Smoke and Mirrors

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 1:12-13 ESV

Jude continues his unrelenting barrage against the false teachers, and he uses symbolic imagery from the realm of nature to do it. These less-than-flattering comparisons leave no doubt as to his opinion of these individuals and the negative influence they were having on local congregations.

His reference to them as hidden reefs reveals his concern that they were operating out-of-sight which made them all that more dangerous. Like a reef lying just beneath the surface of the water, unseen by the pilot of a ship, these individuals existed within the body of Christ, but somewhat hidden from view. And, for Jude, it was important that their presence be exposed so that the church could avoid spiritual shipwreck. It is often the case that those who promote false doctrines choose to remain in the background, quietly promoting their error in relative obscurity. Rather than seeking the main stage and the power of the pulpit, they wield their influence one-on-one, slowly spreading their lies like cancer.

Jude describes them as using the love feast as a platform for their propaganda. The love feast was a regularly occurring feature of the New Testament church. It was a time when the church gathered to share a common meal, centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. This intimate gathering provided the perfect venue for these people to share their views in a relaxed and unassuming atmosphere of mutual love. People would have naturally let their guard down on these occasions because they were gathered together with those they loved and with whom they shared a mutual love for Christ. And these false teachers used those regular gatherings to disseminate their views with no reverence or regard for the Lord’s Table itself. For them, it was nothing more than an opportunity to make their views known. Rather than celebrating and commemorating the truth surrounding Christ’s sacrificial death, they were interested in promoting their lies.

Their interests were purely selfish. Which made their presence at the love feast all that more egregious. They were self-promoters who only cared about making their views known so they could increase their influence over the flock of Jesus Christ for their own personal gain. Which is why Jude refers to them as shepherds who feed themselves. They had no care or concern for the flock. Their actions were motivated by love of self, not love for others. This imagery of the selfish shepherd would have resonated in the agrarian culture. And it would have been very familiar to any of the Jews within the congregation because of its use in the Old Testament Scriptures. God had used this same indictment against the spiritual leaders of Israel.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people–the shepherds of my sheep–for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

These men cared more about their views than they did for the people of God. They had a higher regard for their own personal opinions than they did for the flock of God.

Next, Jude compares them to waterless clouds. In a land where rain could be rare, the presence of a cloud was a sign of hope. It carried with it the possibility of refreshment. But the kind of cloud to which Jude is referring was one that came and went without offering a single drop of rain. They were blown by the wind and disappeared almost as quickly as they came. Their words sounded good, and their teaching seemed to offer hope but, in time, the truth would be known. They were all talk with no substance. They were like clouds that brought no rain. While they might offer temporary relief from the scorching heat of the sun, they would eventually blow over, leaving nothing but parched ground and spiritual thirst in their wake. What a hateful thing it is to offer hope, but no help. What could be crueler than teasing the spiritual thirsty with thoughts of relief, only to leave them in disappointment and despair?

God had strong words regarding all those who attempt to slake spiritual thirst through man-made means.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

The false teaching of these individuals offered false hope. Their words were like a hand-dug cistern riddled with cracks that made it incapable of offering any form of relief.

And Jude is far from done. He calls them fruitless trees. Once again, the point seems to be that they offered hope, but without delivering. A tree, barren of fruit, was of little use. And to make their uselessness obvious, Jude describes them as “doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots” (Jude 1:12 NLT). In other words, they will never bear fruit. His reference to the Autumn was intended to convey the thought that they were in the wrong season for producing fruit. It was impossible. But what made matters even worse was that these “trees” had been pulled up by the roots and were physically incapable of fruit-bearing, regardless of the time of year. The church was never going to receive any benefit because these false teachers were spiritually dead.

As far as Jude was concerned, these people were nothing more than trouble-makers. They stirred up dissension and discord like waves stir up debris and throw it onto the shore. These people were relentless in their efforts, like the repetitive nature of waves breaking on the sand. With each successive wave of their teaching, more lies get deposited into the hearts and minds of the people, with no sign of relief.

Finally, Jude refers to them as wandering stars. Unlike fixed stars that provided seaman and travelers with a constant source of guidance and direction in their journeys, these individual were like planets whose position in the sky was constantly changing. They had the appearance of stars but were unreliable as a navigational point of reference. Depending on the season, they could appear in different locations in the sky, making them completely useless for determining your location or reaching your destination.  Jude describes them as being “doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 1:13 NLT). They were going nowhere. Their fate was sealed, sand the future was certain. Their lies and deceit would leave them marred in their own falsehood and deception, incapable of seeing the truth and experiencing the joy that God offered.

The danger was real, but it was subtle and sinister in its appearance. It tended to remain hidden from view, and when it did appear, it was attractive, offering what appeared to be true hope and help. But it was all smoke and mirrors. And Jude wanted his audience to recognize the false teaching of these people for what it was: A dangerous and deadly threat to the spiritual well-being of the church.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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