From The Editor’s Notebook: Journeying Through Jude, part 3

From The Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Journeying Through Jude
(Part 3)

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ(v.4).

“From the days of Simon Magus to the present, “ wrote Harry A. Ironside, “it has ever been the object of Satan to secretly introduce evil workers into the assemblies of the saints of God, that thus the simple and the unwary may be deceived and led astray. Nor have men been wanting in all ages who would stoop to do so nefarious a business.”1

Thus the words of verse 4 describe the apostate teachers whose presence and influence in the visible church stirred Jude to write as he did. The opening “for” introduces the occasion of the letter. In Galatians 2:4 the error of those who stole in was legality; here it is licentiousness. Jude brings three charges against these false brethren, charges which are repeated numerous times in the letter. First of all, we see their character. They were “ungodly men” (vv. 15 & 18). At this point it’s important to understand that the descriptive term ungodly does not necessarily refer to open immorality or other forms of wickedness. Actually, the Greek word asebes means “impious” or “destitute of reverential awe toward God.” An apostate may be held in high esteem by other men as a moral, upright, exemplary citizen. Yet, the Bible describes him as ungodly because in his heart he has no real fear or reverential awe of God which would lead him to believe and obey God’s revealed will.

Second, we note the conduct of the apostates depicted by Jude; they were immoral men, “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.” And third, we observe their creed; they were rebellious men, “Denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Actually, as in the old Revised Version, the closing words of verse 4 should read, “denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” In the oldest Greek manuscripts are two different words behind the twice used “Lord” of the King James Version. The first word, despotes, occurs only ten times in the New Testament and means “a sovereign master, a master of slaves.” From it we derive our English word despot. The second word, kurios, is quite common in the New Testament and is the usual designation given to Jesus Christ as “Lord.” The new International Version translates it: “Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” This clarification, then, reveals that the whole clause refers to Christ.

“Crept in unawares” includes the thought that these apostates were already in the visible church, having secretly or stealthily gained entrance as though by a side or back door. This reminds us of our Lord’s words in His parable of the tares among the wheat: “But, while men slept, his (i.e., the man who sowed good seed), enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way” (Matt. 13:25).

Peter wrote of the apostates as being future (2 Pet. 2:1; 3:3), while Jude writes of their actual presence. This provides some evidence that 2 Peter is the older letter and that if any copying was done, Jude used Peter’s letter, not vice-versa.

“Before … ordained” does not mean “foreordained” or “elected” to condemnation. Rather, it simply means “Marked out beforehand.” The Apostle Paul used the same word in Romans 15:4 with reference to things written in the Old Testament, and the word must be understood as having a similar reference here. The thought is that the condemnation or judgment of apostates has been declared and illustrated in the Old Testament. The adjective “old” may refer to one of four things: (1) Jude’s prophecy of verses 14 and 15; (2) Old Testament prophecies in general; (3) New Testament writings such as 1 & 2 Timothy and 2 Peter; or (4) possibly to verses 5-7. The first view has the support of the context, while the third has the support of the background. The Greek word for “old” is never used to refer to eternity past, but to time only.

Apostasy is a result of the denial of right doctrine, and as S. Maxwell Coder has carefully pointed out: “Apostasy is not to be confused with mere indifference to the Word, nor error or heresy. A born-again person may fall into error, or embrace some heresy; but there seems to be no scriptural warrant for thinking that he may become apostate. An apostate has received light, but not life. He may have received, in some degree, the written Word; but he has not received the living Word, the Son of God.”2

In one of his sermons John F. MacArthur, Jr., has commented as follows on the denial of the Lord Jesus Christ by apostates: “They always want to make Him into a man. They always want to take away from Jesus the right to be God. This is the most despicable doctrine there is. It’s the thing I hate worse than any false doctrine that Jesus is not God in human flesh. The cults that pervert that doctrine, and the liberals and modernists that pervert that doctrine are striking right at the core of Christianity and right at the core of the character of God. They will not let Him be distinct. They will not honor Him as the Lord. They want to bring Him down to a human level. They dishonor Him in that way. The apostates deny everything. They deny His sovereign rule as God. They deny His Lordship over the believers as the one to be exalted and honored. They deny His Saviorhood, and they deny His Messiahship. They deny it all. That’s apostasy.”

As for Jude’s threefold portrayal of apostates in verse 4, these same characteristics are reiterated in verse 11. Cain is an illustration of the ungodliness of apostasy, Salaam is an illustration of the perversion of divine grace into evil, and Korah is an illustration of the denial of God’s appointed leader — namely, Moses, who is a picture of Christ.

The Destruction of the Apostates (vv. 5-16)

I will, therefore, put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (vv. 5-7).

In these three verses Jude sets forth God’s attitude toward apostates, singling out three groups which illustrate God’s judgment of past apostasy: the Jews, the angels, and the Gentiles. Verse 5 tells us of how God dealt with the children of Israel in the desert, verse 6 of how He judged the angels that sinned, and verse 7 of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Actually, the main body of Jude’s letter begins with verse 5, and to both appreciate and rightly interpret Jude’s message we must have a working knowledge of 2 Peter. Both follow the same pattern, although Peter’s second letter is chronological, while Jude’s epistle is not. The examples recorded by Jude in verses 5-7 were selected because of some particular correspondence between the conduct of those involved and the behaviour of the apostates who had stealthily gained entrance into the assembly.

In verse 5, Jude’s “I will” does not refer to the future but to his set purpose to remind his readers of Israel’s past judgment, as well as the two other examples of judgment. The clause, “though ye once knew this,” seems to be a parallel to the words in verse 3, “the faith which was once delivered,” the occurrence of “once” in both verses meaning once for all. The first example the Holy Spirit led Jude to select refers to the unbelief of Israel in the wilderness (see Num. 14:27-37). The parallel between the faithless Israelites and the false brethren lies in the fact that both had identified themselves with God’s people and then apostatized. This illustration, then, demonstrates that it is possible for a true believer to apostatize from the truth.

While it’s true that the mixed multitude which came out of Egypt with the children of Israel included many unbelievers, no thoughtful, discerning student of the Bible would say that all who perished in the wilderness perished eternally. If this were the case, then of the entire number that had crossed the Red Sea only Joshua and Caleb were true believers, since they were the only ones of that generation over twenty years of age to ultimately enter Canaan. Of further significance are the words of Hebrews 3:12, where the brethren are exhorted to beware of “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Through unbelief Israel fell away from the living God. And the same thing can and does happen to believers today, Jude’s warning being treated at length in other New Testament passages (see 1 Cor. 10:1-12; Heb. 3:16-4:5).

The Greek word for “destroyed” in Jude 5 is appolumi. It is used elsewhere in the New Testament of both physical death, as in Luke 8:24, and of the “second death” or eternal separation from God, as in John 3:16. The context determines the precise meaning of the word.

That believers today, who are guilty of certain sins, can “perish” in the same way in which unbelieving Israelites did in their day is clear from such passages as 1 John 5:16 and 1 Corinthians 11:29 and 30. In the former reference, John speaks of “a sin unto death” or, as it may also be rendered, “sin unto death,” which sin undoubtedly takes many forms. The latter passage is a classic illustration of John’s words, in that, some of the Corinthian saints had, through divine judgment, been taken home to heaven because they ate and drank at the Lord’s Supper in a sinful manner, having failed to discern the Lord’s body.

As for the possibility of being guilty of sinning unto death, Coder has helpfully commented, “This is not a major doctrine of Scripture, but it is part of God’s revelation for us. Many faithful servants of Christ are called to glory at an early age; we dare not say of any man that he sinned unto death. We must rather see that we ourselves profit by what is written. Jude 5 is given to warn us, not to enable us to judge others.”3

(To be continued, D.V.)

1 Harry A. Ironside, Expostion of the Epistle of Jude, p. 16.

2 S. Maxwell Coder, Jude: the Acts of the Apostates, p. 21

3 Ibid., p. 32.