NOTES ON THE EPISTLE OF JUDE
Who he was who wrote this epistle cannot be dogmatically stated, whether he was the brother of James the brother of the Lord (Gal.1:19), there being a James and a Jude as among the Lord’s brothers (Matt.13:55), or whether he was an apostle, as there was also a James and a Jude as among the apostles (Acts 1:13,14). James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod before the epistle of Jude was written (Acts 12:2). Jude does not call himself an apostle, but simply a bondservant, as also does James, the writer of the epistle of James. Jude writes to the called ones, who are also beloved (the AV/KJV says, “sanctified”) ones in God the Father, and kept ones in (RV says “for”) Jesus Christ. The Lord in Jn 17:11, in view of His being about to die, prayed that the Father might keep them in “Thy name which Thou hast given Me,” which name is the name of Jesus, not “in Christ,” in which name there is eternal security for all believers. “In Jesus” is a term in which we see saints on earth seeking to carry out the truth of God (Eph.4:21; Rev.1:9). In Jn 17:12 the Lord says that while He was with them He had been keeping them in that name, the name of Jesus. The Lord not only kept them, but He guarded them. Here we have not only the thought of keeping or preserving His disciples in the matter of service, but also of guarding them in the matter of salvation, for as to eternal salvation all believers are in His hand and in His Father’s hand, so that they can never perish (Jn 10:28,29). Thus it was that the Lord said that not one of them perished, save the son of perdition; Judas was never one of His. I am of the view that “preserved in Jesus Christ,” as in the AV/KJV, is the correct rendering of Jude 1, and not “kept for Jesus Christ,” as in the RV. Jude’s salutation of mercy, and peace and love be multiplied, is what we all feel the need of, and an increase of such excellencies of peace and love is greatly to be desired.
Here we have an evidence of what Peter wrote, that “no prophecy ever came by the will of man” (2 Pet.1:21), for while Jude had intended to write on the subject of salvation, he was constrained to write on contending for the Faith. This controlling power of the Spirit over the words of the Scriptures is never more truly seen than in the case of Balaam the soothsayer, who, though intent on cursing Israel for the glittering rewards of Balak, king of Moab, was told by the angel of the LORD, “Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Num.22:35). Of Balaam’s words Balak said, “What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether” (Num.23:11). Balaam said later to Balak, “Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; what the LORD speaketh, that will I speak?” (Num.24:12,13). The common salvation simply means the salvation which is common to all believers, and does not mean something that is common or inferior. Because of the need amongst God’s people at that time, the Spirit turned Jude from his original purpose, from writing of the common salvation to writing on the Faith, and on the need of contending earnestly for it. The reason for this was that certain men had crept in privily amongst the saints. They were to contend as athletes who were trained for the contest. The Greek word for “contend” is an athletic word. It is derived from agon, “a place of contest, stadium.” To what purpose would anyone enter the stadium to contend with athletes, if he had not first been under training? It would be futile. The Faith is the body of doctrine committed to, and to be kept by, the saints of this
dispensation, wherein is contained the will of God. It answers to the law of God which was given through Moses in Horeb for all Israel (Mal.4:4). By the time that Jude wrote, the Faith had already been given to the saints. It was given “once for all,” but it was not given “all at once.” It was given like the teaching of the Lord, who gave His disciples His word according as they were able to bear His teaching. The Faith is called the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jas.2:1). The fundamental principles of the Faith were given at the beginning of this dispensation, but certain matters were revealed and more clearly understood as time went on. It was so also with the law that was given on mount Horeb with its statutes and judgements, for Moses spoke of his doctrine coming upon Israel like the rain and the dew: “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, My speech shall distil as the dew; As the small rain upon the tender grass, And as the showers upon the herb” (Deut.32:2).
Jude does not say what Peter says about the false teachers of whom he writes; Peter’s words concerning them are – “denying even the Master that bought them” (2 Pet.2:1). Peter views the false teachers as men who had been bought by the Lord. This I would understand means buying in the sense of 1 Cor.6:20, “Ye were bought with a price.” Some have thought that because they were in the field, the world, they were bought, but the Lord bought the field because of the treasure that was in it, that is, His saints (Matt.13:44). He did not buy the wicked that were in the world. Jude, in contrast, does not refer to these ungodly men as having been bought. They had crept in privily, disguised as sheep, whilst they were actually wolves. Paul said in his parting message to the elders of the church of God in Ephesus, “I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the (little) flock” (Acts 20:29). He did not stop there, he continued to say, “And from amongst your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Thus we see that, as the apostles were disappearing from the scene, two classes arose among God’s people, elders who taught things which were destructive of the Faith, and ungodly, unregenerate men, who crept in as wolves, men who did not spare the flock. Jude has the latter class specially before his mind as he writes, and, perchance, Peter has the former, though it might be difficult to detect a difference between them. Even Judas was not detected by the rest of the apostles until the end, when he came out in his true colours. The Lord warned His disciples with the words, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves” (Matt.7:15). These ungodly men turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, that is, lewdness, debauchery. They changed the freedom that believers enjoy, through divine grace, into an occasion for the flesh to run riot (Gal.5:13). In contrast to this the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (age) (Tit.2:12). Instead of denying ungodliness, these ungodly men denied the Lord, whose example and teaching ever point in the direction of godly living.
Jude cites a few of the judgements which came upon those who rebelled against God, and he begins with the 603,548 men of Israel who were numbered at Sinai, who entered into a covenant of obedience to obey all that the LORD commanded them. All these later disbelieved and disobeyed God at Kadesh-barnea and were sentenced to death in the wilderness, and were not allowed by God to enter His rest in the land of Canaan. The Arabah became the graveyard of those rebellious men. Such are held up by Jude as a warning to the saints not to fall after the same example of disobedience (Num.14:29).
The fallen angels, presumably the angels of the devil (Matt.25:41; Rev.12:7), who kept not their “first or original state, or state of dignity” and of their own volition left their own dwelling or habitation which was assigned to them by God, have been kept in everlasting bonds under darkness to the judgement of the great day. The devil will not be cast into the eternal fire of the Lake of Fire until after the Millennium (Rev.20:7-10), and the judgement of the great day possibly refers to the judgement of the Great White Throne (Rev.20:11-15). See my notes on 2 Pet.2:4: It is a great difficulty to apprehend how the angels that sinned who were cast down to hell (Tartarus, RVM) are in heaven, in Rev.12:7, if the passages refer to the same angels.
This verse has been used by those who hold that the sons of God, in Gen.6:2, were fallen angels who married wives of the daughters of men, and had hybrid children by them, half angelic and half human. These words, “having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication, and gone after strange flesh” – that as Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. went after strange (other) flesh, they say, that the angels went after strange (Gk. heteros, different) flesh, flesh of another kind. The whole case breaks down when we remember that angels are spirits (Heb.1:7,14), and have not got bodies of flesh at all; hence they could not go after other flesh when they themselves are not flesh. The whole idea of persons who are spirits marrying women with a body of flesh is a wild dream. Angels neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matt.22:30). What the verse says is this, that Sodom and Gomorrah, and the contiguous cities in like manner with Sodom and Gomorrah, gave themselves over to fornication and bestial practices (see Lev.18:23;20:15,16; Deut.27:21). These cities were veritable sinks of iniquity, and their punishment was such as is an example of God’s wrath on such as similarly defile themselves. The inhabitants of these cities are suffering the punishment of eternal fire from then till now. “In like manner” does not refer to the angels that sinned at all.
These carnal dreamers defiled themselves by their dreamings, and were like those of whom Peter writes, who had eyes full of an adulteress and could not cease from sin (2 Pet.2:14). They also set aside, or at nought, all lordship. They would be under authority to no one, having denied the lordship, the absolute authority, of Christ (Jude 4). They also blasphemed or railed at glories. In contrast to their carnal and rebellious behaviour, so high a person as Michael, the archangel, durst not bring a railing judgement against the devil. Yet puny men often speak disparagingly of this great and dread being who is the deceiver of the whole world. The Scriptures do not reveal when this contention took place between Michael and the devil, but the body of Moses was the matter, or one of the matters, about which they disputed. Dan.10:12-21 sheds some light on what takes place in the realm of the unseen. The Lord alone may rebuke the devil (Zech.3:2). We do well not to go beyond the Scriptures when we speak of the evil one whose judgement and destiny are fixed by God.
A more gross and rebellious state could hardly be described, than for men to be compared to beasts or creatures without reason, who in their railing at things which they do not understand corrupt and defile themselves.
What was the way of Cain? It was the way of a man who listened to the devil and rejected the way of God, who spoke to Cain twice at least before he committed the terrible act of slaying his brother. “And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 Jn 3:12). What were his evil works? First in importance of these was Cain’s bringing of the fruit of the ground as an offering unto the LORD, whereas he should have brought a like offering to that of Abel his brother, an offering, the blood of which had been shed. The devil was behind Cain’s act. What of Balaam? He went hurriedly and rashly against the word of God also. He thought to enrich himself with the hire of wrong-doing. A dumb ass rebuked him for his mad folly, but he went on to sin and to reap the consequences of his sin. Then of Korah’s pride and rebellion we are well acquainted. He perished in the revolt which he headed against God and His servants Moses and Aaron. In the case of each of these men, Cain, Balaam and Korah, we see the same spirit at work; men, who knew the will of God, gave themselves to the evil one and rebelled against the plain word of God. These evil men of whom Jude writes would perish too in their sin and rebellion.
Here we have a number of similes describing the character and works of the ungodly men who had crept in privily amongst the saints. They were sunken rocks, a danger to voyagers even in a calm sea, and the danger was more abundantly present, for they ingratiated themselves with the saints as they feasted with them in love-feasts. They fed (there is no word for shepherds) or shepherded themselves and cared not for the flock. They were clouds without water. Their ministry was just words, words, and afforded no water for the thirsty and weary. They were autumn trees, trees of the harvest, but barren of fruit. They were said to be twice dead, a difficult description indeed! The words must bear relationship to autumn trees, plucked up by the roots. In Rom.4:19 Paul speaks the thoughts of Abraham when he considered the deadness of Sarah and of himself to produce naturally the son of promise: “And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” In the light of this, unfruitfulness is no doubt regarded as deadness, and besides, the barren fruit trees were actually dead. Thus we have a double state of deadness. The result is, such trees are not cut down, but pulled up by the roots. The Lord said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father planted not, shall be rooted up” (Matt.15:13). These evil men who had crept in privily had not been planted by God in His house, and, consequently, they were in due time rooted up. They were also wild waves of the sea, full of action and turbulence, but only foaming out their own shame (or shames): They were as the wicked of Isa.57:20,21, as a troubled sea that cannot rest, whose “waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Then we have the fearful end of these ungodly men, “for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved for ever.” They were on earth like wandering stars (the planets, some suggest comets), always on the move, and they will be wanderers for ever in utter darkness. If Judas Iscariot could company with the apostles and was chosen by the Lord for the fell work of betraying Him, the Lord knowing his character from the beginning that he was a devil, it was no wonder that the wrong kind of material got in among the saints, persons who were inside only for what they could get.
Certain have thought that this prophecy of Enoch is derived from the apocryphal book of Enoch, which is thought to have been written about the time of Herod the Great, but this is thought by others to be very uncertain. I myself think it to be very uncertain. If a traditional account of Enoch’s prophecy existed in the time of Herod the Great, so as to be recounted in
this apocryphal book of Enoch, then it would be equally well known to the apostles and the Jewish Christians of the early days then the Lord was on earth Whence Jude’s knowledge of this prophecy is derived is a matter of mystery about which it is impossible to be dogmatic. As to the truth of the prophecy there can be no doubt, as Jude’s epistle is an inspired epistle like the rest in the New Testament. Jude sees the same characteristics in the judgement of God which will overtake the ungodly, as overtook the ungodly in Noah’s day, when they were swept away by the flood. Jude gives us a view of what existed in the Fellowship at the close of the apostolic period or shortly afterwards, when Judaism and other fatal doctrines of demons were taught by ministers of Satan. These were in a frenzy of haste to bring to an end the testimony of the Lord which the apostles and their co-workers had raised in the churches of God. Four times Jude writes of “ungodly” and “ungodliness.” In view of the oncoming tide of ungodliness no wonder that Paul wrote to Timothy of the need for godliness, and wrote to him of the Mystery of Godliness, even Christ, who was manifested in the flesh, in whom we learn what is proper conduct in the house of God. To be ungodly is to be bereft of the fear of God, that reverence and awe that is due to the Divine Being. There is no fear of God before the eyes of the ungodly (Rom.3:18).
Murmurers are persons who “utter secret and sullen discontent,” which has a most harmful effect on the peace of any community. The world was never more full of this than it is today, and, woe to the Fellowship of God’s Son if such people become numerous, for they will drive out peace before them. Complainers, these are fault-finders, persons such as the Lord described, who see motes in their brother’s eye and do not see that they have a beam in their own (Matt.7:4,5). “Thou hypocrite!” the Lord said to such. Jude said that such were walking after their own lusts. They were such as would put restrictions on others with their complaints, but would seek full scope for their own licence. David writes, in Ps.12:2-4, of those who spoke to their neighbours with flattering lip and a double heart, and who claimed the right to speak as they would. Such were the men of Jude’s time as indicated here. They were men with a glib tongue who uttered great swelling words, and showed respect of persons, that is, they admired persons for profit, a foul and nauseating course of conduct.
These words are similar to those of 2 Pet.3:2,3: Paul, Peter and now Jude, show the character of the last days of the apostolic period; the shades of night were falling and the wolves, of whom Paul spoke in Acts 20, were ravishing the flock. Not only were the last days of the apostolic period in view, but the last days before the Lord’s coming also are indicated. Who can doubt that these are upon us? Our safety is found in the words which Paul spoke when he commended the elders of Ephesus to God and to the word of His grace. Here Jude calls upon the saints to remember the words of the apostles of the Lord which had been spoken to them. This is ever the safeguard of saints in dark days. If we fail to read and to adhere to the Scriptures, we leave ourselves open to become a prey to the evil one and to the character of the times in which we live.
Here is further proof that these men had never been born again. They were mere natural (Gk. psuchikoi, soulish) men; men such as Paul describes in 1 Cor.2:14: “Now the natural (Gk. psuchikos, soulish) man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged.” They had no powers of discernment, for they had not the Spirit. Hence, being led by mere natural reason, they caused separations. Paul speaks of certain, in Rom.16:17, who were causing
divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which the saints had learned, and the saints were to turn away from such. What could be expected from men who had not the Spirit, than that they would blunder in spiritual things in the darkness of their own natural minds?
The Faith here is the same Faith, as in Jude 3, which was once for all delivered to the saints, and for which they were to contend earnestly. It is here viewed as a foundation, and is the base of Christian conduct, both individual and collective. This is the foundation, and we are to be the builders. Then we are to be ever praying in the Holy Spirit. This is similar to Paul’s words, in Eph.6:18, “praying at all seasons in the Spirit.” Prayer, we learn from Eph.2:18, is to be made through the Lord Jesus, in the Spirit, unto the Father. “For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.” We are to keep ourselves in the love of God, a continuous act of keeping ourselves in divine love by building ourselves upon the Faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. Does not this simply show to us that we keep ourselves in God’s love, by listening to Him and doing what He says to us in the words of the Faith, which is His revealed will, and by seeking the ear of our God in prayer? If these two lines of communication are kept open and clear, God speaking to us and we to Him, then we shall indeed keep ourselves in His love, that love which He bears to those who are obedient to Him, “Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life”: this is to be our present continuous experience. Great will be that mercy of God to us, for there before us lies that eternal life, that condition of life for which we who have the gift of eternal life are already prepared (Rom.6:23). Then life within and life without shall be in the fullest accord. The study of the words “eternal life” will be found fruitful to those who give time to it.
The RV marginal reading says that the Greek text here is uncertain. It would seem that the better rendering is, “And some who dispute, convict, but others save, from fire snatching them.” Of old Joshua the high priest was described as “a brand plucked out of the fire” (Zech.3:2). See also Jn 15:6: This use of fire, in a figurative way, shows a present destruction of the lives of believers, lives which might have been lived to God’s glory. On some they were to have mercy, but they were to hate the garment, the habits of the persons, which had been defiled by the flesh. They were to carry out this work in fear. Thus each case was to be treated on its merits, the contenders were to be convicted; those whom the fire was consuming were to be saved; and those whom the flesh had defiled were to be shown mercy. Such as seek to restore others are exhorted by Paul – “looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal.6:1).
What a day of exultation it will be when the Lord brings His saints in before His Father! “Wise” before God in the AV/KJV is omitted by many authorities and is omitted in the RV The Spirit-given words of Jude in his ascription of praise to God our Saviour of glory, majesty, dominion and power, will never cease throughout eternity’s unending ages. Here is one of the finest of doxologies, comparable to that with which Paul ends the epistle to the Romans. It is difficult to say who is referred to as “Him,” whether it is God the Father or the Lord Jesus. “Him” may refer to the Lord Jesus, and “His” in “His glory” is, I think, the Father’s glory. So that the Lord Jesus is able to guard us from stumbling with the object in view of setting us in the presence of the Father’s glory without blemish and that with exceeding joy. We sometimes sing of this in the hymn, “When Christ shall bring us in to Thee, We’ll praise Thy grace more worthily.”