Digging in Deeper: Jude 1:17-18

But you, dear friends, remember what was predicted by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers living according to their own ungodly desires.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

If you ever want to feel accomplished in reading the Bible, start with a book like Obadiah or Philemon or Jude here. You may not understand all (or even most) of what you’re seeing, but you can finish the whole book in a few minutes. Then you can say, “Why, yes, I have read whole books of the Bible before.” And when you do, you’ll come across some gems like this one. So…what does it mean?

Well, let’s start here: Jude was writing to a partially, if not mostly, Jewish-background audience, and thus he assumed a that they would pick up on Jewish cultural and religious references. We aren’t and so we don’t which can make Jude a tricky letter to read without some background work already in place. Fortunately, there’s only one cultural note to understand here and I’ll explain that in a minute.

Jude’s letter is primarily about warning believers about the trials and challenges of getting along as Jesus followers in a culture filled with folks who are spiritual phonies, rebellious troublemakers, and persecuting skeptics. Just before he turns to some encouragement, Jude offers this final observation: In the end times there will be scoffers living according to their own ungodly desires.

Let’s unpack this for just a minute. Jude says that this sinful behavior will happen in the end times. Does that mean we’re living in the end times if we expect to see it now?

Well, think about when this was written. Jude probably wrote in the mid-60s of the first century. And he wrote this seeming to assume that his audience understood that they were living in the end times presently. If he was writing then, and we are reading this now, we have a couple of options before us. Either he was just flat wrong about when the end times were going to begin, or he was right and we need to rethink our normal understanding of what it means to be living in the end times.

If he was wrong, we don’t really know anything about the end times in terms of their start date. If he was right—and given the perspective of inerrancy I hold myself and have tried to encourage you, my reader, to adopt, this is the option I’m going to go with—then we could indeed be in the end times. In fact, we have been living in the end times since Jesus returned to the Father’s right hand.

As you read what the various New Testament authors had to say about the end times, you gradually develop the sense that they understood them to simply be the time between when Jesus made His bodily departure and when He will make His bodily return. There seems to be a time when things will intensify and get particularly rough just before His return, depending on how you understand John’s vision in Revelation, but we are in the end times now and have been for a very long time. That means we should expect these scoffers and their ungodly behavior to be happening now…just as Jude seems to suggest.

Okay, but who are these “scoffers”? The scoffer is one of the regular characters to appear in the collection of proverbs in the Old Testament. A scoffer is someone who thinks the path of God is a joke.

Modernizing that, they think the Christian faith is a joke; following Jesus is a sham; the church is a racket. Have you ever met folks like this? They were probably under 30. That tends to be the age under which skepticism takes the firmest root and expresses itself most forcefully. After then we’ve typically experienced enough life for a little wonder to creep back in and open our minds back up to the possibility that we don’t actually understand everything about how the world works.

In any event, scoffers think the idea of living according to what some invisible God wants is ridiculous. They think they can live however they want without consequence and set out to prove it. Whatever they want they do and they don’t give much though to the broader or long-term impact it will have on them or on the people around them.

So then, let’s see if we can apply all of this: Have you ever been in a situation where someone behaved in a way that shocked you? Have you ever heard about some act of evil and were totally blown away by it? I honestly can’t think of many times that has happened to me. Do you want to know why? Because I expect that the people around me are sinners, and sinners are going to sin. The nature of their sin will change, but the fact of it won’t. When people sin, even in ways that are ugly and damaging to those around them, I’m never surprised.

Also, there’s what Jude says right here: In the end times there will be scoffers living according to their own ungodly desires. But then, you know what that means now, so you aren’t surprised either. When we understand the Scriptures well, they save us a lot of trouble. Time to get studying.

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