Who is the Archangel Michael?
Guido Reni's Michael Tramples Satan (in Santa Maria della Concezione Church, Rome, 1636).
by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD for the Come Follow Me lesson May 16–22; Deuteronomy 6–8; 15; 18; 29–30; 34. This essay is, in part, taken from two earlier blogs posted on the website, “Who is Adam?” and the “Doctrine and Covenants and Adam.” You may want to also consult those blogs in their entirety.
We read a rather strange passage in Deuteronomy 34:5-6, “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 Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Who buried Moses – the Lord? If we read the Hebrew version of that passage at the Bible Hub (biblehub.com), which has been translated “And he buried him,” the phrase is וַיִּקְבֹּ֨ר אֹת֤וֹ (way·yiq·bōr ’ō·ṯōw), and the literal translation is: “to inter” (okay: buried; “he” is implied but not stated) and then “untranslatable mark of the accusative case.” What? So the “him” part apparently is assumed rather than explicitly stated? That result didn’t feel all that comfortable, so I went to Reverso (context.reverso.net/translation/hebrew-english) and tried to translate “’ō·ṯōw” to English – nothing. Then I put in “אֹת֤וֹ” and that translated to “with him” or “to him.” So we get from the end of Deuteronomy 34:5 and the beginning of Deuteronomy 34:6: “…יְהוָֽה׃ [Yah·weh] וַיִּקְבֹּ֨ר [way·yiq·bōr] אֹת֤וֹ [’ō·ṯōw]…” “…Yahweh. Interred him…” Well, that’s not too far off the King James Version: “…the Lord. And he buried him…” But did Moses actually die – or was he translated – and if he was translated – there would be no body to bury?
In his Old Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles Ellicott, who was Professor of Divinity at King's College, London; Hulsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge; Dean of Exeter; and then Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol; and one of the most outstanding 18th century theologians, stated concerning verse 6, “‘And he buried him.’--Moses is alone in this honour. The Son of God was buried by sinful men. Moses was buried by Jehovah.” Ellicott then went on to say, “‘But no man knoweth of his sepulchre.’--I have always believed that the contention between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9) was in fact, a struggle for his body--that Moses was to be raised from the dead, and that Satan resisted his resurrection. When the contest took place we cannot say. But Moses, who died and was buried, and Elijah, who was translated, ‘appeared in glory’ on the holy mount, and the New Testament gives no hint of difference between them. We do not know how Moses could have appeared as a disembodied spirit so as to be seen of men.” How could Michael and the devil have struggled over Moses’ “resurrection” when there was no resurrection until after that of the Savior? Furthermore, Satan has no power to prevent anyone’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”).
It seems that Ellicott, for all his intelligence and education, was grasping at straws here. He apparently didn’t fully understand the resurrection, as is the case with many Christians today. Because of the entangled concept of the Trinity, most Christians don’t understand the difference between the spirit simply being raised from the dead, and the actual resurrection, where body and spirit are inseparably joined for eternity. Because of the Trinity notion – most Christians have a hard time understanding the simplicity of Christ’s literal resurrection – because how could a resurrected Christ, who has His own body – somehow join with God, who has His own body, to form one single person? That is why, when God and Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820, the resurrected Jesus told Joseph that, “…all their [the various churches] creeds were an abomination in his sight…” (Joseph Smith History 1:19). Perhaps the greatest of those abominations is the Nicaean Creed, which promotes the Trinity and, thus denies Christ’s literal resurrection.
Joseph Exell and Henry Spence-Jones, in their 19th century, 23-volume Pulpit Commentary, written over a 30-year period and involving some 100 contributors, continued along the same lines as Ellicott: “It is probable that, like Enoch and Elijah, he was transferred to the invisible world without seeing corruption. Hence his appearance along with Elijah in bodily form on the Mount of the Transfiguration; and hence also, perhaps, the tradition of the contest for the body of Moses between Michael and Satan (Jude 1:9).”
Let’s first address what Moses and Elijah had in common relative to the Mount of Transfiguration and then come back to these Biblical scholars. The New Testament account of this event is recorded in Matthew 17:1-3; Mark 9:2-4 and Luke 9:28–36. Here is the account in Mark, probably being Peter’s recollection of the event: “And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias [Elijah] with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.” These verses tell us nothing about the purpose of the visit to Jesus by Moses and Elijah.
None-the-less, our Bible Dictionary (churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bd/ transfiguration-mount-of) tells us that, “On the mount, the Savior, Moses, and Elias (Elijah) gave the promised keys of the priesthood to Peter, James, and John (HC 3:387), which enabled these brethren to carry forth the work of the kingdom on the earth after the departure of Jesus. These keys were later given to all of the Twelve.” It has been the pattern since the early days of Israel for Priesthood Keys to be conferred by the laying on of hands (c.f. Numbers 27:18, 23). Before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, everyone who had died were spirits only, with no physical bodies – hands. In order for Moses and Elijah to confer the necessary keys upon Peter, James, and John; by the laying on of hands; they had to have physical bodies, and thus, had been translated for this very purpose. You can look up “translated” in the Bible Dictionary or Topical Guide if you want to go into more depth. I also discuss this condition in my forthcoming book, The Immortal Messiah, the Physiology of Resurrected Beings, scheduled to come out in September.
However, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith August 30, 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 63:21, “When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.” To my knowledge, a full account of the earth being transfigured still has not yet been given. However, a similar event occurred in the later-days as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 110, which transpired in Kirtland, Ohio, April 3, 1836. Whether the restoration of keys described at that time and an explanation of those keys was the full account referred to in section 63, or whether there is still a more full account of the Mount of Transfiguration, and/or the earth’s transfiguration yet to come is unknown – at least to me. None-the-less, without a fuller understanding of the Priesthood, as given by modern revelation, great scholars like Ellicott, Exell and Spence-Jones were at a loss to provide much information as to the significance of the Mount of Transfiguration.
Likewise, those scholars all made reference to the very strange passage recorded in Jude 1:9: “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.” Of that reference Ellicott stated, as quoted above, “I have always believed that the contention between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9) ...” In my opinion, even for a great mind like Ellicott, that was a very lame explanation – but, of course, he had no other scriptural help to delve any deeper into the matter.
Today, however, thanks to modern revelation of additional scripture, we do have the means to delve deeper into that long-time mystery. Before we go there, one question may be raised concerning this quote: where did Jude learn this story in the first place? Origen (c. 185–254), a brilliant early Christian scholar, mentioned a Jewish-Greek book, “The Assumption of Moses,” as existing in his day. The book, although considered by most scholars to be apocryphal, apparently contained a very similar account of the struggle between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses. Origen supposed that The Assumption was the source of Jude’s account, but, unfortunately, that portion of the book is now lost (Dean, William John, The Assumption of Moses, biblehub.com). There appears to be no account in extant ancient scripture of any struggle between Moses and Satan, or between Michael and Satan over Moses.
Through modern revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, we now have another account of “Moses’ Assumption,” and therein is an account of Moses’ struggle with Satan. We read in Moses 1:1-2:
“The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up [assumption] into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.”
“And it came to pass that…Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely? Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve. Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory. And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan. And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not.” (Moses 1:12-22).
Michael is never mentioned in this scripture, but the passage, “Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength…” (vs 20) is very interesting. Could this be the time when Michael intervened on God’s behalf to strengthen Moses and fight for Moses against Satan, as reported by Jude? Moses chapter 1 certainly appears to contain all the requisite parameters for Jude’s reference and for the missing portion of the Assumption. The concept of being delivered by an angel is presented twice in the book of Psalms: “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” (Psalm 34:7). And, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Psalm 91:11). These references certainly sound like what happened to Moses in relation to Satan and Michael. This incident also appears to be very similar to what Joseph and Oliver experienced on the banks of the Susquehanna River (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20).
Michael is mentioned ten times in the Doctrine and Covenants. Because of this modern revelation, we now know that Michael (Adam), the Archangel (“First Angel”), was the commanding general of the great premortal host that defeated Satan’s army and cast them out of heaven. We also now know that Michael assisted the Savior in creating the earth, under God’s direction. We know that Michael was designated as the “First Man,” Adam, the father and leader of all humanity on the Earth, the Ancient of Days. We know that after Adam’s life on earth ended, he returned to his role as Michael, apparently battled against Satan in Moses’ behalf, assisted Gabriel in his epic twenty-one-day struggle against the evil forces in Persia and, now as a resurrected being, assisted Joseph Smith in detecting Satan on the banks of the Susquehanna. We also know that, at the end of time, Michael will, once again and for the last time, lead God’s forces in defeating the hosts of Satan. He will then play a major role in the resurrection of his human family (see my blog on the Doctrine and Covenants and Adam).
In contrast to the ten references to Michael in the Doctrine and Covenants, Michael is mentioned only five times in all of ancient scripture: twice in the New Testament (including the mention of him in Jude 1:9) and three times in the Old Testament. In each case, his reference is in the context of a major conflict between the forces of good and evil. The most familiar reference, in the book of Revelation, is to Michael’s battle with Satan in the premortal world. “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.” (Revelation 12:7-9).
The remaining three ancient references to Michael are in the Old Testament, all in the book of Daniel, and all part of a very unusual story. Michael is referenced twice in Daniel chapter 10, where he assisted Gabriel in his epic twenty-one-day struggle against the evil forces in Persia. This incident is discussed in my former blog: “Who is Adam?” and I will discuss this story in more detail in a later blog. The third reference in Daniel is Daniel 12:1-3, where Michael is described as being a key player in the resurrection. This reference will also be discussed in that later blog.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD