Sandwiched between the letters of John the Beloved and the intriguing Book of Revelation, the tiny book of Jude is perhaps the most neglected and ignored of all New Testament scripture. So short it is not even divided into chapters, Jude is mysterious and fascinating–and little understood. Teaching this beautifully written letter to children is not a challenge, but an opportunity to explore the mind of a man who grew up in the same household as our Savior. Here is a lesson designed to introduce Jude to young elementary-age kids.
Jude is very short letter written by–guess who? A guy named Jude! Who is this guy? He was one of the sons of Joseph and Mary, making him the earthly half-brother of Jesus. Another brother of Jesus and Jude was James, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church soon after Jesus went back to heaven. We don’t know nearly as much about Jude as we do about James, but we can learn a lot from his little letter.
Jude’s letter is so short, we have not even bothered to divide it into chapters. It is only 25 verses long. But it’s jam-packed with interesting stuff! One thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that Jude makes his points by referring to Old Testament stories. He mentions something from the Old Testament in almost every verse, in fact. But he never tells the stories–he just expects his reader to have already learned the stories and remember them. He says things like, “they are just like Cain,” or “they made the same mistake as Balaam”. If you don’t know Cain or Balaam, you won’t have any idea what Jude is talking about! I cannot emphasize this often enough, kids: you cannot really understand any of the New Testament if you don’t know your Old Testament. All of the New Testament is meant to be understood in light of the Old.
Jude addressed his letter to all believers, or as he put it: “to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.” Does that describe you? Then Jude wrote this letter to you! Jude says he felt compelled to write in order to warn the believers not to listen to false teachers. The false teachers in Jude’s day were telling the believers that since Jesus has saved us, now we can sin all we want! Jude says that these false teachers are twisting the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection in order to make themselves feel they have the right to do whatever they want. Should we just do whatever we want? No, we should live the way God wants us to live, shouldn’t we? If we belong to Jesus, then He is our Lord. What does the word “Lord” mean? A “Lord” is someone who has the right to tell people what to do. It’s like being the Boss. Jesus is the one who tells believers how to live. We do not have the right to live our own lives once we have given our lives to Jesus. And really, why would we want to live sinful lives, knowing what Jesus has done for us, to take those sins away?
Jude reminds the believers that, even though God saved the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they still had to be disciplined when they refused to obey God. All the Israelites who refused to listen to God had to live their lives out in the wilderness instead of going on to the Promised Land. Even if you are a believer and know you are going to heaven for certain, that does not mean that you will not have to live with the consequences here on earth if you choose to disobey. For example, if you rob a bank, being a Christian will not keep you out of jail, will it? If you drink and drive, being a Christian will not stop you from having an accident.
Jude goes on to remind us that even the angels are not left unpunished if they disobey God. The angels who rebelled against God and followed Satan are going to be bound in chains and judged. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Jude says solemnly. Can any of you remember what happened there? The people in those towns were so wicked, God finally rained fire and brimstone on them and completely destroyed them forever. Today, where those cities once stood, is now the Dead Sea, a lake so salty that nothing can live in it. Jude’s point is clear. God loves us and wants to save us from our sins. But if we insist on doing evil, He has to judge us.
Jude says that these false teacher have “taken the way of Cain.” Who was Cain? He killed his brother Abel, didn’t he, and was driven from the presence of God. The false teachers may not be physically killing anyone, but they are killing people’s souls with their lies. They are far away from God and are leading others far away from God. Jude then compares the false teachers to Balaam. Does anyone remember Balaam? He was actually paid by a pagan king to curse Israel, but God sent an angel to stop Balaam. Balaam wanted the money the king had promised him so much, he would not listen to God’s angel. Then God made Balaam’s donkey talk to him! But still, Balaam would not listen. Money was more important to Balaam than obeying God. Since he couldn’t curse Israel, Balaam tricked the people into sinning against God instead. Balaam led the people into disobeying God, just like the false teachers Jude is talking about.
One of the things I love about the book of Jude is the writing. Jude is very much a poet, and his writing makes pictures in your mind. He calls the false teachers “clouds without rain” and “autumn trees, fruitless and uprooted.” What do you think he means by that? Isn’t a cloud without rain kind of useless? We need rain for the earth to produce fruit. Isn’t a dead tree also kind of useless? A dead tree won’t produce any fruit. Jude calls these wicked men “wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame.” Can’t you just picture that? How about “wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” How does that sentence make you feel? It makes me feel kind of shivery!
Then Jude quotes the prophet Enoch. Does anyone remember who Enoch was? The Old Testament only tells a little bit about him. In Genesis, it says that Enoch walked with God, then he disappeared because God took him. Enoch is one of only two people we know of who never died. The Bible says God took him right up to heaven to live with Him, still alive. The book of Jude is the only place in the Bible that records Enoch’s prophecies. Jude says that Enoch prophesied about false teachers and other wicked men, back in the beginning. Enoch said, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict the ungodly of all ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against God.” This is going to happen at the end of time, when Jesus comes back the second time and takes over the earth once and for all. Isn’t it cool that God told people this way back in the time of Genesis?
Instead of following these wicked teachers into lives of sin, how should we live? Jude says, “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love.” Can you think of ways we can do this?