Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Jude 1-2 ESV
The greeting of Jude’s letter is quite short, but it is densely packed with spiritual truth. Since the epistle will dive headfirst into the issue of false teachers and apostates, it is important that the readers be made aware of their own identity in Christ. Rather than becoming terrified and fearful of becoming like the defectors mentioned, Jude assures that all servants of Jesus Christ are called, loved, and kept by the power of God.
JUDE & HIS READERS // VERSE 1
Jude begins his letter in the traditional fashion of the New Testament epistle, with the author, recipient, and greeting placed at the beginning. From identifying himself as the brother of James, we know that Jude was the half-brother of Jesus (because Jesus only had one earthly parent), but interestingly he does not mention that relationship. He does note his connection to Christ, but familial terms are not used. Instead, Jude calls himself “a servant of Jesus Christ.” The literal meaning of the word “servant” is slave. The nature of slavery is the ownership of a person. To own a slave is to have complete control over that person. The slave is not the master of their life; the master has complete authority. Jude is using that kind of language to describe his relationship with Jesus. He proclaims Christ as his Master and, therefore, has no claim upon his own life. The total existence of Jude was surrendered entirely to Jesus.
Jesus employs the image of the slave manager in his discussion of leadership (Luke 12:41-48), evoking understanding of a wall-known function of slaves in the Greco-Roman world. As his story reflects, some slaves were invested with authority and held responsible managerial positions under their masters. D. Martin (1990:56) has argued that “the slave agent of an upper-class person was to be reckoned with. He could keep free citizens waiting on his convenience.” The higher the social status of the master, the more weighty the power of the managerial slave. Since Jude is the slave-agent of Jesus Christ, the one who holds the highest status according to Christian thought, we should understand his self-designation as a claim to authority, divine commission, and perhaps even inspiration. Standing behind him is Christ himself. This is not a mere statement of humility.Green, 45-46
Reflecting upon the nature of Jude’s servitude to Christ, we must ask a follow-up question. Why would Jude commit himself to the servitude of his big brother? The simple truth is that regardless of how good sibling relationships can be no one wants to worship their brother or sister as God. The same can be said of Jude. In the seventh chapter of John, we learn that Jesus’ brothers did not believe that He was the Son of God (John 7:5). In fact, as most brothers would be prone to do, they taunted Jesus about His claims. Sadly, scoffing is the type of reaction that we would imagine to come from His brothers. But something changed their view of Him. In the first chapter of Acts, we learn that his brothers were gathered with the disciples in prayer following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14). At some point, Jesus’ brothers changed their minds regarding Jesus being the Christ. I believe that the catalyst for the reversal was the resurrection. Imagine the horror of watching your brother being killed via the Roman cross. The depth of the sorrow must have been excruciating, but they still likely did not believe that He was God. However, after having witnessed the horrendous death of Jesus, His resurrection from the dead was sufficient as proof that He was indeed God. Thus, Jude began to worship his older brother as God, believing Him to be the fulfillment of the Scriptures and the long-awaited Messiah.
For me, the epistles of Jude and James are some of the most compelling evidence for the reliability of the resurrection. First, they were raised alongside Him, so they knew that Jesus was still Jesus following His resurrection. Second, it would take something as dramatic as that to cause His younger brothers to worship Him. Indeed, the resurrection was dramatic. It completely shifted Jude’s thoughts about Jesus. Though he could have easily referred to himself as the brother of Jesus, Jude was now content to be nothing more than a slave to our Lord. The same must be true of every believer. Because of the great love with which Christ bought us, we are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19-20). No follower of Christ is able to lay claim to his or her own body. Christ is our master, and everything we are and have is His. The Christian life is a life of servitude to Jesus Christ, forsaking self in order to exalt Him.
“To those who are called” Jude now identifies his intended audience. The letter has often been referred to as a “catholic epistle” because Jude appears to be aiming at any believer in Jesus Christ. While this is true, his constant alluding to Hebrew history implies that the original readers were either Jewish or converted gentiles. Regardless of Jude’s specific original readership, this phrase makes it clear that Jude’s letter applies to all Christians. “Called” refers to the divine invitation of salvation. Throughout the Bible, the concept of being called is closely linked with the doctrine of election. Calvin writes, “By this expression, “the called,” he denotes all the faithful, because the Lord has separated them for himself. But as calling is nothing else but the effect of eternal election, it is sometimes taken for it.” Thus, Jude is clearly referring to all of God’s elect, but calling does not equal election. Instead, God’s calling of us flows from His electing us to salvation.
Throughout the New Testament, the saints in Christ are repeatedly referred to as being called. Paul says that he was called to be an apostle in the beginning of Romans and 1 Corinthians (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1). Both of the previously mentioned letters also clarify the purpose of our calling: to be saints (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). This calling also marks us as belonging to Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:6). The called people of God savor Christ as being “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Those who are called will also love God and He will work all things for their good (Rom. 8:28). Finally, the called are also chosen, faithful, and aligned with the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (Rev. 17:14). Therefore, the called are the saints who belong to Jesus Christ and know His supremacy, the chosen people who will persevere to the end. In short, they are the recipients of the gospel, those saved by grace through faith.
“beloved in God the Father” I must confess that often I wrestle for a proper thinking of Trinity. No, I never question the reality of the one God eternally existing in three persons, as impossible as it is to understand. Instead, I tend to mentally lock each Person of the Trinity into extreme versions of their salvific roles. For instance, it is my tendency to think of Christ as being the “gracious and loving one” and the Father as the “angry one”. To be fair, the Father is often spoken of as being a good and wrathful judge, while Jesus is completely gracious and loving. However, to think of these characteristics as exclusives is a huge error. For instance, Jesus frequently became angry over the course of His ministry, and one day, He will return to the earth as the glorious King who will judge with equity. Also, the Father is not always angry and wrathful toward us. The most memorized verse describes the Father as loving so much that He would send His only Son for us (John 3:16). In fact, Jude claims that because of our recreation in Christ we are now beloved in God the Father. We no longer face the Father’s judgment and wrath; instead, we receive His love.
What a simple truth this is! God loves us. I know that this has often been said as merely throw-away words, but it is critical that we grasp the weight of that concept. God should give us the utmost outpouring of His wrath because of our sin, but by His great love, He now calls us His beloved children. The root for the word “beloved” is agape, unconditional love. God chooses to act upon us with an electing love, not based upon momentary feelings and passions. He has committed to loving us throughout our wanderings and struggles. As Christians, we ought to never grow cold to the fact that the Creator of the galaxies dearly loves us.
“kept for Jesus Christ” The final piece of Jude’s triadic description of his audience is that we are kept for Jesus Christ. In verse three, Jude will urge his readers to battle for the faith, declaring a call to war. Of all the statements that we could make of war, the most prudent seems to be the casualties because they are one of the only guaranteed aspects of every war. Therefore, the risks of the conflict will need to be accurately assessed before launching into action, so proper preparations can be taken. If Jude is then going to call Christians to battle, the fear of casualties will soon rise within their hearts. Since these false teachers are among the believers and in the church, should the reader be concerned about falling into their ways?
Fortunately, Jude claims that the true followers of Christ are also kept for Christ. The term “kept” means to guard, take care of, or attend carefully. The same word is used throughout the Bible most often to describe the diligence we must take in keeping the commandments of God. 2 Peter chapter 2 uses the word three times, each referring to the assurance of the punishment, judgment, and destruction of the ungodly (2 Pet. 2:4, 9, 17). However, the first chapter of that letter promises that the inheritance of our salvation is being kept in heaven for us (2 Pet. 1:4). Paul writes, in his second letter to Timothy, that he kept the faith and finished the race (2 Tim. 4:7). This reference to keeping faithful to the end is also used by Jesus. Three times He prays for us to be kept in the name of the Father and away from the evil one. Jude’s intended usage is similar to the prayer of Christ. God will take diligent care in keeping us for Himself.
This concept is commonly called the perseverance of the saints. Even though some have used the slogan “once saved always saved” to describe the doctrine, the idea is not that a person can confess Jesus as Lord and continue living like a sinner. Instead, it means that, if God performed the saving work of regeneration in one’s heart, He will also ensure that the person never truly falls away from the grace of God. Though the Christian may have periods of wandering or deep sin, the work of God will ultimately prevail. The latter verse of Romans 8 describes the glorious hope that comes from this belief, stating that if God predestines He will also call, justify, and glorify. Since the predestined, called, and justified believer will also be glorified, Paul has supreme confidence that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God. To be fair, this thought makes complete sense in context of the Christian faith. If our salvation is completely dependent upon the work of God, why would we assume that our perseverance would not be His work as well? Indeed, it is all His work! The original point of our salvation is only the beginning of Christ’s saving work, and He will complete it (Phil. 1:6).
It is important that we take a moment to discuss English grammar. The Oxford Comma and whether it is needed has long been the subject of many debates. In short, the punctuation in question is the comma placed before the conjunction in a listing of items. For example, the Oxford Comma is the second comma in this list: “mercy, peace, and love.” Some argue that the comma is not needed; however, taking it away can become complicated. John Piper uses the example of an author dedicating his book to “his parents, Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand.” Without the Oxford Comma, it seems that the he is stating that his parents are Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand, but with the addition of the simple comma, the presence of three separate entities would be clear. I would therefore argue that the Oxford Comma is an important aspect of English grammar.
So what does the Oxford Comma have to do with Jude? Notice that Jude’s triadic address in this first verse is missing the comma in question; therefore, in order to know how to properly read this verse, we must know the translators’ stance on the Oxford Comma. Fortunately, we do not need to look far to find another example. The second verse of Jude contains the example that I listed above: “mercy, peace, and love.” Therefore, since we know that they uphold the Oxford Comma, we must conclude that the exclusion of it in verse one is intentional. Indeed, our being beloved in God the Father and kept in Christ is entirely contingent upon our having been called. We are only loved and kept because He first called us out of darkness into His light.
MERCY, PEACE, & LOVE // VERSE 2
In the Greco-Roman society, the final section of an epistles greeting would contain a wish-prayer for the readers of the letter. Christianity quickly adopted this practice so that the author could pray for the blessings of the gospel upon their audience. Notably absent from Jude’s letter is the pronouncement of grace. Perhaps this could be because the false teachers in question were perverting the grace of God. Instead, he prays for mercy, peace, and love to be multiplies to his audience.
Mercy is the sparing of just judgment. In light of our sinful condition, we need the mercy of God every hour. Peace is a very Jewish concept, coming from the Hebrew word shalom. The peace of God encompasses the entirety of a person. It not simply the opposite of chaos or lack of strife; rather, it is the holistic wellbeing that can only come from no longer being in enmity against God. Our peace flows from our reconciliation with God and into our present circumstances. Since we know that we will ultimately be with God, no temporal anxiety of this world will be able to quench our peace.
Finally, love is the characteristic of God that first enabled our calling. Our status as beloved in God the Father is the result of our calling. Our love for one another is the effect of our calling. The Christian worldview is saturated in love, and so must the Christian be.