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A couple of years ago, I attended a national conference in Cincinnati. I was attending the conference at the request of the university that I teach for in order to represent the university: meet alumni, make connections, introduce myself to donors, tell people about my program, etc. The theme of the conference focused on how God worked through the church in the Book of Acts to bring a new reality to humanity. Generally, I thought it was a creative theme, one that had merit and could produce some good conversations about how we are to be the light of Christ in the world. However, not everyone seemed to agree.
I think it was the second morning of the conference. When I parted the curtains and looked the 12 or 15 floors down into the street that ran between my hotel and the conference center, I saw a strange sight. There stood a group of protestors on one side of the street. What seemed strange was that another protest group stood on the corner in front of the conference center. Having worked my fair share of traumas as a hospital emergency room chaplain, my mind slipped immediate into crisis management mode. Thankfully, went I got down to street level, I found that it was a relatively peaceful protest.
So what kind of protest would occur at a national church conference? Remember the theme I mentioned above? It seemed one of the subthemes was interpreted by the main protest group as endorsing the open acceptance of homosexuals into this particular religious tradition. Once I saw the signs and heard the chants, I knew immediately who the group was and where it was from. However, in the tradition of Paul in the pastoral epistles, I will not name this group.
What about the group that was counter-protesting? Well, that group was one of Cincinnati’s local LGBT chapters that had assembled to protest the protestors, not necessarily to support our conference. As I finally crossed the street to enter the conference center, it was an interesting sight to behold: A group that claims to be Christian was standing on one street corner and was protesting a gathering of Christians that was meeting on the opposite street corner, and a group that is generally not welcomed by either group was standing in the middle calling for peace and acceptance.
For centuries, Christian people have done unchristian things in the name of Christ. Jesus warned us this would happen, as did Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude.
Who and Why (vv. 1-4)
Who was Jude, the writer of the next-to-last book of the New Testament? We find this introduction in the opening words of the letter that bears his name: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (vv. 1-2).1
With these words before us, perhaps a more appropriate question is: Which Jude is this? There are a few possibilities, for unlike nailing down the elusive author of Hebrews, we can know with some certainty who Jude was.
First, let’s look at his name. Jude is simply the Latin version of the name Judas.2 Given the canonical acceptance of this letter even from an early date by the church, we safely can judge this Jude was not Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. That leaves us with two primary options.
First, Luke 6:16 mentions a Judas, son of James, who was selected along with Judas Iscariot to be one of Jesus’ core disciples. Automatically, we have apostolic authority—Judas was an apostle. However, the author of our letter notes that he was the brother of James, not the son of James. Unless there was an undocumented manuscript error along the way, we also safely can rule out the apostle as the author.
This leaves us with our second option: Jude the brother of James and half-brother of Jesus as mentioned in Mark 6:3. Most Bible scholars seem to be in agreement on this identification, which makes him the only identified New Testament author (we are still assuming the author of Hebrews is anonymous) who was either not an apostle or significant leader in the early church.
If he is a half-brother of Jesus, why does he refer to himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ?” Bo Reicke offers a solid explanation when he writes, “Even though the author calls himself the ‘servant’ rather than brother of Jesus, this is fully understandable as an expression of modesty.”3 Jude boasted about his spiritual kinship with Jesus instead of his physical kinship with Jesus. This is something that we can see from history because, according to Eusebius, his grandchildren were both leaders in the Jerusalem church and tried before Domitian.4
With authorship established, the next question to ask is why he wrote. Scholars often seek to answer this question by establishing when and from where authors wrote their correspondence. These historical markers give us some indication as to what was going on in the life of a given author and the intended (or implied) readers. However, with Jude, we cannot pinpoint to whom or from where he was writing. What we know—and get from Jude’s own words—is why he wrote: to combat false teaching among the community to which he provides pastoral leadership.
“Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (vv. 3-4).
In the tradition of Paul and his letters to the Corinthian and Colossians Christians, Jude hurriedly wrote to fellow Christians to warn them of heresy among their ranks.5 So now the question centers on the false teaching about which Jude was warning.
The Problem (vv. 5-19)
Most preachers and Bible teachers avoid Jude as if it were the Black Plague because they think the book is strange and full of odd images. The letter is strange and full of odd images, yet imagine how some of our sermons or Bible class lessons may seem to future Christians. References to The Scarlet Letter or Blue Like Jazz one day may cause scholars and laymen to scratch their heads as they attempt to ascertain these strange references that show up in our sermons. Don’t tell me you would not be somewhat offended if your sermon was dismissed simply because the interpreter did not recognize the Mark Driscoll quote you used or your allusion to Les Miserables. We must give the same credit and authority to Jude that the ancient Christians did.
In truth, Jude is a deeply theological, brilliantly written, well-illustrated sermon about remaining honest in and committed to our faith. In verse 5, Jude refers to the events of Numbers 13:26-33. Here the 12 spies return with their scouting report on Canaan, with 10 of the spies decrying the situation as nothing more than a suicide mission. However, Joshua and Caleb remind the people God is on their side and they will be victorious. Yet the people sided with the 10 and were destroyed as a result.
Next, in verse 6, Jude refers to some angels who were expelled from heaven because of their arrogance and lustful desires.6 It seems he has passages from Isaiah and Genesis in mind here. First, Isaiah notes that pride brought the downfall of “the star of the morning” (vv. 14:12-13) and reminds the people that other angels were banished from heaven because of their pride (vv. 24:21-22). Second, Genesis 6:1-9 tells us that God decided to cleanse our race because of angels and humans producing children together.7
In verse 7, Jude recalls the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because the inhabitants “went after strange flesh” (see Gen. 19:1-25), because of their cultic fascination with sexual encounters with mystical beings.8 This is followed by a strange allusion that many scholars believe is from Moses’ assumption, which describes a debate between the angel Michael and Satan regarding Moses’ body.9 Satan claimed Moses’ body belonged to him because Moses had murdered an Egyptian (see Ex. 2:12). Michael, however, responded in a similar fashion as Jesus did when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert: “The Lord rebuke you” (v. 9). It must be remembered that Jude had access to many writings that were considered edifying in his day, a day long before our current canon of Scripture was settled. Finally, he rattled off a litany of allusions that remind us that God knows His people (see 2 Tim. 2:19); Cain murdered Abel (Gen. 4:3-8); Balaam lured the Israelites into worshipping Baal (Num. 25:1-2; 31:16); and Korah rebelled against Moses (Num. 16).
The real question is: To what do these allusions point? It seems Jude’s answer is simple: People are going to rebel against God’s divine authority. In the opening of his letter, Jude warned that some who teach falsely and live in an unworthy manner “have crept in unnoticed” (v. 4). These are men who are smooth talkers, who resist authority, and who denounce the existence of angels (vv. 8). They defile the community because they live without fear of God (vv. 8, 12). They care only for themselves, thereby “rejecting the leadership of the church’s true pastors.”10 They are like clouds without rain, trees without fruit, waves with polluted foam, and stars without a course. Sadly, this was prophesied by Enoch (vv. 14-16; cf., 1 Enoch 1:9) and the apostles (vv. 17-18). Therefore, Jude is calling for his readers to remember what they have been taught!
The Solution (vv. 20-25)
For any sermon to be beneficial, it must have an application, something that connects the teaching to the practice of living. Jude’s application is that Christians are to remain faithful to God in all things. How? Jude offers six exercises, six disciplines that will strengthen us to remain faithful.
First, we are to build our relationship with God through the study of His Word (v. 20). The poet says we must treasure God’s Word, an image that is more like engraving words on a plaque or tattooing words on the skin (Ps. 119:11). We must become so familiar with these sacred words that, like Michael in his response to Satan, they become our words.
Second, we are to pray with the Spirit (v. 20). Paul encourages us that the Spirit will guide us and speak for us in prayer when we cannot find the correct words (Rom. 8:26). Speak to God whenever you are able for whatever reason.
Third, we are to remain in God’s love (v. 21). The German theologian Paul Tillich once said, “Accept the fact that you are accepted.”11 We do not have to earn our salvation; only accept the free gift God already has offered to us.
Fourth, we are to prepare for Christ’s return (v. 21). Our hope in eternity in assured in the risen Christ. Therefore, we are to live in such a way that will allow us to live with Him forever.
Fifth, we are to show mercy to those who are straying (vv. 22-23). Who are those who are straying? Jude says there are three types: those who doubt, whom James called double-minded (James 1:8); those who have been lured away, whom Paul warned will chase fruitless discussion (2 Tim. 1:6); and those who live defiantly, whom the writer of Hebrews described as having been enlightened yet have fallen away” (Heb. 6:4-6).
Finally, we are to find solace in worship (vv. 24-25). Jude promises that those who remain in God will be kept safe for the day of Christ’s return (v. 1).
You may be wondering how the protest story from earlier resolved. As I mentioned, it was a mostly peaceful protest. There were no fists thrown, although a great many insults were hurled by each group. The protest made the national news. However, there was one thing that did not make the news that is worth noting, especially in light of Jude’s message. How ironic it seems: Some college students from the university where I teach saw what was happening and took it upon themselves to buy bottles of water and some snacks from the canteen in the conference center, then wandered among the protestors, dispensing their charity.
A group that claims to be Christian was standing on one street corner, protesting a gathering of Christians that was meeting on the opposite street corner, and a group that generally is not welcomed by either group was standing in the middle calling for peace and acceptance. Life can be challenging, so keep yourself in the love of God!
1 All Scripture passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.
2 Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 50 (Wac Word, 1983), 14.
3 Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Anchor Bible Vol. 37 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), 190.
4 Eusebius, History of the Church 3.19.1-3.20.7.
5 Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentary 18 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 46.
6 Norman Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, New International Biblical Commentary, New Testament Series 16 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson/Paternoster Press, 1992), 242.
7 Peter adds that God cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” (v. 2:4). However it should be noted that Peter seems to use this event as a warning against committing apostasy.
8 Fred B. Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995), 139.
9 Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 248-249.
10 Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude, 142.
11 Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Scribner, 1948), 159.