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, 6so 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)
The doctrine of the Trinity is fundamental to Christianity, but Christians often have very few biblical texts in mind that they know teach this beautiful truth. One reason is that we overlook the way that Scripture often teaches this truth. Westminster Larger Catechism 11 explains one of our most important hermeneutical principles: “The Scriptures manifest that the Son and Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.” When we see the New Testament authors place Christ in the role that only God occupies in the overall biblical narrative, we know that he is truly God, the second person of the Trinity.
One of the more striking moments of my childhood was that famous moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader reveals that he was Luke Skywalker’s father. We had understood this story so far only in light of Vader’s straightforward embodiment of evil, but now we are forced to rethink our whole take on the full scope of the Star Wars story in light of this new orientation we have toward this pivotal character. We had a notion of Luke’s father as the heroic former Jedi. We had a distinct notion of Darth Vader as a leader of the empire. The head-spinning plot point is when we must reconcile our realization that the same person is both characters.
Jude pulls a similar plotline shocker on us in verses 5–7, using it to address the misunderstanding in this church that Christ’s grace in the new covenant means that the standards of God’s moral law have gone away. He addresses that claims with this plotline shocker by showing that Christ’s relationship to God’s people is not brand new with the new covenant. In our efforts to see how Jude contributes to our understanding of theology, this essay takes on how Jude helps us with the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Character of Jesus
In Jude 5–7, he named three major events: Israel’s rescue from Egypt, angels being locked in chains, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Just like the introduction of new information reoriented how we process Darth Vader’s character by realigning our understanding of the before and after points in his storyline, Jude reoriented his readers understanding of Jesus’ identity as the God of Israel. We are supposed to have an understanding of who God was in the Old Testament and to understand who Jesus is now. Jude upturns the tables of a bad reading of redemptive history by highlighting how the God of Israel and Jesus of Nazareth are truly the same character in the scope of God’s history. Jesus is the God of Israel, he is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
How does Jude make this argument? Jude rolled out his three examples of events that align Jesus’ identity with the true God. First, Scripture is repeatedly clear that God brought Israel out of Egypt. Jude said that Jesus saved the people out of Egypt. Jesus – God the Son – stood behind Israel’s rescue from under Pharoah. So, Jude posits Jesus’ identity as the same as the God involved in the Old Testament’s paradigmatic salvation event.
Second, Jude noted that Jesus placed fallen angels in eternal chains. Although this particular part must drop a theological hand grenade and run away, this series will circle back later to tackle head on how Jude cited intertestamental literature on multiple occasions throughout this letter. Jude exegeted the Old Testament, reading it through the lens of extra-biblical material, giving us a method of traditioned exegesis. His practice never undermines Scripture as our final authority but does give us insight into how biblical authors, under the Spirit’s inspiration, thought that sola Scriptura worked in relation to uninspired theology. In verse 6, Jude drew upon 1 Enoch 69:26–29 where the divine Son of Man puts fallen angels in eternal chains. By connecting Jesus to this divine Son of Man tradition, Jude ascribed to Jesus the divine identity of the Son of Man who imprisons fallen angels.
Third, in verse 7, Jude appealed to the well-known example of Old Testament judgment in Sodom and Gomorrah, another instance where God was the one who inflicted this judgment. Jude noted that Jesus destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, again reorienting our understanding of who Jesus is to see his identity is tied into the true God of the Old Testament. Throughout the story of redemptive history, the character of Jesus is the same as the God of God’s Old Testament people.
Confirmation from Hebrews
Jude indicated Christ’s identity as God by tying Jesus into God’s activities in the Old Testament. Jude’s most striking claim in verses 5–7 is that Jesus was God in relation to Old Testament Israel. So, we come to understand Jesus and the church better by understanding God’s relationship to his Old Testament people, since Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the true, triune God.
Hebrews 3:1–6 makes the same point that Jesus is the true God, also by arguing that Jesus had direct relation to God’s Old Testament people:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
Arguably, Hebrews’ main theme in Christ’s preeminence, developing it here by presenting him as faithful in a greater way than God’s other servants because he himself is God and is over God’s people in every age. Moses has some glory as a servant inside God’s house, but Christ has supreme glory as the Son and builder over God’s house.
Imagine a mansion with many rooms. Each room has its own person in charge of cleaning it. So, one servant cleans everything in the dining room, another servant cleans everything in the main bedroom, another servant cleans everything in the bathroom. All the servants report directly to the mansion’s owner. At the same time, the owner, despite owning all the rooms, he himself takes it upon himself to clean everything in the living room.
Moses’ ministry contrasts with Christ’s position in the whole scope of redemptive history in the way of the servant who cleaned the dining room compared to the mansion’s owner. Despite Moses’ privileged status of having direct contact with the Lord as a faithful servant, Christ’s place is even higher. Christ is the Son, not a servant, and is faithful over, not within, the house. If the mansion is all history, Moses was the servant cleaning the things in the dining room, taking care of the owner’s possessions in the Mosaic covenant. Yet, the mansion’s owner, who took special role in overseeing the cleaning of the new covenant room, was Jesus. Every room in the house of salvation history belongs to Jesus.
Hebrews 3:3–4 implicitly presents Christ’s divine identity in his role as the house’s builder. He is worthy of more glory than Moses “as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” Christ’s glory, since he is the builder, is qualitatively greater than Moses’. God has the title “the builder,” but Christ is “the builder” of God’s own house. Christ’s glory is God’s, and God’s house is Christ’s.
Comfort from Jesus’ Constancy
So many people think that God is angry with his people and that Jesus convinced God to love us. There is a very flawed assumption that God is more loving in the New Testament, mainly thinking that Jesus’ loving disposition indicates a sort of personality in God as we transition between the Testaments. That view runs against classical theism but also robs Christ’s people of great comfort.
Jude’s appeal to Christ as Israel’s God, showing him to be the second person of the Trinity, has a double edge. On the one hand, Jude meant it to warn the lawless interlopers in the church to whom he wrote. For those who rebel against Christ while living amongst his covenant community, Jude’s words should be a shocking wake-up call, fully unsettling them. On the other hand, Jude’s appeal should be of immense reassurance to Christians. God has never loved us outside of Christ, who has always been our mediator. God’s love has never changed nor had any other ground than it presently has. So, God’s love is truly eternal—timeless and unchanging. God has eternally cared for those whom he eternally gave to Christ. Although Christ wrought the work of redemption at a specific moment in history, he was always the one mediator for all his elect by virtue of the covenant of redemption. Jesus’ role as the only redeemer of God’s elect shows God’s unchanging love, ever poured upon his people in Christ.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
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