The story of the rebellion of Korah is recorded in Numbers 16. The rebellion of Korah demonstrates the grim consequences of usurping the authority of God and of those whom He has chosen to be leaders of His people.
Korah was the oldest son of Izhar, who was the son of Kothath of the tribe of Levi. Korah, then, was of the same tribe as Moses and Aaron. He led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of exalting themselves above the congregation of the Lord (Numbers 16:1-3). Korah was not alone in his charge. He gathered 250 other men to challenge Moses’ authority as well: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:3).
Obviously, Korah thought that he could do a better job leading the people than Moses was doing. But by leading this revolt against God’s divinely appointed leaders, Korah was actually revolting against God (Numbers 16:11). Moses proposed a test to prove the source of his authority. Korah and his followers did not pass the test, and God opened up the earth and swallowed the rebels, their families, and all their possessions. Furthermore, “fire came out from the LORD” and consumed the other 250 men who were party to Korah’s rebellion. The rest of the Israelites were terrified and fled (Numbers 16:31-35).
The following day, instead of being convinced that God had vindicated Moses and Aaron, the congregation began complaining that they had “killed the LORD’s people.” For this act of rebellion, God threatened to destroy the whole congregation and sent a plague among them. However, Moses and Aaron interceded for the rebels and averted a complete catastrophe. In the end, 14,700 Israelites had died (Numbers 16:41-50).
Some 1,500 years later, Jude records a strong warning about such men who come into the church as false teachers, arrogating to themselves the authority of God and His Word: “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” (Jude 1:11, emphasis added). The characteristics of false teachers within the church include pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, lust for power, and disregard for the will of God. Just like Korah, today’s false teachers disregard God’s plan and are insubordinate to God’s appointed authorities. Their end will be the same as Korah’s. Thus the warning: “Woe to them!”
To lead His people Israel, God had selected men of His own choosing. God had no interest in holding a popularity contest, collecting résumés, or letting someone appoint himself to the position of prophet, priest, or leader. Korah’s problem was not that he was unqualified, humanly speaking, for the position, but that he was arrogant, stiff-necked, and self-promoting. Korah, attempting to install himself as the leader, ironically claims that Moses “set [himself] above the LORD’s assembly.” It’s a classic case of the guilty person accusing someone else of his own misdeed. But God did not call Korah; He called Moses (Exodus 3-4). God calls whom He chooses and equips them for service.
God’s true leaders, the elders and pastors of the church who shepherd the flock with humility and care, have an accurate understanding of the Scriptures (see Malachi 3:18; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10-11). Such men submit themselves in humble adoration of Christ and His lordship (see Matthew 16:16; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16). They recognize the truth of Jesus’ proclamation, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Most importantly, the true leaders of the church are called by God to their office. False teachers, on the other hand, are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15; cf. Acts 20:29) who choose the fate of Korah over the life of Christ.