Jude writes his letter in the mid-first century A.D. Was Jude or 2 Peter written first? We do not know. In verses 1-4, Jude reveals his purpose. We can put it this way: Prove your calling and maintain your confession by studying our common salvation and contending for the faith once for all time delivered the saints.
Verse 1 reads, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James. To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Jude recognizes himself as a servant of the Savior, as we all are. He is also the brother of James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem. These men are brothers of Jesus. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55).
This little letter is addressed to those who are “called,” people like you and me. And this calling is part of the order of the application of salvation, which leads to glorification (Romans 8:30). The Holy Spirit applies to you the redemption purchased by Jesus Christ because God loves you. And yes, you are adopted into His family. God is your Father. Based upon later manuscripts, the KJV speaks of our being “sanctified by God the Father.” Sanctification begins with regeneration and continues in and through God’s preserving work. And so Jude reminds his readers, including you, that they are “kept for” or “preserved in” (KJV) Jesus Christ.
Jude now prays, “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 2). Mercy is equivalent to grace. First Peter 1:3-4 combines mercy, new birth, and God’s preservation. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”
Peace is the same as shalom, the all-encompassing peace of God bound up in the experimental love of God in Jesus Christ. Mercy and peace and love may be an hendiatris, three words used to express one idea. Jude is speaking of God’s grace or mercy filled with peace and love.
We now come to Jude’s primary purpose. “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation” (Jude 3). His readers, including you and me, are loved by Jude and, of course, loved by God. Jude was preparing or perhaps had started to write. His topic is the salvation shared by all who are in Christ. Jude has already accomplished part of this purpose in verses 1 and 2. However, He is a servant of Jesus Christ. Calvin maintains that this title assumes ongoing office and teaching responsibility. Of course, all those called within the church to preach and to teach have the duty to explain and apply the Scriptural teachings concerning the salvation we share as believers in Jesus Christ.
But there are also exceptional circumstances thrust upon the church. As a result, Jude writes, “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). The saints are the blood-bought and ransomed members of the church. The faith is the objective truth contained in the Scriptures, prophesied of old, and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This faith was delivered to the church once for all time. It is the duty and obligation of the church not only to declare the truth of Christ but to contend for it. The church is, as it were, in a great contest demanding great exertion, skill, and perseverance. The world is marshaled against the saints by Christ’s great adversary, the devil. The church must not only teach the truth but contend for it against all opposition.
Jude gives the reason for his earnest appeal. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). These persons are unconscious or self-conscious subversives. They have wormed their way, undetected, into the church (Galatians 2:4). They have made a profession of faith. But they do not sincerely hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They are ungodly persons in life and conduct. They use grace as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). Thus they deny the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not that long ago that a popular teaching pervaded evangelical circles. You could profess Christ as Savior and be a saved person. You could live an unholy and unsanctified life and still have an assurance of salvation. You would be known as a carnal Christian, someone who believes in Jesus as your Savior but does not yet submit to Him as your Lord. However, the essential Christian confession is, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). Do not deny Christ; maintain your confession that “Jesus is Lord.” Remember these words of our Lord Jesus, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Bottom line? From these first four verses of Jude: Prove your calling and maintain your confession by studying our common salvation and contending for the faith once for all time delivered the saints. More simply: Constantly study the content of your faith and always be ready to fight for it.