I was really puzzling over one of the verses in Jude this morning so I decided, as a rare deviation, to look at what some Bible scholars had to say. This was a truly enlightening experience – but not in the way you might expect. The light came in the form of a reminder that “supposed” scholars are often full of bluster and nonsense when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Sadly, they have a great deal of clout anyway, because they sound authoritative and seem like they know more than other people. I mean they’re scholars, right? Wrong. We need to realize that our religious lives rest in our own hands – and we must never hand them over to other people. We need to take responsibility to seek out God through His word ourselves. The consistency of the Bible speaks God’s life-changing, life-saving messages loud and clear – if we are “diligent” in “rightly handling the word of truth”. 2 Timothy 2:15
The verse in question is perhaps one of the most perplexing in the Bible. Here it is in full:
But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
– Jude 1:9
The so-called scholars went all over the place with this verse. Some of them advocated for literal debates between good and evil angels at Moses’ actual gravesite (which we know is not a real event since “evil angel” is an oxymoron (cp. Hebrews 1:14) and the OT has no record of such a thing). Some advocated this as a quotation from non-inspired ancient writings. Some decided Jude should not be a part of the canon of Scripture. There was hardly a one that helped me make any sense out of the passage. They did have some leads in the right direction, however – but nothing of substance as to their conclusions. So, I put on my own thinking cap and offer you my two cents on the passage, for what it’s worth. I welcome your own scriptural study as feedback on my thoughts.
A good approach to any Bible study is always to use the context to set your questions in the Big Picture of what is being discussed. Since Jude is only one chapter – this is a pretty easy task. The book is an emphatic warning to “those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” v.1 It is a message to the believers of Jude’s day- and in the timelessness of God’s great word, to believers of our own day as well. Jude felt strongly compelled to issue a warning about the grave danger posed by false Christians in the midst of their community. He uses the most stringent and descriptive rhetoric, calling them “ungodly persons,” “hidden reefs”, “without fear,” “caring for themselves,” “doubly dead”, “following their own lusts,” “arrogant,” flattering people for their own gain,” “grumblers,” “fault-finders,” “divisive”, “worldly minded,”etc. This is serious, indeed! And calling attention to these subtle-but-destructive people is the crux of the context of our difficult passage.
After introducing this threat to the brethren, Jude gives a number of Old Testament examples of the type of people he is talking about. It has helped me to sort it out in my mind by listing them in chronological order.
- Cain v.11
- Enoch’s prophecy v.14-15
- Sodom and Gomorrah v.7
- Those that perished in the rebellion of Korah vv.5-6,11
- Balaam and those like him v.11
- Our Mystery passage: Michael & Moses?
As good Bible students, after looking at the context, we know to dive into the passage itself, and look for cross-references and Bible echoes. The one that stands out the most is found in Zechariah 3. Not only do both passages discuss an angel and an opponent but also, Jude directly quotes the words of the Zechariah angel. Now we are getting somewhere…😊 So, exactly what is going on in the Zechariah passage? It is a vision of the actual high priest of his day, Joshua, standing with a strong adversary before the angel of the Lord.
Just who was this Joshua, you ask? Ezra 3-4 tell the story. He was the High Priest that was in charge of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem when Cyrus, King of Persia had allowed the Jews to return to their land after captivity in Babylon. (Incidentally it is serendipitous that this is the same Cyrus that we read about in Isaiah 45 in the readings tomorrow! Cyrus’ decisions were prophesied by God, long before he was even born – which makes this story doubly remarkable. Perhaps that is exactly why Jude chose it as an illustration.)
So if we see this story as the picture-language template that Jude is using to illustrate his point – Who was the adversary (satan)? And why would Michael contend with them? And what is Moses’ body? Ezra 4 answers these questions also. There we discover that “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin” look like believers. They are the Samaritans – transplanted into the land when the Jews were carted off to Assyria. They “feared God AND served their own gods!” 2 Kings 17:27-33 They are exactly the evil folks described in Jude. They offer to “build” with Joshua and his people, “for we, like you seek your God.” Ezra 4:2 But they actually “discouraged,” “frightened ”, “hired counselors against them”, and “frustrated their counsel” for years and years. Ezra 4:4-5 It’s interesting that both Jude and Ezra give a great number of descriptive adjectives of these bad guys. I believe that this is the story that Jude desires to draw the believers’ attention to, when he is warning them of types of internal enemies.
Who is the archangel, Michael? He is the angel that is known to contend for Israel because he “stands guard over the sons of your (Daniel’s) people.” Daniel 12:1 He also withstood other enemies by helping the angel Gabriel to fight worldly regimes in Daniel 10.
Moses’ body is picture language for; The Jews, The National Levitical worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, The People of Israel. I believe each of these ideas could be interchangeably inserted to understand what Michael was disputing over. As we have seen from the book of Daniel, that was Michael’s job- namely to contend for God’s people (apparently especially in times of great crisis). Perhaps Jude was contrasting the Body of Moses (The faithful under the Law of Moses) with the Body of Christ (The faithful baptized believers of Jude’s day)? There are many paths of exploration of this concept that I do not have time here to explore.
Returning, then, to Zechariah 3 and looking more closely, we have an image of Joshua and his friends – “men who are a symbol.” v.8 They are being assisted against their adversary (false believers) by Michael the archangel in the vision. The real-life story of this incident is our Ezra 4 account. It was a long-term struggle for the believers of Ezra’s day – just as it would be long-term for those of Jude’s day.
And the final cool thing about how I now see this story is that this example fits so well with the others Jude selected for his argument. He carefully chooses the story of Cain and some of the other most dramatic stories through the Old Testament to illustrate the danger of these fleshly-minded people in their midst. Sin “crouched at the door” for Cain and his like, but they did not “master it.” Gen. 4:7 Cain begins the legacy of the mind of the flesh and the enemies of Ezra finish it. Did you know that Ezra and Nehemiah are the final books in the Hebrew Bible? It is a complete history of the Old Testament struggle against the false accuser (devil) of sin in fleshly-thinking men opposed to the faithful. It is the same struggle taken up by New Testament believers like Jude. They had folks like the Pharisees and Judaizers as their incarnation of fleshly thinking in religious clothing. We have our own modern versions as well. Nevertheless, we can be encouraged just as readily as surely those “called” of Jude’s day when we read his final words:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The message of God’s word is always powerful when we approach it with the respect and reverence it deserves, isn’t it? Don’t let anyone water it down in your life. Jude knew what he was doing and saying because the inspiration of God was moving him. I don’t care what the commentators say… 😊!