Jude, a tiny novella of a New Testament book, is bookended by beauty. The short but urgent letter opens and closes with prayers and phrases with which one would gladly decorate one’s home.
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you. Jude 1-2.
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. Jude 24-25.
However, the remainder of this letter is jarring.
Jude himself, who was likely a cousin of James, the brother of Christ who was the head of the early Church in Jerusalem, admitted to the urgency of his letter to those with whom he shared a common faith.
Beloved,…I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend to the faith that was once delivered to the saints. Jude 3.
The Greek word anagke, translated above as necessary, literally describes an uplifted arm poised to meet a pressing need. It is a strong Greek word connoting someone being under compulsion or under constraint.
False teachers, who had crept in unawares and were claiming to be followers of Christ, were threatening the gospel yet again. They were making light that which is by nature heavy, the glory of God (the Hebrew word for glory literally means weight). They were emptying the gospel and eager for their own gain, though not obviously, or they would have been rejected outright.
In his short letter, Jude uses nearly every well-known Jewish incident of heavy judgement on those who go against Yahweh and His ways to jar the Church into sobriety at what was happening insidiously in the Church.
The rebellious angels who refused to accept their privileged place as servants of God. Korah and his discontented pack who were power hungry and discontent with their privileged place as priests (see Numbers 16). Cain, Balaam, Sodom and Gomorrah. Once could not gather a more weighty line-up of punishments for pride and a refusal to acknowledge and bow before the ordinances of God.
Jude is trying to draw a distinct parallel between the ancient examples and the present false teachers. When the gospel is at stake and the souls of the Church are in danger of being dragged or slowly charmed into heresy, it seems that lovers of God are unafraid to pull up the stops.
After such a litany of divine judgement, Jude returns to his gentle yet firm tone to the early Church.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire. Jude 1:20-23.
He was convinced of better things concerning them. He bids them to remain in the truths of the gospel that had been declared by the Apostles. He encourages them to have their hearts convinced of and compelled by the love of Christ. He longs to see them contend for the gospel.
The stakes were high. The dangers were real. The coming Judgement was looming. Yet, Jude reminded the Church that the God who had called them would keep them. He concludes his jarring letter with a jettisoned confidence that God was indeed able, powerful and competent to preserve them in the gospels, to keep them in the love of Christ.
In a culture where false teachers are insidiously preaching a prosperity gospel or antinomianism and cheap grace, may we find solace in the short letter of Jude which points us to the One who is able to keep us from stumbling.