Introduction to the Epistle of Jude
Mar 16, 2019
While I was in New Zealand recently, Ray, the pastor from Myanmar, requested that I do a study on the epistle of Jude. It is a short epistle, but I have decided to do so as requested.
Jude, or Judas, was one of Jesus’ younger brothers, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him. He identifies himself in his salutation in Jude 1 and 2, saying,
1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. 2 May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.
Verse 1 identifies the author under the Greek name, Ioudas, or Judas. He was referenced again in Matthew 13:55, 56 where we read of the questions the people of Nazareth had about Jesus,
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?
The same is found in Mark 6:3, which gives us the same story from a different gospel writer. From this we find that Jesus had four brothers and at least three sisters. If Jesus had had only two sisters, the wording would have been, “And His sisters, are they not BOTH with us?” But in using the term “all,” it is implied that He had more than two sisters. In other words, Jesus was the first-born son in a fairly large family of eight brothers and sisters. Judas, being listed last, was no doubt the youngest brother.
One might compare him to the family of his forefather, David, who was the eighth brother (1 Samuel 16:10, 11). However, David was the youngest, while Jesus was the oldest, and we know that David had just two sisters, Zeruiah and Abigail (1 Chronicles 2:16).
The Conversion of James and Judas
Very little is known about Judas himself. He is believed to have written his epistle in Judea, for he wrote against the Gnostics that had been infiltrating Christian circles. Gnosticism was founded by Simon Magus, who was confronted in Samaria by Peter (Acts 8:9, 18-23). Peter admonished Simon to repent, but he did not do so, preferring to establish a counterfeit version of Christianity that merged Greek religion with elements of Christianity.
John 7:5 says, “not even His brothers were believing in Him” during the time of His earthly ministry. However, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7), which apparently confirmed him in the faith and prepared him to lead the church in Jerusalem a few years later after the apostles were forced to flee from Jerusalem.
Judas may have seen Jesus as well after the resurrection, but if so, we are not told. At the very least, his older brother, James, would have testified of his personal experience, and Judas would have believed his account.
Their view of Jesus after His resurrection changed dramatically. No longer was Jesus their older brother, for they had to learn a new truth. Resurrection makes one legally a new creation—that is, a different person. So Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:16 and 17,
16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
So also Jude introduced himself not as Jesus’ brother but as “a bond-servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” He was still the brother of James, but his relationship with Jesus had changed. He claimed no blood relationship with Jesus, for Jesus had ascended to a greater position as the Master of all who believe. He is now a brother to the whole Church (Hebrews 2:12) and a near kinsman to all who are made of “flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14).
James himself called himself “a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). Paul identified himself as “a bond-servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1). Thus, Judas, James, and Paul were equally bond-servants of Jesus Christ.
A bond-servant is a slave, but the New Testament writers use this term to refer to voluntary love-slaves, who have been set free but who have returned to have their spiritual ears nailed to the door of the Master’s house (Exodus 21:5, 6). They are no longer slaves sentenced to work off their debt to sin (Exodus 22:3), for Jesus paid their debt and set them free. Instead, they are voluntary slaves who return because they love their Master and desire to share in His inheritance as part of His household. Hence, they have said (as in Psalm 40:6-8),
6 … “My ears Thou hast opened… 7 Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me; 8 I delight to do Thy will, O my God, Thy law is within my heart.”
In other words, being a bond-servant of Jesus Christ is not a matter of compulsion but of love. They do the will of God, not because they are forced against their will, but because they are in agreement with His will.
Dating Jude’s Epistle
Dr. Bullinger dates the epistle from 41-46 A.D. Others date it a bit later. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says in its introduction to Jude,
“Though the date of composition cannot be fixed with certainty, it would not be inaccurate to assign it to the latter half of the first century. It is listed in the Muratorian Canon (second century), and mentioned by Tertullian, Clement, and Origen (third century).”
Jude’s concern about the rising Gnostic influence in the Church also helps to date it, as this was an important issue at that time.
Jude 1 addressed the epistle to “the called,” “the beloved,” and those “kept for Jesus Christ.”
Jude 2 says, “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.”
Those who are called (kletos) are greeted in the Hebrew manner by peace (shalom). The beloved, of course, are loved. Those who are kept (tereo, “guarded”) for Jesus Christ are given mercy.
Jude’s salutation is similar to Paul’s greeting in 2 Timothy 1:2, “grace, mercy, and peace from God.”