The final general epistle is the shortest section of scripture we’ll look at in this blog series. Jude only wrote one letter that we have in our Bibles, and it’s just 25 verses long. That will leave us with enough space in this post for a wrap-up looking at common themes in all the letters that we’ve been studying over the past month.
Before we dive into Jude, here are links to the posts on James’s, Peter’s, and John’s letters. As I mentioned in those posts, there’s evidence that when the books of the New Testament were first put together the order had these letters between Acts and Romans (click here to learn more). This meant that if you read straight-through the New Testament, you’d read the general epistles before getting to Paul’s letters. The general epistles give us a foundation for understanding the connections between Jesus’s teachings, the Old Testament, and our lives as New Covenant believers, all of which is essential for properly interpreting Paul’s more complicated teachings. We can think of the general epistles as a kind of pre-requisite course for understanding Paul.
The identity of Jude is as debated as that of James (see that first post for more detail), and people went back-and-forth for centuries on whether or not to include his letter in canon. Now, though, it is “generally received over the whole Christian world” (Clarke’s Commentary). This letter’s theme is similar to 2 Peter and, as we’ll see later in this post, it also connects to themes that all the general epistles share. Taken as a whole, the general epistles by all four writers connect the New Testament back to the Old Testament, warn about dangers from outside persecutions and from evil men working within the churches, offer hope and encouragement, and tell their readers to do good and keep the commandments of God.
Warnings and Punishments
Jude addresses his letter “to those who are called, wrapped in the love of God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1, all scriptures from NET). Like most other general epistle writers, he has a broad audience that includes all Christian believers. He said he’d planned to write “about our common salvation,” but even though that topic is exciting he felt compelled to write about something else. He wrote “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (1:3). The NET footnote on this verse says, “The verb ἐπαγωνίζομαι (epagōnizomai) is an intensive form of ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnizomai). As such, the notion of struggling, fighting, contending, etc. is heightened.” When Jude talks about us contending for our faith, he means we need to fight and struggle for it with focus and determination.
In this letter, Jude focuses his warnings and encouragement to fight on a specific problem: “ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into a license for evil and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (1:4). He further describes them as people who “as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones” (1:8). They are murderous, blasphemous, rebellious, spiritually dead, double-minded, unstable, and a danger to everyone they encounter (1:10-13). They’re
“grumblers and fault-finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain” (1:16). Jude elaborates on the dangers these people pose and the evil they’re practicing throughout most of this letter. By the end, there’s no danger that we could see those who try to undermine the church as anything other than a serious threat.
These warnings about those who’ve “secretly slipped in” to the churches are placed alongside reminders from Jude that people who do such wicked things won’t get away with them. He bids his readers remember “that Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” and references a couple other Old Testament examples as well (1:5-7). This verse is one of several in the New Testament that explicitly identifies Jesus as the member of the God family who worked directly with Israel. With this short phrase, Jude reminds us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and that He still values justice and judgement as well as mercy (Jude 1:14-15).
How Ought We Behave
Jude doesn’t just focus on scathing indictments of those seeking to undermine the church while pretending to be faithful believers. He also warns us about how to recognize those people and gives us guidelines for how we ought to respond. As part of this, he references a scene that we don’t get anywhere else in the Bible.
Jude tells his readers, “But even when Michael the archangel was arguing with the devil and debating with him concerning Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a slanderous judgment, but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!'” (1:9). This story serves two roles in Jude’s epistle. First, it shows that those who dare slander spiritual beings, even the wicked ones, have no idea what they’re messing with. Even angels don’t go up against the devil directly; they call on the Lord to rebuke him. Secondly, the story gives us hints for how we ought to respond when faced with wickedness. We, too, can call on the Lord to handle the matter of wicked beings, be they human or otherwise. That’s the safest and wisest thing to do. This is a good illustration to keep in mind when reading things Paul would later elaborate on, including the fact that we’re involved in spiritual warfare and that vengeance belongs to God, not us (Rom. 12:17-20; 2 Cor. 10:1-6; Eph. 6:10-20).
Finally, Jude ends his epistle with encouraging remarks. He’s confident that those he’s writing to are not part of the problem he’s describing. Rather, they’re part of the solution as they continue to build up their faith, pray in the Spirit, stay in God’s love, and practice mercy.
But you, dear friends—recall the predictions foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. For they said to you, “At the end of time there will come scoffers, propelled by their own ungodly desires.” These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit. But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, maintain yourselves in the love of God, while anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life. And have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh.
Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.Jude 1:17-25, NET
Common Themes in the General Epistles
As mentioned in the introduction, the general epistles all connect the Old and New Testaments, warn about dangers coming from inside and sometimes outside the church, offer hope and encouragement, and remind us to do good and keep the commandments of God. I won’t spend too much time on these shared points, but I want to make a few comments and share scriptures that show this overlap.
All the writers of the general epistles were very familiar with the writings we now call the Old Testament, and frequently reference the law and the prophets. Their insistence that Jesus did not do away with these writings and that we do well to read them today are a great foundation for understanding how Paul talks about the law operating on a spiritual level for New Covenant believers.
These four writers do not shy away from the fact that those who follow Jesus Christ will face opposition and trials. Most of them also talk about the possibility that theses trails will come from other people who are (ostensibly, at least) part of the church fellowship. These are warnings to help ensure that we don’t get caught off-guard by threats to our faith or discouraged when trials come.
It would be terribly depressing if all the general epistles focused on warnings and trials without offering hope and encouragement. All four of these writers encourage their readers to be ready, to hope in God, and to keep living faithfully. They also speak about the help God offers us, the certainty that He hears our prayers, and the wonderful future He has prepared for us. We are precious to God and He’s fully invested in us.
Finally, all four writers of the general epistles tell us that there’s something we’re expected to do. We need to love God and keep His commandments. That’s what shows our faith is real rather than just a surface-level thing that we talk about without actually practicing.
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