April 2, 2023
Ever since the church began, false prophets have infiltrated congregations, leading others astray by denying Christ’s power and abusing God’s grace as an opportunity for immorality. In his epistle, Jude made sure his readers would be able to recognize “these people” by issuing three charges against them: they pollute the flesh, they reject authority, and they slander God’s truth. Noting the relevance of Jude’s warnings today, Alistair Begg teaches that while only God can pronounce judgment, He is also a merciful God who forgives those who trust in Jesus.
Sermon Transcript: Print
And I invite you to turn with me to the Bible, to the Old Testament and to Jeremiah and to chapter 23, and to follow along as I read first of all from the sixteenth verse to the twenty-second verse and from the twenty-eighth verse to the thirty-second verse. So, Jeremiah 23:16:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you.”’
“For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened?
Behold, the storm of the Lord!
Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intents of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.
“‘I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from [their] evil … deeds.”
And then in verse 28:
“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.”
Well, let me encourage you to turn to the book of Jude—Jude, verse 8. And he’s picking up what he has said. He’s described a circumstance in the past that has sounded out a warning to the people of God, and “yet,” he says, nevertheless, “in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’ But these people blaspheme,” or slander, “all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them!”
Father, help us now as we study the Bible. Take your Word and “plant it deep in us,” and “shape and fashion us in your likeness.” For Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
Well, in coming back to this, it’s very important for us to remember that this is a letter, and it is a relatively short letter; it’s only twenty-five verses in our text in English. And so it would be read as a letter. I say that because when we slow the pace in the way in which we have chosen to do—purposefully and, I hope, helpfully—to just some three verses or perhaps four at a time, it is very important that we don’t miss the forest, as it were, for the trees, that we keep very clearly in mind why it is that Jude is writing and that we might be able to understand the points that he’s making.
It is the very gravity of the situation and the sense of urgency that he feels that causes him to write in such a striking fashion. He’s made it clear that “certain people” have infiltrated the congregation or congregations to which he writes. He doesn’t, as we have noted each time, identify them by name but rather by certain characteristics: they display no real reverence for God, they abuse his grace as an opportunity for immorality, and they deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.
And it is this which underlies all that he is addressing. And it is important that we get this very clearly, because there is a temptation in reading anything like this to immediately absent ourselves from any possible point of application—to immediately find ourselves saying, “Well, I don’t know who these people were, but I thank you that I am not one of them.” You should remember that when Jesus, in the Passion Week, while they were eating said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”—and “they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” “Surely I’m not the one.”
Now, when we turn to the Bible, we come to the Bible as sinners—some of us saved sinners, others of us in search of salvation or perhaps running from it. But we come to the Bible conscious of our own weakness. We come to the Bible aware of our own folly. We come to a study of a passage like this prepared, I hope, to recognize how easily tempted we are to sidestep from the path of obedience, especially if the path of obedience is unappealing to us, especially if the path of obedience is daunting, especially if the path of obedience reorientates our priorities and directs our lives in a way that we don’t want to go. We must make sure that we beware of the response of the Pharisee who, when he stood to make his prayers in a very public arena, was prepared to say, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
So, who are “these people”? Because he addresses them in that way, doesn’t he? He says “certain people” and “these people.” Well, we need to know that they’re church people (they’re in the church, you see), they’re influential people, they’re ungodly people, they’re fearless people, and they’re unashamed people. And it is because of the fact that they have managed to ingratiate themselves in this context that Jude writes out of a serious concern for the welfare of the congregation. And that’s why he begins by telling us, “This is what you have to do.” In the opening verses: “You must contend for the faith.” By the time we get down to 17 and following, he’s explaining why this needs to be done. He’ll remind them of the predictions of the apostles, who said, “In the last days, there will be scoffers following their own ungodly passions, seeking to do whatever they want themselves.” So, what you need to do is contend. Why you need to do it is because of the gravity of the situation. And how you’re going to do it we will get to finally in verse 20 and following. Very, very clear.
And last time, in verses 5, 6, and 7, he gave us three examples from the past. Each of these examples was to convey the way in which God in his goodness had made provision for his people and they in turn had decided not to obey. And in verse 5, they were “destroyed.” In verse 6, they were bound “in eternal chains.” And in verse 7, referencing Sodom and Gomorrah, they were facing the “punishment of eternal fire.”
But then you get to verse 8. And he says, “Yet”—nevertheless, despite all of this—“these people…” And then he goes on to describe what happens. Instead of the people that he is warning his congregation about learning from the examples, facing up to the reality of God’s justice and God’s judgment, they actually decide to follow the pattern of the people who found themselves under the wrath of God. They pay attention to only that which pleases them. They lead immoral lives.
“And all of this,” Jude is pointing out, “is happening right under your noses.” That’s the point that he’s making. He’s writing to the congregation, and he’s saying, “You need to realize something that has happened here. This is not a potential situation; this is a real situation.” And verse 8 in the King James Version, which I read routinely as well, you get the picture very clearly: despite verses 5, 6, and 7, in like manner “also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.” Well, I think you’ve got to give him ten out of ten for absolute clarity, for not pulling his punches. There’s no way in which he’s softening the blow. There’s no way in which he’s prepared to say, “Well, you know, we must be nice to people, of course, even though they may be slightly deviating from course.” No, he says, “They’re filthy dreamers, they defile the flesh, they despise authority, and they speak evil of dignities.”
So, you have this picture, don’t you? Filthy fantasies. Showing utter contempt for authority. Refusing to learn from history; choosing instead to rewrite it according to their dreams. When you come across people like this, you will be able to detect them. The language is all the same. Any time I encounter them… And you say, “Well, do you know their names?” No, this is a—“these people,” this certain kind of people, these people who are marked by these characteristics—this is the kind of thing they’ll be telling you (and if you’re not alert, you may be swept up by them): “Well, we don’t really pay much attention to the Bible; we have visions. We have dreams.”
It’s the appeal of the mystic. It’s the appeal of the person who is able to draw attention to himself or to herself. You don’t want to go to somebody who just says, “Well, let’s see what the Bible has to say.” No, no, you should go to somebody who has a red telephone. You should go to somebody who is able to go direct to the source. That’s what they’ll tell you: “No, no, no. We don’t deal with the Bible. We go direct. We have fresh revelation.” Or, “Here’s a new twist.” Or, “Here is what this really means. Here is what this really means.” You’ve come across that, haven’t you? “I know you have your Bible, and I know you know a bit about it, but if you come to my study, I can tell you what it really means.”
Now, Paul was dealing with the same thing. That’s why he says to Timothy in his final letter, he says, “You better be aware of the fact that you will run up against this. These people have an appearance of godliness”—quoting 2 Timothy 3:5. “They deny its power. They creep into households. They capture weak women burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.” They prey on the vulnerable with a concoction of unspiritual nonsense aligned with immorality.
Now, the thing to notice, or a thing to notice, is that this is not new. That is why we read from Jeremiah. And those of you who can still remember Jeremiah 23 or can go back and look at it again, you realize just how up to date everything is—that in this respect, as in others, there is really “nothing new under the sun.” Six centuries before Jesus comes, God is warning his people about the prophets who have arisen from within them who are drawing people away after them. And you read there, all these centuries before, and it’s the same story: “We have dreams. We have answers. And if you follow us, you will have a really, really, really good life.” Who are these people? “I earnestly urge you,” he says, “to contend for the faith.”
Now, we’ve noticed that Jude is very fond of these triplets, his threes. He’s a perfect preacher in many ways. And here in verse 8 you will notice—and we needn’t go back through it again, really—but there are three basic charges against these individuals. I wrote down three words in my notes: pollute, reject, slander. Pollute, reject, slander. And for those of you who are in the honors course, you will notice that he actually tackles each of these things that are mentioned in 5, 6, and 7, but he does it picking up from the third one back up to the first one. You say, “I didn’t get any of that at all.” Don’t worry.
“Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh,” or they pollute it—just like, verse 7, what was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah. Right? A complete loosening of the boundaries of the framework of sexual morality, a complete overturning of that which God has given for the abiding perfection and well-being of humanity itself. These individuals do that, he says. They were doing it then, and here, you will notice, they are polluting things now.
Secondly, they reject authority. They reject authority—as in verse 6, where you had the angelic rebellion. The angels overstepped their boundaries. They did not want to submit to the authority of Almighty God and the place in which he had set them.
And in the same way, says Jude, you will notice that these people—go back up to verse 4—they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” And again, you will find these people alive and well. They say things like this: “God is still speaking.” Well, of course he’s still speaking. But what they actually mean by that is that he’s contradicting himself; that he’s now saying new things; that the Bible that he has given to us, secured through all this time, the authoritative Word of God, is now being overturned; reinterpreting the Bible to fit the culture instead of abiding by the authority of God’s Word—that it is a timeless Word.
Loved ones, listen carefully. I’m listening carefully to this warning, to this exhortation. Contend for this faith! In surprising circles, there is a real unsettling of the roots in relationship to many of these things. Despite the warnings of God’s Word, certain people continued in this way.
Polluting, rejecting, and slandering “the glorious ones”: “blasphem[ing] the glorious ones.” I made a note in my notes. It says “2 Peter 2:10.” I don’t know what that is, so I’m going to look it up, and you might want to as well. Two Peter 2:10:
Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones.
Well, you say, “Well, what is this about?” Well, it calls for homework. Some of you do your homework. Others of you say you’re going to, and you never do. Don’t feel bad about that. That was my routine all the way through school. But let me give you—for those of you who scribble—let me give you three verses for your scribbling.
The first is Acts 7:53, where we discover as the word is proclaimed, “you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Acts 7:53: “You received the law of God that was delivered to you by angels, and you didn’t keep it.” You find the same thing in Galatians 3:19: that the law of God “was put in place through [the] angels.” And in Hebrews 2:2, the exhortation along the lines is the same, and the writer to the Hebrews is writing in this way, similarly to Jude: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.” Why? “Lest we drift away from it.” “Lest we drift away from it.”
I just read a book on Tuesday about the history of missionary work in the student population of the United Kingdom and how over a period of about fifty or sixty years, strongly held convictions began just to diminish. People began to say the kind of things that I’m saying, Began to question the authority of the Word of God. And so the writer to the Hebrews says, “You better pay attention so that you don’t drift away. Don’t say, ‘Oh, I’ll never drift away.’ Say, ‘Oh! I’d better pay attention.’” “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable…” And then you can continue from there.
Now, come back to the text, and see what it is that he’s saying. These people despised “the glorious ones.” They slander the angels. And I am assuming—and you can do with this as you choose—I’m assuming that the reason he mentions this is in relationship to the role that was assigned the angels in the giving of the law. Because after all, the one thing that these people, these “certain people,” are doing is detaching themselves from the law of God. Therefore, if the angels stand at the forefront of obedience, as it were, then they’d want nothing to do with it.
And this, of course, ties in with what was given to us in verse 5, where the people that had been led out of Egypt wandered and died in the wilderness because they rejected the terms of obedience given them in the covenant. God said, “Do this and you will live. If you don’t, you won’t.” And his law made it perfectly clear—a law which, as we saw (or tried to see) last Sunday night, as Paul says in Romans 7, is holy and a commandment that is holy, righteous, and good.
Well, there you have it: pollution, rejection, and slander.
And then to verse 9, where we have another little triplet: we have Michael, we have the devil, and we have Moses. We should just read it again and pray under our breath for understanding: “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but [he] said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” Now, notice verse 10, because it’s key: “But these people…” You see? So he’s pointing out a big contrast here. If the archangel Michael didn’t presume to overstep the bounds of authority, what in the world do these people think they are on about?
Now, Jude has written in a way that would be immediately accessible to the initial readers of the letter. And in this respect, the initial readers had an advantage that we don’t have. And the advantage is that when he makes mention of this kind of thing, they would be familiar with certain Jewish history that was part and parcel of their lives. And what he’s actually doing here is he’s quoting from Jewish material, from a particular story about the assumption of Moses, which ran, if you like, alongside the unfolding of the canon of Scripture. And so he’s able to refer to it in the way in which people could say, “Oh yeah, I get what he means.”
If that’s difficult, let’s just think in terms of, for example, Acts chapter 17. When we read Acts chapter 17 and we realize that Paul is preaching to the Areopagus and he is using extrabiblical sources in order to reinforce his argument, although we’re not aware of the poetry to which he refers, the people in Athens were aware of the poetry to which he was referring. So he’s able to say, “Of course, as your poets have already said…” And much of that notion is here.
Incidentally, if you took out, if you like, his quotes from the poets, it wouldn’t undermine his argument. It wouldn’t spoil his sermon. And in the same way, when Jude references this material here—which is, if you like, apocryphal material—it’s set in the context of the Old Testament. And his argument is straightforward. And if we are unable to understand the allusions, we will yet still be able to grasp the point without actually knowing the material to which he refers. Now, I hope that makes sense to you.
The background to it is this—and we could spend a long time, and some people’s minds go down these roads and… Hey, have a good mind. I must confess to not being as intrigued by these things as some of my friends are. But according to the Jewish tradition, the devil argued with Michael over Moses. Here you’ve got the three characters: you’ve got the devil; you’ve got the archangel Michael, whom we met in our studies in Daniel, which most of us have already forgotten; and you’ve got Moses himself.
Despite the position that Michael had, he did not make a pronouncement, says Jude, on his own authority, but he said, “The Lord rebuke you.” Now, again, the book is parallel to the Scriptures; it’s called the Assumption of Moses. You can read about the assumption of Moses in Deuteronomy 34. Nobody knows to this day where Moses was buried. There’s a real kind of mysterious little bit to the departure of Moses when you read at the end of Deuteronomy. And of course, it’s not surprising that people—these kind of people with minds different from mine, but good minds nevertheless—they want to go in and try and fill in the background for us. And so that’s where much of this stuff comes from.
The argument, presumably, was about Moses being allowed into heaven. And the devil is saying, “Moses should not be allowed into heaven,” presumably because, he would claim, “Moses murdered that Egyptian guy. And therefore, I don’t think he should be allowed into heaven.” Michael refuses to side with the devil, and he defers to Almighty God as the Lawgiver and the Judge. He doesn’t take authority to himself to say, “I’ll decide who goes into heaven, including Moses, because I am the archangel Michael. I am part of the troop that was responsible for the delivering of the law. I am a significant person.” No. Because he recognizes that not even the archangel Michael can declare Moses innocent. Not even Michael can defer the accusations or remove the accusations of the law. He simply didn’t dare to, because he recognizes that only the sovereign, almighty, gracious God can do that. And he is the God of mercy and of judgment.
Now, if you would like—if it rains, especially, this afternoon—you could turn to a similar instance that is found in the prophecy of Zechariah. And first of all, you have to find Zechariah. And in Zechariah… I’ll just get you started on this, because I can see some of you, your eyes are glazing over already. But that’s all right. The beginning of Zechariah: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest”—this is a vision—“before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” You can see how these apocryphal materials grow up alongside the Bible. As usual, they’ve got elements of them that are dead-on, and then they’ve got other elements of them that are just filling in, if you like, the blanks. And he was
standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
Only God can pronounce the judgment, and only God can provide the cleansing. That’s the point. That’s why verse 9 is in here. If the archangel Michael could not speak on the basis of his own authority, on what possible authority could these people speak—these “certain people” who reject and deny the Lord and Master, Jesus?
To verse 10: “But these people…” “But these people,” they slander, or they “blaspheme all that they do not understand.” They sneer at anything they can’t understand. And by doing what they just feel like doing, they find themselves living by animal instinct. They participate in their own destruction. And remember, the underlying issue is: these people “pervert the grace of … God into sensuality.” Surely for more reasons than I or we recognize, we are studying Jude right now, this day, at this period in Western culture in the United States of America. If ever there was an expression of the reality of what happens to a society, to a life, to a family, to an individual that turns its back on the truth of the living God, it is here, written in the pages of Scripture. This is what they do. And they weren’t “out there.” They were in. They were part and parcel of it. They were speaking at conferences. They were writing songs for people to sing. They were engaged in all of this.
The problem, as they saw it, was the law, and a call to obedience was something that had to be set aside. They would say such notions would be defined simply in terms of legalism: “Don’t go there. Don’t listen to that. Find the freedom. Find the true freedom by indulging whatever your desires and instincts are. The fact that they may run contrary to the Scriptures—don’t let that be a bother to you at all. We have had dreams about this. We know about this. We can fix this for you as quickly as ever.” So the result of rejecting God’s perfect plan leaves them in the realm of irrationality. Isn’t that it? “But these people blaspheme all … they do not understand.” They’re “destroyed by [the things] that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.” It’s not uncommon that people say, “Where did common sense go? Where did basic biology go? Where did objective truth go? Where did this all go?”
Well, there you have it. Behind the legitimization of sexual immorality, in every case, lies a flat-out rejection of God’s authority. Whether it is you as a young person deciding that sex is whenever you want it with whoever you want it, and God says, “No, it absolutely is not,” and you say, “Well, I don’t like that”… Don’t worry. You’ll be able to find somebody within the context of the framework of Christendom that will tell you, “It’s not a problem.”
I have a far better answer for you, and that is to face up to our rebellion, to face up to our disinterest, to acknowledge that we are dressed in rags. We’re a walking shambles by our own endeavors. We find ourselves too quickly in the second half of Romans chapter 1. We never planned to get there, but we thought we were so wise, and we became foolish. We exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We began to worship created things rather than the Creator himself. We listened to nonsense, and so on.
“Oh,” you say, “well then, am I finished?” No, you’re not finished. You’re at the very point of departure. Because the same God who pronounces judgment on that which violates his profound plans for us as revealed in his Word is the same God who says, “Come here, and let me take those rags off you, and I will give you clothes. I will give you clothes such as you have never known. I will give you freedom. I will give you peace. I will give you contentment. I will give you all that I plan to give you. Do not believe the lie.”
And for those of us who are in the church: stay awake. Stay awake! Don’t let’s live in Sleepy Hollow. No, no. The urgency of Jude’s letter is on account of the gravity of the congregation’s problem, and it is in light of the reality of the judgment of God. “Oh, there won’t be one.” Oh, yes there will, because we know there will. Our conscience tells us that there will. So we say, “Well, I should just go get myself another outfit somewhere—get rid of these rags, or do a combination: a little bit of rag, a little bit of something.” It’ll never satisfy. It’ll never work.
God knows this. God’s way is best. Some of you are boys and girls. You’re listening to me even now. You’re saying, “I’m not sure I get all of this.” Get this: God’s way is best. Keep your story simple. Obey your mom and dad. Stop your nonsense. Trust Jesus. Trust him!
Father… Come, Lord Jesus, to your people in this day, and fill us with a kind of tenderness and compassion towards the brokenness of our world that does not make us softheaded but at the same time yearns—yearns the way Jesus yearned for Jerusalem when he looked over the city. Come, Lord Jesus, and abide with your church, we pray, as you’ve promised. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
 Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “Speak, O Lord” (2005).
 Jude 4 (ESV).
 Matthew 26:21–22 (ESV).
 Luke 18:11 (NIV).
 Jude 3 (paraphrased).
 Jude 18 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 3:5–6 (paraphrased).
 Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV).
 Jude 3 (paraphrased).
 2 Peter 2:9–10 (ESV).
 Hebrews 2:1 (ESV).
 Hebrews 2:2 (ESV).
 See Romans 7:12.
 Acts 17:28 (paraphrased).
 Zechariah 3:1–4 (ESV).
 Jude 4 (ESV).
 See Romans 1:21–25.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.