Jude

As is the case with James, the identification of Jude has caused much debate. Jude and Judas were popular names honoring the great tribal patriarch, Judah. However, because Jude called himself “THE BROTHER OF JAMES” (Jude 1), with no clarification of which James, it is best to see this as a reference to the most well-known James at that time, Jesus’ half-brother, the leader of the Jerusalem church. This would also make Jude Jesus’ half-brother. (The other two named in Matthew 13:55 were Joseph and Simon, also named after patriarchs.)

Although Jude’s letter was never officially rejected by the Early Church, some were hesitant to recognize it as inspired, primarily because of his references to other Scripture (2 Peter) and extra-biblical literature. His reliance on the book of 1 Enoch in Jude 14-15 and the reference to the body of Moses in Jude 9 has caused some to question its integrity. However, Paul quoted Greek poets, philosophers, and traditional sayings multiple times within his inspired letters, so this is not automatically cause for disqualification. In fact, except for the specific account in Jude 9, there is nothing in Jude that contradicts other Scripture or creates new doctrine. Ironically, it is instead a short, yet strong, reminder of our need to maintain doctrinal accuracy.

Jude had intended to write a longer letter on the doctrine of salvation, but the influx of false teachers in the church (Jude 4; likely the same ones Paul and Peter warned about earlier) caused him to set that aside for a quick memo on doctrinal integrity. Specifically, he wrote, believers must “CONTEND EARNESTLY FOR THE FAITH” (Jude 3). It is important that we do not simply “believe” or “uphold” the faith. We must fight for it, knowing that our opponents will certainly fight for their side. Jude seems to quote 2 Peter 2:1 when he referred to those “WHO DENY OUR ONLY MASTER AND LORD, JESUS CHRIST” (Jude 4).

Showing a penchant for cadence in his oratory, Jude created four lists to describe these false teachers. First, he compared their coming judgment to the plagues of Egypt, the angels of Genesis 6, and Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 5-7). Second, he compared their attitude toward God to Cain, Balaam, and Korah (Jude 11). Third, using visuals from nature, he compared their activity to dangerous reefs, waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves, and wayward stars (Jude 12-13). Fourth, describing their spiritual state, he called them divisive, worldly, and devoid of the Spirit (Jude 19).

In contrast to this dangerous threat to local churches, Jude provided two lists for believers as well (Jude 17, 20-21 and Jude 22-23). First, regarding ourselves, we must: 1) remember this was prophesied; 2) pray in the Holy Spirit; 3) maintain ourselves in God’s love; and 4) anticipate Christ’s mercy. Second, regarding others, we must: 1) have mercy on those wavering in the truth; 2) rescue some from the fire; 3) have mercy on others, while paying attention to ourselves (see Galatians 6:1).

Jude’s final exhortation reminded his readers – and us – that succumbing to false teaching is not inevitable. Not only can God keep us from falling, but he can also cause us to stand, “REJOICING, WITHOUT BLEMISH BEFORE HIS GLORIOUS PRESENCE” (Jude 24) for eternity.

2 Peter 1

Introduction
No New Testament book was more disputed by the Early Church regarding authorship and authenticity than 2 Peter. The similarities between chapter two and Jude’s letter have caused scholars to question whether Peter borrowed from Jude, Jude from Peter, or if they both borrowed from another common source. There are at least three strong reasons that support Peter as the genuine author of this letter and that he wrote before Jude.

First, there is some difference in the language used between 1 and 2 Peter. On the one hand, if 2 Peter were a forgery, someone simply using Peter’s name for credibility would have attempted to make it sound as much as possible like the letter already received and trusted. The difference in language actually supports its authenticity. On the other hand, the differences are not so great as to obviously come from two different people. A comparison of 2 Peter with Peter’s sermons recorded in Acts reveal similar language, although he preached them twenty years earlier. Thus, the similarities point to an older, more mature version of the same speaker/writer.

Second, Peter’s account of the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:16-19 seems to be a personal reflection, not just a repeat of the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – each of whom wrote about that second-hand. 1 Since there is nothing like that in Acts or 1 Peter, it seems unlikely that a forger would try to credit that to Peter, supporting the case that this is Peter’s own letter.

Third, like the other later writers (Hebrews, Jude, John, and even Paul’s later writings), Peter was concerned about the false teachers that would certainly infiltrate the church (2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:3-4). However, whereas in Peter, Hebrews (Hebrews 13:9), and Paul (Acts 20:28-30) these teachers were still future, Jude and John referred to them as already present in the churches (Jude 4, 17-19; 1 John 4:1-6). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Jude followed Peter and that he quoted from Peter in Jude 6-13 and Jude 17-18, as he fought against those Peter only prophesied.

This last reason also points to the primary theme of 2 Peter: truth versus falsehood. Throughout this short letter, starting even in the second verse, Peter repeatedly emphasized the importance of growing in our knowledge of God and Jesus. Though knowledge itself is not the only step in our spiritual growth, we have no recourse against false teachers without the full knowledge of God as revealed in the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21). This “FULL KNOWLEDGE” (2 Peter 1:2, 3, 5, 8) is not to be confused with the cultic ideas of “secret” knowledge accessible to a select few. All believers (2 Peter 1:1) have access to the full knowledge of God because God has made it readily available to us.

Chapter one begins by presenting the path or process of spiritual growth in a succinct way. After stating that God had already granted believers “EVERYTHING NECESSARY FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS” (2 Peter 1:3), Peter commanded that we add to our saving faith seven qualities, each one cementing and building on the previous and producing the next (2 Peter 1:5-7). This process is based on our pursuit of truly coming to know Jesus better and love him more, without which we wander through this life blindly, forgetting God’s past grace and unable to see his promised future (2 Peter 1:9-11). You can read more about this spiritual growth process at oaktreechurch.com/thepath.

Knowing that he was about to die soon (2 Peter 1:14-15), Peter wrote this letter to make sure that his followers focused on the one thing that matters: knowing Jesus. (Some scholars believe Peter’s “TESTIMONY” also meant Mark’s Gospel, which is traditionally understood to have been Peter’s account.) For them to accomplish this, Peter insisted that they not rely on personal testimonies, even his own eyewitness account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18). Instead, he pointed them to the Scriptures, the timeless account that was created by the Holy Spirit himself (2 Peter 1:19-21). Peter called these “AN ALTOGETHER RELIABLE” witness, something that they all had. Not only were the Hebrew Scriptures complete and available, the Greek apostolic writings were becoming more and more available (see Peter’s comment on Paul’s letters in 2 Peter 3:15-16), verifying that the older prophecies had come true in Christ: “IN THESE LAST DAYS HE HAS SPOKEN TO US IN A SON” (Hebrews 1:2).

Notes:

  1. Even though Matthew was one of the Twelve, he was not at the Transfiguration, and Jesus told Peter, James, and John to not talk about it until after the Resurrection (Matthew 17:9).

Zechariah 3

Introduction

The book of Zechariah bears the prophet’s name, which means “Jehovah will remember” or “Jehovah remembers.” The book is difficult to date as a whole, because only three of the prophecies are dated. These exceptions are in Zechariah 1:1 (“the eighth month of Darius’ second year,” 520 B.C.), Zechariah 1:7 (“the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in Darius’ second year”), and Zechariah 7:1 (“In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month,” 518 B.C.).

However, the book can be easily divided into two major sections, chapters 1-8 and 9-14, based on the content of the prophecies. The first section deals primarily with God’s messages to Judah as they worked to rebuild the Temple (similar to Haggai’s prophecies of the same time). The second section deals more with eschatological events, particularly the future Messianic kingdom. The reference to “that day” is found 17 times in chapters 9-14 but only once in the first section (Zechariah 3:10).

Because of this distinction, and due to the fact that Greece is mentioned by name as a considerable force (which it was not in the early sixth century), some scholars contend that the second section was written much later and appended to Zechariah. However, Archer points out that by 480 B.C. (only 40 years later), Greece was already pushing back against Persian expansion, which would have given the entire region pause. 1 A span of 40-50 years would not have been too long for Zechariah to minister in Judah, especially since he was considered to be a “young man” at the beginning (Zechariah 2:4), so it is a strong possibility that the sections were written at different times, albeit by the same man and for different purposes.

Much like the Revelation, Zechariah is full of odd visions and illustrations – horsemen, olive trees, a flying scroll – so it is notoriously difficult to interpret without a basic understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future from Zechariah’s standpoint. However, since most of the symbols are explained to some extent, a grasp of the historical context does resolve some of the confusion.

Chapter three records Zechariah’s fourth vision in one night. He “saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). There is significance to the fact that “the angel of the LORD” in Zechariah 3:1 is called “the LORD” in Zechariah 3:2, who yet refers to “the LORD” as a distinct person. This is an obvious reference to the deity of the pre-incarnate Christ (the Eternal Son of God), who is wholly God yet a distinct person from the Father.

Like Michael in Jude 9, the angel of the LORD did not rebuke Satan at this time, but left that in the hands of Jehovah (Zechariah 3:2), who considered Joshua as one saved from fire. In Zechariah’s vision Joshua was wearing dirty clothes, a symbol of the uncleanness of Israel and her priesthood (Zechariah 3:3-5; compare to Haggai 2:10-14). The clean clothes represent God’s forgiveness of sin, including the high priest’s turban, which Joshua received at Zechariah’s prompting (cf. Exodus 28:36-39).

Finally, the angel of the LORD commissioned Joshua, promising that he would stand and serve in the Temple, if he would continue to be faithful in his life and service to God (Zechariah 3:6-7). Joshua and his fellow priests would serve as pictures of the coming Servant-Branch (both references to the Messiah; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1). Zechariah 3:10 includes the first use of the eschatological phrase “in [or on] that day” in Zechariah, a common phrase to reference Messiah’s coming and kingdom. When that day comes, “the iniquity of this land” will be removed, peaceful fellowship will be restored, and Jehovah will act with omniscience over the world (symbolized by the “seven eyes,” explained in Zechariah 4:10). Even the stone itself probably refers to Messiah, “the cornerstone and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over” (1 Peter 2:7-8).

Notes:

  1. “As far as the situation in Zechariah’s own time was concerned, the defeats recently administered by the Greeks to Xerxes…in 480-479 would furnish ample cause to bring them to the attention of all the inhabitants of the Persian empire.” (Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised and Expanded [Chicago: Moody Press, 1994], 475.)