Jude 17-19 “In Response to Rebels, Part 1: A Call to Remember”

But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. For they were saying to you, “In the last time, there will be mockers following according to their own desires that produce ungodliness.” These men are dividers, worldly, not having the Spirit.


Exhortation to Remember (vv. 17-18)


Jude turns a corner from his denunciations of the Zealot insurgents (vv. 5-16) back to his readers (vv. 1-4). His duty to expose the insurgents for what they are and what their end will be is now concluded. His attention returns to his audience. This is a necessary turn because while Jude has done a masterful job of revealing the dangers of these insurgents and the damnable end, he has yet to provide any precise instruction to his readers. The majority of the remaining text (vv. 17-23) is dedicated for just such a purpose. It is here that Jude provides his readers with a strategy for contending for the faith (v. 3).[1] This strategy is presented in two installments. First, the foundation for this exhortation is stated in vv. 17-19; namely, the apostolic teaching. Second, the application and exhortation proper (what they must do/how they must live) is included in vv. 20-23.


When Jude turns his focus upon his readers, he resumes biblical exposition. It is here that Jude exhorts his Judaean audience to remember what they have been taught by the apostles of their Lord so that they might form biblical expectations regarding the insurgents that have slipped in amongst them.


Explicit Command to Remember (v. 17)


But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus who is the Christ


This verse marks a clear turn in Jude’s letter back to the beloved readers and away from his words of warning regarding the insurgents. The contrastive δὲ (but) with the emphatic ὑμεῖς (you/y’all) marks this present introduction in a similar light as v. 3. Jude’s attention has returned to the redeemed, those beloved by God the Father and those kept for Jesus who is the Christ (v. 2). It is to these people that he delivers the divine imperative to remember.

The aorist imperative μνήσθητε (remember!) indicates a strong command and certainly implies a sense of urgency. We have already read the counterbalance to Jude’s chiastic structure in v. 5 where he stated his desire to remind (ὑπομνῆσαι) the readers of the fate of historical rebels. The change in topic is as strong as the change of Jude’s focus. Rather than reminding them of past rebellions that ended in destruction, Jude commands his readers to remember the apostolic faith. They are commanded to immediately and continually call to mind the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. It might be tempting to look ahead to v. 18, see the connection to Jude’s statement with 2 Pet. 3:3, and assume that Jude is only referring to Peter and his message. Yet Jude clearly refers to more than one apostle of Jesus. Who does he have in mind?


While the term “apostle” (ἀπόστολος) is a common enough term in secular Greek, its use in the New Testament carries a more precise meaning. An apostle is a “sent out one” in the sense of one who has been specially commissioned by an authoritative figure for a specific mission. The King has sent out specially commissioned men to perform a specific mission. By “apostles” we refer to the eleven persevering disciples of Jesus with the additions of Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:3-11). These men were commissioned by King Jesus to testify that He is God’s Messiah (Christ) in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). King Jesus’ realm is headquartered in the city in which He has chosen (Deut. 12:5) but extends to the ends of the earth (Ps. 2:8).


It’s worth recalling that all these apostles were Jews who began their ministry in Jerusalem, the capital of Judaea. It is safe to assume that at least some of Jude’s readers came into personal contact with these men. To this we can add what Scripture tells us regarding the personal impact that apostles such as Peter and Paul had on the Judaean churches as they preached, instructed, evangelized, and organized financial support for and to these beloved brothers (Acts 2:14-31; 8:14-25; 9:32-35; 10:1-48; 11:27-30; 15:1-35).[2] In addition it is relevant to add that the apostle Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews of Judaea. The Lord that commands these apostles is the same Lord who reigns over Jude and his readers. He is none other than Jesus, who is the Christ (appositional genitive). While the apostles wrote and spoke many things, does Jude have a specific message in mind? He elaborates in the next verse.


Exact Content What to Expect (v. 18)


A few initial comments are necessary regarding the relationship this verse has with 2 Peter 3:3. We have already argued that Jude wrote this letter after Peter addressed his first and second epistles to the saints of Asia Minor. The similarities between Jude 18 and 2 Pet. 3:3 confirm this, for either Jude simplified a thought that he read from Peter or Peter greatly complicated Jude’s.[3] Jude alludes to Peter’s writing, not because his point is identical to Peter’s (i.e., Peter prophesied something that is now fulfilled in our circumstances), but because Peter’s words capture a common theme that runs throughout all apostolic teaching; namely, that the church age would be marked by opposition to the truth. The following explanation reveals why the readers are to remember, when they are to remember, and specifically what they are to remember.


Why Remember (v. 18a)


For they were saying to you


The initial ὅτι is causal (because/for) and explains the reason why Jude’s audience should remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles. The imperfect verb “they were saying” (ἔλεγον) indicates that these words continue to have meaning and impact on their lives. The dative ὑμῖν (to you) is not an irrelevant detail, for the words of the apostles were spoken directly to Jude’s audience. The believing Jews of Judaea were the first to receive a written gospel record of Jesus’ ministry and atonement in Matthew’s gospel. James, though not an apostle, was the first write a letter of instruction and his audience consisted of many of the same people to whom Jude writes. Peter and the apostles spent years in Jerusalem and Judaea preaching and teaching this body of believers that we refer to as “the church.” Their words continue in the same authoritative manner as they did when they were first uttered.


When to Remember (v. 18b)


In the last time


Jude’s use of terms is very important here because his meaning is more precise than we might at first think. The fact that his focus is eschatological is abundantly evident. But there is a reason that he uses the phrase “the last time” (ἐσχάτου τοῦ χρόνου) rather than “the last days” (ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν) as we read in 2 Pet. 3:2-3. The phrase “in the last days” is an eschatological marker that appears in the LXX over sixty times. It is used to indicate prophecies of blessing (Gen. 49:1), judgment (Deut. 31:29; Ezek. 38:16), the repentance and restoration of Israel (Deut. 4:30; 8:16; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1; Zech. 14:8; Is. 2:2) and the coming of Messiah (Hos. 3:5). The phrase is used in a similar manner in the New Testament where it describes the resurrection of believers (John 6:39-40, 44; 11:25), judgment for unbelievers (John 12:48), difficulties for the church (2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Pet. 3:3), and the appearance of God’s Messiah (Heb. 1:2). The phrase that Jude chose, “the last time” (ἐσχάτου τοῦ χρόνου), is not so widely used, never appearing in the LXX and only used in two locations in the New Testament: here and in 1 Pet. 1:20. The specific context of 1 Pet. 1:20 is the appearance of Jesus as Savior to those who believe in Him and trust in His resurrection. For Jude, the last time is not a future event that is yet to impact his readers. The last time began with the first advent of Jesus and will conclude when the King returns to claim what is rightfully His. His point is simple: Remember the words of the apostles because the last time that they spoke of is now!


What to Remember (v. 18c)


There will be mockers following according to their own desires that produce ungodliness.


This statement bears the strongest resemblance to 2 Pet. 3:3, though we are forced to confess that it is not identical. Again, we must stress that it is not Jude’s intention to quote Peter’s words in an effort to claim the fulfillment of Peter’s prophecy. If this were the case, why refer to all the apostles rather than a specific reference to Peter? Jude borrows from Peter’s thought, simplifies, and adds his own emphasis to prove a larger point: The apostles have already taught that these times will be difficult times. The apostles have already recorded this unified message in the words of Jesus (Matt. 24:4-14; Lk. 21:10-13) as well as in their own teaching and writings (Acts 20:28-30; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 John 4:1-3).[4] Yet only Jude and Peter focus their attention specifically on the mockers (ἐμπαίκτης) that will come in these difficult times. What is the object that brings such scorn?


By reflecting upon Jude’s emphasis throughout his letter and remembering the context in which he writes, it seems best to conclude that these mockers scorn Jesus as Israel’s rightful King on account that He is God’s Messiah. The Zealots that have infiltrated the church in order to seduce members of Christ’s body to join their rebellion against Rome will soon turn to mocking when their offers of liberty and the pursuit of happiness are declined in favor of waiting for King Jesus to return with His Kingdom.[5] These men follow after their own desires and passions (ἐπιθυμία). Their lust for liberty drives them into all kinds of ungodliness (object genitive[6]). While this behavior is shocking to the senses, it should not be surprising. Jude calls his readers to remember the warnings that the apostles have already given. The fact that mockers of the coming Kingdom abound should be of no surprise. In fact, their existence should be a source of encouragement. The fact that believers are mocked for their conviction to wait in humble obedience for Christ to bring His Kingdom rather than seeking a kingdom of their own confirms the apostolic faith! In an effort to drive this point home, Jude explains the implications that must be recognized and expected regarding these men.


Expectations to Recognize (v. 19)


We have grown accustomed to Jude’s use of “these men” (οὗτοί) throughout this letter. This is the final time that he refers to them. The point should have been clear before, but in the event that his readers have not made the logical connections, Jude plainly states that these insurgents are unregenerate and unbelieving. He first states exactly what they are before concluding with an explanation of why they are.


What They Are (v. 19ab)


These men are dividers, worldly


The controlling verb of being (εἰσιν) presents this information in light of what these men are more so than what they do. Jude first describes them as those who divide. This particular term is only used here in the New Testament and does not appear at all in the LXX of the Old. In fact, the only known place this term is found in secular writings is in a passage in Aristotle where he makes distinctions in logical classifications (or divisions).[7] The substantival participle (οἱ ἀποδιορίζοντες) marks these men as those who make distinctions or cause divisions. This is undoubtedly true within the context of the church where some weaker brothers may be swayed by the Zealot’s political rhetoric of independence. They cause distractions in the body and therefore must be handled with caution. They are dividers.


The next term is somewhat difficult because there is no exact English equivalent. The adjective ψυχικός attributes the quality of a ψυκή or soul. A wooden translation would look something like this: They are dividers, soulful, not having the Spirit. The obvious question is then, what does it mean to be “soulful”? Paul used this term several times to contrast what is soulful (ψυχικός) with what is spiritual (πνευματικός) (1 Cor. 2:14; 15:44, 46). James makes a similar point in stating the source of wisdom for the unregenerate is earthly, soulful (ψυχικός), and demonic (James 3:15). It is clear that both Paul and James use this term to indicate what is natural in the sense of unredeemed humanity. This complements Jude’s evaluation of these men as unreasoning animals in v. 10. His point is that these men are dividers as they are bound by their natural instincts and inclinations. They are worldly minded and are unable to do anything but follow after their passionate desires, because they are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3). They have not been born again and therefore do not have the Holy Spirit to check them.


Why They Are (v. 19c)


Not having the Spirit


This is the crux of Jude’s assessment. They do not have the Holy Spirit. The participle ἔχοντες explains why they cause divisions and are natural, worldly, soulful individuals.[8] It is impossible to expect the unregenerate to behave in a controlled manner. Without the regeneration of God the Holy Spirit, the human soul will continue to pursue its lusts. These do not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jude’s audience knows what the presence of the third person of the Trinity looks like. Some of them would have been there on the day of Pentecost. They would have seen with their own eyes the transformation of Saul the persecutor to Paul the slave of Christ Jesus. Jude’s assessment could not be more clear: These men are strangers who do not belong in your midst.


Conclusion


Theology matters. What the Bible says matters. What we believe about the end matters because it forms the way that we live. The apostles taught that this life is not going to be rainbows and sunshine. They taught that we must expect trials, persecution, mockers, and all forms of difficulty. The world hates Christ and those who follow Him. Expect nothing else. Yet, if Christ’s Kingdom has already come and we are enjoying the fruits of it now (Amillennialism) then the apostles are incorrect. One must therefore choose between their Amillennialism and the apostolic faith, for they are completely incompatible. On the other hand, if the Kingdom is for the church to usher in via the preaching of the gospel (Postmillennialism), then it is difficult to discern the difference between the church and the Zealots of Jude’s day, for they are both attempting to bring the kingdom in their own time and in their own strength. Again, one must choose between their Postmillennial eschatology and the apostolic faith, for they too are incompatible. Theology matters. It is time that we shut off the rhetoric of the world and remember what the apostles continue to teach. God has spoken. Will we listen, submit, and obey? May the Lord Jesus Christ find us faithful when He returns.


Soli Deo Gloria!


[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 273. [2] Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 344. [3] Hiebert, p. 276. [4] Ibid, p. 277. [5] Bateman, p. 354. [6] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 644. [7] Hiebert, p. 278. [8] Bateman, p. 363-4.

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