These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude 12–13 (ESV)
Up to this point, Jude has been describing, in vivid, Biblical analogies, the nature of the false teachers who have crept into the church. They are unfaithful (v. 5), they reject authority (v. 6), they promote immorality (v. 7), they are blasphemous (v. 8), and they are greedy for acceptance and personal gain (v. 11). This is all part of what Jude means when he says that they pervert the grace of God into sensuality and reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (v. 4).
If that were not enough, Jude now, in verses 12 and 13, goes on to give 5 Illustrations of the Destructive Influences of of False Teachers, showing as a warning what will come to those who follow their teaching.
- They are hidden reefs – I’ve been in a boat that has hit a rock which was just under the surface of a very shallow lake, nearly breaking off the propeller entirely, and ruining a great day on the water. This is the destruction that Jude has in mind that the false teachers bring about. When the Church comes together for their “love feasts,” likely a reference to the celebration of Communion, or works of charity (the Greek here is simply “agapais,” which is rooted in the word for love, “agape”), these false teachers are blemishes, scandalous obstacles that trip up, or break down, their unity in service.
- They are shepherds who feed themselves – The role of the shepherd was to lead the flock to green pasture where, under the safe watch of the shepherd, they could eat and rest in peace. Imagine then, a shepherd who leads the flock into danger in order to satisfy his own appetite, or who takes the food from the flock for himself. This is not to say that shepherds don’t need to eat. But when the shepherd looks only to his own needs, fleecing the flock for his own benefit, then the sheep go hungry and are left to fend for themselves.
- They are waterless clouds/fruitless trees – Here Jude combines two very familiar images. We’ve all had those times where we’ve gone weeks, perhaps months without rain, and are thrilled when we see the storm clouds form on the horizon, only to be greatly disappointed when not a drop of rain falls. Likewise, when going to the orchard in the fall, seeing trees full of leaves, but empty of fruit. In these false teachers, there are outward signs of life, but they do not bear the fruit of righteousness in the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). The teachers/pastors of the church are meant to feed the sheep (see the previous illustration), but their lives and their teachings fail to bear the fruit that would be a blessing to God’s people.
- They are wild waves – Instead of bearing fruit, these false teachers are like “wild waves of the see, casting up the foam of their own shame.” I’ve seen this at the ocean, and even at the waterfalls in Sioux Falls, the waves pushing the trash and pollutants on to the shore, revealing what would have otherwise remained hidden under the water. Rather than the gently flowing streams that bring life and refreshment, these are turbulent and tormented waters, always tossing about, troubled by every issue and cause of the day.
- They are wandering stars – Before the days of GPS and even printed maps and compasses, the travelers depended on the stars for their navigation. Stars are fixed points in the night sky, allowing us to set our bearings and find our way. These false teachers, Jude says, are like wandering stars; they are unreliable, always shifting, always moving, and they will ultimately lead you astray.
It is important to note that Jude never mentions names in his letter, he doesn’t come right out and identify the false teachers, the groups they represented, or their specific heresy. This is one of the reasons the application of this letter is timeless. As I read this passage and write about it today, I have no one particular person or movement in mind. Rather, this passage is yet another reminder that every believer, every Church, needs to be careful about those to whom they listen.
Do our teachers, our pastors, and those who influence our thinking (politicians, athletes, artists, etc.) faithfully proclaim Christ as Lord and Master?
Do they cause scandals and controversies that harm the witness of the Church?
Are they chiefly concerned with feeding and shepherding God’s people with the true Manna from heaven, Jesus Christ?
Do they bear the fruit of righteousness in their own lives, or are they like the troubled, wild waves of the sea?
Are they consistent in their teaching, leading us to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, or are they like wandering stars that lead us astray?
May God continue to grant us grace, that we may be led by shepherds who are led by Christ, and contending for the faith once delivered to all the saints.