Nevertheless in like manner also these false teachers by being dreamers, on the one hand defile the flesh, but also rebel against authority, but further blaspheme the glorious angels. 9Now, Michael the archangel, while deliberating with the devil, disputed about Moses’ body, yet did not dare to execute a verdict of blasphemy but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10But these false teachers, on the one hand, slander as much as they do not understand and, on the other hand, as much as they think naturally like unreasoning animals, they are destroyed by these things.
Jude 8–10 (author’s translation)
The question “Who do you think you are?” rarely means that you do not know your identity. Rather, someone thinks that you overstepped your rightful place concerning what you have done or said. It is a rebuke to those who do not mind our place and step beyond what is appropriate for our role.
Jude’s epistle continually blasted heretics who had snuck into the church to which he was writing and had begun to lead these Christians away from the truth of Christ. He lined up multiple critiques in this short letter, one being that they had overstepped their place. They had acted above their authority. Jude put to them: “Who do you think you are?” In Jude 9–10, he continued his attack, this time about them not minding their proper place under God’s authority.
Jude 9–10 not only rebukes false teachers but also profoundly helps believers think about our discipleship, summoning us to rejoice in God’s wisdom in instructing our lives, regardless of how well we understand from the outset why he has commanded as he has. We often want certain outcomes so badly that we cannot imagine life unless we get our way. Our desires overwhelm our thinking so that we cannot imagine a content life unless we get what we want. Jude’s opponents show how embracing the notion that everything we want must be good for us and be acceptable in the Christian life leads to ruin.
Admittedly, one of this letter’s tricky spots is Jude’s account of how archangel Michael contended with the devil concerning Moses’ body. Importantly, although it is easy to get distracted when we are surprised by unexpected teaching in Scripture, Jude’s exhortation is actually very clear: Michael provides a moral example of acting well according to God’s authority.
Verse 10 has our main payoff in the contrast between Michael and the heretics. In contrast to Michael’s conduct, “But these false teachers, on the one hand, slander as much as they do not understand and, on the other hand, as much as they think naturally like unreasoning animals, they are destroyed by these things.” The clear message is that Christians should be more like Michael and less like the heretics.
With the main point in place, what do we make of this example about Michael? If we read carefully, the surprising assertion about Moses’ body just provides the setting for the main claim: “when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses . . .” Although the account about Michael contending for Moses’ body certainly grabs our attention, the opening word when shows that this is simply the setting for the major point. Michael’s situation is important, but Jude’s emphasis is on how “he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’”
Jude faced the problem where false teachers claimed that their desires came with God’s direct approval. Whatever they wanted, God must endorse. Their own dreams supposedly revealed God’s will. In contrast to these teachers who did theological acrobatics to get what they wanted, Michael depended thoroughly on what God had said. Michael is our example because he relied on the Lord’s Word.
The idea that someone has personally heard from God carries powerful weight. The notion that any of our beliefs intersect directly with God’s own viewpoint would also provide profound certainty. The false teachers claimed that they had received revelations in their dreams precisely to leverage that powerful sense of deference to direct divine insight. Christians know that we should not argue with God, so if God has said something, then that is the final word.
This problem still has its hooks in the church today in a few ways. Although the charismatic movement has a spectrum of milder and darker ends that range from claims to hear from God about application of Scripture or guidance for their lives to prosperity teachers manipulating God’s people for the sake of their own gain, the main contention is still the same claim to have received divine revelation aimed to give certainty to a particular viewpoint. Nevertheless, resources about charismatic theology abound even on this blog, so for now we can focus on how the same issue affects us closer to home.
We must admit that the world is a difficult place to live as a Christian. That is not presently a cultural lament but simply the universal truth that things are hard in the world. Disease, finance, worry, and so many other things can plague our minds into the latest hours of the night. We encounter many situations where it is hard to know what the best thing to do is, especially when we seek to make those decisions in faithfulness to God.
Amid that tension of life in the world, we very easily wish that God would speak specifically to us, so that we know what he wants us to do in specific circumstances. The problem potentially arises in how we respond to that desire. Are we going to accept that we live as pilgrims in a foreign realm, not yet home, needing to follow the principles of wisdom that God gives in his Word and through the counsel of our spiritual leaders? Or are we going to pretend that we can have more certainty than we truly can? Do we pretend that we can get divine GPS from God for the Christian life, or do we accept that God has published a written map to guide us in the Christian life, namely the Scripture?
Even in Reformed churches where we do not believe that God still reveals through dreams, we can drift toward a mystical certainty that God has not offered us in this age.2 We baptize our quest for illegitimate certainty by saying that we prayed about something and “have peace about it.” Sometimes that is one hundred percent correct. If we are need of provision, pray, and find ourselves at peace, then God has kept his promise from Philippians 4:6 that prayer has the result that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” On the other hand, if we make a decision that is shaky in its faithfulness or perhaps in which we should have consulted more wise counsel but shrug that away by saying we have peace because of prayer, then it is a version of Jude’s problem. If a Christian decided to date an unbeliever or to leave their husband or wife without biblical cause because they had prayed and had peace, then it is an illegitimate claim to certainty from God being used to justify what we want. We can use prayer and a false claim to its resulting peace as a way to enable sinful desires, falsely wrapping them in God’s approval, like Jude’s opponents did with their dreams.
We also try to give divine certainty to our personal desires by appealing to conscience issues. Admittedly, sometimes people truly have conscience issues, and we need to work through the principles of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10 to know how to respond. Nevertheless, most of the time people claim a conscience issue to give deeper certainty to something that they just really dislike. We tie our views to issues of conscience because it links our opinion to that powerful principle of supposedly intersecting our viewpoint with God’s own outlook. Some matters are truly issues of conscience. But Christians love to assume that what we strongly prefer must be from God’s own’s mind. As much as we leverage that rhetoric to get our way, we fall into the same problem from Jude 8. Dreamers leading God’s people astray appear differently and on a spectrum of intensity. Each kind illegitimately appeals to certainty from God to justify poor, sinful, or just personal desire.
Michael’s example in the event itself gives us rich material for devotional reflection, as Jude drives home the contrast between working under God’s authority and inventing our own religion. Note the emphasis in Michael’s retort in how he said, “The Lord rebuke you.” If there is ever a context where we would probably feel free to write off our opponent without further authorization, it would be if we were arguing with the devil. We do not really feel the need to find reasons to rebuke the devil. Still, Jude said that even when arguing with the devil himself, Michael would have been blasphemous if he had depended on his own authority.
Michael’s response is a citation from Zechariah 3:2. Since Zechariah was not written when Moses died, Jude’s point was not that Michael quoted Scripture. Rather, Zechariah 3 records another legal dispute between the devil and an angel. There the devil tried to accuse Joshua the high priest before God’s courtroom. As the defense attorney, the Lord’s angel replied, not with his own verdict but with God’s.
What can we learn? Even when we might feel most confident in our own judgment, we must lean upon the Lord’s wisdom. If it would ever seem right for an angel of all creatures to trust their own instincts, it would be while arguing with Satan. Yet, Jude said even when we feel we are on solid ground, we should trust God’s Word and the principles of Christian wisdom more than our own instincts and desires. Even if our own judgment seems to us to be beyond question, Jude says to question it and run it through the filter of God’s Word and Christian wisdom. We should never be self-confident, but rather confident in the Lord’s truth and mercy.
We can make this application a little more practical. In using Zechariah 3 for Michael at Moses’ burial, Jude was drawing on a tradition of biblical interpretation that applied Zechariah’s legal dispute between an angel and Satan to a whole paradigm of repeated instances of angels disputing the devil. In other words, even as Jude wrote under the Spirit’s inspiration (another situation when he might feel most assured in following his own judgment) he leaned upon the insight of other people interpreting God’s Word.
We must then see our need for real humility and dependence on layers of God’s provision before our own instincts. We have a real propensity to excuse our desires until we are convinced that God approves of them. We indulge ourselves by thinking, “It is not that I am selfish, I just want good things that God probably wants to give to me. It is not that I am lustful, I admire beauty that God has made.” We gloss over our shortcomings, assuming that whatever we want is good and holy, presuming that we could never be content if we listen to instruction that runs contrary to our most intense desires.
What if we started with the stark reality that sin destroys our soul, then wrestle with the fact that our old nature still likes to assert itself? What if we assumed more often that we can never come to a right conclusion without consulting other people to help us understand how the wisdom of God’s Word applies to our situation? What if we frequently questioned and interrogated our strongest desires, inclinations, and assumption to see if they measure up to God’s Word as understood by the ongoing wisdom of good Bible interpreters?
Jude summons us to discipleship by learning personal humility and confidence in God’s help to guide us through others. We are often too easy on ourselves. Jude used outside wisdom to write Scripture even though the Spirit inspired him. We should note that the implication is that the Spirit inspired Jude to lean on the wisdom of other writers.
When we get advice that runs hard against our strongest desires, we should question ourselves more than we question those who are giving us advice. The point is not to give a blank check to others to tell us what to do. The point is to learn that sanctification looks like loving to get insight, pushback, and support from others more than finding ways to justify our personal desires. We are a danger to ourselves when we coddle our impulses. On the other hand, Proverbs commends listening to others as the path of wisdom:
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Prov 27:6)
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Prov 12:15)
The devil would love us to listen to the deceitfulness of our own hearts to our ruin. Our exhortation is to act more like Michael and Jude, and less like the false teachers.
We have pulled at the implications of Michael’s dependence on the Lord’s Word for our own discipleship, seeing that we need to lean hard into wrestling with our own hearts. We ought to know that we are not trustworthy enough to determine our own best course of action, and so ought to love living in the church community to get wisdom from God’s Word and wisdom from God’s people, as Jude commends both explicitly and implicitly.
I wonder, however, if we might find comfort as well as exhortation if we reflect a bit more on the event of Michael’s dispute with Satan over Moses’ body. Let us recall the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34: as Israel enters the promised land now under Joshua’s leadership, Moses cannot enter the land because of his sin. In an act of mercy, God lets Moses view the land from the top of a mountain. Deuteronomy 34:5–6 says, “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.”
How amazing that God himself buried Moses, especially given the context? Remember that the angel’s dispute with Satan was legal, making Michael and the devil the two attorneys arguing for the just outcome concerning Moses’ body. Their dispute was likely about Moses’ final resting place, the devil arguing that Moses deserved no such thing since he was a sinner. Satan likely dragged out all Moses’ sin so that he could have his body, likely wanting to give it to the people of Israel, knowing that their tendency toward idolatry would lead to them using it sacrilegiously as an object of worship.
We do not want to get stuck in details about how we know that Satan accused Moses of all his sin or that he wanted to use Moses’ body to tempt God’s people to idolatry. We want to highlight the main point that God takes good care of his people. More specifically, God takes such good care of his people that we are cared for even after we die.
God protected Moses on two fronts. God protected Moses by rendering a verdict against Moses’ accuser. The Lord delivered a rebuke to Satan for trying to use Moses’ sin against him to deny him a proper burial. God ensured that Moses was laid to rest, having a proper burial rather than being left to rot in the open atop the mountain. God put Moses to rest so that it would be clear that he had forgiven Moses’ sin.
But God also protected Moses from being used for idolatry. Moses, as God’s foremost servant of the time, would have hated to have his body turned into a religious relic that would lead God’s people into superstition rather than faithful trust in the Lord. God was so kind to Moses in sparing him from having his remains turned into a reason for godlessness.
What an amazing comfort for us too, since our lives are so fragile. No matter how old or young we are, we are never guaranteed another day. But whenever and for whatever reason we die, Jude provides good reason why, as we come to the end of our pilgrimage in this age, we have no reason to worry. Our God will care for us, even in death. God buried Moses to care even for his body. Our whole person, body and soul, even as we die, is in God’s hands. Listen to Westminster Shorter Catechism 37:
What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.
Not just our soul, but our bodies also remain united to Christ, and as Christ receives our souls in heaven, he gives our bodies rest in the grave, until he restores them to us in perfection at the resurrection. Christian, God cares for you, body and soul, in this life and the next.
We see that God uses his most powerful servants, the angels to accomplish that too. He sent Michael, the archangel, a head angel, to handle this issue. It is not just that God generally controls all things as the omnipresent Lord. He also sends his angels to work on behalf of his people so that he has a servant accomplishing his will right next to us as we go through trials. I am not convinced that each of us has one angel assigned to us at all times. I am, however, convinced that God uses legions of angels for the good of all his people. We are not limited to one, as God uses the host of angels to defend us, perhaps even after our bodies lay in their graves.
Michael the archangel then gives us our great encouragement as we see not only a model of submission to God but also an instance of how God remains constantly good to his people. We ought to remember why God rebuked Satan as he tried to accuse Moses of sin at his death. God rebuked the devil because Christ died for Moses to cleanse him of all his sin. God laid Moses to rest in peace because Jesus lived, died, and rose to make Moses right with his maker.
Because Jesus Christ is the only redeemer of God’s elect, even before Christ performed his work in history, God protected Christ’s people who received all his benefits in advance by faith. As richly as God acted on Moses’ behalf to defend him as a forgiven sinner, so God will act just as forcefully for all who trust in Jesus. So, our comfort in life and in death is that we are not our own but belong body and soul in this life and the next to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
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