“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Jude 4-5
The foundational belief of Judaism is that of monotheism, the belief in only one God and it is this religious distinctive that separated the Israelites from many of the other peoples of the ancient world. This fundamental belief is reflected in one of the most sacred and essential prayers of the Hebrew faith, the Sh’ma Yisrael, which states “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Moses taught these words to the Israelites as they were in the wilderness, so that they might remember who it was who liberated from slavery in Egypt, who it was who was giving them a promised land to inhabit, who it was who gave them a law to live by, and who would correct them when they strayed away. It was all one God, the one and only God, who ruled over Heaven and Earth.
Fast forward a few millennia from Moses in the wilderness to first century Judea. Sometime around 65 A.D. a Jewish man by the name of Jude is writing a letter addressed to the believers of a faith which came directly from the Jewish religious tradition. Followers of this new faith taught that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus taught the scriptures, performed miracles, spoke up for the oppressed, and challenged the religious establishment, and lived a life that was the embodiment of righteousness. He was arrested, crucified, and–three days after dying–rose from the dead. Those who followed Jesus believed that He was not only the Messiah but that He was God Incarnate–God in the form of a man.
False teachers began to infiltrate the early church. They taught a variety of heretical beliefs that undermined the teachings and being of Christ. Jude was determined to confront these false teachers and to help the earnest believers fight to protect the true faith from being polluted.
Jude focused his attention on those who taught that Jesus was not God, that He was only a human, although an incredibly good human. This teaching, according to Jude, was a perversion and a denial of Christ. Any teaching that presents Jesus as anything less than God is false. So Jude appealed to three specific examples from Hebrew Scripture to remind the believers of what they already knew–that Jesus is God.
Jude writes to the believers that it was Jesus who delivered Israel out of slavery in Egypt. It was Jesus who expelled the rebellious angels from Heaven. It was Jesus who rained destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Each of the Old Testament references for these scriptures would have been understood for Jewish believers in Jesus. They understood what Jude was saying; in these Old Testament accounts where God performed mighty acts, Jesus was there too. Jesus was present because He is God. He is not a different god or a lesser god; Jesus is God in human form. He has existed forever with God and will continue to exist beyond the end of time. He is the Liberator, the Law-giver, the Redeemer, the Sacrificial Lamb, and the Righteous Judge. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The refrain of the Sh’ma echoes in Jude’s exhortation: Remember, our God is one. Jesus and God are one and the same.
Christ is so much more than an excellent teacher and a good man. He is the just and holy God of the universe. He came to Earth, not merely to perform miracles, but to offer Himself as a sacrifice to make atonement for humanity’s sins. False teachers will demean and deride Him and find any way to deny He is God, and they do this at their own expense. The real teacher and believer finds every way to exalt and worship Jesus for who He is–God. This is the foundational belief of Christianity, and this truth must be defended.
Artwork: Hebrew text of Sh’ma Yisrael.