God's Neglected Letter
5 May 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
GOD'S NEGLECTED LETTER
As Christianity was reaching the end of its first century a little known author was to write a short warning letter to the churches of that period. Apart from being a message that was designed to unmask the false teachers coming into the Church, it was also a call to defend the faith once delivered unto the saints. As noted by William Barclay, the well-known New Testament scholar, it is a neglected letter that is largely unknown and seldom read (Barclay, 1976: 157).
Its final placing in the canon of Scripture was not without some difficulty and was accompanied by a number of other letters that are now recognised as part of the New Testament record. It was to be one of those books whose position always seemed insecure from a scholarly point of view and, as such, was late in gaining full acceptance into the inspired writings. However, by the fourth century it was to take its place among those other letters written by the apostles, finally bringing the inspired word of God to completion in the Bible as we have it today (Ibid: 167, 168).
Moffatt, in his commentary, calls this letter 'a fiery cross to rouse the churches' and while it was to be of special interest to the early church it is by no means irrelevant for the church today (Ibid: 157).
It is a brief, but hard-hitting letter written by a man who refused to allow negative influences to destroy the Church (Lockyer, 1986: 604). We need to recognise that the Devil, during that period, was fully committed and determined to destroy the infant Church.
Well, what is the name of this letter and who was the author?
The book of Jude, found just before the Book of Revelation and just 25 verses in length, tells us in verse one that this letter is from 'Jude [or Juda], a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.'
It is well accepted by most commentators that the James mentioned here is none other than the stepbrother of Jesus. He was the one who presided at the first Jerusalem Council and was considered to be the author of the epistle of James found in the New Testament.
Jude does not claim to be an apostle nor does he make the claim to be the brother of Jesus except by his reference to his brother James. While this relationship would make him a stepbrother to Jesus, he makes it very clear in his introduction that more importantly he is a servant of Jesus Christ. The greatest glory any Christian can attain is to be at the disposal of Jesus for service in His cause.
The fact that Jude is a Jewish Christian is also shown by his constant references and allusions to things throughout his letter that only a Jew could understand. Jude was not a theologian, but a plain, honest leader of the Church (Barclay, 1976: 160, 173).
It's a book that is looking back to the beginnings of the early apostolic church from its vantage point of around 80-90 AD.
We know this time lag to be true because Jude urges his readers in verse 3 & verse 17 to remember the words of the apostles and of the faith that was once delivered to the saints. He could look back to the apostles because, with the exception of John who was exiled to the Island of Patmos, all were dead by approx. 70-75 AD. A detailed listing of each of these Godly men, and the way they died at the hands of their persecutors, is provided by Oxford Scholar John Fox. These descriptions were written by him in 1554 and are found in his well-known book called 'Fox's Book of Martyrs',
As we read Jude's letter, it would seem to contain no direct statement concerning the circumstances that led to his writing and no clue as to the congregation to which it was addressed. However, on further reading, certain information can be derived from its contents (Seton, 1985: 85).
It is clear from his statement in verse 4 that disruptive elements had crept into the church and drawn many away from the purity of the gospel. Let's read what he has to say. Jude 4 (NIV)
'For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.'
These false teachers, whose work was foretold long ago, were not honest because Jude says they entered secretly or stealthily among them. Their beliefs were seen to be subversive because they took the trouble to disguise their real intent by not disclosing their real character. They were to pervert the words of Scripture to suit their own immoral ends (Nichol, 1957: 704, 705).
It would appear that the arrival of these men, who were immoral in life and heretical in belief, were now to turn Jude from his original task which was to share with the believers about the wonderful salvation they had in common. He was now to spend the rest of his letter trying to warn and fortify the congregation against false beliefs and to urge them '…to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints' (V4).
As part of his defence, Jude reminds the believers in V 5 about the fate of the Israelites who had been brought safely out of Egypt, but were not permitted to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief (Numbers 13: 26-14: 29).
This is a reminder to all of us that while we may have originally received the grace of God, we can still lose eternity by drifting into disobedience and unbelief (Barclay, 1976: 158).
In continuing his defence Jude takes his readers back still further in time by referring in V6 to the original position held by those angels in heaven who lost it all by following Lucifer into rebellion. The chains that now bind them are everlasting, in the sense, that they have no escape from the consequences of their disobedience (Nichol, 1957: 705).
Jude also makes clear that the same consequence was to befall the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sin and eventual fate of these cities of the plain have been used by writers throughout biblical history as a warning of the terrible results that come from rejecting the way of life outlined by God for His people from the very beginning (Ibid: 705). The 'eternal fire' that will eventually bring about the final destruction of sin is compared here with the 'eternal fire' of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was only to be eternal, in the sense that it was to be final in its effect. The fires of these cities have long since ceased to burn, but its effect will continue throughout eternity (Ibid).
Jude now continues to speak strongly against the characters of these evil men. Let's read Jude 8-10 (NIV)
'In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when He was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, 'The Lord rebukes you!'
Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals- these are the very things that destroy them.'
Speaking against the prophet-like pose of these men, Jude makes it clear that they condemn everything they don't understand and it would seem that spiritual things are beyond their understanding. They allow their fleshly instincts to be governed in the same way as the animals do despising the Lordship of Christ (2 Peter 2: 10).
Jude now refers to the battle over the body of Moses to show that it was not in keeping with the divine nature to slander anyone, not even the devil. This attribute was foreign to Christ's perfect nature and character and could no more bring railing accusations against Satan than he could lie or steal. We need to remember that the Scriptures make clear in Rev 12: 10 and Zech 3: 1, 2 that Satan is the great 'accuser' and the great slanderer and Jesus would never stoop to use the same weapons of war that he uses (Ibid: 706).
After citing the examples of 'unbelieving Israel', the rebellious angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah, Jude now adds three more examples to illustrate what class of people these false teachers belong. He talks specifically about taking the way of Cain, rushing into Balaam's error and being destroyed in Korah's rebellion.
The name of Cain immediately brings to mind his cynical and selfish nature. However, it was to be for the crime of murder that Jude has in mind as he now sees the works of these deceivers resulting in the spiritual death of many in the church (Ibid: 707).
Further, these men are just like Balaam in their desire for material gain and like Korah, who rebelled against the legitimate authority of Moses (2 Peter 2: 15). As such, they will be like Korah and his companions who were swallowed up by the earth and perished for their sins (Numbers 16: 1-35).
Jude continues to further rail against these men in verses 12 and 13 (NIV). Let's read.
'These men are blemishes at your love feasts [The Lord's Supper], 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. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.'
In other words, they selfishly care for their own interests at the expense of others and brazenly pursue this course (Ibid) William Barclay (1976: 159) suggests that they are like '…hidden rocks on which a ship may flounder; they have their own clique in which they consort with people like themselves, and thus destroy Christian fellowship; they deceive others with their promises, like clouds which promise the longed-for rain and then pass over the sky; they are like fruitless and rootless trees, which have no harvest of good fruit; as the foaming spray of the waves casts the sea-weed and the wreckage on the beaches, they foam out shameless deeds; they are like disobedient stars who refuse to keep their appointed orbit and are doomed to the dark.'
In Jude's reference to the heavens, we need to recognise that fixed stars are a wonderful aid in navigation while shooting or wandering stars serve no useful purpose giving neither constant light nor guidance. False teachers, brilliant as they may be, are no help in our way to the kingdom. These seducers, after a blaze of publicity will eventually disappear from view (Nichol, 1957: 707, 708).
Jude continues to castigate these men in verses 15 and 16 by saying that when the Lord comes these depraved men would suffer His judgment and the hard things they have said about God to excuse their own sinfulness would be answered and requited (Ibid: 708). These men are discontented with the lot God has appointed to them; their lusts are their dictators; their speech is arrogant and proud and they have no qualms about employing flattery to their own advantage (Ibid; Barclay, 1976: 159). Such men are not to be trusted.
Who were these heretics and what were their beliefs?
Jude doesn't really tell us who they are but it is possible from his letter to gather at least two things about them.
Firstly, it is generally understood that they were Antinomians whose beliefs were later found to exist in every church age. They were a people who perverted grace by suggesting that the law was dead and, as such, they were under grace. As a consequence, they believed that they could do what ever they liked. Nothing was forbidden. Grace was seen to be supreme and could forgive any sin. This was to turn the grace of God into an excuse for flagrant immorality (verse 4) and was to lead to the practicing of shameless unnatural vices such as those found in Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7). (Barclay, 1976: 160)
It becomes a tragic and curious fact of history that the church has never been entirely free from these ideas and they have always flourished during those special times throughout history when the wonder of God's grace was being rediscovered (Barclay, 1976: 161). The Devil always has a counterfeit.
In the seventeenth century after the Reformation commenced in Europe, a group called the 'Ranters' appeared on the scene reviving many of the antinomian ideas and mixing them with pantheism. Pantheism was the belief that God is in everything even to the point where they could say, 'We are God' (Ibid).
John Wesley also had to contend with these groups in the eighteenth century and is recorded as saying that 'the antinomians had laboured hard in the devil's service' and that their influence was largely responsible for destroying the spiritual life of his congregation (Ibid). John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress', was to come upon these same people who claimed complete freedom from the moral law and who despised the ethics of the stricter Christian (Ibid).
We also need to remember that it was the path of Pantheism that John Harvey Kellogg was treading when he wrote his book called 'The Living Temple'. His holding of these views, that were seen by the Church to destroy faith in the sanctuary question and the atonement, was to eventually lead this very talented doctor out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Schwarz, 2006: 188-190).
Gnosticism was the second area that Jude was to speak about in his letter, as this belief was to deny the oneness of God. Apart from regarding the God of creation as different from the God of redemption, they also denied the uniqueness of Jesus Christ who was referred to by Jude as '…our only sovereign and Lord' (Jude 4).
We also need to understand that many of these men considered by Jude as disrupting the church did not see themselves as enemies, but as advanced thinkers, a spiritual elite. However, we are reminded by the examples given in this letter that even if a man receives the greatest privileges, he may still fall away from the faith.
Jude, in verse 17 now turns to the believers who are referred to in verse one as '…those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ…' (NIV)
These unnamed Christians were to share with believers of all ages, three great experiences. They were to be called, they were beloved and they were kept (Seton, 1985: 90).
We need to remember that all Christians are called. They have been summoned from what they are to what they should become. We know that calls of many kinds come to everyone, but this call or invitation is seen as unique, decisive and prophetic.
We need to remember that all Christians are recipients of the love of God the Father.
We need to remember that all Christians are kept, not only as they pass through the trials and tribulations of this life, but also they are kept for the future day of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that God is the guardian and guarantor of the believer's deliverance here and in the end. We are never left alone. (Repeat)
Jude continues in verse 2 to pray that three graces may be multiplied in the lives of his readers. These are the graces of Mercy, Peace and Love.
Mercy is seen as the active, outgoing and continuous favour of God.
Peace is seen as the deep blessedness that comes to all who are reconciled to God.
And Love is the overarching and undergirding good will of God.
What words was Jude now to use as he speaks to those who remain faithful to God? Let's read 17-23 (NIV)
V 17 'But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.
V 18 They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires."
V 19 These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
V 20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.
V 21 Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
V 22 Be merciful to those who doubt;
V 23 snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear - hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.'
While Jude here is reminding the faithful that the apostles foretold the rise of evil men, he is also outlining the duty of the true Christian. They were to build their lives on the foundation of the most holy faith representing the apostles, prophets and Jesus Christ (Eph 2: 20). This was to be a defence against these deceivers who have been active in breaking down their spiritual lives and that of others.
They were also to learn to pray not only in accordance with the directives of the Holy Spirit, but with His aid. This is to be done unselfishly, for we are to do all in our power to help others and to pull those out of the fire whose garments have been 'spotted by the flesh', so they could share in the same salvation.
While Christians are 'kept by the power of God' (1 Peter 1: 5) they also need to remain within the sphere of good influences and keep themselves from evil (Nichol, 1957: 710). 'Those who remove themselves from God's protective love, as did the false teachers, cannot expect to be guarded from evil' (Ibid).
We are also encouraged to keep on growing otherwise we remain babes in the truth and we will never fulfil the promise that attended our baptism. If lack of growth persists, the spiritual life will die prematurely so we need to pertain unto life and godliness that we might be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1: 3,4).
Finally, Jude urges the believers to wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ that will be fulfilled at the Second Coming when those who have accepted eternal life will be redeemed (Ibid).
However, Jude's last word is preserved for us in a memorable benediction found in verses 24 and 25. Let's read.
V24 ' To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy- V 25 to the only God our saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forever more! Amen.'
This is a vivid word picture of the Lord's constant care for His children, knowing that if we accept God's guardianship we can live above sin (1 John 3: 6, 9).
The climax of God's keeping comes when the believer stands without fear in the divine presence on the day of judgement (1 John 2: 28) and by the enabling grace of Christ the believer has that confident belief in God's power to keep him from falling into sin and to enable him to stand spotless and unashamed in the divine presence. This will be the final test of sinlessness and it is the purpose of the gospel to make men ready for that experience (1 Tim 6: 16; Col 1: 22). Standing faultless before the throne of God will bring a joy that human words cannot express.
Jude's concerns in his letter for his fellow Christians revolved around ways to help them live victoriously in a pagan and secular world. To this end the counsel he gave was eminently suited to their circumstances. It is part of the miracle of the Holy Scriptures that this advice, given almost 2000 years ago is still appropriate for those of us who now live in the twenty first century.
We still hear his words in this neglected letter resounding down through the ages to '…contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints' (Jude 3).
Barclay, W. (1976) The Letters of John and Jude. The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: West Minster Press.
Lockyer Sr., H. (1986) Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas nelson Publishers.
Nichol, F. D. (Ed) (1957) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 7. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association
Seton, B. E. (1985) Ideals for Christians Adult Sabbath School Lessons.
Schwarz, R. W. (2006) John Harvey Kellogg, MD. Hagerstown, MD: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
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