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Jude 20-21 “In Response to Rebels, Part 2: Maintain Holiness”

But you beloved, by building yourselves up upon your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus who is the Christ resulting in eternal life.

Jude repeats the address used in v. 17. “But you, beloved” returns the focus to the readers as well as repeating themes from Jude’s introduction in vv. 1-3. Much of these verses will repeat themes introduced at the beginning of the letter. The faith that was once and for all times handed down to the saints (v. 3) is again mentioned. The mercy and love that was sincerely prayed for (v. 2) will again make an appearance. The theme of keeping (vv. 1, 6, 13, 21) finds its conclusion here. And the theme of holiness continues from his initial address to the saints (ἁγίοις) to his concluding exhortation involving your most holy faith (ἁγιωτίτῃ ὑμῶν πίστει) and the Holy Spirit (πνεύματι ἁγίῳ). The chiastic structure of Jude becomes apparent in his conclusion.

While the entirety of Jude 17-23 is rightly understood as concluding Jude’s denunciation of the rebellious insurgents by turning to exhort the faithful believers, these verses form three distinct parts. In vv. 17-19, we saw how Jude exhorts his readers to remember that the existence of such rebellious reprobates is perfectly consistent with the apostolic teaching. In vv. 20-21 Jude exhorts his believing audience to remain in the love of God in the face of such rebellion. In vv. 22-23, Jude will direct his readers how to respond to those who have been negatively affected by these rebels. In short, the whole of Jude 17-23 is an application of his desire that they contend earnestly for the faith (v. 3).

The two verses before us address Judaean believers and urge their personal holiness by keeping themselves in God’s love. There are three distinct parts to this text in which Jude explains that holiness is the believer’s response to rebellious worldliness. There is more to contending for the faith than pointing out the error of rebels. Contention for the faith demands holiness. Jude’s love of threes continues in this presentation of a holy response to rebels by believers. He first reveals the method or means by which believers are to obey the command (v. 20) before giving the command (v. 21a). He concludes by explaining the correct attitude or manner in which this command is to be obeyed (v. 21).

Indicative Action: Faith (v. 20)

Regardless of how our various English versions are printed, there is only one imperative in these two verses: Keep yourselves in the love of God (v. 21). This verse contains no controlling verb but is made up of two participles (building up and praying) that both modify the imperative that will come in v. 21. In other words, this verse provides two steps that explain how believers are to keep themselves in God’s love.

Keep Building (v. 20a)

But you beloved, by building yourselves up upon your most holy faith

The step that believers are to take in order to keep themselves in God’s love is to continue to build themselves upon their most holy faith. The present tense participle (ἐποικοδομοῦντες) indicates that this is a continuous action. Each day they wake up with a task in hand. Every morning they begin again the work. The work is never complete as they continue to build. The picture of a building project is in view, as evidence by the verbal root’s (ἐποικοδομέω) inclusion of the term for “house” (οἰκία/οἶκος).[1] Paul is fond of this term to refer to the building of the church in various aspects. He uses the metaphor of “building” to refer to the work of evangelism (1 Cor. 3:10), human works (1 Cor. 3:12-14), and sound doctrine (Eph. 2:20; Col. 2:7).

Taking the imagery of building a house may indicate the construction of a temple. Yet it is obvious here that the objects being built are people. Individual Christians are under construction. The manifested presence of Yhwh has not indwelt the physical temple in Jerusalem for over 500 years at this point. Jude himself remembers the teaching of the apostles (v. 17) that the present dwelling place of Yhwh is in His people. Christians are being built into God’s holy habitation (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10). This is an interesting development considering that the early church continued to meet, teach, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the temple mount in Jerusalem (Acts 2:43-47). The physical temple continued to hold a place of significance in the church’s theology because they anticipated its continued use when Christ returned to establish His kingdom (Ps. 15; 24; Ezek. 40-47). Yet, it is as if Jude is already preparing his audience for a “worst case scenario” in which the present temple ceases to exist.[2]

What is interesting here is that Jude addresses the work of building up both collectively and individually. He uses the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτοὺς (yourselves) rather than the reciprocal pronoun ἀλλήλων (one another). The point is not that Christians are not to build each other up. There are legions of passages that instruct this reciprocal kind of discipleship (Rom. 12:10-16; 13:8; 14:13-19; 15:5-7; Gal. 5:13-17; Eph. 4:2, 32; 5:19-21; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:9, 13, 16; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:18; 5:15; Heb. 3:13, 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:8-10; 1 Jn. 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12). Jude’s point is to emphasize the individual responsibility.[3] Each member of the collective body is to take it upon themselves to build themselves up. Sanctification requires individual responsibility with the context of the collective body. But what is this temple to be built upon? What is the foundation?

Many commentators treat this subject rather broadly and state that “the most holy faith” refers to the gospel and leave it at that. This is not necessarily incorrect, though it is a most incomplete answer. Most modern Christians believe that the gospel is an exclusively soteriological message: that Jesus came as the perfect God-man, lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, rose from the dead in victory, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. To them, that is the gospel in its entirety. Yet the gospel is not a soteriological message so much as it is a doxological message with soteriological implications. What sort of gospel message is taught in the New Testament?

John the Baptist, the forerunner of Messiah, came preaching a simple message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2 NASB). Jesus, the Messiah, preached a similar message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17 NASB). The New Testament begins by connecting the gospel with the coming Messianic Kingdom. The apostles affirm this connection by first preaching that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Messiah, or Christ (Acts 2:36), before calling on those listening to repent (Acts 2:38). The object of faith, that object that is most holy and sacred, is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Messiah (Ps. 2), the Christ (Acts 2:26), the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16) and all of the implications associated with such a claim.

Jude has gone out of his way to affirm time and again that Jesus is the Christ (vv. 1, 4, 17, 21, 25). This fact was rejected by the Zealot opponents and the majority of Israel. The nation has rejected her King, Master, and Lord (v. 4). This fact must be cherished, clung to, and built upon by these Judaean Christians who oppose the Zealot faction who desire to erect a kingdom in their own likeness, on their own terms, and at times provide messiahs for themselves (Acts 5:33-39). The core of the gospel is the fact that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed One, Messiah. The implications of that fact reach back as far as Genesis and stretch all the way through Revelation. But the most holy faith that believers must continually build themselves upon is the fact that Jesus is Messiah. If Jesus is God’s Messiah, not only is there no need to join the Zealots in their revolt against Rome,[4] but that union would actively deny Jesus’ right to rule from David’s throne. If Jesus is Messiah, they must not join these rebels.

Keep Praying (v. 20b)

By praying in the Holy Spirit

With another participle of means (προσευχόμενοι) Jude presents a second step for believers to keep themselves in God’s love: by praying in the Holy Spirit. There is an emphasis on holiness here. Jude advises his readers to build upon their most holy faith and to pray in the Holy Spirit. An emphasis on holiness is an emphasis to be separate from the world and the influences that surround them. Yet, what does it mean to pray in the Holy Spirit?

The preposition ἐν (ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ – in the Holy Spirit) could indicate a sphere of influence (pray within the sphere of the Holy Spirit) and this is how several commentators understand this phrase.[5] Yet that explanation is quite general. The preposition ἐν can also communicate cause (because of the Holy Spirit), means (by the Holy Spirit), and standard (according to the Holy Spirit).[6] What is Jude’s point? To answer this, maybe a look at how the church viewed prayer in its earliest days is in order. After all, Jude’s original purpose was to recall the many common deliverances of the Judaean church (v. 3). How did prayer play into those deliverances and what was the role of God the Holy Spirit?

The Judaean believers to whom Jude writes are well aware of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and indwelling presence on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) as well as the regeneration of the Samaritans (Acts 8) and even the Gentiles (Acts 10). God the Holy Spirit is transforming rebels into Kingdom citizens beginning in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts. 1:8). Messiah’s Kingdom is being prepared, not at the hands of political activists, but by the work of the third person of the Trinity. Yet this work was not left unopposed by the prince of darkness. The apostles were arrested and imprisoned on multiple occasions (Acts 4:1-4; 5:17-19; 12:3-5), some were killed (Acts 12:1-2), and the church was persecuted (Acts 8:1-3). How did the church respond to these acts of aggression?

After Peter and John’s first arrest and release, they returned to the body and prayed (Acts 4:23-30). Their prayer gave glory to God (v. 24), affirmed the natural response of unbelievers to the message of Messiah (vv. 25-28), and asked for God’s empowerment to remain faithful in their task of proclaiming Jesus as Messiah (vv. 29-30). That prayer was immediately answered: “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31 NASB).

When the apostles were arrested, released by an angel, rearrested, flogged and warned to cease their preaching (Acts 5:17-40), the apostles responded in prayers of rejoicing and kept right on teaching that Jesus is God’s Messiah (vv. 41-42). Their prayer for boldness and faithfulness to fulfill their duty had been answered yet again!

After James the son of Zebedee was killed and Peter arrested (Acts 12:1-3), the church gathered to pray on Peter’s behalf (v. 5). I do not think it is likely that they prayed for his release, but more so that they prayed that Peter would remain a faithful witness to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah, to the very end. When Peter showed up to the prayer meeting unannounced, they did not believe he was at the door (vv. 15-16). They were not expecting Peter to be rescued from prison because they were praying for the Holy Spirit to embolden and strengthen him. Yet, their prayers were answered!

The church in Judaea was founded, expanded, and protected by God the Holy Spirit. This ministry was participated in by the church through prayer. Their prayers were in accordance with the mission of God the Holy Spirit. To pray in the Holy Spirit is to pray in accordance with His mission. The Spirit’s mission is to regenerate rebels and embolden the saints. It is not a matter of whether these saints live or die but that they persevere and remain holy witnesses to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah.

The means by which the Judaean church is to keep themselves in the love of God is by first continuing to build themselves up on the most holy faith that Jesus is the Christ and second to continue praying in accordance with God the Holy Spirit. Such building and prayer will ensure that they indeed remain in the love of God.

Immediate Assignment: Love (v. 21a)

Keep yourselves in the love of God

After establishing the means by which this imperative is obeyed, Jude delivers the command. The aorist imperative (τηρήσατε) indicates a serious assignment that is to be obeyed without delay. Jude has been developing a theme of keeping throughout this short letter. He opened his letter by addressing it to those who are beloved and kept by the Father for Jesus who is the Christ (v. 1). He then reminds his readers of past rebels, particularly the angels who failed to keep their divinely appointed domain and are thus kept by God for future judgment (v. 6). Likewise, the insurgents are rebels for whom God keeps eternal judgment (v. 13). Jude returns to the keeping of believers yet here commands them to keep themselves (ἑαυτοὺς). What sort of command is this? How can believers keep themselves in God’s love?

Our first course of action is to understand what Jude means by “the love of God” (ἀγάπῃ θεοῦ). Is the genitive objective (the love from God to believers) or subjective (the love for God from believers)?

The context of this command in view of the previous steps of obedience are of tremendous help. If a subjective idea is in view (the love for God from believers) it would be difficult to understand how praying in accordance with the Holy Spirit and building themselves upon the foundation of Jesus’ Messiahship would keep their love for God. Yet, if Jude intends to speak of God’s love for them, then these steps of obedience obviously lead to a life that is kept within the bounds of God’s love. The objective genitive is even more appealing when we consider what God’s love is.

Below is a chart that presents other passages that address the objective love of God, that is, the love from God to His people. Every time the concept of God’s love is mentioned it is accompanied by a specific manifestation of God’s love (what He does to reveal this love) as well as an implied response from believers to this love. In other words, God’s love is a concrete reality that is manifested in action which demands an appropriate response on those who He shows His love.

It is well to remember that love (ἀγάπη) is not an emotional sensation or intimate inclination toward another individual. To love another person is to act in their benefit. If a person is in want, then to love them is to provide. If someone is in danger, then to love them is to secure rescue. If a person is in error, then to love them is to correct them. We could go on, but the point remains that love is defined by actions that benefit the object of love without taking into account the possible consequences for the subject or the desires of the object. To put it plainly, love seeks to objectively benefit another person which may or may not be according to that person’s wishes regardless of the effects this action will have upon the one showing love. To keep yourselves in the love of God is to respond appropriately to this love.

God has demonstrated His love for His own by taking action as the table above demonstrates. His love accomplished something on those whom He showed it. Everyone who is beloved by God (vv. 1, 17, 20) belong to Him and are therefore secure in Him. The beloved are safe. However, this love assumes and requires an appropriate response, also demonstrated in the table. To be loved requires first and foremost that we trust that love and what that love has accomplished. To keep ourselves in God’s love is to respond appropriately to that love; that is to say, to trust God’s love and live as if God’s love in fact accomplished our redemption and secures our preservation. Simply put, this is a command to live securely in the safe boundaries of God’s love. To love is to obey. There is safety, security, and blessing in obedience because God’s love is for our benefit.

To despair about the state of the world, lament Roman occupation, or zealously spout patriotic rhetoric is to wander away from the safety of God’s love. Should the Judaean Christians doubt God’s plan for His Messiah’s Kingdom? Should they prioritize nationalistic ideals ahead of proclaiming Jesus as Messiah? To do so is to commit the same error as the angels (v. 6). They failed to keep their domain. The church’s domain is clearly stated: make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) by testifying that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 1:8). Jude commands his readers to stay in this very narrow lane and refuse to be moved from it.

Indispensable Attitude: Hope (v. 21b)

Waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus who is the Christ resulting in eternal life.

Jude concludes his exposition of practical contention for the faith in the context of the body with yet another participle. Like the two participles in v. 20 (building up and praying) the present participle here (προσδεχόμοενοι – waiting) also answers the question “how?” the command to keep is to be obeyed. However, rather than providing a means to this end, this participle reveals the manner in which the command is to be carried out.[7] The actions to be taken so that they keep themselves in God’s love are described in v. 20. Here, Jude explains the attitude that accompanies those actions.

The verbal root προσδέχομαι assumes a state of expectation and often used by the New Testament writers in the context of the eschatological kingdom. Joseph of Arimathea is described as one who was waiting [προσδεχόμενος] for the kingdom of God (Mk. 15:43; Lk. 23:15). Simeon was a righteous prophet who was waiting [προσδεχόμενος] for the One who would comfort and restore the nation of Israel (Lk. 2:25). Likewise, the prophetess Anna proclaimed the infant Jesus to all who were also waiting [προσδεχομένοις] for the redemption of Jerusalem (Lk. 2:26-38). Now that Messiah has come, an attitude of expectation regarding Messiah’s return is a common theme in the epistles (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:23-24; Tit. 2:13). Active obedience is conducted in the context of eschatological expectation.

The mercy of our Lord Jesus points to the fulfillment and culmination of salvation. The readers are already those who know the mercy of God by their regeneration and conversion. As they grow, Jude prays that they receive abundant mercy (v. 2). This anticipated mercy marks the completion of salvation, the perfection of sanctification in glory. “Mercy” (ἔλεος) describes the pity or compassion shown to someone in need. Mercy is given for no other reason than the fact that mercy is needed. If that compassion is earned, then it is no longer mercy. It is noteworthy that the LXX often uses ἔλεος to translate the Hebrew חֶסֶד (lovingkindness/loyal love).[8] This loyal love of Yhwh is what He shows to those who serve and obey Him (Ex. 20:6) and is one of the chief perfections of His person (Ex. 34:6). This loyal love of God’s Messiah is what believers wait for as they keep themselves in the love of God. This mercy, this loyal love results in (εἰς = result) eternal life. The rebels are compared to Sodom and Gomorrah who undergo eternal (αἰώνιος) punishment (v. 7). Yet for those who remain in God’s love, Jesus’ mercy results in eternal (αἰώνιος) life.

Jude is not finished with his exposition of contending for the faith (v. 3). He has exhorted believers to remember their situation as taught by the apostles (vv. 17-19) and commanded them to persevere in holiness in the sphere of God’s love (vv. 20-21). Ahead is an exhortation of how to handle those individuals who are the casualties of the insurgents’ schemes (vv. 22-23).


We should be thankful that the Holy Spirit moved Jude to write these concluding verses. If Jude’s intention was only to expose the Zealots as rebellious and dangerous people, then he could have easily concluded his letter after v. 16. Yet he wrote to exhort Judaean Christians to contend for the faith (v. 3). There is more to Christianity than identifying, condemning, and avoiding worldliness. Christians must also pursue holiness through obedience (building up) and humble dependence (praying) as they await the return of Messiah.

The whole Christian life can be summarized in three words: faith, love, and hope. Jude understands this simple three-fold summation and utilizes it here. Christians must stand firm upon and build themselves up on the faith that Jesus is Messiah. They must remain and trust in God’s love for them as His own people. Meanwhile, their attention and motivation is pointed forward as they hope for Christ’s return. May He come quickly.

Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] 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. 194. [2] Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 382. [3] D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 282. [4] Bateman, p. 386. [5] Hiebert, p. 284; Bateman, p. 389. [6] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 372. [7] Hiebert, p. 285-6. [8] Bateman, p. 395.

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