God’s creation teaches us so many wonderful things about Him. Psalm 19:1, for example, says that the heavens declare His handiwork, and Jesus appeals to God’s care of birds and flowers in Matthew 6:25-30 in order to teach us not to worry. I love these Scriptures for helping me see His hand in nature.
Jude, in verses 12-13 of his epistle, draws on nature in a different way. He uses five examples from nature to demonstrate the corruption and ultimate emptiness of false teachers. Look at these two verses within the context of their immediate paragraph:
8Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 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. 12 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; 13 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 8-13 (ESV)
Better yet, open your own Bible, and read Jude’s entire letter (it’s only 25 verses) to get complete context. Remember that context gives us the first, and most reliable, means of interpreting Scripture.
Let’s discuss these five illustrations of Jude’s, and how they apply to apostate teachers. To begin with, Jude reiterates that these people mingle with true believers. Look back at verse 4, which states that they’ve “crept in unnoticed.” Their unnoticed presence in the assembly causes Jude to liken them, in verse 12, to “hidden reefs.” This image conjures up the idea of offshore rocks that, because sailors can’t detect them, cause shipwreck. The presence of false teachers in a church, if left unchecked, can cause an entire church to run aground.
Momentarily, Jude steps away from his nature illustrations to charge that the false teachers “feast with you without fear.” By saying this, he means that they lack reverence for the Lord’s Supper. Notice how he doubles down on his indictment of them by calling them “shepherds feeding themselves.” He deliberately targets false teachers who “minister” for personal gain.
Apparently angered by the thought of how apostate teachers exploit undiscerning Christians, Jude returns to his illustrations from nature, naming the last four in rapid succession, as if to emphasize the appropriateness of their condemnation.
Jude calls the apostates “waterless clouds, swept along by winds” to indicate that they can’t produce anything real because they have no stability themselves. (See Ephesians 4:14 and Proverbs 25:14.) In our own day, certainly, we see a variety of evangelical celebrities caught up in popular doctrinal error, teaching all sorts of bogus theologies that have no Biblical substance.
Accordingly, Jude then compares false teachers to “fruitless trees in late autumn,” producing absolutely nothing.For all their clever words and pretended application of spiritual principles, the neither exhibit the fruit of the Spirit nor lead others to fruitful Christian lives.
As a matter of fact, he insists, they are “twice dead, uprooted.” Unlike most autumn trees, they have no hope of being restored to productivity. These apostates seal their damnation. They’re thoroughly dead!
Jude continues his scathing diatribe in verse 13, perhaps borrowing the image of “wild waves” from Isaiah 57:20. Their seemingly powerful billowing breaks into nothing but foam. They are, as Believers Bible Commentary puts it, “ungovernable, boisterous, and furious. For all their noise and motion, there is nothing to show but the foam of their shame. They glory in what they should be ashamed of and leave nothing of substance and value behind.”
Finally, Jude calls apostates “wandering stars.” In other words, he depicts them as meteors, or comets. He contrasts them with the fixed constellations that assist in navigation. Stars, of course, are necessary for proper navigation. But false teachers, like shooting stars, are unreliable navigational tools. They don’t move in the regulated orbits of Scriptural truth.
Their end is eternal darkness, going back to verses 5-7. As we will see next week, the Lord executes judgment on false teachers justly, condemning them for their persistent rebellion against Him.