Apostasy – A Falling Away
Apostasy is like a subtle viper that snares its victim and slowly squeezes the life out of it. For this reason, Jude reached back into the Old Testament and picked three lucid illustrations that would impact the Christian concerning the imminent danger he faced by falling away from the faith.
Jude prefaced his remarks by saying, “I will, therefore, put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this” (v. 5). In other words, I am going to remind you of biblical lessons, so familiar, that you will not miss the point of what l am about to say.
The Failure Of Israel
Jude recounted the failure of Israel as his first reminder of apostasy. God had mightily delivered her from Egypt. He had seen the affliction of Israel (Ex. 3:7) and after the Passover (Ex. 12:6, 29), 600,000 men with their families and the wealth of Egypt marched out of the land (Ex. 12:31-36). Israel had been saved from captivity by God, sheltered by the blood of the lamb, kept safe from judgment and strengthened for their journey by feasting on the lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Ex. 12:8).
God miraculously delivered Israel from Pharaoh’s army as they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. If Israel had marched 50 abreast, the line could have been seen for 40 miles,
an awesome sight to behold. But just as miraculous were the provisions for 600,000 men and their families. By today’s standards, it would take 30 boxcars of food and 300 tank cars of water to meet their daily needs.
Second, Jude reminded the reader of Israel’s disbelief. He said they “believed not” (v. 5), meaning Israel failed to believe what God promised them concerning Canaan. The leaders requested permission to spy out the land before going in. Moses agreed to the plan, and twelve spies were sent to survey the land and its inhabitants for forty days (Dt. 1:21-23). The spies returned paralyzed with fear and saw their conquest as impossible (Num. 13:32-33). Only Joshua and Caleb had faith that Israel would be able to defeat the enemy and possess the land as God promised (Num. 13:30).
Third, Jude reminded the reader that God “destroyed them that believed not” (v. 5). Because of Israel’s unbelief, all those twenty years old and over died during the forty years Israel wandered in the desert (Num. 14:29-34). It is impossible to determine exactly how many people died per day, but based on a twelve-hour day, over a period of 38.5 years, there would have been approximately 85 funerals per day, or seven per hour. What an awesome reminder of the price Israel had to pay for her disobedience to God.
Through unbelief, Israel forfeited two things: first, they forfeited physical life, for God destroyed all those who believed not. The word “destroy” (Gr., apollumi) can speak of either physical or spiritual death. Since it is used both ways, the context determines its usage. Here the reference is to physical death and has nothing to do with Israel’s salvation. Second, they forfeited the blessings of Canaan (Heb. 3:18-19). This is not a picture of forfeiting Heaven (the loss of salvation) but of destruction of the flesh.
The same is true for the Christian who is to judge sin in his life (1 Cor. 11:29-30). Failure to do so could mean premature weakness, sickness or even death, but never the loss of salvation. There is also a sin which precipitates death for the Christian (1 Jn. 5:16); but again, there is no mention of losing one’s salvation. This is clearly seen in the case of Ananias and Sapphira who died after lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), but there is no mention of losing their salvation.
Some Christians find little or no value in studying the historical experiences of Israel recorded in the Old Testament, since they have the final revelation of the New Testament. Paul taught the exact opposite: “Now all these things happened unto them for examples, and they are written for our admonition. . . Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:11-12). The Christian is to learn from Israel’s history so he will sidestep the same pitfalls of unbelief which she experienced. May it not be said that the one thing Christians learn from Israel’s history is that they do not learn from Israel’s history.
The Fall Of Angels
Jude reminded the recipients of this letter that even angels could fall. He recalls those angels who “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation” (v. 6).
To what situation is Jude referring? There are three interpretations which have been put forth to explain this passage. The first one is that Jude is making reference to angels vacating their high position of habitation which God had designed for them, namely Heaven. That is all the text is saying, and nothing more should be read into it. But the passage teaches much more than the above.
The second interpretation is that Jude is making reference to a third of the angels (Rev. 12:4) who rebelled against God’s authority when Lucifer tried to dethrone Him (Isa. 14:12-17; Ezek. 28:12-19). Again, the passage seems to say much more than what occurred at Lucifer’s fall. Furthermore, neither Satan nor the rebelling angels are presently “reserved in everlasting chains” (v. 6).
The third interpretation is that Jude was making reference to angels who left their habitation in Heaven and, against their nature, committed sexual immorality with mankind. This is the correct view for the following reasons: First, these angels were practicing the same sin as Sodom and Gomorrah who gave themselves over “in like manner. . . to fornication” (v. 7). Second, they went “after strange flesh” (v. 7); that is, flesh of a different nature. This is clearly taught in Scripture when the men of Sodom and Gomorrah sought sexual perversion with angels (Gen. 19:5), and angels sought the same with women (Gen. 6:4).
Some would strongly object to such an interpretation for the following reasons: (1) This union would be abnormal, grotesque and very mythological; (2) Jesus said angels are sexless and do not marry (Mt. 22:30); (3) the phrase “sons of God” is also used to speak of godly men (Hos. 1:10; 11:1); (4) the chapters preceding Genesis 6 contrast the godly descendants of Seth and the ungodly descendants of Cain (Gen. 4:16-24; 4:25-5:32) and do not indicate angelic beings cohabiting with women.1
In support of the interpretation that the sons of God are fallen angels is the following: (1) The Hebrew phrase “bene-elohim” (sons of God) always refers to angels in the Old Testament (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25). The references cited (Dt. 14:1; Isa. 1:10; 4:6; 11:1) do not use “bene-elohim” for sons of God. (2) In Matthew 22:30, Jesus is talking about angels in Heaven, not fallen angels on earth in Noah’s day. True, angels are not able to cohabit and procreate among themselves, but they are able to take on human form and perform human functions such as eating, walking, talking and sitting. As already shown, angels were mistaken for men and desired for homosexual acts (Gen. 19:5). Since the total nature of fallen angels is unknown, it may be possible that they cohabited with women in Noah’s day. This seemed to be the case in Jude 6 and 7. (3) The Hebrew word “nephilim” (translated “giants” in Gen. 6:4) actually should be translated “fallen ones” and designates the unusual offspring of the unholy union between fallen angels and women. (4) Once again, Jude is teaching that the angels committed sexual perversion by uniting with flesh of a different nature (Jude 6-7).2 (5) Jewish history taught this position. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “Many angels accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust” (Antiquities 1:3:1). (6) The early church held this view until the fourth century, at which time the angelic interpretation was replaced by an alternate view.
What is the state of these vile beings who left their first estate? They are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (v. 6). Peter stated about such angels, “God. . . cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (2:24). In other words, they are confined and closely guarded in a dense dark place, awaiting the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). What was Satan’s purpose in perpetrating such perversions on the human race? First, he tried to corrupt the messianic line which would have kept Jesus from becoming totally human, thus nullifying His redemptive ministry. Second, Satan tried to create a hybrid of angelic humans who would be unredeemable, nullifying Christ’s redemptive ministry.
In the midst of such darkness, it was possible to find one who did not compromise his faith in God, for Noah was “just. . . perfect [uncontaminated]. . . and. . . walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). For 120 years he was faithful to the task God had given to him in preparing the ark and preaching righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5) to his degenerate age (Gen. 6:5). God’s testimony of the man is twofold. First, he “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen. 6:8). Second, “Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him” (Gen. 7:5). How refreshing to find a man in an age of total apostasy who was unmovable in contending for the faith. In every age, no matter how apostate it might be, God has men who will not compromise their faith.
Fornication Of Sodom And Gomorrah
Jude’s third illustration of apostasy is drawn from the fornication of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7). Seem strange? Not at all! Christ foretold that the last days would be like the days of Lot (Lk. 17:28-30). In the last days conditions will become like those in Sodom and Gomorrah. The sins of these cities were “in like manner” (v. 7) as the angels. They would indulge in passions contrary to nature, “going after strange [a different kind of] flesh” (v. 7). The words “giving themselves over to fornication” come from a Greek word (ekporneuo) which means a total giving of oneself to the sin. This is the sin of homosexuality, strongly condemned by God (Rom. 1:27).
Those who practice such sins are to suffer “the vengeance of eternal fire” (v. 7). The word “vengeance” has the idea of executing a judicial decision with punishment. The punishment to be meted out is “eternal fire” or suffering in the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:15). The Word of God is very clear that those who habitually practice sexual immorality will not inherit eternal life (Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:8).
The sins mentioned above are being practiced widely in the United States. The fire of sexual freedom is being fanned by the legal status given to pornography. Today pornography is estimated to be an 8 billion dollar business. Over 2.5 million people view “porno” movies each week at more than 800 adult movie houses or from 400,000 video cassettes that have been sold. This does not include the pornographic movies on cable television.3
Molestation is on the increase as well. “One in four girls will be molested by her 18th birthday; and one in three 12 year-old girls in the United States will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.”4
Sexual freedom in this country has caused an epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) that is sweeping the country. ”According to the Federal Center for Disease Control the nation is in the grip of an STD epidemic that infects an average of 33,000 people a day. That figures to 12 million cases a year, up from 4 million in 1980. At this rate, one in four Americans between ages 15 and 55 eventually will acquire an STD.”5 Most likely the AIDS epidemic has contributed much to the rise of STD.
More shocking is that such practices are being tolerated by the church. David Hesselgrave, in his book, What in the World Has Gotten into the Church?, documents the above statements: Following a decision by the (US) Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops that it is inappropriate to ordain a practicing homosexual, the parent Church of England published a report urging fundamental changes in attitude toward homosexuals and recommending that they not be barred from the priesthood.
The much publicized Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Churches claims to believe in salvation by faith in Christ alone while wholeheartedly endorsing the gay lifestyle.6
. . . consider the case of formerly married Christian singles in a large California church. Only 9 percent of the men and 27 percent of the women have remained celibate in their single state. Of 203 singles interviewed, over one-fourth of them rationalized their sexual conduct by affirming that ‘Christ wants us to live abundant lives; to me that includes sex.’7
Many Christians are succumbing to the mores of society and are accepting those things which God condemned. Lot is a perfect example of what can happen to a righteous man (2 Pet. 2:7-8) who succumbed to a wicked society. His downfall began when he beheld Sodom (Gen. 13:10), walking by sight not faith. Next, he chose to dwell in the plains of Jordan (Gen. 13:11), a type of the world. He pitched his tent toward Sodom (Gen. 13:12), and soon after he was not only living in the city but was a judge at the city gate (Gen. 19:1), a position that required him to uphold the principles, practices and privileges of this perverted people.
Lot was so lacking in character that he offered his two virgin daughters to the men of Sodom in order to spare his two guests (Gen. 19:8). His testimony was of little value to either family or in-laws, for they turned a deaf ear to his warning of impending judgment (Gen. 19:14). Even Lot himself was reluctant to leave and had to be dragged out of the city as judgment was ready to fall (Gen. 19:16).
Lot ended up crouched in a cave stripped of possessions, position, family and friends in a drunken stupor and dishonored state. His daughters committed incest with him resulting in the birth of Moab and Ammon who became bitter enemies of Israel (Gen. 19:30-38). Lot’s wife was a total waste and produced a negative testimony to those who knew of his belief in God. In the dark age of apostasy, God has His luminaries of faith, men who will trust Him and live above the corruption of a decadent world. Israel had its Joshua and Caleb who believed the promises of God though others had no faith. The antediluvian age had its Noah who walked with God and remained uncontaminated by his decadent world. The patriarchal period had its Abraham who did not pitch his tent towards Sodom but looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. Remember, we can live above the snares of apostasy if we seek “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33)!
- C. Fred Dickason, Angels Elect and Evil (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), pp. 222-223.
- Ibid., pp. 223-224.
- The Presbyterian Layman.
- Pulpit Helps, December,1986, pp. 32-33.
- David Hesselgrave and Ronald P. Hesselgrave, What in the World Has Gotten into the Church? (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 56.
- Ibid., p. 60.