The Certainty of Judgment
Text: Jude 5-7
"Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day – just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."
Jude had just written about the condemnation that was coming upon those false teachers who had infiltrated the church and who were causing all kinds of problem. Their condemnation was not a knee-jerk reaction to an unforeseen event but the settled purpose of a God who had announced it a long time previously.
But would such a condemnation be carried out? Would God actually carry out the punishment as he had said he would? Were his warnings to be taken seriously or were they mere words? In order to answer that type of question and eliminate any possible doubts from the mind of his readers Jude turned to direct his readers’ attention to a series of three events (one of his triads) though interestingly he does present them in chronological order.
Judgment is not a popular theme – it certainly isn’t today and probably never has been, for men and women don’t like to think about being held responsible for their actions and recompensed accordingly. But denying the reality of judgment or refusing to think about it does not make it go away and Jude wants his readers to be utterly convinced of the divine intention to exercise appropriate judgment.
God is indeed concerned for the entirety of his creation. A good surgeon who is concerned for the well-being of his patient will seek to eradicate every trace of the cancer that threatens to destroy him. You will not accuse him of a lack of love because he uses the knife and then follows it up with the necessary medication – the cancer must be removed. So God, concerned not merely for individuals but for the whole of what he has made, will not allow sin forever to mar and destroy but will judge it in complete righteousness.
How arrogant is the sinner who thinks that he ought to occupy the place of first importance in God’s plans when God’s plans instead include all there is! Judgment then is not opposed to love but is an inevitable expression of it though many will try to avoid facing up to that fact.
The Importance of Reminders
Jude is convinced that his readers are aware of the details of the cases he is about to refer to but that does not cause him any impediment – reminders can prove to be very helpful indeed, all the more so if the meaning of those details might be not easily grasped.
The Bible contains many reminders. Jewish feasts were established with the explicit intent of keeping certain truths very much alive. And of course in the NT Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with a specific memorial aspect to it – we repeat the significant words each time we celebrate this meal:
1Cor.11:24-25 "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me"... "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
And Paul went on to explain just why this was important:
1Cor.11:26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."
Writing to the Philippians Paul also expressed his own willingness to remind Christians of what they knew because to do so was safe for them:
Phil.3:1 "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you."
In similar vein the apostle Peter also included reminders in his letters:
2Pet.1:12-13 "Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder"
If reminders are important it means that the past has something significant to teach us. Yes, we live in the present but the past is meant to help us and direct us in how we think, with what we believe and with how we live.
Jude, by way of reminder, draws attention to three significant events.
First example – from the Exodus Period
Second example – angelic revolt
Third example – the experience of Sodom and Gomorrah
The oldest manuscripts contain the name of Jesus as the One responsible for bringing the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. Some of the later copyists replaced the name Jesus with the word Lord probably because they were surprised to see Jesus referred to as the principal actor. And yet Jude was not alone in speaking of Jesus’ involvement in the rescue of this people from slavery for the apostle Paul refers to Jesus as being the rock from which the people drank during their wilderness wanderings:
1Cor.10: 4 "and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ."
The entire population enjoyed the privilege of being liberated from Egypt but such privilege was insufficient; the Exodus had to be followed by the Conquest ie. entry into the Promised Land. Not all those who exited Egypt were to enter that land.
Why was that?
It was because some of the people failed to persevere or to endure in order to enter the Promised Land it was necessary to leave Egypt and then to continue in faith but some apparently stopped exercising faith and these were subsequently destroyed by the same Jesus!
Such an understanding is corroborated by things that Jesus himself taught his disciples. Do you remember what Jesus did actually teach about the necessity of enduing or persevering? Listen to some of his words that Matthew recorded for us:
Mt.10:22 "you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."
Mt.24:11-13 "And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."
We are not told exactly what incident Jude had in mind as he reminded his readers about the lack of perseverance of the Israelites. There are perhaps three possibilities:
1. Shortly after leaving Egypt with Moses up the Mountain alone with the LORD the people turned and put pressure on Aaron to forge an image of their god something that was anathema to the LORD and disastrous for the people. As Moses and his servant came down the mountain they heard noise coming from the camp. It wasn’t a good sign. Joshua didn’t recognise it for what it was but Moses did and described it as the sound of singing. God had earlier told them while on the mountain to descend for the people had turned to indulgence and revelry. (See Ex.32)
2. When the spies returned from their mission the majority report they gave was negative and it helped foster a spirit of unbelief in the people. Maybe simple unbelief was what Jude wanted to warn against and it is true that unbelief leads to judgment as the condemnation to wander 40 years in the wilderness was to demonstrate. (se Num.13+14)
3. A third possibility in described in Num.25 where, under the influence of Balaam, Moabite women led Israelite men away into immorality. As Jude’s context involves false teachers and sensuality a referral to this incident would be very appropriate. Judgment fell upon the Israelites and some 24,000 lost their lives. The fact that not more died at that time was attributed by the LORD to the faithful intervention of one of Aaron’s grandsons, Phinehas.
Although Jude refers to this angelic revolt as something his readers were aware of we really don’t have much to go on. We do not know for example when this revolt took place, why it took place or how many angels were involved. In fact this revolt, while being implied throughout Scripture, is clearly explained nowhere. The truth of the matter is important for us to understand but the details are obviously not! So we must be content with what is revealed and not overly-bother ourselves with speculation when matters are not.
It is possible that Jude refers to Satan’s fall, a fall which is usually explained as due to pride. It may however refer to the episode recorded in Gen.6 where, according to the interpretation that was held into the 2 and 3 rd centuries of the Christian era, angels left their proper position and indulged in sexual relations with women. Once again the context of sexual impropriety would fit well with Jude’s emphases.
If this were the case then the particular lesson this example brings to the fore is that exalted rank, status, dignity and power is not excuse or justification for aberrant behaviour. These angels did not get away with their deliberate rejection of God’s ordering of things; when they left their "proper dwelling" they were punished for it.
It is often the case that false teachers see themselves as being somehow different to everyone else seeing themselves as important because of their special "knowledge" so-called. Their behaviour shows that they believe themselves not to be subject to the regulations and restrictions that are imposed upon others. This has not changed over the years and we still hear of sects with leaders who use their position to sexually exploit and abuse others.
But being an exalted dignitary provides no immunity from God’s just judgment for he is no respecter of persons – the angels who revolted have been held captive in darkness and await only one thing final condemnation. So don’t think you’re too special to be judged for God will carry out his threatened judgments.
Sodom and Gomorrah
The third example also brings sexual misconduct immediately to the fore with the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah.
According to Gen.13:10 the location of these two cities was very favourable and they were well provided for. Blessings however are not meant to provide an excuse for rebellion against God’s established norms for human living.
The incident to which Jude refers is recorded in Gen.19 though even before we read that chapter Moses has left us in no doubt as to the wickedness of the inhabitants. Ch.19 simply describes just how God’s norms had been so catastrophically rejected by those who lived there and a simple straightforward reading of that chapter tells us that the rebellion was expressed in sexual immorality.
Living in a rich, beautiful and prosperous place was no reason to cast off God’s rules for living but that was what Sodom and Gomorrah did and they were punished for it – severely.
All three examples that Jude marshals serve to illustrate that sin calls for judgment and God is determined to judge it! The way forward is to recognise sin for what it is and seek help. The way of many a false teacher is to minimise sin or to pass laws that aim at legitimizing what God does not.
The gospel that Jude longed to talk about contains a complete and efficient remedy for it offers in the person and work of Jesus a comprehensive forgiveness for sins. But it is a forgiveness that is offered to us on God’s terms not ours. The forgiveness of sins is accompanied by a call to holy living too.
It is not that we will be saved by our holiness – salvation is all of grace – but if we walk away from holiness we must understand that we are also walking away from the forgiveness of sins. To actively pursue immorality is a denial of the gospel and exposes us to the sure and certain judgment of God. Following any other "gospel" is to walk out on Christ regardless how we might protest otherwise, and it is to walk out of salvation into damnation.
There is an important difference between a mistake, a stumble, a fall and a deliberate turning away. Thank God that Jesus told a story about the salvation of a prodigal! Let me say it again we are saved by grace not by our holiness but the grace that saves leads to holiness and God uses warnings etc. to ensure that his people do indeed persevere. Beware of a trite "once saved always saved" mantra that brings a false confidence while tolerating, if not actually encouraging, behaviour to which God remains completely opposed and which he is determined to judge – remember, Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son also included an elder brother!