Scripture Reading: Jude 5-7
How many times have you been tempted to think is this whole knowing, studying, and standing up for truth thing really such a big deal?
I’m not talking about being opinionated all the time or contentious, fighting for your view of how the locusts in Revelation should be interpreted, I’m talking about knowing the basics of the Christian faith and refusing to waver on them.
We face an enormous pressure to stop standing up for not just on minor secondary issues, but core ones – like, is Jesus really the only way of salvation? And the fact is, a lot of professing Christians are tempted to be like, you know what? Why be dogmatic?
To help those thinking like that, those tempted to compromise on the very basics of the Christian life Jude reminds us of three Old Testament stories all illustrating the danger of theological error.
First, remember the story of Jesus saving Israel from Egypt.
This is one of those stories that would have been familiar to everyone listening and it certainly is familiar to us. But most of the time when we think about it, we think about it as a story which gives hope.
Israel was in bondage to the Egyptians, for four hundred years, but finally they cried out and God heard them and sent a deliverer. God delivered them in an amazing way. Egyptians giving them all their gold, seas splitting apart, food coming down from heaven. The whole story is one of God’s mercy. You can’t read Exodus and not say to yourself, man these people were so privileged.
They were slaves, God freed them. They were in danger, God saved them. They were hungry, God fed them. They were needy, God provided for them. And it wasn’t because they were this sweet people. They spent most of their time grumbling, complaining. Yet in spite of all that, God brings them all the way to this great land that He’s promised them.
And what do they do?
When they finally got to the land that God promised them – they refused to believe that He could actually provide it for them.
Because instead of believing what God said, they believed what a group of spies had to say instead. You might think of those spies like false teachers, they were saying “Don’t believe God.” And the people fell for it.
And what did God do?
He destroyed them.
The only ones who entered the land were those who believed what God said.
“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.”
When we are tempted to believe someone who tells us what God has said isn’t true, we need to remember what happened to these Israelites when they believed the spies instead of God.
Jude goes on.
He gives us another story. This story is a little weirder, definitely more unfamiliar, but it makes the same point. Second, remember the angels.
“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…”
If Israel experienced great spiritual privileges, how much more so the angels. Here we are reminded they have a position of authority. We don’t know everything about what an angel does, but we do know they aren’t just up there strumming on harps all day, they are active beings, with important work. Besides that, we know from other passages of Scripture that they have access to the presence of God and they have the joy of doing His will. Can you imagine being able to come into God’s presence, hear Him speak, see Him face to face?
Yet, in spite of all that, in spite of all those privileges, there were angels who rebelled.
Jude here talks about a very specific angelic rebellion, he writes about angels who did not stay “within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling.”
There is a whole lot of debate as to what Jude means by that. I really don’t think it’s all that complicated. Others do. For example my Dad does. We’ve had long conversations, and he doesn’t agree.
But it seems to me Jude is about as clear as he can be. He says in the very next verse that the sin of the angels was just like the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah’s and the surrounding cities. That’s what the term likewise means.
“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 Gommorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged…”
Likewise doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t mean that the angel’s sin was like that of Sodom and Gomorrah’s.
And what sin of Sodom and Gomorrah’s does Jude identify? Sexual immorality.
Jude seems to saying that these angels left their proper sphere, became males and had sinful sexual relations with women.
That may seem strange, but it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. After all, we know in the Old Testament that angels often appeared as people. And even further, in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the angels appeared as men and visited with Lot, what did the people of Sodom want to do with them? Have sexual intercourse with them.
I’m pretty confident that when Jude talks about these angels abandoning their position of authority, he’s talking about Genesis 6, where the sons of God fornicated with the daughters of men.
“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh; his days shall be 120 years. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore to children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”
There are a whole lot of different interpretations of that passage, but the way it was most often understood from the very beginning was that the sons of God were angels, demons actually who came down, took the form of men or possessed men, and had sexual relations with women.
You say that’s pretty freaky, can they still do that?
I don’t think so. Because Jude says here God’s dealt with it pretty firmly. He’s keeping them in chains under gloomy darkness. They are definitely not ever going to do that again.
That said, there’s no doubt this is a difficult passage and there are other interpretations. This is not something to contend over. What we do know for certain is that whatever these angels did, the picture here, is of an angelic rebellion against God. They spurned the position God had given them. They did not stay in their positions of authority.
The term Jude uses is keep. They didn’t keep their positions of authority, and since they didn’t, God keeps them now in chains.
When we are tempted not to take the threat of theological rebellion seriously, we need to remember that there are angelic beings today who because of their rebellion against God are experiencing a special judgment, “they are kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness.” Shamed, and humiliated forever.
Jude concludes with one final story, third, remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
If you are an Old Testament history buff, you’ll notice right away that these stories are out of order. I think that’s because this one serves like an exclamation point.
It provides such a graphic reminder of God’s judgment on sin.
“… Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, and as a result serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
Sodom and Gomorrah were these unbelievably wicked places.
Apparently they were so awful that people were crying out to God against them. God actually comes to Abraham and he’s like this is what I’m going to do against Sodom and Gomorrah because the outcry against them is so great and their sin so serious. Abraham pleads with God and goes through this whole thing to get God to relent, and finally God says if he can find ten righteous men in those two cities he won’t destroy it.
But He doesn’t.
The Old Testament tells us that the Lord rained sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. The fire was so intense that the next morning as Abraham stood on the mountain and looked down towards the cities, he saw the smoke of the land going up to heaven like the smoke of a furnace.
A severe judgment.
But it didn’t stop there.
Here in Jude we are reminded that the judgment they received for rebelling against God is ongoing. They undergo a punishment of eternal fire.
But even in that judgment God is showing grace, for we see here that the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is intended to serve as an example for us.
Learn from their mistake. Those who rebel against God will be punished.
Compromise with error is very, very serious.
“Beloved…I’m appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints…”
Compromise with error begins when we stop contending for the truth, and we stop contending for the truth when we start forgetting the danger of error. One way remind ourselves of the importance of contending for the faith is by remembering what happens when we don’t.
There is truth that is non-negotiable. That truth is going to be attacked. Not just by people outside the church, but also people within it. You need to know the truth well enough to spot error, and defend the church against it.
This obviously takes work.
We ought to work hard at getting to know the absolutely essential truths of Scripture and wholeheartedly commit yourself to those truths; to what the Scripture teaches about Jesus and about salvation; and then refuse to compromise those truths no matter what.
If you don’t know what the essential truths are, ask. Get a good theology book and start working your way through it. Anyone of the elders can suggest a good series of tapes, video-tapes, you name it to help you on these subjects. Get involved in relationships where you can talk with others about the essentials of the Christian faith.