Friday I blogged about spiritual warfare, a topic that I believe present-day evangelicals (particularly those in Charismatic circles) often misunderstand. Typically, we view spiritual warfare as rebuking Satan and demons. Elsewhere, I plan to write several articles examining the true nature of our spiritual warfare, but today’s Bible Study gives us an important warning against presuming that we have authority to command these diabolical enemies.
As we continue working through the epistle of Jude, we encounter a pair of verses that emphasize the presumptuous attitude of false teachers who think they can command Satan and his demons. We’re going to discuss verses 9 and 10, which, as usual, I want to quote in their proper context.
8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)
Verse 9 raises questions because Jude quotes apocryphal sources to demonstrate the simple point that contrasts the false teachers’ presumption with the humility of the archangel Michael. The commentators I read offered quite a variety of explanations for the account of the dispute over Moses’ body, many of which are interesting, but I found most of their discussions to be tangential to Jude’s main point. I appreciated the few commentators who argued that Jude wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore we can trust the veracity of the account.
Instead of getting hung up on where this story came from or why Michael and the devil fought over Moses’ body, let’s give our attention to Jude’s meaning.
But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” ~~Jude 9 (ESV)
Jude’s purpose is to contrast the brashness of false teachers who dared to rail against the spiritual realm with the archangel Michael’s humility in deferring to the Lord in cursing the devil. This allusion should warn us not to think that we have the authority to rebuke the devil, since even the highest angel didn’t dare do so.
Michael surely would have had some measure of authority, given the fact that God dispatched him to fight Satan on other occasions (see Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 12:7 for examples). Yet he deemed it presumptuous to rail against the devil on the basis of that authority. Jude’s point is that, since Michael didn’t rebuke the devil directly, false teachers greatly err in doing so. In fact, this sort of practice actually marks a person as a false teacher.
Jude goes on, in verse 10, to explain that the false teachers who rebuke the devil don’t even know what they’re talking about.
But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. (ESV)
He shows the irony of their claims of mastery over the spirit world when all the while their carnal natures consume them. Unlike Michael, who actually is a spirit, these people have limited knowledge of Satan and his demons, and as a result they lack the qualifications to enter into confrontations with them when they really should confront their own sinfulness.
Rebuking Satan appeals to human pride while providing a distraction from the true spiritual warfare of mortifying our sin and refuting false teaching. Jude 9-10, in exposing the wrong focus of those who rebuke the devil, reminds us to maintain a proper attitude. I pray that today’s study will encouraged all of us to battle our own sin natures (which we do understand) rather than attempting to address spiritual beings that we really don’t know.