What is the purpose of the tiny letter at the end of the bible written by some fella named Jude (actually, Judas)? What point was he trying to make? What was he getting at with all of these Old Testament and extra biblical examples?
Was he right or could he possibly have been mistaken?
In this paper I wrote for my Unschooled Master of Theology Program (uThM), I attempt to uncover the answers to these questions and discover what in the world Jude was getting at.
So, let’s get started….
What is the Main Point of this Little Book?
Jude was the brother of both James and Jesus, though he didn’t let on…
No nepotism here, right?
He was writing to a group of believers, to those who were, “called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ.”
This is certainly not a book for non-believers. It is for the church. It is about a specific situation.
”Certain Men” Creeping In?
Jude’s first intension was to write about their “common salvation.”
But, when he sat down and put quill to parchment, he abruptly changed course, and instead addressed an issue that was happening for those believers he was writing to.
Unlike Paul in most of his letters, Jude does not pinpoint where his readers live. It could have been Jerusalem, or possibly in an outlining area somewhere. There’s simply no way to tell.
What we do know is there was a problem, and it was apparently getting worse. First off, Jude had heard about it somehow. Maybe the church assembly radio broadcast or he’d downloaded the latest podcast. However he found out, he knew there were these “certain men” who had basically infiltrated the gathering of believers and they were running amuck.
It was obvious, at least to Jude, that these men were not truly believers. He cites throughout the letter a multitude of examples of what these fellas were like, how they were behaving, and what that meant.
But, the main gist of his letter to these believers was this: stop humoring these men and stand up to them already!
Jude opens with his clarion call: “earnestly contend for the faith.”
And, he had a right to be concerned. The problems he had with these men were serious. He lists them right away. They denied the deity of Christ, they defiled the flesh, they rejected authority, and they badmouthed rulers (it’s a little unclear if Jude here meant church leaders, civil leaders, or angelic beings – it’s possible he meant all of the above).
Jude uses several examples to illustrate his point, and he reminds them, “you once knew this.” These fellas were like the Egyptians who were saved from Egypt, but died in the desert (ungrateful). They were like the angels in heaven who fell from grace to…well…uhm…you know, get them some (lustful). And they were also like those in Sodom and Gomorrah who died by God’s judgment of their extreme wickedness (perverse).
Jude then adds, even Michael the archangel wouldn’t risk laying out an accusation against the devil when he tangled with him about the body of Moses (I don’t even want to get into where that quote came from). Instead, he appealed to Christ’s authority and condemnation and not his own.
Jude goes the extra mile here to make sure he gets his point across. These men are bad news, it’s as simple as that. When they’re out and about speaking evil of rulers and authorities, they actually have no idea what they’re doing. They are corrupted to the core by their own natural, fallen desires for self interest, self preservation and self gratification.
And then Jude goes on with three more examples, stating these men have gone after the way of Cain (inferior offering to God), of Balaam (chasing after money), and of Korah (outright rebellion).
His verdict: woe to them, which hearkens to me a familiar tone found in Revelation 8:13, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound” and, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12).
The same judgment is on these men.
They Are Making You Look Bad
After all, Jude is trying to get his readers to realize something here. The fact was, allowing these wild and roistering men into the fellowship (or to allow them to stay if they were already there) painted them all in a bad light.
Paul made it clear several times, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:13), and, “do not keep company with bad behaving people” (1 Corinthians 5:9, 11).
Jude laid it out for them. Look, these guys are tarnishing your good name. They associate with you and hang out with you, eat your food, get drunk on your wine, and they’re having a hell of a time, because (and I think this was the main point of Jude’s letter) you won’t do anything about it!
After all, there was nothing in it for Jude’s readers to keep these men in the fellowship. They were, as he put it, “clouds without water, late autumn trees without fruit.” These guys have no hope. They are, “twice dead,” referencing the first and second deaths, “raging waves of the sea, foaming up their shame, wandering stars” (another reference to fallen angels) who have only condemnation as their reward.
And, as if Jude knew that wasn’t going to be enough to persuade them to take action, he cites Enoch, who apparently carried some sort of authoritative weight during this time (even if he is for some reason discounted today).
He then continues to hammer: these men are grumblers, complainers, lustful, flatterers and apparently dabbled in the politics of the church seeking their own gain.
Jude then reminds them that the apostles predicted these men would come (though we don’t actually have a record of this elsewhere).
What Was Jude’s Antidote?
But, no worries. Jude had a plan to solve this crisis. He gave them a specific prescription to rip these imposters out, root and stem.
First, they needed to build themselves up a holy faith (could they have tolerated the behavior of these men out of social expediency or maybe financial advancement – acting the part but not truly embracing it?), they needed (to start) praying in the Spirit (because, obviously, something wasn’t working here), and they needed to, “keep themselves in the love of God.”
What could we possibly do in this life that would put us outside the love of God? That is rather terrifying.
Jude then gives them some practical advice. Look, there are people who are not saved, in and out of the organizational church. Yes, it’s good to approach some with some sensitivity, with some tact, with some compassion, but there will be others (these men, which is the point) on whom you’ll need to use the fire and brimstone, because hell is on their tail and you better hope they don’t take you down with them. “Save these with fear, as if plucking them out of the fire” (Jude 1:23).
The next time Jesus comes down here, believe me when I say, he’s coming with a big stick and will be full of wrath and vengeance.
Some people are just stubborn and you have to scare a little hell into them.
Jude’s whole point here is that these readers need to stop playing footsie with the world, with these defilers, and get on with their work already.
It’s time to put up or shut up. Either you are living up to the call of Christ or you are taking his name in vain.
Brennan Manning said it best (though I can’t find where), “the greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
This was the decision Jude’s readers ultimately had to make.
Do these “Certain Men” Have a Point?
But, how about a little devil’s advocate before we’re through here. After all, how do we know Jude even knew what he was talking about?
Maybe he was bitter and regretful that these so called “sensual persons” were just enjoying the liberality that Jesus afforded them and, for whatever reason, he couldn’t take part.
Damn Puritans, anyway. Always ruining the party!
So, what were these men really guilty of? It does seem to be a human tendency to get trapped in our own webs of lies, deceit, hypocrisy.
After all, these guys certainly weren’t breaking any laws, at least not from what can be gleaned from the letter itself.
There was no embezzlement of church funds happening here. They were just getting a little rowdy at the Sunday potluck, right?
Let’s have a closer look.
Why Are They Wrong?
Jude argues that these men (and what they were doing, and what will be their fate) was actually the subject of three separate prophecies, and that, if correct, is pretty hard to argue against.
First, they were the subject of Peter’s prophetic statement, “…there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction…” (2 Peter 2:1-3). Though there has been argument over which came first, Jude or Peter, it is clear from a close analysis of both texts that Peter wins. The most prominent (and glaring) fact is Peter references these men in future tense, but Jude speaks of them in the present (1).
In addition, Jude not only references Enoch to prove his point (an extra-biblical source today, but certainly not then), but also an unsourced prophecy made by one of the apostles, “…there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.”
But, despite these evidences, is it not possible these men were somehow, maybe even inadvertently, misunderstood? What crimes have they be accused of here that all of us haven’t committed at some point in our past, and will certainly be guilty of in the future? What could possibly have convinced Jude to level such a judgment onto them as rendering them lost and needing to be saved, as if by fire?
They were first ungodly. Yep. Check that box for each and every one of us, as we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
I, too, reject authority (speeding anyone), speak evil of rulers, check, have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m constantly being led around like a brute beast, after my own natural tendencies.
This is actually not looking very good for me here.
But, there are a few things in this list of Jude’s that are rather…well…damning, to say the least.
First, they turn the grace of God into lewdness. What does this actually mean? The word ασέλγειαν (G766) means “licentiousness, the indulgence of vices, denotes a filth, and watonness.”
How in the world can you turn grace into that? Well, simply by doing what Paul warns us against, “…you have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). Just because we are, “saved by grace through faith, and not of ourselves, it is a gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) in no way gives us free reign to live it up in sin. And, this, apparently, these men were doing.
Second, they apparently took issue with the deity of Christ. Or, maybe they thought it was possible that one could also be saved if they just believed Jesus was a good person, not necessarily God in the flesh.
Why is this an issue? Because Paul makes it very, very clear. “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Salvation requires belief and confession. Nothing else. You cannot add to it. You cannot subtract from it. If you do, then it is no longer grace, but works and you are dead in your sins (Romans 11:6).
How Should We Take This Letter?
So, what does that mean for us, today? We are so far removed from first century Christianity, what we do today would hardly be recognized by those early believers.
Should we just pass by Jude’s little letter on a way to more controversial and more salacious books like Revelation? After all, that’s our book, right? We all love to predict the end of the world!
Actually, Jude (like the rest of the bible) serves as a really good litmus test for us.
Are we guilty of what these men were guilty of? Was Peter and Enoch and the other apostolic prophecy talking about us, too?
Maybe it’s time to clean out the stain from our own love feast. Maybe there are people in our lives whose company we simply should not keep.
Are you a member of a church? How many people in the congregation model more of the world in their lives than they do Christ? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?
It’s possible you, too, have, “certain men who have crept in unnoticed.” Maybe it’s time for you to stand up and, “contend earnestly for the faith.”
Salvation is a qualification. Within it are some crucial and fundamental components such as genuine transformation. The sanctification of the soul is not optional in the Christian life. It’s not something you can pick and choose. If you are saved, you will be changed. Fight all you want, but, eventually, you’ll get tired and you’ll let him finish what he started.
What Questions Are Still Left Unanswered?
There are always questions left unanswered, aren’t there? I always end up with at least a few.
First, I would like to know why Jude can reference a book like Enoch and yet, today, that book is considered unreliable? It’s not the only extra-biblical reference in the bible, and Jude cites here three.
So much for the completeness and perfection of the canon!
Second, if behavior is a litmus test in validating our salvation, how much is enough?
How much sin is needed in one’s life before they are considered unsaved? How long could one live with sin before they are determined to be bereft of any hope of redemption?
Are we to judge other people by the appearances of their behavior? Isn’t that what Jude was doing here? If so, shouldn’t we be doing the same in modern churches today?
Should we even have special buildings set aside for weekly performances that masquerade as fellowship (when we all know, deep down, they are not)?
How can I tell if I’m saved right now? What about next week, when I inevitably fall flat on my face and make yet another mess of my life?
Are we utterly and inconsolably at the mercy of God?
Is it, then, out of our hands? Must we be first called? Is there left for us any real choice? Are we predestined to our lot in eternity, for good or naught?
Must we, as Thomas penned, “…go gentle into that good night?” Or, should we, “rage, rage against the dying of the light?”
I hope and pray that Christ’s work is sufficient in the end. For, without it, I am but a sinner, condemned.
Until my next paper….
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!
(1) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia