From the very first days of the church, Christians have faced difficulties. From the temptations and sufferings inherent in this life of sin to the challenges brought by false teachers, life as a Christian is hard. The letters of Peter and Jude encourage us. Peter’s first letter shows us the meaning of true grace—that mysterious union of present suffering and the glory to come. Peter’s second letter urges us to be firmly established in the knowledge of God that comes by way of our relationship with Him. And the letter of Jude encourages us to contend for the faith without fear.
THE THEME OF 1 Peter—revealed in the last few verses as true grace—emerges from the interplay between two important ideas: the glory that will be revealed to us in the second coming of Jesus Christ and the difficulty of this present life in a world of sin. Peter refers to the idea of our future inheritance and exaltation as believers from the very beginning of his letter. He concludes that because Christ suffered and was subsequently glorified (1 Peter 1:11), our hope ought to be on the grace that will be revealed by Christ (1:13; 2:12; 4:13; 5:1, 4, 10). But that promised grace only comes after this present season of suffering. As it was for God’s Son, so it will be for all of us who are in Him. Peter also brings these themes together at the end of his letter: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10). The way up comes by going down. Restoration comes after trials. This is the “true grace of God” in which we are to stand firm (v. 12).
This bringing together of two seemingly incompatible truths—our exalted status in Christ and our present sufferings on earth—has always been difficult for Christians. We find it hard to reconcile God’s good plan for us with the difficulty of this life. We wonder whether God really does have a good plan if He is going to allow us to suffer now, whether for our beliefs (as many Christians around the world do suffer) or just because we are frail human beings (never free from the sting of pain and death). But Peter takes great care to show, from the very first words of his letter, that this is and has been the glorious shape of God’s plan “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1:2a). In the next verses, we see that an eternal inheritance is built upon present trials as well as past glories (vv. 3–12).
If this is so, what are we to do? Beginning with verse 15, Peter answers, “It comes down to our conduct as Christians.” The word for “conduct” in this verse is used twenty-one times in the New Testament, ten of which come from Peter (1 Peter 1:15, 17, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Peter 2:7, 18; 3:11). Peter’s strategy for Christian conduct, rooted in hope, focuses on just a few ideas: sanctification (or being holy, 1:13–21); a sincere love for others, both inside and outside of the church (1:22–2:12); demonstrating the sacrifice of Christ Jesus in our submission to unjust and just leaders; our own willingness to suffer (2:13–4:6); and our humble and loving service to God’s new family (4:7–5:11).
Throughout, Peter encourages us with the example of Christ overcoming extraordinary trials, including death and sin. And his conclusion is quite simple: God has established our salvation, given us our identity, confirmed our present-day calling, and secured our future inheritance by means of a profound irony—the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. This irony—this mysterious union of suffering and glory—is true grace.
IN HIS SECOND letter, Peter instructs us on the theme of the knowledge of God. Peter urges us to know God intimately, not merely in a cognitive way. He urges us to be firmly established in the knowledge that can come only from a relationship with God. He begins: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2), and he closes with “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18a). This repetition shows that Peter grounds his certainty in the grace of God in Jesus through the knowledge of Christ. This knowledge holds the letter together. The word knowledge or some form of the verb “to know” appears in 2 Peter 1:3, 5, 6, 8, 12, 14, 16; 2:20, 21; and 3:18 (see also “knowing this” in 1:20; 3:1–3, 17). It is a specific kind of knowledge. This knowledge has a scriptural or apostolic origin (1:16; 2:1; 3:2), and it concerns the second coming of Jesus Christ (3:1–4, 12). Grounded in the Old Testament and the apostolic witness, Peter urges us to remember the return of our Savior. For if we forget—if we do not live in light of the knowledge of His imminent return—we become like the scoffers who live only for the present age, those who are given to sensuality and greed (which is precisely what Peter addresses in chapter 2).
What is the result of having this knowledge? Peter hopes that we will be firmly rooted or established in our faith (2 Peter 1:12; 1 Peter 5:10). Indeed, this is an intimately personal aim of Peter’s, as the language and aim of the letter evoke the memory of a pivotal, yet painful, moment in Peter’s life. The vocabulary is that of falling and strengthening.
On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus had said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ ” (Matt. 26:31). Upon hearing these words, Peter responded: “Though they all fall away.… I will never fall away.… Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (vv. 33–35). Yet, Peter fell. He fell once. He fell twice. And in humiliating fashion, he fell for the third time at the feet of a servant in the high priest’s courtyard. As he composes this letter, Peter returns to the language of that night. He writes: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).
On that same night in Peter’s life, Jesus had also used the language of strengthening. Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). The word strengthen is from the same word established in 2 Peter 1:12: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth you have.” In other words, Peter’s great hope for us in this letter—in accordance with his own personal apostolic mission—is that we would be strengthened by our knowledge of Jesus Christ.
JUDE’S LETTER ENCOURAGES us, as Christians, to contend for our faith. The theme of Jude’s letter comes from verse 3. This call to contend is rooted in Jude’s conviction that the faith is being challenged by opponents (“certain people” in verses 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, 19). The structure of the entire letter flows from these two ideas. The appeal to contend for the faith in verse 3 finds its explanation in verses 17–23. And Jude defends the conclusions he makes in verse 4 about the challenges facing Christianity in verses 5–16.
First, in verses 17–23 we see that contending for the faith is linked to: the calling Christians have to keep—in particular, we must remember the words of the apostles (vv. 17–19) and “keep ourselves in the love of God” (vv. 20–21); the commitments Christians make—we are to “build one another up in your most holy faith,” “pray in the Holy Spirit” (v. 20), and “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (v. 21); and the conduct by which we live—we are to be known for “having mercy on those who doubt” (v. 22), saving others from the fires of hell, and showing mercy, even upon the unrepentant (v. 23).
Jude’s letter argues that we are called to contend this way because certain people are challenging the faith (v. 4). In verses 5–10, Jude selects three historical events (the apostasy of the wilderness rebels, the autonomy of some angelic creatures, and the immorality of some ancient cities) to help his readers understand that challenges to the faith have always been present and that God has always met them with divine judgment. And in verses 11–16, Jude follows with three Old Testament examples of people who challenged the faith and brought judgment upon themselves (Cain, Balaam, and Korah).
While Jude challenges us to contend for the faith, he does so with the knowledge that in Christ Jesus, we can contend without fear of stumbling. He closes with a beautiful doxology that conveys precisely this point: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (vv. 24–25).