If you were living in the first century and knew the family of Jesus, Jude is probably not one who would strike you as a future contributor to the Holy Scriptures. Yet, as God has divinely orchestrated, Jude did in fact represent a unique testimony of the Son of God as one who had grown up with Him and witnessed nearly every aspect of His life—far more than any apostle. This does not weaken the apostle’s testimony stemming from their personal discipleship from the Lord Jesus—far from that!—but it does strengthen the testimony we have received from God that Jesus’ own immediate family would recognize Him as the Messiah and divinely appointed substitutionary atonement for sin because that was not the brothers’ position from the beginning.
Jude was one of four half-brothers of Jesus. Mary, obviously a virgin when she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, was the only genetic contributor to the birth—Joseph was not. Joseph was, however, the legal father of Jesus. Joseph and Mary, together, had four more sons who both Matthew and Mark tell us are James (the author of the biblical book of James), Joseph, Simon, and Judas—the Greek name of our author now in question (Matt 13:55; Mk 6:3).
Jude, though he spent decades with the only perfect and holy person on earth, still had a heart veiled of the truth, one of skepticism and unbelief as to who his brother Jesus really was. The Apostle John records for us a time when Jesus’ brothers pestered Him with cynical, combative questions and comments, perhaps in a slightly passive-aggressive manner:
“Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (7:3–4).
John leaves no room for doubting their intentions here by stating immediately, “for not even his brothers believed in him” (v. 5).
We don’t actually see any clear, positive signs of genuine faith from Jesus’ brothers until immediately after his death and/or resurrection. It is quite possible that they had a similar experience to the centurion, who, after experiencing the darkness of the sun for three hours—starting at high noon—then hearing Jesus yell out from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,’ then finally feeling the violent earthquake that caused large rocks to be split apart, spoke with fearful conviction, ‘Truly, this innocent man was the Son of God!’ (Matt 27:51–54; Lk 23:44–47).
Jude and his brothers, then, would undoubtedly be a part of “all the rest,” mentioned in Luke 24:9, of the group that met behind locked doors after Jesus’ death with His disciples. It was here that Jesus miraculously walked through the wall and revealed Himself as the risen Messiah, shocking everyone in the room (v. 37). Their joy and marveling notwithstanding, they still could not bring themselves to believe that this was the physically raised Jesus that they knew all these years. Again, Jude would have been a part of that group that experienced when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”—all that the Old Testament had prophesied about Himself (v. 45). It finally clicked, and this by a sovereign and gracious act of God to remove the blinders of disbelief.
From here, Jesus led them out to Bethany where He ascended up into Heaven, having told them to stay in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them—looking forward to Pentecost and the miraculous gift of languages in Acts 2. Jude, along with the others, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (v. 52) Then, just as Jesus had told them to, they waited. Indeed, “all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Christ, His brothers were changed men. They were new creations (2 Cor 5:17) having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5). This is left without question as their own personal testimony reveals. Their disposition is no longer one of skepticism to an older brother in the flesh, but one of a humble slave in recognition of His Master and Lord.
James starts his letter by calling himself a “slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1) as does our author in question, Jude, who begins his short epistle with an identification as “a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (1:1). In both instances, James and Jude use the Greek word doulos, which only ever means slave and is not properly understood as either a servant, or even a bond-servant. Slaves are bought and slaves are owned.
This was further substantiated when the Apostle Paul had written to the Corinthians that they were “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20, 7:23), or when Peter reminded his readers that they were “ransomed . . . with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18–19). This makes sense when considering that we were formerly slaves of something else—sin!
The Apostle Paul explains further: “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:20–23).
We are also confronted with the reality that our physical family on earth has no bearing whatsoever on our original disposition with the Creator of heaven and earth. Even if we were blood relatives to the Lord Jesus Himself—as Jude was—we are still under the wrath of God until we come to a place of humble repentance and confession of sin as well as a confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Understanding the background of Jude instantly confronts the reader with an obvious challenge—how do you view yourself? Is it the way that the Bible so often identifies His believing children—as obedient slaves? Or do we belittle the Messiah who takes away the sins of the world to someone who merely allows us to continue in our sin with no threat of divine recompense? Jude would strongly attest to the former position. Jude knows that unbelief is damning and he would labor to save us from that.
The Lord Himself rebuffed the Jews on this point: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt 3:9).
No, it is not an earthly lineage that saves a man from divine wrath. It is not because you were born into a Christian home, or because you have a minister as a father. We confess with the Apostle Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16)—a truth that is not revealed by flesh and blood, but by the Father.
Jude writes to us as a fellow slave of Christ warning us of the dangers of wrong belief, false teachers, apostates, and heretics. It is in this letter that the famous opening words are remembered: “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). His letter, though small in size, is large in content and we will do well to carefully read the words of this brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was once a skeptic and was now a willing and humble slave.
Stay tuned for more from Jude.
In Christ Alone,