by Rev. Julian Duckworth
The epistle of Jude is one chapter of 25 verses, which appears to be an encyclical letter, meaning that it is not addressed to a particular community but is to be read in all the church communities. When we see the reason for this letter, it is understandable that it is to be so widely read. Its dating is uncertain but probably between 70 and 125 AD. The later dating is due to references to the apostles and the high quality of the original Greek.
There are several direct similarities to some of the 2 Peter epistle and it is felt that it was written later than 2 Peter because it is considerably shorter. They both quote several non-canonical texts.
After the opening salutation and greeting, there is an urgent call for the communities to detect and contend earnestly for the faith against heresies and false infiltrations which have come about because “certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v4)
The young Christian church was considerably affected by contact from outside of itself and also from attempts to infiltrate into the church by those same sources. Judaism was one, and also Roman and Greek beliefs. The main one was Gnosticism which sought to bring hidden occult knowledge into Christian beliefs. There were also those who indulged in sensual pleasures without any moral standards, and also there were false teachers who sought to twist the basis of belief and faith. The early church came to see how strong these influences were that could have fundamentally altered Christianity from then on.
The pattern of the presentation of these wrongs comes in two groups of three examples. The first set – from 5 to 7 – is made up of first, Israel’s later unfaithfulness for which they were destroyed, after they had been saved by God out of Egypt. Then those angels who left their own place are kept in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Thirdly, Sodom and Gomorrah, after falling into sexual immorality and all things of this, are set as examples and suffered the vengeance of eternal fire.
This is followed by the curious reference of how Michael the archangel contended with the devil and did not bring a reviling accusation against him but just said, “The Lord rebuke you!” This is given to show the example of care and restraint. But these people – the infiltrators – speak evil of everything, of what they do not know and they themselves grow corrupt. Their actions are described with great vehemence, likening them to clouds without water and twice dead fruit trees without fruit, raging seas which foam up their own shame and wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
This second set ends with words from the non-canonical book of Enoch against such wrongdoers: that they shall receive judgment and all ungodliness shall be convicted. “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of His saints”.
Verse 17 begins with the call of the writer to the beloved first to remember the words of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ that there would be mockers with their own lusts, sensual persons who create division, not having the Spirit. The beloved are then exhorted to build up their own faith and remain in the love of God, to have compassion when it is warranted, but on others to save them with fear, which means having a fear for their souls.
The last two verses form a remarkably fine doxology, thought by some to be among the best in the Bible.
The epistle of Jude was doubted as to its inclusion in the canonical books of the New Testament for a very long time but eventually more and more church leaders agreed to its inclusion. This demurring was due to the outside references to non-canonical books but its strong message and warning must have overridden this hesitation.