Lessons from the Life of Jude

What follows below is an attempt to piece together the life of Jude as told by the Bible, using what few references to him that we have.

Jude grew up with Jesus and his other siblings in the house of Joseph and Mary and thus enjoyed being from the line of David. Being last in the list of four brothers (Matt 13:55), he may have been the youngest of them all, with sisters (at least two) scattered somewhere in the lineup.

In the book that bears his name, assuming this Jude was indeed its author, we see that he identified himself as the “brother of James” (Jude 1), who, as this was a notable James, must have been the leader of the early Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

Both James and Jude (and Joses and Simon) were the biological half-brothers (or more simply, “brothers”) of Jesus, the most natural reading of the text (Matt 13:55). They were neither the cousins of Jesus as Roman Catholicism believes nor stepbrothers from Joseph’s supposed previous marriage as Eastern Orthodoxy believes, both theories stemming from the erroneous notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Jude likely learned to be a carpenter like his father Joseph. Maybe he was old enough to notice when Joseph and Mary were looking for the twelve-year-old Jesus (Luke 2:41–52). Maybe not. One way or the other, he would have eventually noticed something unique about Jesus as he grew up. His older Brother never sinned!

From how his hometown reacted to Jesus in Matthew 13:53–58 (cf. Mark 6:1–6; Luke 4:16–30), and thus not in the same way to Jude or any of his brothers, we could surmise that Jude did not have unusual wisdom or the ability to do mighty works, astonished no one with any teaching, and therefore offended no one. He was not a prophet and tried to afford what honor his hometown would give him.

In fact, there are multiple occasions which showed his unbelief toward Jesus. First, while Jesus was preaching in His home and unable to eat because of the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, trying to seize Him, claiming, “He is out of His mind!” (Mark 3:20–21; cf. Matt 12:46–; Luke 8:19–21). Second, not long thereafter, they were seeking Jesus again, and Jesus responded that His mother and brothers were present in the crowd before Him (Mark 3:31–35), that is, that those who were listening to Him and following His words were His spiritual family and took priority over His physical family, a rebuke in the ears of His physical family indeed. Third, His brothers misunderstood that He should suffer and urged Him to do miracles in Jerusalem in order to show Himself to the world, becoming the King right away (John 7:1–4). In spite of all the miracles of Jesus they had witnessed or heard about (cf. Matt 13:58; John 2:12), “not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5).

This unbelief would not last, however. Perhaps Mary told her family that she had seen the risen Jesus (cf. Matt 28:1–10). Perhaps James told his family about when he saw the risen Jesus as well (1 Cor 15:7). Perhaps these testimonies sat heavily upon Jude along with the fact that so many others had already believed in Him and had been doing so for multiple years. Whenever Jude’s conversion was, it was probably sometime between the resurrection and Pentecost. He was not with his mother at the cross (cf. John 19:25), but we do find Him praying with Mary and his brothers in Acts 1:14.

In addition to being saved, we also see him serving. He may have been one Lord’s brothers who traveled with his wife for missionary work in 1 Cor 9:5, something Paul wrote in AD 55. One or two decades later, Jude wrote the letter that bears his name. Far from unbelief, he called himself a slave of his half-brother Jesus who he identified as Lord, Master, and Christ (Jude 1, 4). He had an eagerness to speak of salvation in Him (Jude 3) and readily warned the church about false teachers (Jude 4–16). He followed the apostles on this matter (Jude 17–19). He saw it necessary to keep one’s self in the love of God and that God would likewise keep him from stumbling until the day he was presented as perfect and blameless before Him—all through Jesus Christ (Jude 24–25). As a result, Jude could do no less than leave us with one of the greatest doxologies in Scripture in Jude 24–25, showing us not only evidence of his conversion, but of someone absolutely captivated by the glory of God, an example for us all today:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

 

 

All quotes ESV

The Church’s Internal Rescue Mission: Jude 22–23

Jude 22–23 states, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (ESV).

In these two verses, Jude identifies three groups within the church that need special attention. Jude has admonished his readers to contend for the faith against false teachers who have crept in the church (Jude 3–4). He then went on to give a scathing sketch of what kind of people these false teachers were (Jude 5–16). Turning his attention back to his readers in Jude 17–25 (“beloved”), Jude deals with those in the church who have been affected by the false teachers.

In the headings that follow below, we will see how we are to minister to each of these three groups, and who exactly makes up each group according to Jude’s description of them. 

In rescuing those who have been influenced by the false teachers, we must… 

1. Show Mercy to Those on the Fence (Jude 22) 

Jude commands us to “have mercy on those who doubt,” standing on the fence, so to speak, not sure of who to follow. To have mercy in this context is to have compassion and pity for those in the church who are vacillating in their faith. Smooth-talking false teachers have captured their convictions for a moment, but our gentle and loving approach may bring them back to sound thinking, carefully articulating truth in the face of error that they are considering. It is not merely a matter of winning their heads. A merciful approach will win their hearts.

2. Be Firm with Those in the Fire (Jude 23a) 

Jude commands us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Of its 106 uses in the NT, the verb “save” is typically used to directly or implicitly describe how God saves men through Christ (e.g., Rom 10:9). Only rarely is it used to described how one can spiritually save another (Rom 11:14; 1 Cor 7:16; 9:22; 1 Tim 4:16; cf. Acts 2:40). It is obviously not in the power of man to spiritually save the soul of another, but we could say that God sometimes uses the means of Christians to provoke their brothers and sisters in Christ to forsake false teaching and persevere.

Jude’s means of salvation is “by snatching them out of the fire.” These people are not just doubting whether or not the faith is true—they are now pictured as beginning to be burnt by the fire of judgment, implying eternal fire to come. Given the danger, the provocation to persevere in Jude 23 is not a half-hearted attempt to win back a brother. “Snatching” comes from the same word that refers to taking something by force (e.g., Matt 11:12; John 6:15; Acts 23:10). “Fire” speaks of the eternal fire for the one betrays a false profession by turning away from the faith (cf. Matt 3:10, 12; Heb 10:27; Rev 20:14–15). Just as Joshua the high priest was plucked as a brand from the fire and forgiven by God for his sins (Zech 3:2–4), so also God can use us to snatch others from false teaching and the eternal fire that would be theirs.   

3. Show Mercy with Fear to Those Stained by the Flesh (Jude 23b)

Jude’s final command is “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” We have considered showing mercy above, and now we see that this mercy is coupled “with fear.” Implied is a fear for God, but the context points to fearing the sinner’s sin—“hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” This group is not just doubting or even being barely burnt by playing with fire. This group is immersed in false teaching, stained for all to see.

“The garment” in Jude’s picture for sin is the inner garment that sits immediately on the skin. Being “stained by the flesh” details the picture further of a garment soiled by use. What remains of sin in us (“the flesh”) stains us from time to time (cf. Gal 5:16–17). If Jude has Zechariah 3:1–5 on the mind again, to describe Joshua’s garments as “filthy” as a picture of sin was to use a word typically used for excrement in the OT (Deut 23:13; 2 Kgs 18:7; Prov 30:12; Isa 36:12; Ezek 4:12). Just as Peter graphically described returning to sin as a dog eating its vomit and a pig wallowing in mire (2 Pet 2:22), Jude likewise shows us the ugliness of sin as excremental filth on our inner clothing. When showing mercy to those affected by false teaching, or even to the false teachers themselves, we must be cautious in our interactions so that we neither join or condone their sin.

False teaching abounds in our day. Sometimes it creeps into the church through false teachers. Should our brothers and sisters and Christ become influenced by it to one degree or another, may we deal mercifully with the doubters, snatch those in the fire, and show mercy with fear to those stained by sin.