The Epistle of Jude
1. Author, Time of Writing and Addressee
The author of this short epistle introduces himself at the beginning as Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James. There is only one Jude in the NT matching this description, one of the brothers of the Lord Jesus. The brothers of the Lord are mentioned by name in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3: James, Joseph or Joses, Simon and Judas. The Lord's sisters are mentioned there as well but not by name. At first the brothers (and relatives) of the Lord did not believe in him (John 7:5; Mark 3:21). But after his ascension we do find them with the other disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14).
There is a person called Jude who is mentioned in Acts 1:13 (compare with John 14:22) is elsewhere called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus and is not otherwise known (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18). In verse 17 of the Epistle of Jude the author distinguishes between himself and the apostles. This proves that the author cannot be the apostle Jude. James the brother of Jude is explicitly called the Lord’s brother in Gal. 1:19. After James, the apostle, had died as a martyr, Jude was one of the spiritual leaders in the assembly in Jerusalem (see notes on the Epistle of James, 1.c).
But in genuine modesty these two men do not refer to themselves as the Lord's brother but as “servant” or “slave” only. The less known Jude however mentions the fact that he was a brother of the more well-known James. As we learn from 1. Cor. 9:5 both were known to the apostles as servants of the Word.
The time of writing of the Epistle of Jude cannot be determined with absolute certainty. Researchers differ considerably and would indicate the time between 65 to 80 AC. According to tradition the epistle was written shortly before 70 AD, the year the temple was destroyed. From verse 17 one would suggest the addressees would still have known the apostles. – The epistle is already mentioned by Tertullian (around 160 to 220 AD), Clemens of Alexandria (around 150 to 215 AD) and in the Muratori Canon (end of 2nd century).
The epistle does not give much of a clue regarding the addressees. Considering the various allusions to Old Testament incidents one could conclude that Jude (as did James or Peter) rather addresses Jewish believers. The heading of the epistle (verse 1) however is simply addressed to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.
2. Purpose and Contents of the Epistle
Originally Jude had intended to write to the believers concerning their common salvation. But guided by the Holy Spirit he had to write on the necessity of contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints. For at that time already ungodly men had crept in unawares who
- Turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness and
- Denied the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Against these two evils the epistle of Jude is addressed. Jude thereby draws a direct line between the corruption of his time up to the end of the actual time of grace (verse 18). He draws a line up to the coming of the Lord Jesus for his saints (verses 21 and 24) and also his coming for judgment over the ungodly (verse 14 to 15). The epistle therefore is definitely prophetic. It describes the declension of morals in Christendom up to complete departure (apostasy) from Christ. This is why it also contains a very serious message for the reader of today. At the same time the epistle wants to encourage holding fast the truth of God. The readers are pointed to the divine protection three times (verses 1.21.24).
The similarities between Jude’s epistle and 2 Peter were already dealt with in the overview of 2 Peter. Neither Jude has copied Peter nor has Peter copied Jude. It is possible though that the one might have known the epistle of the other as Peter also knew the epistles of the apostle Paul (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). But each of the two authors pursued another purpose under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. While Peter sees the creeping in of evil in the form of false doctrine Jude deals with moral decay up to Christendom’s departure from God.
- Unknown Incidents
Jude in his epistle mentions three incidents of OT times which we find nowhere in the OT.
- The archangel Michael’s contention with the devil disputing about the body of Moses (verse 9).
- Enoch’s prophesy regarding the coming of the Lord and the judgment upon the ungodly (verses 14 and 15).
- The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation. God has already bound them with everlasting chains (verse 6). In contrast to them Satan and his demons are not yet bound. This incident is also mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4. One may think of Gen. 6 where we read that the sons of God took daughters of men.
Other details not mentioned in the OT we are learning in the NT only. As an example we come to know the names of the Egyptian magicians which were Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. 3:8). In Jewish oral tradition not only tales but also various true incidents of former days were kept. The writers of the NT could refer to such incidents under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But was it not possible that they received direct revelations from God also? Nowadays these references in the NT are mostly considered to be quotations from Apocryphal books, for example Moses’ ascension and the Book of Enoch. Such fantastic apocalyptic works came into existence a lot from Jewish-Christian background in the first and second century AC. The “ascension of Moses” is considered to have been written around the year 0 and the “Book of Enoch” between 170 BC and 70 AC. – One cannot imagine though that a biblical writer under the guidance of the Holy Spirit would have taken incidents of the dealings of God or his servants out of such human works. And the origin of these works is clearly religious fantasy and fanaticism.
- The Figure “3”
The figure “3” plays an important role in Jude as a symbol for the perfect divine testimony of revelation.
- Jude calls the believers three times “beloved” (verses 3.17.20)
- He speaks of divine preservation or keeping three times (verses 1.21.24)
- Three examples for punishment: Israel (verse 5), the angels (verse 6), Sodom and Gomorrha (verse 7)
- Three examples for apostasy are mentioned: Cain, Balaam and Core (verse 11).
- Jude 1 – 2 Greetings
- Jude 3 – 4 Reason and Purpose of Writing
- Jude 5 – 16 Representation of Departure
- Verses 5 – 7 Three Examples of Warning
- Verses 8 – 16 Description of Ungodliness
Jude 17 – 25 Attitude of Faith
- Verses 17 – 23 Admonition of the Believer
- Verses 24 – 25 Praise of God