The Apostle Jude by Anthony Van Dyck
The author of this letter calls himself, “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James”. The mention of James has led to some speculation. Is this a reference to James the half-brother of Jesus and leader in the Early Church? If so, then Jude is not only the brother of James but also the half-brother of Jesus. Jude or Judas or Judah is mentioned as the name of one of Jesus’ brothers. (See Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55.) Therefore, some scholars have thought that this letter was written by that Jude. However, if this is the case, why does Jude not simply come out and say that he is the half-brother of Jesus? Perhaps he does not do so because he does not think himself worthy of that familial connection. He is, after all, just a servant of Jesus the Messiah.
The strike against this letter being written by Jude is that it appears to be one of the later letters of the New Testament, written, most likely, after the generation in which Jude, the brother of Jesus, lived. Our author speaks of contending “for the faith once delivered unto the saints.” This use of the word “faith” to refer to the received doctrine of the church is a rather more developed use of the term than what we find in the Gospels or the genuine letters of Paul. Furthermore, the author of this letter refers to the age of the apostles as a time long past. (See verse 17.) Therefore, it seems the safe conclusion would be that we do not know who the writer of this letter was, but that it was written, at best, late in the first century, to Christians in general. Thus, this letter is included among the General or Catholic (universal) epistles, since it is not a letter addressed to a specific church in a specific city or region.
The author of this letter warns against false teachers. The characteristic of these particular teachers is that they use the grace of God as an excuse for immoral living. In effect these teachers say, “Since God will forgive you, then you may go ahead and live however you wish.” The fact of the matter is that this response is impossible for the true Christian who has really experienced the grace of God. Such a person will want to please God though he or she will certainly fail in doing so at times. However, if one does try to look at grace in the manner of the false teachers then eventually it will lead to denying the Lordship of Jesus Christ altogether.
Jude offers to his readers a number of illustrations from Scripture as warnings not to follow the path of the false teachers. He reminds them of how after the Israelites were rescued out of Egypt, some were destroyed in the desert because of their unbelief. Jude also refers to some apocryphal scriptures that tell of the judgment of angels. And he recalls the stories of Sodom and Gommorah, Cain, Balaam, and the apocryphal story of Enoch.
What is the proper response to false teaching and the immorality that goes along with it? According to Jude, the proper response is not to become judgmental but like the archangel Michael simply say, “The Lord rebuke you.” In other words, we need to leave judgment to the Lord.
Jude says we should not be surprised by the ungodliness around us, nor by those in the church who appear to turn away from the Lord. He says that the apostles long ago warned of such things in the end times. (Of course the end times are composed of the entire period between Christ’s first and second comings. Jude never could have imagined how long these end times would last, some two thousand years so far.)
How is the Christian to live in such times? Jude gives some very clear instruction. We need to build ourselves up in our most holy faith. In other words, we need to feed ourselves on true doctrine. Secondly, we need to pray in the Spirit. Prayer is a mystery sometimes but it is vital that we keep communication lines with God open.
Thirdly, we need to keep ourselves in the love of God. We need to remember daily just how much God loves us, so much so that he gave his Son for us on the cross.
Fourthly, we need to be on the lookout for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. In other words, we need to be watching and waiting patiently for Jesus’ return.
How should we respond to the ungodliness around us? As severe as Jude is in his condemnation of the false teachers and their way of living, he also says that we need to have compassion. It reminds me of the contrast between tow trucks in the USA and in England. In the USA tow trucks are often called wreckers. In the UK, they have one word on them: “Recovery”. When the world sees Christians coming, do they see the wreckers or those offering recovery?
Jude ends his brief letter with a powerful benediction. If the book of Revelation had never been written, this benediction would have served as an excellent conclusion to the entire Bible….
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,
To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.