It is generally believed that the writer of this letter was Jude (or Judas), one of the brothers of Jesus (Mark 6:3). His older brother was James, a leading man in the Jerusalem church (Jude 1; cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13). Like James he was not a believer during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (John 7:3-5), but he was among the disciples at the time of Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:11-14). It is believed that the resurrection had an impact on Jesus’ brothers that helped turn them from unbelief to faith (cf. 1 Cor 15:4-7).
Jude seems to have later become a respected teacher in the church, though his letter does not indicate the region where he worked or the people whom he addressed. Nevertheless, the purpose of his letter is clear. He wrote to oppose a kind of false teaching that was doing great damage to Christianity through encouraging immoral behaviour (Jude 3-4).
The false teaching that Jude opposed was widespread during the second half of the first century. It was part of a developing Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, meaning ‘knowledge’; see background notes to 1 John). The teaching claimed that self-control was not necessary for those who possessed a higher knowledge of spiritual things. In fact, immoral behaviour might even be a sign of spiritual maturity, as if people found true freedom through their higher knowledge. Jude pronounced God’s certain punishment on those who taught and practised such a religion.
Parts of the letter of Jude are similar to parts of 2 Peter, particularly in the examples and illustrations that are used. The two writers opposed similar errors, and one may have borrowed from the other’s letter. Alternatively, both may have used material that had become a widely accepted standard in dealing with the false teaching of the time.
CONTENTS OF THE LETTER
Condemnation of the false teachers (1-16)
Jude had intended to write about more general matters concerning the Christian faith, but when he heard of the activities of evil teachers he changed his mind. He now feels that it is more important to encourage the Christians to hold firmly to the truth they first heard and to fight against those who want to destroy it. Punishment is certain for those who distort the true teaching of the gospel in order to give themselves the freedom to practise immorality (1-4).
People may belong to a Christian community, or even be known as Christian teachers, but that is no guarantee of their salvation. If they do not truly believe, they will suffer God’s condemnation. Three examples are given to illustrate this fact. First, all the people of Israel were delivered from Egypt, but those who did not believe were destroyed (5; cf. Num 14:26-35). Second, angels have high status, but those who rebelled met a terrifying judgment (6; cf. Gen 6:1-4). Third, Sodom and Gomorrah were great cities, but they were destroyed because of their immorality (7; cf. Gen 19:12-25).
Controlling neither their passions nor their words, these false teachers commit immoral sexual acts and insult both God and his angels. Yet the chief angel himself refused to condemn the devil with insulting words (even though he may have had good cause to), for he would not claim for himself the authority of judgment that belongs to God alone (8-9). (This story is taken from the apocryphal ‘Assumption of Moses’. Apocryphal writings are certain recognized books written in the era of the Old Testament but not included in the Old Testament. They are grouped into two collections, the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.)
The ungodly teachers have no understanding of spiritual things, but act according to their physical instincts, like animals. They have Cain’s jealousy, Balaam’s greed, and Korah’s spirit of rebellion against authority (10-11; cf. Gen 4:3-8; Num 16:1-50; 22:1-40; 25:1-9; 31:16). Their behaviour at Christian fellowship meals is a disgrace. Like rainless clouds they bring no good; like fruitless trees they are useless and should be destroyed; like the restless sea they are without control; like falling stars they will be swallowed up in the darkness, the darkness of God’s eternal punishment (12-13).
Enoch’s prophecy confirms the certain punishment of people characterized by such ungodliness.
Whether they criticize or flatter, whether they grumble or boast, their actions are always motivated solely
by what is going to benefit them personally (14-16). (The prophecy of Enoch is taken from the apocryphal ‘Book of Enoch’.)
Encouragement to Christians (17-25)
The Christians are reminded of the words of the apostles. Years earlier they had warned that ungodly teachers would trouble the church, leading people into sin and causing divisions (17-19). The way to avoid their evil influence is to learn more of the Christian truth, to be more sincere in prayer, to grow in devotion to God, to hate sin in all its forms, and to help those affected by the false teachers to find new life in God (20-23).
Jude closes his letter on a note of magnificent praise to the only God and Saviour. God is supreme in majesty and authority, and the same power by which he saved Christians in the first place is still available to them. God is able to keep his people safe and pure amid the destructive corruption of the false teaching, and one day bring them triumphantly into his heavenly presence (24-25).