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, 7 likewise 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)
If you were one of those children who misbehaved, you likely heard the phrase, “You know better!” The point that a parent makes with this phrase is that when we misbehave, often it is not because we lacked knowledge about what we should do or what is expected of us, but rather that we have decided to act contrary to that knowledge. We know what the right thing to do is, but we choose to do what is wrong. Jude 5–7 reminds the church of our accountability to God, specifically concerning why we need to contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints: we were once fully taught the truth and should live in light of it.
Jude 5–7 outlines three examples of why the church must contend for the faith. We spent four installments exploring the doctrinal implications built into these verses, thinking about trinitarian Christology, the covenant of grace, the external-internal relationship to the covenant, and Jude’s traditioned exegesis. Now, we can get our minds around what Jude is exhorting us to consider in his argument.
Jude confronted antinomian false teachers who presumed that they could flagrantly sin among God’s people and escape God’s judgment. They wanted to rely on God’s rich blessings to protect them from not being true believers in Christ. Jude’s point was that only true faith in Christ, not the antinomian sort, protects us from coming judgment.
Although Jude addressed the problem of unbelievers masquerading as receivers of grace, true believers can also grow from reflecting upon Jude’s warnings. We need not diminish our assurance of salvation to appreciate his point. All of us need to realize how powerful the allure of sin really is and look to Christ to protect us from it. This essay then thinks in turn about each of the three examples in Jude 5–7, considering how to apply each.
As an umbrella point over Jude’s three examples, Jude was a typological exegete. He saw former realities as pointing forward to present realities. In the case of sin and judgment, he viewed some classic examples of God inflicting his wrath upon sin as having modern-day fulfillment in the false teachers he opposed. Although Jude also applied the additional typological layer of seeing these events in light of Christ, these three examples were often bound together in Jewish literature, further demonstrating Jude’s practice of traditioned exegesis.1
Dead in the Desert
Jude’s first example was how Jesus killed the unbelievers among Israel after bringing them from Egypt into the wilderness. Previous parts of this series considered the implications of this verse for our understanding of the covenant of grace. Jude targeted the false teachers’ deceptions for what they were: deviations from the truth that God has revealed. Because God revealed his truth, Jude reminded the church of what she once knew, as we see in verse 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.” In this example, Jude was reflecting on Numbers 14:44–45, where God announced Israel’s defeat in battle: “But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Just like Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1–6, Jude attributed both Israel’s rescue from Egypt and their subsequent defeat in the wilderness to God himself.
Jude’s point was to warn the church that Christ has always had a people bound to him, but destroys those who outwardly participate in the covenant community without having true faith. The new covenant is not new in obligating faith in Christ, since Jesus killed the unbelievers amongst his Old Testament community. Jude’s first example was that God’s covenant has always obligated faith in Christ to receive Christ’s blessings, so those who have weaseled their way into the church to which he wrote seem not to have true faith in Christ.
This example warns that mere presence in God’s community, the church, does not guarantee salvation. Church membership as such does not secure our entry into heaven since it is possible to participate in the outward administration of the covenant without partaking of its substance by faith. The church is the place where God distributes his means of grace, but Jesus will destroy those who do not take hold of him by faith as he is offered through those means of grace. Such has always been the case throughout redemptive history. The church is the place that God offers rescue, but just as Christ destroyed those unbelievers in the midst of his people, so he will one day quell everyone who does not truly belong to him.
One point is particularly important to clarify—the object of Jude’s accusation. We must make sure to read Jude’s own claim about whom Jesus destroyed rather than rushing to import assumptions into his letter. Jude said that Jesus killed unbelievers amongst the covenant people. He did not say that Christ destroys those who do not measure up to a certain amount of faithfulness. He did not say that Christ destroys those who did not accrue enough works to please God. He said Jesus destroys those who do not believe in him even if they hang out amidst his church. Faith is Jude’s fundamental category for those who truly belong to Christ.
Let us relate these observations about Christ’s covenant community to our main point about needing protection from sin’s allure. We often romanticize what it would have been like to be part of the Exodus, thinking of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. We also romanticize seeing Jesus’ earthly ministry as if everyone who personally witnessed Christ held fast to him in unstopping joy. The fact that Jude and Paul both appeal to the Exodus generation’s failure to hold fast to Christ to exhort the church within a generation of Christ’s ascension shows that even that sort of magnificent encounter was not enough to keep people who did not truly trust in Christ from rushing headlong into sin. Being amongst God’s people and seeing God’s rich blessings should grab people’s hearts enough to hold them back from sin, but it never has. Only by faith, God keeps us for Christ. Jude demonstrates that we cannot count on our mere presence in church, but must believe in Christ. We will resist sin’s allure by faith.
Angels in Prison
In verse 6, Jude’s second example is the angels who fell: “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.” Given Jude’s theme of perseverance, there is an interesting parallel between the angels who “did not keep themselves in their first condition,” and Jesus who has kept them in chains. Just as God’s elect are kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1), fallen angels are kept until the judgment of the great day.
We probably need to think a little about angels for a moment. On one side, God dealt with humanity in our first representative, Adam, so we all became sinners when he sinned. God elected some sinners to salvation in our new representative Jesus Christ, the second Adam. In contrast, every angel stands before God individually. The elect angels never fell into sin at all, but others chose to depart their first dwelling place. Our previous installment explored how Jude took this reference to the angels from 1 Enoch where the divine Son of Man imprisons wicked angels, thinking how his use of extrabiblical sources supports a confessional view of Scripture as our final authority.
Jude’s point in this reference to angels was that the angels are glorious creatures that still found themselves under God’s judgment because they rebelled against the Lord. We sing in Psalm 8 about how humanity has glory just a little lower than the angels, with the clear point that the angels have lots of glory. Hebrews 2:5–10 interprets this Psalm to explain humanity’s eschatological destiny. We might think that if any creature had enough blessings to keep them satisfied without sinning, it would be the angels since, at least this side of the new creation, they have even more glory than humanity who bears God’s own image. They were God’s highest servants, placing them in an unimaginably privileged position.
Despite having this tremendous position, the angels fell prey to the allure of sin and came under God’s judgment. Yet again, the point for the church is that true faith alone protects us from judgment. We cannot count on our position, social standing, job, education, money, reputation, house, clothes, or anything else. Our only rescue is true faith in the Savior.
Cities in Ruin
Jude’s final example, in verse 7, brought forth the destruction of the ancient world’s great cities to show how prestige cannot protect us from divine judgment, writing: “Likewise 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.” Sodom and Gomorrah were major urban centers in their time. Imagine God announcing that he would destroy New York, Rome, Tokyo, or London. Moderns tend to think that God would not harm places that are of such importance to how the global economy and structures of culture operate since that would be so disruptive to our affairs. We need only think of the last few years during the COVID pandemic when all these places fully shut down, sometimes nearly collapsing major world economies. Although we must be careful about reading the purposes of God’s judgment into these events, clearly God happily lets even our most elite undertakings be disrupted if it suits his purposes, whatever they may be. Cultural prestige cannot shield us from his judgment, especially when those prestigious endeavors facilitate more than protect from the allure of sin.
In other words, prestige, reputation, popularity, notoriety, connections to the cultural elite will not restrain God’s everlasting judgment of fiery punishment. Only hiding ourselves in the Savior by true faith provides our needed shelter from God’s approaching condemnation. Sodom and Gomorrah were not spared despite their status. We cannot hope to be the exception. So, we must flee to Christ for salvation. For the church, we must realize all the more that prestige is not a protection from temptation, which is why Jude used this example to exhort to contend for the faith. We must find safety in the sweet shelter of the cross.
As the church, we must realize that a preoccupation with centers of culture is of little consequence when it comes to the church’s mission. I pastored in London for several years and loved it, so I am no opponent of the city or ministering to it. Jude, however, shows us that God is happy enough to destroy cities if it facilitates his advancing plan. Cities are not in any better position than the rest of the world when it comes to God’s judgment.
My friends at the Presbycast often remind us of the importance of rural church ministry. In some ways, Jude confirms their point. The power and position of cities does not make them more important than anywhere else. Only the gospel determines how God sees people. People who farm food need the gospel as much as people in cities who eat that food.
We should press further in applying Jude’s argument. Even as we trust Christ and find ourselves safe from God’s judgment, we must still resist sin’s allure. We cannot embrace the teaching of Jude’s opponents that Christ’s grace erases his lordship. As Christ wipes out our guilt by his grace, he equips us for holy lives in gratitude for his grace. Freedom from the penalty of sin is accompanied by freedom from the power of sin.
Throughout Jude, pride cuts the knees out from under our holiness perhaps like no other sin. Although sensuality seemed to be the fruit of this false teaching, its root was the rejection of Christ as Master and Lord. These antinomians wanted to be their own masters, rather than submitting to external authority. That theme runs throughout Jude, as in verse 8 where the false teachers claim the insight of divine dreams to rebel against authority. In verse 9, Jude returns to the angels for another example, showing Michael’s nobility in disputing the devil, not by pronouncing his own verdict, but by leaning on what the Lord said.
We learn that sin’s appeal is strongest when listening to ourselves. Certainly, only Scripture is the perfect authority. But Scripture says that our own hearts are deceptive. We need others to speak into our lives. I thank God to serve a church led by a plurality of elders, so that my personal opinions do not have the opportunity to prevail. I thank God to have the whole church to curb, redirect, and restrain my preferences, inclinations, and impulses because I assume that my sin can easily get the best of my thought and desires.
If our first reaction is to blast people by asserting that we are right with no leeway to listen to someone else, we forget that we are not the authority and that Christ is. None of us have our preferences and desires directly wired up to God’s own mind. We can easily end up being “murmurers, discontents, ones going after their own desires, and their mouth speaks boasts, ones admiring faces to gain advantage” (Jude 16). Even if that advantage is not financial, but rather just getting our way, we need to remember that love does not insist on its own way but on God’s way to avoid pursuing our own desires in ungodliness and causing division.
We avoid sin’s siren call by remembering that Christ’s grace is truly beautiful. He is a gentle master, who wipes away our sin and offers us richer pastures than sin offers. Even in our preferences, pride leaves us lonely as we alienate everyone around us. Lust leaves us empty as we never really find the acceptance we crave. But Christ offers us freedom from the tyranny of our own insistence, and the joy of true acceptance, grounded in the forgiveness of sin, and our new place is his community of true grace and love.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
Here is the entire series so far.
1. Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 62; Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 47; Richard Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1983), 46.
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