Readers are located somewhere, and NT letter-writers often use a few words to tell us. But we don’t get any geographical information from Jude about his recipients. Is this because he didn’t know where they were? Is this because the letter was circular and thus not limited to one locale? The second is more likely than the first, but even 1 Peter (a circular letter) opens with geographical phrases.
It’s not clear why Jude doesn’t specify where his readers are, but he does elaborate on who they are. He identifies them theologically instead of geographically.
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ
The description is threefold, one of the letter’s many triads. Only two persons of the Trinity are mentioned (the “Father” and “Jesus”), though Jude does refer to the Holy Spirit later (see vv. 19, 20).
The terms called, beloved, and kept denote the kind of assurance and security the readers needed to remember, given the angst, division, and doubt that the intruders are causing in the church(es) (see vv. 19, 22).
To face the present trouble, the recipients need to remember who they are. Think of v. 1b like this:
- To those who are
- beloved in God the Father
- and kept for Jesus Christ
Let’s take the three descriptions one at a time.
- (1) They have been called by God. His sovereign voice summoned them. This calling isn’t the general kind but the specific, eye-opening, heart-awakening kind. Those God predestined he calls (Rom 8:30), and Jude’s readers have heard the mouth of mercy speak.
- (2) They are beloved either in God or by God, but the translation here is ultimately a distinction without a difference. The notion is covenant love, the steadfast commitment of God to his people, the loving-kindness expressed to those in union with Christ by the Spirit. The Groom loves the Bride with a New Covenant bond, and it is imperishable.
- (3) They are kept either for Christ or by Christ, and the choice of preposition isn’t easy. Kept for makes sense because Jesus is returning for his people to vindicate them and judge the ungodly. Kept by also works since God preserves the saints, which means true apostasy is impossible for God’s people. Kept by, though, edges out the other option when we see that the end of the letter (v. 24) speaks of believers being kept too. In other words, the inclusio of vv. 1-2 with vv. 24-25 (see here for more explanation on the structure of the letter) makes kept by the probable rendering.
Jude’s use of the terms called, beloved, and kept has OT background. In Isaiah 42 God’s people are “called” by him (42:6), “loved” by him (42:1), and “kept” by him (42:6)–this third Isaianic reference further supports kept by Jesus Christ as the way to render the end of v. 1b.
Do you see what Jude has done with the words from Isaiah 42? That OT chapter is about God’s chosen servant, the one who will be the Suffering Servant bearing our iniquities. The identity of this Servant is also wrapped up in the identity of God’s people, and the terms of this people are applied to Jude’s readers–the Church!
The Church of Jesus is the True Israel, a people called, beloved, and kept. Jude is writing to them, and he has important exhortations and warnings to give.
But before getting into the argument of the letter, even before leaving the pattern of the Greco-Roman greeting, Jude focuses on their theological identity. Their identity will contrast strongly with who the intruders are, and it is what must motivate the recipients to do what is necessary as they contend for the faith.
Remembering who you are is not wasted effort, it is preparatory for what’s next. Remembrance is the fuel for the obedience that follows.