Et Tu, Brute?

Scott Oliphint

Jude 1:3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

It was March 15, sometimes called the "Ides of March." It was a day like any other day. But as the soothsayer ominously reminded the emperor Julius Caesar, the day was not yet over.

Cassius and the Roman leaders were afraid that Caesar's power was going to his head. Too much power for Caesar meant too little power for them. So they decided it would be best if Caesar was out of the way. They plotted to assassinate the emperor. Not only so, but they convinced Caesar's good friend, Brutus, to join them in the assassination plot. Before the Ides of March was over, Caesar had died a tragic death. The tragedy of his death was that his friend had conspired to kill him.

At least since the time of Shakespeare, and likely because of the power of many of his plays
(Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet), the word "tragedy" has taken on a more specific meaning. It seems the philosopher Aristotle was the first to give the word its original meaning. For him, tragedy was a more general category that had to do simply with the drama of a presentation. As the meaning of the word has evolved, however, it is most often associated with the notion of a surprising and unexpected evil. In Julius Caesar, the tragedy of Caesar's death is expressed by Shakespeare in those three famous Latin words, "Et tu, Brute?" The tragedy of the play is centered in the fact that Brutus, the friend of Caesar, became one of those who sought his demise. The surprise in the phrase says it, "Even you, Brutus?" Caesar's own close friend had betrayed him.

The book of Jude is a tragedy of sorts. It reminds us that there will be times when those who appear closest to us will seek our demise. It reminds us that often in our own households, even in the church of Jesus Christ, we should "beware the Ides of March" because the day is not yet over. It reminds us to encourage one another, as we see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:25). It reminds us that the faith is to be defended and commended even to and among the Lord's people, in the church.

The church father Origen said of the book of Jude that it "was small, but filled with a vigorous vocabulary." That vigorous vocabulary is written by Jude to motivate his readers, and us, to contend for the faith. Though small in size, Jude packs a powerful apologetic punch.

Jude had a purpose in writing his epistle. Originally, he had wanted to write a letter of encouragement. He had wanted to emphasize the unity that he and his original readers all shared together in Jesus Christ. But because of the present situation among these Christians, he decided he must write to them, not about their unity in the faith, but rather about defending that faith that unifies them. This short epistle turns out to be an encouragement to do apologetics.

The apologetics that Jude's readers were encouraged to practice, however, had a focus that may, at first glance, surprise us. Since apologetics has to do with defending and commending the faith against unbelieving attacks and charges that come our way, one might think that it is a discipline reserved only for those outside the church of Jesus Christ. In one sense that is true. The opposition that is pictured for us in Scripture is typically an opposition between the world and the church (see, for example, Jesus' prayer in John 17:14-16). In principle, the battle lines are clearly drawn. They are drawn between the church and the world.

We know, however, that what is true
in principle is not always true in our own experience. Such is the case in the church of Jesus Christ. This should come as no surprise to us. Jesus himself prepared us for this. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus told us exactly what would happen in our own experiences in the church. He told us that "while everyone was sleeping" the enemy would come in and sow weeds among the wheat (Matt. 13:25). When the wheat seeds take root and begin to grow, so do the weeds. 

Of course, our natural reaction to this, as servants of Christ, would be to rid the field of all the weeds. But Jesus said this was not the responsibility of the servants. In attempting to rid the field of all weeds, some wheat might get destroyed as well. We are to "let both grow together until the harvest" (Matt. 13:30). In other words, the 'weeding out' process is to be left to the Lord of the harvest, in his own perfect time.

Though we cannot completely rid the church of its 'weeds,' it is not the case that the weeds will always be unrecognizable. Neither is it the case that we should not seek to keep gospel purity within the church. How then are we to approach those 'weeds' that infiltrate the church? Jude helps us to answer to that question. The Christians to whom Jude writes had experienced exactly what Jesus explained in the parable. There were those who had "secretly slipped in" among them (Jude 4). They had come into the church 'while they were asleep.' It is not clear just exactly who these people were. It does seem, given the language Jude uses, that his readers would have known about this group, or at least something about their teaching.

It is not only that they had slipped in secretly, but they had somehow begun to influence some believers in the church as well. Some had apparently begun to doubt the faith, others were dangerously close to falling away from it altogether (vv. 22-23). So the ones who had snuck in were also carrying on covert operations among these Christians to subvert and destroy, if possible, the faith on which the church was built. How could such a thing happen?

It is a fascinating study to try to trace the reasons why and how Christian teaching, or Christian churches, or Christian institutions, 'go bad.' Though specific situations always have specific differences, the general pattern seems to be just what Jude lays out here. Rarely do good things, or good and holy institutions, regress through obvious and unambiguous means. Influences and ideas seem, rather, to move in slowly, at times undetectably so. However, once such things have established themselves, in many cases, they continue, just as slowly and subtly, to wear down the essential character of their target. 

This kind of erosion rarely happens overtly. It rarely happens like a deluge of flood waters inundating a house in a matter of hours. It happens rather like a slowly dripping faucet in the basement of a house, quietly, though methodically, inflicting serious damage on the foundation of the house until it crumbles from its own, hidden, rot. 

This is one of the things that we learn from Genesis 3. Remember how we are introduced to the evil one who seduces Eve? We're not told, in a straightforward way, that Satan entered the garden to destroy all that was good. Rather, we're told that, "the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made" (Gen. 3:1). 

It is noteworthy that the
very first thing the Lord wants us to know about the very first introduction of evil on the earth is that the serpent was the most crafty of beasts (or, as the Authorized Version has it, the serpent was "more subtle"). This should make us aware of the fact that the most serious and despicable of evils will likely come to us in casual and apparently harmless attire. 

We see that further as we notice the serpent's approach to Eve. There is no way to know how Eve might have responded if the serpent had simply come to her and said, "Choose whom you will serve - Satan or the Lord God!" The point, however, is that he did not come to her in that way. Rather, he came with a question, a question that, perhaps on the surface, looked like a simple request for information. "He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" 

No doubt Satan knew exactly what God had said. His question is not one of simple curiosity. He is not merely inquiring after information. He was after much more than information. The way in which he gets that information is worth our attention. It is worth our attention because it is so subtle. 

The serpent was able, in asking the question, to manipulate Eve's own concerns. In asking the question the way that he did, he was able to focus Eve's concern on his deception. He was able to get Eve to question God's command to her. First came the question, then the blatant opposition. Only after getting Eve, so to speak, 'on his wave length' was he able to present to her the 'other' option - "You will not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). 

This is how attacks and assaults operate within the Christian church, within Christian teaching and Christian institutions. They tend to work, subtly and almost undetectably, to bring us into their context of concern. They begin with subtle questions or 'concerns.' Underneath such questions lies a denial of biblical truth. If we begin to entertain those questions, we can, almost unconsciously, be involved in the same denial. Once there, such questions with their subtle denials can begin to 'drip' into the foundation of our most cherished commitments in order to make those commitments, if possible, rot away.

Jude had discovered that the faucet was dripping among these churches, and it was dripping in a way that was taking its toll on the Lord's people. It carried the danger of destroying the foundation of the church itself. So he writes to them to instruct them, both about the nature of the opposition, and about what they should do.

Jude's reference to Balaam (v. 11), no doubt, refers to Moses' condemnation of his actions in Numbers 31:16. It was because of Balaam's counsel that Israel was almost destroyed. There was in Jude's day an idea that Balaam did what he did for money. He was found with the Midianites when he was killed (Num. 31:6-8). Some held that the reason he was among a foreign people when he was killed was because he was there to collect his reward. 

Jude uses that idea to communicate to these Christians that the false teachers among them are concerned only for their own personal gain. They are those who, as Jude says, "feast with you without fear, looking after themselves" (v. 12). Just as Balaam was responsible for the death of thousands of Israelites for profit, these false teachers are concerned only about their own profit, no matter how many of the Lord's people they might lose in the process of their own personal gain. In using this example, Jude was attempting to show that these false teachers, though pretending to be with them, were far from the discipleship that Christ himself had taught, a discipleship of service and of self-denial. A study of Jude's concern, and the examples he gives of serious sin in the midst of the Lord's people, will greatly help Christians recognize their apologetic responsibility within the church of Christ.

Perhaps the best current example of Christians "contending for the faith" in the midst of the church is found in the recent situation at St. George's Tron in Glasgow, Scotland. The congregation determined to leave the denomination because, in its estimation, the truth of God in the gospel was irrevocably compromised in the denomination. Such a decision will almost invariably be met with more attacks, attacks "from within" the church itself. Surely the sentiment of "
Et tu, Brute" must be on the minds of all who suffer persecution from within.

As with Jude, there are times when the church must be reminded to contend earnestly for the faith. That "contention" is a fight; by God's grace it is a "good fight," but a good fight is a fight nevertheless. And no matter the eventual outcome, the Lord is honored by the fight itself, because in such apologetic conflicts the steadfast principles of the gospel itself are set in bold relief for all to see. For some, those principles will be a stench of death, but in God's gracious providence, they will be for others an aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:16).

Dr. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. His most recent book is God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God.