Unmasking The Apostate
The winds of apostasy are raging worldwide. Such news is not new or startling, for the Bible predicted that in the last days apostates would flood into the church with their heretical teachings. Many Christians are confused over the distinction between an apostate and a heretic. The word apostate means “to stand away from.” He is one who professed to have accepted Christ but knowingly rejects His deity and redemptive ministry; thus, he does not possess salvation. Often his character and lifestyle are contrary to what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, the word heresy is from a Greek word meaning “to choose.” The heretic possesses salvation but chooses to hold erroneous teachings which conflict with true biblical doctrine. Both the apostate and the heretic are in error, but the heretic is redeemed where the apostate is not.
In this section, Jude made one final attempt to unmask the true character of the apostate and warn the church concerning his deceptive practices.
Character of the Apostate
Jude began by presenting six word pictures to describe the apostate’s character. He wrote concerning the worthless worship of these apostates, calling them “spots in your love feast” (v. 12). The love feast was a Sunday evening meal brought to the local church, shared by all members, and concluded with the Lord’s Supper. The meal was to be an expression of corporate love within the church, but it rapidly degenerated into drunkenness and disorder (1 Cor. 11:20-22), soon to be held separately from the Lord’s Supper.
The apostates had crept into these holy love feasts spotting them with their defiled character and conduct. The Greek word for spot can be translated “hidden rocks” and was so used since the time of Homer to denote a rock hidden, just under the surface of the water on which ships, unaware of the danger, crashed.1 The church was to guard against such men who would make spiritual shipwreck of their fellowship.
Second, Jude called these apostates wicked shepherds, for they were “feeding themselves without fear” (v. 12) within the church. The word “feeding” means to tend a flock of sheep, thus to shepherd. The shepherd is to feed, care, nurture and protect the sheep. The apostate shepherd did the opposite by exploiting the sheep and gratifying his own appetites at their expense (Ezek. 34:2-8; Isa. 56:11; Jn. 10:12-13). They did it “without fear” (v. 12) or without any conscience of wrong.
Today there are many so-called shepherds (spiritual leaders) who pretend to care, nurture, direct and protect the Christian, when all along they are fleecing the sheep. They build their own empires by living sumptuously off what the sheep provide and give little or nothing in return. Amazingly, many Christians continually support such religious leaders, even when their immoral and financial irresponsibility has been proven.
What a contrast to Jesus the Good Shepherd who cares, nurtures, protects and gives His “life for the sheep” (Jn.10:11).
Third, Jude described these apostates as waterless clouds: “clouds they are without water, carried about by winds” (v. 12). The farmer in Israel was always in need of rain. He would be encouraged when dark clouds appeared on the horizon promising rain to his thirsty fields. More often than not, his hopes were dashed when the winds carried these dark clouds past his field without dropping rain.
So it was with the apostate whose appearance, manner and talk aroused great expectation. They seemed to be shepherds who could provide spiritual refreshment to the thirsty soul. But the opposite was true. Since they lacked the water of God’s Word, they left their bearers spiritually dry.
Many preachers, posture as men who can give spiritual refreshment, but their bearers go away thirsty. Their hollow messages on humanistic goodness, love and unity, principles for positive mental attitudes, methods which will produce physical healing and financial prosperity will provide little refreshment to a thirsty soul. Only the sound teaching of God’s Word can quench man’s spiritual thirst.
Fourth, Jude described them as withered trees. The phrase “whose fruit withereth” (v. 12) is made up of two Greek words, phthino, “to waste away” and opora, “autumn.” 2 Thus, it has reference to autumn trees without any fruit.
Autumn is the time when fruit trees should be bowing over with productivity, ready to be harvested; but these trees were fruitless. Since the time mentioned was late autumn, the trees were not only fruitless but leafless, giving an appearance of death.
The fruitless and leafless tree is a threefold picture of the apostate. First, he is “without fruit” or devoid of spiritual character and conduct. Second, he is “twice dead.” Spiritually dead inside he gives an outward appearance of his condition as do leafless trees in late autumn. This figure is not teaching that these men were true believers and are now lost because of their apostasy, Jude was teaching that these men were spiritually dead while they lived (1 Tim. 5:6). The Bible speaks of a “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8) in the lake of fire which all apostates will experience after the Great White Throne Judgment. This is not an annihilation of the individual, for they are “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10) in the lake of fire. Third, they are to be “plucked up by the roots” (v. 12). In God’s eyes they had already been uprooted and judged, having their doom sealed. A rootless tree has no life and will never produce fruit. Men without roots and fruit are like branches that are withered. They are gathered up and burned in the fire (Jn.15:6).
The fruitful believer is pictured as a tree planted by a river, producing fruit at the proper season (Ps. 1:3). Only those connected to Christ, the life-giving vine, can produce spiritual fruit: (Jn. 15:5).
Fifth, Jude described the apostate as “Raging waves” (v. 13) or a wind tossed sea. A raging wave is wild, fierce and untamable, depositing spewed up mire and dirt wherever it flows (Isa. 57:20). Here is a picture of the restless, untamed passions and appetites of the apostate who constantly smashes against barriers put in place by God to restrain and restrict his wickedness. 3 He spews forth his shameful words and acts like foam which has no substance. It rides on the crest of the waves until it hits a barrier then vanishes away.
Sixth, Jude described apostates as “wandering stars” (v. 13). He was not referring to the fixed stars by which travelers would get their bearings. These were like meteors or shooting stars which streak across the sky with great brightness and vanish quickly into the darkness of space, never to shine again. They give no light, direction or guidance to the traveler.
The apostate is similar. He appears on the scene with a big flash professing to bring new light to spiritual pilgrims, but in reality he guides people into deep darkness with himself.
Jude said that such men have their destiny sealed in hell. The word “reserved” (v. 13) denotes that their fate is firmly fixed forever. The intensity of their damnation is amplified by the words, “blackness of darkness” (v. 13). Those who follow such apostate teachers will suffer the same end.
Today many Christian leaders are put in the limelight and presented as luminaries of the truth to whom God has given special gifts to direct, teach and heal the faithful. Christians flock to such men believing that God has given them special illumination or revelation which will bring extraordinary blessing to their lives. More often than not such men prove to be fallen stars who streak across the religious world and vanish into disgraceful obscurity. One should be very careful in whom they believe and follow after and to whom they give support. They might seem to be a bright light at first, but they soon turn out to be fallen stars.
Condemnation of Apostates
Jude presented a word from Enoch concerning the Lord’s judgment at His Second Coming: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these” (v. 14). This is not the Enoch from the line of sinful Cain (Gen. 4:17) but the Enoch from Seth’s line, the son of Jared (Gen. 5:19-24). Enoch was a man of faith (Heb. 11:5) who “walked with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24) in close communion and fellowship for some three hundred years after the birth of his son Methuselah. His character and conduct testified against the corrupt and godless age in which he lived. He was a prophet who preached that the Lord would come and execute judgment against the ungodly of his day (Jude 14-15). He lived in total obedience to his Lord and “had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). Enoch’s end was glorious; he “walked with God, and he was not; for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). The writer of Hebrews interpreted the meaning of “God took him”: “Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him” (Heb. 11:5). The word “translated” means to change or to be transferred to another place. Enoch was bodily transferred from earth to paradise without seeing death.
Enoch’s translation to paradise is a picture of living Christians being raptured to Heaven when Christ comes for His Church (1 Th. 4:17). The two translations are not strictly the same since Christians are in their glorified bodies after the Rapture, something that Enoch could not experience prior to Christ’s resurrection and glorification (1 Cor. 15:22-23, 51-53).
The removal of Enoch prior to God’s universal judgment on the antediluvian age is no doubt a picture of the Church being raptured prior to the Great Tribulation.
Jude’s statement concerning Enoch’s prophecy is similar to one recorded in the Apocryphal book of Enoch (Enoch 1:9) which did not surface until the first century B.C. Different views are held concerning Jude’s possible use of Enoch. Many believe that he quoted directly from Enoch. Some believe that Jude received the words directly from God. Others believe he quoted an oral tradition which was in circulation at the time of his writing. 4 Even if Jude had quoted from a noncanonical book such as Enoch, this does not prove that it is inspired nor that Jude considered it inspired. Paul quoted from a number of noncanonical sources in his writings which he did not endorse. It is possible that the Holy Spirit led Jude to use a true statement concerning Enoch that was also recorded in the Apocryphal book of Enoch.
The first part of this prophecy dealt with the Second Coming of Christ, “Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints” (v. 14). There are a number of interesting truths revealed by this prophecy. The verb “cometh” (came) is in the past tense. Even though the prophecy awaits future fulfillment, Jude stated it in the past tense in order to confirm and emphasize the absolute certainty of the Lord’s coming. He is coming with “ten thousands of his saints”, literally an innumerable multitude or unlimited number. The saints (holy ones) will include angels, the Church, Old Testament believers and the Tribulation saints martyred for their faith. Notice that the prophecy began with “Behold,” indicating that the reader is to pay specific attention to the eschatological coming of Christ.
One purpose for Christ’s coming is to implement the wrath of God, “To execute judgment upon … all that are ungodly” (v. 15). Although this judgment will not be by flood as in the days of Noah, it will be universal in scope. The word “ungodly” is used four times to emphasize why judgment must come on these individuals.
Another purpose of His coming is “to convict all that are ungodly” (v. 15). He will present irrefutable evidence of their guilt so that they are without appeal. The evidence will deal with two areas of their lives: First, “all their ungodly deeds” (v. 15) will be judged, those actions which came forth from their depraved nature; second, “all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (v.15). The word “hard” means harsh, stern, rough and offensive remarks made against Christ. God keeps the records, and men will have to give account for every idle word they have spoken in the day of judgment (Mt, 12:36). At the Great White Throne Judgment, the books of man’s deeds will be opened, and each man will be judged according to his works (Rev. 20:13).
Conduct of Apostates
In verse 16, Jude provided a summary of the apostates’ ungodliness. First, they were “murmurers” (v. 16). The murmurer is a discontented person who grumbles in an undertone, muttering against God, believers or anything that does not fall in line with his will. 5 Second, they were “complainers” (v. 16) or faultfinders, ones who spoke out against the faults in others but did not recognize or acknowledge the faults in their own lives. Third, they were “walking after their own lusts” (v. 16) or ordering their conduct after immoral desires which burned in their hearts. Fourth, they spoke “great swelling words” (v. 16). They bragged about themselves with great arrogance using bombastic speech to express their knowledge of God or things spiritual. Fifth, they held “men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (v. 16). These men flattered influential people in order to impress them for personal gain, whether it be popularity, position, prestige, power or profit.
Many Christians live like the apostates! Strong statement but true. They grumble under their breath against things which do not go according to their will. They find faults in others but are unwilling to recognize or admit shortcomings pointed out by Christian brother or sister. They live with immoral lust burning in their breasts and satisfy their desires in secret. Some brag proudly concerning their knowledge of God or things spiritual. Many flatter pastors or church leaders for personal gain.
As the Church age draws to a close, apostasy will be manifested worldwide like never before. Jude has unmasked the character of the apostate so that Christians can be discerning and not become prey to the pitfalls of their distorted teachings and deceptive tactics.
We must make periodic checks concerning our commitment in order to guard against any heretical teachings which could lead us astray. Jude would strongly warn: Make sure you possess salvation! Make sure you are grounded in sound biblical doctrine! Make sure your character and conduct measure up to a godly walk.
- Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: Jude (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1940), Vol. IV. p. 249.
- Ibid., p. 250.
- D. Edmond Hiebert, “Selected Studies from Jude, Part II: An Exposition of Jude 12-16,” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September, 1985), p. 243.
- Edward C. Pentecost, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Jude (Wheaton: Victor Books,1983), p. 922.
- Hiebert, op. cit, p. 247.