The lengthiest section of this letter gives us a variety of angles from which to view and understand the seductive methods of dangerous religious leaders.
The Problem of False Teachers
Certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men . . . . (v.4a)
Who They Are
These false teachers didn’t announce their presence. Instead, they entered with deception about their real mission and their actual message.
Jude also said that these false teachers “long ago were marked out for this condemnation.” The word for “marked out” means “written beforehand.” Different forms of this Greek root word appear five times in the New Testament and they always refer to a true event that has been clearly written, communicated, or vividly described in the past (gal. 3:1; rom. 15:4; eph. 3:3; jude 4).
The “condemnation” Jude spoke of is a legal term describing a pronounced verdict or a decision rendered by a judge.* The idea associated with the term “ungodly men” is not one of religious neutrality but obstinate opposition. These men actually opposed God. Jesus described this type of person as tares sown among the wheat (mt. 13:36-43). They look and act like the real thing for a time, but eventually they are revealed for what they truly are. Jude is telling his readers that God, the righteous Judge, has already reached a verdict concerning them. They are guilty. Next, Jude will explain the specific nature of their guilt.
What They Do
. . . who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.4b)
These false teachers “turn the grace of our God into lewdness.” They take the liberty that is ours in Christ and turn it into a license to sin. While legalism is equally wrong, Jude reminds us that false teachers are often guilty of going in the opposite direction, using the grace and forgiveness of God to justify ignoring His commands. Paul wrote: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (rom. 6:1-2).
Lawlessness, rooted in rejection of biblical standards, is a common characteristic of false teachers. Paul says that false teachers in the “last days” will bear this mark. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (2 th. 2:3 nasb).
In this statement two concepts are linked—apostasy and lawlessness—and they feed each other. A lack of respect for biblical truth (“the faith which was once for all delivered”) creates lawlessness, which leads to falling from the truth of Christ.
The methods of these false teachers Jude is warning of is also the primary plan of attack that the false teachers of the last days will utilize. One Bible teacher described the strategy of the false teachers portrayed in Jude 4 this way:
• Penetration of the church (“crept in unnoticed”)
• Prostitution of grace (“turned the grace of our God into lewdness”)
• Departure from truth (“[denied] the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ”).
Tragically, these false teachers do more than bring harm to themselves. They damage the reputation of Christ and His church by working their way inside and among the people of God: “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (ti. 1:16).
Because this is an “inside job,” Jude warned his readers to be spiritually alert—watching and wary—and to grow in the truth of the Person and work of Christ. This is our defense against the false teachers.
Three Examples of False Teachers
Jude cited three stories his readers were familiar with.
The Unfaithful People of Israel
But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (v.5)
The Lord had saved them out of Egypt—parting the Red Sea, supplying manna, bringing water from the rock, and providing passage over the Jordan. But despite such miracles Israel did not stay true to their God.
Even pagan neighbors remembered what the God of Israel had done for His people in bringing them out of Egypt (josh. 2:1-13). But God’s chosen nation wandered in a wilderness for 40 years until a whole generation died without seeing the Promised Land. They failed to trust and remain true to the God who had done so much for them. They repeated the error of angels who fell from their heavenly place.
The angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (v.6)
While there is much speculation and hypothesizing about the exact meaning of this passage, Jude’s point outweighs any speculation. He wanted his readers to understand that even angels who had known the presence and service of God were not above rebelling against the Almighty. How much more urgent for us, fallen mortals, to be alert and on guard against the possibility of falling, especially in light of the presence of the corrupting influence of false teaching!
Sodom and Gomorrah
As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. (v.7)
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah resulted from a pattern that has often shown up among the people of God. The sexual perversion and violence of the notorious “twin cities” didn’t just happen. It was the result of self-centered patterns of behavior that violated the creative design of God (see ezek. 16:49-50).
In the sexual immorality that grew out of Sodom’s self-centeredness, they lusted after “strange (heteros, ‘other’) flesh (sarkos, ‘physical body, people, human’).” When these two Greek words appear together they form an idiomatic phrase that means “to engage in unnatural sexual intercourse.” As a result, they suffered divine judgment and were used as an example here in Jude (see also gen. 19).
The lesson learned here is that when anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, human or angel, follows false teaching and subsequently denies God and rejects Jesus Christ that individual stands guilty and can anticipate judgment.
The Conduct of False Teachers
Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (vv.8-10)
Jude identified the false teachers as “dreamers” and then described their conduct. They “defile the flesh,” a phrase that not only describes the moral corruption among false teachers but one that also describes a person who pollutes other members of the community (see 2 pet. 2:1-2).
They “reject authority.” Those who reject the authority of the Bible often reject those who have been put in place by God to protect and lead them. This Greek phrase can be taken to mean that these false teachers refuse to recognize the one who is Lord. They are not just rejecting the message of the Lord but the Lord Himself (jude 4).
They “speak evil of dignitaries.” In verse 9, Jude gave a specific example of this kind of evil speaking by describing a fascinating event: Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
While there have been a number of options put forward for how to understand this passage, the important question is: Why does Jude mention this account here? Jude references the dispute over Moses’ body in connection with speaking evil of dignitaries. But why would Satan want Moses’ body, and how does that relate to evil speaking?
The best answer ties it directly to the issue of blasphemy, which leads to idolatry. Satan’s main goal is not to get people to worship him but to get people to worship anything or anyone but the true God. Satan likely wanted the Israelites, who had honored Moses in life, to worship him in death. In fact, what Satan was unable to do with Moses’ body, he later did with the brass serpent (see num. 21:5-9 and 2 ki. 18:4).
The point of Jude’s reference seems to be that people who wander from the truth end up worshiping things other than the true God. Putting themselves above all else, they foolishly disrespect the power of an evil enemy and even the authority of God.
But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. (v.10)
Jude’s point is that “these” (the “dreamers” of v.8) do against God what Michael would not even do against Satan. Notice how Jude described these dreamers:
• They “speak evil of whatever they do not know.”
• Whatever they know (instinctively) “they know naturally” (by sin nature).
• They are “like brute beasts” (without reason).
• “They corrupt themselves.”
The Judgment of False Teachers
Jude’s evaluation was to mourn: Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. (v.11)
Amazingly, they do all this in the face of the One who loves them and gave Himself for them—the One who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 pet. 3:9).
The Portraits of False Teachers
Jude used everything at his disposal to unveil the real character and agenda of false teachers. Here he turns his attention to nature. In verses 12-13, he used five word-pictures to describe false teachers.
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. (v.12-13)
The early church met together regularly to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and share a common meal called the “Love Feast.” The more affluent members of the church shared their abundance of food with the less fortunate. But the false teachers spoken of in verse 12 cared only for themselves, gorging themselves and leaving nothing for others. (The church in Corinth experienced a similar problem with their meals, see 1 cor. 11:20-22.)
Next, Jude called them “clouds without water.” They were like clouds that promised refreshing rain but delivered nothing. They were useless because they themselves didn’t have the water of life (jn. 7:38-39).
Jude then used the picture of “late autumn trees without fruit.” A fruit tree that fails to deliver a harvest is useless to its owner and must be plucked up by the roots to make room for productive trees. False teachers produce no good fruit because they are spiritually dead. And they are described as “twice dead,” because someday they too will be “pulled up by the roots.” Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (mt. 15:13).
Next, Jude described false teachers as “raging waves of the sea.” They promise powerful ministry but rant and rave without form or content, “foaming up their own shame.” This is not cleansing foam but rather is the result of turmoil and brings about pollution. The metaphor parallels the warning of Isaiah 57:20, which says, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”
Finally, Jude compared these false teachers to “wandering” or shooting stars. They are lawless and directionless; they do not follow the natural pattern for stars. As a result they have a reserved judgment of eternal darkness waiting for them.
How is the church to respond to these dangers? The apostle Paul responded with a broken heart and with the Word of God’s grace, which both builds up and gives an eternal inheritance (acts 20:31-32). But for those who reject the authority of God and the person of Jesus, only judgment remains.
The Destiny of False Teachers
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.” (vv.14-15)
Here Jude referred to an extra-biblical account to make his point.
Enoch’s prophecy pointed forward to a time of judgment—the last days and the return of Christ. When Christ returns, He will come with “ten thousands of His saints” (see rev. 19:11-14) to establish His kingdom on the earth, a kingdom that He will rule for a period of 1,000 years (see rev. 20:4-6). At the conclusion of the 1,000-year kingdom, Jude confirms Enoch’s prophecy that Christ will “execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly.”
The key English word in verse 15, used four times, is “ungodly.” It is used to translate the Greek words asebeia, asebeo, and asebes. These three words have the general meaning of “godlessness,” with asebeia and asebeo giving more force to ungodly practices while asebes focuses on the state of living without religious beliefs. The former deals mainly with doing things that are ungodly while the later focuses on being ungodly.
The force of using this illustration lets us know that Jude considers these “dreamers,” who have infiltrated the church, to be evil. They are not just people who participate in ungodliness, they are themselves ungodly.
The Tactic of False Teachers
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. (v.16)
Jude offers yet another description of these dangerous spiritual leaders. First, they are “grumblers.” The word grumble refers to a discontentment that produces rebellion. This action is seen in Israel’s grumbling against God (num. 14:2; 1 cor. 10:10), the crowd grumbling against Christ (jn. 6:41,61), and the church grumbling against the apostles (acts 6:1-2). Grumbling creates an environment of discord and dissension that makes the community of faith vulnerable to disruption.
Jude also described them as “complainers,” a word that connotes the idea of blaming. Many people blame others for their lot in life. In the Bible, we see this blame-shifting from the very beginning. Adam blamed Eve (and God), and Eve blamed the serpent for their sinful choices (gen. 3). We have been blame-shifting ever since.
Next, false teachers are seen as “walking according to their own lusts.” This speaks of people habitually driven by their own desires. It is a self-destructive characteristic can only be overcome through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (gal. 5:16).
Additionally, false teachers “mouth great swelling words.” They speak eloquent but seductive words—words that Shakespeare would describe as being “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Again we see parallels to 2 Peter, which uses the same Greek idiom to describe false teachers: For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error (2:18).
One expression of these grand words is “flattering people to gain advantage.” These false teachers cater to their hearers rather than speak the truth. This contrasts with true teachers of God’s Word, who are devoted to speaking the truth in love rather than seeking the favor of public opinion. Paul warned against the flattering speech of false teachers when he wrote: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 tim. 4:2-4)
Spiritual leaders who want to faithfully represent their Lord must constantly remind themselves that their commitment is to the Word of God, not to flowery speech or ear-tickling strategies. With gratefulness for what God has done for us in Christ, we need to share the heart and mind of Jude—for the sake of God and others.