The New Testament book of Jude is a short but vivid account of what was happening in the first century Church of God. But it also contains a timely and powerful message for today's Christian!
I FEEL COMPELLED to make my letter to you an earnest appeal to put up a real fight for the faith which has been once and for all committed to those who belong to Christ" (Jude 3. Phillips translation). Many scholars believe that Jude's words were written relatively late in the first century A.D. Perhaps all of the original apostles except John were now dead. Jude's first intent was to write a letter about the common salvation given to Christians. but a newly developing situation had forced him to change his plans. Jude had become aware of the great need to earnestly appeal to Christians to contend or fight for the faith which had been delivered to them. Apostasy was fast setting in; men were turning to error and leading away disciples after themselves. The Church was being divided.
What Is the Faith?
Let's note carefully the meaningful words Jude used. He was urging them to defend the original faith they had been given. Many of these people had been converted by the preaching of Christ's apostles. Some may have even heard Christ Himself. They got the truth first-hand — directly from the apostles who had obtained it from Christ who had faithfully delivered it from God the Father. There was no question about what the faith was. It had been faithfully given to them! This faith, meaning in this sense the body of beliefs and practices handed down by the apostles, forms the essence of the meaning of God's Church. Together with the prophets. the apostolic teachings form the foundation of God's house — Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Any superstructure not built upon this foundation is false; it will not stand (I Cor. 3:10-15). So, then the faith which must be earnestly held on to and defended is that original set of beliefs handed down by Christ's apostles. Paul's writings are full of warnings of false teachers who sought to mislead the people of God. Paul was often amazed at how easy it was for the false teachers to deceive the ones he had nourished in the faith. He told the Galatians that he marveled at how soon they were removed from Christ's gospel and had accepted another (Gal. 1:6). The New Testament Church was constantly being harassed by false brethren who sought to mislead God's people. So we see that in just a few years the New Testament Church was facing great internal problems. It is no wonder that by the time Jude wrote his epistle, perhaps in the 70s or 80s. he had to urgently remind them to stand up for the truth which they had received from the apostles.
The Apostles' Teachings
But one may ask: What about us today? How can we know the truth? This world is filled with various religions, and even Christianity is divided and subdivided many times over. Upon what can we base our faith today? The answer is given by Paul, who told his fellow minister Timothy: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for resetting the direction of a man's life and training him in good living" (II Tim. 3:16, Phillips). To get back to the faith, to know and come to understand that faith, one must study the writings of the apostles and the prophets. It is the purpose of Scripture to give us insight into that original set of beliefs. God has not left us without a witness today. If Jude were alive today, he would say the same thing to us as he did to those first-century Christians. Stick with the teachings of Scripture. Don't follow contrary ideas; don't follow a man (I Cor. 3:21). The scriptural principle is to prove all things and hold on to only that which is good (I Thess. 5:21). It is in this vein that Jude urged: "... Build yourselves up on the foundation of your most holy faith and by praying through the Holy Spirit keep yourselves within the love of God" (Jude 20, Phillips). We have a persona l responsibility to attend to our own salvation (see also Phil. 2:12).
Principles of Error
While Jude's writings do not give a listing of the specific false doctrines he was combating, he does give us many categories and analogies which fit such false teachers. By wisely studying the rest of the Bible we can understand the context of Jude's statements. Jude likens these ungodly men to 1) the unbelieving Israelites who were destroyed in the wilderness, 2) the evil angels who rebelled against God, and 3) the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which perished because of their sexual sins (verses 5-7). Then in verse 8 he says: "Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities." Here Jude appears to reverse the order of verses 5-7. They "defile the flesh" like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. They despise government like the angels who rebelled against God. And they "speak evil of dignities" like those Israelites in the wilderness who continually rebelled against Moses. So here we have three main characteristics of those who were trying to introduce error into the Church. One: sexual sins. But as God views them, they are analogous to wrong relationships between His people and the world. James wrote: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). And is it not significant that the false Christianity of this world has political intercourse with the nations of the earth? Two: despising government. The evil angels were the first to attempt to usurp God's authority. Just as Satan tried to influence Eve to listen to him rather than God, so these false teachers tried to replace the authority of God. Jude had earlier plainly said that they "disown Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4, last part; see Weymouth, The New English Bible, Phillips, Moffatt and other modern translations of the Bible). They set themselves up as authorities in place of God and the teachings of Christ. Three: they speak evil of dignities. The wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness is a chronicle of rebellion against Moses. In like manner, these false teachers set themselves up against the Moses of the New Testament: Jesus Christ. Moses himself foresaw the coming of the great Prophet of the New Testament who would be like himself (Deut. 18:15). And Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, verified that Christ is that Moses (Acts 3:20-23). These false teachers sought to take the place of the Rock (Christ — I Corinthians 10:1-12; Deuteronomy 32). It is now Christ who is leading His Spirit-begotten people into the Promised Land (His Kingdom), and He is capable of doing this without fail: "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 24-25).
Three Examples of Error
Jude also uses three vivid examples from the Old Testament to clarify what type of individuals were worming their way into the Church. "Woe to them! for they have followed in the steps of Cain: for the sake of gain they have rushed on headlong in the errors of Balaam, and have perished in the rebellion of Korah" (Jude 11, Weymouth.) First: Cain. Cain is notorious for the slaying of his brother. In like manner, such false teachers are haters of the brethren and, as such, are murderers in the sight of God. The Apostle John, who lived to see the apostasy at the end of the first century, also vividly described these false teachers when he said: "Little children, let no man deceive you.... For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother.... we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (I John 3:7, 11-12, 14-15). By their false doctrine these false teachers were dividing the Church. And the true Christians were put out of the visible Church and the visible Church persecuted God's people. Already in the days of the Apostle John, at the end of the first century, an apparent elder by the name of Diotrephes cast out of the Church any of his people who would have fellowship with the disciples of John (Ill John 9-10). This trend continued and eventually many were following the errorists (II Pet. 2:1-2). Second: Balaam. The king of Moab hired the prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse upon the Israelites (Num. 22-24). Balaam lusted after the great wealth that the king wanted to give him if he would but curse Israel. Although God used him to utter inspired prophecy, Balaam led the Israelites into sexual sin and was later killed (Num. 31:8, 16). In like manner, these false men of the New Testament were after the money of the Christians for their own gain. Peter said they, like Balaam, "loved the wages of unrighteousness" (II Pet. 2:15). God's true ministers serve because they love the people. Three: Korah. Korah was jealous of Moses and sought to usurp his leadership (Num. 16). In the same way, these false ministers sought to usurp the leadership of the New Testament Moses: Jesus Christ. The Scriptures continually point out how Christ — and not any man — is the Head of His Church. We read that "God has placed everything under the power of Christ and has set him up as head of everything for the Church. For the Church is his body, and in that body lives fully the one who fills the whole wide universe" (Eph. 1:22-23, Phillips). And later Paul also says: "We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the crafty presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love" (Eph. 4:14-16, Phillips). How great a contrast to these false teachings which would enslave men to men! How much greater it is to recognize Christ as the living, active Head than some mortal man! Like Korah of old, these men set themselves up as equals of the New Testament Moses — Jesus Christ. But this Moses Himself prophesied of them: "In 'that day' many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we preach in your name, didn't we cast out devils in your name, and do many great things in your name?' Then I shall tell them plainly, 'I have never known you. Go away from me, you have worked on the side of evil!'" (Matt. 7:22-23, Phillips.)
For Us Today
The 1900 years since the writing of Jude has seen the apostasy grow and overwhelm the world. Many of the original teachings of Christ and the apostles have been forgotten in a parade of man-originated customs and doctrines. Now is the time to return to the faith which was truly once and for all delivered by Christ and the apostles. And the only true remedy is a sincere and willing heart coupled with a diligent searching of the Scriptures to see whether these things be so. In the final book of the Bible, Christ is pictured as standing in the midst of the seven candlesticks (Rev. 1:13). So we would be sure to understand, Jesus interprets the. meaning of the candlesticks for us in verse 20. They represent the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. It is to these seven churches that the message of Revelation is addressed. In the time of the Apostle John, these seven churches existed in the Roman province of Asia (now Asia Minor in western Turkey). And to these churches — and to future Christians — Christ addressed some dire warnings. Taken as literally applying to the seven extant churches at the time of John, we can only draw the conclusion that many were already showing growing signs of corruption and apostasy. But taken in the future sense, it bears a warning to Christians today to be alert and hear what Christ inspired John to write to the seven churches. And in this connection, note the manner in which Christ appeared in the midst of the seven candlesticks: "His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength" (Rev. 1:14-16). It is a God of power and might who stands in the midst of His churches. Risen from the dead, alive forever more, Ruler of the kings of the earth, from whose mouth issues a sharp two-edged sword! Such a graphic description of Christ was surely meant to inspire faith in His leadership, and by implication is a warning against those who would follow false doctrine and apostasy. But in spite of problems, we need not fail if we will but put our trust and hope in our Leader, the Moses of our exodus out of sin and into the Kingdom of God: Jesus Christ. "Moses was certainly faithful in all his duties in God's household, but he was faithful as a servant and his work was only a foreshadowing of the truth that would be known later. But Christ was faithful as a son in the household of his own Father. And we are members of this household if we maintain our trust and joyful hope steadfast to the end.... "You should therefore be most careful, my brothers, that there should not be in any of you that wickedness of heart which refuses to trust, and deserts the cause of the living God. Help each other to stand firm in the faith every day, while it is still called 'today' and beware that none of you becomes deaf and blind to God through the delusive glamour of sin.... "Let us then be eager to know this rest for ourselves, and let us beware that no one misses it through falling into the same kind of unbelief as those we have mentioned. For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword... it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man's heart. No creature has any cover from the sight of God; everything lies naked and exposed before the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 3:5-6, 12-13; 4:11-13, Phillips). It is this two-edged sword of His written Word which is still with us today, ready to weed out error in doctrine and to reset our direction. It is the only means whereby we can know, and be sure that we know, the faith which was once and for all delivered to God's people.