“Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you concerning our common deliverance, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once for all handed down to the saints. Because certain men have slipped in, those who long ago have been marked down for judgment. Ungodly ones who are turning the grace of God into self-abandonment and are denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus who is the Christ.”
Jude does not waste time nor mince words. Immediately after his weighted greeting he presents the purpose for his writing. Those who suggest that Jude is writing in a rushed frenzy fail to take into account that Jude includes his original purpose, something that would make no sense as one rushes through a brief exhortation to believers in general. Just because Jude is brief does not indicate that he writes in haste. The heart of the letter is here. From these two verses we learn three vital things regarding this letter’s intention and occasion. Along the way we will take note of several insights regarding the epistle’s recipients and its author.
Original Purpose: Encouragement (v. 3a)
There is a question regarding the nature of the first part of verse 3. Is Jude indicating that his original purpose in writing has changed or is he simply stating a two-fold purpose for this letter? The debate revolves around the understanding and purpose of the initial participle ποιούμενος (…making every effort to write to you). If the participle indicates the timing of writing (while I was making every effort to write to you) then the idea is that what we have before us is the letter in question. The problem with this interpretation is that Jude does not seem to speak much about our common salvation (τῆς κοινῆς ἡμῶν σωτηρίας). On the other hand, if the participle is understood in a concessive manner (although I was making every effort to write…) the impression is that Jude originally had a different topic in mind and has now altered course. A review of Jude’s content makes it best to understand this participle as indicating a change of plans on Jude’s part. His plans for writing have changed. But what were those original plans?
Jude is Writing to Known Persons
“Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you”
Our presupposition that Jude writes to Judean Christians is confirmed by the fact that he writes to people who are both known to him and are redeemed individuals. While the adjective “beloved” (ἀγαπητός) is a common enough term in modern liturgical settings (dearly beloved, we have gathered here today…), this is not typical first century language. Only Thirty occurrences of ἀγαπητός appear in the vocative and three of them are in Jude (vv. 3, 17, 20). To put it slightly differently, ten percent of the declarative use of “beloved” appear in these 25 verses. We say all of this to make two points. First, it seems to indicate that these people are personally known to Jude. Jude uses the term much as his brother James did (Jam. 1:16, 19; 2:5) as well as Peter in his epistles (1 Pet. 2:11; 4:12; 2 Pet. 3:1, 8, 14, 17). All three of these authors spent much time together in the Jerusalem church and all three write to those to whom they are acquainted. Yet the main reason Jude refers to his audience is explained in our second point; namely, that he connects his readers again to the fact that they are “beloved” (ἠγαπημένοις) by God the Father (v. 1). The LXX often uses this adjective in reference to national Israel (Ps. 60:5; 108:6; 127:2), God’s elect people (v. 1). Again, it is not only that his readers are beloved on account of their national identity but because they have already been shown the love of God through their redemption through Jesus who is the Christ. It is important that we understand Jude addresses redeemed individuals, but it is even more important to Jude that his readers understand that he knows this to be true. I know you among those whom the Father has shown His love. That is why I am writing to you.
To add weight to the argument that Jude writes to people that he knows, we need to consider the concessive participle ποιούμενος (making) again. The arrival of “certain persons” altered the course of Jude’s letter (v. 4). Yet he was at least mentally preparing to write to this audience anyway. The present circumstances did not demand a letter from Jude, a letter was already being anticipated. The present circumstances only altered the purpose of the letter. In other words, these people are known to Jude and would have received encouragement from him even if certain persons had left them well enough alone. But what would have this encouragement consisted of?
Jude is Writing to Encourage Known Persons
“Concerning our common deliverance”
Most English Bibles translate this phrase as “our common salvation” or something much like it. The emphasis most commentators place upon this phrase is a generic and thus broad encouragement regarding the common message, practice, and results of the gospel. This assumes that until certain persons infiltrated the church, Jude had no specific reason to write but only wished to send a general encouragement to the Judean Christians. In other words, Jude stands alone as a man who has ink, parchment, and time to waste upon general ideas. We should be looking for a specific purpose even in the letter that was never written.
The particular context of certain persons creeping in altered the course of the letter. But the general context of the brewing Jewish revolt against Rome remains the same. This common salvation or common/shared deliverance should be understood in light of that general context. The adjective κοινός (common) does not indicate something that is profane or mundane. The idea is one of community and fellowship (κοινωνία). This salvation/deliverance that Jude was going to write about is a salvation that is shared by Jude and his readers. But to what sort of salvation does Jude refer? While it is admitted that this phrase (common salvation) does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament, most assume that Jude conveys the idea of a general blessing of being saved from sin and wrath unto righteousness and blessing. The problem with this understanding again revolves around the notion that Jude has no specific intention in mind. Because “salvation” has no modifier nor anything in the context to help us understand a specific salvation/deliverance, it may be best to understand this term more broadly: deliverance from danger or death. It must be admitted that even in a thoroughly theological context, σωτηρία still indicates (at least partly) physical deliverance. If we take all the facts and place them together (Judean Christians in the mid 60’s AD on the eve of Jewish revolt against Rome), what sort of deliverance would Jude refer to, a deliverance that is common or shared? Even a casual reading of the book of Acts reveals many such deliverances.
By the mid 60’s, every Jewish believer in Judea would have a personal memory of or would know someone who lived through all the events recorded in Acts. How many times did God brilliantly deliver (save) His people in such a short time? The apostles were released by the Sanhedrin with a brief warning (4:21). On a later occasion, the Lord sent His angel to release all the apostles who were in prison (5:19). The persecution that arose after the martyrdom of Stephen resulted in the regeneration of Paul (7:54-8:3; 9:1-22). When Herod Agrippa turned against the church and murdered the elder son of thunder (12:1-2), Peter was again spared (12:3-9). This same Herod was struck down by God before his people for his blasphemy (12:20-25). When famine hit the poor Jerusalem church, God provided deliverance from the rest of the believing community abroad (Acts 21:17-19; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:1-5, 12-15). Time after time the Lord has delivered or saved His people in Judea from harm. They have enjoyed a shared or common salvation on many occasions. They are certainly those who are kept for Jesus the Christ (v. 1). Now that trouble is brewing, tensions are rising, and the Judean Christians not only do not have a dog in the fight but also have no allies to turn to, Jude picks up his pen in order to encourage them. By reminding them of their common salvation, there is a precedent of hope in the coming storm. That was the intention before certain persons crept into the assembly.
Present Purpose: Exhortation (v. 3b)
The fact of Jude’s writing has not altered but his purpose certainly did. The situation in Judea required the church to hear from her leaders. With James and Peter dead and Paul either away in the west, languishing in prison, or also dead, Jude picks up his pen to exhort Christ’s sheep in Judea. What began as a letter of encouragement and perseverance has now become a letter of exhortation.
Exhortation: Contend for the Faith!
“I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith”
As we have just mentioned, it is necessary for Jude to write because there is literally no one else to fill the leadership vacuum. This writing has turned into an exhortation (παρακαλέω) for the recipients to contend for the faith. A basic understanding of “exhort” is to “call alongside.” The idea is that there is a standard to meet, and the exhortation is a call to meet that standard. Depending on the context, this Greek term has been translated in various ways (appeal, exhort, encourage, comfort, implore) indicating that the tone of the call may vary, yet the result is always the same. This call is for the readers to contend (ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι) for the faith.
The term “contend” comes from the root ἀγωνίζομαι which indicates some sort of struggle or fight. The two basic nuances of this term are either than of the intense physical struggle of athletes competing against one another or that of physical and strenuous combat. With a Hebrew audience (not Greek) on the brink of open war, it is doubtful that Jude is conveying an athletic image. Even if he were, it is doubtful that his audience would have interpreted his words in that context. The object for which they must struggle/contend/fight is identified simply as “the faith.” We will flesh out what is meant by “the faith” in a minute but first we must make a few things clear.
First, Jude makes it clear that what is at stake is the gospel. We use the term here as Scripture uses it rather than how modern evangelicals use it. The gospel is not an abridged version of the bare essentials of Christianity but is shorthand for the entirety of the apostolic and prophetic faith. The gospel is the “good news” that all that the prophets have proclaimed, and what the apostles preached is found in the person of Jesus from Nazareth who is the Christ. “The faith” or “the gospel” does not address only a few aspects of Christianity but describes the sum total. This faith must be contended for.
Second, Jude is not advocating an offensive campaign but a defensive one. The “bad guys” in Jude are never identified as presenting a false teaching that must be deflected and corrected. He never calls them “false teachers” or “liars.” Jude does not even refer to them as “false brothers” but maintains the image of these men as “rebels.” There does not seem to be an offensive momentum to the letter at all. Historically, Christendom has undertaken various offensive campaigns through various means of adding “anathemas” to existing creeds, denouncing and excommunicating individuals, and even violence (launching full scale wars, genocide, and targeted persecution) in an effort to “contend” for the faith. Not only did these various offensive campaigns share in their failure to work but also in their failure to recognize the example set by Christ and His apostles. One struggles for the faith by living in obedience to it.
Finally, the men who Jude’s readers will contend against are notoriously brutal and violent cutthroats. The Judean Zealots are desperate men who not only are almost constantly armed but are also men who have “the reputation of causing bodily harm to anyone who refuses to agree with [their] rebellious political position against Rome.” This is not an exhortation to put false teachers in their place by proclaiming truth nor is it a command to take up arms against a gang of thugs. Both of those explanations make the same mistake of thinking this is a offensive struggle rather than a defensive contention. While these godless Zealots seduce and force Judeans to join their cause, Jude writes to the Christian community to exhort them not to join for any reason. They will stand up to the Zealots by not joining their cause. But why would Jude write concerning a political matter? Probably because he understood the fact that the gospel commands every aspect of a believer’s life, including politics.
Definition: The handed down to the saints faith
“Once for all handed down to the saints.”
Jude uses the same literary technique from v. 1 when he was describing the elect here to explain what he means by the faith. The article and noun (the faith) are separated by the description (τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἁγίοις πίστει). “The faith” is defined as that faith which is handed down once for all to the saints. There is an historical precedence of this faith that does not begin nor end with Jude.
Most commentators agree that Jude has an objective reality in mind when he says “faith” rather than the subjective idea of “belief.” The emphasis is upon the content that is believed rather than the action of believing. Jude exhorts his readers to contend and struggle for the content of what God’s beloved and elect people have believed from generation to generation. In short, this faith states that God would send His Messiah, that He has come, that He is Jesus of Nazareth, and that He will return to rule Israel from David’s throne. Jude presents the Zealot’s plot of revolt as completely antithetical to confessional Christianity. One cannot claim that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel while at the same time attempting to create a kingdom without Messiah. The Zealots are not bound by any such paradox because they do not recognize Jesus as God’s Messiah. Jude exhorts believers to defend their faith by refusing to be a part of this brewing rebellion.
Present Reason: Infiltration (v. 4)
Here Jude breaks away from this purpose statement (v. 3) to provide the reason which drives his thinking. Contention is necessary because interlopers have crept in. Jude first reviews what these men have done (v. 4a) before continuing to describe them based on what they do (v. 4b).
What They’ve Done (v. 4a)
“Because certain men have slipped in, those who long ago have been marked down for this judgment.”
Stealth and sneakiness are implied by the term “slipped in.” The Greek term παρεισέδυσαν is a compound made up of the prepositions παρα (beside) and εἰς (in) with the verb δου (to sink). The sense is that these individuals slipped into the water beside the readers without their knowledge or notice. They did not announce their presence, nor did they approach from the front. Their approach was covert and crafty, but the point is clear; the churches of Judea have been infiltrated.
When Jude states that these certain men have already been marked down for judgment, he does not state that their damnation was foreordained (though that’s hardly incorrect) but that, as rebels, there is a myriad of passages that condemn them. The demonstrative “this judgment” (εἰς τοῦτο τό κρίμα) does not point to anything that Jude has mentioned, for no judgment has been stated or even alluded to. Yet there is much to be said in the line of judgment in the verses that follow. So Jude uses the demonstrative to point to a definition that is coming up. Thus when he says that these judgments are written down beforehand (προγεγραμμένοι), he’s pointing to the various writings that he will shortly mention; namely Exodus (v. 5) and Genesis (vv. 6-7). The judgment or fate of these men is the same fate of all rebels, which has already been written down.
What They Do (v. 4b)
The lengthy description of these “certain men” begins with a one-word label (ungodly!) followed by two adjectival participles that name these men based on what they do.
The adjective ἀσεβής (ungodly) is the literal antithesis (negative α augment) of εὐσεβής (godly). Both are built on the verb σέβω which means to serve or to worship. The “well” augment of εὐσεβής indicates service that pleases a deity while the negative “anti” α augment (ἀσεβής) indicates that this service is non-existent. These certain persons are declared to be those who do not serve or please God. They are impious men who do not even attempt a religious lifestyle. Today we soften this idea by using the word “secular” but to say that we live in a godless (ἀσεβής) society is closer to the mark.
“Who are turning the grace of God into self-abandonment”
The next thing Jude mentions of these certain men is that they are those who turn grace into self-abandonment. There is much debate regarding the noun ἀσέλγεια and its meaning. Many translate this as if sexual sin is in view (sensuality) though the term itself is not so limited, indicating a total lack of self-control to the point of complete abandonment. The sexual implications would certainly be easy to see, but there would be any number of other manifestations such as greed, violence, and gluttony to accompany lust. Here, Jude tells us that they are men who turn, transform, or even deform (μετατίθημι) the grace of God to self-abandonment. God’s grace of stayed wrath is given to provide the elect with time to repent and believe the gospel (2 Pet. 3:9, 15). Rather than repenting, these fellows transform that grace into an excuse to live the way that they want to live. This is consistent with what we might expect from the godless.
“And are denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus who is the Christ.”
Jude saved the most significant for last. It is with this remark that he will continue on to the body of his letter where he paints a vivid portrait of these rebels in order to make clear the seriousness of their rebellion. But it all begins here with their denial of Jesus who is the Christ.
As mentioned before, the Zealot cause would never consider calling anyone “Lord” (κύριος) much less “master” (δεσπότης). “Lord” is a term that can cover a variety of nuances from a polite “sir” to a submissive “my sovereign.” “Master” has no such flexibility and is used exclusively in the context of a slave/master relationship. A δεσπότης (from where we get our term “despot”) is one who has supreme control over the life of another. The whole point of Zealotism is to throw off the ties of any such “master.” They have no room in their limited realized eschatology for Jesus as Messiah because they are busy making Messiah’s of themselves. This is the chief reason for which they must be opposed and contended with. These men have slipped into the believing community and yet deny the Master and Lord which that same community serves. Jude’s exhortation is simple: earnestly struggle for the faith and not for them.
Errant eschatology has been trying to hijack the church for hundreds and hundreds of years. The crusades to the Holy Land were nothing more than an attempt to create a Messianic Kingdom and accomplished a realized postmillennial eschatology. Regardless of what they stated, those men denied the Master and Lord of the church; namely, Jesus who is the Christ. In our own day, social justice warriors have infiltrated the church in order to establish justice (what they call justice) and righteousness on earth. In so doing, they deny the church’s only Master and Lord. Any attempt to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven (the foundation of postmillennial eschatology) is an overt denial of Jesus’ right to rule. The world has crept into the church and the church never noticed. May the elect wake up and begin contending.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 433-4. Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 119. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 609-10. D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 217.  Bateman, p. 129-30.  Lenski, p. 609-11.  Bateman, p. 135.  Hiebert, p. 218-20.  Bateman, p. 135. Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 187.