April is L-Plate month, where I’ve turned over this website to my students. They are studying an introductory preaching subject this semester, and writing for this website is part of their assessment, as well as a learning exercise for them. I’m hoping you’ll interact with them a bit via the comments function at the bottom of each post, offering some feedback. (Particularly, feedback that’s constructive or affirming – they’ve got me to deliver the negative stuff! Remember, some of them will never have preached before, and some have English as their second language.) They will then incorporate this feedback in a sermon they present in class at the end of semester.
Today, we begin looking at the short epistle of Jude.
Jude 1-16 | Andrew Smith
If you have an email address, it’s likely that you’ve received spam emails promising you millions of dollars from a long-lost relative (or the king of a small African country) in exchange for your bank account details! Believe it or not, these scams are very successful. It’s estimated that one in ten people have been caught by these scams, often with disastrous consequences. It seems that we are vulnerable to a scam, especially if we are caught in a moment of distraction or weakness. In the passage that we are looking at today, Jude writes to a church that has had false teachers emerge from within its midst. He urges the church not to be fooled by these scammers, but to hold to the true gospel.1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. 5 Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. 8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. 9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. 11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. 14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.
In verse 3 Jude explains that he had wanted to write to the church with joy “about the salvation we share”, but has had to change plans because “certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (v.4). It appears that false teachers had secretly emerged in the church, teaching that the forgiveness of God was an open license to sin, and in particular to indulge in the sins of the flesh. Not only that, these teachers “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord”, questioning the authority of Jesus to demand obedience from his followers.
Jude knows this is a dangerous situation. And so he writes to the church urging them “to contend for the faith” (v.3) – not just resist what the false teachers say, but to energetically and passionately fight “for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people”. Jude wants his readers to actively fight for the truth of the gospel. This challenge is equally relevant for us today. Do you passionately defend the truth of the gospel in our post-modern world – a world that denies the very existence of truth? Do you care about the purity of biblical teaching in your church? How do you respond to those who try to discredit the Bible or teach “cheap grace”, a Christian life that doesn’t require obedience or sacrifice? Do you contend for the truth?
Jude realises what a serious threat these false teachers present. Salvation is at stake! And so, in the following verses he reminds his readers, and us today, of how serious it is to abandon the truth and fall away from God, and of the ultimate condemnation that awaits these scammers. At first glance these verses seem awfully confusing – we have lots of Old Testament references (some more than a little obscure), and even prophecies from Jewish books written between the Old and New Testaments! But these verses make more sense when we understand what Jude is trying to do. He connects notorious sinners from the past with the present day false teachers, showing that the only way to respond to these false teachers that had infiltrated the church was to reject them.
In verse 5 Jude kicks off the first of these examples – the people of Israel who were delivered from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites became dismayed at the strength of the people occupying the land that God had promised to give them, and failed to trust God to give them victory. As a result, the entire generation was sentenced to die in the desert. In verse 6, Jude refers to the rebellion (and judgement) of angels who abandoned heaven and God’s authority to take human wives (which is described in Genesis 6:1-4). Then in verse 7, Jude reminds the church of the judgment declared on Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual immorality and perversion – exactly what was being practiced and encouraged by the false teachers. Like these examples from the past, modern day false teachers who abandon the truth of God will face judgment. In verse 9, Jude then contrasts the false teachers, who presumptuously slander God, with the archangel Michael, who wouldn’t even rebuke Satan without God’s authority!
Before we move on, it is worth stopping for a moment to note what these false teachers based their heresy and immoral behaviour on – “the strength of their dreams” (v.8). This should serve as a warning to us today, where many individuals and churches place enormous weight on visions and prophecies. Whilst scripture shows that God often communicated in visions, it also recognises that people can misuse this by making phoney claims of visions from God (even to justify dubious or immoral behaviour). Whilst we shouldn’t reject visions altogether, we must insist that any visionary or prophetic message is subject to the scrutiny of other Christians and conforms to the truth of God revealed in scripture.
Returning to our passage – Jude isn’t finished with these false teachers, and launches again! Like his first attack, in verse 11 he begins with three Old Testament examples. He says that the false teachers “have taken the way of Cain” and attacked those more righteous than themselves, “have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error” and are in it for the money, and, in the footsteps of Korah (who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16:1-2), have rebelled against the true teachers of the church and encouraged others to do the same. Along with these examples, Jude describes the false teachers with six powerful metaphors. Like a hidden reef, they lie in wait to bring destruction on the faithful. They look out only for themselves, fail to deliver on their promises, are fruitless, practice shameful deeds and are unstable.
Jude concludes his condemnation of these false teachers with a prophecy from the intertestamental Jewish book 1 Enoch (a first-century best-seller if you like!). Jude uses this prophecy (v.14-15) to reinforce his two key points: that the false teachers are ungodly (notice the repetition in verse 15) and will ultimately suffer the Lord’s condemnation and judgment.
This reminder of the Lord’s coming judgment should cause us to seriously examine ourselves. As believers, this judgment shouldn’t hold any fear for us – in fact Jesus’ return is the hope that keeps us going in the midst of difficulty and spurs us to live a life of holiness! However, the certainty of Christ’s judgment must shape the way we live. As people who know that “salvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12), we must contend for and proclaim the true and living gospel, despite attacks from those inside and outside the church.