the remaking of an angel into a mere human being.

Jesus later dies on a torture stake, exonerating the name of Jehovah, and ceases to exist in human form. Three days later Jehovah takes Jesus’ life force and recreates it into an exalted Michael the archangel.

“[T]he Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth,” according to the Watch Tower’s official website. Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that because other individuals in the Bible are known by more than one name – Jacob/Israel and Peter/Simon, for example – it’s only reasonable to see that Jesus and Michael are two names for the same person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses misinterpret 1 Thess. 4:16 by attaching the archangel’s voice to Jesus, when in fact the New Testament never identifies Jesus as an archangel. Further, they argue that because both Michael and Jesus lead armies of faithful angels (Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Peter 3:22; Rev. 12:7; 19:14-16), they must be the same person. But to argue from this perspective is like saying that because a CEO has authority over all employees and a manager has authority over some of the same employees, the CEO and the manager are the same person.

Unfortunately, the Watch Tower elevates a created being to the lofty position of “mighty god” while stripping away the deity of Jesus, negating His incarnation, denying His substitutionary and sacrificial death on a cross, and rejecting His physical resurrection from the dead – core elements of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Michael is not a patron saint to whom we pray. Roman Catholics refer to Michael as “St. Michael the Archangel,” who carries out four main responsibilities: (1) To combat Satan; (2) to escort the faithful to heaven at their hour of death; (3) to be a champion of all Christians, and the church itself; and (4) to call men from life on earth to their heavenly judgment. Today, St. Michael is invoked for protection, especially from lethal enemies. He also is the patron saint of soldiers, police, and doctors.

This view of Michael aligns more closely with Scripture than the view of the Watch Tower. Yet it assigns him tasks the Bible does not affirm. While Jesus mentions that angels carry the soul/spirit of Lazarus to Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22), He does not name Michael among these angels.

Further, while the term “saints” may in some contexts be applied to angels, or “holy ones” (e.g., Deut. 33:2-3), Scripture never instructs us to pray to angels, or to certain believers in heaven. We are to direct our petitions to God the Father in the name of Jesus, who sits at the Father’s right hand as our Mediator and Intercessor (Matt. 6:9; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25).

Michael is not the Angel of the Lord. We should not confuse Michael with “the Angel of the Lord” (mal’akh Yahweh), who is identified throughout the Old Testament and at times equated with God (e.g., Gen. 22:11-12; Ex. 3:2-4). In contrast, Michael never is called “the Angel of the Lord,” nor is he given divine status.

Ancient Israelites believed the Angel of the Lord to be a non-divine angel, “the angel of the countenance” and “the highest revelation of the unseen God.”

Catholics, for the most part, regard the Angel of the Lord as a representative of God, an actual angel, while Protestants generally believe the Angel of the Lord either is a theophany (a manifestation of Yahweh himself) or a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.

John Calvin writes, “I am inclined to agree with the ancient writers [the biblical authors], that in those passages wherein it is stated that the angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, Christ was that angel.”

Zechariah 3 comes as close as any passage to identifying the Angel of the Lord with Jesus. In a vision, Zechariah sees Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, likely in heaven. Joshua is dressed in filthy garments, which symbolize Israel’s sinful past. Satan is there as well and stands ready to accuse Joshua and the people of Israel.

But the Angel of the Lord says to those around Him, “Take off his filthy clothes!” Then, turning to Joshua, He says, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with the splendid robes” (v. 4). “This passage perfectly describes the work of Christ, who took upon himself our degradation and shame and, in an inconceivable exchange, covers us with the robes of his righteousness.”10

It seems clear that Michael is a created angel and not God Himself. He is designated an archangel and is classified as “one of the chief princes” (Dan. 10:13), as if belonging to a group of comparable ones among angels. He is further appointed to the welfare of Israel, as other angelic beings are assigned to nations by God or by Satan (cf. Dan. 10:13, 20).

It’s good to keep in mind that Jesus, the Logos – that is, the Word, the communication and revealer of God the Father (see John 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13) – is distinct from men and angels in that He is called monogenes (only begotten, unique; see, for example, John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). He is the Creator of all angels (Col. 1:16) and the Lord of all nations (Rev. 19:13-16).

Next: Where does Jude get this story?