5 Illustrations of the Destructive Influence of False Teachers

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.


3 Warnings and a Funeral

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
Jude 11

There are certain stories in the Scriptures that you would like to have represent your life. My name being a Biblical name, I have always hoped to be characterized like the Ethans of the OT, one was a singer in David’s assembly as they brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:19), another was one of the wise men in Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31), one Ethan composed Psalm 89. Go Ethan!

Of course who wouldn’t want to be counted as one of the of the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, hearing from our Lord, “Well done good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21). Apart from the grace of God, however, we’d all end up like the other servant who hid the master’s talent, “You wicked and slothful servant…” (Matthew 25:26).

Isn’t interesting, then, so see which Biblical narratives Jude uses to describe the false teachers who have crept into the church, twisting the grace of God into sensuality and rejecting our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Already Jude has compared them to the unfaithful Hebrews who died in the wilderness, the angels who fell from glory, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in their immorality and unnatural desires.

In our reading from Jude today, the Biblical analogies continue. Each warning is taken from key stories from Israel’s history, each ending in death (thus the title).

  • They have walked in the way of Cain.  It was Cain who killed his brother Abel in jealousy over the fact that God honored Abels overing over his own. Keep in mind, it was Abel who brought the firstborn of is flock, while Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Many speculate that the difference in the offering was that Abel brought the firstborn while Cain brought something lesser, but that misses the point. The bigger issue here is the heart of the worshipper. As Romans 14:23 teaches, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” As Abel’s offering was accepted, we must understand that he gave his offering in faith in the Lord. Cain offering was rejected, so we may surmise that he did not bring it in faith, but merely out of duty or religious custom. His heart, as we see in Gen 4, was filled with hatred for his brother, and he walked in darkness (1 John 2:11).
    This is the hypocrisy of the false teachers. They came to the Lord through religious customs, but they had not part or lot in the Lord.  Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of religion without faith, righteousness based on character and good works. The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of pride, a man establishing his own righteousness and rejecting the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ.” They said they worshiped the Lord, but they did not come in faith, but their teachings would lead to the destruction (murder) of many. In this way they were walking in the way of Cain.
  • They abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error. Balaam’s story is a cautionary tale. He was hired by Balak to proclaim curses on Israel as they were in the wilderness. Now anyone claiming to be a prophet could do this, and get paid well for it. But something unexpected happened.  God actually spoke to Balaam. God warned him not to say anything that God didn’t tell him to say. So 4 times Balaam set out to curse Israel and get his reward, but God prevented him, turning the curse into a blessing.
    But that didn’t stop Balaam. If he couldn’t curse Israel directly, he could work indirectly to bring a curse upon them. He set up altars to Baal, and brought the women of Moab to Israel. In Numbers 25, we read that “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal at Peor.” This incident at Peor is said to have been the device of Balaam (Num 31:16), he was paid well for it, and many thousands of Israelites died from the plague from the Lord.
    This is the corruption of the false teachers. While some are brazen enough to proclaim heresy in the name of Christ and profit from it, others are more subtle. They will nuance the message of the Gospel in the name of inclusivity, re-interpreting Scripture according to cultural demands, and soften the radiance of the glory of God to make Him more approachable. They do this for their own profit (financial, social, etc), all at the expense of the lives of those who follow their teaching.
  • They perished in Korah’s rebellion. Korah was a Levite who raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. This was their claim, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord” (Num 16:3).
    This didn’t happen overnight. You can imagine this had been brewing for a while, with quiet whispers, secret meetings, and outright plotting to oust Moses and Aaron. In rejecting Moses and Aaron as God’s appointed leaders, Korah was rejecting God’s authority, and was rejecting God himself. All involved were swallowed up when the ground opened beneath them – the teachers, and those that followed them.
    This is the attitude of the false teachers. They come as their own authority, ignoring the authority of the elders, flaunting the authority of called pastors, and ultimately, despising the authority of God and His Word over their lives. They reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

As we consider our own lives in the light of God’s Word, let us ask ourselves, could these stories be applied to our own lives? Jude’s letter helps us to identify the false teachers who would lead us astray, but it also serves as a mirror to help us to see how we have already been compromised, so that we may repent and turn to the Lord Jesus and contend for the faith.

We walk in the way of Cain anytime we come to God through the self-righteous works empty religion. We fall into Balaam’s error anytime we say I know what God says, but I choose to do this instead. We perish with Korah when we grumble and gossip against those whom God has given in our lives as spiritual authorities.

So let us “walk in the light, as He is in the light, having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).