The author of this letter is Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. As the brother of James, Jude is also one of the four brothers of Jesus that we read about in Matthew 13:55 (Judas). It is interesting that Jude does not make sure that the recipients know he is the brother of Jesus to give himself credibility. Rather, Jude simply calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ, equating himself with all Christians. The recipients seem to be universal in this letter (“to those who are called, who are sanctified [beloved] by God, and preserved in Jesus Christ”). Thus, it would seem that all Christians are in view. Perhaps this is the case. But it seems that Jude is dealing with a particular group of people who are causing problems for the Christians. In verse 2 we read the standard salutation in first century letters: “Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”
We would now expect a section of thanksgiving in this letter. However, Jude goes right to the point of the letter in verse 3 telling the recipients about how he wanted to write to them about their common salvation. But Jude cannot write to them about their common salvation because there is a problem. Jude says, “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Why did Jude have to change the purpose of his letter from writing about the common salvation they share to writing about contending earnestly for the faith?
Verse 4 reveals the problem: “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (NIV). Some people have mixed into the number of the Christians who are ungodly men. They have secretly slipped in and are taking the grace of God and perverting it into a license to commit sin. Further, these people are denying that Jesus is the Lord. After our study of First, Second, and Third John it seems reasonable to believe that these people who have crept in unnoticed hold the Gnostic doctrine. Both of these tenets that Jude identifies (committing sins and denying Jesus as the Lord) were problems that the early Christians had to fight against. Therefore Jude must write to the Christians to deal with this problem rather than encourage the Christians about their common salvation.
Description of False Teachers (5-16)
Past Judgment of False Teachers (5-7). In verses 5-7 Jude reminds the recipients about the past judgments that have been laid against false teachers. The first example is Israel in the wilderness. The people were led out of Egypt but those who did not believe perished in the wilderness before entering Canaan. The second example is concerning the angels who did not keep their proper positions. They are kept in darkness, bound in eternal chains for judgment. Unfortunately, this is all the information Jude gives us about angels, but he states this as if it is well known. Rebellious angels will also receive condemnation. The third example is Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain who gave themselves over to sexual immorality and suffered punishment for doing so. The point Jude is making is that these false teachers should not be listen to because their condemnation is clearly seen in the examples of the past.
Present Judgment of False Teachers (8-13). These false teachers that Jude is fighting are destined for the same judgment. They pollute their own bodies with their sexually immoral acts and reject the authority of God. Verse 9 gives us another statement as if it is well-known. Jude points out that Michael the archangel, when disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not make a slanderous remark against Satan, but simply said “The Lord rebuke you!” These false teachers dare to slander all sorts of celestial beings and people, actions the angels would not even take.
Jude pronounces woe upon these false teachers because they have taken the path of destruction like Cain, Balaam, and Korah. Cain offered an improper sacrifice to the Lord which the Lord rejected, leading to Cain killing his brother Abel. Balaam was a prophet for hire, sucked into the sins of covetousness and greed. Balaam also tried to corrupt the Israelites into engaging in sexually immoral acts and idol worship (Numbers 31:16). Korah went up against the leadership of Moses and was consumed by fire.
Jude goes further to point out that these false teachers are blemishes on their love feasts. Much has been argued about the love feasts that Jude refers to, but we must be honest and recognize that we do not know what this is referring to. This may be speaking of the Lord’s Supper. This may be speaking about times when the Christians are gathered together. The love feast is really not the point. The point is that these false teachers are blemishes on their fellowship and worship together. Jude speaks of these supposed followers of God as completely useless. They are shepherds who only feed themselves, rather than the sheep. They are clouds without rain. They are trees without fruit. They are wild, choppy waves. They are completely useless.
Future Judgment of False Teachers (14-16). In the final verses about these false teachers, Jude describes what will happen to these troublers who have secretly slipped in. They are ungodly, committing ungodly acts in ungodly ways. They are grumblers, faultfinders, boastful, and followers of their own desires. They fit the category of wickedness that existed even in the days of Enoch.
What To Do (17-23)
The rest of the letter is an explanation to the recipients on that they are to do because these false teachers have slipped in among the flock.
Remember the apostles’ words (17-19). The apostles foretold of these times when there would be scoffers trying to distort the truth and follow after their own error. They do not have God, but are merely divisive. Be discerning in what is being taught. This is an important lesson for us today as well. People do not come in with the words “false teacher” imprinted on their foreheads. But there will be people who claim to be Christians who are actually very divisive people. There are people who will be in our number who are more interested in following their own desires. We must make sure that we are not or do not become one of those kinds of people. We want to be self-controlled and humble. We want to be people who are seeking out the glory of God and not the glory of men. We also need to remain on watch for people who try to destroy harmony and cause division.
Build yourselves up in the most holy faith (20). Get strong in the word. Be strong in the faith. Jude calls for the Christians to build up their faith. Get to know God’s word better. Know the words of the apostles. We have to be knowledgeable enough in the scriptures so that we can recognize error. The secret service’s primary role is to fight against people who counterfeit our currency. They train by knowing the currency. They do not study the counterfeit currency. They study the true currency so that they will be able to spot the counterfeit quickly and easily. This is the way that we will be able to identify error. We must know the word of God and our build ourselves up in the most holy faith so that when something is taught or said that is not in the scriptures, we will quickly recognize it.
Pray in the Holy Spirit (20). Paul also commanded Christians to pray in the Spirit in Ephesians 6:18. I do not believe that this is referring to using their spiritual gifts in prayer to discern the doctrine of these false teachers (though it is possible). But, I believe the Christians are being told to pray according to the will of God and not according to our own lusts and desires. We need to pray for spiritual growth. We need to pray for spiritual strength. To pray in the Spirit is to tune our hearts to the will of God and not to pray in a selfish way.
The Expositors Bible Commentary says this about praying in the Holy Spirit: “Because all believers have the Spirit, they are to pray according to the Spirit’s will (set forth in the written Word and made known by inner promptings) to accomplish God’s work by God’s power.” The key phrase I want to examine is “made known by inner promptings.” Here is Jude talking about knowing the scriptures so that we can avoid false doctrine. Where in the scriptures do we read about Christians have inner promptings coming from the Holy Spirit? Where do the scriptures command us to listen to our hearts for the Holy Spirit to prompt us to do something? Do not the scriptures teach us to not listen to our hearts, to not listen to our minds, and not listen to our desires! We are supposed to listen to the scriptures! How is a person supposed to determine the difference between temptation and the Holy Spirit’s “inner promptings?” This is a popular yet dangerous teaching which tells people they are obeying God by listening for the Holy Spirit’s inner promptings. This doctrine is not found in the scriptures.
Keep in God’s love (21-23). Finally, Jude instructs the Christians to keep themselves in the love of God. How do we remain in God’s love? I think the context is clear as well as Jesus’ words: “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love” (John 15:10). Part of the Lord’s command is that we love one another and look out for them. “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” In the midst of a scathing condemnation for these false teachers, Jude reminds us to maintain balance and try to save those who have fallen into this error. Our role and our goal is to snatch people from the fire and save them through the grace of God.
Rather than have a closing and a greeting as most first century letter had, Jude concludes with a blessing and prayer to God on behalf on the recipients. Jude’s prayer is that the saints do not fall but are presented before God without fault and with great joy.