Jude (day 1167) 12 March 2013
1-2: Jude appears to have been a general epistle, sent out as a circulatory letter to a number of congregations rather than to any specific location. He identifies himself as a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James, tantalizing but frustrating references to his identity. If he was the apostle Judas (not Iscariot) he was not the brother of the apostle James. If he was the brother of that James in Acts who is known as “the brother of the Lord,” then he would also be a brother of Jesus and not a slave of Jesus. The first verse contains a shadow of the problems plaguing the church by the end of the first century – internal evidence makes 80-100 A.D. a likely time for Judeto have been written – because it refers to those who are “kept safe” for Jesus Christ, implying some danger. Indeed, we will find there is much danger, not from persecution but from internal disturbances.
3-4: He gets right to the point. The church has been infiltrated by those who preach a different gospel from the one the apostles preached. He points out two specific differences in this paragraph: the first is licentiousness, and seems to relate to what theologians call antinomianism (against law). This was a corruption of early Christianity which held that since Christ had fulfilled the law, grace covers all our sins and so we can live any way we choose and do anything we like. John Wesley called this “a gospel of the flesh.” The second charge is that they deny Jesus Christ as Master and Lord. The issue here seems to be the argument about Christ’s identity as the Son of God. These were people who held that Jesus was an ordinary person like everybody else, and so his teachings were not especially authoritative. Most scholars think this is a reference to an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism, which claimed certain knowledge about God and the world not available to those outside their circle.
5-7: He offers three examples of what happens to those who oppose God: the Hebrews who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, the angels who “fell from grace” (a prominent feature of Jewish mythology more so than that of scripture), and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed because of their licentious behavior.
8: In reverse order he refers to Sodom and Gomorrah, the fallen angels, and the rebellious Hebrews.
9: This is a reference to an ancient Jewish legend about the devil contending with Gabriel for the body of Moses. His point is that even Gabriel did not dare condemn the devil (the chief of the fallen angels in Jewish legend) but left that to the Lord.
10: The troublemakers, unlike Gabriel, slander everything they don’t understand and are destroyed by giving in to their (perverted) instincts.
11: For the reference to Cain, see Genesis 4:1-16. Balaam’s story is in Numbers 22-24, but there is much legendary material about Balaam that doesn’t leave him in nearly the positive light of that story. In fact, later rabbis blamed Balaam for the sexual immorality that became prevalent among the Hebrews as reported in Numbers 25 (but in Numbers their immorality is not directly connected to Balaam).Korah’s rebellion is recounted in Numbers 16.
12-13: Fivecolorful metaphors are used for these troublemakers. They are rocks (or reefs, or blemishes) at the church’s fellowship meals, feeding on the church by taking pay for their “teaching.” They are waterless clouds, producing nothing of substance for anyone else. They are autumn trees without fruit, again producing nothing for others; twice dead, perhaps because they were once unbelievers, then became believers, but now are spreading teachings not in keeping with faith in Christ; uprooted because they have left the truth given them at first by the apostles. They are wild waves “casting up the foam of their own shame,” perhaps meant to compare the worthlessness of their teaching with the worthlessness of foam. They are wandering stars, which makes us think of comets which appear for a time and then seem to disappear into the utter darkness of space; but Jude is probably referring to passages in the non-canonical Book of Enoch in which stars are equated to angels and some of them rebel against God and are cast out.
14-16: Quoting the Book of Enoch, Jude asserts that the coming of these troublemakers was prophesied centuries before, and that God will subject them to judgment. They use their charisma to prey on others and satisfy their own lusts.
17-19: Finally, Jude nails the coffin shut: these people are exactly what the apostles warned you about, he says, for they prophesied that there would be “scoffers engaging in their own ungodly lusts,” which is precisely the way in which Jude has been describing them.
20-23: He now turns from condemnation of the “intruders” (verse 4) to encouragement of the faithful. Keep the faith, he tells them. Pray. Love God. Watch for Christ to return. Have mercy on those who are being swayed by these false teachers and save them if you can, but be fearful of having mercy on those who have participated in the lustful orgies sanctioned by the intruders.
24-25: A beautiful benediction ends the letter, serving once again as a reminder to his readers, both then and through the centuries, that God is able to keep them from falling.