Jude — Encouragement and Warnings from Another Brother of Jesus
The epistle of Jude starts out with the author introducing himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1). According to the old King James Version and a few other English Bible translations, there was a “Judas [the brother] of James” listed among Jesus’ disciples in Luke 6:16. However, most modern Bible versions translate the Greek phrase, Ioudan Iakobou, as “Judas [the son] of James,” which is the more conventional way to translate what literally means “Jude/Judas of/from Jacob/James.” However, it is not likely that Jesus’ eleventh apostle is the same as the author of this book.
Jude’s greeting is worded very similarly to that of the author of James’ epistle: “James, the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). Jude may very well be the sibling of that biblical writer. There were also a Judas and a James among the brothers of Jesus (See Matthew 13:55 & Mark 6:3). Many Bible scholars believe Jesus’ brother James was the author of the epistle that bears that name and that their younger brother, Judas, was the author of the book of Jude [which in the Greek is Ioudas].
Since the text of Jude 1:4-19 is so similar to that of 2 Peter 2:1-3:3, Bible scholars are convinced that either Peter borrowed from Jude, Jude borrowed from Peter, or the two borrowed from a third party, of whom we retain no written record. If the first scenario is the case, then it is likely that Jude’s letter was written around 60-65 A.D. If the second scenario is the case, then the letter would be dated between 64 and 80 A.D. [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, p. 479].
Although addressed to “those who are called sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1b, NKJV), it is most likely that Jude’s audience was composed primarily of Jewish believers. Why? Because of his frequent references to Old Testament stories and apocryphal books (which would have been less accessible to non-Jewish readers).
Like Paul’s letter to Philemon and John’s second and third epistles, this letter is so short, it does not even have chapter divisions. It is a sort of memo from Jude to followers of Jesus, warning about false prophets and bad influences in the church.
Jude Chapter 1
In the greeting of his letter, Jude introduced himself as a doulos of Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1a). In the Greek language, doulos was the least, or lowest, slave in Greco-Roman society. He could be either someone who sold himself voluntarily or who was forced into servitude. Jude also identified himself as the adelphos, or brother, of James—most likely referring to the half-brother of Jesus who assumed leadership of the early church [See the discussion regarding James’ identity in the commentary in the Introduction to the book of James].
The letter was addressed “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father, and who are kept safe for Jesus Christ” (v. 1b). This would seem to include both Jewish and non-Jewish believers—anyone who had trusted Christ as Savior. It assures us of the security of believers, who are called (indicating God’s purpose and election), loved and protected. Jude then wished these brothers and sisters in Christ that mercy, peace and love would fill their lives (2).
With the niceties out of the way, Jude got right to the heart of the matter he was writing to address. He said he “had intended to write…about the salvation we share.” But another issue had come up, demanding his full attention, instead. He encouraged his readers “to continue your fight for the Christian faith that was entrusted to God’s holy people once for all time” (3).
That issue was the infiltration of their ranks by some sneaky individuals whose primary objective was to corrupt the saints of God. Jude asserted that these people—who cared nothing about the Lord—were condemned because they used God’s grace as an excuse to commit sexual sins that denied the transforming power of “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (4). I’m sure you have met such people. They quote the Apostle Paul, saying, “We are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), and then try to justify all sorts of behavior that God’s word condemns. They forget that, in the very next verse, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be!” (v. 15). God would be inconsistent if He were to allow the very things He previously said were unlawful and unprofitable for His people.
Jude went on to remind his audience of several Old Testament examples of how God deals with those who disregard His word:
- While the Lord delivered His people from Egypt, He also destroyed those who didn’t believe and obey Him (Jude 1:5).
- Fallen angels who didn’t do what they were supposed to, are being held for judgment as a consequence (v. 6). Some scholars suggest this refers to “the sons of God” of Genesis 6:1-4, who married human women, fathering giant offspring—“mighty men of renown”—often the topic of ancient mythologies of half men/half gods, such as Prometheus and Hercules.
- Sodom and Gomorrah and their surrounding cities, steeped in sexual immorality to such an extent that God was forced to make an example of them by destroying them with “eternal fire” (Jude 1:7; c.f.—Genesis 19:1-25).
Jude referred to the people who had slipped in among some churches as “dreamers,” who “contaminate their bodies with sin, reject the Lord’s authority, and insult his glory” (Jude 1:8). The Greek word, doxa—translated in various English Bibles as “dignitaries,” “majesties,” “celestial beings,” “glorious ones,” or “angels”—actually means “those deemed worthy of glory/honor/praise/worship.” Jude said that the infiltrators had a tendency to insult whatever they didn’t understand, to the end that they destroy themselves with their animalistic knowledge (v. 10).
To explain what he meant by those statements, Jude provided more examples from ancient Hebrew history:
- “When the archangel Michael argued with the devil…over the body of Moses,” Jude said the angel of YHWH didn’t dare condemn the devil himself. Instead, he said, “May the Lord reprimand you!” (11). Apparently, the brother of Jesus was quoting from either a rabbinical commentary over Deuteronomy 34:6, or an apocryphal text entitled, “The Assumption of Moses” (or both) [See Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, regarding Jude 9]. Even the highest ranking angel in God’s heavenly army (c.f.—Daniel 10:13) didn’t dare take on the devil, but left him to the Lord. Similarly, the Angel of YHWH in Zechariah 3:2 rebuked the devil, but left his judgment in the hands of the One greater than any angel or demon.
- Jude compared them to Cain, who killed his own brother and was cursed forever (Jude 1:11a; Genesis 4:1-16).
- “They have rushed into Balaam’s error to make a profit” (Jude 1:11b). According to Numbers 22-24 & 31:1-18, Balaam was the prophet hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel, who ended up blessing them instead. Later, he got the Moabites and their allies to ensnare the Israelites with idolatry and sexual sin, instead.
- “They have rebelled like Korah and destroyed themselves” (Jude 1:11c). Korah was a Levite who led a protest against Moses and Aaron. He was burned alive when God showed that the worship Korah and his followers proposed was not accepted by YHWH (Numbers 16).
Jude went on to condemn these people that pretended to be believers but weren’t living like it. He said, “These people are a disgrace at the special meals you share with other believers. They eat with you and don’t feel ashamed” (Jude 1:12a-b). In other words, they were attending the church potlucks and partaking of communion, without feeling the least bit convicted over their sexual sins. Jude compared them to “shepherds who care only for themselves,” clouds with no rain and fruitless trees (v. 12c-e). Rather than being like true believers who are born twice (See John 3:3-7), Jude says these people are “twice dead” (Jude 1:12f). Going on in his comparisons, Jude says “Their shame is like the foam on the wild waves of the sea. They are wandering stars [perhaps comets?] for whom gloomy darkness is kept forever” (v. 13).
Making yet another apocryphal reference—this time to the so-called “Book of Enoch”—Jude quotes a prophecy attributed to this seventh generation descendant of Adam listed in the Bible’s first genealogy (Genesis 5:21-24). According to this pseudographic book, Enoch saw the Lord with 10,000 of His saints/holy ones to execute judgment on all the ungodly and blasphemous sinners (Jude 1:14-15).
Jude further referred to the apostates as “grumblers, complainers, walking after their own lusts” and says they used impressive speech and flattery to “gain advantage” over others (Jude 1:16, NKJV). That sounds like an alarming number of modern-day church attenders and prominent leaders to me!
Jude reminded his audience that the apostles had forewarned of “mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts” (vv. 17-18). These sensual people, led by the flesh and not by the Spirit, cause division wherever they go (19). His brother James would, no doubt, have attributed the source of their inspiration to demons, which spread confusion wherever their ‘wisdom’ is repeated (James 3:14-16).
In his last six verses, Jude urged true believers to build themselves up “on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” and to keep themselves in the love of God, focused on the mercy of Christ, which leads to eternal life (Jude 1:20-21). Verse 20 reminds me of Romans 8:26, which says the Holy Spirit helps us to pray what needs to be prayed—even when we aren’t sure what to say. Jude urged true believers to be compassionate toward the confused and rescue them from sin and damnation, “hating even the clothing stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23, WEB).
Jude wrapped up his letter with the promise that “God can guard you so that you don’t fall and so that you can be full of joy as you stand in his glorious presence without fault” (v. 24). And then he asserts that “Before time began and now and forevermore, God is worthy of glory, honor, power, and authority” (Jude 1:25, CEV). Can you see the scene in Revelation 5:13, of men and angels bowing down and praising God? I can hardly wait!
From the beginning of human history, good things have always been corrupted by evil. Satan has agents everywhere, infiltrating the ranks of true believers with those who only pretend to know and love God.
How can we tell the fake Christians from the real? Jude indicated that it was by their conduct and their attitudes: Pretenders are ignorant and disrespectful of God’s word, arrogant, greedy and sensual. They live to satisfy themselves, rather than to serve God or others. The end result they have to look forward to is condemnation and destruction.
Believers in Christ, on the other hand, are submitted to God and concerned about others. Their lives are distinguished by godliness, love and faith. And they can look forward to Christ’s return with joy, knowing that He has purified and preserved them.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from God’s Word translation, © 1995 by God’s Word to the Nations.