There is therefore a close connection between Jude’s “old” subject and the “new” one that is between “salvation” and “the faith” because, as will be shown, “the faith” is made up of the core truths of God’s way of salvation. Jude’s alteration, therefore, was not like the “yes/no” change of travel plan for which Paul was unfairly criticized (2 Cor. 1:17). All that was required was an adjustment, albeit a substantial one, in how he would treat his original theme in the light of newly obtained information. He attributes that change of focus to a “necessity” registering itself in his mind and spirit. The word that he used for “necessity” was used by Paul to describe his sense of call to a church-planting and church-caring ministry (1 Cor. 9:16). It was something “laid upon him,” a delegated stewardship like the obligation of the Lord’s word that the Old Testament prophets knew. It resulted in his becoming obligated to make known the gospel to all (Rom. 1:14) and experiencing daily “the anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). Jude’s particular commission was a felt reality of the same kind. As in the case of Paul and the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11; 15:12, 34), Jude’s burden had something to do with the troubles in the church to which he was going to write. Facing the serious crisis, he not only urged the saints to “contend for” the faith in the church (Jude 3), and in doing so to build themselves up (Jude 20–21) but also to “save others” who were the church’s opponents (Jude 22–23). Instead of a treatise about salvation, Jude wrote a tract about it for the “then and there” that is needed in the “here and now.” The glory of God in the church of Christ is always at stake, but sometimes the threats are more urgent than at other times.
Jude was under no illusion about the difficulty involved in achieving his aim. He had to mobilize a fighting force on behalf of the faith from those who had come to terms with grievous error. He had no trumpet to blow like Gideon (Judg. 6:24) but, clothed with the same Spirit, he knew that his letter was to give no “indistinct sound” so that the saints might prepare themselves “for battle” (1 Cor. 14:8).
A Half-Asleep Church
The particular congregation he addressed was half-asleep. Jude therefore began by combining genuine affection with the term “beloved” (Jude 3) with a thinly veiled rebuke with the words “I want to remind you, although you once fully knew” (Jude 5), bringing them both together again with emphasis as he concluded his letter (Jude 17, 20). He specified that what had been forgotten, or no longer kept in mind, was “the predictions of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 17). He was recognizing them as primary and foundational in the church’s faith and life as the Lord’s personally designated and authoritative spokesmen and not including himself as being one of them. Peter wrote in this way, and he included the Old Testament prophets (2 Peter 2:1–3; 3:3). Paul did too (Acts 20:29), and so did John later (1 John 2:18–27; 4:1–4). They all warned about defection from the truth because of the influence of erroneous teaching as had the Chief Apostle Himself (cf. Matt. 24:23, 24, Mark 13:23).
Itinerant preachers were common in the early days of the church. Both Paul and John had occasion to alert and advise congregations about them (2 John 2; 2 Tim. 3:1–9), and here Jude is grappling with their character and effect. They had gained admission to the Lord’s Table (Jude 12) and acceptance for their teaching (Jude 19) in spite of their scandalous conduct. They were at the very center of the church’s life. He described them as having “crept in,” using a similar verb to the one Paul used when he wrote to the churches in Galatia (Gal. 2:4). He was referring to Jews who, requiring circumcision in addition to faith in Jesus Christ as a condition of acceptance with God, were destroying Christians’ liberty; here it was probably gentiles who were rejecting law altogether in the name of liberty, which in reality was license. Both were equally destructive of the Christian message. The implication is that they should have been challenged, but that had not been done. Some members of the church, perhaps those who really should have known better, had been won over by being made to feel special by them (Jude 16). This was what happened in the Galatian churches (Gal. 4:17–18). Jude therefore has to expose their falsehood and flattery in order to generate a different response.
He was committed to pouring his soul’s energy into what he wrote. Two connected words reveal his intention and aim. The word “appeal” indicates that, like every good sermon, he intended his letter to be productive of action (Heb. 13:22) and the verb “contend” described the action that he desired in terms of the exertions of athletes in the Greek games (1 Cor. 9:25). The Apostle Paul used such terminology to describe his own ministry (Col. 1:29; 2:1) and also that of believers generally (Rom. 15:30; Phil. 1: 27–28). Jude’s term epiagonizesthai is unique in the New Testament, and its meaning has been unpacked as involving “a fight, standing upon (Greek epi) a thing that is assaulted and that the adversary wishes to take away, and it is to fight so as to defend and retain it.” Such effort is expended in the letter by its argument and vocabulary and expected as a response to it.
Jude knew the most effective way in which to pursue his goal. He was familiar with the discipline of rhetoric, an oratorical skill that was calculated to persuade an audience to adopt a particular point of view and to act appropriately in its light. It was a settled feature of Greco-Roman culture and literature that had influenced Jews for some time. It was part of the educational system of the day, and Paul used it in the synagogue at Antioch (Acts 13). The Greek language was the lingua franca of the day, and Galilee, Jude’s home region, was bilingual. It was therefore most natural that he availed himself of this mode of address in his letter. We will look at how he did so under the headings of structure, style, and substance. The whole is a remarkable tour de force, lucid and vigorous, progressive in its buildup to its climax. Its methodology emphasizes the importance of having a single aim with subordinate parts being closely integrated to it—a model for sermon construction.
Beginning with a warm-hearted greeting, Jude presents a clear statement of the case to be argued, which is to maintain “the faith.” He then sets out an explanation of his alarm and appeal, pointing to the fact that people who had infiltrated the church were living in moral defiance of the lordship of Jesus Christ and so distorting the grace of God (Jude 3–4). Expanding on this grievous state of affairs, he strengthens his appeal to them by setting out examples of such ungodliness taken from their sacred history together with God’s judgment on each (Jude 5–16). And he does this twice. Finally, he returns to his appeal, summarizing his message and calling for appropriate action, which he describes in some detail, assuring them of ultimate victory (Jude 17–25). His “written sermon” is as cogent as it is urgent, and every part of it is directed to “the saints,” all of whom should have been in no doubt as to what was being required of them. An army was being raised to God’s glory, and they were each being called up into its ranks.
Jude puts flesh on the bone structure of his argument by way of direct, discriminating address and graphic, emotive vocabulary with repetitive emphases as follows:
First, he addresses the congregation in a direct and discriminating way, using differentiating pronouns and descriptive nouns. On the one hand, there are the “saints” who are “beloved” by God and by Jude himself (Jude 1, 3, 17, 20–24). They are the “you” whom he has in mind throughout. Others are disdainfully termed “certain people” or just “these” (Jude 4, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16), and they are further depicted by a series of contrasting adjectives and nouns, intended to awaken and create repugnance. He is drawing the battle lines, so to speak.