Jude 5-7 “Rebellion: An Historical Perspective”
“Now, I wish to remind you, though you know all things, that the Lord having delivered the people once from the land of Egypt subsequently He destroyed those who did not believe. Also, that the angels who did not keep their own domain but left their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for judgment of the great day. Similarly, that Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, having committed debauchery in the same way as these and having pursued after other flesh, they are exposed as an example in suffering justice of eternal fire.”
Jude now transitions to the body of his letter. The post-positive δὲ (now) introduces something to add, but of a different variety. It is now Jude’s desire and wish (βούλομαι) to remind his readers of things that they know full well. It is not that they have forgotten the things that Jude is about to share with them, for that would require Jude to expound in great detail in order to teach anew what they have forgotten. His brevity indicates that his intention is simply to bring these things to mind, things that they know but may not have thought through their significance.
Though they already know these things, Jude will bring to remembrance three historical events that are recorded in the Old Testament and expounded upon in Jewish literature. These three events share a common theme of rebellion. It is worth noting that Jude does not list these events in chronological order, though he does present a purposeful order. He reviews the rebellion of Israel, angels, and Gentiles to present a simple thesis: God hates rebellion and impartially judges rebels. And so, Jude presents these three examples of rebellion from Israel’s recorded history as well as the consequences they brought to both warn his readers and set the stage for his coming condemnation of those who have slipped in.
The Rebellion of Israel Against God’s Leadership (v. 5bc)
It is beyond dispute that Jude has the exodus account in mind, yet we must pause and consider the significance of this reference as well as the way in which Jude presents it. First, Jude’s use of σῴζω (to save/deliver/maintain/preserve) is consistent with his use of the same verbal root in v. 3 (our common deliverance). While it is true that there is a theological foundation in the Passover, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, and deliverance of Israel through the sea of Reeds, it is doubtful that one can honestly speak of thorough spiritual deliverance of the nation of Israel by God at that time. These are the same people who rebelled time after time because they did not have a heart to believe (Deut. 29:4). The emphasis here, as it was in v. 3, is upon physical deliverance from danger. In addition, Jude’s reference to “the people” (λαός) as opposed to “Israel” is consistent with the fact that he writes to an Israelite audience. It would be strange indeed if Jude wrote of Israel to an Israelite audience as if he referred to a foreign third party. If he were writing to a Gentile audience as some suppose, then a general reference to “the people” would be unnecessarily vague.
The Lord’s Deliverance (v. 5b)
“That the Lord having delivered the people once from the land of Egypt”
It is necessary to think specifically about the event that Jude has in mind, for many events were involved in Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Everything from Moses’ original entreaty to Pharoah, to the plagues, to the Passover night, to the final deliverance at the sea of Reeds could be in view. Yet the final deliverance or salvation (σῴζω) came when Israel’s oppressors were destroyed in the water of the sea of Reeds with Israel safe on the opposite shore. Even a casual reading of Exodus 14:10-14 shows that the people are anything but believing. They cry out against Yhwh (v. 10), cry out against Moses, Yhwh’s leader (v. 11), and cry out against Yhwh’s plan of deliverance (v. 12). Because of Yhwh’s mercy, this first rebellion was met with deliverance. The people remain unbelieving and yet are delivered. Yet, this unbelief will not continue to produce such positive results. The text continues to recall a second rebellion.
The Lord’s Destruction (v. 5c)
“Subsequently He destroyed those who did not believe”
This subsequent rebellion or second (τὸ δεύτερον) rebellion refers to the climax of the exodus generation’s unbelief at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 14). Jude connects his thought to Numbers 14 linguistically by referring to the people as those who do not believe (οὐ πιστεύουσίν/μὴ πιστεύσαντας – Num. 14:11) and Yhwh’s destruction of them (ἀπολῶ/ἀπώλεσεν – Num. 14:12). Here we have two precedents being set that will continue to trickle down through the rest of this text. First, a few individuals, namely 10 unbelieving spies, influence a multitude to rebel against God. Secondly, God judges rebellion impartially and justly. Even though the people were a nation formed and elected by God to be His people, He did not stop from destroying rebels from among them. Those who rebelled against God’s leadership died in the wilderness.
It is important to understand the precise nature of Israel’s rebellion on these two occasions. In both instances, on the banks of the sea of Reeds and again in the wilderness of Kadesh, Israel rejected Yhwh’s leadership. They rejected Yhwh’s servant Moses to the point where they desired to stone him along with all who followed him (Num. 14:10). What of the Israel of Jude’s day? Did they not also kill those who proclaimed the coming of the Righteous One and then become His betrayers and murderers (Acts 7:52)? Rejecting God’s leadership, namely denying our only Master and Lord (v. 4) leads to death.
The Rebellion of Angels Against God’s Boundaries (v. 6)
There remains some debate in evangelical circles regarding the angels to whom Jude refers. Are these the angels referred to in Genesis 6:1-4 who impregnated human women with? Or does Jude simply refer to those angels who followed Satan in his rebellion? If these are only those who fell with Satan, then we must answer the question regarding their confinement. If fallen angels are being kept in bonds under darkness, then why do we see them (and Satan) roaming the earth (1 Pet. 5:8) and interfering with human affairs (Eph. 2:2; 6:12)? Jude does not describe the whole of Satan’s legions, but a specific group of rebellious angels who are now incarcerated until the coming day of judgment; namely, those described in Gen. 6:1-4.
Any Judean in the first century would have fully accepted the fact that before the flood, a group of angels lusted after human women, had sexual relations with them to produce offspring, and were later judged for their wickedness. Not only is this the only conclusion that an honest reading of Genesis leads to, but various second temple Jewish writings expound upon the text of Gen. 6:1-4 with these same conclusions. These writings tell of a small number of angels who convinced others to join in this rebellion, binding their joint decision with a curse. The precedent of rebellion holds true.
This is how Jude’s audience understood the Genesis account and Jude makes not corrections. Yet, it must be said that Jude does not focus on the sexual sin of these angels but on a different aspect of their rebellion.
The Angels’ Rebellion (v. 6a)
“Also, that the angels who did not keep their own domain but left their proper abode”
Jude presents the single act of the angelic rebellion with two participle phrases. He first presents their actions negatively, what thy failed to do. They failed to keep (τηρέω) their own domain (ἀρχή). When used of persons or beings, ἀρχή has the meaning of one who has authority (ruler) or even a description of the sphere of rule (realm, domain, sphere of influence). These angels had a domain that was given to them as it was their own (τὴν ἑαυτῶν ἀρχὴν). They failed to keep/guard/maintain this domain but left it.
The contrastive ἀλλὰ (but) introduces the positive action, which more or less states the same thing. Rather than staying put, these angels left their proper abode. They ignored the boundaries that God had placed upon them. They were not satisfied with the portion that was given to them and so sought a different place to be. Their rebellion was in rejecting God’s station for them. Of course, this rebellion involved other aspects but that is not the point to which Jude draws attention. Here is an example of the well well-deserved dictum “emphasis, not exclusion.” The root of the angelic rebellion of Gen. 6:1-4 is that they rejected God’s authority to dictate their place in God’s creation. Is this not also true of the Zealot rebels who are dissatisfied with their place in the Roman Empire? As we will see, the lust to be the captain of one’s one destiny has dire consequences.
The Lord’s Verdict (v. 6b)
“He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for judgment of the great day”
Jude introduces a play on words as he presents God’s act of keeping (τετήρηκεν) these angels in eternal bonds because they did not keep (τηρήσαντας) to their own place. In fact, this theme of keeping was first introduced in v. 1 where the elect are those who are being kept (τετηρημένοις) for Jesus who is the Christ. This theme of keeping will find its conclusion and climax in v. 21.
The point is simple. God met this rebellion with the same impartial justice as He did with Israel’s rebellion. The fact that these were angels did not stay God’s hand of judgment. Just as Peter had already written (2 Pet. 2:4), Jude confirms that these angels are even now incarcerated until the coming Day of the Lord when they will be judged. There has been much discussion regarding the eternal bonds and the darkness mentioned here. The point is that these angels are no longer free to interfere with the earth and its happenings in such a condition that they cannot even perceive what is happening in heaven or on earth. They are literally kept in the dark.
“Judgment” translates the Greek term κρίσις which describes a legal process. The future Day of the Lord will culminate in a trial of all rebels who will then be cast into the lake which burns with fire (Rev. 20:11-15). These angels are incarcerated until this coming day. Such is the price of rebellion against one’s divinely appointed station. If not killed outright, such will be the fate of any captured Zealot; indefinite incarceration until judgment.
The Rebellion of Gentiles Against God’s Standards (v.7)
Jude has examined the separate rebellions of Israel and that of the angels and has drawn a simple conclusion: God hates rebellion and impartially judges rebels. His survey continues to include the rebellion of pagan Gentiles. Specifically, those Gentiles described in Gen. 19.
Pursuit of Immorality (v. 7a)
“Similarly, that Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, having committed debauchery in the same way as these and having pursued after other flesh”
The similarity (ὡς) between the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and that of the angels is not on the specific nature of their sin so much as it is the reality of their rebellion. Rebellion is the common thread that unites all three of these examples rather than the specific nature of their sin. Likewise, all three rebellions can be used as evidence against those who have slipped into the church (v. 4); namely, Jewish Zealots.
Sodom and Gomorrah are listed together in Scripture no less than twenty-three times, only four of which are in the New Testament (Matt. 10:15; Rom. 9:29; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7). Often times the biblical authors use only “Sodom” as a sort of shorthand to refer to these wicked cities of the plain. When this is considered, the total number of references rises to forty-seven occurrences with nine of them found in the New Testament (Matt. 11:23, 24; Lk. 10:12; 17:29; Rev. 11:8). The overarching synthesis of the Scriptures is that Sodom/Sodom and Gomorrah is equated with great iniquity. Here Jude reminds us that this iniquity is not limited to these two cities but includes all the Canaanite cities of the plain located at the southern end of what we now call the Dead Sea. But what was the nature of this iniquity?
An honest reading of the account in Genesis (19:1-38) makes it impossible to mistake the widespread practice of homosexuality. The question is not whether or not the Sodomites were condemned and judged for their homosexual practices but if that is the emphasis Jude places upon his desired recollection. Just as Jude did not deny the sexual sin of the angels when he emphasized their rebellion of God’s station, neither does he specify homosexuality as the specific rebellion here. Why? Because that specification would fail to apply to his audience and their situation.
Jude describes their sin of Sodom and Gomorrah with the verb ἐκπορνεύω. The ἐκ preposition intensifies the verb πορνεύω from which we get our English term pornography. This is the only occurrence of the Greek verb ἐκπορνεύω in the New Testament, yet the LXX uses the term over forty times with nuances ranging from pre-marital sex, prostitution, sexual orgies, and general lust. In other words, this term certainly points to sexual immorality but is a more general term that encompasses any and all sexual sin rather than exclusively targeting homosexuality. Jude’s point is not to dismiss the homosexual lust of the cities of the plain in Gen. 19, but to look at the broader picture of sexual perversion of any kind that rebels against God’s intention for one man and one woman in the bonds of matrimony. When he adds that these cities together with Sodom and Gomorrah pursed different flesh (σαρκός ἑτέρας) he leaves the door open wide enough to include the pursuit of any flesh other than one’s own wife. Whether that flesh is the flesh of a prostitute, another man’s wife, or another man, all is condemned as ἐκπορνεύω. The cities of the plain rebelled against God’s design of the most basic human relationship, that of a man and his wife.
While homosexuality was not commonplace in Judea during the first century, sexual immorality abounded at every level. Hebert Bateman summarizes the immorality of Judea’s ruling class by stating, “Herod the Great not only married more than one wife, he divorced two, murdered one, and married a niece and then a cousin. Antipas, son of Herod the Great, not only married a foreign wife, Aretas, but also he later divorced her and married his brother’s wife, Herodias. During the time of Jude’s writing, Herod Agrippa II was king of Judaea, and his sister Bernice was in a public and premarital affair with the Roman general Titus.”
Such immorality cannot be said to have been contained to the ruling class alone, for the New Testament hints at the ridiculous debate over divorce that raged in the rabbinical schools of the time (Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-12) as well as revealing the existence of prostitution and other promiscuity (Jn. 8:3-4; Matt. 15:19). The Zealots, at one time proud of the sexual purity according to the law, fared no better as they eventually succumbed to immoral behavior. Josephus tells of the Zealots who held Jerusalem as engaging in gross immorality as they abused the inhabitants of the city and paraded through the streets as cross-dressing whores. Needless to say, Judea of the first century was by no means superior to Sodom and Gomorrah. Both were rebellious to God’s ordained design for sexuality.
Presented as an Example of Judgment (v. 7b)
“They are exposed as an example in suffering justice of eternal fire”
Moses’ account of Sodom’s fate included all of the cities of the plain. Divine justice literally rained down in fire to wipe these cities off of the face of the map. Complete and total destruction of these cities was their just reward for their rebellion. To this very day, the location of Sodom and Gomorrah is disputed because God left not so much as a door post to mark their location. They were utterly consumed. Most scholars agree that these cities were located at the southern end of the Dead Sea. If true, the heat blasted wilderness continues to bear witness to their destruction. Assuming this location, Richard Lenski writes, “Lot chose Sodom because it was ‘as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, well watered everywhere before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah’ (Gen. 13:10). But see how this region lies now! The writer was there in 1925. Not a thing grows; not a creature lives in the waters…It seems incredible that Gen. 13:10 could at one time have been true of this blasted land.” Thus is the example that Sodom and Gomorrah are exposed as to this day.
Many Bibles use the word “punishment” to translate the Greek δίκη. While not incorrect, we cannot think that this divine punishment is somehow spiteful, capricious, or vindictive. Δίκη shares the a root with δίκαιος (righteous) as well as δικαιοσύνη (righteousness). This judgment or punishment was neither too harsh nor too lenient. This was divine justice on display. It was right for God to burn Sodom and Gomorrah just as it is right that He will cast all such rebels to burn in the eternal lake of fire.
It matters not whether one is a Jew, Gentile, or even an angel. God hates rebels and will judge them impartially and justly. It matters not whether one rebels against God’s leadership, God’s placement, or God’s design. God hates rebels and will judge them impartially and justly. It is noteworthy that Jude begins with Israel, the people of God, to show how a few unbelieving rebels can infiltrate and turn the entire community on its head. These are the ones to whom Jude points at when he said, “certain men have slipped in…” (v. 4). The Judean church has a choice. Should they listen to these men as they spread sedition against God’s choice of king (Jesus who is the Christ), God’s placement of their lives and existence, and God’s design of relationships? Or should they contend earnestly for the faith, shutting these rebels out and standing firm upon the faith that has once and for all times been handed down to God’s holy ones? The consequences range from death, to incarceration, to divine and eternal destruction. But the choice is still before them. What will they choose? What will the church of our own day choose? Will we rebel against God or submit to His Christ, His station, and His design? May we be found to be humble and submissive rather than proud and rebellious when the King of kings returns.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 597.  Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 170-4.  Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 445-6.  Bateman, p. 172.  Ibid, p. 175-8.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 232-5.  Bateman, p. 181-2.  Ibid, p. 184-5.  Ibid, p. 188.  Josephus, Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), Jewish Wars, 4.556-565, p. 825-6.  Lenski, p. 622.