In the New Testament, the book of Jude is a short but vivid account of what was happening to the first century Church of God. But it also contains a timely and powerful message for God’s Church today.
“I feel compelled to make my letter to you an earnest appeal to put a real fight for the faith which has been once and for all committed to those who belong to Christ” (Jude 3 Phillips translation).
Many scholars believe that Jude’s words were written relatively late in the first century. With the exception of John, perhaps all of the original apostles were now dead.
Jude’s first intent was to write a letter about the common salvation given to Christians. But a newly developing situation forced him to change his mind. Because apostasy was fast setting in, Jude encouraged Christians to contend or fight for the faith which had been delivered to them. Men were turning to error and leading away disciples after themselves, the Church was being divided.
Jude was urging them to defend the original faith they had been given. Many of these people had been converted by the preaching of Christ’s apostles. Some may have even heard Christ Himself. They got the truth firsthand, directly from the apostles who had obtained it from Christ, who had faithfully delivered it from God the Father.
The faith Jude was talking about meant the body of beliefs and practices handed down by the apostles. Together, with the prophet’s and the apostle’s teachings form the foundation of God’s house, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).
Notice what Paul wrote about this foundation: “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:10-15).
Any superstructure that is not built upon this foundation is false, and it will not stand. So, then, the faith which must be earnestly held on to and defended is that original set of beliefs handed down by Jesus’ apostles.
The apostle Paul’s writings are full of warning of false teachers who sought to mislead God’s people. The book of Galatians tells us how amazed Paul was at how easy it was for the false teachers to deceive the ones he had nourished in the faith. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed (or turning away) from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another (or different) gospel” (Gal. 1:6).
The New Testament Church was constantly being harassed by false brethren or teachers who sought to mislead God’s people.
Jude probably wrote his letter around 70-80 A.D., so you can see that it wasn’t that long after the Church was started on Pentecost 31 A.D. There were great internal problems that these men were facing, so Jude was trying to warn the people to stand up for the truth which they had received from the apostles.
But what about us today? How can we know the truth? As we look around this world today, we can see various religions, and even so called Christianity is divided and subdivided many times over. Upon what can we base our faith today?
The apostle Paul gives us the answer: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for resetting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living (II Tim. 3:16 Phillips translation). Now, since the foundation of God’s House is based upon the prophets and apostles, and Jesus Christ, then this is where we must begin.
To get back to that faith and to know that faith, a person must study the writings of both the prophets and apostles. The purpose of Scripture is to give us insight into that original set of beliefs; God has not left us without a witness today.
If Jude were alive today, he would tell us the very same thing he told the first century Church. Stay with the teaching of the Scriptures, don’t follow man’s ideas, don’t follow a man, “Therefore let no man glory in men” (I Corth. 3:21).
The Bible tells us to “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21). Jude urges Christians to “build up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20-21).
Brethren, did you know that you and I have a personal responsibility to attend to our own salvation? “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).
Jude does not give us a list of specific false doctrines he had to battle with, but he does give us many categories and analogies which fit such false doctrines. By wisely studying the rest of the Bible, we can understand the context of Jude’s statement.
“I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angles which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication (sexual immorality) and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 5-7).
From these three verses we find (1) unbelieving Israelites who were destroyed in the wilderness. (2) Evil angels who rebelled against God. (3) The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which perished because of their sexual sins.
So here we have three main characteristics of those who were trying to introduce error into God’s Church:
Sexual sins, but as God views them, they are analogous to wrong relationships between His people and the world. “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Now what is it that you see in modern false Christianity of this world, don’t they have an intercourse with the nations of the earth?
Despising government. The evil angels were the first to attempt to usurp God’s authority. Just as Satan influenced Eve to listen to him rather than God so these false teachers tried to replace the authority of God.
“For there are certain men crept in unawares (or unnoticed) who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
The New English Bible says last part: “disowning Jesus Christ our only Master and Lord.” The Phillips last part: “They will not recognize the only master, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Jerusalem Bible: “Rejecting our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.”
These false teachers set themselves up as authorities in place of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
They speak evil of dignities. Remember the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness, the rebellion against Moses. In like manner these false teachers set themselves up against the Moses of the New Testament – Jesus Christ.
Moses himself foresaw the coming of the Great Prophet of the New Testament who would be like himself: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deut. 18:15).
Now notice what the Apostle Peter said on the day of Pentecost: “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you; whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, a prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me, Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever He shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:20-23).
These false teachers sought to take the place of the Rock – Jesus Christ. Today, it is the modern Moses, (Jesus Christ) that is leading His Spirit-begotten people into the Promised Land (the Kingdom of God) and He is capable of doing this without fail.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from failing (or stumbling) and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion, and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
Jude goes on to give vivid examples from the Old Testament to clarify what types of individuals were worming their way into the Church of God. “Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward (or profit) and perished in the gainsaying (or rebellion) of Korah” (Jude 11).
We know that Cain is famous for killing his brother Abel. These false teachers are haters of the brethren and as such are murderers in the sight of God.
John lived to see the apostasy at the end of the first century, and he too, describes these false teachers.
“Little children, let no man deceive you” (I John 3:7). The word deceives means to roam about from the truth. And in Ps. 119:142 David writes: “thy law is the truth.”
(vs. 11-12 and 14-15) “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.”
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loves not his brother abides in death. Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
By their false doctrines these false teachers were dividing the Church. True Christians were put out of the visible Church and the visible Church persecuted God’s people. “I wrote unto the Church: but Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence among them, received us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he does, prating (talking nonsense) against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and forbidding them that would, and puts them out of the Church” (III John 9-10).
Peter wrote of these false teachers: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious (or destructive) ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (II Peter 2:1-2).
The King of Moab hired the prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse upon the Israelites (Numbers chapters 22-24).
Balaam lusted after wealth that the king of Moab wanted to give him to curse Israel. He led Israel into sexual sins and was later killed; you can read about this in Numbers 31:8-16.
In like manner, these false men of the New Testament were after the money of the Christians, for their own gain. “Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray following the way of Balaam the son of Beor who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (II Peter 2:15).
God’s true ministers serve, because they love the people.
Now we come back to Korah, he was jealous of Moses and sought to usurp his leadership: “These men rose up before Moses, 250 of them, famous in the congregation, men of renown, and they gathered themselves against Moses and Aaron, saying you take too much upon yourself, seeing all the congregation are holy everyone of them, and the Lord is among them, you lift yourselves above the congregation of the Lord” (Num. 16:1-3).
In the same way these false ministers sought to usurp the leadership of the New Testament Moses, Jesus Christ. The Bible plainly points out that Jesus Christ and not any man is the head of the Church.
“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).
The apostle Paul later wrote: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. For it is from the head that the whole body as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love” (Eph. 4:14-16).
What a great contrast to these false teachings which would enslave men to men. How much greater is it to recognize Jesus Christ as the living active head of the Church than some mortal man.
Like Korah of old, these false teachers set themselves up as equals of the New Testament Moses, Jesus Christ.
But what did Jesus Christ say about false prophets: “In that day many will say to me (the Head of the Church) Lord, Lord, didn’t we preach in your name, didn’t we cast out devils or demons in your name, and do many great things in your name? Then I shall tell them plainly, I have never known you, go away from me, you have worked on the side of evil” (Matt. 7:22-23.
Since the writing of Jude around 90 A.D. the apostasy has grown worldwide, and many of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles have been long forgotten. We now have a parade of man-made customs and doctrines.
In Rev. 1:20 we see Christ standing in the midst of seven candlesticks and we know that these seven candlesticks are the seven churches of Asia Minor.
From John’s writings we can see that apostasy was taking place in the first century. But taken in the future sense, it bears warning to Christians today to be alert and hear what Jesus Christ inspired John to write to the seven churches.
How did Christ appear in the midst of the Churches: “His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (Rev. 1:14-16).
This is a God of power and might who stands in the midst of His Churches; raised from the dead, alive forever more, Ruler of the kings of the earth.
This description of Jesus Christ was meant to inspire faith in His leadership and in His people. And, at the same time, a warning against those who would follow false doctrine and apostasy.
Moses was faithful in all his duties in God’s household, but he was faithful as a servant and his work was only a foreshadowing of the truth that would be known later.
Jesus Christ was faithful, as a son in the household of his own Father, and you and I are members of his household, if we maintain our trust and joyful hope, steadfast to the end. Read Hebrews 3rd chapter.
The Bible is a two-edged sword of His written Word which is still with us today, ready to weed out error in doctrine and to reset our direction, if we get off course.
It is the only means whereby we can know and be sure that we know, the faith which was once and for all delivered to God’s people.