Bible Study Series: The Book of Jude - The Acts of the Apostates
Bible Study: Jude 12-13: Selfish Shepherds and Fruitless Trees
By Fraser Gordon
2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The book of Jude is similar to the letter to Timothy warning us of the dangers concerning our faith and how to hold on to what has been given to us. Jude gives us a warning. It's a negative message because of false people that had come into the fellowship. He wanted to write a message of encouragement to the believers about how great the salvation was that they had received, but he felt compelled by the Spirit to warn them instead about the dangers of impostors and people that had crept in the back door. 2 Timothy tells us that scripture is really important for doctrine, for reproof and for correction. We need the word of God, not only for the positive, but also for the negative so that we don't find ourselves behaving in ways that Jude is calling attention to.
We have previously looked at Jude 1.11 where he talked about the Old Testament examples of Cain, Balaam, and Korah. He gave three different examples so that we don't find ourselves behaving like them. Jude gives his examples in threes and in the next two verses he gives examples from nature which describe more characteristics of false teachers and apostates that were among them.
A hidden reef
Jude 1:12a These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.
The first thing that draws our attention is that there are spots in the love feasts. Other versions say they are hidden rocks. The word here means hidden reef. In other words they could shipwreck your faith. A hidden reef or rock is a seaman's worst fear. The last thing they want to come across is an undetected reef or rock that may shipwreck their boat. I have a friend who is an avid sailor and he's hit two rocks in the ocean, mainly due to human error. The rocks were marked on the charts, they just weren't paying attention. Thankfully it didn't damage the boat to the point of sinking. These people, though, can shipwreck those on the path to the Heavenly City. They can destroy your faith.
The love feasts were feasts of charity in the early church, usually around communion. A time when they would come together and share food. It’s a bit like a potluck dinner where everyone brings a little bit of food to share. These false people came to the fellowship and enjoyed these potluck dinners. They ate everything they could, turning the love feast into an opportunity to indulge themselves without any fear of God. No fear of His righteousness or of holy things. They did this without taking God into account at all. They were feasting on the food, serving only themselves. They were false shepherds, leaders who were supposed to give but instead they took. This is not a new concept. In Ezekiel 34 God addressed the shepherds of Israel at that time.
Ezekiel 34:2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.
And in verse six,
Ezekiel 34:6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them." 7 'Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 "as I live," says the Lord God, "surely because 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"
Here is the same principle as in Jude: the shepherds were false and all they cared about was feeding their own stomachs and looking after themselves. They were supposed to feed the flock, to care for the broken hearted, to look out for those who were struggling. But they didn't. Everything was about themselves. Jude tells us the mark of a false person is that he's in it for what he can get. He won't serve others so they can feast also. It's all about themselves.
Clouds without water
Jude 1.12b They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds;
The imagery Jude uses is beautiful. Water, however, is vital for life in a dry land and is exactly what we need. Rain in the bible and clouds bringing rain is always a picture of God's blessing from above. Water is needed for everything God created, it nourishes life and is the very thing that sustains life. You cannot beat the real thing. At work we use irrigation to keep the golf course alive but you cannot beat rain that comes from the clouds. There's something in it that is greater than the water we provide through irrigation. It nourishes life.
False people are like clouds that are supposed to carry water, refreshment, and life but they don’t - there is no substance to them. When you need rain in a dry land you watch the clouds. Sometimes the clouds look like they might rain, but they've got nothing in them. Nothing to give. They're just blowing across the sky. Jude says false people are like this. False apostles and false teachers are in the church. They have all the nicest clothes and the highest positions and they look like they're going to bring life but they don't. They don't have the ability to bring refreshment to a dry and thirsty soul. Christians need the water of life. We need the word of life to be continually refreshing us and bringing life to our bodies. But these false people have no substance and they can’t help us. Jude may have been thinking of Proverbs 25.14 Whoever falsely boasts of giving Is like clouds and wind without rain. False people are exactly like that. You think they're going to give you a blessing and they give all the appearance that blessings will come. But no, they falsely boast of giving nourishment but don’t deliver.
Jude also says that they are carried or blown about by the winds. Some of these men and women promise much but they are blown by every wind or latest trend that comes through. They always encourage their hearers to get with the programme or they will miss out. When you look back over Christian history, winds have come through and people rush to the latest movement. They rush over thinking it will bring blessing and refreshment to their soul - this is the latest revival! These false people blow this way and that, and unfortunately they lead born again Christians with them in their wake. They rush here and there thinking this is the latest and greatest. I've got to get this! Many of these things are clouds without rain. They don't bring what they should. The promise of refreshment is not there, they are clouds without water carried about by the winds.
Jude 1.12c late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots;
Jude goes on to say they are like barren fruit trees, twice dead. Many fruit trees in that climate would bring fruit twice a year; in spring and autumn. These fruit trees bring nothing, no fruit whatsoever. When it comes to fruit bearing, what did our Lord Jesus Christ say?
John 15.4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
Absolutely nothing. When it comes to fruit trees, everything abides in the vine. All we are Saints is a branch and the only way a branch can produce fruit is because it is connected to the vine, to the root. All its nourishment and its ability to produce fruit comes from the vine and the root of the vine. The vine, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. All we are is a branch. But we are in Him, and the life to produce comes from Him. He alone is the only one who can live His life in us and produce fruit. We abide. You don't see a branch pushing hard to try and produce fruit do you? Flapping itself about trying to work it up. No, the branch can only receive life from the root and from the vine, it's exactly the same for you and I as Christians. Fruit bearing is about abiding and resting. It is about trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to live His life in us and bear fruit through us. It's His business and His life. Fruit can only come as we rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, but alive in us now.
John goes on to say that ‘without Me you can do nothing’. We should underline that because it is so true. We can try as hard as we like to produce fruit but we won't produce anything apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. The only fruit we can produce is through His life that indwells us. For without me, he tells us, and we need to know it, we will do absolutely nothing apart from the Lord Jesus Christ.
False people are barren because they are not connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. They give the appearance of being a branch in the tree and they may use effort and push hard to produce, but only real life can come from the Lord Jesus Christ. So for the Christian, for you and I, it's all about being in the vine, abiding.
Here are a couple of examples
Psalm 1.1 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
First of all the perspective is one of abiding in the Lord Jesus Christ. Having the word of life in our heart, delighting in it, and meditating upon it. The man or woman of God who does these things will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in its season. There are times of growth for us as Christians and times of fruit bearing. There are many other ‘times’ in the season of the Christian life. Times of waiting, times of patience, times of persecution, times of suffering, and times of fruit bearing. Their leaves will not wither when things get hard for the man or woman of God who meditates on the word of God and delights in God's word. Trusting in Christ, you will be planted by the river and fruit will come.
Jeremiah 17.7 "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. 8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
What a beautiful scripture. The one who abides in the Lord Jesus Christ, will be like a tree planted by the river, and he will not fear when heat comes and will not be anxious in the year of drought. All these things will come to us in our Christian life. Yet despite it all, those who trust in the Lord will not cease from yielding fruit. Our calling is to bear fruit. These false apostles and apostates take instead of give. They're like a tree that is barren, producing nothing. I've got one of these trees at home. It's a Cocktail Kiwifruit vine that I bought years ago. There was something wrong with the graft. It gives me no fruit at all. I should cut it out at ground level and plant something else, but it provides a screen where it is. All it does is require maintenance and gives me no fruit whatsoever. The false person is like that they take and they require maintenance, but give no fruit. The only thing that's good for them is to be ripped out by the roots because they produce absolutely nothing.
Jude is so descriptive. Twice dead. I'm not sure what he means by that. Maybe because they don't bear fruit in the spring or autumn. Or it could be a picture of the natural man, that he is born in sin spiritually dead, alienated and cut off from the life of God. If he doesn't repent, he will die a second death and be cast into the Lake of Fire (which is called the second death).
In verse 13 Jude gives two more examples of the characteristics of false people.
Raging waves & wandering stars
Jude 1:13a raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame;
Here Jude likens false people to raging waves of the sea. You would think Jude was a surfer the way he described this. I love the sea and surfing. I love nothing better than watching a big storm at sea. Gone are the days when I tried to surf everything, no matter how big it was. I've been out at times when it's been really big and boisterous. The waves leave a big layer of foam from crashing on the surface. It can be right up around your chest and you've got to paddle through it. It washes up on the beach as well, and leaves a layer of scum on the sand. Have you ever seen it after a big storm? Jude says that these false teachers are like raging waves of the sea that foam up their own shame. They're big, they're boisterous, they're tossed to and fro, but all they leave behind is froth and scum on the beach. So what is froth? It's a mass of small bubbles and nothing else, there's no substance whatsoever. All they're doing is blowing bubbles. It's just like scum on the beach and foam on the waves, just a mass of small bubbles. They're just blowing bubbles.
Jude 1.13b wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
Scripture always links angels with stars, and these false teachers are likened to wandering stars. This could represent those angels that left their abode and came to earth. Stars are interesting, because of their fixed position in the sky sailors used them, before technology was invented, to navigate the seas. Sailors could navigate their way across the water by looking up at the night sky and finding the stars they needed. They would know the direction to go because most stars are in a fixed position. But there are wandering stars that are not fixed. They shoot across the sky. They're amazing to watch but all they do is fade off into the darkness. You can't plan your course on a star like that. You need a fixed star that doesn’t move, something that’s always there so you can depend on it to navigate. In the northern hemisphere, they used the North Star, down here in New Zealand we have the Southern Cross.
These false people are not fixed, they're like a wandering star. You can't fix your position or follow them because they're here one day, they look great, and then they shoot across the sky ending up in darkness. You can't plan your life course on them. Our faith is set on a fixed position - on the Lord Jesus Christ. We fix our position on Him - the light of the world. Revelation 22 says that Jesus is the bright and morning star. And our position is fixed on him. Everything is about the Lord Jesus Christ; about His life, His death and His resurrection that in all things, Colossian tells us, He should have the preeminence. So give me any man or woman in all simplicity that preaches Christ and him crucified and then you know you're on a safe path to the heavenly home. If you were to navigate and plan your life based on these false people, then you'll be led every which way by every wind of doctrine that comes. But our fixed position is the Lord Jesus Christ, He is our bright and morning star, and we centre our life upon his death, His burial, and His resurrection. He is alive and in us now.
They are wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved. Straight away Jude says these people won't get away with it. There is a judgement coming on these apostates and the blackness of darkness is reserved for them. The blackness of darkness is no light whatsoever. You can't get any darker than that. When I read about this, I instantly thought of Moses in Exodus Chapter 10.21-23. One of the judgments on Pharaoh and the Egyptians was darkness and scripture says that it was a thick darkness which could be felt. There was something about the darkness they could feel. Yet God's people had light in their dwellings. What a contrast! What is reserved for the apostates is a judgement, and it is the blackest of darkness, no light whatsoever. But for those who hope in the Lord, and whose trust is in the Lord. Those who have been born again, and taken the shed blood to their account. The just for the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous. His sacrifice for you and me that He might bring us to God. We will always have light in our dwellings as the nation of Israel did when God put darkness in the land of Egypt. If they don’t repent, there is a judgement coming for them. They won't get away with it, which is another constant theme in this book. You do not get away with being false. Judgement will come. What is reserved is the blackness of darkness for ever, its eternal.
Previously Jude compared ungodly men to Cain, Balaam, and Korah. Now we have read that they are as dangerous as sunken rocks, selfish as self seeking shepherds, as useless as rainless clouds, as dead as fruit trees that bear no fruit, and are full of bubbles and froth. They will not get away with any of it and are doomed to judgement if they do not repent. We need to be the opposite of this, we are also called to be lights, like a light on a hill. Daniel 12.3 talks about it and also Philippians.
Philippians 2.12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. 14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life…
Work it out Saints, in other words, let nothing in this book of Jude be in your life or of your character. Our calling is to shine. You don't want to be a wandering star, one that shoots here and there. We want to be lights in the world as we look at the Light of the world. We can only shine if our gaze is upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the bright and morning star. Paul says in Philippians that as we do that, we will become blameless, harmless children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you will shine as lights in the world. The Lord Jesus is the greater light and we are a lesser light. We have our part to play. Reserved for these false people is the blackness of darkness. But God's people will always have light in their dwellings.
God bless Saints. Next time we'll continue on with Jude and look at Enoch’s prophecy, and how the Lord will bring judgement when He returns. I pray that you will find more in these passages and that the word of God would be a blessing to you all. Amen.