We embark on another interesting text in Jude’s letter. Jude seems to be quite intent on making sure that the false teachers are identified in the church. As we will see in these few verses, he points back to their characteristics three different times! As I outlined the text, I noted a particular structure. Here’s a Bible Study tip. It is extremely important that when you study, you consider the context. An important part of this is to trace the flow of thought of an author. You will usually note conjunctions like but, and, therefore, also. For instance, there are times when Paul will write a lengthy theological section dealing with great truths about God and man and sin. And then he begins the next chapter with a “therefore.” This is important. Based on all these theological truths, there is an appropriate response from the reader.
You may have noticed some unique characteristics in Jude’s letter and how he has structured it. You remember that he began by introducing himself and who the letter is directed to. He speaks of the initial letter he wanted to write and yet had to write a letter contending for the faith. The reasons he provides are the “certain people” who have crept in unaware. And then Jude launches into some of the characteristics of these false teachers. From here he goes back and forth into other areas – referring to the warnings of unbelief, the sins of angels and Sodom and Gomorrah. Then he connects them once again to the false teachers.
Well, in our text today, Jude will jump around a bit in just these few verses. So, he will begin with characterizing false teachers, move to pointing out future judgment, back to descriptions of false teachers, exhorting his readers to remember the prophecies, and then revert back to characterizing the false teachers. So, that’s what the breakdown of verses 12-19 looks like. The sermon points will diverge from this somewhat. What we will do is compile the characterizations into the first sermon point, which is Dissecting False Teachers.
If you’re anything like me, when I mention the word “dissect,” you may have an image of a frog in your head. If you’ve done this kind of project in the past, you recall identifying many of the parts of what makes up a frog. And so when I think of false teachers, it seems as though Jude wants to look at them from a multitude of angles. From the very outset of the letter, he seems to speak to their actions, their words, and in this text, several word pictures to help illustrate.
If you like word pictures, then this passage is for you! In rapid-fire fashion, Jude rattles off a barrage of images to describe these false teachers. These metaphors would have been readily understood by the readers in this culture. So, as we dissect, these false teachers so to speak, allow these images to speak to the reality of what they are.
Verse 12 begins with a primary sentence which Jude elaborates on through the end of verse 13. “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear.” And the rest will flesh this out a bit. So let’s deal with this first image. What do we know about hidden reefs? Well, they are hidden. And this seems to fit well with verse 4 which mentioned that certain people had crept in unnoticed. As you might expect, a hidden reef poses as an unrecognized source of danger. It would call to mind the image of a ship run aground.
The churches had the practice of having these love feasts. They were similar to a potluck or the fellowship lunches that we hold monthly. Jude points out that things are not as they seem. These false teachers were dangerous hypocrites. They pretended to be full of love and yet underneath they possessed dangerous teaching and ungodly lifestyle that serves a great danger for the church.
These false teachers had no problem with deceiving those in the church. They had no fear. In this context it refers to an arrogant disregard of responsibility for their manner of life. They were blatant and reckless.
And then Jude continues and throws these word pictures at us. He likens them to shepherds who feed themselves. As you might expect, the shepherd is to feed the sheep. You might recall the Lord Jesus’ words to Peter to “feed my sheep” at the end of John’s Gospel. In this case, the false teachers were intent on meeting their own needs. The nation of Israel experienced this same situation and the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel to them. Ezekiel 34:1–10 says “1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. 7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.” So it is quite clear what God thinks of these false teachers.
They are “waterless clouds” that are swept away by the winds. Palestine is a dry climate. And as such the people would be tremendously dependent on rains at critical times for their provision and their very life. At times rain is desperately needed. And so if you were to look to the skies and see approaching clouds, your spirits might be lifted as you anticipate the rains that would accompany the clouds. And if there was no rain, bitter disappointment. The Proverbs also speak of clouds and wind without rain. 2 Peter indicates that the false teachers are waterless springs. The authors of Scripture incorporate this agricultural language to an agrarian context. And it speaks volumes to them. For us, we need to be more deliberate to understand the weight of the illustrations. But they didn’t! The false teachers promised much but had nothing to offer.
These are fruitless trees in late autumn. Even if one was patient to wait until late autumn for a harvest, no fruit was forthcoming. These teachers have not fulfilled the purposes for which they exist. In fact, not only were they fruitless, they were “twice dead.” The Lord Jesus said, in Matthew 15:13 “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” And in Matthew 3:10 “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” I think the idea is that the false teachers were dead because they bore no fruit and because Jesus has promised to uproot such as these, they are to be considered twice dead.
Perhaps for the readers and allusion to “wild waves of the sea” would have recalled the words of Isaiah 57. It is here where God says that “the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.” These are uncontrolled and dissident teachers. Their foam reveals their shame. In the same way that ocean foam often causes the dirt to surface, so also these false teachers.
And they are wandering stars. John MacArthur adds, “Apostates often appear for a short time on the stage of Christianity. They promise enduring spiritual light and direction but deliver nothing but an erratic, aimless, worthless, flash." This is often the case. Even as you consider current challenges to Christianity and the church, you notice that some books or ideas make headway in popular culture and church culture. The church is often forced to respond to false teachings. And before you know it, many of these fads pass as quickly as they came. Truth endures.
Jump down to verse 16. It is here that Jude resumes more of the characteristics of these intruders. The next identification he makes is that they are “grumblers.” Now this is interesting… and intimidating. There is a close connection between this reference to grumblers and the opening remarks of those who were unbelieving in verse 5. You might remember that we looked back in the history of Israel on this one. I suggested that this was a close tie to the people’s response to the fact that there were giants in the land and they were scared to enter the Promised Land. And so they grumbled against Moses and God had an appropriate consequence. Their unbelief resulted in their destruction.
I then briefly introduced 1 Corinthians 10 that suggested that the Israelites had put Christ to the test – though he had not yet been born. And Paul specifically points out their grumbling and resulting destruction in verse 10. So this is all tied together.
Jude says that these are malcontents. They are always complaining about something or other. These are not joyous and loving people but critical and quick to detect the weaknesses of others. These are people who are dissatisfied with God’s ways of truth and justice and only want to fulfill their own sinful desires. I think of James 4 when he indicates that what causes quarrels and fights is the passions that are at war within you. You desire and do not have, covet and cannot obtain. And so you fight and quarrel. You cannot submit to authority because it may stand in the way of what you want.
False teachers are loud-mouthed boasters. This is demonstrated in their arrogance against God. And they show favoritism to gain advantage. In other words, they are deceptive manipulators. Ok. So not a pretty picture.
If you look closely, you will see that these might be generalized and characterized by their selfishness. They are concerned with their own needs, portray themselves as something they are not, offer nothing to anyone else. They continually grumble and are malcontents because they care only for their own sinful desires. They boast and manipulate others for their own benefit.
True believers in Jesus Christ should be characterized by the exact opposite. We should be identified by our selflessness. Because Jesus has died for us and changed us, we have now given over the throne to him and strive to serve others by his example. By serving God over ourselves we are cross-cultural. The world tells us to pursue careers for our success, to make a name for ourselves, to spend money on lavish vacations because we deserve it. But we have been called to die to self and serve God and others first. This will not go unnoticed by an unbelieving world.
Something that came to mind as I pondered some of these characteristics is this. We talked about the foam that the wild waves of the sea bring. There is something interesting that often happens with those who fit some of these descriptions. When you bring the truth of God’s Word to bear on sin, the heart issues usually rise to the surface like the sea foam. As Christians, we are called to submit to God’s Word. And the true Christian should approach Scripture with humility as we want to be continually transformed by it. So as we see an inconsistency or blatant sin in our lives, we should humbly submit to repent and change. But for some this isn’t necessarily the case. Some will rise up with anger and defensiveness. And I was reminded what this looked like recently.
I’m not sure how many of you know the musical artist Jennifer Knapp. She was fairly prominent on the scene for a while and then dropped off for a few years. This past spring she reemerged saying that she was a lesbian. (I am not trying to revisit this issue but her reponses). She was interviewed by Larry King. And I noticed that she had difficulty responding biblically to his questions. Instead of dealing with the Bible at face value, she would skirt the issue. Larry brought on a pastor who had written on his blog about Jennifer and her announcement. And with great humility and compassion he directed some remarks toward Jennifer. Well, she got extremely defensive and angry. The pastor maintained his convictions and she continued her disposition. I thought of sea foam. If Scripture is brought to bear and maintained, it is only a matter of time until our true character emerges. Hopefully, it results in humility and repentance and not anger and defensiveness.
But in the case of these false teachers, it does not result in repentance. For Jude says in verse 19 that they cause divisions. They are worldly people who are devoid of the Spirit. They are pretenders in the church. They pose as Christians, but alas their actions and lifestyle reveal the fact that they are not Christians. They are of the world, do not have the Holy Spirit residing within them and seek only to cause divisions within Christ’s church. Now… can we see why this can be devastating? And why Jude would liken them to hidden reefs? Concealed and dangerous…
The second point is Remember. Look at verse 17 with me. I love this part! Jude says, remember beloved. Remember that the apostles of Jesus told us about this. They warned us. 2 Peter 3:1–3 “1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” Acts 20:29–30 Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” He also told Timothy about these things in both his letters to him.
Why do I like this part? God knows. It doesn’t take him by surprise. In fact, he has allowed it. I also love how much we are exhorted to remember. Sometimes we allow our thoughts to reign and we do not remember what God has told us in his Word. Do you “remember” what the Israelite used to do to help them? They would set up stones to remind them how God acted on their behalf. And it served as a visible reminder. It would do us well to speak to one another in our homes and in our church how God is for us, how God will be glorified even in difficult situations. We need to not be so surprised when difficulties arise. Listen to Paul’s words to Timothy. 2 Timothy 3:1–9 “1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. God knows.
Or how about Matthew 24:23–25? “23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.” Remember.
The third point is Destiny and Retribution. In verse 14, Jude quotes a man named Enoch. And because you are all becoming biblical scholars, you rightly note that you do not know where this statement is in the Bible. You’re right. For some reason, Jude has quoted from a book called the Book of Enoch. This book is not one of the inspired books included in our Old and New Testaments. However, Jude himself was inspired by God to write this portion of Scripture. Remember Paul quoted Aratus in Acts 17.28, Epimenides in Titus 1.12.
What I find interesting is that there is an abundance of Scripture that points to Jesus’ return with his angels. Mark 8:38 “38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7 “7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” There are Old Testament passages as well. And yet despite this, Jude goes outside Scripture for this promise of his return. One of the commentators may be on to something when he indicates that there may be a possibility that the adversaries treasured this Book of Enoch and therefore Jude was using their own ammunition against them. This would make sense to me. Paul did the same thing in one of the examples I just mentioned.
So Jude reminds his readers that the Lord Jesus is coming back. Though he doesn’t need the company, he returns with ten thousand angels. In fact, these angels serve as God’s executioners. Matthew 13.40-42 tells us that “40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And 2 Thessalonians confirms this by stating that they will inflict vengeance on those who do not know God or obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And here Jude indicates that these angels will also execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him. He’s pretty clear here. Not one of the false teachers will escape judgment. Not one of their deeds will go unpunished. Not one of their words goes unnoticed. They will all be accountable to the King.
What I gather from this is that Jude is exhorting believers to be on the lookout for the false teachers who secretly infect the church. He provides an abundance of characteristics and a lifestyle to watch out for. These are dangerous because they are hidden and can cause great division within the church. We know from elsewhere that shepherds are to guard the flock. And this would involve dealing with such false teachers. But it would seem to me that this will not be fully dealt with until Jesus returns with the angels. So we derive hope. We are to continue to exercise discernment the best we are able and rest in the hope that he will vindicate and eradicate these teachers and their wicked influence for eternity.
For them awaits the gloom of utter darkness that has been reserved forever. God is not to be mocked. He cannot be challenged. I believe this is one of the reasons that we have the doctrine of hell. Our God is so holy and our sin such an offense to his holiness that the only thing that will maintain this holiness is the judgment and eternal punishment. This is how serious our sin is.
For those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ, there is yet hope for you because you still have breath. You may not exude all of the characteristics of the false teachers, but the one who has not yet bowed the knee to Jesus will still meet the same fate. Your sin still alienates you from the One who made you. We have been created to bring him glory. And if you continue to serve yourself as god rather than your Creator, you will perish. Consider this your opportunity to bow the knee in willful submission. Every knee will bow on that day. I pray that you are ready. Please talk to me afterward if you are not sure. Let’s pray.