The author of Jude, like James, was a brother of Jesus (Js. 1:1; Jude 1:1). The recipients of the letter are not identified, but most scholars feel it was written to a congregation within Israel during the 1st century A. D. who were familiar with both the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic literature. The former is cited throughout the letter and two references are made to the latter: two direct quotes from The Assumption of Moses, an apocalyptic book written under the pen name of Moses (verses 9 and 14), and another pseudepigraphal book, First Enoch, is alluded to in verses 6, 14 and 15. Jude does not include these references because he equates them with the authority of Scripture, rather he uses them to demonstrate that even suspicious texts used by false teachers support the truth of God’s Word. It is the threat of false teachers and their teaching being accepted by the church that compels Jude to write this letter, even though he had originally intended it to be one of encouragement (verses 3-4).
The lies which comprise the so-called lessons of false teachers seep into the church in the same manner as our drop of food coloring mixes with the clear water in a bowl. At first it is easy to distinguish what is true and what is false. But eventually compromise and doubt blend the false with the true and believers do not recognize the difference any longer. Jude’s aim is first and foremost to clearly show how to determine whether a teacher is speaking the truth or not, and secondly his goal is to illustrate the dangers of adhering to false teaching. According to Jude there are several distinguishing attributes of false teachers: they flaunt liberality and mock the true nature of grace (v.4), they alternate between criticizing and using others and flattering others to build themselves up (v. 16), and finally they reject the authority of Christ by giving into the evil desires of their own lust (v. 8).
In conjunction with the descriptions of false teachers there are three warnings to those who are tempted to follow them. Jude wants his recipients to think very clearly about this, for if God did not spare those people which are cited as examples, why then would God spare those who receive this letter? Jude states that even though the Lord rescued the Israelites from Egypt, He did not spare those who refused to believe and destroyed them (vv. 5, 11). Even though angels are created to serve God, God has judged those angels which rebelled and served themselves (vv. 6, 9). All people are judged when they distort human sexuality and pursue improper passions (vv. 7, 12). And lastly, there is no escaping God’s judgment for those who usurp His authority and put themselves in His place (v. 14), so it is best to think twice before one decides to follow them (vv. 4, 17)! We are not left without the ability to avoid this judgment. By remembering God’s Words as taught through the apostles (v. 17), awaiting Christ’s love and mercy as demonstrated by His imminent return (v. 21), showing understanding and compassion to those struggling against false teaching (v. 22), and taking a strong stance in keeping our faith pure (v. 22), we can avoid the pitfalls and improper influence of false teachers. Jude concludes with a benediction of praise which is quite appropriate for one whose name means just that- praise (vv. 24-25)!
While some may think that the church no longer has issues with false teachers like the believers of Jude’s day, I would disagree. However, in my opinion the false teachers of today are much more insipid and show up more in our lifestyle than in a person. They are in our cultural values (it’s all about my rights), our day to day behavior (our cavalier use of God’s name as an exclamation) and our readiness to compromise God’s commands against what society says is acceptable (as in premarital relationships). Why do we think we are going to be held less accountable than our spiritual “ancestors” who are given as examples in Jude? It’s time for us to apply Jude’s checklist to our lives with the same scrutiny he encouraged his readers to do. We need to if we hope to make an impact for Christ in these troubled times (Eph. 5:15-17).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/20/2015