The Global Message of Jude

The global message of Jude is that the church must work, locally all the way up to internationally, to defend the faith. For false teaching leads to immorality, but true believers will persevere, by God’s grace, to the end.

Jude and Redemptive History

Despite its brevity, Jude’s letter is filled with a rich awareness of the history of salvation that God has been working out through the ages. Jude speaks of the “common salvation” that “was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), reminding his readers of the faith that has been handed down through the generations. Throughout the letter Jude then refers to several figures and places in Old Testament history, such as Adam, Cain, Moses, Balaam, Enoch, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt.

Jude is also aware that in his own time something decisively new has dawned. With the coming of “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4), salvation has been revealed in a clearer and more abundant way than ever before. Indeed, we are now “in the last time” (v. 18). The new age has begun. The newness of Christ’s coming has strong connections, however, with the past. For Christ himself, the second Person of the Trinity, was active in Old Testament redemptive history. Jude refers to him as the one who saved Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt, and then destroyed the rebellious (v. 5).

Universal Themes in Jude

Defending the faith. Jude opens his letter by exhorting his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The need for such contending arises not from the world but from within the church—“certain people have crept in” (v. 4). Many of the greatest dangers to the church around the world come not from outside her walls but from inside. As Jesus said, there are wolves in the church that look like sheep (Matt. 7:15). Despite acting subversively rather than openly, false teachers can easily be identified by their godlessness. They are “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires” (Jude 16). Jude reminds his readers, and us, that the apostles predicted that such false teachers would arise (vv. 17–18). The church must not be swept into falsehood and godlessness but must persevere in the love of God (v. 21), receiving mercy from Jesus and extending mercy to others (vv. 22–23).

The nature of grace. The false teachers who have infiltrated the church “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 4). The gospel is so radical, justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5), that taking grace in this godless direction has been a perennial danger to the church. Paul seems to have combatted this error in Romans (Rom. 5:20–6:23). Yet the grace of God, when truly received and enjoyed in all its freeness by the power of the Holy Spirit, does not encourage sinning. It rather transforms sinners and gives them a distaste for sin. Jude returns to the nature of true grace at the end of his letter when he reminds his readers of “the love of God” and “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 21) in the context of exhorting them toward holiness (vv. 22–23; contrast v. 16). God’s grace is not a license to sin. For grace is not only a pardon that forgives but a power that transforms. It cannot be one without the other.

The Global Message of Jude for Today

“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The church today does well to receive this exhortation. Amid the swirling and conflicting claims to truth in the world today, including even the claim that no one religion can claim the full truth, the church must contend for the faith. This especially includes contending for truth within the church itself, protecting believers against false doctrine. For false doctrine always brings godlessness along with it.

At the same time, we note what Jude says immediately prior to exhorting the church to contend for the faith. He begins, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith” (Jude 3). Jude did not write the letter he wanted to write. He wished to write a letter that exulted in those things about which he and his readers agreed.

This is instructive for the church today. We must contend for the faith, yet we must avoid the word-wars and quarrels against which the New Testament warns us (1 Tim. 4:6–7; 6:3–4; 2 Tim. 2:14, 23–26; Titus 3:9; James 4:1). Our first impulse should be to exult together in our common salvation. As believers today from across the globe interact with one another—interaction that is increasingly possible in this digital age—our instincts must be those of Jude. We must not hesitate to contend for the faith when it is endangered by false teaching.

Yet there is a common salvation that all true believers share, and we should rejoice over that. Many secondary matters may distinguish us: ethnicity, political persuasion, social class, worldview assumptions, denominational affiliation. But we are one in Christ, all saved by grace into his body, the church.

Through it all, the grace that has rescued us, says Jude, will preserve us. God in his mercy will not only transform us; he himself will also keep us from stumbling and present us before his divine glory with great joy (Jude 24). “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (v. 25).