Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a lesson on the little letter of Jude. It has much in common with 2Peter. Jude writes as a pastor to people who are in danger of falling under the influence of heretics who would lead them astray and in that, damn their souls.
Jude 1:1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
Jude was probably the half-brother of Jesus. But look how humbly he introduces himself. He identifies himself in terms of to whom he belongs, Jesus the Messiah. It is not important to Jude that he “knew Jesus back before He was famous.” It is important that Jesus is his Master.
Jude writes “to those who are called, beloved, and kept.” Jude clearly understands the great sovereignty of God. And he sees ordinary believers like you and like me standing in the long line of those who have been called of God. The line runs from Abraham to his readers and on to you and me.
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Jude, it seems, had intended to write a more general letter. But he finds himself constrained to write to combat the influences of heretics and to encourage his readers to vigorously oppose them. It would be good for us to carefully consider standard 21st century reactions to the errors Jude combats. We’re pretty soft on confronting bad doctrine.
Jude tells his readers to contend for the faith. “contend” is a word that implies there will be opposition and that vigorous effort is needed. “the faith” refers to an objective body of doctrine/belief, that was once for all entrusted to the saints. What we must hear is that this objective body of doctrine is not the invention of our minds, but rather something given to man through the gracious revelation of God. And it is not something that is evolving or changing, but rather something fixed that we hold as a sacred trust. It was once for all delivered to the saints.
It is not fashionable today to be strong in insisting on fidelity to the historical Christian doctrines. We don’t like being too “narrow.” Jude, on the contrary, says that it is of utmost importance that we contend for the Apostolic Gospel.
4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Certain men have slipped in unnoticed/stealthily. We need to think about this. Did these people show up and announce “We’re here to subvert orthodox Christianity and promote something else”? That is hardly the case. Were they recognizable because they were unattractive or unpleasant? That is unlikely. These were probably likeable folks that could blend in and speak the lingo, ones you wouldn’t want to think ill of. But Jude calls them “ungodly.” It is standard in our time to want to embrace as Christian anyone who makes noises that even sound vaguely Christian. We’re encouraged to not split doctrinal hairs. Jude, on the other hand, maintains that doctrine is important. Bad doctrine and bad living go together. These heretics seem to be of the antinomian (anti-law) variety. They hold that God’s gracious forgiveness somehow translates to freedom on our part to call the shots, do what we please, and break His laws. Jude says that to live this way denies that Christ is Lord. That is, of course, only sensible. In fact, the position of the heretics makes no sense at all. There is not a cubic inch of all the universe that is not His. He is our only Master/Sovereign and Lord.
5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
Jude says, “you once fully knew it” The notion is that the reader may have lost focus. Calvin said, “… for the use of God’s Word is not only to teach us what we could not have otherwise known, but also to rouse us to a serious meditation of those things which we already understand, and not to suffer us to grow torpid in a cold knowledge.” The ESV follows the early manuscripts and explicitly says “Jesus” saved a people and destroyed the unbelieving. Other renderings like the NIV say just “Lord.”
Jude now gives three examples of God’s judgment on beings that once knew better, but allowed their thinking to grow corrupt. He begins with the case of the nation of Israel after its deliverance from Egypt. The nation saw God’s wonderful deliverance from Egypt, experienced His provision in the wilderness, but then doubted His ability to take them into the Promised Land. And as a result, an entire generation had to die off before they were allowed to enter. Back-of-the-envelope calculations will get you that an average of 90 people died and were buried every day in the desert over those 40 years. What a stunning visual aid to make clear the consequences of failure to believe. What a solemn warning to those greatly blessed with the Word and call of God who do not believe. Calvin correctly calls unbelief the “fountain of all evil.”
6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–
The best guess is that this refers to Genesis 6:1-3 and angelic beings revolting at God’s natural order and taking human women. The message seems to be that they surely knew better, but chose to try to impose their own will.
7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Sodom and Gomorrah were in a lush region, physically blessed of God, with Lot living in their midst. But the men of Sodom also chose to go against God’s natural order and the LORD destroyed the cities with fire and brimstone.
8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.
Jude characterizes the heretics as dreamers (possibly because they claimed to get revelations from God in dreams or visions) who exhibit the same kind of rebellion that brought God’s judgment in each of these cases. He says they reject authority and they “blaspheme the glorious ones” or slander celestial beings. What he means by this is not completely clear. One possibility that makes a lot of sense is that the Jews saw angels as active in both the giving and the administration of God’s law. These heretics claimed that God’s law was null and void, and so would perhaps also be antagonistic to the whole idea of angelic beings. That is, their attitude toward God’s messengers is consistent with their contempt for God’s law.
9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
Again, exactly what is meant here is not clear. The Jews had a legend that Satan demanded the body of Moses, since Moses had been a murderer. The gist could be that even the archangel Michael didn’t presume to be the judge or mediator of the law for Moses. He could neither punish nor pardon Moses, but rather knew that was God’s place. It was neither his nor Satan’s, and in the legend Michael reminds Satan of his place.
10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.
These men speak as if they were God, as if they called the shots, as if they had the right to cancel the righteous provisions of God’s moral law. And in the end, this is their undoing. God didn’t spare Israel, He didn’t spare rebellious angels, He didn’t spare Sodom and Gomorrah, and God won’t spare these false teachers.
11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.
Cain had a better idea. God said X, Cain said he’d rather do Y, and ended up killing his brother in a fit of jealousy. Balaam was not allowed to curse Israel even though he tried to do so in order to get paid by Balak. He knew that God’s intentions for Israel were good, but in Numbers 31:16 we read that it was his idea to draw the people into sexual sin and worship of Baal as a means of defeating Israel. God said X, Balaam wanted dollars and so schemed a means of subverting X (the “error” of Balaam is not a passive mistake, but rather his active pushing Israel into sin). Korah was a flat-out rebel. God had ordained leadership for His people and put Moses in their lives as God-given authority. Korah figured he was as worthy as Moses, and started a rebellion. He rejected God-ordained authority. Jude sees these characteristics in people that have wormed their way into the early Christian church. It’s sobering to see how seriously Jude takes what in the 21st century we might be inclined to see as just somewhat idiosyncratic thinking on the part of these teachers.
12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;
These are “sunken rocks” or “hidden reefs” waiting to sink the unwary sailor. Shepherds who feed only themselves and let the sheep starve aren’t shepherds at all. The implicit assumption here is that there is only nourishment in the orthodox doctrine that in verse 3 was given once and for all to the church for safe keeping. They are clouds without rain and trees without fruit, utterly useless.
13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
Big waves deposit all kinds of junk on a beach. People who stray from the basic Gospel message deposit all kinds of junk in the lives of those whom they influence, and Jude is not the least bit reluctant to say that God will execute terrible judgment on people who bring that kind of error into the lives of others. The blackest darkness awaits them. This is most horrible and serious business.
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones,
15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Jude says, “all, all, all” This is most sobering. The “ungodly way” probably refers to sinning without any real fear. Jude goes on to describe how the people he’s concerned with operate. We hear descriptions that sound way too familiar and not really all that sinister by our standards.
16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
These are grumblers and malcontents or faultfinders. To grumble is serious error. We excuse it in ourselves and others. But to gripe gives away that we don’t accept God’s sovereign provision. It says that we think we know better than Him how things should be in our lives. The people of Israel grumbled in the wilderness and said that they wished that they’d never left their bondage in Egypt. That terrible ingratitude and lack of trust brought God’s righteous judgment. A parallel grumbling is played out all too often in the lives of Christian people. It sounds like “Oh, woe is me. Following Jesus is so hard. Besides, God’s got me on a detail I’m not really happy about. I want some other duty.” Another version of this is that there are people for whom a church is never without serious shortcomings. Is it easier to see a bunch of things someone else should do in the church than it is to recognize there are things that we should do.
Jude indicts these people as boasters showing favoritism to gain advantage. Why do people do what they do? Because it is right and good? Or because they think it benefits them in the short run?
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
These circumstances should not catch anyone by surprise. Jude says that the Apostles warned that as we wait for the second coming there would be this kind of people. Jesus warned them that there would be false prophets. The tense of the beginning of verse 18 would be better captured as “They were in the habit of saying to you.” Note again too that Jude the half-brother of Jesus has no problem at all bowing to the authority of the Apostles. Amazingly enough, post-moderns have much more problem here than did Jude.
There will be scoffers following ungodly passions. Bad attitudes and bad living go together, and these folks will harm Christ’s church.
19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
The tense here indicates that this type of person is habitually divisive. It’s clear that in Jude’s mind, Christ’s church has been entrusted with the Holy Gospel. The work of these heretics is to separate people from Christ’s church by flattery and other means and to provide them with wrong innovations on the Truth that will ultimately damn their souls. These new doctrines that deviate from the basic teaching of the Apostles, says Jude, don’t come from the Spirit of God. People may think they do, but the fact is that they are the product of natural human instincts. Jude wishes for better for his readers, and he now tells them what they should do as they “contend for the faith” as he put it in verse 3.
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,
21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
Jude says, “building yourselves up” This is plural and begins a corporate admonition. It is an instruction to the church. Do so “in your most holy faith,” in the faith that is set apart and ultimately from and belonging to God. This is the faith referred to in verse 3, that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude implies that Christians’ standard posture is prayer “praying in the Holy Spirit.” As we wait for the return of Christ we have a responsibility to together dwell on the essentials of the Christian faith and to cast ourselves on God in prayer, keeping ourselves in God’s love. These verses emphasize Christian responsibility, and in a corporate way. The picture here is an active one. It is not just holding out till the end, but being about Christ’s business while we wait expectantly for His return. And as we wait for the fulfillment of God’s mercy, Christ’s people are to show mercy.
22 And have mercy on those who doubt;
23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
These verses are apparently different in the different New Testament Greek manuscripts and rather obscure in all of them. So some versions have only two groups here instead of three. But the general intention is pretty clear. Yes, there are those whose teaching will damn one’s soul, but our attitudes cannot be callous towards them and those they influence. Ones that are doubting and starting to fall away need to be shown mercy. Others that are about to receive God’s just wrath, if we can, we ought to try and pull back from destruction. People that are wallowing in the fruit of bad teaching need mercy as well, and we should show it to them, being careful that we don’t get sucked in. And by God’s grace we can influence those, because most fundamentally it is God who holds onto us, not we to Him. We have a role to play, but it is He who is sovereign. And the letter ends with a wonderful doxology.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
There may be false teachers, but God is sovereign. He is capable of preserving His saints.
25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Amen … so be it!