The first-century Roman world resembled the religious pluralism of our day in many ways. Numerous gods and various religious groups competed for the allegiance of the populace. In this setting the first followers of Christ talked to one another about the dangers of abandoning the truth their Teacher entrusted to them.
One of the philosophies vying for the loyalty of those early Christians was a form of Gnosticism. The name comes from the Greek term gnosis, meaning knowledge, and represents a belief system that promotes the idea of a secret knowledge reserved for insiders. But Gnosticism’s attributes hold several problems for the church.
1. Gnostics claimed a secret knowledge that undercut the good news that was publicly declared and openly debated.
2. Gnostics gave their members a license to sin by emphasizing a spirituality that diminished the importance of what we do with our bodies.
3. Gnostics viewed Christ as more like an angel than a member of the Godhead.
Today, Gnostic ideas are again resurfacing. The battle for the truth of Christ is as real today as in the first century.
Jude sounded the alarm over false ideas about God and spirituality. His brief letter carried a message to the ancient church that today’s church is wise to heed.
What can we learn from this small letter? Let’s begin by meeting the man who penned it.
The Letter’s Author
Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James. (v.1a)
In the Greek, the name “Jude” is actually “Judas.” Translators have used the name Jude to avoid association with Judas Iscariot.
Jude refers to himself in verse 1 as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.” Five men with that name are listed in the Bible: Judas Iscariot; Judas of Damascus (acts 9:11); Judas Barsabbas (acts 15:22); another disciple (jn. 14:22); and one of the Lord’s earthly brothers (mt. 13:55-56).
The Judas of Matthew 13:55-56 is the most likely author. There, Judas is described as the brother of James and Jesus. This link makes Jude’s self-description in verse 1 as a servant of Jesus Christ very telling. He could have been the ultimate name-dropper by calling himself the “brother of Christ” or the “brother of the Son of God.” Instead, Jude declared himself a bondservant of Jesus. What humility—from unbelief (jn. 7:5) to spiritual service!
The Letter’s Recipients
To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ. (v.1b) From his first words, the author made it clear that his warning is not for outsiders. It’s a letter to people Jude described as:
“Called”—The apostle Paul reflected on this term in 2 Timothy 1:8-9, where he wrote, “Share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
Jude further identified the recipients of his letter as:
“Sanctified”—This word comes from the Greek term for “holy” and describes people uniquely set apart for God’s own purposes.
Next, Jude described his readers as:
“Preserved”—Secured by Jesus Christ Himself! The Greek word for “preserved” means “to stand guard over.” Jesus employs the same word in his high-priestly prayer: “Holy Father, keep [preserve] through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (jn. 17:11).
The Letter’s Greeting
Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. (v.2)
“Mercy and peace” was a common Jewish greeting, but the addition of “love” made it distinctively Christian. These terms are used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe God’s love and care for His children:
“Mercy”—“That He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (rom. 9:23).
“Peace”—“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (jn. 14:27).
“Love”—“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (rom. 5:5).
It was because Jude shared God’s love for his readers that he was intent on warning them of the present and future danger from false teachers.
The Letter’s Purpose
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (v.3)
Apparently Jude had intended to write about the joys and benefits of salvation. But as he began, he sensed the Holy Spirit steering him to write on the dangers of false teachers. Recent statistics show an alarming worldwide growth in high-profile religious cults. This is a disturbing trend. False gospels are almost always marked by additions to the truth of the Scriptures, a low view of Christ, and a denial of the value of His sacrificial death for all who trust Him.
The phrase “common salvation” in verse 3 is not referring to salvation as though it is a common thing. Rather, it describes salvation as something able to be received by all. We are recipients of the one salvation, found only in Christ.
But Jude had more pressing things in mind. He urged his listeners to respond to their salvation by earnestly contending for the faith that had been “once for all delivered” to them through Christ. The word rendered for “contend earnestly” in the NKJV is only used one time in the New Testament. The idea behind the Greek word is to exert intense effort on behalf of something.* Jude is telling his readers that they are to fight for the faith that has been delivered to them.
But we must contend for the faith without being contentious. Remember Paul’s warning to Timothy:
A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition (2 tim. 2:24-25).
The world is full of false teachers who want to rewrite the message of Christ’s love. Let’s not help them by misrepresenting the spirit of the gospel.
The word translated delivered clearly communicates that “the faith” has been delivered to them, not earned by them. It carries with it the idea of something that has been entrusted or given over to another. It is a gift that is given, not a wage that is earned.
Jude agreed in principle with another apostle who wrote: The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier (2 tim. 2:2-4).