(This is a word by word exposition of the first eleven verses of the epistle of Jude as presented in the Authorized Version).
In verse 1 our first word introduces our first controversy when opening this fascinating little book. Who was Jude? It would appear to be cleared up later in the verse, it was Jude (or Judas in the Greek) the brother of James. But which James? There are two main contenders, James the Lord's brother (referred to by Paul in Gal 1:19, and known by popular tradition as 'James the Just' the ruler of the church at Jerusalem). And James the son of Alphaeus mention in Acts 1:13 and certainly having a brother Judas.
What is stranger yet is that in the mind of Jude there was no such confusion, he thought he had identified himself with admiral clarity.
I think the question can be made clearer if we ask ourselves the question 'was the Jude that wrote this book an apostle?', the Jude who was the brother of James son of Alphaeus was an apostle. I think that our Jude wasn't for two reasons.
Firstly he refers to the apostles in the 3rd person in verses 17 & 18 of our letter.
Secondly, if he had apostolic authority himself why would he mention James at all? It is unlikely that he was identifying himself from Judas Iscariot as the latter had been dead some time.
If we conclude Jude was not an apostle, then he is brother of James the Just and thus a brother (or more accurately half-brother) of the Lord himself. But this presents us with another problem, if Jude is name dropping then why does he mention James the head of the church on earth and not the head of the church universal?
That question is answered by the third word in the verse (second in the greek) 'servant'. More accurately bond-servant. Jude was not attempting to self-aggrandise. On the contrary Judes opinion of self was very specific, his primary role and function was as a slave of Christ. It is interesting to note in an age of charismatic (with big and little 'c''s) preachers that the primary qualification of anyone sending you a message is not their ability but their humility. The more important the person talking to you the more likely you are hearing their message and not the message of their superior. From our teachers we want to hear from God, it follows that we want our teachers to be as unimportant as possible, but not their message, which is why Jude then adds the weight of James to the message he is presenting.
The audience is next noted, those that are sanctified. We tend to think of 'sanctified' people as those who are especially holy. Whilst this should be true it isn't actually what sanctified means. It just means set apart. Those designated for a particular purpose. Who sets them apart, God the Father. This gives those of us that believe some very important truths.
Firstly we are to be separate. We cannot and should not compare ourselves to those of the world because we have a different purpose and therefore should be growing to different criteria. Comparing ourselves to a worldling is like comparing food grown for eating to food grown for animal fodder. We may be smaller, later and less numerous but that is ok provided we meet the Fathers taste.
Secondly we are separated by God. We are not separated because we are different, we are separated so that we will be different.
Having been set apart we then find the next glorious truth. Preserved. Today preservation is almost used in a derogatory sense. You preserve the last feeble remnant of some object that is really way past its sell by date. But that is not the notion here. The greek is tereo, it means to guard rather than to pickle. The picture is of some special force, set apart from the main body, that is being maintained and retained for some special purpose. How? Through Christ Jesus. We must always keep this in view. Reading our Bibles will rightly show us our glorious position and standing in the universal order of things. But we didn't earn this, it was given us by grace. Finally for verse one. Called. We are not simply a trophy, we have a job to do and a manner in which to behave. Jude moves on to this in the rest of the epistle.
Verse 2 is, in my opinion, they key to the entire book. Except it isn't what is in verse two that makes the difference, it is what is not in there. Just about every letter in the new testament has the same opening. Grace and peace. Check it out, Romans, Corinthians (both), Galations, Ephesians all the way through to 1 Timothy say the same thing. Grace and peace. Timothy, titus & 2 John have a new insertion. Mercy. You get grace, mercy and peace, grace mercy and peace. Then uniquely, when we come into Jude we find the grace has disappeared and you just get mercy and peace. Why is this? Well it certainly isn't just the translators having a bad hair day. Grace is a translation of charis and mercy of eleos, and the greek is just as odd as the English.
Explanation two is generally that grace and mercy are pretty much the same thing and Jude picked mercy because he felt like it. But this simply isn't true. Grace and mercy are very different, although they are linked. Mercy is invoked by pity which results in the ongoing, practical expression of goodwill to one that requires it. Grace is a change of mind-state in a person moving another from a position of ill-will to one of good will. I think John 3:16 offers a grace & mercy sandwich which highlights the distinction.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
At the outside of this verse, first and last, we get the mercy. For God so loved the world ... Have everlasting life. Here we have the pity and the result, this is mercy.
Inside the mercy though we get the grace. That he gave his only begotten Son ... Should not perish. This is grace, that a being should be switched from a position of everlasting damnation, why? Because God gave his only begotten son. Now the sandwich has a bit more filling but we'll come on to that later.
This distinction is so important that I want to give you one more illustration. Let us go back a hundred years or so to some distant shore where a rebel lead a revolt against the British Empire. In due course the rebel is captured and brought to Queen Victoria where he falls upon his knees repenting and begging forgiveness. Queen Victoria, being gracious, forgives him, removes the obligatory death penalty and the broken dejected rebel goes on his way a loyal subject. This is grace. Now our Queen discovers that the tribe from which the rebel came is impoverished (maybe due to the war) and as a goodwill gesture she sends aid to the tribe. This is mercy.
So, getting back to the plot, if grace is so central to the gospel why on earth does Jude leave it out? I think the answer to that one lies in the rest of the book. By the time Jude is writing the whole notion of grace has been so turned on its head, so mis-represented, that Jude is wary of using the word because it would have all the wrong connotations. In fact I aim to show that the whole of Jude is essentially a defence of, and insistence upon, a correct doctrine of grace.
I feel a great sympathy for Jude. He wanted to write of the common salvation. What a glorious subject! How much we enjoy revelling in the work of the Lord and the position this places us in. Oh if only I could preach on verse 1 of Jude and then close the book. But Jude couldn't and I can't. Jude could see trouble and knew it had to be addressed. I'm sure you've all seen the picture of the three monkeys, one with hands over it ears, one over its eyes and one over its mouth. I wonder how many monkeys you've heard from the pulpit recently (mind you they were probably better than the gorilla you have this evening..)
Jude then exhorts them to earnestly contend for the faith. Nothing unusual there, the Christian is often pictured on a battlefield, surely this is just Ephesians 6 in miniature. In our translation it could be, however the greek is rather more sinister. The word contend is epagonizomai. It doesn't mean to contend against so much as contend with. You are not facing your opponent you are trying to out-run them. In other words, the enemy is someone beside us.
What is at stake? The faith once delivered to the saints. It is vital to understand the assertion here. The faith, body of doctrine if you prefer, is a single indissoluble lump that was completely delivered and is not open to negotiation. And true believers of God should fight for it.
Just in case you think I'm making all this up Jude shows his hand and expressly denotes the issue in verse 4. Certain people have infiltrated the church and are mutilating the faith. Jude says they were ordained (which really means written about) of old to this condemnation. I think the reference to antiquity is important as is the note of condemnation.
Jude is saying this, our Bible (and thus our faith) is old. But it isn't irrelevant because it was written by god who can see in to the 'future'. (For example 2 Peter 3 not only predicts that people will arise that scoff at creation but also predicts the basis of (and error) in the 'science' they use to disprove it (radiometric dating)).
To be blunt Jude is saying 'Modernists who fiddle with faith' are a) predicted, b) wrong c) damned.
Now we get to their key error, they change the grace of God into lasciviousness (lust if you prefer). Taken most literally this could mean they had used the notion of grace to introduce some blatent form of immorality such as temple prostitution. Whilst this would fit with the latter part of verse 4 it doesn't fit with the former. A brother preaching on behalf of prostitution would not be able to creep in unawares. I think the actual trick was much subtler but equally (if not more) invidious. Grace was being mutilated by being assumed, maybe even left out. These men were simply preaching 'come follow Jesus, you need to do this, this and this but then you get this'. Sounds fairly convincing at first glance, especially to a believer. Preach on the mercy of God and invite people to partake thereof. This is precisely what we preach to believers day in day out. So offer the same thing to the unsaved, a number will hopefully signup (and why not?) and we'll have a nice big growing church...
Of people that haven't been saved.
Let us dart back to Queen Victoria for a minute. Our rebel leader is now safely back in his village (having graciously been forgiven) and is enjoying the mercy of the queen. Another rebel leader noting how well the first has been treated now saunters into her majesties thrown room and says "Hiya Viccy old girl, you'll be pleased to know I've decided to come on to your side and while your at it we could use some grub back at the ranch, thanks". I strongly suspect the rebel in question would have swung from a gibbet before nightfall.
This may seem extreme but it is the approach of many modern evangelicals. Ahh, yes you say, you mean we need to throw the 'sin' word around a bit. Well yes, but you also have to be very careful to correctly define what sin means. I don't know how many of you have looked at the alpha course but it is a case study in how to mis-define sin and thus make it palatable to an unsaved person. Alpha says that sin is bad because it really messes you up. It causes divorce, misery etc etc. Whilst this is true it is not the point. The point is that sin is an offence against a sin-hating God. David hit the nail on the head in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. He said he had sinned against God. True, Uriah had come of worst, but the issue is that David had offended God. So when we are preaching on sin we shouldn't appeal to peoples self interest, we should make it clear that they are offending God.
But why does this matter, and what has it got to do with lasciviousness? Go back to John 3:16, remember the sandwich. In the middle of the grace was whosoever believeth in him. Why were they leaving out the grace? Because it allows you to leave out the repentance and faith. Sure a few lifestyle adjustments may be made to ensure the mercy flows at a suitable speed (our second rebel had probably realised he couldn't shoot at the British troops delivering the food) but that complete brokeness, the point in your life where you realize everything else can go provided you can get right with God, and the belief that you can get write with God only because his son died for you on the cross, can all be nicely avoided.
This also explains how they denied the only Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ. They didn't deny the existance, simply the position. The word for Lord in Lord God is despotes (you would usually expect Kurious). It means sovereign Lord God. They accepted him as God, even Lord (master) but not soveriegn (having rights over them). In other words by a simple modification of the Gospel message they had managed to produce an almost entirely bloodless gospel that allowed people to do pretty much what they pleased and still expect mercy from God.
Perhaps the illustration of the second rebel struck you as too ridiculous. "Hiya Viccy old girl". But isn't that what you actually get today. Remember the Jimme campaign "Jesus in me". Or "march for Jesus". If someone tells you "they are on the Lords side" then your instant response should be "oh yes, who says?". Because if it them that decided this rather than God then actually they are not.
Verse 5 drives this home, but only if you get the correct cross-reference. Some Bibles will direct you to Numbers 26. The people of Israel lacked the faith to trust God and were thus sent to wander around the wilderness for 40 years. Whilst it is true these people died the word used here is destroyed. God didn't destroy them, that wouldn't of taken 40 years, he made them wait long enough to die of 'natural causes'. I think the correct cross-reference is Numbers 11:4. Here we come across what the Bible refers to as the mixed multitude. When Israel came out of Egypt a collection of others tagged along for the ride. They had come through the Red Sea, so they would appear to have been saved, but they were not actually part of the flock. Naturally enough they fell a lusting after the things of Egypt (tasty morsels rather than manna from heaven) and God wiped them out.
Well says God, there is no point growing a mixed multitude in your churches just to boost the numbers because come the judgement God will destroy them.
Having seen the product of those that want morsels rather than meet we come to the fate of those that insist upon freedom. The angels had a place, a habitation, but they wanted to get out and express themselves. Possibly this refers to the immorality of Genesis 6 but I think the key is the bid for freedom. Just look at the punishment, bound in everlasting chains in darkness. This, I believe, is the effect here on earth of many of the bids for freedom within our churches. The youth want the freedom to dress how they please (which generally means licentiously). The women want freedom to participate orally (presumably avoiding those portions of scripture that specifically tell them not too). The brothers want freedom to preach on whatever they wish and avoid the word of God.
This freedom actually brings bondage. If we stop following the Bible then we have to start making up the rules ourselves. If we start making up the rules ourselves then we have to start fighting our corner to ensure that the rules favour us as much others.
And if we start having to fight our corner then our meeting becomes a licentious, uninspired, ill-doctrined battle ground which is probably why so many complain that the meeting really is 'getting them down'.
Clearly Sodom and Gomorrha where immoral, but the issue here is the perversion. Surely though, Christians are spiritual beings, the state of our bodies doesn't matter as long as our spirits are in tune. I never fail to be astonished by the number of Christians who have committed some fairly heinous sin, and continue to do so, such as running of with another woman and living with her, and yet claiming it is ok because they are 'right in their spirit'. Sorry, I don't go with that. Christians do commit sin, but the spirit convicts them of this and they repent of it (and cease doing it!)
The word dreamer here is not referring to normal 'night' dreams but people who receive supernatural communication in dreams. A better modern rendering may be visionaries. These are people who claim to have extra, supernatural, divine revelation. For example Ellen G White the leader of the Seventh Day Adventists. Then we get verses 5 through 7 backwards. They defile flesh (7), despise dominion or rule (6) and speak evil of dignities or glories (5, who wants manner).
Contrast this with Michael. A mighty angel. Dignified. Powerful. Important. And yet totally controlled and staying within his God given role and authority.
Here you get the hallmark of these men that creep in. Large flowing words, but lives that really don't match up. Hot on their own particular brand of theology but amazingly weak on those aspects which are actually manifest in their lives.
Having spent 8 verses discussing the theology and lives of these men Jude now turns the attack on the form of religion they produce. Three distinct errors each typified in the old testament
Finally I would just like to dart ahead to a cryptic little verse 14 that I hope you will find encouraging. So what does it mean. The seventh from Adam. Seven is the number of completeness, so read it 'at the end of the age'. Enoch (who was translated into heaven) saw the Lord coming. I think the message is this, when you see these things happening the Lord will be coming soon and revelation will soon be swinging into action.
I think we do see these things happening, the bloodless gospel is all around us, one even hears it sometimes from assembly pulpits. This is something we must resist, even fight. But it is also something that should encourage us, it means the Lord is coming.
Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.