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 last portion of Chapter 9: Where Does Jude Get This Story?
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!” (Jude 9 HCSB)
The death of Moses is recorded in Deut. 34:1-7, but there is no mention in this passage of Michael and Satan disputing about Moses’ body. There are many Jewish traditions about the death of Moses, but we should always approach non-biblical embellishments with caution.
In Jude’s day, however, there is an apocryphal writing called The Assumption of Moses that records a conflict between Michael and Satan. According to this account, Satan argues over the body of Moses because Moses has killed an Egyptian overseer (Ex. 2:11-12). Satan evidently argues his right to the body because Moses is a murderer.
We should not assume that Jude has erred in quoting from an apocryphal book, nor should we declare The Assumption of Moses divinely inspired because Jude quotes from it. It may help to remember that Paul cites Greek poets and sayings without suggesting their work is authoritative (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12).
“Jude did not intend to put a canonical stamp on Assumption of Moses simply because he cited it,” writes Thomas Schreiner. “He viewed this story as true or helpful, or he believed it was an illustration of the truth he desired to teach.”
Why the debate over Moses’ body?
Jude is the only writer of Scripture to mention this incident. Michael’s appeal to the Lord apparently ends the dispute with Satan. But what are the archangel and the evil one fighting about? And what’s the end game for each of them?
The Old Testament gives us limited information about Moses’ death, recording simply, “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab facing Beth-peor, and no one to this day knows where his grave is” (Deut. 34:5-6).
The terms Jude uses to describe the dispute between Michael and Satan suggest a legal row over Moses’ body. By establishing Moses’ guilt as a murderer, the Devil seeks to claim ownership of Moses’ body and thus deprive him of an honorable burial.
What Satan would do with the body is a matter of speculation. Perhaps he would try to keep Moses from participating in a future bodily resurrection, or from appearing with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). Or, maybe he would offer it to the Israelites as an object of worship. Whatever the evil one’s intentions, Michael’s motivation is pure, and his actions reflect a desire to faithfully serve God.
Why doesn’t Michael rebuke Satan?
Michael has the authority to criticize Satan because the Devil’s motives are evil, and because by his very nature he is wicked. But Michael chooses instead not to utter an “abusive condemnation” against him; rather, he defers to the supreme authority in the universe.
Jude uses this angelic encounter to demonstrate the audacity of false teachers. He refers to the flippant manner in which they speak against angels, and he contrasts their behavior with that of Michael, who shows remarkable restraint when disputing with Satan over the body of Moses.
Michael knows God could grant him power over Satan (Rev. 12:7-9), yet he also is committed to curbing his own behavior within the limits God has set for him. Unlike the rebellious angels Jude mentions in verse 6, who “deserted their proper dwelling,” Michael addresses Satan with a humbly devastating phrase: “The Lord rebuke you!” (v. 9).
Michael follows the example set by the Angel of the Lord in Zech. 3:2. In Zechariah’s vision, Joshua the high priest stands in heaven before the Angel of the Lord. The Devil also is there at the right hand of Joshua, accusing Joshua and the people. Basically, Satan argues that, because of Israel’s sinfulness, God should break His covenant promises with the people.
In response, the Angel of the Lord (likely the pre-incarnate Christ) defends Israel by deferring to God the Father and asking Him to rebuke Satan. The Father honors the Angel’s request. Instead of breaking His covenant, He reaffirms His commitment to Israel’s future justification, promising to forgive Israel’s sins and clothe her with garments of righteousness (Zech. 3:3-5). “Those whom the Lord has chosen are vindicated in his sight.”
What conclusions should we draw?
We have looked in some detail at Michael’s encounter with Satan and the thorny questions it raises. From this, we may make certain observations.
First, Michael understands the boundaries of his authority. As a mighty archangel who protects Israel and fights on behalf of God’s people, and as one who ultimately defeats the evil one in a cosmic battle for the ages, he nevertheless submissively embraces his role as a servant of the Lord.
Second, he respects the power of Satan. Until the day he leads the charge to cast Satan out of heaven, Michael understands the freedom Satan has to roam the earth, and to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:8). Like King David awaiting the day God places him on the throne, Michael patiently bides his time and gives the Devil his due. What a contrast to the false teachers who arrogantly blaspheme demonic forces.
Third, Michael defers to God as the ultimate Judge. Telling Satan, “The Lord rebuke you!” is an object lesson for us. No matter what evil we see, and how we are called to speak against it, the exalted Christ is the Judge of all (John 5:22), and before Him all people stand one day in final judgment (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15).
Last, Jude’s primary point in mentioning Michael’s encounter with the evil one is to illuminate the sin of false teachers, who claim divine authority yet exhibit ungodly arrogance in the way they speak against those who inhabit the unseen realm. False teachers who rail against demonic forces are playing with fire, unaware they are bound for the same eternal destiny as their unseen counterparts.
Scripture offers numerous markers to help us identify true prophets/teachers – and false ones. Here are a few.
- Exalt God, not themselves or idols (Deut. 13:1-4)
- Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-22)
- Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Jer. 23:16-17, 31-32; Ezek. 13:22-23; 2 Tim. 4:3-4)
- Proclaim salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Gal. 1:8-9)
- Practice what they preach (2 Peter 2:1-3)
- Preach another Jesus – denying His virgin birth, deity, humanity, place in the Trinity, miracles, substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross, and/or bodily resurrection (2 Cor. 11:4)
- Proclaim a different Spirit – denying His personhood, deity, place in the Godhead, and/or role in creation and salvation (2 Cor. 11:4)
- Preach a different gospel – adding to or subtracting from the finished work of Christ (2 Cor. 11:4)
- Disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
Next: The Way of Cain