Tucked in as it is between 3 John and the Revelation, it is easy to over look the epistle of Jude but this past Lord’s Day I noticed something I had not before and that something tells us a good deal about how the apostles and the early church viewed the history of redemption and the nature of the continuity of the covenant of grace. Our pastor, Chris Gordon (Escondido United Reformed Church and Abounding Grace Radio) has been preaching through Jude in the evening service. This past Lord’s Day we read verse 5 of Jude as part of the sermon text:
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe (ESV).
Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James” (v.1). As Donald Guthrie wrote in 1962, “[t]here can be no doubt that the author intended his readers to think of this James as James of Jerusalem, the Lord’s brother.1 Guthrie continues, “[i]f we assume this identification is correct, we may suppose that Jude, as some of the other brothers of the Lord, engaged in itinerant preaching (1 Cor ix.9). It may well be, therefore, that the people whom Jude has in mind in this letter are those among whom he has been intinerating.”2
This is God’s Word and we receive it as canon, the rule of Christian faith and practice.
He begins the epistle by noting that he had originally intended to write to them about “our shared salvation” (v. 3; κοινῆς ⸂ἡμῶν σωτηρίας) but that circumstances had changed in the lives of the Christians such that he was forced to address the problem created in their congregation by doctrinal and moral error. Certain people had, as the ESV has it, “crept in” (παρεισέδυσαν) to one or more congregations with the intent of leading people away from Christ and from a godly life. Jude quite plainly describes them as reprobate, eternally condemned (v.4). They were “long ago designated for condemnation” (οἱ πάλαι προγεγραμμένοι εἰς τοῦτο τὸ ⸁κρίμα). This is the doctrine of reprobation.
In v. 5 he reminds his readers that there have always been, as Caspar Olevianus regularly wrote, “reprobates and hypocrites” mixed in the visible covenant community. His prime example of the mixed nature of the visible church is the church as it was delivered out of Egypt. He reminds (Ὑπομνῆσαι) them of something they “once knew completely” (εἰδότας ⸂ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ πάντα), “that Jesus saved (σώσας) a people out of Egypt” but later destroyed (ἀπώλεσεν) those who were unbelieving (μὴ πιστεύσαντας). The entire visible church was delivered through the Red Sea, as the Psalmist says, “on dry ground,” by the sovereign power and grace of God. Nevertheless, as Jude reminds us and history of redemption shows, there were those in that assembly who were saved from Pharaoh, who nevertheless did not actually believe. Going through the Red Sea, which Paul calls being “baptized into Moses” (1 Cor 10:1–4), was an initiation into the visible covenant community (of adults and their children) but it did not save them all from the wrath of God. For Jude, as for Paul, there is a distinction between the sacrament (the sign) and the thing signified. Contra the Papists and the Federal Visionists, the sacraments have never worked ex opere (by their working). There has always been two ways of being in the one visible, covenant community.
As it was then, so it is now. The first thing to note here is how easily Jude appeals to the OT people as if Jude’s readers (and hearers) are in fundamentally the same covenant of grace. Pace my Particular Baptist friends, the covenant of grace was not merely “revealed,” “exhibited,” “established” or “inaugurated” in the OT. It was also administered. The Israelites who went through the Red Sea participated in the external (outward) administration of the same covenant of grace in which New Covenant believers participate. The covenant of grace did not actually first enter into history in the New Covenant or else Jude’s warning is emptied of its force.
The second thing to notice here is the person of the Trinity Jude named as the Savior of those Old Testament believers. Some accounts of the discontinuity of the Old Testament and the New are so strong that more than one believer has been given to think that we had to do under the OT with the Father and only in the gospels do we meet the Son. The book of Hebrews begs to differ with this reading of redemptive history but let us focus for a moment on Jude 5 where Jude wrote that “Jesus saved them.” What a marvelous thing to say. It is striking, of course, because it is somewhat unexpected. After all, God the Son had note yet become incarnate when the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. When we say “Jesus” we are thinking of God the Son incarnate but his point is that the same Son who became incarnate was already saving his people long before the incarnation.
To be sure there are some textual-critical questions. Some readings say “the Lord” (κύριος or ὁ κύριος) and so many English translations read “Lord” rather than Jesus. According to the UBS Textual Commentary (2nd edition, 1994) “the weightiest attestation” supports the reading “Jesus” (Ἰησοῦς) rather than Lord. The committee however, chose “[ὁ] κύριος” (the Lord) for the UBS as did the Nestle-Aland 27th edition. The NA28, however, chose “Ἰησοῦς” (Jesus), which the ESV (quoted above) followed. The UBS committee was not terribly confident, however, about their choice. They even observe that “critical principles seem tor require the adoption of Ἰησοῦς, which admitted is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses.” The chief reason they went with “Lord” instead of “Jesus” is, essentially, that “Jesus” is just too unusual. I submit that Jude intended to be striking. The committee notes that Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Jude wanted to be pointed and provocative.
Even, however, should we adopt the reading “Lord,” the point stands. Clearly the early church understood “Lord” to be a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ. Thus, even if “Lord” is the correct reading we are meant to understand the verse as the strongest possible affirmation of continuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant believers. We have the same God, the same Savior, the same grace, the same faith, the same hope, the same justification by grace alone through faith alone, and the same problems. Jude treats the Old Covenant assembly as the church. He treats those who are corrupting the NT church as if they are substantially the same as those whom the Lord punished in Exodus. Paul’s doctrine of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5) covers more than just the NT church. There is one Savior: Jesus. There has always been only one Savior, whether under the types and shadows of the OT or the realities of the NT.
1. New Testament Introduction, 3.227.