The New Testament letters are just as alive and relevant today as they were when first written two thousand years ago. In order to discover and appreciate these documents, it is necessary to understand them in the historical context of the first recipients. When we understand that the initial recipients were ordinary people who lived in situations that were similar to our situations today, then the letters that the Holy Spirit penned to the early Christians come alive for us today. We are ordinary people who thirst for encouragement when we go through trying times. Letters as James and Jude come to life in our own lives when we understand that the message of encouragement that was written two thousand years ago to recipients who were going through trying times, are also messages of encouragement for us today.
The letter of Jude is a good example of how historical Bible study illustrates how the New Testament letters are as relevant today as they were when first written. Jude wrote in the historical context of the turmoil of national Israel to which Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 (Lk 21) concerning the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70 was less than five years away when the Holy Spirit directed the hand of Jude to write a brief document to alert Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire. At the same time, the Holy Spirit through James wrote to the Jews a more lengthy letter with similar thoughts. James’ inscriptions were also directed to Jewish Christians who were scattered throughout the Empire (Js 1:1).
Both James and Jude were preparing the Jewish Christians for the onslaught of Rome to settle the “Jewish problem” of the Empire. It was a problem of radical Judaism that had been building over many decades. These radical insurrectionists wanted to throw off the oppression of Rome in order to enjoy their own national independence. They hated Caesar and they hated Roman oppression.
However, regardless of the efforts of the zealot insurrectionists, the Romans continued throughout the years to execute would-be messiahs who called the Jews to unite in national rebellion against Rome. Many years before Jude wrote, some Romans believed that a Jew from the city of Nazareth was asserting Himself to be a “king of the Jews.” Some of His disciples also believed that this Nazarene was the Messiah who would reign on earth in order to restore national Israel. For this reason, some during His ministry attempted to make Him a king against His will (See Jn 6:15). The Romans, therefore, nailed this self-proclaimed Messiah to a cross outside Jerusalem about thirty-five years before both James and Jude wrote their letters. In the middle 60s, therefore, James and Jude wrote in order to remind all Jewish Christians that the coming of the Lord in judgment on national Israel was at hand (Js 5:7,8).
Both James and Jude, who were the earthly brothers of Jesus by Joseph and Mary, were called specifically by the Holy Spirit to warn the followers of their older crucified brother. The two brothers wanted to remind their readers that Jesus had indeed prophesied thirty-five years before what was about to transpire in the lives of His disciples. They had accepted their older brother as the Messiah and Son of God. And now, the two brothers wanted to exhort the disciples of their older brother that nothing was out of control as they transitioned through the social chaos that all of them were about to experience.
Before the days of impending chaos, one messiah after another was subsequently chased down by the Romans, and eventually killed in battle, or caught and crucified on a cross (See At 21:38). But at the time the two brothers, James and Jude wrote, things had heated up to a social breaking point. Rome thus made a determined decision to solve the problem of Jewish radicalism once and for all. So the Roman army organized and started a march toward Jerusalem. When the signs of the end were in view, James and Jude immediately sat down in some quiet place and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal a message to all Jews, specially Jewish Christians. It was the worst of times for national Israel, but the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24.
But this is not our primary point. We must historically infuse ourselves into the social and political chaos of those times in order to understand the behavior of those who would rise up against the civil authorities of the day, specifically the government of the Roman Empire. We must assume that the Holy Spirit wrote through James and Jude a message that would identify those who would set themselves against the rule of law. In our application of this message to our own selves today, this helps us to identify those in a democratic society who are taking their nations in the way of ruin by twisting the application of both moral and constitutional law.
Every government goes through those times in which there is a chaotic movement within society that thirsts so much for power and change that proponents of the movement are willing to go to extreme measures in order to gain control of the government. This is the inherent social “disorder” of all democracies. In a democracy there is a constant struggle for the power of the government in order that a particular political party might impose the party’s social and economic agenda on the populous as a whole. There is thus a perpetual confrontation within democratic societies that lends itself to producing levels of conflict as one party seeks to gain power over all other parties.
In those monarchies of the past that were led by some king, the resistance simply assassinated the presiding king, and then a new king took over. But in a democratic society, the entire society will divide itself into political parties who launch endless attacks against one another in order to gain power. In our “modern” societies there is usually no assassination of kings by guns and swords. However, there are constant assassinations with the lies that one party would launch against another. The lies are issued in order to discredit the leaders of each party. Fake news subsequently flourishes throughout the media of the society. So it was in reference to the execution of Jesus. Lest the executed, and supposed King of the Jews, become a martyr of another sect of Jewish rebels, there was fake news spread abroad about the missing body of the supposed national King Jesus (See Mt 28:11-15).
This is where the Holy Spirit, specifically through Jude, would have something to say. Those Christians who live in democratic societies today need to listen up while the Holy Spirit moved the pen of Jude across a parcel of papyrus in order to forewarn the Jewish Christians of those unbelieving Jewish zealots within the society who were recruiting all Jews, as well as Jewish Christians, to join the resistance against Rome. The Holy Spirit wrote a stern document in order that the Jewish Christians identify the heart and behavior of those who were seeking to rebel against the rule of the law of Rome. We can identity some of the very same characteristics in the politicians of your own country.
Jude began with a series of pronouncements by which the faithful could identify the leaders of the arrogant resistance: “I want to remind you, though you once knew this” (Jd 5). Since the word “knew” is in the past tense, it seems that Jude’s readers had forgotten what his older brother had prophesied in Matthew 24, as well as God’s harsh judgment that He brought upon insurrectionists. Some Jewish Christians may have been caught up in the emotion of the radical resistance to the point that they simply forgot that being a disciple of Jesus meant that one must submit to the authority of the government in which he lives (See Rm 13:1-7). But in the context of the statement, the Jewish Christians forgot to read their Old Testament Bibles. So Jude reminded them of three examples of those who resisted the authority of God.
Jude first reminded his readers of the example of the arrogant resistance of those who acted against the God-ordained authority of Moses. This case happened immediately after Israel was delivered from Egyptian captivity. In this case, the resistance could not accept the authority of one man over Israel. Before the establishment of “constitutional law” for Israel at Mount Sinai, there was a rebellion against the authority of the one who would be the example of another authority who would eventually rise up in Israel centuries later (See Dt 18:15,18,19; At 3:22,23). But in the rebellion at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Lord “destroyed those who did not believe [obey]” (Jd 5). In order to cleanse the newly established Israelite nation, Korah and his cohorts, with their following, had to be purged from the society of Israel (Nm 16).
Jude then went on to the fallen angels who rebelled against the authority of the archangel Michael who was God’s ordained authority over the angels. Because of their thirst for power, some angels, led by Satan, rebelled against the established authority of the day (See Rv 12). These rebellious angels sought to “impeach” the established God-ordained order of authority in order that they might seize control of the order of angels. But their thirst for power resulted in their being cast down to “everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jd 6).
And then Jude advanced into the moral behavior of those who seek to deliver themselves from any restrictions of moral behavior. These were “ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jd 4).
Jude spoke of those whom we would define as “liberals,” or the far left. Liberals seek to establish their own moral codes on the populous. In the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, the citizens of the cities gave themselves over to all sorts of sexual dysfunctions (Jd 7). It is simply the moral philosophy of the liberal to reject any moral standards by which the people should conduct themselves in their social relationships. Their rebellion against authority reveals itself in their desire to live a life of unrestricted moral behavior. They will elect to office in their democratic society those who live contrary to the moral codes of God. The constituents will, as Sodom and Gomorrah, elect those who live according to their own dysfunctional codes of morality.
When societies change in reference to their conservative moral codes of the past, the society as a whole rejects any standard of moral codes. This change is often reflected in the attitude of the majority of the society who vote against the traditional standards of law that were handed down by the fathers. As the moral behavior of the society changes, the society seeks to change the leaders who would promote their own moral behavior. In this way, constitutions must be revised as a nation “progresses” throughout the decades. The populous must change from conservative moral values that are defined by Divine standards. This is why the liberals of a society are referred to as “progressives.” They want to progress beyond the restrictions of any standards of morality.
In a constitutional society of law, the morally dysfunctional will seek to change the “constitution” of their government in order to justify the means by which they would resist the existing government. In the case of the American society, many of the people would even consider electing for president someone who lives in a same-sex “marriage” relationship. This is a relationship that is contrary to the moral code of the fathers of the nation who defined marriage to be between a male and female. “Marriage” is now redefine, and thus, civil law must be changed in order to establish the new moral order. We must now vote into office those who reflect our definition of the new marriage order. In reference to abortion, murder is defined as “abortion” of individuals who are physically aborted, but can be murdered (left on a table to die) after the abortion.
Jude then goes on to identify the behavior of those who were “progressives” in rebelling against the authority of Rome. His description of those who have given themselves over to resist rule by law, whether moral or civil, is fitting for all those of all time who would put themselves in such a situation. If anyone has reflected on the present moral digression in the American society, it is easy to identify the behavior that the Holy Spirit revealed through Jude’s hand in reference to those who were against the God-ordained authority of Roman government.
Notice how the Holy Spirit identified those who were “progressives,” specifically against the authority of civil law. These progressives were identified by three specific characteristics in belief and behavior in reference to law: (1) They are dreamers who “defile the flesh.” (2) They “despise dominion” (authority). (3) They “speak evil of dignitaries” (the officials) (Jd 8).
When a society is morally and socially imploding, the preceding three behavioral principles characterize the society. If the society is a democracy, then the people will reflect their beliefs and behavior in the politicians they elect into office. Those who despise authority in their own lives, find it easy to recruit and rail against the ruling establishment of the country, specifically the king or president. In their personal lives, their rebellion against authority is revealed in their rebellion against the moral codes of the past.
These are as those who lived before the day when God purged the earth with the flood of Noah’s day. There were those during those days who professed to be wise, but in their arrogance, Paul said that they became fools (Rm 1:22). Paul explained: “Because even though they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rm 1:21). David said that the fool has said that there is no God (Ps 14:1). But in the historical context of Noah’s day, the fool is the one who says that there is a God, but has no fear of living an ungodly life.
Those of Noah’s generation carried on with the foolishness of their common behavior in order to promote their twisted religiosity. They professed a false humility, while at the same time, they despised the established dignitaries of the day. They were religious hypocrites in their presumptuous religiosity. They thus reaped the judgment of God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rm 1:18).
When people reach the moral low of despising the rule of law, whether moral or civil, it is then that God will give them over to uncleanness “through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies among themselves” (Rm 1:24). We seem to forget that the identity of a society that has no respect for the authorities of the day is first revealed in the immoral behavior of the people within the society. As in the days of Noah before the flood, and Jude before the destruction of Jerusalem, moral digression proceeded the eventual judgment of God.
Jude wanted the Jewish Christians of his day not to be deceived by those who professed a zealous religiosity for national Judaism in order to recruit others to join in their rebellion against Roman authority. He wanted his fellow Jews to know that the recruiters to Jewish nationalism “speak evil of those things that they do not know” (Jd 10). In their hearts, the Jewish insurrectionists were as brute beasts who promote corrupt interpretations of the Sinai law in order to prove their rebellion against Rome. Jude wanted to exhort the faithful disciples concerning the behavior of these radical “progressives” in their midst. They must not be deceived by the radicals’ supposed adherence to the Sinai law, which in this case was their manufactured interpretations of the law.
Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain [assassinations] and have run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward [greed], and perished in the rebellion of Korah [who rebelled against the God-ordained authority of Moses] (Jd 11).
These rebellious Jewish radicals had actually come into the fellowship of the disciples. They sat right there in the love feasts (Jd 12). They were “feeding themselves without fear” while they spoke of rebellion against the law of the state (Jd 12). They exalted themselves with their great promises of an independent freedom from the oppression of the evil Nero who was Caesar of Rome at the time. They were clouds who promised rain, but were without any fulfillment of what they presumed. It is as a radical liberal in government who makes endless promises of free everything at the expense of the rich. They are those who make vain promises in order to deceive the hearts of the populous in order to gain their vote.
But Jude described these deceptive political and religious charlatans with the following words:
They are raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering starts for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever (Jd 13).
If we did not have Jude’s document around for two thousand years, we would certainly assume that he wrote these words about many chaotic situations in societies throughout the world today. We would assume that he had some modern-day politicians in mind when he concluded with the following statement:
These [politicians] are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts. And their mouth speaks great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage [of votes]” (Jd 16).
If we could add an interpretive statement to what Jude said here, it would be that we can sometimes identify our leaders by the dogs nipping at their heals.