Dear radio friends,
It is a blessing for me to be on the Reformed Witness Hour once again to share the Word of God with you in the next few months. For the most part during my time with you I wish to concentrate on a study of the short but pertinent letter of Jude.
This letter has a unique place in the canon of Scripture. It parallels much of what Peter writes in his second epistle. For that reason, some Bible scholars would like to exclude it from the canon of Scripture because, they contend, Jude plagiarizes Peter. But that is not true. First of all, this letter of Jude has always been recognized by the church as being a part of the Bible. And secondly, there is a distinct difference between this epistle and that of Peter. Peter writes to his readers in the future tense. In II Peter 2:1, for example, he points out that there shall be false teachers who shall bring in damnable heresies. Or again, in chapter 3:3, Peter declares that there shall come in the last days scoffers. Peter was noticing a trend in the early church and warns the saints of what soon would come to pass. Jude speaks in the present tense. Notice: Jude 4, “For there are certain men crept in unawares.” In verse 17 Jude exhorts the saints to remember what the apostles wrote when they warned against mockers in the last time. In verse 19 Jude states, “these are they who separate themselves.” Jude therefore speaks of the fulfillment of what Peter warns. This is true because Jude wrote his letter a little later in history than Peter did, that is, just before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. And it is because of this unique character of Jude that we see it to be a necessary part of the Scriptures.
The entire letter is aimed at certain heretics who had crept into the churches and were leading people astray. In his condemnation of these heretics Jude uses several Old Testament examples and makes application of those examples in a unique way. These examples lend themselves to a colorful description of Jude’s instruction. Today we are going to consider the first two verses of this letter. They read: “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.”
A LETTER TO THOSE PRESERVED
I. Its Author
The name Jude is the Greek name equivalent to the Hebrew name Judas. That means, the author of this letter is a man named Judas. Jesus had two disciples that had the name Judas: Judas Iscariot and Judas son of Alphaeus. But the author of this epistle is not either of these disciples of Jesus. Obviously, he was not Judas Iscariot. But neither was he Judas the son of Alphaeus. You see, Jude does not claim to be an apostle. In verses 17, 18 of this letter Jude writes, “remember the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord…how that they told you,” and so on. Jude does not include himself among the apostles of Christ nor lay claim to their apostolic authority. But he does carry with him the authority of an early church father.
But who then is Jude? The answer to that is found in verse 1. There we read that Jude is a brother of James—not James the apostle, but James the half-brother of Jesus, also an influential leader of the church in Jerusalem. So Jude or Judas was another one of Jesus’ half-brothers along with James. We read of that in Matthew 13:55, where the question was asked about Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” It must have been true then that Jude or Judas was himself a leader of some influence in the church of Jerusalem. It is striking that Judas, like James, did not believe in Jesus while Jesus was yet alive. John informs us of this in his gospel account chapter 7:5. This would explain why these men were not present at the cross. But after the death and the resurrection of Jesus, James and Judas must both have been brought to faith. We find them in the room with the 120 believers worshiping on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. Now, Jude too had become an officebearer in the church whose authority was well established—enough for him to write a letter to the churches that became a part of the New Testament Scriptures.
Though Jude describes himself as a brother of James, he refuses to describe himself as a brother of Jesus Christ. He could have written that, you know: Jude, the brother of Jesus and James. He does not do this—and that for obvious reasons. Jude’s personal relationship to Christ through his mother Mary as half-brother was not of the essence. The father of Jesus Christ was not Joseph. Jesus is the Son of God. He is divine. Jude was merely a man, a human. Jesus according to His Person was the very Son of God who had come down and made Himself like unto His brothers by assuming human flesh. That set Jesus apart from Jude. Furthermore, Jesus was Christ. Jude mentions this name in particular throughout this letter and here in verse 1. The name Christ was Jesus’ official name, His title. Jesus was the Messiah—the Anointed One of God. Christ was anointed by the Spirit to His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. Jude was an officebearer in the early church only by virtue of the fact that he was a believer, grafted into Christ by means of a true and living faith. This means that Jude recognizes from the very start in this letter that he is a servant of Christ, a better translation being that of a “slave!” Jude was a slave of Christ. Jude shows no human pride. Jude is humbled in faith simply to be a slave to do the will of his Master Jesus Christ.
With this admission Jude places himself in the same camp as every other believer. We who are given to believe in Christ are become Christ’s slaves! We are slaves to Christ by virtue of our very redemption. The truth is that you and I before our salvation were slaves to Satan. He is the prince of the power of the air that reigns in the hearts of those lost in unbelief and sin. He has power over them to do his will. This is why unbelief detests God and despises God’s commandments. Satan blinds the eyes of those who yet walk in disobedience. And such was true of us too prior to our salvation. But Christ redeemed us, that is, bought us with His blood. In doing so He set us free from the clutches of Satan, sin, and unbelief. But if this is true, then we now belong to Jesus. We have become slaves to Him to do His will. Paul asks the question of believers in I Corinthians 6:19, “Know ye not that ye are not your own?” Then he states in the very next verse: “For ye are bought with a price.” We are purchased with the blood of Christ. Christ has become our Lord, our Master, and we are called to walk as those who belong to Him in this world. Jude recognized that truth regarding himself. Not only was that true of him as a believer, but as an officebearer, a leader in the church. The office of elder that he represented was indeed an office bestowed on him by Christ the Ruler and King of His church. In his office too, in his rule in the church, Jude recognized that he was a slave to do the will of his Lord. And that is what he wanted the saints to know.
II. Its Recipients
But there is also something that Jude wanted those to whom he wrote to know about themselves. Read the rest of verse 1: “to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” There are three key terms used in this address to the saints. They are sanctified, preserved, and called.
By these words it seems as if Jude places these three terms in order so that we would consider our sanctification first, then our preservation, and finally that we are called. But the grammar of this verse is not as easy or smooth as it appears. These terms are used a bit differently in the original. The idea expressed by Jude is this: “Jude, to the called who are loved in God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ.” Two things we note: 1) the word “sanctified” should be “loved” and 2) the emphasis falls on the truth that God’s people are called. These saints that Jude was addressing were called. You and I, fellow saints, are called. This is why this letter is addressed to you and me just as well as to God’s people then. God calls His people.
Now, we must distinguish this call that Jude speaks of here. We learn in Scripture that many are called but few are chosen. That call of the gospel goes out to all men. Every time the preaching is heard there is an external, objective call that goes out to everyone who hears it. The church is commissioned by Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creatures. In that sense of the word everyone is called. Everyone is commanded to repent of his sins and to turn to the cross of Christ in faith. Everyone is called to believe on Jesus Christ. And the promise of the gospel is to be preached to everyone too: that all those who in sorrow turn from their sin and believe on Jesus Christ God will in no wise cast out. This is the external call of the gospel to all men.
But though many are called only a few out of them all are chosen unto salvation. This is where the internal call of the Spirit in a person’s heart is important to distinguish. You see, though the call of the gospel must be published to all who will hear, it is God’s intent and desire to use that general call to save only His elect people. When the external call of the gospel goes out, then God uses it to work only in the hearts of those whom He has chosen to life eternal. When they hear the gospel, then the Spirit irresistibly draws them to Christ. These God then calls out of the darkness of unbelief and into the light of salvation.
This letter of Jude is written therefore to all those who have been effectually called by God unto salvation. This is not a general letter written to all men. It is a letter written to the churches. The church is the place where those who are called unto salvation dwell. This letter Jude writes to the churches of his day. This letter Christ writes to the church today. It is a letter written to believers. Only believers are those who have been by God’s grace called out of the darkness of sin, those in whom Christ’s Spirit now works through the powerful work of salvation. We are chosen from eternity, regenerated by God’s grace, and called unto a knowledge of our salvation in Christ. This address is meant to encourage us, fellow believers, in this way!
But there is more to encourage God’s people in this address. We who are called unto salvation are loved in God the Father. We are those who are loved, people of God! God knows us from eternity and has chosen us to be His very own children. Notice, Jude refers to God as Father, not the Father, but simply as Father. God is Father. That is what we call Him, do we not? We address Him in prayer as our Father who is in heaven. This name indicates just how close we are to our God. We stand in a Father/child relationship with Him. And God loves us with the love of a father. Not only are we loved by God as Father, but we are loved in God as Father. We are one with Him. We are one family with Him. We are the children of His household. The whole phrase here is meant to conjure up in our minds the blessed security that is ours with salvation. We need not fear those who attempt to seduce us. We need not fear that we can be separated from the love of God. God has entered into covenant with us. He is our God and we are His people. He loves us, cares about us, and defends us from our enemies.
Why? Because God establishes with you and me and all those who are called unto salvation a bond so close that it cannot be broken! We are in Him, His family. What good father would leave his children to fend for themselves? What good father would forsake his very own children? Well, God is good. He is perfectly good! He will never forsake us in our need. He loves us with a perfect bond of love. The saints whom Jude addresses need to know this because in this letter he is going to warn them concerning men who creep into the church to lead God’s people astray. Jude is going to admonish us to strive for the faith! But he wants us to know before all this that nothing will separate us from the love of God.
Then Jude gives us one last assurance: God’s people are preserved in Jesus Christ. The word “preserved” means “guarded” or “held firmly” and it is an obvious reminder of what Christ teaches us in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Having been predestinated unto eternal life, having been called out of unbelief and into the light of salvation, we are also preserved in Jesus Christ. God’s people cannot fall away from faith. It is very true, of course, that if salvation is left up to the will of man, if our salvation depends on our accepting Christ, then we can lose that salvation too. I can be a believer one week and then fall away and be an unbeliever the next week. Salvation is up for grabs, depending on what condition I am in when I die. But salvation is not dependent on man. Salvation is of the Lord. We are preserved in Jesus Christ, Jude teaches us. We are guarded, held firmly in the grip of our Savior—held in His tender care! He that has begun a good work in us will be faithful to complete it! This is true because Jesus is Savior. He saves His people from sin. Not one who simply makes salvation available, He is all powerful to save everyone He died for. This Jesus is also Christ, who works in us a full and complete salvation, who does not leave one stone unturned when it comes to our salvation but who accomplishes it all perfectly. And again, how we need to hear this, since there are those evil seducers who sneak into the church and who seek to lead the faithful astray. This then is why Jude addresses us in this way. It is to reassure us of our salvation and that we are held in Christ’s hand.
Then, having addressed us in this way, Jude pronounces his blessing on the church and God’s people. Verse 2: “Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.”
III. Its Blessing
Jude pronounces three virtues upon God’s people: mercy, peace, and love. Mercy is the love of God that pities those who are distressed and comes to their help. God has been merciful in calling us unto salvation. Peace is what we experience when all is well between us and God through Jesus Christ. It is when the soul rests in God without worry or fear. This peace is ours when we know that we are held in the almighty hand of God and preserved through the work of Jesus Christ. Love is that bond that unites us with God and His Son so that we are drawn to them. It is a love that flows out of God’s love for us.
Jude pronounces these blessings of God upon us because we need them. We need to know that we are the objects of God’s mercy, peace, and love. Peter had warned the church that there will be those who would scoff at them and would contend with them. In Jude’s day they now confronted these evil men. They were there. The battle had begun. And there were some in the church who were giving in to these evil men. When there is such strife in the church we need to know of God’s mercy, peace, and love. That too is why Jude says concerning these three blessings that they might be multiplied upon God’s saints. How true it is in life, and we know for ourselves, that God always gives us exactly what we need each day for perseverance. When strength is needed in extra measure, then mercy, peace, and love are multiplied. When we are troubled and hurting, then God is there to multiply unto us His mercy, peace, and love. When we would give in or give up, then God is there and He multiplies to us exactly the blessings we need to carry on. This is the way our loving Father works. He always provides us what we need when we need it. This too is why Jude now commends God’s people who are to contend for their faith into this loving care of God. May God’s mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to us in our needs. And may we experience these too as we study together this letter of Jude.