From the Editor’s Notebook: Journeying Through Jude, part 9

From the Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Grace And Peace

“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you” (2 Peter 1:2)

God loved the world — and long ago
He sent His Son to Bethlehem
That living, all the world might know
The wonders of His love for them.
Those who have tried and found Him true
Know this: “My peace I leave with you.”

God loved the world - He loved it so
He sent His Son to Calvary
That dying, all by faith might know
Salvation for eternity.
Those who have trusted, find this true:
“Sufficient is My grace for you.”

—C.A. Lufburrow

Journeying Through Jude (Part 9)

In this present study we want to consider two of the three remaining verses which round out Jude’s basic pen-portrait of the false teachers who had already wormed their way into the local churches of his day. With sure, succinct, Spirit-inspired strokes of his scalpel-like pen, he states:

These are spots in your love feasts, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear; clouds they are without water, carried about by winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever (vv. 12-13).

Much in the style of James, in verses 12 and 13 Jude draws several analogies from nature to communicate to his readers the truth he wants them to grasp. In continuing his vivid delineation of the apostates, he virtually ransacks nature itself, referring to them as hidden rocks, waterless clouds, trees without fruit, restless waves of the sea, and wandering stars.

1. Hidden Rocks (v. 12). “These are spots in your love feasts,” says Jude, and by this he means that these false teachers are like submerged rocks just beneath the surface of the water. The word for “spots” (spilades) is found only here in the New Testament and means hidden rocks or sunken reefs, conjuring up in our mind’s eye those extremely dangerous places barely covered with water and found along many sea coasts and other types of waterways.

Like the devil, whose children they are and whom they serve, these apostates are like angels of light (see 2 Cor. 11:14-15); they are deceivers and pretenders. Jude is anxious that his readers be fully informed of their disguises and characteristics, and that they recognize these subtle emissaries of Satan for what they really are.

The expression “love feasts” is a reference to the evening meal partaken of by Christians, either accompanied or followed by the Lord’s Supper. Abuses relative to the meal increased to such an extent that this practice was later abandoned altogether.

Jude makes it clear that these false teachers represent enemies from within the sphere of Christian profession, and not from the outside. This is what makes them so dangerous and sometimes difficult to detect. “They feast with you,” he says, “feeding themselves without fear” (v. 12). “Feeding themselves” literally means shepherding or pasturing themselves (see 2 Pet. 2:13). In other words, instead of nurturing, guiding, guarding and enfolding God’s people, they were selfishly looking after their own interests at the expense of the flock, and this, without any fear of the divine judgments that will ultimately overtake them and their ilk (we have an echo here of Ezekiel 34:8).

Some Bible teachers, like Harry A. Ironside, see in the opening words of verse 12 a graphic expression of “the conception of the clerical position in the minds of many who trade upon its privileges. They who should feed the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock, fleece them instead, and look upon them as those whose place it is to contribute to their honor, wealth, and dignity. Scripture knows of no distinction between clergy and laity. All believers are God’s kleros - His allotted portion. If of their own number there are those raised up to act as pastors, by guiding and caring for those weaker or less instructed, it is as doing a service to the Lord, the Chief Shepherd - ‘not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over possessions (kleros, Gr.), but being ensamples to the flock’ (1 Pet. 5:1-4).”1

2. Clouds without water (v. 12). Jude further describes these apostates as clouds that bring promise of refreshing rain but in reality are devoid of any moisture at all. Who of us in a period of summer drought has not looked longingly at clouds on the horizon which gave promise of rain, only to discover when they arrived overhead that there was plenty of show and blow but no go as far as any rain for mother earth was concerned? Thus this vivid metaphor would suggest the emptiness of their high-sounding pronouncements, promises and pretensions. The words “carried about by winds” remind us of the unstable character of these false teachers and of the Apostle Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:14, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive” (see 2 Tim. 3:7). We are also reminded of Solomon’s words that “whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain” (Prov. 25:14).

As suggested by John F. MacArthur, Jr., there may be a connection here between these apostate teachers and unseen evil spirits who control them.2

Michael Green has searchingly commented as follows: “Here is a graphic example of the uselessness of teaching which is supposedly ‘advanced’ and ‘enlightened’ but has nothing to offer the ordinary Christian for the nourishment of his spiritual life. I find this a solemn warning to those who, like myself, are professional theologians. We must constantly ask ourselves if our studies and knowledge are benefiting anybody at all.”3

3. Barren fruit trees (v. 12). Next these false teachers are likened to “autumnal trees without fruit, twice dead, rooted up” (J. N. Darby’s New Translation). They are like the fig tree cursed by the Lord Jesus Christ and reminding us also of His parable in Luke 13:6-9. It was He Himself who taught - “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Outwardly they appear to be like any other fruit-bearing tree, but in the fruit season they bear only leaves. They are “twice dead,” suggesting not only their spiritually dead condition (Eph. 2:1) but also the deadness of their false profession. They are like the majority of professing believers at Sardis who had a name that they lived but in reality were dead (Rev. 3:1) .

4. Wild waves of the sea (v. 13). These apostates are also described as “raging waves of the sea, foaming out their shame.” In the Bible the sea is sometimes used as a picture of those who do not know God (Isa. 57:20). Just as the waves of the stormy sea cast up foam, seaweed, debris and refuse on its surface, so these restless, evil men continually produce and glory in their filthy, smelly scum, saying and doing things which should shame them before God and man.

Today, as never before, there is wave upon wave of false teachers who shamelessly propagate their evil doctrines and engage in perverse conduct. However, just as God has imposed a limit beyond which the sea cannot go (Psa. 104:9), so these apostates will be permitted to go only so far and no further, even as the Apostle Paul has said of such men: “But they shall proceed no further; for their folly shall be manifest unto all men” (2 Tim. 3:9).

Having been born and raised near the ocean, I have often watched raging waves sweep ominously toward some rocky barrier along the shore, only to harmlessly spend their fury on the immovable rocks. Such is always a reminder of the eternal stability afforded to all who have been by God’s marvelous and matchless grace planted on the Rock of Ages, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wandering stars (v. 13). As a climax to his description of these false teachers and in contrast to the stability of the North Star, Jude likens them to wandering stars “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” To the confusion of all who would look upon and follow them, it is readily observed that these apostates do not belong to an orderly picture. They have violated their being and have departed from the true way (see v. 6; 2 Pet. 2:17).

S. Maxwell Coder has aptly contrasted Jude’s swift, bold word pictures of these false teachers with a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. He states:

“In reading this list one is reminded by way of contrast with the Lord whom these men deny. He is the Rock of our salvation; they are hidden rocks threatening shipwreck to the faith. He comes with clouds to refresh His people forever; these are clouds which do not even bring temporary blessing. He is a tree of life; these are trees of death. He leads beside still waters; these are like the restless troubled sea. He is the bright and morning Star, heralding the coming day; these are wandering stars presaging a night of eternal darkness.”4

(To be continued, D.V.)

1 Harry A. Ironside, Exposition of the Epistle of Jude, p. 41.

2 John F. MacArthur, Jr., Beware the Pretenders, p. 70.

3 Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, p. 175.

4 S. Maxwell Coder, Jude: The Acts of the Apostates, p. 76.