All morning I’ve struggled with my desire to blog about Reformation Day and my commitment to produce my Monday Bible Study on Jude. Writing about the Reformation would certainly be more enjoyable for me. Furthermore, it troubles me that very few Christians know the significance of the Protestant Reformation, and even fewer care!
But as I thought about these matters, it occurred to me that Jude’s epistle is very much a model of reforming doctrinal error, setting an example that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli would follow 1500 years later. If you’ll think back over the last two Bible Studies we’ve done together, you’ll recall Jude’s exhortation to “contend for the faith” (verse 3). Therefore, just as Luther bravely confronted the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, Jude bravely confronted the false teachers of the First Century church.
Jude doesn’t tread softly as he exposes these false teachers. As a matter of fact, he begins his diatribe by informing his readers, quite bluntly actually, that these apostate teachers will incur judgment.
5 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. 6 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— 7 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 5-7 (ESV)
This passage contains three allusions to Old Testament incidents, each of which you might want to investigate more deeply on your own. Let me briefly explain each of them, however, just to help you start thinking about Jude’s point.
Verse 5 refers, of course, to the Israelites who, despite God’s graciousness to lead them out of Egypt, rebelled against Him before they reached the Promised Land. According to Hebrews 3:16-19, God let them die in the wilderness as a judgment on their unbelief.
The interesting part of verse 5 is that these unbelievers had experienced God’s deliverance from bondage, and yet they never truly put their faith in Him. Please remember that Jude compares the First Century false teachers to the unbelieving Israelites. Both groups had experienced something of God and appeared to belong to His assembly, and yet neither exhibited genuine faith.
Having established that those who fell away were never true believers, Jude moves on to the angels who forfeited their place in heaven. Most of the commentaries I read agree that rather than than the angels that fell with Satan, these are the angels who had sexual relationships with human women (see Genesis 6:1-7).
This reference makes the connection between unbelief and sensuality. Last week we saw that false teachers deny the Lord Jesus Christ and present grace as an excuse to indulge fleshly passions, making this illustration especially pertinent.
Jude continues with a third allusion to the heterosexual and homosexual sin that caused God to destroy the corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-22). Here he evokes images of smoldering brimstone as a warning of the devastating judgment awaiting the false teachers that pervert God’s grace into license to gratify selfish desires.
Jude, perhaps as a precursor to the great 16th Century Reformers who condemned the unbiblical teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, boldly confronts the unbelief and man-centered ways of false teachers. He shows no hesitation in warning that those who propagate false teaching should expect terrible judgment.
Luther sought to restore doctrinal purity to the church, just as Jude writes out of his concern for doctrinal purity among his readers. No true Christian delights in the judgment of anyone. But we proclaim it with the hope of bringing false teachers (and those who get ensnared by them) back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Reformers from every generation must sorrow over the judgment that threatens false teachers and offer the hope of repentance and faith.