Jude 17-23 – Our Duties in a Day of Apostasy
- Jude 1-4 – Contending for the Faith
- Jude 5-9 – The Importance of Spiritual Order and Authority
- Jude 10-16 – The Characteristics of Apostates
- Jude 17-23 – Our Duties in a Day of Apostasy
- Jude 24-25 – The God Who is Able
Beware of Foretold Danger (v. 17-19).
But you [the condition of the times always invokes a response from God’s people], beloved, ought to remember [the watchword of faithfulness] the words that were spoken beforehand [indicating a relatively late date of writing] by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ [Just as Jude appeals to the apostles, so Peter appeals to prophets and Christ’s words through the apostles in the passage here quoted], that they were saying to you [doubtless a Jewish audience], “In the last time there will be mockers [questioning the coming of the Lord], following after their own ungodly lusts.” [2 Peter 3:3] These are the ones who cause divisions [false view of Christians], worldly-minded [false view of the world], devoid of the Spirit [false view of God].
The key of faithfulness is a good memory. Thus Jude transitions from a description of the false to encouragement for the true. He addresses them as “beloved,” a refreshing title indeed in the face of grave error. God will always have His people—good people, beloved people—in the days of error; may we learn to love them. But he continues by saying “remember.” Remember! He says it as if God’s people should have seen these things coming whether Jude wrote or not, for the apostles predicted these men for a long time before they came to the scene. Now these men were actively destroying God’s things, and the test was given of whether God’s people could actually perceive what was predicted. God often blesses us by providing teaching before it needs to be practiced, yet how often we must learn in the circumstance afresh what we ought to do. This is a rebuke to us, for we should have remembered. We should have recited these things to ourselves often. This is the key to faithfulness. Learn the truth well; keep the truth well.
The basis for our faithfulness is apostolic teaching. It is good to remember what we learned at the first, but we must ever compare what we assume with the teaching of the apostles. Jude reminds his readers, doubtless after many of the apostles had died, of the importance and relevance of the apostolic documents. Why were they relevant? They were apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do not tamper with what the Lord Jesus Christ has initiated. If we love Him we must love His apostles, for He spoke through them.
The mentality of faithfulness is watchfulness. To bring an apostolic quote in, Jude cites 2 Peter 3:3. Interestingly, Peter uses the same tactic as Jude and says, “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken by your apostles” (2 Peter 1b-2). After this, Peter says what Jude quotes: “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts.” The quotation is not exact, and this should give us a clue to how they cited the Old Testament as well. But the point is this: men would present mockery for personal gain, not for logical argumentation. Error is a spiritual attack. Rarely is error a sincere effort to grasp the truth; rather, it is mockery driven by personal lusts. We must first be watchful for the existence of mockers and second be mindful of the nature of mockers. Let us not be intimidated by them, though they appear sincere.
The practice of faithfulness is in applying the word spoken. Thus, Jude makes his statements relevant to the current situation in verse 19. He says in essence, “Would you like to see what this looks like in actuality and not in prediction only? Well, these men are divisive in your companies, worldly in their mentalities, and natural in their motivations. See if you can identify them.” These men had a false view of God’s people, a false view of the world, and a false view of God. Obviously, their error was mockery and nothing less.
Scripture has many principles and predictions of Christian living and faithfulness, but how often we misapply those principles and fail to see their connection to this day. These three tests are always relevant: (1) Do they hinder God’s people? (2) Do they think like the world? (3) Do they replicate the character of God? God has given us His Spirit that we may judge these things, and we must judge them lest we fail as stewards of God’s illuminating grace. So then, let us understand, let us remember, and let us apply the words of truth that we may be found faithful until the end. Faithfulness is always intelligent, observant, and relevant.
Build Up Yourselves (v. 20-21).
But you, beloved, building yourselves up [not laying a foundation, but acting upon the faith already given] on your most holy faith [holy in that it is of God, unique, and to be reverenced and guarded], praying in the Holy Spirit [yielded to His power, moving, and intercession], keep yourselves in the love of God [Our defense against worldliness is to positively enjoy the love of God.], waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life [the culmination of eternal life, that is, glorification at the return of the Lord Jesus, the greatest expression of His mercy] [Note the Spirit, the Father, and Son all mentioned; compare to 2 Cor. 13:14.].
Believers must engage in counteraction by understanding their identity contrasted with those “devoid of the Spirit.” So, Jude addresses his readers as beloved ones. “But you,” he says, as if they were completely distinct from what had gone before. This is the second time he addresses them as such (v. 17), and it tells us that we are different because our faith is distinct and holy. We cannot contend for the faith once-for-all-time-delivered if we do not believe in a once-for-all-time-delivered standard of godliness. God has distinguished us as well as the faith we hold; let us remember that.
The main thing is to keep oneself in the love of God. The main verb in this passage is “keep.” Everything in this sentence contributes to the idea of keeping oneself in the love of God. It is no high view of God to emphasize His holiness at the cost of His love (or vice versa). A high view of God embraces His love as a dignified, objective thing. To keep ourselves in it is to preserve ourselves by basking in the sunshine of His eternal kindness and grace. We cannot forget it. We cannot assume we know enough of it. Is this not Paul’s burden in Romans 5, especially verses 3-8?
And not only this [See verses 1-2], but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Keeping oneself in the love of God is qualified by building, praying, and anticipating. In other words, these are the three ways to enjoy God’s love.
- “Building yourselves up on your most holy faith.” The faith is most holy because it is from God and is like no other body of belief in existence. It is pure truth to which men will be held accountable. Since God has given it once-for-all, it is not ours to establish it but rather to build upon it. Therefore, we view it as a once-laid foundation never to be repeated, and we dare not live according to any source other than God’s sole prescribed body of teaching.
- “Praying in the Holy Spirit.” It is one thing to pray religiously. It is another thing to pray in the power of and according to the influence of God Himself. Here we have a call to counter the pattern of those “devoid of the Spirit.” Rather than speak to others in mockery based on internal lusts, we speak to God in worship based on spiritual appetites and divine workings. There can be no true establishment in the faith if there is no power in the Spirit of God. Theology without the Spirit is nearly as dangerous as apostasy itself. We must know God in the mind and in the spirit. We must pray.
- “Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” While we establish ourselves in the faith of the past and equip ourselves in the present by prayer, we ever must encourage ourselves with the future. We experience new mercies every day, yet there is the special mercy that we await which will bring our eternal life to its fullness. God has supplied us a complete resource in Himself—the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we rest in the completeness of God for the soul.
Bring Out the Endangered (v. 22-23).
And have mercy on some [a tender approach], who are doubting [Level 1: beginning stages of wavering, sacrificing truth one held dear]; save others [an emergency approach], snatching them out of the fire [Level 2: almost consumed by false teaching, perhaps beginning to identify with the apostate group]; and on some have mercy with fear [an entirely cautious approach], hating even the garment polluted by the flesh [no toleration for what would defile us in the process of rescuing] [Level 3: bordering on irreversible apostasy, hence the fear and the hatred for polluted garments].
When we have built ourselves up, learned to pray, and learned to enjoy the Lord Jesus, then we are called to rescue others from error. We are not to enter the battlefield unless the prerequisites are met, but for us whom God has equipped, we must become deliverers. Jude outlines three classes of people who will be the objects of our mercy. He classifies them according to their level of departure and the appropriate response to it.
The first class is those who are doubting, and this warrants a tender approach. These show initial signs of departure in that they sacrifice things they once held dear and question things they never imagined. Our response is mercy in that they are not deceivers but rather victims at this point. That these believers are doubting implies a struggle. Therefore, what they need is not a harsh voice but rather a committed believer to come alongside and build them up. Godliness never violates mercy even in the most difficult of circumstances. Doing justly is always accompanied by loving mercy.
The second class is the burning, and this warrants an emergency approach. These are almost consumed by false teaching, doubtless beginning to identify themselves with the apostate following. We are to save them with no hesitation as if delivering one from a burning building. This is more aggressive than the former category because the endangered need a blunt wake-up call to flee from the group that is manipulating them.
The third class is the borderline apostates, and this warrants an entirely cautious approach. These are on the edge of irreversible apostasy and have already manifested the signs of rebellion as laid out in Jude. We show them mercy because we hope for their deliverance; we act in fear because it may be too late and we may be manipulated by their rebellion. Thus, using the language of purification from the Old Testament, Jude demands that his readers have no tolerance for sin and defilement. Just as we are to be brutal with our flesh, so we are to be stern with error.