The book bears the author’s name with almost no dispute or challenge. Jude was both the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) and a brother of James, the leader of the Jerusalem church (Jude 1; Acts 15:13). Like James, Jude was a Hellenist Jew, a term that surfaces in Acts 6:1-7. Hellellenists were Greek-speaking Jews. Alexander the Great captured Jerusalem in 332 BC. His conquests introduced Greek culture into the eastern Mediterranean world. This culture was known as “Hellenism.” “Hellen” refers to a person of Greek descent or culture. During what we know as the inter-testmental period of history, this influence spread widely. Following Alexander’s death in 323, his empire was divided among several of his generals. Dynasties were established, and the rulers of these kingdoms fought for control of the Palestinian region.
The Apocrypha details the events of this period. The cities of the Decapolis mentioned in the New Testament were centers of Hellenistic culture. Jews were living in towns and cities throughout the Hellenistic world. Some had resided in Babylonia since the time of the exile centuries before. Others moved outside of Palestine for economic reasons. As these Jews living in these Greek-influenced regions made their way back to Jerusalem, they also brought back some of the Greek influences. As a result, orthodox Jews viewed Hellenistic Jews as second-class and treated them harshly. This harsh treatment of the Hellenist Jews led to the establishment of the deacon office in Acts 6.
Jude’s letter has a two-fold purpose:
- Expose the false teachers that had infiltrated the Christian community
- Encourage Christians to stand firm in the faith and fight for the truth.
Jude recognized that false teachers often peddled their wares unnoticed by the faithful, so he worked to heighten the believers’ awareness by vividly describing how terrible dissenters were. But more than simply raising awareness, Jude thought it necessary for believers to stand against those working against Jesus Christ. The over-arching theme of Jude’s letter is assurance in the days of apostasy. With that theme in mind, Jude offers three challenges to his readers:
- Do not be led astray by false teachers.
- Contend for the faith in light of false teachers.
- Rely on the grace and faithfulness of God to endure.
Jude’s brevity communicates the urgency of his belief that false teachers needed to be condemned and removed from the church. Few words meant that he would not waste space dancing around the issue. He saw people and practices worthy of condemnation within the church, including rejecting authority and seeking to please themselves. Jude marshaled powerful biblical imagery to clarify what he thought of it all in response to these errors. This letter offers an unusually vivid and unique snapshot of the dynamics of life in an early Christian community. Why the effort? Why the passion? Why the urgency? Everything is still in the formative stage; everything is at the same time fresh and vulnerable. Care had to be taken to ensure that Christianity – in its infancy – was protected and advanced. Yet, as we read, there is no avoiding the sense that the matters at hand are crucial.