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Hey! Jude?

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Faith Church is wrapping up the 4th and final year of our 4 Year Bible Reading Plan (called Cover to Cover). This means we are about to read one of my favorite books of the Bible but one that can easily be overlooked – the letter of Jude. One reason it is often forgotten is its size – it’s only one chapter so you might literally flip past it! Another reason is its placement right before Revelation, as many people are excited to get to Revelation and may look past Jude or are so tired from reading through most of the Bible that they may not fully absorb it. Because it is a book that many Christians do not know – or potentially are only familiar with its closing doxology in verses 24-25 (“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, 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.”) – I want to give us a little more insight into the man and the message of this book.

Jude Who?
The name Jude, a shortened form of Judas or Judah, was a common name among Jewish men in the first century. This is why we find many of Jesus’s followers in the New Testament with this name as well as a marker to differentiate them from the others: the infamous Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, the disciple who was the “son of James” (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), and a man who was also called Barsabbas (Acts 15:22, 27, 32). But none of those appears to be the Jude who wrote this book, as he identifies himself as the brother of James (literally, Jacob). Now we have to ask – James who? The most prominent James in the early church was the brother of Jesus, so this would seem to be the brother of Jesus as well; we see in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 that Jesus has brothers named James and Jude (as well as Joseph and Simon). It would seem that this brother also became a follower of Jesus after his resurrection (as John 7:1-5 shows that Jesus’s brothers didn’t believe in him while he was alive), and he likely traveled as a missionary (see 1 Corinthians 9:5). The church historian Eusebius notes that Jude’s grandsons became leaders in the church, but we don’t know a lot about this figure outside of what he writes. But one quick observation we can make – while a brother of Jesus, he does not stress that or use that as a claim to fame or authority.

Why did he write?
The letter we have is actually much different from the letter that Jude initially intended to write. He begins by saying that he wanted to write about the common salvation he shared with those to whom he was writing (we aren’t told their exact location), but he decided he had to write for a different purpose – to appeal to the recipients that they needed to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (verse 3). This was because some false teachers had arisen that were seeking to “pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (verse 4). Because these teachers had come in “unnoticed” (verse 4), Jude tells the church to be on guard against them, reminding them that the apostles before him had talked about the reality of such false teachers (verse 17). Thus, he writes to encourage faithfulness in believers by being on guard against and in opposition to false teachers! I think this purpose makes the book very relevant for us today, as the reality of false teachers who corrupt the gospel continues today; the details might differ, but the danger is just as real. In fact, this book is a reminder about the ever-present nature of false teachers within the church; the apostles said the people would arise and so we should be ready for them.

What does he say?
Jude does not go into a lot of details about what these false teachers taught, focusing more on how they behave. In addition to having lifestyles that indulged in their passions and desires (verses 3, 16, 18), they were people who boasted and showed favoritism (verse 16). They also defied authority (verse 8) and caused divisions (verse 19), living as selfish and greedy people (see verse 12). We continue to see these sorts of behaviors not just in the world but also among people who proclaim to be Christian, even people who claim to teach the faith and/or lead groups of believers. Are there teachers or leaders you are looking to whose lives reflect the same conduct? Are they abandoning or changing truths to allow them to engage in their greed, lust, anger, pride, or desires? Are they abandoning and rejecting rightful authority so that they can advance their agenda rather than God’s?

Two major strategies Jude employs in confronting these teachers are comparisons to various figures from the Old Testament (and outside it too) and also their promised destruction. In fact, these two things are linked together, as he notes many of the times God poured forth judgment in the Old Testament upon those who opposed God and/or abandoned His truths – such as upon those who did not believe in God after He led them out of Egypt (verse 5), the angels who fell from their heavenly places (verse 6), and Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 7). He compares the false teachers to figures like Cain, Balaam, and Korah (verse 11), highlighting the greed of Balaam and the rebellious nature of Korah. Not all the images are from the Bible, though, as he talks about them being like “waterless clouds” or “fruitless trees” (see verse 12-13). He also alludes to an ancient well known writing during that time that is not in the Bible, 1 Enoch, which spoke about judgment coming on sin as well. This book does not seem to have actually been written by the figure of Enoch who we see in Genesis. Jude’s use of these words does not mean that he thought this was Scripture, as he uses other examples as well. In fact, he does not quote this book as Scripture like others do. Why does he use it then? It might contain some true traditions but not be an authoritative book, and it also would be well known in this time. While we would rather not think or talk about false teachings or negative things, Jude seeks to employ any sort of resource or image in his arsenal to try to remind his readers (and now us) of its danger! In fact, his words about judgment remind us that judgment is not just an experience on earth, but “eternal fire” (verse 7). 

How should we respond?
Jude is a book that offers a pretty clear call to action in verses 17-23. First and foremost, we need to remember that these false teachers were predicted and were out there. Secondly, we need to “keep ourselves in the love of God” which includes “building themselves up” in the faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of God (verses 20-21). While new ideas can attract us, we need to stay built on the foundation of what we have been taught and live a life that is both staying connected to God in prayer and going deeper in faith while also recognizing that our ultimate hope is not found in this life but in the return of Christ. Finally, we also need to help those who might be struggling and wandering (verses 22-23) because of the false teachers out there, while also having mercy upon these false teachers (verse 24) in hopes that they are led to repentance. Are you adopting these behaviors in your life? As we do so, we remember the closing words in the blessing that God is the one who does not just help us, but can and will keep us. His grace is stronger than the pull of false teaching, so let us stay true to Him.

I think the overarching message of this book is that we need to be on guard against false teaching since it can and does subtly creep in. We need to pay careful attention to Scripture (can we quote it as well as Jude did?) but also to life and conduct, making sure we are staying in step with the gospel and not letting those who are out of accord with it lead us astray. Above all, Jude tells us to be ready to say “Hey!” when we hear ideas that do not align with the faith that was passed down once for all to us. 

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