Reading and understanding the Epistle of Jude is a little like arriving early to the symphony. As you find your seat and wait for the concert to begin, the musicians file in one by one, take their seats, and some of them begin to play their instrument. As each one runs over a section of their piece, the sound that reaches your ears is cacophonous, but if you broke down each individual piece and put it in its proper context it would make perfect sense. After a few minutes of warm-up, the conductor arrives on stage, raises his wand, and when he brings it back down the cacophony has turned into a symphony.
The middle section of Jude, verses 5-16 can be very cacophonous if we are not careful to put each piece of the text into its proper context. The key to understanding and applying Jude is not to skip over this quirky and odd section, but to pay careful and thoughtful attention to each piece. Fundamentally we want to know what Jude expected his hearers to understand, and how that applies to the twin thrusts of Jude-Mercy and Defending the Gospel.
In the current section, verses 5-7, Jude lists three examples of past judgment and wants his readers to understand how they relate to the false teachers. The first judgment story is familiar.
Jude reminds his readers of what happened in the desert after the exodus from Egypt? What happened? Those whom God showed great mercy upon rebelled, turned against God, and died in the desert. The Exodus is a pivotal point in Scripture, not only historically but theologically as well. Jude reminds his readers that God’s mercy and grace cannot be presumed upon.
The second example is about angels being held for final judgment. According to Jewish tradition (the way his readers would be thinking), these are the angels of Genesis 5 who sexually intermingled with humans. Their sexual perversion and deep disregard for God’s creation put them in chains awaiting eternal punishment.
The third example is again a familiar one-Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for their sexual impurity as well.
So to pause for a second and bring some symphony from the cacophony, why did Jude use these examples? The false teachers had come into the community of Christ and were teaching a kind of moral liberation. According to Jude they were perverting the grace of God, which means they believed that because God is a forgiving God, it gave them the right to act however they pleased. But Jude sees it differently. God showed tremendous mercy on the children of Israel by bringing them out of Egypt, but their subsequent behavior got them a hot and sandy grave.
God’s act of loving forgiveness toward us does not always allow us to be shielded from the consequences of our own actions. God stands ready to forgive us all if we come to Him in love and surrender, but He loves us enough to allow us to sometimes learn that our sinful actions have rotten consequences.