Background of Jude
Author, Date, and Recipients
The book was written by Jude, the brother of James and Jesus (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3, where “Judas” is the same in Greek as “Jude”). Jude was probably written in the mid-60s AD. Considering the letter’s apparent Jewish perspective, Jude’s audience was probably Jewish Christians, or a mixture of Jewish and Gentile readers where the Gentiles were familiar with Jewish traditions.
Since Jude addresses a situation similar to the one addressed by 2 Peter and exhibits a literary relationship to ch. 2 of that letter (Jude may have been a source for 2 Peter), the two letters are commonly dated in fairly close proximity, even though evidence for the date of writing within the book of Jude is sparse.
The church must defend the one true faith (Jude 1:3). Believers must be faithful to the end by resisting false teachers and following the truth.
Purpose, Occasion, and Background
Jude warns against following false teachers who have infiltrated the church and are distorting the one true faith. Jude calls the church to defend the truth aggressively against such false teaching.
While the false teachers of Jude were profoundly libertine (morally unrestrained), it would be historically inaccurate to argue that they were Gnostics. This heretical sect (or group of sects) was influential primarily from the second century AD onward.
Jude accomplishes his purpose by drawing analogies with Old Testament events, using the same principles of interpretation found in 2 Peter (and elsewhere in the New Testament). He also draws on Jewish apocalyptic traditions from nonbiblical literature (he refers to 1 Enoch and the Testament of Moses) in building his case. Thus, as literature, Jude has a distinctively Jewish flavor.
The format is of a New Testament epistle (letter), with its loose divisions of salutation, body, and closing. But the central unit of the letter (Jude 1:5–16) fits the style of a judgment oracle: it has an object of attack, an attack coming from several directions, a harsh tone, and an implied standard on which the attack is being conducted (“the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”; Jude 1:3). The description of those who left the faith (Jude 1:8–16) provides a picture of their character and actions. The use of images and allusions (e.g., to Sodom and Gomorrah and the archangel Michael) lends a poetic quality to the letter.
The writer displays horror over the apostasy and the false teachers who have caused it. The only New Testament passage that goes beyond Jude in these traits is Jesus’ denunciation of the religious leaders in Matthew 23. But this letter begins with the usual soothing notes of New Testament epistles, and in the last two verses it becomes one of the most moving benedictions in the New Testament.
1. Christians need to defend the doctrines of the faith (Jude 1:3).
2. False teachers may be identified by their immoral character (Jude 1:4, 8, 10, 12–13, 16, 18–19).
3. God will judge false teachers (Jude 1:4, 5–7, 11, 14–15).
4. Saints must endure to be saved (Jude 1:17–23).
5. As God grants mercy to those who are called, they must show mercy to others (Jude 1:2, 21–23).
6. God grants the grace to ensure that his people will persevere (Jude 1:1–2, 24–25).
I. Initial Greeting (vv. 1–2)
II. Jude’s Appeal: Contend for the Faith (vv. 3–4)
III. The Immoral Character and Resulting Judgment of the False Teachers (vv. 5–16)
IV. Concluding Exhortations (vv. 17–25)
The Global Message of Jude
The global message of Jude is that the church must work, locally all the way up to internationally, to defend the faith. For false teaching leads to immorality, but true believers will persevere, by God’s grace, to the end.
Jude and Redemptive History
Despite its brevity, Jude’s letter is filled with a rich awareness of the history of salvation that God has been working out through the ages. Jude speaks of the “common salvation” that “was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), reminding his readers of the faith that has been handed down through the generations. Throughout the letter Jude then refers to several figures and places in Old Testament history, such as Adam, Cain, Moses, Balaam, Enoch, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt.
Jude is also aware that in his own time something decisively new has dawned. With the coming of “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4), salvation has been revealed in a clearer and more abundant way than ever before. Indeed, we are now “in the last time” (Jude 1:18). The new age has begun. The newness of Christ’s coming has strong connections, however, with the past. For Christ himself, the second Person of the Trinity, was active in Old Testament redemptive history. Jude refers to him as the one who saved Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt, and then destroyed the rebellious (Jude 1:5).
Universal Themes in Jude
Defending the Faith
Jude opens his letter by exhorting his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The need for such contending arises not from the world but from within the church—“certain people have crept in” (Jude 1:4). Many of the greatest dangers to the church around the world come not from outside her walls but from inside. As Jesus said, there are wolves in the church that look like sheep (Matthew 7:15). Despite acting subversively rather than openly, false teachers can easily be identified by their godlessness. They are “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires” (Jude 1:16). Jude reminds his readers, and us, that the apostles predicted that such false teachers would arise (Jude 1:17–18). The church must not be swept into falsehood and godlessness but must persevere in the love of God (Jude 1:21), receiving mercy from Jesus and extending mercy to others (Jude 1:22–23).
The Nature of Grace
The false teachers who have infiltrated the church “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 1:4). The gospel is so radical, justifying the ungodly (Romans 4:5), that taking grace in this godless direction has been a perennial danger to the church. Paul seems to have combatted this error in Romans (Romans 5:20–6:23). Yet the grace of God, when truly received and enjoyed in all its freeness by the power of the Holy Spirit, does not encourage sinning. It rather transforms sinners and gives them a distaste for sin. Jude returns to the nature of true grace at the end of his letter when he reminds his readers of “the love of God” and “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:21) in the context of exhorting them toward holiness (Jude 1:22–23; contrast Jude 1:16). God’s grace is not a license to sin. For grace is not only a pardon that forgives but a power that transforms. It cannot be one without the other.
The Global Message of Jude for Today
“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The church today does well to receive this exhortation. Amid the swirling and conflicting claims to truth in the world today, including even the claim that no one religion can claim the full truth, the church must contend for the faith. This especially includes contending for truth within the church itself, protecting believers against false doctrine. For false doctrine always brings godlessness along with it.
At the same time, we note what Jude says immediately prior to exhorting the church to contend for the faith. He begins, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3). Jude did not write the letter he wanted to write. He wished to write a letter that exulted in those things about which he and his readers agreed.
This is instructive for the church today. We must contend for the faith, yet we must avoid the word-wars and quarrels against which the New Testament warns us (1 Timothy 4:6–7; 6:3–4; 2 Timothy 2:14, 23–26; Titus 3:9; James 4:1). Our first impulse should be to exult together in our common salvation. As believers today from across the globe interact with one another—interaction that is increasingly possible in this digital age— our instincts must be those of Jude. We must not hesitate to contend for the faith when it is endangered by false teaching.
Yet there is a common salvation that all true believers share, and we should rejoice over that. Many secondary matters may distinguish us: ethnicity, political persuasion, social class, worldview assumptions, denominational affiliation. But we are one in Christ, all saved by grace into his body, the church.
Through it all, the grace that has rescued us, says Jude, will preserve us. God in his mercy will not only transform us; he himself will also keep us from stumbling and present us before his divine glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 1:25).