Jude 22-23 “Responding to Rebels, Part 3: Blessed are the Merciful”
“And, on the one hand, be merciful to some who are doubting. On the other hand, save some by snatching them from the fire, also show mercy to some in fear while hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
After thoroughly proving that God’s attitude toward rebels is quite negative and well documented (vv. 5-7) and that the insurgents in question are certainly guilty of such rebellion and thus liable for similar treatment (vv. 8-16), Jude turned his attention back to his readers (vv. 17-23). Jude first reminded his readers to remember what they have already been taught by the apostles so that they would not be surprised by these insurgents (vv. 17-19). He then exhorted them to pursue holiness, obedience, and spiritual growth by keeping themselves in God’s love (vv. 20-21). As the third and final section of Jude’s explanation of how to contend for the faith (v. 3), these verses address a yet unmentioned aspect of the conflict between the infiltrators (v. 4) and the faithful; namely, those who have been caught in the crossfire.
The major emphasis of these verses is to exhort the beloved believers in Judaea how to interact with those who (1) remain unconvinced of the truth Jude has proclaimed and (2) have fallen subject to the Zealot’s influence to varying degrees. Jude progresses from those who suffer the least amount of damage to those who remain quite dangerous. These final three exhortations explain what contending for the faith looks like in the context of those outside the faithful assembly of saints.
Show Compassion to the Confused (v. 22)
“And, on the one hand, be merciful to some who are doubting”
The Greek conjunction καὶ (and) connects this verse to the previous imperative. In addition to keeping themselves in God’s love, Jude adds three more commands. The μὲν…δὲ construction that runs the course of these two verses presents this exhortation in a similar fashion as our English phrase “on the one hand…on the other hand…” This observation is helpful in determining the identity of the various groups to whom Jude refers. Each group is identified with the relative pronoun οὕς (some/others/who are). Because this first group (οὕς) is presented “on the one hand” (μὲν) as opposed to “on the other hand” (δὲ) in v. 23, they are of a different sort than what we read in the following verse. But who are they?
Both the critical texts (NASB, ESV, LSB, etc.) and the majority text (KJV, NKJV) translations translate the same root (διακρίνω) with two different ideas. The verb can indicate either a distinction in judgment or vacillating between two opinions (to doubt). The idea of arguing so as to make distinctions is argued for based on the use of the same participle in v. 9 where Michael disputed or made distinction (διακρινόμενος) when he argued with the devil. Yet the normal use of this verb in the present tense and in the middle voice, as is the case here, indicates that the normal understanding is that of doubt (Acts. 10:20; Rom. 14:23; Jam. 1:6) rather than disputing. Rather than describing one who argues for a distinction between two arguments (διά + κρίνω), the middle voice emphasizes that this one cannot make up his mind between two decisions.
Jude exhorts his readers to show mercy to those who are not settled in their minds and are doubting. They are not sure whether to throw their lot in with the Zealot cause or to heed the warnings that Jude has issued. They have been seduced by the political and social rhetoric of these rebellious fanatics and stand at the crossroads of decision. Yet the question remains, who are they? Better yet, does Jude speak of fellow believers or unregenerates within the sphere of the church? Several observations should be made.
First, Jude makes a distinction between these some (οὕς) who doubt and the beloved audience to whom he writes. He provides no instruction for these individuals yet instructs his readers to act upon them. Second, the μὲν…δὲ construction seems to separate these doubting individuals from the other two groups mentioned in v. 23. On the one hand (μὲν) Jude’s readers are to have mercy on the doubters while on the other hand they are to (δὲ) save some and (δὲ) have mercy on others. The repetition of the imperative “show mercy” in v. 23 would be nonsensical if there were no distinction between the doubters (v. 22) and those who defile their garments (v. 23b). Finally, the third and final group whose polluted garments must be hated are obviously unbelievers because the source of defilement is their flesh (who they are) rather than their deeds (what they do).
The fact that Jude distinguishes these individuals from his audience yet also distinguishes them from defiled unbelievers suggests that the group in question are professing Christians who doubt, not the fact that Jesus is Messiah but the implications of Jesus as Messiah. They do not reject their only Master and Lord (v. 4) so much as they are confused regarding the way one lives under Jesus’ lordship. They are not fully convinced that the rebellion against Rome led by the Zealots is a sinful and rebellious act. They are in desperate need of Jude’s letter in order to view the Zealots in the light of Scripture. To these professing brothers Jude orders mercy.
Jude uses the present imperative here (ἐλεᾶτε) rather than the aorist. The sense is that the readers are to keep showing them mercy as often as it is needed. Mercy (ἔλεος) describes compassion that is shown to a person based only on their desperate need for mercy, not on their worthiness to receive it. The fact that they have doubts regarding the Zealots’ cause proves that they are not worthy of mercy. They are considering support to a cause that will actively work against Jesus’ Kingdom as they partner with those who deny that Jesus is Israel’s rightful King. Yet, Jude demands that they continue to show them mercy because that’s what Christians do.
Jesus began His sermon on the mount by stating that those who are merciful will be blessed because they will be shown mercy. There is a connection between the mercy that God has shown His people and the expectation for His people to show mercy to others. As those who are beloved by God and kept for Jesus (v. 1), Jude prayed for mercy to be lavished upon them (v. 2). This prayer assumes that they have already been shown the mercy of redemption and that they therefore will receive complete mercy upon the Lord’s return (v. 21). The fact that they have already been shown mercy and that they will be shown mercy marks Jude’s readers as merciful people (Matt. 5:7). Therefore, they must show mercy to those confused individuals who hang on to the fringe of the assembly. But what does it mean to show mercy to those who are doubting?
While the noun ἔλεος is not exactly uncommon in the New Testament (27x), the adjective ἐλεήμων (merciful, compassionate, sympathetic) is quite rare appearing only twice in the entire New Testament (Matt. 5:7; Heb. 2:17). The verb used in our text (ἐλεάω – to have mercy) is also rare, used only four times (Rom. 9:16; 12:8; Jude 22, 23), half of which appear in Jude. A related verb ἐλεεώ (to be greatly concerned about someone in need) is used much more frequently (28x) and is used quite often in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 5:7; 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 18:33; 20:30). Most of the occurrences of ἐλεεώ involve people begging Jesus for mercy. These verses are therefore rather significant if we were to build a biblical theology of mercy.
Of the twenty-seven uses of the noun form, nine are found in the gospels. Of these nine, three (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Lk. 1:50) are used in quotations of the Old Testament (Hos. 6:6; Ps. 103:17) where the original Hebrew uses חֶסֶד, normally translated as “lovingkindness,” “loyal love,” or “compassion.” Jesus twice quotes Hosea 6:6 to rebuke the Pharisees’ lack of compassion, mercy, or “loyal love” for their fellow countrymen. That is much the same context of the passage in Hosea. In other words, mercy and compassion should be naturally extended to those who share kinship. Christians, who hold the tightest bonds of kinship of any men, are expected to show mercy to each other. What this mercy looks like would naturally depend on the need. If mercy is an extension of compassion to those in need, then the situation dictates what mercy looks like. In our present circumstance, those in need of mercy are doubting. Therefore, they need encouragement, reinforcement, and instruction with patience. Their doubt does not extend to a denial of Jesus as Master and Lord (v. 4). They simply cannot see how their support to the Zealot cause undermines their profession that Jesus is Master and Lord of all. The readers are commanded to continue to show them mercy. Not by ignoring them. Not be giving them a pass. Certainly not by neglecting to call them to repentance. But by patiently teaching them the implications of their actions versus their profession. Jude’s letter will naturally break the ground for such instruction.
If they confess Jesus as God’s Messiah, there is hope of repentance. The attitude of the church cannot be indifference to their confusion nor vehemence to their inconsistency. These individuals are in desperate need of shepherding. Disciples must be taught all the things which Christ commanded (Matt. 28:20). Show them mercy with cheerfulness (Rom. 12:8) by teaching the implications of Jesus’ Messiahship.
Save the Indifferent (v. 23a)
“On the other hand, save some by snatching them from the fire”
With the use of the δὲ conjunction, Jude moves to the “other hand” and with another relative pronoun οὕς (some, others), a different group of people. The imperative to save (σῴζετε) is normally understood in a spiritual sense; i.e., salvation from eternal judgment (Matt. 1:21; 10:22; 24:13; Jn. 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47; Acts 2:21, 40, 47; 4:12; 11:14; 15:1, 11; 16:30). Yet this verb is also used in the sense of physical salvation; i.e., salvation from danger or distress (Matt. 8:25; 9:21, 22; 14:30; 16:25; 27:40, 42, 49; Acts 4:9; 14:9; 27:20, 31). Comparing these two incomplete lists suggests a connection rather than a distinction between physical and spiritual salvation. In fact, rather than speaking of salvation in the seemingly incompatible realms of “spiritual” and “physical” perhaps we should refer to temporal and eternal salvation. Yet, we must ask the question of Jude’s use here.
The imperative is in the present tense, indicating that this act of salvation is to be continually performed as needed (much like the act of showing mercy). This hardly indicates an eternal salvation because (1) human beings cannot save other human beings from eternal judgment and (2) once a person is saved from eternal judgement, they are no longer in danger of it. Theologically, making this command about eternal salvation is awkward at best and heretical at worst. Our suspicions are confirmed when we notice how Jude uses the term in his letter.
The verb “to save” (σῴζω) is only used twice in Jude’s letter (vv. 5, 23). The first example is clearly in the context of the temporal salvation of Israel by God from Egypt. If eternal salvation is in view, then we must reconcile that with the fact that God is said to have subsequently destroyed them in the same verse. The noun σωτηρία (salvation) appears only once in Jude (v. 3) which we have already explained as a reference to temporal deliverance from danger. In other words, the consistent use of σῴζω/σωτηρία in Jude primarily addresses temporal deliverance from danger. Yet, a focus on the temporal does not eliminate eternal implications. These “others” need salvation from a dangerous situation (the fire). The situation in question seems to be temporal yet is not necessarily without eternal implications.
Because this group is distinguished from the first group and related to the final group, we should understand them as unbelievers. The people Jude has in mind have not confessed Jesus as God’s Messiah and they are flirting with the edge of the fire. It seems to be that those in question are not necessarily antagonistic to Jesus, but do not claim Him as their Lord and Master. Likewise, they are not fully engaged in the rebellion against Rome, but neither are they opposed to it. These must be snatched from the fire.
The present participle from ἁρπάζω is an adverbial participle of means (by snatching). Paul uses the same verbal root to describe the church’s rapture or snatching away when the final trump sounds (1 Thess. 4:17). This is how the Judaean Christians are to save these individuals, through an aggressive action on their behalf. The context suggest that the fire refers to the inevitable death and destruction that will come about as a result of an open acts of rebellion against the Roman Empire. The command is to warn them of the wrath to come and thus save them. No good can come from this rebellion.
The language Jude uses is similar to the texts of Amos 4:11 and Zech. 3:2. In Amos, the prophet recounts the many times God used the curses of Deuteronomy to get Israel’s attention so that they would repent and return to Yhwh. Even as He delivered them from the fire (compared to the overthrow of Sodom), they did not return to Him. Therefore, they must prepare to meet their God (v. 12). The reference to Zech. 3 is more positive as Joshua the high priest is defended by Yhwh as one who has been plucked from the fire and is therefore no longer in danger of destruction. The reference there carries much more eternal ramifications. The fact that Joshua has been delivered from the fire indicates that he is outside of Satan’s reach. The devil’s accusations are no longer valid. So, what is Jude getting at?
While the main emphasis is upon temporal deliverance, there remains an eternal or eschatological element. To join in the rebellion against Rome will certainly result in temporal destruction just as the cities of the plain underwent temporal destruction. Yet that temporal destruction sealed their eternal damnation. Likewise, the judgment that Rome will bring down upon the rebels of Judaea will seal their eschatological judgment. By snatching the indifferent and undecided out of the fire of Rome’s coming response does not save them from the wrath of God, but it will give them time to repent. Perhaps they will repent and perhaps they will not. But once Rome comes to burn their homes, slaughter their families, and line the roads with crucified rebels, the time for repentance will have long passed for they will all be dead. The church is commanded to keep saving these indifferent individuals by snatching them out of the claws of the Zealots.
Show Compassion to the Contentious (v. 23b)
With a third present imperative (ἐλεᾶτε), a third relativize pronoun (οὕς) and a second δὲ, Jude presents a third group that remains on the “other hand.” The command is the same as the first, continue to show them mercy. Yet the group to whom mercy is to be shown is very different. These are not confused believers, but hardened rebels who continue to defile their garments. Based on previous descriptions, it seems that Jude has in mind the Zealots themselves or at least their most ardent supporters. These are men who whole heartedly reject Jesus as Master and Lord (v. 4). They too must be shown mercy, though the approach is going to look very different.
“Also show mercy to some in fear”
The command to show mercy is unchanged. These are still men who are in desperate need of compassion regardless of their unworthiness of that compassion. But what does it look like to show mercy to such men? To proclaim the gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Messiah and therefore is their rightful King. Their need revolves around their rebellion. Their need is for submission. They need to stop their rebellion. Therefore, compassion is to provide for that need by calling them to repentance as they turn from their rebellion and trust in King Jesus to redeem, transform, and preserve them until He returns to reign and rule in righteousness. They must be told that their plans and actions are in active defiance to God’s kingdom and God’s king. It would be most cruel indeed to remain silent as they ramp up their rebellion to the point of irreversible execution. Yet, the readers are warned to show this mercy in fear (ἐν φόβῳ).
Fear is indeed an appropriate response to these individuals as any approach must be done with extreme caution. Zealots are a dangerous group who regard the lives of those who stand in their way with little value. There is the likelihood of bringing intense persecution upon themselves as Judaean Christians show true mercy to these rebels. Yet this sense of fear goes beyond an appeal to be careful. The threat they pose is greater than any threat of violence. They cannot be allowed to present their rebellious rhetoric to the flock of God. Any conversation is going to be a one-way street. This fear recognizes the true threat these rebels pose, a threat to the stability of the church. As such, this mercy is doled out at arm’s length.
“While hating even the garment polluted by the flesh”
Again, the language of Zech. 3 comes to mind. The restoration of Joshua the high priest was made evident by the exchange of filthy garments for clean ones. Yet the picture Jude presents is very different. Because Joshua was declared clean, only his garments needed to be changed. These men, however, continue to pollute their garments because their flesh remains unclean. The term “garment” (χιτών) indicates the inner garment or layer of clothing worn next to the skin. An outer garment like a robe would become soiled or polluted from outside elements like dirt or mud. An inner garment is soiled from the person who wears it. In other words, their garments are soiled because of who they are, not because of what they do. While it is true that the garment is the object of hatred (temporal participle modifying the showing of mercy [show mercy while hating…]) the object is worthy of hatred because of the person who wears it. Many say “hate the sin and love the sinner.” Yet it is the sin that makes it impossible to embrace such a sinner. Christian love is shown, not by embracing sin, but by calling sinners to repent from such sin and be cleansed.
The church of Jesus Christ is not a separatist cult that withdraws from society in seclusion. But neither is it a force used to “engage”, “dialogue”, or even “change” the culture. The church of Jesus Christ is tasked with making disciples. That task is very simple. We proclaim that Jesus is the rightful king of the world and call rebels to repent before He returns to wage His holy war. Those who submit to the King of kings are to be taught all that He commanded. The church has but one single message to the world. A message that has nothing to do with politics, economics, or social values. The message is this: Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). May we repent of all worldly distractions that pass for ministry in this godless age and get back to the message Jesus gave us.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971), p. 728.  Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 409.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 289-90.  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. 195.  Bateman, p. 408-13.  Hiebert, p. 290-2.  Bateman, p. 415.