Apostasy, Angels, and Judgment Jude 5—11
Apostasy is nothing new. Although it may seem worse today than in previous years, it has been around almost forever; and it reaps God’s judgment.
An apostate is one who departs from the religion, principles, party, or cause that he or she formerly associated with and professed.1 The book of Jude gives examples of apostates in Old Testament times and the divine judgment they reaped.
Old Testament Apostates
The first example involves the people of Israel whom God brought out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership (Jude 5). All were delighted to be delivered from the bondage of suffering they had experienced for many years. But the Israelites who were unbelievers were pleased merely for selfish reasons, rather than for the honor and glory of God.
As a result, God “afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (v. 5). Jude’s second example involves a group of holy angels whom God created for a special angelic domain or sphere of influence (v. 6).2 Apparently, these angels were pleased with their supernatural power of influence but decided to use it for selfish reasons instead of for God’s purposes. The angels’ sin consisted of four actions:
(1) Abandoning their God-ordained domain or sphere of influence in order to become part of a different domain.
(2) Leaving “their own abode” (v. 6). These angels deserted the God-ordained residence for angels in the heavens3 in order to live in another location.
(3) Giving “themselves over to sexual immorality” (v. 7). Verse 7 begins, “as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these.” Some interpreters claim verse 7 has no relationship to the angels of verse 6.4 They insist the words to these in verse 7 refer back to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, not to the angels of verse 6, and that Jude was saying the cities around Sodom and Gomorrah gave themselves over to sexual immorality in like manner as Sodom and Gomorrah.
However, the Greek word for “cities” is feminine. By contrast, the Greek words translated “to these” in verse 7 and “angels” in verse 6 are both masculine. Thus “to these” in verse 7 must refer to the angels of verse 6, not to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.5 Jude was saying Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them sinned like the angels of verse 6, by committing sexual immorality.
This does not mean, however, that the angels engaged in the same type of sexual immorality as the men of these wicked cities. The Greek word translated “sexual immorality” in verse 7 refers to any kind of sexual relationship forbidden by God.6 The sexual immorality of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah and neighboring cities involved their going after “strange flesh.” To “go after strange flesh” means to “indulge in unnatural lust.”7 The men engaged in unnatural sexual relations with one another, even though God created human males to be sexually foreign to other human males (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Dt. 23:17).
(4) Going after “strange flesh” (Jude 7). The angels’ sexual immorality also involved going after “strange flesh.” God created angels as spirit beings, without physical bodies of flesh and bones. Thus the angels of verse 6, contrary to their nature and to what God intended, pursued sexual relations with physical flesh. The end of verse 6 indicates God punished their fourfold sin by confining them to a gloomy place of darkness, where He keeps them until their final judgment at the end of this earth’s history: He has reserved them in everlasting “chains under darkness” for the judgment of the great day.
The apostle Peter had these same angels in mind when he wrote,
For…God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [Tartarus] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly (2 Pet. 2:4–5).
Several things should be noted concerning these comments: First, Peter was referring to a group of angels whom God had confined and chained in a terrible place of darkness in the past.
Second, though English translations call this place “hell,” Peter did not use the New Testament word for “hell” (Hades). Instead, he used the word Tartarus.The ancient world understood Hades and Tartarus to be distinct from each other. Both the Greeks and Jewish apocalyptic writers thought of Tartarus as “a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out.”8 Chapter 22, verse 2 of the Apocryphal Book of Enoch presents Tartarus as the place of punishment for fallen angels. Peter was indicating that these evil spirits are imprisoned in the deepest pit of gloom.
Second Peter 2:4 is the only place in the New Testament where this place of judgment is mentioned by its proper name. Several other passages refer to it by its descriptive term, the “bottomless pit” (literally, “the abyss”). The word abyss means “unfathomably deep.” Jewish apocalyptic writers called it “the place in which runagate [fugitive, run-away, vagabond] spirits are confined (Jub. 5:6 ff.; Eth. En., 10:4 ff.; 11 ff.; 18:11 ff. etc.; Jd. 6; 2 Pt. 2:4).”9
Third, Tartarus is only a temporary place of judgment for the angels confined there. At the end of this earth’s history, they, together with Satan and all fallen angels, will be consigned to another place of judgment: the eternal Lake of Fire (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Fourth, Peter made it clear these angels were already in Tartarus because of a sin they committed before he wrote his epistle. This sin was not the original angelic rebellion against God because, if it were, then all angels—including Satan—would be confined there. Instead, it had to be a more grievous sin, one committed by this group of angels after the original angelic rebellion against God.
Before and after Christ’s time on Earth, the understanding of Genesis 6:1–4 was that the “the sons of God” were angels who married human “daughters of men” and produced giant offspring who became mighty “men of renown” before the Noahic flood. These angels abandoned their assigned sphere of influence and vacated the residence of angels in the heavens.
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, produced by Jewish scholars in the second or third centuries before Christ, indicated the “sons of God” of Genesis 6 were angels.10 The Book of Enoch (which Jude quoted in verses 14–15) and The Book of Jubilees, Jewish literature produced in the second or third centuries before Christ, presented the same view.11 So did Josephus, the famous Jewish historian of the first century AD.12 This view was also the historic position of the early church until the fourth century AD.
God’s judgment on the men of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the neighboring cities serves as an example of those who will undergo the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 7).
New Testament Apostates
Beginning in verse 8, Jude applied the examples of the Old Testament apostates to the apostates of verse 4 who had crept deceptively into churches. They were false prophets who claimed to “have visions in dreams,”13 believed that God’s grace permitted sexual immorality, and despised the lordship authority of Christ over their lives. In addition, as mere humans, they took it upon themselves to rebuke angels.
Jude contrasted their actions with that of Michael the archangel (a high-ranking angel) who, when in a dispute with Satan about the body of Moses, said, “The Lord rebuke you” (v. 9) instead of daring to rebuke Satan himself. Jude used this example to warn apostates to beware of rebuking angels, who are far more powerful than they.
In verse 10, Jude accused these apostates of blaspheming things about which they are ignorant and, like unreasoning animals, corrupting themselves with things they understand.
In verse 11, Jude declared, “Woe to them!” because of three things they had done:
- They had “gone in the way of Cain” by rejecting God’s command and lordship authority in order to do as they pleased.
- They had “run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit.” Just as Balaam greedily used his prophetic ministry to become wealthy, these men deceitfully claimed to have significant visions in dreams in order to get rich.
- Just as Korah perished for his rebellion against Moses (Num. 16), these apostates also perished for rebellion against God’s appointed church leaders.
God is certainly quick to forgive and slow to anger, but eventually He gets around to dealing with apostasy.
- Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam, 1939), 127, s.v. “apostasy.”
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “arche,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 112.
- Otto Michel, “oiketerion,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 5:155.
- Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 35.
- Edwin A. Blum, Jude in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 12:390.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “porneia,” 699.
- Ibid., “aperxomai,” 84.
- Ibid., “tartarow,” 813.
- Joachim Jeremias, “abussos,” TDNT, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964 ), 1:9.
- New Catholic Encyclopedia, 13:435, s.v. “Sons of God.”
- R. H. Charles, The Book of Enoch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), 14–15, 21. The Book of Jubilees (New York: Macmillan, 1917), 57–58, 68.
- Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.3.1 in The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Chicago: Thompson & Thomas, n.d.), 32.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “enupniazomai,” 270.