Big Lessons from Small Books #5: Jude
(This series of articles is designed to reveal the beauty found within some of the smaller texts within our Bibles, and to whet our appetites for closer, more devoted study of every corner of our scriptures.)
Jude is often the book overlooked on the reader’s way to Revelation, and yet Origen regarded this tiny book as “a production full of heavenly grace”. How often have students of the Bible neglected giving their full attention to books like Jude? This is a shame, for in these 25 short verses we are given one of the most interesting chapters in the New Testament.
“Three is a Magic Number”
The central point of the book is Jude’s appeal for Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v.3b), in contrast with those who would pervert the truth and lead others astray. When we examine how Jude’s short letter was written, some patterns begin to emerge that are fascinating to consider.
Jude’s epistle repeatedly groups phrases, descriptions, and examples into sets of three. This begins as early as v.1: “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” (1b). This happens again in v.2: “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” For this to happen only twice would be hardly noteworthy, but when this occurs again in v.5-7, where Jude gives three examples of the consequences of leaving the truth and being destroyed (the Jews, the angels, and Sodom/Gomorrah), and in v.11 with three examples of not heeding God’s authority (Cain, Balaam, and those who followed Korah), the reader does well to take notice.
Upon closer examination, the reader will see three descriptions of people who are designated for condemnation in v.4: “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” And again in v.19, with three descriptions/qualities of scoffers: “It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” Finally, in the very last verse of the book Jude uses the three-fold description of the reign of God in the same way most use the phrase “past, present, and future”: “…before all time, and now and forever. Amen.” (25b)
Man’s Reliance on Feeling, Intuition, and Instinct
Jude makes a profound statement on the source of unbelief and faithlessness in v.8-10. The preceding section demonstrates the severe consequences of leaving the truth, which could inspire a very natural question: how does one leave the truth? Why did the Jews leave the truth about God? Why did the angels leave their proper place? Why did Sodom and Gomorrah pursue “unnatural desire”? The next section (v.8-10) answers these questions.
First, notice what those of “like manner” are doing in v.8: “relying on their dreams”. They begin holding to doctrines and beliefs that are the fruits of their own imagination rather than relying on the truth that comes from God. In this way mankind chooses to defile their own flesh, to reject authority, and blaspheme all their superiors (Jude 1.8). By doing this, mankind oversteps the boundary that even Michael the archangel honored during his dispute with Satan. Furthermore (v.10), by doing this mankind becomes more alike to unthinking animals rather than those created in the image of God. When men leave the truth of God and begin following their own logic/feelings/intuition, those are precisely what destroy them in the end. “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10.23)
Jude goes on to give three well-known examples of individuals who forsook the truth in favor for their own feelings and logic. Cain forsook God’s authority and decided himself that Abel should die, a crime for which he wandered the earth the rest of his life (Genesis 4). Balaam was clearly commanded to not go with the Moabites in Numbers 22.12, and yet because of his greed Balaam in Numbers 22.18-19 does not simply send away the 2nd wave of leaders but decides to test whether God would change his mind. The rebellion led by Korah against the leadership of Moses (and therefore, by God) in Numbers 16 is a clear rejection of God’s authority in favor of human reasoning.
“As they feast with you”
Verse 12 begins a seven-fold description of these types of people with a troubling proclamation: “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear…”. While the nature of the “love feast” may be a topic of discussion, the real point here is the placement of those who are like Cain, Balaam, and Korah: “with you”! These people are not in faraway lands or in distant spiritual backwaters, they are among you now!
Jude indicates that they are very promising at least initially yet are without fruit or benefit. Note the six descriptions in v.12-13 followed by the seventh final “woe” in v.14-15: “hidden reefs…shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds…fruitless trees…wild waves of the sea…wandering stars”. Verses 14-15 gives the final and most severe description: those upon whom God would execute judgment at the hands of 10,000 of his holy ones. Another natural question arises here: how can one know who these people are? Verse 16 would seem to give the reader some clues to this effect. “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.”
What Can We Do?
There are three key ideas that are repeated in Jude’s epistle: Keep/Kept, Remembrance, and Mercy.
Jude ends his three-fold description of Christians with the phrase “kept for Jesus Christ” (v.1). When his praise to God begins in v.24 he returns to this idea: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling”. What must a people who are kept for Christ and are kept from stumbling by the Father do? “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (v.20-22). This is not to say that we are kept in God’s love through sufficient effort on our behalf, but instead that Christians are to not abandon their love of God for any reason. If Christians will grow and develop and strengthen their love for God, they will be kept by their Father from stumbling into the darkness that Jude spends much of the book describing.
Twice in this epistle Jude seeks to call his readers into remembrance of what is important. “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…” (v.5a). The first thing Jude wants the reader to remember is what happens when you leave the “faith that was once delivered to the saints” (v.3). In short, you are deceived, unfruitful, and destroyed! The second thing Jude seeks to remind them of is in v.17: “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostles long before said that many would turn to themselves rather than to the LORD. They would divide, become worldly, and forsake God in favor of their own lusts. If the Christian will remember this, it will serve both as an encouragement to keep fighting the good fight, as well as a warning to not defect to the world!
In v.21-23, Jude stresses that mercy must be a central aspect of the Christian’s life. This is in keeping with the first request found in v.3: “May mercy…be multiplied to you.” Christians are those who are “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life”. As a result, Christians are a people who “have mercy on those who doubt” (v.22) as well as showing mercy “to others…with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (v.23) We are cautioned elsewhere in the Bible to be merciful by passages such as James 2.13 and Matthew 18.33. When we peer into the bottomless depths of the mercy God has shown us, we are motivated and compelled to show that same mercy to others. When we forget His mercy, we forget to show mercy to others and in turn forsake our own. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5.7)
If nothing else, let this article and the articles in this series serve as a gentle yet firm warning to those who would study the Bible. Do not overlook any book of the Word of God. Our Lord is most certainly capable of saying as much in two words as in two hundred. Study the little books as diligently and seriously as the larger texts. Dive down and see what scriptural pearls lay at the bottom.