Michael the Archangel — Christ our Advocate
“Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” (Jude 1:9)
In this verse Jude refers us to something that was obviously a matter of common knowledge in the early church. In our day that which Jude refers to here has become a matter of great debate and confusion because men love to find something new, something strange, or something unusual in the Scriptures. This love for the new, the strange, and the unusual is nothing but proud flesh seeking an opportunity to strut before men. God’s servants are not interested in showing you something new, but in declaring the old, old story of Jesus and his love. It is that old, old story of God’s great salvation in and by Christ to which Jude refers in this 9th verse of his epistle. Here Jude is referring to a very well known example of God’s great salvation by Christ our Mediator, the Angel of the Covenant.
In verse 8 Jude denounced those false prophets who creep into the church, claiming to be messengers of Christ, as “filthy dreamers,” who “defile the flesh” (cast the flesh in another color, making works of the flesh works of righteousness). These “filthy dreamers,” he tells us, “despise dominions.” That is to say, they despise the fact that God is God, despise and refuse to bow to Christ the Lord. And they “speak evil of dignities.” They blaspheme the glories of Christ our God. In a word, wicked religionists love and promote strife and contention. They are never reluctant to speak evil of and blaspheme God; and they are never reluctant to speak evil of other authority.
God’s servants and God’s people must not behave in such arrogance. Our Lord tells us that the servant of the Lord is not to be contentious, but patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves. He teaches us to respect authority. And he teaches us “to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Tit. 3:1-3).
Jude gives us a marvelous example of that humility we ought to exemplify by referring us to the meekness and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ as our Mediator and Savior. — “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
There are many who imagine that Jude is here referring to something passed along by Jewish tradition. Others suggest that he is referring to a fable recorded in an apocryphal book called, “The Ascension of Moses.” God the Holy Spirit tells us that Jude wrote neither by tradition nor by apocryphal fable, but as he was “moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). Being convinced of that fact, we must look into the Book of God alone to find the meaning of Jude’s words.
Michael The Archangel
First, let’s look into the Word of God to find out who this Angel is that Jude calls “Michael the Archangel.” The word “archangel” is used only five times in Holy Scripture (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9). Every time it is used, it is singular. There is and can only be one archangel. And that one Archangel is named Michael, both here and in Revelation 12:7. The name “Michael” signifies “one who is God.” The word “archangel” means “chief or head of the angels.” Michael the Archangel is our Lord Jesus Christ, who is, as our God-man Mediator, “Head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10).
Without question, the work described in Revelation 12:7-9 is the work of Christ himself (John 12:31-32; Rev. 20:1-3). It is he who bound Satan and cast him out. Notice the reproachful names given to our adversary in Revelation 12:9. Because he is furious with rage, he is called “the great dragon.” Because he is the deceiver of the whole world (2 Cor. 4:6), he is called “that old serpent,” the one who deceived Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:1-6). Because he ever accuses God’s saints and seeks to turn God against us and us against our God, he is called “the devil and Satan,” who as a roaring lion goes about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
The accuser, who was cast out of heaven, has been stripped of his power over the nations. He who held the Gentile world in bondage, idolatry, and ignorance throughout the Old Testament era was cast out by Christ, so that he could no longer deceive the nations. Thus, by his death on the cross, the Son of God opened the way for the gospel to be preached to the whole world, so that he might gather in his elect from the four corners of the earth (John 12:32; Rom. 11:25-26).
We should not be surprised to see the word “angel” used in reference to our Savior in his mediatorial capacity. The word “angel,” as you know, simply means “messenger.” Gospel preachers are called “angels” in Revelation 1-3. The “angel” of the local church is the pastor of the church. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the preeminent Angel of the Lord, the Head, the Chief Messenger of God. He is the Angel of the Lord who appeared to men in the Old Testament. Our Savior is called “the angel of his presence” (Isa. 63:9), by whom we are saved. He is the Angel of the covenant (Mal. 3:1).
Our Lord Jesus is not a created Angel, but the eternal “angel of his presence,” who is himself our God. He is that great Prince, the Archangel, before whom Daniel trembled, who came to help Daniel, and by whose grace Daniel was given strength. It is he who stands for his people as our great Advocate and Defender (Dan. 10:13-21; 12:1).
Jude would have us, as Daniel did, to behold Michael our Prince, as we look upon our Lord Jesus Christ in his office capacity as our Advocate, Defender, and Savior. Then, he turns our minds to behold him acting as our Advocate.
The second thing Jude mentions is the contention of our great Savior with the devil about the body of Moses. — “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
If you are interested in reading a bunch of words about nothing, try reading what men say about this contention. Those words, “the body of Moses,” are not referring to Moses’ physical body, but to the law of God given by Moses. That is precisely the way Moses is commonly used in the Word of God (John 5:45; Acts 15:21; 21:21; 2 Cor. 3:15).
So the contention here spoken of was a contention that had something to do with the law of God. And the contention was something so commonly known among God’s people, that there was no more need to specify it than there would be if Jude had said something about God bringing Israel across the Red Sea.
The contention Jude is talking about was between Michael, our great Archangel, (that is Christ our Advocate and Mediator), and the devil. It is described in great detail in Zechariah 3.
“And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.” (Zech. 3:1-5)
First, we see Joshua standing before the Lord in filthy garments. This Joshua, of course, is not the man who succeeded Moses as the great deliverer of Israel. This is Joshua the high priest, who came up out of Babylonian captivity with the children of Israel. He was a primary instrument of God for the rebuilding of the temple in the days of Ezra. But before he could be an instrument fit for the Master’s use, his sin had to be dealt with.
Joshua and his sons had taken heathen wives to themselves from among the women of Babylon (Ezra 10:18). Here, he stands before the Lord God conscious of his guilt and sin. Joshua is here said to be “standing before the Angel of the Lord” (v. 1). In verse 3 we read, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the Lord.” In verse 5 Zechariah says, “and the Angel of the Lord stood by.” The Angel of the Lord standing by is our all-glorious Savior and Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As stated above, our Savior is not one of the angelic hosts that he created. He is called “the Angel of the Lord,” because he is Jehovah’s Messenger, the Angel of the covenant. This One who is called “the Angel of the Lord” in verse 1 is Jehovah himself. We know that because he is called “the Lord” (Jehovah) in verse 2. This Man who is God, the Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, is our almighty Advocate and effectual Intercessor (Heb. 7:24-27; 1 John 2:1-2).
Second, we see Satan standing at Joshua’s right hand “to resist him” (v. 1). Here is Joshua, standing before the Lord, fully aware that he is a sinful man, having broken God’s holy law, having defiled his garments as God’s high priest. And Satan stands at his right hand to resist him. Have you ever been there? I have been there many, many times. In fact, I find myself standing precisely where Joshua stood all the time, with Satan standing at my right hand resisting me.
How does Satan resist us when we stand before God? I do not need to tell you. Do I? Satan resists us by accusing us, by attempting to resurrect the body of Moses. He resists us by attempting to resurrect the law to condemn us. He says, “The law demands perfection; and you stand here filthy. Moses demands that you die; and you hope for mercy. The law demands holiness; and you know that you have none. Moses says, ‘It shall be holy to be accepted;’ and you dare hope that the holy Lord God will accept you!”
What a sad, sad picture we have before us if that were all that the Lord God put in the picture. But, blessed be his name, that is not the whole picture! We read in verse 2 the thing to which Jude refers. — “The Lord said unto Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? “
Here is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ making intercession for his elect. Satan is our adversary; but Christ is our Advocate. Satan is our accuser; but Christ is our Intercessor. Joshua said nothing. Joshua did nothing. He stood in silence before the Angel of the Lord; and the Lord pleaded his cause. Read Micah 7:8-9, 18-20.
“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness…Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.”
When the Lord Jesus here said, “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan,” he was not yielding ground to the devil, or implying any lack of self-sufficient omnipotence. He was speaking as Joshua’s Advocate in court, declaring the basis of divine pardon. When our Lord Jesus contended with Satan, silencing forever his legal accusations against Joshua, he spoke as the Angel of the Covenant, as Michael the Archangel, our Mediator and Advocate, pointing to the irrefutable ground upon which Joshua must stand accepted before the holy Lord God. This is the thing to which Jude refers us in verse 9. — “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
The Lord Jesus “durst not” do it, not because he dared not, or had not the power, but because it did not belong to his character and office as our Advocate. Rather, as our Advocate, he pleads only righteousness and justice according to the very demands of the law which he fulfilled. Thus he sends Satan slithering away in silence and leaves Moses dead and buried (Rom. 8:1, 33-34).
Here the Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior, speaks to Satan, our accuser. And he declares three reasons why Joshua the High Priest and every believing sinner must be cleared of all charges, three reasons why God cannot impute sin to his elect.
First, our accuser is silenced by the Word of Christ, our Advocate and Substitute. When “the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan,” it is as much as if he had said, “God will forgive my people because I said it” (1 John 1:1-2). The merits of Christ forbid the possibility of condemnation for his people (Rom. 8:1). His presence in heaven is a perpetual plea for our pardon.
Second, our accuser is silenced by God’s purpose of grace in election. Our Advocate says, “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee.” It is as though he laughed in the devil’s face and said, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” When you stand before the Lord God in filthy garments, you have nothing to fall back upon if you cannot fall back upon the finished work of Christ and God’s eternal purpose of grace in him.
Third, our accuser is silenced by the immutability of God’s grace, and by the humble state and condition of God’s elect in this world. Our Savior looked at Joshua standing there with his filthy, tattered garments, and said, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” When I read that, I thought to myself, “What kind of an argument is that? How can that help?” Now I know the answer. Our Lord is saying, “I will not charge my people with sin for these two reasons. First, I have saved them; and my grace is immutable.” The Lord Jesus, by an act of omnipotent grace, has plucked us as firebrands from the fire. He will not cast us back into the fire (Mal. 3:6). “Second, I am not done with them yet.” It is as though the Lord had said to Satan, “What can you expect from a brand plucked out of the fire, but filth?” “He remembereth our frame.” He who plucked us out of the fire will finish his work in us and for us (Eph. 5:25-27; Jude 24-25). And he will never charge us with sin (Rom. 4:8).
Thank God, Moses is dead and buried. No one can ever find that dead body! Yes, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness unto everyone that believeth!” Satan tries, but he can never raise the body of Moses against the redeemed.
Now, look at the commandment given in Zechariah 3:4-5 by our great Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Michael the Archangel. Here is a work of grace effectually accomplished. — “And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said,” (Who is speaking here? Is it the Lord God? Perhaps. Is it Christ, the Angel of the Lord? Perhaps. But it seems to me that the one here speaking is the prophet Zechariah. He seems to be saying, “Amen” to the Lord’s declaration of grace. Zechariah said, “Amen. Let it be done!”), “Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.”
Now, go back to Jude 9 and learn the lesson God the Holy Spirit teaches us in that text. Jude is telling us that it is a terrible thing to speak evil of dignities, of individuals who hold positions of honor. Even Michael, the Archangel, refused to speak a word against Satan. Rather, as Jehovah’s Righteous Servant, our Lord Jesus simply said, “The Lord rebuke thee.”
Here’s the lesson for us. Let us learn it well. — It is wrong to speak evil of, or to slander someone in authority. Even when someone is wrong, leave him and all other affairs entirely in God’s hands, trusting the Lord our God to do that which is right.
In Titus 3:2 Paul said, “Speak evil of no man.” In our society speaking evil of people is a way of life. But Michael the Archangel, Christ our Mediator, even refused to pronounce a word of rebuke against Satan. He left that to God. What an example he sets before us! — “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
The Lord Jesus Christ, the Man who is God, our great Savior is the Archangel, the Prince, the Head of all principality and power. As such, he is our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1-2). What a great Defender he is! With such a Defender, why would we ever imagine defending ourselves? Rather, in every time of trial and heartache, when I mourn like a dove and my eyes fail, let this be my cry, “O Lord, I am oppressed. Undertake for me! Be thou Surety for thy servant for good!”