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What is "the body of Moses" in Jude 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.  (Jude 9)


Many have understood this verse to indicate that Michael and the devil had an argument over the disposition of Moses’ corpse.  It is easy to see why many have reached this conclusion since when scripture uses the phrase "the body of" followed by a proper noun, it often refers to the man's corpse (1Sam 31:12, 1Ch 10:12, Matt 27:58, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:52, 24:3, John 19:38, 19:40, 20:12).  Further, the scriptures indicate that the disposition of Moses’ remains was exceptional in that God himself buried Moses in a secret place that no man knew of.


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 a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.  (Deut 34:5-6)


Perhaps because of the highly unusual nature of Moses' burial recorded in Deuteronomy, many have understood Jude 9 as a reference to a dispute over Moses’ corpse.  However, viewing Jude 9 as a reference to Moses’ physical body raises many questions.  There is no evidence elsewhere in scripture of a dispute over Moses’ corpse, and it is not clear why the devil would want Moses’ body in the first place.


The key to understanding Jude 9 is to recognize that scripture sometimes uses the term "the body of" followed by a proper noun to describe a particular church.  In this current dispensation of grace, Paul repeatedly refers to the church as the body of Christ (1Cor 12:27, Eph 4:12, Col 1:24).  Given that saints who lived before the crucifixion did not have a clear understanding of the cross (Luke 18:31-34, Mark 9:30-32), it would be odd to use this term to refer to the Old Testament church.  It would, however, make sense to use the term, the body of Moses, since the Old Testament saints did understand who Moses was.


Consider the following that address the believer's spiritual baptism today into the body of Christ.


For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  (1Cor 12:13)


Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  (Rom 6:3)


Since Ephesians 4:4 is clear that there is one baptism today, the above baptisms must be the same thing, and thus, being baptized into the church, the body of Christ (1Cor 12:13), is the same thing as being baptized "into Jesus Christ" (Rom 6:3).


Notice how scripture describes baptism in Moses’ day.


Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; (1Cor 10:1-2)


If the saints during Moses’ time were "baptized unto Moses," we know from 1Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 6:3 that this refers to being baptized into the church of that day, which Jude 9 calls the "body of Moses."


Similarly, Hebrews 3 makes clear that Moses can be used as a reference to the house of faith that God was building in Old Testament times.


Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.

For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.  (Heb 3:1-3)


In sum, the reference in Jude 9 to the "body of Moses" is a reference to the Old Testament body of believers just as the church of today is referred to as the body of Christ.  With this understanding, it is easy to understand the real dispute between Michael and the devil.


Michael's responsibility in the scriptures is to serve as the great prince who stands for Israel.


And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: ...  (Dan 12:1)


Notice what the passage of scripture that deals most extensively with the conflict between Michael and the devil mentions about the devil.


And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.  (Rev 12:7-10)


While Michael was given the task of defending Israel, the devil is constantly accusing Israel.  Thus, it is hardly a surprise that Michael and the devil would have a dispute between them.  Their argument is not over Moses’ corpse, but over Satan's endless accusations against believing Israel, the body of Moses.


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