“This is your trunk. These are your gowns. Lady Catherine will never know,” Elizabeth Bennet said to Maria Lucas in the 1995 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Upon hearing the great lady’s “directions as to the best method of packing,”1 Maria began a frantic redo of her trunk. Elizabeth sought to convince her that how she folded her gowns was her own private affair.
Elizabeth Bennet’s words ring in my ear, tempting me to abandon my study of Jude’s (Jesus’s half-brother and Mary of Nazareth’s other son) letter and the writing of this post.
This is your study. These are your thoughts. No one need ever know!
But as a teacher of God’s Word, I cannot cherry-pick passages I like. I must wrestle with it all even though this is not a chapter one reads for comfort, according to one commentator.2
As I seek to contend for the faith, I am learning to spot the ungodly that often go unnoticed. But reading what Jude says will happen to them makes me uncomfortable. Scholars much more intelligent and learned than I am have written volumes on this subject. I add my voice only to help those like me—ordinary lovers of Jesus—make sense of it.
For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people . . . later destroyed . . . kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day . . . suffer the punishment of eternal fire . . . Woe to them! . . . they have been destroyed . . . uprooted—twice dead . . . for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever . . . See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.From Jude 1:4—15
Woe! With great seriousness, Jude describes the Great Day when God’s divine wrath will be poured out on the ungodly (Zephaniah 1:14–16). It is unsettling to learn that Jesus is the one who will carry out these judgments (John 5:22, Matthew 16:27). This doesn’t sound like my loving, kind Jesus, the Son of God.
So I remind myself of the Faith: Jesus made the world (John 1:1–3) which means he can set the rules. He is absolutely perfect and pure (1 Peter 2:22) so he cannot tolerate sin (Psalm 5:4). But he is also gracious and compassionate, offering an invitation to salvation—over and over again—and patiently waiting for everyone to respond (2 Peter 3:8–9).
Because it is not in his good and loving nature to force allegiance, he offers a choice: “Believe in me and I’ll give you eternal life (John 3:16–18). If you don’t believe, you accept the consequences of eternity without me (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9).” The same offer might sound like extortion from a human despot, but from an absolutely good God, it is an act of grace (Ephesians 2:4–5). Unlike our human inclination, God doesn’t gleefully sit in heaven eager to zap the ungodly, then watch with satisfaction as they endure torment (Ezekiel 18:32).
The word translated as judgment—krisis—not only means a “sentence of condemnation” but also “justice.” If there were no judgment, there would be no justice. No righting wrong, no bringing restoration to the oppressed or helping victims of evil. By judging the ungodly, Jesus means to create a community of shalom (true justice) in which evil does not exist.
“For love to be truly loving, there must be judgment. If there is no judgment, then there is no hope for a slave, a rape victim, a child who has been abused or bullied, or people who have been slandered or robbed or had their dignity stolen. If nobody is called to account before a cosmic judgment seat for violence and oppression, then the victims will never see justice.3Scott Sauls
I’m okay with Jesus exercising judgment on those that obviously do evil—rape, murder, exploit the marginalized, abuse their power, throw insults at others, manipulate information for personal gain, or steal from the impoverished. The tricky part comes when God’s standards are unclear, or I simply don’t like them, or they apply to someone I love.
The good news is that I am not the judge (Matthew 7:1–6)—Jesus is! Problems arise when I try to execute judgment. When I think my anger is righteous. When I follow a leader who brings “my” justice at the expense of another’s. When I want to “call down fire from haven” on those that don’t welcome Jesus (Luke 9:52–55).
Judging is Jesus’s job because he is all-knowing. He can see into hearts and determine if someone has believed or repented. And he is all-good so his judgments as well as gifts spring from pure love (which, in my humanness, I can never fully understand or ever experience.)
If God were to love our Western-flavored justice, then that would make Him a law-obsessed, punishment-loving judge . . . But that is not at all the right image of a justice-loving God.4Jessica Nicholas
Finally, I remind myself of the most wonderful part of the Faith—I do not need to fear the judgment of the ungodly because I have accepted Jesus’s invitation to eternal life (Romans 8:1–4).
Now what do I do with these truths? Jude concludes his letter with some practical action steps which I’ll look at next time.
How do you answer the question, “How can a loving Jesus condemn people to blackest darkness?”
How does knowing that judgment can also be translated as justice help you?
Have you accepted Jesus’s invitation to eternal life, not so that you might simply avoid condemnation, but so that you might have true shalom? If God is calling you, please do not turn your back on him.
Jesus, my Savior and Judge, I confess my tension with putting those things together. Yet I don’t question that you are both holy and loving. I accept that you set the standard and you cannot tolerate evil. I leave judgment in your hands because you are all-knowing, all-loving, and all-justice. Help me to take you seriously when you say, “do not sin.” Help me to fight against evil that oppresses and victimizes so many around me. Teach me to let go of judging the ungodly but please, call them to repentance and shalom. Thank you that you do not condemn those who accept your gift of salvation. Thank you that one day you will right all wrong.
1 Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, (London, England: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994), 166.
2 https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/jude/jude.htm by Dr. Thomas L. Constable
3 The Compassionate Truth About Judgment by Scott Sauls
4 Western-ish-Flavored Views of Justice versus Hebrew by Jessica Nicholas
God Loves Justice: A User-Friendly Guide to Biblical Justice and Righteousness by Jessica Nicholas, 2017
What King David (and the Lord) Never Said by Craig Miller
Next in series: Keep Yourselves in God’s Love