The book of Jude, also known as Judah (N. T. Wright’s preference) or even Judas, was possibly written by the prophet Judas (not Iscariot), though more likely written by Judas the brother of Jesus (c.f., Matthew 13:55). This view is favored because the author does not consider himself an apostle and he calls himself a brother of James, which most believe is the pillar in the Jerusalem church, the author of James, and the brother of Jesus. Seemingly not wanting to ride the coat-tails of his brother, Jude does not refer to himself as the Lord’s brother.
This is a hard book to date, and much of the decision rides on whether one thinks Jude borrowed from 2 Peter or vice versa or neither. If Jude borrowed from 2 Peter, then Jude can be dated as late as the 80s. As authors tend to borrow and elaborate, most scholars think Peter borrowed from the shorter Jude, meaning Jude cannot be dated later than AD 65.
Hebrews, James, John, Peter, and Jude are sometimes called the General Epistles because, unlike Paul’s letters, they appear to be written to broad groups of people, addressing very general circumstances. Jude is likely the most general of the General Letters. It is hard to say who is being addressed, what ethnicities are present, where they are located, and who exactly are the false teachers being discussed. Regardless, the message is clear and widely applicable.
Verse 4 may be the best summary of the message of Jude:
They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
People have arisen in the church(es) Jude is addressing that have turned the grace of God into an excuse to sin. If wrongdoing is going to be forgiven, why not live how you wish. This could have been a libertine version of Gnosticism that Jude was attacking, though as we see even still today people who love their sin more than their Savior have always used grace as a license to stay in their old ways.
The ancient Egyptians of the Exodus. Angels who rebelled and were cast out of Heaven. The perverted people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Dumb animals who only follow their instincts. Cain, who killed his brother. Balaam, who would prophesy for the highest bidder. Korah and his fellow rebels who dared to question the leadership of Moses. Jude compares the false teachers in the midst of his recipients to this rogue’s gallery. Not great company.
As I read Jude again, a book I do not spend a lot of time in, I was struck by this interesting passage:
With some people who are wavering, you must show mercy. Some you must rescue, snatching them from the fire. To others you must show mercy, but with fear, hating even the clothes that have been defiled by the flesh. (22-23)
Jude is clear. Show mercy to everyone, even those on the fence thinking about walking away from the way of life you think is right and best, even to those trying to lead you astray. But it would be unwise to think that all people are equal threats to your faith. There are some who need you to be deeply invested in their lives, fighting for their very souls. But there are others — like these false teachers — who, while we do not give them the ill treatment they deserve, must be treated with a healthy fear of what they can do to a person’s faith. There is a distance that must be in place, lest one be pulled into their wickedness as well. All must be shown mercy, but not all should be related to in the same way.