Jude was Jesus’ youngest sibling. His pursuit of Jesus was full of insults and bullying. Actually, we might be justified in labeling him Jesus’ bratty younger brother. Today we’re going to trace Jude’s biography through various Biblical texts.
Why? Because though Jude’s story started in rude unbelief, it didn’t end there. We have evidence of his transformation in the table of contents of our New Testament. There we find a weighty, though brief, letter written by Jude to the churches.
When did this happen? Improbably the day of Jesus’ Ascension gives us a clue.
How did this happen? We need to understand not just when, but how Jesus’ youngest brother was transformed from Rude Jude to Jude, the Apostle and writer of sacred Scripture. His journey from unbelief to faith is more than a personal testimony, it is a case that includes hard evidence of the love of Christ for sinners.
Why do we need to understand the Case of Jude? Because we need facts, evidence, that will give us hope for our lives personally. We also need hope for those we love, those who seem mired in hostile unbelief.
Jude’s story shows us the heart of Christ, who doesn’t run from sinners, but runs after them.
A Mocker’s Pursuit
Jesus’ own family followed him during his early ministry. His mother counted on him to fix the hospitality disaster of running out of wine at a wedding in the town of Cana. His brothers also tagged along on these outings, making snide sibling comments along the way.
“He’s crazy,” they said when Jesus came home for a visit. His presence disrupted their nest, bringing crowds of needy people to their doorstep. They watched him touch and heal and free people from physical distress. They heard him teach and answer and explain the Scriptures to relieve spiritual distress. Instead of being amazed at his compassion, they staged an intervention.
And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He’s out of his mind.” Mark 3:21
Around this time the religious establishment in Jerusalem got wind of Jesus’ teaching. They started using the “demon” term, accusing Jesus of using the devil’s power to do good. (Mark 3:28). No sooner had Jesus answered them than Jesus’ mother and brothers barged onto the stage. **Cue spotlights and family friction music**
And his mother and brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. Mark 3:31
Instead of answering the demands of his physical family, this was the moment when Jesus redefined his true family, not those united by DNA, but those who united by faith and obedience to the will of God. And at this point his brothers were outside the faith, as John makes clear:
So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing…show yourself to the world (John 2:12).”
They only followed him so they could mock him.
The Power of Unbelief
Believers often underestimate the stubborn power of unbelief, especially when it comes to family members. Because God has opened our eyes to see our sin clearly and turn to Jesus for salvation, we think it’s easy. Obvious. We forget our own persistent efforts at self-salvation. How our pride insisted you’re good, while our ego resisted the mountain of evidence proving our need. How we hit bottom time and again with appetite cravings, only to bounce back on our feet for one more try. Or how we vowed to quit a particularly addictive social media app, only to reinstall it a month (or week) later when we heard about the latest viral video.
Jude’s unbelief was particularly stubborn. As the youngest, imagine the pressures of family solidarity. Think of the spectacle he saw and heard. Jesus had been on a whirlwind of healing, leaving not destruction, but wholeness in his wake. Luke describes the growing crowds that eventually blocked access to him, even by his own family.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd (Luke 8:20).
Unreachable to his own family?
What a scandal in their day, when family ties superseded all other affiliations. But what about our day? Among conservatives, so called “family values” and the mantra of “family first” can displace loyalty to Christ. Idolizing our family is no better than neglecting the family. Family values lose all their value if they become a false savior.
Jesus didn’t indulge the family demands of his day, but healed and taught so he could show and tell the magnanimous grace of a Saving God, even to his own family:
For not even his brothers believed in him (John 7:5).
The Savior’s Pursuit
Jesus didn’t neglect his hometown when he was offering the gospel to Israel, though that might have been tempting to you and me. Neither did he go there to prove himself. No, he came to open the Scriptures to them, making sure his visit included the Sabbath.
That day Jesus open the scroll and began to teach, doubtless connecting the day’s text to God’s master plan of sending the Messiah to redeem a people for himself. Matthew tells us that “many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works (Matthew 13:54)?'”
It turns out they weren’t so much offended at what he said, as they were by him, personally. After all, who does he think he is? Like the hobbits who thought Bilbo and Frodo had become uppity because of their travels, the hometown crowd wanted to take Jesus down a notch, labeling him as “a carpenter like Joseph” and dismissing him. After all, Nazarenes knew this family with small town intensity.
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:55, 56).
Jude, here called Judas, was there that day. He heard his brother open the Scriptures. How much easier it would have been for Jesus to avoid the hometown scrutiny. But he showed his love by opening the Scriptures to his own brothers who thought he was crazy.
Perhaps the seed lay dormant for a while. It seems Jude wasn’t present at Jesus’ crucifixion. Mary his own mother was sustained in her grief by John. It seems Jude wasn’t present at the tomb on the day Jesus rose from death, either.
But Jude was present for the first meeting of the early church, on the day Jesus ascended. Luke lets us know that he was among those returning to the upper room from Mount Olivet.
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).
When did Jude believe?
The Heart of Christ for Stubborn Sinners
It must have been on the Great Preaching Tour that began after Jesus’ resurrection. We get a glimpse of his appearance to two distraught disciples who were walking with heads bowed along the 7 mile road to Emmaus. But that is just a teaser, a two minute trailer for the full movie of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances, a movie that has yet to be released to the public.
If his Nazareth sermon hadn’t connected the dots for Jude, then Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance would certainly have gotten Jude’s attention. But if Jesus did in fact appear to his brother during that 40 day period, it wouldn’t have been for shock value. His priority would have been to open the Scriptures to him, taking Jude’s Old Testament saturated mind and infusing it with New Testament understanding.
So that Jude could become a new creation in the Christ, his earthly brother. We see that new creation in the tone and content of Jude’s short letter. It reveals a man full of the Scriptures and fierce with the twin truths of salvation and judgment. His letter exposes a pastor’s heart to encourage and a prophet’s passion to warn.
But Jude’s letter also shows us a humble man, who doesn’t boast in “Jesus, my big brother” but identifies himself simply as “a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.”
This is a man we can listen to. I commend his book to your study, as well as for one of the most beautiful doxologies in the Scriptures:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~Jude 1:24, 25