“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6)
There’s a game that I think every guy out there plays, but we just don’t talk about it too often. I don’t know if there’s a name for the game, but maybe we should call it: “How far can I go?” The way you play the game is simple, when the gas light comes on in your car, you ask yourself, “How far can I go before I REALLY have to put in gas?”
Usually, you can play this game in your head, estimating your mpg, the distance to home or the closest gas station, and work out your chances of making the destination. Nowadays, your car will probably tell you your “miles to empty” estimate, taking all the fun out of the game.
Still, we all play it, and every now and then, we lose. I lost once. I was working as an admissions counselor for Sterling College, and was coming home late at night from a High School play in far western Kansas. I left Dodge City heading east, thought I could make it home. When the light came on 30 minutes later, I knew I was in trouble. It was after 10:00, there were few stations between there and Sterling, KS, and this was long before cell phones and 24/hr pumps. The light was steady at first, but then started flashing, and finally, heading uphill into Stafford around 11:30, the car sputtered and died. I had ignored the warning lights too long, I lost the game.
In our passage above, Jude continues to warn the church of the dangers of false teachings that would twist the Gospel into a license for immorality. In the previous verse, Jude used the illustration of how many of the Israelites, having been delivered out of Egypt by the mighty hand of God, persisted in unbelief and refused to obey the Lord. Because of this, they died in the wilderness, and never knew the promised rest of the Lord.
As a second warning light, Jude now turns to the angels. Maybe its best to clear up some common misconceptions. When people die and go to heaven, they don’t become angels. Angels are beings that were created to serve in the presence of God. They don’t earn wings when bells ring, nor do they waft on fluffy clouds strumming harps. Angels are ministering spirits (Heb 1:14) who are often tasked with communicating God’s word to His people (Matt 1:20), or executing God’s will (see Revelation). Angels were given positions of authority, serving for the glory of God.
And yet some of these angelic beings abandoned their position, their proper dwelling place, and have rebelled from God’s reign and rule. There is a lot of speculation about these fallen angels. Is Jude referring to the original downfall of Satan and his league of angels, alluded to in Isaiah 14:12-15, and referenced symbolically in Revelation 12:7-12. This is often referred to as the great “civil war” of heaven, in which proud Lucifer sought the glory of God for himself, and with his angels, was cast out of heaven.
Others speculate that Jude is referring to the passage Genesis 6:1-4 which speaks of the “sons of God” who lusted after the daughters of man. As we read in Genesis, these “sons of God” (a title for angels also used in Job 1) took wives for themselves from the daughters of men, and they became, or their children were, the Nephilim. Whereas Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, these angels fell in their lust.
What’s most telling here, whether the cause of the angel’s downfall was pride or lust, is that these heavenly beings, who once beheld the light of God’s glory, were now bound to utter darkness and reserved for judgment. There is a clear play on words that the ESV lets slide: the angels did not keep their position, so God has kept them in chains.
The warning is clear, “the pride that knows better than God and the desire for forbidden things are the way to ruin in time and eternity” (William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude). If God did not spare the unfaithful in the wilderness who saw first hand His mighty power but refused to believe; if God did not spare His angels who abandoned their position of authority because of their pride and lust; what hope is there for those who, having tasted the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, then abandon him for immorality and disobedience (Hebrews 6:4-8)?
Christians, the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has borne the wrath of God’s judgment for all those who believe and trust in Him. The punishment for sin has been taken away, the stain of sin blotted out, and the mercy of forgiveness is freely offered. We may, we will, continue to experience the discipline of God hone we stumble in sin (Hebrews 12:3-11), but this discipline is ultimately meant to correct and sanctify God’s people, that we may learn to die to sin and live for Christ.
But the warning remains. Those who do not trust in the grace of God in Jesus Christ are still in their sin, and will stand before the judgment seat of God, right there with the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, and the angels who left their post. Those who claim to believe in Jesus, but twist His grace into a pass for immorality, those who deny Him as master and Lord through their disobedience, they too are bound for destruction.
Jude once again sounds the warning. The lights are flashing. It’s time to repent and believe.