Expository Thoughts On The Letter of Jude
Part 2 - A Sacred Salutation
In our second study we begin with the question, “What do verses 1 and 2 tell us about the writer and the people he wrote to?”
Jude begins his epistle by identifying himself as a bond servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James. I see no compelling reason to set aside the traditional view which ascribes this letter to Jude, the half brother of our Lord (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3). Jude forgoes any reference to his physical family ties to Jesus. Rather, Jude stresses his spiritual relationship to the Lord. He points out his humble status as a slave of Jesus Christ. Slave admittedly is not a pretty word. It has much evil and injustice associated with it and rightly so. Slavery was wide spread throughout the ancient world. This evil institution was woven throughout the fabric of the Roman Empire.
In its simplest terms slavery carried with it the condition of someone being under the complete domination of another. Whereas earthly slaves are robbed of complete freedom, dignity and privileges, Christ’s slaves are robed with the blessings of liberty, honor, and favor. The slave of Jesus Christ is Christ’s ‘freeman or freewoman.’ They have a new citizenship which is in heaven, a new family relationship as a son or daughter of the living God, and one who walks in fellowship with the Lord in the bonds of faith, love, and obedience. All of these blessings are tempered with reverential awe and sacred devotion. It is the Lord Jesus Christ whom they serve most willingly and gladly.
Jude is fully engaged in the service of his Master and Lord (vs.4). Jude surrendered all rights, talents, possessions to His Master, Jesus Christ. Jude submitted all that He was (mind, heart, and will) to His Lord. Jude is a faithful bond-servant in the service of the gospel.
To further establish his credentials, Jude refers to his relationship to James, his brother. James was the well known and recognized leader of the Mother church at Jerusalem. James, a man highly esteemed in the church, one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9), would most heartily recommend his brother Jude in the service of the gospel.
Jude’s letter is known as a general epistle. He doesn’t address a specific church or individual. Jude wrote to a wide circle of believers. Jude most likely was engaged in an itinerant ministry. We gather this from what Paul says in First Corinthians. Paul refers to wives of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord. Their wives accompanied them on their preaching tours (1Corinthians 9:3-5). In the two small letters of John we see itinerant teaching was a common practice by the last quarter of the first century in helping establish Christians in their faith and practice. A Christian writing called the “Didache” or “Teaching of the Twelve” (c. 100AD) contains a section on the Christian ministry. There are instructions concerning what should be the proper conduct of itinerant teachers and guide lines on receiving teachers into one’s home of which several served as a house-church. So we are on safe ground to assume Jude was one of the recognized itinerate preachers of the early church.
At some point, perhaps after an extended missionary journey, Jude set himself to writing what we call a ‘circular letter.’ It was meant to be read in the various Christian ‘house-churches’ near and far, that he had been in contact with.
It is difficult to identify the Christians he writes too as well as date Jude’s letter with absolute certainty. Still we can make an educated guess. Readers of the New Testament will note the close affinity between Jude and the second letter of Peter. It is obvious that one depended upon the other. Scholars are divided over which letter came first. The majority consensus is that 2 Peter relied on Jude’s subject matter. Most likely the shorter letter came first (Jude) and was later expanded upon by Peter (2 Peter).
We must note that neither Jude nor Peter is slavishly copying the other. Rather each writer takes common shared Scriptural truths and incorporates additional detail to supplement the other. The gospel writers each present the ministry of Christ from different perspectives. Mark is probably the first gospel which Matthew and Luke (see especially Luke 1:1-4) used as the framework for their writing. Each gospel writer approached the subject matter from his particular perspective.
Take a car accident. The crash is witnessed by four people of differing professions. There is a doctor, a philosopher, a mechanic, and a teacher. Each makes a report about the accident. There are many common details but each adds something from their own particular perspective. The doctor will add detail about the injuries whereas the mechanic may add detail about the damage and repair cost. Luke, being a physician, adds an aspect of Jesus agony in Gethsemane. He adds the detail that Jesus sweat became like drops of blood.
Matthew pays close attention to the fulfillment of the Old Testament predictions of the coming of Christ and His ethical teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount. Mark although the shortest gospel often contains vivid details not found it Luke or Matthew’s account of the same incident.
John takes an all together different approach. He adds material not found in the other three gospels. John records the lengthy discourses with individuals such as Nichodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the Jews. John records the precious ‘upper room’ discourses prior to our Lord’s arrest in the garden. Therefore, each gospel writer is not a “copy cat” but compliments the other in giving us the fullest picture of our Blessed Lord. The same concerns the subject matter laid out by Jude and Peter.
It is highly probable that Peter took Jude’s shorter writing and expanded it. Peter does that with part of the letter of James which was written some 20 years earlier. Peter expands upon that material in chapter five of First Peter.
Thus the most likely date for Jude’s writing is about AD 65-67. The important thing to note is that the apostles and their assistants were fellow workers for the truth and shared a common faith. Mark and Luke were co-workers of Paul and acquainted with one another. There was interdependence among them as there was among all the apostles and their co-workers. Thus Jude and Peter addressed the same pressing problems of error that had seeped into the churches. One complimented the other in dealing with the issue. Peter’s focus is on false teachers who arose from within the ranks of the church. Jude’s focus is on these ‘godless men’ who wormed their way into the churches
As for the recipients of this letter we can only guess. Based on the contents of Jude we can safely assume he addressed Christians of a more Jewish background. The contents of the letter reveal his readers were familiar with Old Testament history, Jewish apocryphal traditions, and had strong ethics or code of conduct.
Let me briefly touch upon these Jewish apocryphal traditions. The apocrypha was a group of 14 Jewish writings that are dated between 3 BC and 1 BC. They were added to the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament in use during the days of our Lord and His apostles. These books also found their way into the Vulgate, which is a 2nd century AD Latin translation of the Bible. The Vulgate was translated from the Septuagint.
The real authors of the apocrypha are uncertain and appear in time after OT prophecy ceased with the Book of Malachi. They were considered not authentic by the Jews and never part of the OT canon. Jesus never quotes from them. The early church never recognized them being of Divine inspiration and thus had no canonical authority. Except for the book of the Maccabees, which contain some valuable historical information about the Jewish struggle for freedom against Syria about 168 BC, they are clearly additions to or better yet embellishments on the Book of Daniel for example.
They are mostly legends, fables, and pure fancy. The Roman Catholic church at the Council of Trent which met in the 16th century to try to counter the Protestant Reformation, declared these books to be Scripture. From these books they formulate some of their cardinal but erroneous doctrines (e.g. praying for the dead).
Following on the heels of the Apocrypha and slightly overlapping them from about 2 BC to 1 AD, another group of writings appeared which were apocalyptic in nature. To a considerable extent these writings are concerned with the coming of the Messiah and the intervention of God in history, especially when things in the world are bleak. These works reveal the writer assumed the name of a great Biblical person of the past like Enoch and rewrites history in terms of prophecy.
Some are commentaries on various incidents from Scripture yet like the apocrypha most are based on the imagination. Yet we find two quotes in Jude from two of these spurious writings. One of the reasons why Jude was considered suspicious and listed as a “disputed book” when the Canon (the books of the Bible) was being formulated was because of its two quotes from these writings. We shall consider that in detail when we get to those sections which refer to Michael, the archangel and Enoch’s prophecy.
Jude sends this important ‘circular letter’ to those who are “the called.” This is the unique identifying term in the Bible for the people of God. The called is a synonym for the elect or chosen of God. The called make up the vast number of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ from every nation, tribe, peoples, and tongue. The called are those who are the objects of God’s sovereign, gracious, and eternal choice to be His people.
The called are further described as those beloved by God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. The called are beloved, that is they are loved as God’s peculiar people and under God’s special care. Scripture uses various metaphors for God’s people – the sheep of His pasture, God’s household, temples of the Holy Spirit, and His bond-servants, and His workmanship. God actively loves His people, cares for them, as He rules all things from a posture of absolute sovereignty, in infinite wisdom, and by perfect love for their good and His glory.
The called are kept for Jesus Christ. This means that believers are kept by God for the day of Jesus Christ. The day of Christ is a term for the Second Coming of Christ. At His return Jesus Christ will raise the dead, judge the world, and restore all things. Jesus will then receive His people to Himself. As we live our lives in light of that great day, the called will persevere in the faith because God sees to it that He preserves them (John 10:39-40; 17:12). Jesus protects His followers from the evil one (John 17:15). The Lord will keep His people whole and complete at the coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Called, loved, and kept point to the truth that salvation is entirely of God. God’s calling unto salvation is not based on so-called foreseen faith by us. That is foreign to the teaching of Scripture. To believe that shows that deep down we want something to do with our salvation. We want part of the credit. To say God saw that we would believe makes salvation based on our works. It gives us something to boast about whether we think so or not. But I have free will and can make a right or wrong choice. You do but your freedom is in bondage to sin! God’s sovereign choice in the election of a great multitude unto salvation while He chooses to pass others by and leave them in their sins is not liked by many. So we place God at the bar of our sinful human reason. Friends, this ought not to be. Election: this is the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Repentance and faith are the gifts of God but He doesn’t repent and believe for us – we have to.
Salvation is the result of His sovereignty (called), love (beloved), and power (kept). Salvation is the work of a Sovereign God from start to finish. This calling unto salvation is a blessing of grace alone. God the Father purposes redemption. God the Son secures redemption. God the Holy Spirit applies the work of redemption. Called, loved, and kept encompasses the sovereignty, love, and power of God from eternity, in time, and into eternity.
God has not only ordained the end but also the means of redemption. Those called or elected to salvation are also called to sanctification. Sanctification means holiness of life. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in conforming us to the image of Christ. It is the restoration of the marred image of God lost by Adam and all his posterity at the fall. It is the work of God to recreate His people in holiness, righteousness, and truth.
Listen how the Word of God interconnects these blessings of grace bestowed by a Sovereign God on His chosen people. “Who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Timothy 2:9). Addressing the Roman Christians, Paul says they are the called of Jesus Christ, beloved by God, and called as saints or holy ones (see Roman 1:1, 7).
Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4, “[…] just as He chose us in Him, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” To say that those called of God sit back and do nothing because God elected them unto salvation – be it day to day holy living, witnessing, and praying is to totally misunderstand what the Bible reveals about the work of God in salvation.
Later in the same epistle Paul urges believers to walk [conduct their life] in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. From Colossians 3:12, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (notice some of the fruits of the Spirit)…”.
1 Thessalonians 4:7, “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” 1 Peter 1:15; 2:9 says, […] but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior […] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light […] who called you to His eternal glory in Christ […]”
The goal of Christ’s work of redemption and as our mediator is that, “those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
The Bible clearly makes a distinction between two kinds of calls. There is the general call of the gospel – the free offer of the gospel - which goes out to everyone. The prophet Isaiah declared this general call, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you who have no money come, buy and eat…” (Isaiah 55:1).
Jesus gives us a picture of the general call of the gospel in the Parable of the Marriage Feast in Matthew 22. The King (God) gives a wedding feast (the gospel) for his son (Jesus Christ). Everything is ready. The feast is spread. God has made a most ample provision. The invitations are sent out to all his subjects. But the invitation is rejected by the many. This most gracious invitation to this most gracious and glorious wedding feast is met either with indifference or hostility.
Likewise, the gospel call is rejected by many. Although the gospel is freely offered to all, it is only those found wearing the wedding garment (the perfect righteousness of Christ) who partake of the wedding (gospel) feast. The one(s) not wearing the wedding garment is cast out.
The other call is what is known as the effectual call. It is so designated because it is God who makes the call of the gospel effectual (effective) in us. Left to ourselves we will not and cannot turn to the Lord. Because of original sin, we are spiritually dead and unable to respond to God’s call. We call this in theological language “total inability”. The most telling passage is that found in Ephesians 2. We are dead in sin by nature. We want nothing to do with God and everything to do with our sinful ways. We cannot and will not come to God because we are unable in our state of nature.
Like the Gentile hearers in Acts 14 and Lydia in Acts 16, like all who have come into a state of grace - into a personal and practical relationship with Jesus Christ, it is because the Lord opened our hearts to respond to the gospel. It is by God’s doing we are in [united to] Jesus Christ. God caused us to be born again to a living hope.
The effectual call is such because it enables us to respond to the gospel. Repentance and faith are the gifts of God. The effectual call enables us to carryout these two spiritual duties by which we inter the door of salvation - Jesus Christ (John 10). God calls us to repentance and faith and holiness of life. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12). We do so in a state of reverential awe of God not with a cowardly fear of Him.
The best definition of the effectual call is found in the old Westminster shorter catechism. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace and Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
To be the called of God is indeed most humbling. To be the called of God will ravish your heart with thanksgiving, love and devotion to your great God and Savior. One of the great Hymn writers of the church, Isaac Watts (1700s) captured the awesomeness, the solemnity, and the wonder of God’s salvation when he penned these lines:
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice?
And enter while there’s room
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve then come.
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
Thanks be to God for His love and mercy to us in the Lord Jesus Christ! Would you tell someone today about our Blessed Savior Jesus Christ who offers them salvation full and free?
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