The apostle Paul added another word – “grace” – to this standard greeting, and we find “grace and peace” in every one of his letters. This additional word summarized as well as any other the gospel of salvation by grace that Paul preached tirelessly (Ephesians 2:8-9, etc.), and it was a fitting greeting to his readers.
Jude, in the introduction to his epistle, uses a further expanded expression: “Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1:2). While it is easy enough to read over this greeting, we should not. Just as the aspect of the gospel that Paul stressed was summarized in that apostle’s “grace and peace,” we can see a similar situation in the “mercy, peace, and love” found in the epistle of Jude.
Jude’s threefold greeting forms a three-note chord, as it were, providing harmonious notes that recur throughout his epistle. This is important because if we read this epistle without keeping this background theme in mind, it is easy to see only the many verses speaking of troubles, errors and problems in the Church. In fact, some commentaries stress the “Seven Negatives of Jude” listing the evils of ungodly acts and words, the people who are grumblers and fault-finders, who follow their own evil desires, boast and flatter others. Jude does say that “These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 1:19), but his characterization of problems faced by the early Church is not the point of his letter. His whole epistle, just like his initial greeting, focuses not just on the apostle’s concerns, but on his response to these negative issues.
Mercy: Just as Jude begins his letter with the greeting of mercy (Jude 1:2), we find that he draws it to a close by reminding his readers of God’s mercy to us and our responsibility of mercy to others. “… You wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21), he writes, and follows up by reminding us of our responsibility to “Be merciful to those who doubt, save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 1:22-3). Jude did not just catalog the Church’s problems; he focused his readers’ eyes on the mercy that God is willing to show us if we come out of those problems, and the mercy that we in turn must sometimes show others.
Peace: Just as Jude stresses the outcome of mercy in his epistle, he also stresses the peace that his readers can find in the knowledge of God’s final outworking of history. While he does not use the word “peace” directly, this assurance is clearly what lies behind the beginning of Jude’s wonderful doxology “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…” (Jude 1:24). Jude puts his readers’ minds at rest regarding the turmoil of false doctrines and dispute in the Church by looking past the problems of the present in a peace-providing reminder of God’s ability to preserve his readers from the errors that surround them.
Love: Even before he includes love in his opening greeting (Jude 1:2), Jude stresses love from the first verse of his letter: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1). It is precisely because they are loved by God, Jude tells his readers, that they will be able to survive the evils that surround them and be kept for the return of Christ. Jude’s stress on God’s love is paralleled at the end of his letter by his stress on our responsibility to “keep yourselves in God’s love…” (Jude 1:21).
In fact, the closing thoughts of Jude's letter directly parallel his initial greeting of mercy, peace, and love. Jude tells his readers: “keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). Reversing the order of his initial greeting, Jude speaks of love, mercy, and the peace that he urged his readers to have – despite the difficulties they faced day to day – in the hope of eternal life.
So Jude begins and ends his short epistle with a tremendously positive theme that overrides the “negatives” which he must catalog in the Church of his time. For those of us who read his letter today, it is easy to misunderstand and to see it as an epistle of “doom and gloom” based on the problems Jude feels he must identify. But the purpose of his letter is far more positive than that. It looks beyond the evils that afflicted the early Church – and which can still affect us now – to the eventual outcome of which Jude assures us. Rather than an epistle of problems, errors, and difficulties, Jude is indeed an epistle stressing a message of love, mercy, and peace.