Those Who Left Their Place
"And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day." (Jude 1:6)
This brief reference provides one of the few clues to the sin that brought judgment upon God's mighty messengers. However, it leaves many questions unanswered, which curious mortals desire to know. A few questions that come to mind are: "Was the Devil among this group?" "What was their 'proper domain' and 'abode'?" "How did they 'leave' it?" "Why was it a sin?" Although men might speculate, God did not reveal these answers, so we trust His judgment and focus our attention on what He did say (Deuteronomy 29:29; I Timothy 1:3-7; II Timothy 2:14-18). As we focus on what God did reveal, we must ask ourselves, "Are there any lessons in this account for us?"
The Meaning of the Text
Let's first examine a few key words of the text in an effort to understand the intended overall meaning. The word for "keep" means "to observe, protect, keep close watch, or guard". Diligence is required for such a watch. But, we want to know, "What was the object of their watch?" The text says they did not keep their "proper domain."
The word for "proper" is most often translated "own". "Proper" should be understood in the sense that an owner has proper rights to an object. In this case, the angels were the proper owners and caretaker of a "domain". The original word for "domain" could be translated as "home or habitation" or as "rule, power, dominion, or command". Translators are somewhat divided on the exact sense, but the general idea might be generally expressed in our modern phrase, "they did not keep their place". The word for "left" suggests abandonment; therefore, they not only failed to keep their watch, but they deserted it.
Although this may have a physical meaning, in that angels left their appointed geographical realm and moved into another, it may also have a more figurative, possibly spiritual meaning. Maybe they were keeping watch not over something or some realm, but over somebody. Or, maybe they simply broke ranks and turned on their superiors.
The Work of Angels
Although it is not desirable to specify what God left generic, it is appropriate to collect some of the other known facts about angels to combat erroneous speculation. We know from the book of Hebrews that angels are "ministering spirits, sent to minister unto the saints (Hebrews 1:13-14). In Daniel we learn that some angels watch over nations and peoples as figurative princes (Daniel 10:5-11:1; 12:1). Jesus commented that innocent children have angels that keep watch over them, and such angels stand before the Lord of heavens (Matthew 18:10). Could these sinful angels have failed to keep a similar charge of guardianship? We are not told.
In Jude 1:9, we learn that there is one angel, Michael, who is an "archangel", suggesting that he is over other angels ("great prince" - Daniel 12:1). Apparently, there is some hierarchy of either rule, power, or responsibility among the angels. Could these angels have tried to ascend beyond their domain, trying to usurp that which was not their own place? We are not told.
Although we do not know the specifics of their sin, we do know that which was revealed is of value, since God gave it to us (Deuteronomy 29:29; II Timothy 3:16-17). All we know is that the angels were given something over which they were to keep watch. They left their station, abandoning the role that they were given. But, what was the point of relating this brief incident?
Do Not Forsake Your Place
The lesson of Jude 1:6 is clearly that of a warning. Earlier in the context we are reminded of God's chosen people, the Israelites, who were initially saved from the bondage of Egypt, only to be consumed by Him in the wilderness because of their unbelief (Jude 1:5). These complainers were not satisfied with the Lord's provisions. During their journey to the promise land, the people frequently murmured and tested the Lord (for example, Exodus 15:22-24; 16:2-12; 17:1-7; Numbers 14:22). Once, they even wanted to select a new leader and return to the land of their bondage (Numbers 14:1-4). Eventually, they were all destroyed during the wilderness wandering, except Joshua, Caleb, and the children (Numbers 14:22-35). This fallen generation stands as an example to us of the possibility and danger of apostasy, even today (I Corinthians 10:1-12; Hebrews 3:14-4:2, 6).
Similarly, we learn that God has reserved the fallen, sinful angels unto a great day of judgment (Jude 1:6). As one continues to read Jude and the parallel account in II Peter 2, the examples of God's wrath are multiplied. After reading such a list, the point becomes clear: If God would not spare His angels, what will He do to us (II Peter 2:4)? Take warning! If we leave our place, God will not spare us either.
We may ask, "How can this apply to us?" "How could we make the same mistake as the angels and leave our proper place?" In general, anytime we second-guess God's commands or arrangements, we have abandoned our position as creature and assumed the place of Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge (James 4:11-12).
The context provides an immediate example to help us make application (Jude 1:7; II Peter 2:4-6). God has established a proper relationship of marriage between men and women. Homosexuality establishes a relationship contrary to the roles that God has given to men and women. Just "as" the angels abandoned their given roles, the men of Sodom and Gommorah left their roles and sought flesh, which was not proper. It was the proper right of someone else; therefore, it was "strange flesh" (Jude 1:7; II Peter 2:4-6).
Homosexuality is parallel, or similar in principle to the angels' desertion of their place. The conjunction, "as", ties verse 6 of Jude 1 to verse 7, implying that there is some similarity between the two sins. Moreover, the word for "own", or "proper" of verse 6 is the antithesis of the word for "strange" of verse 7, which means "another's", "someone else's". What is the exact similarity? In both verses, God gave a blessing with charge, but the charge was abandoned; consequently, God's wrath fell upon the angels and the men, who similarly sinned by deserting their divinely established place.
Homosexuality is just one of the ways we may abandon "our place". Anytime we question God's pattern, whether for the church, salvation, worship, or anything else, we have left our place, or our proper rule. We have assumed the place of the Lawgiver and tried to stand where only God has the right. In essence, all disobedience is a challenge to God's authority to rule in our lives as our Creator. Is that not what all sin is? Is it not an effort to rebel over the rightful rule and establish ourselves as absolute sovereigns of our own lives (Genesis 3:1-6)? It is man's desire to become a god unto himself that drives him to rebel and leave his place.
The fact that God did not tell us more about this incident with the sinful angels is a testimony to our weakness and tendency to seek power not meant for us (Colossians 2:18-19). Therefore, we should not seek to elaborate and speculate where God was silent.
Finally, if God did not spare the angels, how will He judge us on that last day? Fortunately, there is one significant difference between us and the angels. He does not give mercy, or aid to the angels, but He has offered mercy to us (Hebrews 2:9-16). This leads us to the last question that we must ask, which is "Will you accept God's mercy?"
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