Snapshots of Apostates Jude 12—15
On the evening of January 13, 2012, the luxurious cruise ship Costa Concordia was sailing off the coast of the Tuscan Island of Giglio when, without warning, it struck mountainous terrain hidden beneath the sea’s surface. Panic ensued.
Many of the ship’s leaders fled, and people lost their lives as the vessel partially sank on the rocky ledge. The celebration and joy of the preceding hours were ruined by the rocky fingers that ripped open the ship’s underbelly. The photos of the tragedy were startling.
The church is much like a ship at sea. It must always be on the alert for false teachers who lurk dangerously underneath the surface, so to speak, threatening to capsize it.
Led by the Holy Spirit, Jude graphically described in his epistle the spiritual devastation false teachers bring. Verses 12–13 present six snapshots depicting the character of these men and the impact they have on the believing church:
These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
(1) Spots. Much like the unsuspecting passengers on the Costa Concordia, the church is pictured as celebrating and enjoying its blessings in Christ while gathered for a fellowship meal and the Lord’s supper, totally unaware that dangerous, ungodly apostates who deny Christ have haughtily joined with them undetected, without guilt or fear of exposure.
The word spots more accurately means “a ledge or reed of rock in the sea,”1 lying undetected just beneath the surface of the water. The language paints a vivid picture: The church was about to be ripped apart like a ship on the rocks. Standing watch on the bow, Jude was warning true believers to beware of the serious nature of apostasy.
(2) Shepherds. The letter quickly transitions to another scene: shepherds. The word serving is actually shepherding. It appears the false teachers had crept into leadership. True shepherds focus on their flock’s well-being. In contrast, apostate leaders use and abuse the flock to feed their own greed and lust for power and attention. They manipulate the flock to prosper themselves. Such men are like those in Ezekiel 34:2: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” The flock suffered under such shepherds:
My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock (v. 8).
It would be a horrible sight to see a starving, abused flock of sheep limping along the ancient roadside, but that is the picture of the church under the leadership of false teachers.
(3) Clouds. Farmers know how vital rain and water are to survival. Jude’s third snapshot presents the apostates as “clouds” blowing in the breeze on the horizon, giving hope of rain in a dry and thirsty land. A persecuted believer searches daily for hope and relief like a farmer scanning the sky for a promising rain cloud.
But a false teacher’s promises of refreshing, living water from the Word come and go like clouds, leaving the church dry and thirsty, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men” (Eph. 4:14). These clouds are “without water.”
(4) Trees. The next phrase portrays these apostates as trees devoid of fruit, even though it is late autumn and the harvest has come and gone. The trees are dead, leaving those who depend on the harvest without provisions for the winter ahead. In fact, the trees are “twice dead” because their roots have been pulled up, cutting them off from all sources of life and nourishment. Psalm 1 describes such men as “chaff which the wind drives away” (v. 4).
The church needs leaders who are “planted by the rivers of water” (v. 3) and bring forth fruit in season, or it will be left with unfulfilled expectations. Dead trees can’t bear fruit, and dead men can’t give life.
(5) Waves. Anyone living close to a large body of water has seen the power of waves. Waves can be wild, tossing ships at sea and demolishing buildings on shore. False teachers, according to Jude, are like raging waves: unmanageable, destructive, and dangerous. Their outrageous behavior stirs up and reveals their disgrace, coating the church and her Head, Jesus Christ, with a foam of shame.
(6) Stars. The final snapshot portrays false teachers as wandering stars, most likely meteorites, that shoot across the sky in brilliance then quickly fade to black forever. Before satellites and GPS navigational systems, people used the fixed position of the heavens to set a proper course and follow it. Pursuing wandering stars leads to a dark and gloomy path devoid of light.
Today so many people follow “stars” that rise up, shoot across the sky, and then leave them alone in the dark. Only a proper proclamation of God’s Word provides light for life’s path. A church without light is easily misled.
In verses 14–15, Jude returned to his previous theme of judgment with a modified quotation from the familiar, non-canonical Book of Enoch. The use of a nonbiblical source is neither cause for concern nor an affirmation of the book. The coming of the Lord with His angels to judge the ungodly has been a common theme in religious literature through the ages. Led by the Holy Spirit, Jude slightly modified this prophecy to drive home the point that God’s judgment is a truth that has been declared from the beginning:
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
The repeated use of the word ungodly stresses the stark reality of the lifestyles and words of those who speak against Christ. God will “execute judgment on all”—not only on the false teachers, but also on those who follow them.
The book of Jude sounds like a blaring warning to the church today. When false teachers attack the faith and infiltrate the ranks, Christians need a strong, in-your-face warning that makes them take a hard look at reality. Jude accomplished this feat in his visually descriptive epistle. It isn’t pretty.
Now is the time to open our eyes, stand up, fight the good fight, and contend earnestly for the faith without delay. The church is taking on water and leaning to one side. It is important to root out false teachers before they shipwreck the church, leaving it starving, thirsty, disappointed, disgraced, and lost.
- James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 3. Logos Bible Software 4.