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In fact, sexual moral obligations were one of the major concerns addressed by Jude, who cautioned that immoral behavior by teachers was dangerous. He believed that it had the ability to corrupt everyday Christians, and to keep them from attaining salvation. Therefore, he wrote Jude as a way of warning Christians against these false prophets, and against a life of immoral behavior.
Perhaps more significantly, Jude contains a very strong pro-evangelical message, because it encourages Christians to live their religions, making religion a part of daily life. For Jews who lived under religious laws, Judaism was necessarily part of daily life. Every single meal was dictated by religious facets. Moreover, religious law dictated choice of spouse, the ability to marry or divorce, the naming of children, and other facets of daily life. When Jesus freed Jews of their obligations under Jewish laws, it had the impact of making religion less of a factor in daily life, even if it increased the capacity for spirituality in the individual. Therefore, to address that issue, Jude admonished Christians to live their religion, so that they could set an example for others, and demonstrate the moral righteousness of Christianity.
Jude's condemnation of false teachers naturally makes one wonder who the false teachers were. "Many Protestant scholars have maintained that the false teachers denounced in Jude are Gnostics of the second century." (Knight). However, this view is considered unsupported by many scholars. First and foremost, Jude does not indicate who is considered to be a false teacher, nor does he explain any reason beyond their licentiousness for them to be considered false teachers. Therefore, while it is clear that Jude is upset with false teachers, there is nothing to suggest that those teachers were necessarily Gnostics. Of course, this issue becomes very important when viewed in the context of the debate over authorship and date that the book was written, since Jude could only have been writing against the Gnostics if he were writing in the second century. However, nothing in his text definitively points to a second-century authorship; there were sufficient false teachers during Apolistic times to encourage a treatise like Jude's epistle.
One of the most important verses in all of Jude refers to the idea of punishment and eternal damnation. Speaking of the judgment of false teachers, Judah states:
Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great
Day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 5-7).
This verse is very important because it serves to remind Christians of the other side of God's grace. The emphasis in modern Christianity is on the ability of salvation, with very little focus on damnation. From this verse, it appears that early Christians had the same perspective. This is not surprising, given that the Old Testament does not really discuss the idea of eternal damnation, because there was no corollary idea of eternal life. However, Jude is the first book to make it clear that the wrathful God of the Old Testament has not changed. While He has provided the people with Jesus as a means for salvation, and will no longer require them to engage in literal sacrifice for their sins that does not mean that He has agreed to permit sin without punishment. Instead, Jude reminds his fellow Christians, the God that destroyed the unbelievers in Egypt or destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is the same God in charge of the afterlife for Christians.
Themes and Theology: Message
The most important theme of Jude is that Christians must remain moral in order to attain salvation. This continues to be a central area of debate between many modern Christian denominations. Is Christianity a religion of grace or a religion of good works? Most theologians would say that Christianity is a religion of grace, but they would also admit that Christianity is linked to moral obligation. Those who fail to adhere to the moral obligations imposed by the religion are considered by many other Christians to be un-Christian. This idea seems to be supported by what Jude says, because he cautions that anyone who is actually faithful to God would submit himself to God's moral authority. Therefore, anyone engaging in repeated licentiousness could not be a true servant of Christ.
Jude specifically addresses God's values in his letter. He talks about how God has previously punished those who rejected his message by failing either to believe in him or to live those beliefs. He has killed those who were unfaithful, and while Jude only mentions the killings after the exodus from Egypt, anyone familiar with Old Testament scholarship realizes that God has engaged in several mass killings for the unfaithful, beginning with the Great Flood and moving forward through time. Moreover, Jude specifically references the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who claimed adherence to religious laws, but failed to comply with them. He talks about God taking vengeance on those who defy Him. Moreover, this vengeance can be dramatic, such as bringing about the deaths of all unbelievers, or bringing about an eternal fire.
What is interesting is that Jude does not give the reader much of an idea about the coming kingdom of Christ. Jude makes it clear that unbelievers will suffer eternal punishment, at least if they have failed to adhere to their moral obligations during their lifetime. However, he does little to explain how the faithful will be rewarded in Christ's kingdom. Instead, what he does is chronicle a whole list of people who have failed to follow God's plan and have suffered greatly for that error. Then, he tells people that they must adhere to God's plan. If they do, they can "look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life." (Jude 21). He does not explain what eternal life entails, but, by juxtapositioning it with the horrors suffered by unbelievers, he makes it clear that it is the better of the two alternatives.
Of course, the major problem addressed by Jude is the problem of the false teachers. Rather than speaking to those teachers and trying to get them to change their perspective, Jude took his message to the people. He warned them that these false teachers were not to be trusted. He warned them that God did not sanction licentiousness, and reminded them of prior consequences of licentiousness, in case they wanted to disagree. However, Jude's most effective solution may have been his admonition that Christians live their faith. He instructed them to "build yourselves up on your most holy faith: pray in the Holy Spirit." (Jude 20). Moreover, he introduced the idea of Christian evangelicism, by considering such evangelicism as an act of mercy towards one's fellow human. Jude said, "And have mercy on some who are wavering; save other by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies." (Jude 22-23). The idea seems to be that Christians are to convert those who can be converted, but to hate those who cannot be converted, because they pose a real threat to Christians.
The Epistle of Jude has a very simple outline, because it is a very brief book. It begins with a salutation, in which the author identifies himself as Jude, a servant of Christ and brother of James. It goes on to explain the occasion of the book, which is that licentious intruders have stolen in among Christians. Next, the author explains how God has previously wrought His judgment on false teachers. In this passage, Jude mentions the Exodus from Egypt, God casting the Angels out of Heaven, Sodom and Gomorrah, slanderers, Cain, Balaam, and Enoch. Jude then gives his advice for how to avoid falling prey to the false teachers, which consists of living one's religion, attempting to convert people to Christianity, and hating those who would threaten one's religion. Finally, Jude ends with a prayer.
The overriding message in Jude is that moral obligation remains a central part of Christianity. He warns Christians that they absolutely should not listen to people, claiming to be Christian, who believe that they are somehow freed of their moral obligations towards other people. This concept remains a central part of modern Christianity and actually helps explain some of the debates between denominations, because those who feel that some denominations encourage…[continue]
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