(Sorry for the lapse of time between entries on this, November just seemed to fly by!)
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 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. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.” (RSV)
“But you, dear friends, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the end time scoffers will come living according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions. Since they don’t have the Spirit, they are worldly. A strategy for the faithful But you, dear friends: build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt. Save some by snatching them from the fire. Fearing God, have mercy on some, hating even the clothing contaminated by their sinful urges. Blessing To the one who is able to protect you from falling, and to present you blameless and rejoicing before his glorious presence, to the only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, belong glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, now and forever. Amen.” (CEB)
After spending the main body of his epistle denouncing the false teachers, Judah now turns to his final exhortation which serves as a beautiful sending off for those beloved and “rescued by God’s power.” As the Navarre commentary points out, this final section serves as a call to “guard the faith, to practice virtue and to set good example (651).” There are a few different ways to “divide” this section and perhaps the easiest would be to break it into two: 1) Warning and Exhortations (17-23) and 2) Closing Benediction (24-25).
Verses 17-19 begin by reminding the community that the Apostles predicted that there would be disruptions and ungodly people who would arise at various points. (See also Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Pet 3:3 for more on this.) Of course, this also harkens back to our Lord’s statement in Matthew 24 that “False Christs and false prophets” would come. These scoffers, who “create division”, do not have the Spirit, and as Wright suggests, simply “are living at the merely human level (203).” Therefore, without the Spirit, they can’t truly be Christians as they claim to be (Perkins 155). As most of us know, this problem persists to this day in and outside the Church. In some ways, it is a sign of the messianic age, which was initiated by Christ and will last until his Second Advent. The question for all Christians, then, is how we respond to this reality. This is what Judah is concerned with in the verses that follow.
Judah charges these young Christians to be built up in their “most holy faith (20)” which they received. This brings us back to the point Judah made in verse 3, where he called them to “contend for the faith”. Thus being filled with holy faith, the Christian is urged to prayer. We see what he means beginning at the end of verse 20, where Judah exhorts them to “pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” This is truly a remarkable call for the believer, wrapped within a deep and rich Trinitarian theology. As the Navarre commentary points out, this invocation is tied to the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (651). Citing from the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1812, we see that the “theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.”
Verses 22-23 are rendered differently depending on which version of the Bible you own. The Greek text is uncertain at several points due to the existence of variants. (Perhaps one of my astute readers would like to comment with greater detail on this?) In any case, they follow closely to the preceding verses. Here, Judah calls for greater communal action and mercy to those who need to be snatched “out of the fire”. Wright is helpful by summarizing this as if Judah is saying to them: “Make sure you look carefully to see what condition people are in, and apply the mercy of God appropriately in each case (205).” While it is true that as Christians we need to be mindful where sin exists, it is equally important that we seek to heal through mercy, just as our Lord did for us.
This short, but wonderful, epistle ends with a beautiful benediction/doxology. These final words remind us that all glory is due to our heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are reminded here how the Church has always addressed her prayers at Mass, to the Father through the Son (and in the Spirit). Through these trials, we are called to remain fixed on Jesus, who will present us “without blemish” to the throne of his Father. And as Perkins explains: “God’s eternal power and majesty makes it clear that he can bring the faithful to that glorious destiny (158).” Amen.