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The only feature in the Epistle which could identify the author is that Jude states that he is the brother of James. As James himself is not identified in any other way it is supposed that he was the well- known James who was the half-brother of the Lord Jesus. If that be so, Jude was in the family in Nazareth and grew up with the Lord, observing Him closely. It is noteworthy that he does not claim any high position amongst the saints a result of this, but merely states that he is the "servant of Jesus Christ" (v.1).
The time of writing
There is no indication in the text as to when the epistle was written, but it is evident that "the faith" (v.3) was under attack. Therefore, although we do not know the date, we do know the nature of the times in which it was written.
The purpose of writing
This is expressed clearly in vv.3-4. There were men who had come into the assemblies in a way which did not create any doubt as to the reality of their faith. However, subsequent events had revealed that these men were teaching and promoting false doctrine. Their "doctrine" therefore had a three-fold character.
This teaching struck right at the heart of the gospel and could not be regarded as being insignificant. The censure that comes from the pen of the writer reveals the importance of the issues. Let us all be aware that doctrine is important and it behoves believers to study the Word of God so that the false can be recognised and not be regarded simply as "another way of looking at things".
The recipients of the letter
No specific location is indicated. It was a letter for general use. Those to whom it was directed are described as being "sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called". They were Christians who had come to know the "common salvation": that which was possessed by all who had accepted the gospel.
The content of the letter
In addition to what has already been seen, the urgency of Jude cannot fail to be noticed. False teachers must not be left to carry on their evil work, and the saints cannot be left under their influence. These purveyors of lies have to be revealed for what they are. Thus, "it was needful" (v.3) for him to write.
The writer now turns to the subject of the judgment that will come to those who "crept in unawares. Their judgment is predictable, and to back this up he cites examples of the judgment of God which had fallen on others in the past. In view of this, the seriousness of the sin of these teachers is such that Jude is at pains to show what is their character and that their judgment is predictable. God, in the past, did not fail to judge evil. Three examples are given, each with a more severe judgment than the one preceding it.
The first group are the Children of Israel who left Egypt but did not believe, and they were destroyed in the wilderness and never entered the land of Canaan. Their refusal to enter, despite the report of Joshua and Caleb, resulted in the death of almost a whole generation.
The second group are angels which left the estate into which they had been placed. It is possible that this refers to those fallen angels who sought to corrupt humanity prior to the Flood. These are reserved in chains of darkness.
The third refers to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah whose fornication and unnatural sexual behaviour led to their being destroyed, but note that what they will endure is more than the destruction of their cities, it is eternal fire.
The behaviour of these three groups mirrors the behaviour of the false teachers. They defile the flesh, promoting that which is immoral, they despise dominion in that they deny the only Lord God, and they speak evil of dignities, again in how they deal with the person of the Lord Jesus. Jude points out that even Michael the archangel would not speak evil of the devil, but in contending with him only said, "The Lord rebuke thee". He would leave the issues with the Lord.
But note also that judgment is personal. Three further examples from the Old Testament are noted to show that the judgment of God does fall individually. Cain, Balaam, and the sons of Korah are all examples of individuals bearing the judgment of God for their sins. It cannot be thought that such a judgment is escapable. The "way of Cain" is the way of the unbeliever. Cain was not a man of faith. The sacrifice which he brought to the Lord (Gen 4.3), and his refusal to respond to the word of God (Gen 4.7), with the subsequent murderous act against his brother, all combine to emphasise his unbelief. The Lord "set a mark upon Cain" (Gen 4.15) so that no one who found him would kill him. The judgment of Cain was to be left to the Lord alone.
The account of Balaam and his work (Num 22-24; 31.8) reveals that, under the instruction of Balak, king of Moab, he sought to curse Israel (Num 22.6). The Children of Israel were not aware at the time of this activity and in this way he pictures those in the spirit world who seek to disrupt and destroy any work that is for the glory of God. Due to the direct intervention of God Balaam was unable to carry out his evil designs to curse the nation, but the Adversary sought to carry out by corruption what he could not achieve by cursing (Num 25.1-18). In this he was also unsuccessful due to the courageous and timely intervention of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest. The motive of Balaam in becoming involved in such a scheme is revealed by Jude; he did so for material gain and advantage. "The error of Balaam" was his desire for reward, just as the false teachers had material gain as part of their motives.
The "gainsaying" or "presumptuous rebellion" of Korah is next brought to the attention of the reader. This was a most serious uprising (Num 16.1-50) when Korah (spelt Core in Jude), who was a Levite, of the family of Kohath, and thus responsible for carrying the Ark and the holy vessels through the wilderness, rebelled with others against Moses and the Aaronic priesthood. This resulted in their destruction as the "earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up" (Num 16.32).
But, lest any consider that there may be a way of escape from such condemnation, Jude explains that judgment is promised. Enoch prophesied that the Lord Jesus would return and carry out this judgment. This is the earliest recorded prophecy of this great event (even although it was not written into Scripture until this relatively late date in the writing of the Word of God).
Lest any be discouraged by what has been written, Jude now reminds the readers that the present difficulties were not unexpected. The apostles taught that such men would arise. This should encourage us even today as we look around and see departure from the Scriptures. The Lord is not taken by surprise by such events and will act to preserve testimony on earth. There is no promise that the path will be easy, but He has promised that He will be with those who preach the gospel until the end of the age (Mt 28.20).
There has to be more, however, than resisting false teaching: there has to be personal spiritual growth. Thus it is that the closing exhortation is for saints to build themselves up, and to keep praying and relying on the Lord for it to be done. This will enable the readers to help those who have fallen under the influence of the false teachers.
The closing greetings are a reminder that there is One who can keep us from falling, and His power is available to us at any time.
Let us take away the lesson that doctrine is important and that what people belief is not, in the Christian faith, a matter of choice. We live in a day when firm principles are not popular in the world, but positive, unchanging beliefs are part of being a Christian. Doctrine is not only important; doctrine based on the revealed teaching of the Word of God is vital!