Dr. Thomas L. Constable
According to tradition, the writer of this epistle was "Judas" (Jude), who was both the half-brother of Jesus Christ (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3) and a brother of James, the leader of the Jerusalem church (Jude 1; Acts 15:13). Some scholars have challenged this identification in recent years, but they have not proved it incorrect. As such, Jude (Gr. Judas, Heb. Judah, "praise") was a Jewish Christian. Like James, he was a Hellenized Galilean Jew who wrote with a cultivated Greek style. As we might expect, Jude normally alluded to the Hebrew Scriptures rather than to the Septuagint, unlike many of the New Testament writers.
Jesus' physical brothers did not believe in Him while He was ministering (John 7:5). James became a believer after Jesus' resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7), and we may assume that Jude did too. Jesus' brothers were part of the praying group that awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). They were well known in the early church (1 Cor. 9:5).
Jude's many allusions to the Old Testament suggest that his original readers were very familiar with it. While this could have been true of many Christians, it would have been particularly true of Jewish Christians. Consequently many commentators believe Jude addressed this epistle primarily to Jewish Christians.
The time of writing is very difficult to ascertain. Since Jude was a younger brother of Jesus, he may have lived into the second century. After the Jewish revolts against Rome in A.D. 66-70, Jude probably lived outside Jerusalem—and perhaps outside Palestine, if he was still alive. References in the text to the false teachers and the apostles (vv. 3-5, 17) suggest a condition in the church some years after the day of Pentecost. Similarities with Peter's writings have led some to date Jude about the time that Peter wrote. Obviously these are all very tentative guesses. Perhaps a date between A.D. 67 and 80 would be correct. At that time, Jude may have been living somewhere outside Palestine.
Fortunately, the indefiniteness of the historical background of this epistle does not affect its message or its value.
Many scholars regard this epistle as an "epistolary sermon." Jude could have delivered what he said in this epistle as a homily (sermon) if he had been in his readers' presence. Instead, he cast it in the form of a letter because he could not address them directly. Other New Testament epistles that are actually written homilies include James, Hebrews, and 1 John.
Incipient Gnosticism seems to be the primary heresy in view.
"Here, in an undeveloped form, are all the main characteristics which went to make up later Gnosticism—emphasis on knowledge which was emancipated from the claims of morality; arrogance toward 'unenlightened' church leaders; interest in angelology; divisiveness; lasciviousness."
I. Introduction vv. 1-2
II. The purpose of this epistle vv. 3-4
III. Warnings against false teachers vv. 5-16
A. Previous failures vv. 5-7
1. The example of certain Israelites v. 5
2. The example of certain angels v. 6
3. The example of certain pagans v. 7
B. Present failures vv. 8-16
1. The nature of the error vv. 8-9
2. The seriousness of the error vv. 10-13
3. The consequences of the error vv. 14-16
IV. Exhortation to the faithful vv. 17-23
A. The reminder to remember the apostles' warning vv. 17-19
B. The positive instruction of the readers vv. 20-23
V. Conclusion vv. 24-25
The Book of Jude is in the Bible to teach us that: we must be careful to remain faithful to the faith. That is a positive statement. Jude's emphasis, however, was mainly negative. He warned of the danger of departing from the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints (v. 3). The subject of Jude, then, is the peril of apostasy: departure from the truth. Apostasy is a matter of obedience, not salvation. Christians can depart from the faith almost as easily as non-Christians. Many Christian teenagers abandon their faith in college and university, and many never return to it.
"Apostasy," as the word is commonly used in Christian circles, involves a major departure from the faith, not a momentary lapse (e.g., Peter's denial of Christ during His trial). It involves repudiating a major doctrine of the faith. "Backsliding" usually refers to a regression in morals and or spiritual enthusiasm. It may or may not involve a departure from the major doctrines of the Bible. "Carnality" refers to giving in to the flesh and indulging one's sensual appetites. This also may or may not involve a major departure from the faith.
Jude first defined the character of apostasy (v. 4). I believe that the progression in this verse is significant. It shows how apostasy develops. It moves from ungodliness, to licentiousness, and then to denial.
An "ungodly" person is one who has within himself refused to submit to God's authority over him. He may be a non-Christian or a Christian. He does not have the appropriate reverence for God. This involves a volitional (deliberate, involving one's will) choice. G. Campbell Morgan defined apostasy as "wilful [sic] return to ungodliness."
Having made that choice, the apostate then proceeds to act on that basis. Departure from God's will begins to mark his behavior. He takes license. His conduct often becomes marked by unbridled lust, excess in the pursuit of fleshly satisfaction, and shamelessness. His apostasy moves from the volitional area into the moral area.
The next step is that he justifies his behavior with intellectual rationalization. He has to convince himself that what he is doing is right, in order to silence his guilty conscience. Consequently, he figures out a way to convince himself that "wrong" is "right." In so doing, he must also convince himself that "right" is "wrong." This leads to a denial of God's Word. What God has said is wrong, the apostate says is "all right," and what God has said is right, he says is "wrong." He has moved from volitional, to moral apostasy, and then to intellectual apostasy. All three aspects of apostatizing counter loving God with all one's heart, strength, and mind.
This means that heresy in the church often has its ultimate source in personal failure to submit to God in some area of individual life. This is the essential characteristic of apostasy. Many people have observed that moral failure frequently precedes doctrinal failure.
Next, Jude illustrated the nature and consequences of apostasy (vv. 5-11). He did this by citing three groups, followed by three individuals.
Group #1: The nature of apostasy in Israel at Kadesh Barnea was rebellion against God's revealed will for her—the volitional root problem (v. 5). This resulted in the premature death of the rebels. The apostate generation did not enter the land, but wandered in the wilderness, and eventually died there.
Group #2: The nature of the apostasy in heaven was some angels' abandonment of God's place for them—moral rebellion (v. 6). Their action in rebelling revealed the rebellion in their hearts. The consequence of this conduct was and is present bondage.
Group #3: The nature of apostasy in Sodom and Gomorrah was repudiation of God's law over the residents (v. 7). By their actions these ungodly people were saying that their way of life was right and God's was wrong—the intellectual error. The result of this apostasy was, and is, ultimate judgment. The Sodomites were initially blinded and then killed.
Individual #1: Jude used "Cain" to illustrate apostasy because Cain did not submit to God's will for him volitionally (v. 11). He was a self-righteous person.
Individual #2: Jude used "Balaam" to illustrate apostasy because Balaam advocated to Balak that the Moabites seduce the Israelites to participate in their immoral feast (v. 11). He was a greedy person who lusted after money.
Individual #3: Jude used "Korah" to illustrate apostasy because Korah tried to make wrong "right," and right "wrong" (v. 11). He was a presumptuous person.
In summary, self-righteousness, greed, and presumption identify apostasy in its various stages: volitional, moral, and intellectual. Jude also pointed out other characteristics of apostasy and apostates that follow in verses 12 and 13. He did not want us to fail to identify departure from the truth.
What did Jude urge his readers to do in view of the peril that apostasy poses? He gave a general command, and then specific commandments.
Note first the general command (v. 3). We are to "contend earnestly for the faith." This implies deliberate and determined effort. We learn how to do this in the specific commandments that follow.
Note these specific commandments in verses 20-23. Keeping these commandments involves three things. First, it involves "building (y)ourselves up" (v. 20a). This comes through spiritual growth that takes place by consistently yielding to God. This counters the volitional aspect of apostasy. Second, it involves "praying in (with the help of) the Holy Spirit" (v. 20b). This means calling on God for help. This counters the moral aspect of apostasy. Third, it involves "looking" to the future (vv. 21-22). This requires keeping ultimate realities clearly in focus. This counters the intellectual aspect of apostasy. As we keep our hope in view, we will make right choices, such as living for the future rather than for the present. By doing this, we keep ourselves in the center of God's love.
We "contend earnestly for the faith" best by remaining faithful to it personally, and by demonstrating an example of faithfulness to others. This is Jude's method. He did not have in mind apologetics and Christian evidences, though there is a place for those endeavors.
By way of application, let me raise and answer two questions.
First, what is "the faith" for which we are to contend? It is the "faith . . .once for all delivered to the saints," namely: God's special revelation contained in Scripture. That faith centers on the person of Jesus Christ. This is the mission of the church (Matt. 28:19-20).
Second, what is the "contending" that defends the faith? It is essentially volitional submission to God's authority. It is also behavior that is morally in harmony with His will. It is also conviction that is intellectually consistent with His revelation. This is the calling of each Christian.
Whereas there is much apostasy today, it is possible to remain faithful. Jude wrote to enable us to be faithful (v. 24). Since Jude wrote this warning epistle to Christians (v. 1), it must be possible for Christians to apostatize. May our Lord be able to say to each of us one day: "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Jude began his epistle by identifying himself, and by wishing God's blessing on his readers to prepare them for what follows.
The writer, "Jude," identified himself in a humble way. He could have mentioned that he was a "half-brother" of Jesus Christ, but he preferred to describe his relationship with Jesus as spiritual rather than physical (cf. James 1:1). "Bond-servant" or "servant" (Gr. doulos) means "slave."
"It is probable that since Jude is not mentioned within the Acts of the Apostles nor in any of the other books of the New Testament, he was not a leader in the early church. Therefore, it was quite natural to identify himself with one who was a leader in the church—his brother James."
Jude's threefold description of his readers is the first of many triads that distinguish the style of this letter. They present an impression of completeness and well-rounded thought. The Holy Spirit "called" Christians in the past (cf. v. 3), God the Father loves them in the present ("beloved in God the Father"; cf. v. 21), and the Son will keep them secure for the future ("kept for Jesus Christ"; cf. vv. 14, 21, 24).
"The knowledge of God's calling, loving, and keeping brings believers assurance and peace during times of apostasy.
"Each of these points in Jude's address seem to be alluded to later in the epistle: the calling may be hinted at in the words 'the salvation we share' (v. 3), the love of God is mentioned in verse 21, and the keeping power of Jesus may be implied in the words, 'as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life' (v. 21; cf. v. 24)."
"Kept" is a key word in this epistle, occurring five times (vv. 1, 6 [twice], 13, 21).
"Spiritually we are simply that which we have received, and Jude does not lose sight of this for a moment, even when he is insisting upon the importance of the human co-operation by which the work of grace is made complete."
v. 2 We need God's "mercy," in view of our exceedingly sinful condition. We need His "peace," in view of the subtle and stimulating temptations that surround us on every hand. And we need His "love," to sustain and encourage us in our spiritual warfare. Jude's readers needed all this help in view of the false teachers' influence, which he proceeded to discuss.
"They are not self-acquired Christian virtues, but the gifts of God, which, the author prays, may be abundantly bestowed upon his readers. Nevertheless, by a divine alchemy, the gifts of God are transformed into human characteristics."
Jude explained his reason for writing this letter, in order to introduce what follows and to impress the urgency of his subject on his readers.
v. 3 Most Spirit-led preachers have felt exactly how Jude said he "felt" in this verse. It is enjoyable to talk about salvation and other positive subjects. Nevertheless occasionally a particular situation compels us to speak about a danger that God's people need to appreciate. The presentation of this subject must sometimes be quite negative. Delivering such a message is not as pleasant a task.
The "faith . . . delivered (handed down) to the saints" is the special revelation of God that Scripture contains and the apostles preached (cf. Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 4:1). Jude's readers needed to struggle to maintain ("contend earnestly for") this "faith," as a champion athlete labors to dominate and to subdue his or her challengers (cf. 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; ; 2 Pet. 1:5).
"To 'contend earnestly for' (epagonizesthai) is an expressive compound infinitive which appears only here in the New Testament. The simple form of the verb (agonizomai), which appears as 'agonize' in its English form, was commonly used in connection with the Greek stadium to denote a strenuous struggle to overcome an opponent, as in a wrestling match. It was also used more generally of any conflict, contest, debate, or lawsuit. Involved is the thought of the expenditure of all one's energy in order to prevail."
"These efforts are, it is surely unnecessary to add, of a moral and persuasive nature only; all force of a physical nature being expressly forbidden the faithful. When Peter sought to defend the Lord with a sword he was rebuked for his pains; and in bidding him sheathe it, he forevermore made it clear that his followers are not to fight with carnal weapons in his behalf."
The phrase "once for all delivered" stresses the unalterable and normative character of this faith.
v. 4 "Certain persons" stands in contrast to the "saints" (v. 3). These people had "crept in" (NASB), or "wormed their way in" (NEB), to the churches (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1). John wrote that "many antichrists" had "gone out from us" (1 John 2:18-19). Here Jude wrote that "certain persons" had "crept in."
"They slipped in secretly (Jude 4; cf. Gal. 2:4) as itinerant preachers, a common part of first-century religious life (cf. Acts 13:15; 2 John 7-11; Didache 11.1-12; 13.1-7). Or they arose within the community itself and later quietly brought in heretical teachings from outside (2 Peter 2:1; cf. Acts 20:29-30; Rom. 16:17-18)."
"That which is peculiarly striking in the Epistle of Jude is that he pursues the corruption of the assembly from the creeping in of some unawares on to its final judgment, showing withal that it is not arrested but passes through its various phases to that day."
These people were tares among the wheat (cf. Matt. 13:24-25, 38-39).
"Jude's opponents are a group of itinerant charismatics who have arrived in the church(es) to which he writes. Everything else Jude tells us about them is related to their antinomianism, which is the target of his attack. They reject all moral authority, whether that of the law of Moses (vv 8-10) or that of Christ himself (vv 4, 8), even though they claim to be followers of Christ. . . .
"In line with their rejection of moral authority, they indulge in immoral behavior, especially sexual misconduct (vv 6-8, 10); in this they may be deliberately flouting accepted standards of Jewish morality and conforming to the permissiveness of pagan society."
This last quoted writer meant that the false teachers were "charismatics" in the general sense of that word: they possessed great powers of charm or influence. He did not necessarily mean that they believed in the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.
Probably God had "marked out" these opponents previously ("long beforehand") for "condemnation," in the sense that He knew of their sin long ago, and would some day punish them in the future for it. Another view is that other writers had sounded the warning about apostates. Prographo ("ordained") means "to write beforehand."
"This condemnation" refers to the sure punishment that lay ahead of them for their sin (cf. Matt. 7:15; Mark 13:22; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Pet. 2).
Jude's original readers could see the ungodly character of these people in two specific activities. First, they used the liberty from the Law of Moses ("grace of our God"), that Christians enjoy, as an opportunity for sensual indulgence and debauchery ("licentiousness," i.e., antinomianism). Gnostics were guilty of this, and their influence seems to be in evidence here and elsewhere throughout this epistle. However, others have disputed this inference.
Second, they denied their "only Master," God, and the "Lord," Jesus Christ, evidently by distorting the truth that Scripture reveals (cf. 1 John 2:22-23; Titus 1:16). In view of the Greek grammatical construction of this verse, "Master" seems to refer to God and "Lord" to Jesus Christ. However, many scholars believe that Jude had Jesus Christ in view in both of these titles.
Doctrinal deviation often accompanies and often justifies ethical and moral sin.
Jude cited three examples of failure from the past, to warn his readers of the danger involved in departing from God's truth. Divine judgment on flagrant evildoers is no novelty.
"Why this unchronological arrangement in This Epistle? There must be a purpose in it. We believe the arrangement is made in the manner as it is to teach us the starting point and the goal of apostasy."
Jude's introductory words were polite (cf. 2 Peter 1:12), but also a reminder that what he now said was factual beyond dispute. His readers knew "all" these things "once for all"—because God had communicated them "once for all" in Scripture (v. 3; cf. 1 John 2:20-21).
After God redeemed Israel and liberated the nation from bondage in Egypt, the people failed to continue to believe God's promises and to trust in His power (cf. Num. 14:11; Deut. 1:32). God judged "those who did not believe" by destroying them in the wilderness. He let that entire generation die, rather than bringing the unbelieving apostates into the Promised Land. Some of the false teachers in Jude's day evidently were Christians. That is a reasonable conclusion, since Jude compared them to the redeemed Israelites. They, too, were turning from continuous trust and obedience to God, and God would judge them as well.
Jude primarily wanted to point out the behavior of these false teachers, not to identify whether they were believers or unbelievers. Unbelief always results in some kind of destruction, whether the unbeliever is lost or saved. God definitely "destroyed" these unbelievers physically. He also destroyed them eternally if they were unsaved.
A group of "angels," also, did not remain in their privileged position near God ("did not keep their own domain"), but left that sphere ("abandoned their proper abode"), and so incurred God's wrath. Some interpreters believe Jude alluded here to Genesis 6:1-4 (but cf. Matt. 22:30). Others believe he was referring to the rebellion of some angels that resulted in Satan's expulsion from heaven. The second explanation seems more probable to me.
"Some persons grumble that Scripture does not in numerous passages set forth systematically and clearly that fall of the devils, its cause, manner, time, and character. But because this has nothing to do with us, it was better not to say anything, or at least to touch upon it lightly, because it did not befit the Holy Spirit to feed our curiosity with empty histories to no effect."
The apocryphal Book of 1 Enoch described this rebellion. Some scholars believe that Jude was quoting from this book. However, others say Jude was only confirming what it said. In either case, such a reference is not unusual in the New Testament (cf. Acts 17:28; et al.). Jude was not automatically ascribing divine inspiration to 1 Enoch by quoting or referring to it.
The rebellious "angels" he referred to are now in bondage ("in eternal bonds under darkness") and await ("for") God's "judgment" (cf. 2 Peter 2:4). These appear to be different "fallen angels" from Satan's agents who are at work in the world today, namely, the demons—who have considerable freedom.
Jude's point in this illustration was that the apostates in his day had also abandoned a position of great privilege and blessing, namely, the opportunity to serve and glorify God. God would also judge them severely because of their departure. All the angels who fell were not elect—unlike people, neither good angels nor bad ones can "get saved," but the bad ones will definitely "be lost"—punished forever. Perhaps the apostates in view here were unsaved, though God intended them, as well as the Israelites referred to previously, to be a group for His own possession.
This "example" shows God's judgment ("of eternal fire") on those who practice immorality and sexual perversion, which the false teachers of Jude's day evidently felt liberated to practice. The "fire" that burned up "the cities" of the plain was the instrument of God's punishment. That punishment will eternally burn against unsaved false teachers—who similarly disregard God's will (Rev. 20:15). Here Jude seems to have had in view false teachers who were unsaved.
Each one of these illustrations highlights a particular aspect of the false teachers' error. It was a sin of rebellion by professing, and perhaps genuine, believers. However, if some of the false teachers referred to are believers, then "eternal fire" must mean something other than "hell" for them, because no believer can go to hell. It was a proud departure from a position of superior privilege. Moreover, it involved immoral behavior, which the Gentile pagans practiced.
"When we examine these examples of the past, we discover that they are not chronologically arranged. . . . Why this unchronological arrangement in this Epistle? . . . We believe the arrangement is made in the manner as it is to teach us the starting point and the goal of apostasy. It starts with unbelief. . . . Unbelief leads to rebellion against God. . . . The predicted lawlessness with which this age ends is the fruitage of infidelity. Such is the development of apostasy. Unbelief, rebellion against God and his revealed truth, immorality and anarchy. These steps may be traced in our own times."
They are also observable in the history of Israel in the Old Testament.
Jude next expounded on the errors of the false teachers in his day, to warn his readers even more strongly. A feature of Jude's style is that he referred to certain Old Testament types (vv. 5-7 and 11) or prophecies (vv. 14-15 and 17-18), and then proceeded to interpret them as fulfilled by the false teachers (vv. 8-10, 12-13, 16, and 19).
v. 8 Jude now pinpointed the three errors he had just illustrated, and accused the false teachers of all three: lust (v. 7), rebellion (v. 5), and irreverence (v. 6). "By dreaming" probably refers to all three errors: "defile the flesh," "reject authority," and "revile angelic majesties." Jude might have meant that the false teachers justified their actions by citing visions and dreams they claimed to have had (cf. Col. 2:18), or that they presumptuously imagined themselves to be the ones in authority, and assumed a god-like authority over the real authorities.
"Their perverted views and unrestrained conduct made them like dreamers living in the arbitrary fancies of their own imagination; they substituted the unreal world of their fancies for the real world of divine truth and righteousness."
v. 9 The presumption of the false teachers stands out boldly in comparison with Michael's submission and reverence in dealing with another powerful angel, Satan.
"Michael the archangel" would not ("did not dare") treat "the devil" flippantly or condescendingly, or reply to him disrespectfully or rudely. How much more then should the false teachers submit to and respect God?
"The point of contrast between the false teachers and Michael is not that Michael treated the devil with respect, and the moral is not that we should be polite even to the devil. The point of contrast is that Michael could not reject the devil's accusation on his own authority. Even though the devil was motivated by malice and Michael recognized that his accusation was slanderous, he could not himself dismiss the devil's case, because he was not the judge. All he could do was ask the Lord, who alone is judge, to condemn Satan for his slander. The moral is therefore that no one is a law to himself, an autonomous moral authority."
It is also dangerous for us to confront Satan directly, and or to argue with him, since he is much stronger than we are.
Jude cited this incident as historical. The book from which he evidently got it was an apocryphal one: The Assumption of Moses.
v. 10 The "things" the false teachers did "not understand," but "revile[d]," probably refer to aspects of God's revealed will that they chose to reject (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7-16).
What the false teachers did understand ("know by instinct") was the gratification of the flesh, and that would "destroy" them.
"Their way of life is to allow the instincts they share with the beasts to have their way; their values are fleshly values; their gospel is a gospel of the flesh. Jude describes men who have lost all sense of, and awareness of, spiritual things, and for whom the things demanded by the animal instincts of man are the only realities and the only standard."
"Jude is stating a profound truth in linking these two characteristics together. If a man is persistently blind to spiritual values, deaf to the call of God, and rates self-determination as the highest good, then a time will come when he cannot hear the call he has spurned, but is left to the mercy of the turbulent instincts to which he once turned in search of freedom."
v. 11 "Woe to them" is an imprecation of doom (cf. Isa. 5:8-23; Hab. 2:6-20; Matt. 23:13-29; 1 Cor. 9:16; et al.). It is the opposite of a blessing.
"Cain's way" was the way of godlessness and sensuality, violence and lust, greed and blasphemy, that led to divine judgment. It was the way of pride. Cain wanted to earn a relationship with God by his works, and he became a hateful murderer.
"Balaam's error" was compromise with God's enemies, and teaching the Israelites that they could sin with impunity (Num. 31:16; cf. 2 Pet. 2:15-16; Rev. 2:14). He counseled the Midianites to seduce the Israelites to commit idolatry and fornication (Num. 31:16). His "way" was to use the spiritual to gain the material for himself. His "error" was thinking that he could get away with his sins. The false teachers also compromised God's truth in a way that involved idolatry and immorality. They would likewise perish under God's judgment, as Balaam did (Num. 31:8).
"Balaam stands for two things. (a) He stands for the covetous man, who was prepared to sin in order to gain reward. (b) He stands for the evil man, who was guilty of the greatest of all sins—the sin of teaching others to sin. So Jude is declaring of the wicked men of his own day that they are ready to leave the way of righteousness to make gain; and that they are teaching others to sin."
"A man can seek for something other than money, however. He can seek for prominence, for popularity, for fame, for applause, or for position. There are many different things which would put a man in the way of Balaam."
"Korah's rebellion" was against God and His appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1-35). The false teachers were also rebelling against God and His leaders, the apostles. Korah also "perished."
According to William Barclay, there was a sect of Gnostics called "Orphites," that regarded Cain, Balaam, and Korah as great heroes of the Old Testament. Barclay regarded much of what Jude wrote as polemic against Gnosticism.
Each of these three examples shows a different aspect of unbelief:
"Cain, to show the arrogance, malice, and false piety of apostates, the example of religious unbelief; Balaam, to show the avarice, subversiveness, and seductive character of apostates, the example of covetous unbelief; and Core [Korah], to show the factiousness and sedition toward rightful authority, the example of rebellious unbelief."
"Cain rebelled against God's authority in salvation, for he refused to bring a blood sacrifice as God had commanded. Balaam rebelled against God's authority in separation, for he prostituted his gifts for money and led Israel to mix with the other nations. Korah rebelled against God's authority in service, denying that Moses was God's appointed servant and attempting to usurp his authority."
v. 12 Five more illustrations, this time from nature, emphasize the seriousness of the false teachers' error (vv. 12-13):
The first illustration: Sunken rocks, or a coral "reef" that lies "hidden" under the surface of the water, can tear the bottom off a ship if the vessel unsuspectingly runs into it. Likewise, the false teachers could ruin a local church. They threatened the moral shipwreck of others. That some of the false teachers were believers, or at least professing believers, seems certain—since they were participating in the love-feast, the most intimate service of worship the early church practiced. The love-feast was a communal meal that included observance of the Lord's Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-22). "Caring for themselves" highlights the apostates' self-centeredness (cf. Ezek. 34:2, 8; Isa. 56:11; John 10:12-13).
The second illustration: Like clouds "without water," the false teachers attracted attention to themselves and promised refreshment, but they proved to be all show and no substance (cf. Prov. 25:14). In Palestine, summer clouds often add to the humidity, and consequently make the intense heat even more unbearable.
The third illustration: Farmers often dig trees that bear no fruit out of the ground. The false teachers bore no spiritual "fruit," and were incapable of bearing spiritual fruit; they were "twice (doubly) dead" (cf. Ps. 52:5; Prov. 2:22; Jer. 1:10; John 15:1-6). Another view is that "twice dead" means "dead" through and through. A third view is that it means "dead" in reality as well as in appearance. A fourth view is that it means presently "dead" in sin, plus destined for eternal death.
An "uprooted" tree is an Old Testament symbol of divine judgment (cf. Ps. 52:5; Prov. 2:22; Jer. 1:10). "Autumn" is literally late autumn in the Greek text, a detail that shows Jude believed he and his readers were living in the last days before the Lord's return. This viewpoint was common among the New Testament writers (cf. Rom. 13:11; 1 Pet. 4:7; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 2:18). Late autumn was the time when trees would have had no leaves—much less "fruit"—on their branches.
False teachers are (1) like "reefs" in that they can be destructive. They are (2) like "clouds" in that they can be disappointing. And (3) like "trees" they can be unproductive.
v. 13 The fourth illustration: "Waves" cast up bits of filth and debris onto the shore with their "foam" and flotsam (wreckage, refuse). Similarly, the false teachers spread evidence of their uncontrolled immorality and impurity ("their own shame")—wherever they went (cf. Isa. 57:20). This comparison emphasizes ". . . the restless and unrestrained nature of these men."
The fifth illustration: Some "stars" move about in the sky differently from the other stars. We now recognize these as "planets," and distinguish them from stars. Similarly, the false teachers behaved out of harmony with the other luminaries. The Greek word planetes, which transliterated means "planet," really means "wanderer." Long ago, stargazers observed that these "wanderers" across the sky were different from the fixed stars. Likewise, the false teachers had gone off course and had led people astray.
Another possible, though less likely, interpretation is that the reference is to comets or meteors or "shooting stars"—that flash across the sky but quickly disappear in darkness. The "black darkness," away from the Source of light, indicates the eternal ("reserved forever") punishment of those among them who were not Christians.
(4) Like "waves," false teachers can be defiling, and (5) like "wandering stars" (or "planets"), they can be unreliable and misleading.
vv. 14-15 Jude quoted loosely from a prophecy that "Enoch" gave, which stands recorded in the apocryphal "Book of 1 Enoch." This is the only place in Scripture where we read that Enoch was a prophet. He is the only individual who lived before the Flood that God identified as a prophet. Though God had not inspired that book, He led Jude to quote Enoch's prophecy. The Holy Spirit sometimes led Paul to quote pagan philosophers (cf. Acts 17:28). This was a prophecy of God's judgment that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ (cf. Matt. 24:30; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). As such it is the earliest recorded prophecy of the second coming of Christ. The unbelievers among the false teachers who are living in that period will be the objects of God's judgment then.
Jude's reference to Enoch as the "seventh (generation) from Adam" seems to support the idea that Genesis 5 records all the generations (i.e., it is a closed genealogy). However, critics of this view contend that Jude simply meant that Enoch was the "seventh" generation from Adam included in the biblical genealogy. They assume there were additional intervening generations that Moses did not mention in Genesis. Nevertheless, a careful reading of that genealogy shows that Moses left no room for omitted generations, though other biblical genealogies do contain gaps. A different explanation follows:
"However, a solution to the problem may rest in the fact that this alleged prophecy is a citation not from a single passage in Enoch, but from several, and it is probable that Jude also quoted the line 'the seventh generation from Adam' from Enoch 60:8. Thus Jude did not intend to refer to the Enoch of Gen 5, but referred entirely, even in the introductory line, to words found in the apocryphal Enoch. While the prophecy has no canonical status, its predictions are paralleled and supported by numerous Biblical passages, such as, Mt 25:31-46."
v. 16 Enoch spoke of the "words" and "deeds" of the "ungodly" in the quotation just cited. Jude commented further on the words and deeds of the contemporary false teachers in this verse. Like the former "grumblers," the false teachers in his day grumbled primarily against God.
They pursued their "lusts" for sensuality and gain (cf. vv. 4, 8, 10-11). Their "arrogant" words probably refer to what they claimed was true about God that contradicted apostolic revelation (cf. Dan. 11:36). Furthermore, they "flattered" people to obtain personal advantage (cf. James 2:1-13).
IV. EXHORTATIONS TO THE FAITHFUL vv. 17-23
Having warned his readers about the failures of false teachers, Jude proceeded to exhort them, positively, to move them to persevere faithfully—in spite of the danger that faced them.
vv. 17-18 "Forgetfulness of the teaching and warnings of God in Scripture is a major cause of spiritual deterioration. . . .
The term "apostles" here evidently refers to the Twelve plus Paul, rather than to the larger group of Christian leaders whom Jesus sent out with the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20). But the New Testament writers also called this larger group "apostles" (cf. Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). However, it was the smaller group of apostles, for the most part, that established the church on the "faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3). It is for that faith that Jude urged his readers to contend. The official apostles, therefore, seem to be in view here, rather than all those who functioned as apostles (lit. "sent ones").
Jude's quotation of the apostles' teaching (v. 18) seems to be a general summary rather than a specific reference. We find a similar statement in 2 Peter 3:3, and that too is probably a summary. Jude may or may not have been quoting 2 Peter 3:3 here. Many conservative scholars believe Peter wrote his second epistle after Jude.
The "last time" refers to the end of the historical period that encompasses the Church Age and the Tribulation. After this "last time" God will rule directly over humankind, first during the Millennium and then in the new heavens and new earth (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; et al.). It is the last time in relation to Jesus Christ's return to reign on earth.
The object of the "mockers'" mocking seems to be the revealed will of God (cf. Ps. 35:16; Prov. 14:6; 19:25; et al.).
v. 19 The false teachers' teaching divided the believers into two basic groups: those who remained in the apostles' teaching and those who departed from it. While they may have claimed to be the truly spiritual group, the false teachers were really "worldly-minded," sharing the viewpoint of unbelievers. In the case of the unbelievers, they were completely "devoid of the [Holy] Spirit." In the case of the saved apostates, they were "devoid" of the effective influence "of the [Holy] Spirit."
v. 20 The contrast Jude introduced with "But" distinguishes Jude's readers from the false teachers. As God's temples under attack by hostile enemy forces, we need to "build [ourselves] up," to "strengthen [ourselves] on [our] most holy faith"—spiritually (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9-17; Eph. 2:20-22; 2 Pet. 3:18).
This is the first of several commands, and it is a general order. What follows in verses 20b-21 clarifies how to do this.
"'Building up' (epoikodomountes) depicts this growth under the familiar figure of the erection of a house or temple. The compound verb points to the superstructure being reared on an existing foundation. The present tense underlines the fact that the building of a strong and stable Christian character is an ongoing process."
"Your most holy faith" is the faith "once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3). This is the foundation of our Christian life.
Second, true believers are not "devoid of the Spirit" (v. 19). We have Him and can "pray in" Him, namely, pray for God's help in harmony with the Spirit's desires (Eph. 6:18; Rom. 8:26-27; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 4:6). Or, to put it another way, to pray "in the element of His influence." Our greatest resource is God Himself. We secure His help through prayer.
v. 21 Third, we should "keep" ourselves in the sphere of "God's love" (vv. 1, 6, 13; cf. John 15:9; Rom. 5:5; 8:39). When we depart from His Word and His will, we erect barriers between ourselves and God—thus blocking the free flow of His love to us. We "keep" ourselves "in [His] love" by abiding in Him (John 15:9-10; 1 John 2:28).
Fourth, we should keep in mind and consciously look forward to the complete realization of our "eternal life" (cf. 1 John 3:2; Rom. 8:29). This will be the greatest manifestation of Jesus Christ's "mercy" to us as believers.
In other words, Jude exhorted his readers to keep their hope in view. We have only a short time to wait and to remain faithful.
"The Christian life is viewed as having an inward look relating to the development of character [v. 20], an upward look relating to communion with God [vv. 20-21], and a forward look being consummated in final glorification [v. 21]."
"The picture of the Christian life in terms of 'faith, hope, and love' (1 Cor. 13:13) is enriched by the addition of 'praying in the Holy Spirit.' There is also a carefully formulated reference to the Trinity: the Holy Spirit, the Father, and Jesus Christ."
v. 22 Fifth, Jude's readers were to tenderly help ("have mercy on") those of their fellow believers who were struggling, and perhaps stumbling, under the influence of the false teachers. Those in view "who are doubting" are earnest doubters who sincerely cannot decide between truth and error. They are wavering in their loyalty. We should not abandon these brethren, but compassionately seek to restore them.
v. 23 Sixth, Jude gave instruction concerning those believers who had already fallen under God's discipline by capitulating to false teachers. We should attempt to extract ("save") them from their error before their consequent judgment falls (cf. Amos 4:11; Zech. 3:2). "Fire" is symbolic of God's judgment in Scripture. Here Jude saw God's judgment coming on believers for yielding to sin or false teaching. And he also saw it coming on unbelievers.
In the case of those whom heresy has completely swept away, we should have pity on them, rather than condemning them without compassion. Moreover, we should regard them "with fear," not fear of being infected by physical contact with them, but fear of falling under God's displeasure and discipline if we embrace their error. We should avoid any contact with these people because of the corrupting influence they can have on us through their words and actions (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Thess. 3:14-15). The "garment" stands for those things affected by contact with fleshly behavior, such as: personal habits and practices, speech, companions, and the like. Scripture often uses garments as a symbol of what other people see, namely, our conduct.
"It is notable that with all of the blunt descriptions of false teachers, Jude gives us neither a command to confront these troublemakers (only to avoid them) nor a plan of disciplinary action. He simply indicates they are under the condemnation of God."
J. Sidlow Baxter gave good counsel, however:
"We must love, even while we contend against the errors of apostatisers [sic]. We must love their souls even while we oppose their words and deplore their ways. Sometimes it is delicately difficult to keep these separate, but the love of Christ in our hearts will put wisdom in our lips."
Jude concluded his brief epistle with a formal doxology. It included a prayer for his readers. The Apostle Jude wanted to assure them of God's ability to help them remain faithful—in spite of the apostasy that threatened them.
"The concluding doxology (vv. 24-25) is universally recognized as one of the fullest and most beautiful in Scripture. Stressing the security of the believer in the midst of apostasy, it brings the epistle to a marvelous conclusion."
v. 24 Our confidence rests in God's ability ("who is able") to "keep" us safe and faithful ("from stumbling . . . stand in [His] presence . . . blameless").
The Greek word translated "stumbling" implies the results of tripping, not only losing our balance, but also falling. "Blameless" (Gr. amomos) does not mean without sin. It means having no justifiable ground for accusation (cf. Col. 1:22; 2 et. 3:14; Rev. 14:5). When the blameless person sins, he confesses and forsakes his sin. Standing before the judgment seat of Christ is in view in this verse. This verse is not an unconditional promise that God will inevitably keep all believers from stumbling, either doctrinally or morally (cf. v. 21).
v. 25 Jude returned to his idea that the false teachers distorted—and their successors would continue to distort—the truth about God and Jesus Christ (v. 4). "Glory" is the effulgent radiance of God, "majesty" His transcendence, "dominion" His absolute power, and "authority" His freedom of action. These characteristics of God belong to Him eternally ("before all time and now and forever"). In view of God's changeless character, we should remain faithful as well.
"Jude . . . is a troubled pastor, anxious to shake the shoulders of his community to wake them up to the threats in their very midst. Some of Jude's scorching language can be tempered by realizing that in the ancient Mediterranean world such rhetoric in religious matters was common. But not all of Jude's passion can be explained away; for him, as for most of the early Church, faith in Jesus was a matter of life and death, and anyone or anything that threatened that life of faith was indeed a mortal enemy."
Is it possible for a genuine Christian to deny that the Jesus whom he or she once professed to trust for eternal life is the Son of God? There seem to be many examples of such people in the church today, for example: Christians who convert to Islam, some other major world religion, or a cult that denies the deity of Christ. Many Christian teenagers who go off to college become convinced, sometimes by a respected professor, that what they had formerly believed is not true.
Some would say that no genuine Christian would ever deny their faith in Jesus as the Son of God; such a person must never have been a believer in the first place. It is probable that many such people were never genuine Christians, only professing Christians. But Scripture does not seem to rule out the possibility of a genuine Christian becoming deceived by false teaching and changing his or her mind about Jesus Christ.
Therefore, a genuine Christian who denies the faith will not lose his or her salvation, because when a person trusts in Christ for salvation, God declares that one righteous, seals him or her with His Spirit, and promises that nothing will ever separate him or her from His saving love (cf. John 10:28; Rom. 8:31-39; et al.). That one is "kept for Jesus Christ" (Jude v. 1) and is born again (John 3:1-21). He or she can never become "unborn." As we are not saved by doing something good, neither can we be lost by doing something bad, though doing something bad is never God's will for His children.
Jude could have clarified that he was writing specifically about unsaved apostates, but he did not. He wrote to Christians, warning them of this possibility for anyone: Christians and non-Christians alike. That is why this epistle is so important.
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_____. "An Exposition of Jude 12-16." Bibliotheca Sacra 142:567 (July-September 1985):238-49.
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_____. Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary. Greenville, S.C.: Unusual Publications, 1989.
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Witmer, John A. "The Truth about Error." Bibliotheca Sacra 124:495 (July-September 1967):248-53.
Wolff, Richard. A Commentary on the Epistle of Jude. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960.
Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1954.
For discussion of the relationship of 2 Peter and Jude, see D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude, pp. 196-200; and Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, pp. 216-24.
E.g., Michael Desjardins, "The Portrayal of the Dissidents in 2 Peter and Jude: Does It Tell Us More About the 'Godly' Than the 'Ungodly'?" Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30 (June 1987):93-95.
See J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude, p. 252; J. B. Mayor, "The General Epistle of Jude," in The Expositor's Greek Testament, 5:257; and Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 4:531.
Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable