Scholars agree that Jude was written shortly before 70 A.D. The writer describes how false doctrine and immorality were creeping into the church. The very existence of the church was being threatened. Self-serving, libertine teachers were arising. They lived according to the flesh. They were a great offense to the church.
In verses 17-19, which precede our text, Jude reminds his hearers that the apostles has spoken about these false teachers. He describes them as mockers, men who walk according to their own ungodly lusts, sensual persons who cause division, men devoid of the Holy Spirit.
This is a gruesome picture. But we see it all around us in our day. Think of the so-called television evangelists who become wealthy from the contributions of thousands of misled people. Some of them deceive their hearers with promises of physical gain. Their immorality is a great offense to Christians.
The world rightly scoffs at these false teachers. All of this makes it even more difficult to carry out the commission of our Lord.
Our text breaks itself into three paragraphs:
The text appropriately ends with Amen.
Verses 20-21 comprise one sentence.
The main verb is found in verse 21, an aorist imperative. This is preceded in verse 20 by two circumstantial participles in the nominative, referring to the subject. The verb in verse 21 is followed by another nominative participle. The three participles can be considered attendant circumstance. As they are building themselves up, as they are praying in the Spirit, and as they are awaiting the mercy of the Lord Jesus, they are told to keep themselves in the love of the Lord Jesus.
The first three words of verse 20 are a repetition of these same words in verse 17. There the words were used for warning. Here they are used for comfort.
"Most holy faith." The agent behind this faith is God Himself.
As in Jude 3 "faith" here is the "Quae Creditur" not the faith in the heart, but the doctrine which leads to faith.
God has given the doctrine to them as a gift. The pronoun is plainly possessive. The writer is stressing the utter uniqueness of Christian doctrine. The Christians can build only on this doctrine. They will be safe from false teachers by such building.
Secondly, he refers to them as "Praying in the Holy Spirit." See Ephesians 6:18; Zechariah 12:10 and John 4:24 as parallel passages.
The writer is reminding his readers that their worship life is prompted and guided only by the Holy Spirit. He is drawing the attention of the hearers to themselves very pointedly. First of all I am responsible for myself. Christian pastors must teach must teach their parishioners to be responsible for themselves. Christian parents must teach their children to be responsible for themselves.
The "love of God" here means the love which God has for human beings. The main thing in Christian living is that the individual keep the Gospel, John 3:16, central to his faith and life. See 2 Timothy 2:18 for a thought parallel to this verse.
Mercy is here limited to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some variations in the translations: AAT: "As you look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you everlasting life." TEV: "As you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life." In any case it is clear that salvation, right to the very last day, is due only to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. This thought should cause each of us to say: "Lord, have mercy on me!"
Franzmann: Jesus promised mercy in the Judgment to the merciful, Matthew 5:7; 25:31-45. The latter part of the verse therefore leads directly to the admonition of verses 22-23, to deal mercifully with those entangled in the lies of the libertine teachers.
That is a good thought.
Kretzmann: We are certain of everlasting salvation through the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.
Green: In these two verses, 20-21, Jude gathers up the three Christian virtues of faith, hope and love a balanced pattern for Christian living. . . Note the need for the mercy of God, not only initially, but daily; not only daily but at last, compare 2 Timothy 1:18. It is of God's mercy that we are not consumed. It is of His mercy that we are given eternal life.
Lenski: God's love and Christ's mercy resume these two terms from verse 2.
Bengel: Jude mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He also mentions faith, love and hope, in this and the following verses.
These two verses have come down to us in five different forms. Some of the manuscripts have three clauses, some only two. And there are variations in the details of these five readings.
Codex Aleph is read by Nestle 26ed., NIV, JB and NASB. See the NIV version above. This text gives us three clauses. Codex A is read by Lenski and most text critics: "And some rebuke, such as dispute; some save by snatching them out of the fire; some pity, in fear, hating even the tunic that has become spotted from the flesh." This also gives us three clauses. Codex Vaticanus is the version of AAT: "Some people are in doubt pity them, snatch them from the fire, save them. Pity others with fear as you hate even their clothes spotted by their flesh." This text gives us two clauses. This reading is found in Nestle 25ed, TEV and NEB. Codex C, adopted by RSV, reads: "And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." This gives us three clauses. Kretzmann and Green favor this text. And finally, NKJV: "And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh." Thus also KJV, Textus Receptus and Luther. This text gives us two clauses.
Green: There are three main variants for the first clause, 'show pity on the waverers, show pity with discernment, confute the waverers.'
The first is found in NIV, JB and NASB. The second is found in KJV, NKJV and Luther. The third is found in Lenski and most text critics, but, oddly enough, in none of our versions. With Kretzmann and Green we prefer the reading found in RSV, though we do not wish to opinionate the reader. It is not an easy decision to make.
In any case, Jude is advising his readers as to how they should deal with the people who have been misled by the mockers and libertine teachers.
If RSV has the correct reading Jude is telling them to rebuke those who are wavering between the false teachers and the true teachers. Others they are to rescue as if they were brands pulled from the fire at the very last minute. Finally they should have mercy on those who have been very much soiled by the false teaching. They should do so "with fear," taking it very seriously and carefully. Why? The flesh of the false teachers has spotted their garments.
Rienecker: The figure of snatching from fire may have been suggested by the allusion to the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Evidently he has the rescue of Lot in mind.
Kretzmann: To such we should offer loving, merciful assistance, Galatians 6:12. And this should be done in fear, in the spirit of meekness; we should always watch for ourselves lest we also be tempted. In our entire attitude there should not be the least indication of pride and presumption, but only a holy horror of sin, of the spotted garment of the flesh.
Franzmann: The fire from which the faithful Christians are to snatch their erring brothers is the fire of God's judgment that is threatening to destroy them, compare Amos 4:11; Zechariah 3:2. The garment spotted by the flesh is a strong expression to indicate that even the slightest contact, even an apparently external contact, is to be avoided.
Concordia Bible With Notes: In our efforts to reclaim and save men, great wisdom is needful, to adapt the means used to their various cases. Some must be allured by kindness, and efforts for them should be gentle, as those of a nurse with her children. Others must be aroused by terrors, and urged by the thunders of coming wrath, 1 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 5:11.
Kretzmann: Here is both praise of God and wonderful comfort for the believers.
A very pertinent remark. The first three words in Greek are the very same as those used in Paul's doxology at Romans 16:25.
Our first thought in praising God is that He is able. It has aptly been pointed out that these two verses are neither a statement of fact, nor a wish, because Jude is speaking of the essence and nature of God from eternity, now, and into eternity.
Verses 24-25 are an exclamatory doxology. In verse 21 Jude had told his audience to cling to the love of God and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. In verses 24-25 Jude assures his readers that God can and will carry out what he has promised in the Gospel. Even the strength and ability of the Christian is shot through with sin and weakness. He cannot stand in his own strength. He needs the utter assurance of God in Christ. And here you have it. God can guard you so that you do not fall.
He is able to protect you so that you do not fall lastingly. I am surrounded by so much temptation and false teaching. What a comfort this statement is!
Secondly, He is able to present you spotless before His glory, His glorious throne, in exultation. These words remind us of a line from a hymn: "Clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before the throne." Lutheran Worship 368; The Lutheran Hymnal 370.
It reminds one of the wonderful words of St. Paul in Philippians 3:9: "Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
The text presents a foretaste of the jubilation of God's chosen people at His manifestation at the end.
God is called "Savior" eight times in the New Testament, but this same word is ascribed to Christ fifteen times. God is our only God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
"To the only God, who saves us through Jesus Christ our Lord." Four characteristics or attributes are ascribed to this only God: First there is "glory," a word which must always be treated contextually.
Lenski: Glory, the sum of all the divine attributes in their radiant shining forth.
Bigg notes that "glory" is ascribed to God or Christ in all the doxologies except 1 Timothy 6:16. In one word it is an exclamation of thanks to God Who is Goodness personified, Who alone could and did save us. It is the first thing the angels said of Jesus on the hills of Bethlehem.
Secondly, we have the ascription of "majesty" which word is found only here in the New Testament. Commentators say the least about this word because it is so impossible to define. We shall know fully when we arrive before His throne. We confess it now weakly. We are deeply impressed by His great kingly majesty when we ponder creation, redemption, the incarnation and everlasting life.
The third ascription is "power dominion." This great power is behind our redemption. How can anything possible take us away from Him? Our only danger is in sinning deliberately. He promises to do everything. Our only danger is in not believing that or in giving up by listening to our own lusts and the false teaching of others.
And, finally, there is "bestowed authority." The very word Jesus used of Himself in Matthew 28:19. This word implies that Jesus is true God. God has given this authority to Jesus' human nature to save us. I need fear nothing.
The divinity of Jesus is plainly apparent in the words "Before all ages, now, and forever."
He ends with the word "Amen" which means "verily, all this has been promised by God and therefore will not fail."
We close with a note from Franzmann.
Franzmann: The closing doxology repeats and intensifies the note of assurance with which the letter began. The church has good reason to fear, verse 23; she has no reason to despair. There is One who has the power to bring her safely and triumphantly through all the temptations that beset her into His glorious presence at the Judgment, the Savior God whose eternal glory, majesty, dominion, and authority are all in the service of His mercy, which shall pronounce her blameless on that day. She shall hear Jesus Christ her Lord say, 'Come unto Me.'