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In Jude 1:9 (NIV) it is written:

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

Why was there a dispute about the body of Moses? And how did this dispute arise, if it happened? What (if anything) is known about this?

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12 Answers 12

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Origen claims that the Letter of Jude picked up the story of Michael and the devil arguing over the body of Moses from a Jewish text called the Ascension of Moses.

Origen, De Principiis 3.2.1

We have now to notice, agreeably to the statements of Scripture, how the opposing powers, or the devil himself, contends with the human race, inciting and instigating men to sin. And in the first place, in the book of Genesis, the serpent is described as having seduced Eve; regarding whom, in the work entitled The Ascension of Moses (a little treatise, of which the Apostle Jude makes mention in his Epistle), the archangel Michael, when disputing with the devil regarding the body of Moses, says that the serpent, being inspired by the devil, was the cause of Adam and Eve’s transgression.

References to this apocryphal story are found in early Christian literature.

The text we have which is titled the Ascension of Moses, however, does not contain this particular event. It may be that our text is missing the section containing the story of the dispute over Moses' body, or we may have misidentified which text we have.

Richard Bauckham, arguing that the various references to the story are independent of the Letter of Jude, attempts to reconstruct the story's key points (Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter, 65-76, bold is mine):

Joshua accompanied Moses up Mount Nebo, where God showed Moses the land of promise. Moses then sent Joshua back to the people to inform them of Moses' death, and Moses died. God sent the archangel Michael to remove the body of Moses to another place and bury it there, but Samma'el, the devil, opposed him, disputing Moses' right to honorable burial. The text may also have said that he wished to take the body to the people for them to make it an object of worship. Michael and the devil therefore engaged in a dispute over the body. The devil brought against Moses a charge of murder, because he smote the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. But this accusation was no better than slander (βλασφημία) against Moses, and Michael not tolerating this slander, said to the devil, "May the Lord rebuke you, devil!" At that the devil took flight, and Michael removed the body to the place commanded by God, where he buried it with his own hands. Thus no one saw the burial of Moses.

The base form of the story seems influenced by Zechariah 3. Ruth Reese (2 Peter and Jude, 50) summarizes the analogies:

The scene in Zech 3:1-5 is a dispute in which Joshua the high priest is accused by Satan, and the angel of the Lord acts as God's emissary, while the Lord himself rebukes Satan using the words that will later appear in Jude, "the Lord rebuke you." Here we see both the angel as God's messenger or representative (the role that Michael has in the dispute in Jude), and we see Satan as the accuser, one who forms one side of the dispute. This is part of the role that the devil has in Jude 9.
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  • 4
    Whomever downvoted: What's wrong with my answer here? What can I do to make it better?
    – user2910
    May 7 '17 at 18:34
  • I did not vote up or down but the answer could be improved by explaining how some of the citations answer the question. For example, the quote from Origen, as presented, says nothing about why there was a dispute about the body of Moses. The OP does question if there was a dispute but asks why there was a dispute. The quote appears to obscure the issue as it introduces Adam and Eve and presents the serpent as the devil's intermediary. So some explanation is needed to connect those (unrelated?) factors to the dispute over Moses body. May 20 '18 at 15:00
  • 2
    The text from Origen identifies the source of the story. Knowing the source text of the dispute enables us to take the next step. They quote from Bauckham explains the source text, and hence the 'why' of the dispute. The whole answer is the answer, not just the first quote provided.
    – user2910
    May 20 '18 at 15:25
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According to the Footnotes on the NIV at BibleGateway

Jude 1:9 Jude is alluding to the Jewish Testament of Moses

The text of this book, also known as the Assumption of Moses or Ascension of Moses, has been lost to time and no manuscripts of it remain. However, Origen of Alexandria commented on it in Book III, Chapter 2 of De principiis stating:

We have now to notice, agreeably to the statements of Scripture, how the opposing powers, or the devil himself, contends with the human race, inciting and instigating men to sin. And in the first place, in the book of Genesis, the serpent is described as having seduced Eve; regarding whom, in the work entitled The Ascension of Moses (a little treatise, of which the Apostle Jude makes mention in his Epistle), the archangel Michael, when disputing with the devil regarding the body of Moses, says that the serpent, being inspired by the devil, was the cause of Adam and Eve's transgression.

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    It should be said that it's not necessarily from this book so much as the concept may be common to both, i.e. in a tradition about this, being crystallized, as many unwritten tradiitons were in apocryphal works. May 28 '17 at 13:35
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To what dispute is Jude 1:9 referring regarding the body of Moses?

Answer: The dispute is between the LORD and Satan from Zechariah 3:2.

First, here is verse 1:9 of Jude where the dispute is between Michael and Satan:

  • Jude vs. 9: "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!"

Where else do read such a statement as, "The Lord rebuke you!"? Well, we find it in the Book of Zechariah:

  • Zechariah 3:2: "The LORD said to Satan, 'The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!'"

These are the only references in Scripture to this phrase. The stumbling blocks for many are the connection between these 3 verses and the term: "body of Moses" AND the identity of Michael.

First, therefore, let us ask the question: What exactly is the "body of Moses"? Well, just as the "body of Christ" is the Church, the "body of Moses" was another term for the Old Testament canon. That is, Israel was emblematic of the Law of Moses. As a body of people, Israel was the "body of Moses."

Notice: What were the Lord and Satan arguing over in Zechariah 3:2? They were arguing over the high priest Joshua, the one representing the nation of Israel before God. They were arguing over the body of Moses. Who was the One rebuking Satan? "The LORD." Who are we told Michael was arguing with in Jude vs. 9? Satan.

Following this logic, who then is Michael? The only plausible answer is The LORD (the Preincarnate Christ). What other evidence do we have? Suppose we consider the following verses:

  • Deuteronomy 1:30: "The LORD your God, who goes before you, will fight for you"

Who are we told would fight for Israel in Daniel?:

  • Daniel 10:21b: "Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince."

We should immediately contrast the previous verse with this: Revised quotes from early Christianity to replace another, erroneous reference.

  • Deuteronomy 3:22: "Do not be afraid of [your enemies, Israel], for the LORD your God Himself will fight for you.”

Gill Exposition of Daniel helps us further:

Michael [was Israel's] Prince; Christ the Prince of the kings of the earth, he was the Prince, Protector, and Guardian of the people of the Jews; he is the Angel that went before them in the wilderness, and guarded them in it, and guided them into the land of Canaan; he is the Angel of God's presence, that bore, carried, and saved them all the days of old, and was their King and their God, their Defender and Deliverer...

Cumulatively, as the evidence mounts — and there is much to consider — it seems perfectly clear that Christ and Michael are One and the same Being.

This view has nothing to do with other beliefs that Michael is Christ (J/W, etc.).

On the contrary, this was not an uncommon view among early Christendom. Again, from Gill's Exposition of Jude:

Yet Michael the archangel,.... By whom is meant, not a created angel, but an eternal one, the Lord Jesus Christ; as appears from his name Michael, which signifies, "who is as God": and who is as God, or like unto him, but the Son of God, who is equal with God? and from his character as the archangel, or Prince of angels, for Christ is the head of all principality and power; and from what is elsewhere said of Michael, as that he is the great Prince, and on the side of the people of God, and to have angels under him, and at his command, Daniel 10:21...

[So] Clemens of Alexandria says, that there are some who consider the body of the Scriptures, the words and names, as if they were, "the body of Moses". Now the law of Moses was restored in the time of Joshua the high priest, by Ezra and Nehemiah. Joshua breaks some of these laws, and is charged by Satan as guilty, who contended and insisted upon it that he should suffer for it; so that this dispute or contention might be said to be about the body of Moses, that is, the body of Moses's law, which Joshua had broken; in which dispute Michael, or the angel of the Lord, even the Lord Jesus Christ himself, durst not bring against him a railing accusation; that is, not that he was afraid of the devil, but though he could have given harder words, or severer language, and which the other deserved, yet he chose not to do it, he would not do it; in which sense the word "dare" is used in Romans 5:7, but said, the Lord rebuke thee.

[For] thy malice and insolence; see Zechariah 3:2; and this mild and gentle way of using even the devil himself agrees with Christ's conduct towards him, when tempted by him in the wilderness, and when in his agony with him in the garden, and amidst all his reproaches and sufferings on the cross. And now the argument is from the greater to the lesser, that if Christ, the Prince of angels, did not choose to give a railing word to the devil, who is so much inferior to him, and when there was so much reason and occasion for it; then how great is the insolence of these men, that speak evil of civil and ecclesiastical rulers, without any just cause at all?

The dispute in Jude 1:9 almost certainly refers to the same exchange as that in Zechariah 3:2 between the LORD and Satan.

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Strong's Gr. 4983: soma - "body, flesh, the body of the church."

Jude vs. 5,

"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe." (NKJV)

Rom. 12:5,

"so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another." (NKJV)

The body of Moses were all those who had been brought out of Egypt, in the exodus of Egypt. The dispute with the devil referred to in Jude was more probably over the entire congregation in the exodus wilderness, as the people were still in the slave welfare mentality, and were constantly sinning against God; and many were killed because of their sins.

Moses was the leader of the tribes of Israel whom God had saved from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. He was the type, the prefigured Christ. The body of Moses was the type, the prefigured of the saved in the body of Christ.

Other commentators make argue that the Hebrews referred to the law as the body of the law, or the body of Moses.

" so the decalogue is said F20 to be "the body of the Shema", or "Hear, O Israel", ( Deuteronomy 6:4 ) , so Clemens of Alexandria F21 says, that there are some who consider the body of the Scriptures, the words and names, as if they were, (to swma tou mwsewv) , "the body of Moses". Source: John Gill's Exposition of The Bible, Jude 9

So, these make the case that vs 9 referred to a continual battle and over Satan's breaking of the laws of Moses.

Since the overall context of Jude is the exhortation to contend for the faith (vs. 3), and reminds them of how those of the exodus who did not believe were destroyed (vs. 5), and lists other examples of those who gave themselves over to immorality, it seems better to relate vs. 9 to the congregation (body) of the tribes of Israel in the exodus wilderness.

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  • You are almost there. Remember that Zech. 3:2: "The LORD said to Satan, 'The LORD rebuke you, Satan!'". If we can begin to understand that Michael ("Who is like God"?) is, in fact, Christ -- the “Great Prince who [stood] guard over the sons of [Daniel’s] people [the Israelites]" (who were all protected by Christ, the rock that followed them in the desert: Dan. 12:1, 10:13, cf. 1 Cor 10:4), then everything falls together perfectly. +1
    – Xeno
    Sep 30 at 18:14
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Because there is a law in this earth that whoever is born here needs to be buried in the earth:

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
-- Esslesiastes 12:7 (KJV)

So, Satan was speaking of this law to Michael regarding Moses' body, and finally God himself buries Moses' body. Maybe Satan was not happy when God took Enoch alive from this earth without dying.

But Esslesiastes 12:7 is not mandated to happen, since like Enoch, believers will be raptured in the secret coming of Christ, without dying in this earth.

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    – enegue
    Nov 13 '17 at 6:10
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I believe it is due to God not wanting Moses in the promised land, even his dead body. Satan wants to sow doubt in the Word and if Moses body was enshrined in the land then Satan could promote that the Word was in error.

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    – Frank H.
    Jul 16 '18 at 13:10
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Moses did not die. Like Elijah, was taken into heaven. This was necessary, so that when he appears on the mount of transfiguration with Elijah, they could pass on priesthood keys (by ordination) to Peter, James & John.

As Christ was still alive, and had not yet brought to pass the resurrection (of which He was the "first fruits"), both Elijah and Moses needed to be translated, and retain their physical bodies to perform this ordinance.

When the devil realized this, he tried to kill Moses... and the "dispute" between he and Michael was over Moses's right to retain his body, as a translated being.

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  • What is. A well sourced answer?
    – Kris
    Jan 24 '20 at 4:13
  • If Moses did not die, then God lied (see Deut. 31:14); therefore, because God does not lie (see Numbers 23:19), this answer is incorrect and fatally flawed. Deuteronomy 34:5 says: "So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD."
    – Polyhat
    Sep 30 at 20:54
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Peace.

The “body of Moses” is not speaking of the literal body of Moses but instead speaks of the body of the writings of Moses that were being disputed about.

The “body of Moses” = the writings of Moses.

Jude 1:8-10 KJV (8) Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. (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. (10) But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.

Jesus did not accuse the leaders of the Jews to the Father in John 5.

The dispute was over the writings (the "body" of writings so to speak) of Moses: “if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe my words”.

If they did not believe Moses, how would they believe in Jesus for Moses wrote of Him? The Lord rebuked them through the writings of Moses as they did not truly believe in what Moses wrote. The Father gave Moses what he wrote about…he received the writings from God.

John 5:42-47 KJV (42) But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. (43) I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (44) How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? (45) Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. (46) For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. (47) But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Jesus is the “Messenger (angel) of the covenant” whom we seek and delight in. He is coming now. Jesus is coming in the flesh…our mortal flesh...to give us His eternal life.

We are to always remember to let brotherly love continue (the covenant of brotherly love) and entertain “strangers” sent by Him and the words (the words of Jesus).

Malachi 3:1 KJV (1) Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.

“Michael” means “who is like God”?

This is what the leaders of the day did not like as they accused Him of making Himself equal with God the Father as well as healing on the Sabbath day.

John 5:15-18 KJV (15) The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. (16) And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. (17) But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. (18) Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

They did not react with brotherly love. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him.

Who is like “God”?

We are to be holy as God is holy and hear the revelation of Jesus Christ who opens up the Scriptures (such as the writings of Moses) to our understanding in the end of this age. The Son of God comes to give us an understanding so that we may hear and show that we know the Father by doing His will when we hear His words as He opens up the Scriptures to our understanding. It will not conform with the “word of men” who privately interpret the Scriptures…wresting them to their own destruction. there will be unbelievers who will disesteem what they hear and those who will preach it. They will repeat the history of those of the past who rejected the words of Jesus and mistreated Him.

1 Peter 1:13-16 KJV (13) Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (14) As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: (15) But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; (16) Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

The leaders of the Jews did not hear nor lay it to heart (by believing in His words) nor did they give glory to His Name but instead reacted with hateful wrath toward the revelation of Jesus Christ …the Son of God. They did not glorify God by showing brotherly love for Jesus nor were thankful for what they heard as they did not believe in the words that Jesus spoke.

Malachi 2:1-2 KJV (1) And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. (2) If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.

They proved that they were of their father the devil instead of God being their Father by their evil deeds. If God were their Father, they would have loved Him (keeping the covenant of brotherly love).

John 8:41-49 KJV (41) Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. (42) Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. (43) Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.

Instead, they “murdered” their Brother with false accusations in their unbelief of His words….which are the words of God. they did not belief.

(44) Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (45) And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. (46) Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?

He that is of God will hear God’s words and those who do not hear His words are not of God. They rejected Him and heaped false accusations upon Him.

(47) He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. (48) Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? (49) Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.

Who is like God? He that does righteousness is righteous even as He is righteous.

1 John 3:6-12 KJV (6) Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (7) Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (8) He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (9) Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

In this the children of God are manifest…..they will do righteousness and love their brother (the covenant of brotherly love as He loved us and died for us).

The children of the devil will instead do evil towards what they hear and will not believe in it and speak evil of their brothers…ones who speak His words.

(10) In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (11) For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (12) Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

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I can't see it being the writings of Moses. I'm sure the Devil had some evil motive in mind. But the body of Moses was buried and the Word of God is all true. So it was not writings as said above. That would be a deception. I agree it could be that God said Moses was not allowed to go into the promised land. Yes, knowing man and what he is made of, God didn't want Moses worshiped. I mean, look at the golden calf. I am going to study this more. But, I am very careful about adding and subtracting from the Word.

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From a lawyer's perspective (if you'll pardon that), this may have been a jurisdictional dispute. First, we know Moses died - Deuteronomy says so clearly. Following death, and before the resurrection of Christ, souls seem to have gone to a place described in Luke 16 (though it's possible the account was a parable and not to be taken on its face). I lean toward it not being a parable since it names a person, Lazarus, and no other parable does so.

But God appears to have had other intentions for Moses, such as the transfiguration and possibly as one of the witnesses in Revelation 11 (that's not certain, of course). Angels, both serving God and fallen, appear to have territories. We see this in Daniel 10:13 where the "Prince of Persia" is identified, and Michael may have Israel (or the Jewish people) as his territory (Dan. 10:21).

Satan may have gone to make his claim, as he was generally permitted to do in the that age, but Michael had contrary orders. Satan might have argued that Michael had no right to do so - Michael had charge over Israel, and Moses never made it into the land. The body was now under his jurisdiction since Moses was dead - that is, his soul had separated from his body. Michael made his response short and sweet - the Lord rebuke you. When God (who makes the rules) has plans, end of story.

This is pure speculation, of course, and clearly outside of what the Scripture makes clear - which means it counts for nothing. But it seems to me a guess consistent with the little portion the Bible reveals.

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    Welcome to the site, J Infranco. You have made a good start here and have no need to apologise, for you are not guessing when you have referred to other relevant parts in the Bible. The link below, 'Tour', gives help on how best to answer. I would suggest that if you went to this link, you would find other helpful points to perhaps expand your answer: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/69158/…
    – Anne
    Oct 1 at 14:34
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Satan Disputed over Moses' Body

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, KJV)

Moses Had Died

And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying, (Deuteronomy 32:48, KJV)

Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: (Deuteronomy 32:49, KJV)

And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people: (Deuteronomy 32:50, KJV)

So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 34:5, KJV)

Never before Moses had anyone ever regained life once they had died. Resurrections occurred later on during Old Testament times, such as when Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite (see 2 Kings 4) and when the man dropped on his bones was resurrected (see 2 Kings 13:21), but Moses' case was the first ever.

Enoch had gone to heaven, but had not first died. Satan felt that those who had died were part of his dominion, and that it would be unfair of God to raise them again--which is why he disputed when Michael came to resurrect Moses.

Moses Was Resurrected

We see Moses again in the New Testament on the so-called Mount of Transfiguration when, shortly before his crucifixion, both Moses and Elijah were sent from Heaven to talk to him and to encourage him. The story is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels: here is a part of Luke's account.

And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: (Luke 9:30, KJV)

Elijah, as we know, was translated to heaven without seeing death, as Enoch also was. But Moses, having died and then been resurrected, could encourage Jesus in a way that even Elijah would have been unable--to see past the grave.

Conclusion

Because Moses had died, and because no one had ever been resurrected before, Satan disputed Michael's right to restore Moses' life and take him to Heaven, claiming Moses' body as belonging to him.

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Why was there a dispute over Moses Body? Some scriptural facts came to mind, Revelations 12: 7-12. satan is the accuser of the brethren. Accusing Moses of murdering an Egyptian, hence not wanting him to have proper a burial and had no doubt an alternative plan to deceive the brethren. Seems up to Par for him. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives truth to the matter because He is the truth. And we do have the mind of Christ. 1st Corinthians 2:16, 1st.John 5:6. God has also given us understanding that we may know him who is true even his Son Jesus Christ 1st John5:18-20.

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  • God buried the body of Moses in an unknown location Deuteronomy 34:5-6 . The scriptures do not say for what evil purpose Satan wanted to take Moses body, Michael the archangel prevented him. Jude1:9 Mar 25 '18 at 19:51

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