Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: the Letter of Jude
Today we have the treat of examining an almost forgotten book of the Bible. The letter of Jude is the second to last book of the New Testament and is located just before the book of Revelation. The letter is titled for its author, Jude, who identifies himself in the very first verse, “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” Even though the author names himself, his identity is somewhat of a mystery. This Jude is most likely not the apostle Jude who is recorded in the gospels of Luke (6:16) or John (14:22). It is more likely that he was the relative of Jesus (but not an apostle) mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. The letter of Jude is a pastoral letter and contains the advice of an elder church leader fostering a beloved Christian community which he likely founded or is at least in some way responsible for nurturing.
Diving into the Letter of Jude
The letter itself is incredibly brief. It is composed of 1 chapter containing only 25 verses. While it can be read in mere moments, the content is deep, the language is beautiful, and it contains an unfolding drama which is incredibly relevant to Christians today.
The definitive moment comes in verses 3 and 4.
Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The author, who had intended to write a general letter of instruction has had to change course in order to confront a mounting danger which threatens to snatch salvation from his beloved Christian community. False teachers proclaiming ideas counter to the truth are leading these Christians astray. His choice of the verb “contend” characterizes the tone of the rest of the letter. These Christians cannot be passive. Rather they must enter a battle with eternal consequences.
You see the drama is real. Salvation hangs in the balance with eternal consequences. As evidence, he provides 3 examples of those who lost God’s favor.
I wish to remind you, although you know all things, that [the] Lord who once saved a people from the land of Egypt later destroyed those who did not believe. The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. v. 5-7
These examples should serve as a reminder to us as well. Pursuit of the kingdom of heaven is strenuous task. It requires constant commitment. We must contend to keep the faith, for we all suffer from a form of spiritual gravity in which the concerns of the world and the flesh seek rob what we gained through baptism. And make no mistake, salvation is not guaranteed.
Thus, we Christians must be on guard against all false teachers, whom the author describes as “dreamers.”(v. 8) Individuals and movements which proclaim new philosophies of man.
Again, what could be more relevant to our own time in which so many in the world seek to redefine marriage, gender, and even reality itself. These new philosophies deny the truth. They reject the very foundations of civilization (the family) and our Christian faith. Ultimately, these philosophies lead to nowhere but the abyss. Hence, those who proclaim these ideas lead us only toward darkness. In the words of Jude,
They are waterless clouds blown about by winds, fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead and uprooted. They are like wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameless deeds, wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved forever. v. 12-13
The Christian, however, is guided by Christ our Light. Our end is not darkness but light, should we only hold fast to Christ and “contend” for our faith. And so, Jude provides the blue print to contend for the faith,
But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, “In [the] last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.” These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. On those who waver, have mercy; save others by snatching them out of the fire; on others have mercy with fear, abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh. v. 17-23