Now, I want to remind you, despite how you once fully knew it, that Jesus, after saving a people out from the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe,6 so too those angels who did not keep themselves in their first condition but left their proper dwelling he has kept until the great day in eternal chains under darkness, 7likewise Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in similar manner committed sexual immorality and went after another kind of flesh, present an example by suffering the penalty of everlasting fire.
Jude 5–7 (author’s translation)
During summers in college, I worked in a burrito restaurant called Moe’s Southwest Grill where you custom ordered your burrito’s fillings and we prepared and wrapped it in front of you. Moe’s, unlike Chipotle, offered nachos, which were my favorite meal. Problematically, I never had enough chips for all my toppings. Thankfully, extra chips were free! Sometimes when I would get more chips for scooping meat and cheese, a new batch had been fried. These two batches of chips were not always the same. Maybe the first had been in the fryer too long, ending up brown and tough, and the new batch was crisp and tasty. Regardless of how they differed, these batches did not look and taste exactly alike, yet they still effectively scooped the same exact toppings, delivering the same substance by differing means.
In part three, we saw how Jude revealed a sort of plot twist for the whole biblical storyline, explicitly identifying Jesus as the true God of Israel. Jesus, God the Son, was active in the Old Testament period, performing acts that belong properly to God. In that regard, the first Christians, particularly the New Testament authors, reread the Old Testament Scriptures, knowing that the end is fulfilled in Christ the Son. Just like the second time you watch a mystery, all the clues are obvious because you know the ending, so the Apostles studied the Old Testament with new clarity about all the elements that seemed so mysterious before Christ came.
This essay focuses more pointedly on Jude 5: “Now, I want to remind you, despite how you once fully knew it, that Jesus, after saving a people out from the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe.” Our particular item of reflection is how Jesus saved a people out of the land of Egypt. We will consider how the whole Bible is about God’s one plan of salvation and how he saves them in the same way no matter when they lived throughout redemptive history. Although the chips may have looked different in various periods of biblical history, God’s people always ate the same toppings—namely, Christ and his benefits. Reformed theology calls this doctrine the covenant of grace, which is that Christ is the only way of salvation and fulfills God’s one plan of salvation, so that Jesus has always and always will save God’s people by grace alone through faith alone.
Refresher on the Covenant of Grace
Partakers of any type of media from the Heidelberg Reformation Association will have heard of the covenant of grace. All the same, a crash course reminder here will be useful before we press ahead to see how Jude teaches this doctrine.
In this critical Reformed doctrine, the covenant of grace teaches that there is both one redemptive-historical plan of salvation culminating in Christ (historia salutis) and only one way of salvation across every epoch of redemptive history (ordo salutis). That one way of salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. The Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3 highlights how this one way of salvation only contrasts with the covenant of works between God and Adam before the Fall, not with any historical covenants wherein God relates to sinners:
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
So, the covenant of grace is God’s promise to rescue sinners apart from their works because of Christ and his work, and we receive that work by taking hold of Christ through faith.
In my reflections upon this doctrine, particularly in working on my forthcoming book Reformed Covenant Theology: A Systematic Introduction (Lexham Press), I have come to think increasingly that Westminster Confession 8.6 is at least as equally helpful if not even more important in its claims about the one way of salvation across redemptive history:
Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.
Despite the very different ways that God’s various historical covenants look throughout the development of redemptive history, salvation on the basis of Christ’s work alone has always been given to believers through whatever ordinances that God appointed for a particular covenant to serve as his means of grace for that time. So, for example, believers under the Mosaic covenant were never forgiven because the animal sacrifices at the temple truly procured the removal of their sin before God but, as those sacrifices taught about Christ’s new covenant work, they did come to faith in the Messiah and receive his benefits through those sacrifices that served as means of grace—just like Word, sacrament, and prayer serve now to create, confirm, and cultivate our faith today under the new covenant administration as the means through which we receive Christ and his benefits by faith. The Old Testament means of grace looked very different from ours but delivered the same substance to believers, just like some batches of nacho chips may be crispier or more burned but still deliver the same toppings.
We might think briefly about Romans 4:1–8:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Paul argued that justification must be by faith, emphasizing that Israelites and Gentiles had to be justified by faith because 1) sinners cannot earn God’s blessings by works, 2) before Israel even had the written law Abraham was justified by faith. Sometimes we overlook Scripture’s most provocative claims because we have become too familiar with its ideas, its ways of speaking, or just assume that Scripture is supposed to sound odd. But have you ever asked yourself about how Paul can rationally appeal to Abraham and David as the examples of how we who live after Christ’s coming are justified? Paul’s logic works only if God justified these Old Testament believers truly in the same way that we are justified. In other words, Old Testament believers received Christ and his benefits by faith just like we do today.
Jude and the Covenant of Grace
Admittedly, Jude’s contribution to this doctrine is tersely stated, claiming that Jesus saved the people from Egypt, serving as the Lord and true mediator of those who lived under the Mosaic covenant. Despite his terseness, exegesis must account not only for an author’s explicit statements but also for what premises an author must have assumed to make his explicit point. Quentin Skinner, a famous Cambridge historian, has explained how if we are to understand historical texts properly, we must also ask what beliefs must have been part of the author’s belief set in order to make his particular claim make sense in the context of his “web of rationality.”1 This interpretive principle helps highlight some of Jude’s astounding theological points.
First, part three of this series already considered Jude’s trinitarian Christology. In order to posit Jesus in the role of saving Israel, imprisoning fallen angels, and destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, Jude has to assume that Jesus is the God of Israel, performing those works that the true God enacted in the Old Testament. Jude then believed (rightly) that Jesus’ identity was that of the true God. Since Jesus also addressed his Father as God elsewhere, we infer that Jesus was God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, having the divine being in common with Father and Spirit but subsisting as a distinct person in the divine essence.
Second, and more to our point, Jude’s claim that Jesus saved the people from Egypt presumes a relationship between Jesus and the Israelites. Part five will take up more details about the specific shape of this relationship—namely concerning how Jesus destroyed unbelievers among the people whom he saved from Egypt. Our point now, however, is that Jesus had a saving role for Old Testament believers and had that relationship to them during the Old Testament period. Old Testament believers did not have to wait until the incarnation to know Jesus as their savior, even if they did not know him by name during their lifetime.
This aspect of the covenant of grace forces us to contemplate Jesus’ role as our covenant mediator. Classic Protestantism, contra Roman Catholic theology, affirms that God the Son acted as our mediator according to both his divine nature and his human nature. The triune God in common appointed the person of the Son to be the only mediator for all God’s elect to act for his people according to the covenant of redemption.2 In this eternal decree of this intratrinitarian compact, the Son took responsibility for the everlasting condition of all the elect.
To draw upon more specific categories from Reformed Orthodoxy, Christ’s office as mediator made him responsible for the elect as expromissor (one who promises to pay) rather than fideiussor (one who gives security). Christ as the elect’s expromissor sponsor means that he fully assumed their debts before God, becoming the party now truly liable to pay them. On the other hand, fideiussor would mean that Old Testament believers remained personally liable for their sin until Christ paid for them on the cross.3 Because the covenant of redemption had the Son serving as all the elect’s mediator, the virtue, efficacy, and benefits of his satisfaction were distributed even before he accomplished it in history. Even Thomas Aquinas wrote, since the Son’s “invisible mission was directed to the Old Testament Fathers,” then “the Fathers of old were justified by faith in Christ’s passion, just as we are…The Fathers of old had faith in the future passion of Christ, which, inasmuch as it was apprehended by the mind, was able to justify them. But we have faith in the past passion of Christ, which is able to justify.”4 Believers who trusted in Christ-who-would-come received the full remission of sin in their time, just as we who trust in Christ-who-has-come do today.
The expromissor–fideiussor distinction likely needs an illustration. Imagine that you owe payment for a loan but could not pay it. Your brother agrees to pay it for you. You could leave the loan in your name, but he submits the payments, which would leave you still liable for the debt until someone else fully paid it. This situation makes your brother the fideiussor. Alternatively, you could legally transfer the loan into his name, so that he truly becomes liable to pay the debt, making you no longer liable at all. Even if he does not immediately pay off the debt, you are forgiven of it because he has taken full legal responsibility for it. This transfer makes him the expromissor, the true guarantor now responsible for your debt.
Jude’s statement that Jesus saved the people from Egypt has greater depth than may appear at first glance. Jude was claiming that Christ—God the Son serving as mediator—was active even during the Old Testament period. Christ did not pick up his role as mediator from the incarnation, leaving a question mark over what was going on before the New Testament. Christ was always the Savior of God’s people and Jude believed in the covenant of grace.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
1. Quentin Skinner, “Interpretation, rationality and truth,” in Visions of Politics: Volume 1: Regarding Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 27–56.
2. Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession, trans. Henry Zylstra (Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2019), 250; William Perkins, The Works of William Perkins, 10 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014–2020), 2:197–98 (Commentary on Galatians 3:19).
3. I am increasingly convinced that this category issue is part of what distinguishes mainstream Reformed theology from the 1689 federalism view held by some confessional Baptists. My friend Sam Renihan has articulated how he believes that Old Testament believers did not enter heaven until after Christ performed his incarnate work. His view conflicts with Reformed theology, inasmuch as Francis Turretin refuted this position as belonging to the Roman Catholic understanding of Old Testament salvation in their doctrine of the limbus patrum; Michael Beck, Samuel D. Renihan, Guy Prentiss Waters, Stephen J. Wellum, “Covenant Theology Roundtable,” The London Lyceum (September 12, 2022; accessed at on YouTube); Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., 3 vol. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992–97), 12.11.1–17. Possibly, the different phrasing in the first line of Westminster Confession 8.6 and Second London Baptist Confession (1689) 8.6, which are otherwise identical, owes to a difference on this issue, dividing between a Voetian view of Christ’s mediation on the Westminster side and a Cocceian view on the Baptist side, or potentially even historical Roman view in the 1689 federalist reading of their confession.
4. Thomas, Summa Theologica, 1.43.6; 3.62.6.
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