Waterless Clouds & Selfish Shepherds | Jude 5-13

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 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.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 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. 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; 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 5-13 ESV

Previously, we have seen how Jude established his letter by identifying himself and his readers. Next was Jude’s purpose for writing and why he chose to do so. He appeals for his audience to contend for the faith against certainly ungodly people that have crept into the fellowship of Christians. Now for the next several verses (making up the bulk of Jude’s letter), he paints a picture of how these people behave, in order that followers of Christ might be able to recognize them. Jude does this through the use of examples and explanations. Verses 5-19 contains five sets of historical texts of false teachers (or their destruction) followed by an explanation for how it pertains to the ones of Jude’s day. For this section of study, we will study the first three sets of texts and explanations. The uniting denominator undergirding these three texts that Jude employs is that they are all examples from history that he applies to the current heretics.

HISTORICAL REMINDERS // VERSES 5-7

To begin, Jude gives a triad of previously punished heretics who typify the condemnation that awaits the false teachers within the church. Jude throws these examples out quickly because they are meant to serve as reminders. He is certain that his readers know the full stories behind the accounts that he cites. However, I do find it odd that he says, “although you once fully knew it.” Since each of these instances exemplifies the judgment of God, I believe that that attribute of God is to what Jude is referencing. Apparently, he is fearful that their certainty in the judgment of God might be faltering. Therefore, he is citing these examples to remind them that God is not slow to judge but will exact His wrath in due time.

The first example of God’s judgment is upon the Israelites. Jude calls to mind the most well-known historical account of the Hebrew people: the Exodus. In case a reminder is needed for us, the Exodus refers to God’s bringing of the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and slavery. For four hundred years, the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians, but God brought them out with many great miracles. However, Jude’s point with this example is that while all the Israelites were taken out of Egypt God still destroyed the unbelieving and rebellious ones among the people. Examples of this judgment upon the unbelieving Israelites include the plague in Number 11, Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16, and the plague of snakes in Numbers 21.

One more note of interest, notice that Jude says that Jesus was the one who led the people of Egypt and destroyed the unbelieving. Studying this verse is difficult because there are many ancient manuscripts that read differently. Some of these read “Lord” and others read “God”; however, the best of these read “Jesus.” Obviously, the New Testament writers have a high Christology and view Jesus as eternally preexistent. John speaks of Christ being with the Father in the beginning (John 1:1). He also writes of Jesus claiming the holy name of God for Himself (John 8:56). Paul even explicitly speaks of Jesus being with Israelites during the Exodus (1 Cor. 10:4). So the idea of Jesus being present in the affairs of the Old Testament is very doctrinal. Yet it is notable how blatant Jude is with his proclamation of Jesus’ status as deity. For us presently, Jude’s statement serves as a sharp reminder that Jesus is both Savior and Judge, full of grace and righteous anger.

Next, Jude discusses rebellious angels. Anytime that spiritual things, such as angels, are brought into the conversation the tendency can quickly lean toward speculation. To be fair, inquisitiveness is a part of human nature; we were created seek after and inquire about things that are great and mysterious to us. Ultimately, this desire was placed within us because God is the great mystery for us to explore, but it often becomes corrupted. One of the defining characteristics of many apocryphal books is the heightened emphasis upon angelic beings; whereas, the Bible tends to deal with such matters in a very frank and matter-of-fact manner. Therefore, we must never inquiry much more than the Bible is willing to say on the issue.

After establishing that thought as a principle for reading about such things as angels, let us discuss Jude’s example. He describes these angels as not staying within their positions of authority and leaving their proper dwelling. Many have taken these descriptions to mean that these are different angels from those that participated in Satan’s rebellion. They cite Jude’s description of the angels being kept under chains in gloomy darkness to mean that these angels did something particularly wrong. This naturally leads them to a certain interpretation of Genesis 6‘s account of the Nephilim. That interpretation claims that angels had sexual relations with human women and thereby produced a race of powerful beings, known as the Nephilim. I tend to not take this view. Instead, I would argue (along with men like Calvin) that these angels are the fallen angels in general. All of the fallen angels abandoned their original positions of authority and proper dwelling in order to attempt usurping God’s throne. Because of this, God has marked them for destruction. The chains and darkness mentioned are likely metaphorical. Each fallen angel is already bound to its punishment, as if in chains, and they are also completely separated from the light of God, leaving them in perpetual night.

The third and final of these first examples are the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this biblical account, Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their sexual immorality and, particularly, their indulgence in homosexuality. Because of their constant and rampant sin, God brought a swift and terrible judgment upon those cities by consuming them with fire from heaven. The connection between the licentiousness of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sensuality of the false teachers should not be ignored. Jude is showing the end result of unrepentant sin. The great fire upon Sodom is only a type of the eternal fire that awaits all those who oppose the LORD. Whether Jew, gentile, or angel, no one is able to escape the just wrath of God, save by the atoning blood of Christ—for humans, that is, since angels cannot be saved from God’s wrath (2 Pet. 2:4).

IN LIKE MANNER // VERSES 8-10

Now that the first set of examples have been given, Jude now turns his focus upon the present day false teachers. “These people also” indicates the correlation between verse 8 and 5-7. The previous examples broadly gave three characteristics: unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. These false teachers also practice similar sins. They are “defile the flesh”, which is immorality. They “reject authority”, which is rebellion. And they “blaspheme the glorious ones”, which is form of unbelief. The glorious ones in question are probably angels. Thus, by blaspheming the angels, they do not believe the angels to be greater in power and might than they are. It seems that all of these behaviors are springing from their reliance upon dreams. Likely, these false teachers were rejecting the Scriptures by placing a superior preference for their own dreams and visions. They were trying to bring new revelation into the faith that was once for all given through Scripture.

Coming off of the ending thought of verse 8, verse 9 then begins our second example/explanation pairing. Jude gives a brief recounting of Michael and Satan battling for the body of Moses. The faithful reader of Scripture will be quick to realize that this account is not found within the Bible. The question is then begged: where did Jude get this story? Most believe the account to come from the apocryphal book, The Assumption of Moses. Though this book is not biblical cannon, by briefly referencing the actual event it describes, Jude is claiming that this battle for Moses’ body took place. Because of the mystery that surrounds this quick-referenced event, it would be very easy to dive into useless speculation, so we will refrain from doing so. Jude’s ultimate goal with this example is to show that Michael did not flippantly slander Satan but relied upon the power of the LORD.

To give an idea of whom Michael is Daniel mentions him three times (Dan. 10:13, 10:21, 12:1). In the third reference, Michael is called the prince of the people of Israel. The book of Revelation also describes Michael as leading the heavenly battle against Satan and other fallen angels. Thus, Michael as an archangel is likely in command over the armies of heaven. Thus, because Michael is a power archangel who defeated Satan in battle, if anyone other than God could oppose Satan directly it would be Michael. However, that is not how the wrestling for Moses’ body went. He simply relied upon the power of God.

The point of contrast between the false teachers and Michael is not that Michael treated the devil with respect, and the moral is not that we should be polite even to the devil. The point of contrast is that Michael could not reject the devil’s accusation on his own authority. Even though the devil was motivated by malice and Michael recognized that his accusation was slanderous, he could not himself dismiss the devil’s case, because he was not the judge. All he could do was ask the Lord, who alone is judge, to condemn Satan for his slander. The moral is therefore that no one is a law to himself, an autonomous moral authority (Bauckham, 61).

The contention between Michael and Satan was the example, here is the application made to the false teachers. In short, Jude calls their blasphemy of angels an example of their ignorance. It is but one example among many of things that they mock but are beyond their understanding. Jude is now broadly applying this principle to include other great truths of the faith as well. In particular, their ignorance of true grace would destroy them. Throughout the Bible, ignorance is never described as bliss; instead, it is always seen as being fatal. By their reliance upon instinct rather than knowledge, they become like animals. Just as an unreasoning animal is not aware that it is being led to the slaughterhouse, so are these people. They are too ignorant to understand that their licentiousness is leading to death.

WOE TO THEM // VERSES 11-13

Here in verse 11 Jude lists three great sinners from the Old Testament and compares the false teachers to them. First, Cain’s sin is found in Genesis 4. Out of anger and envy, Cain murdered his brother Abel in cold blood. Second, Balaam can be read about in Numbers 22-24. He was a non-Israelite prophet that was bribed numerous times to prophesy against the people of Israel. Though the LORD did give some oracles through him, Balaam was far from a godly man; rather, he was only a prophet for the financial gain. Finally, Korah’s rebellion is detailed in Numbers 16. While in the wilderness, Korah attempted to lead 249 other men against Moses; God, however, intervened, causing the ground to open up and swallow Korah and his followers. By comparing the false teachers to these men, Jude is making a very distinct and clear statement about their wickedness. Particular sins that Jude may be outlining are: the anger and envy of Cain, the greed of Balaam, and the insubordination of Korah.

Finally, verses 12-13 are two of the most poetic verses within all of Jude’s short letter. He holds nothing back in providing visual descriptions of the harm and danger of these false teachers.

First, he calls them hidden reefs at the love feasts. Unseen reefs were a lurking danger to ships because they could easily puncture the bottom, causing the whole craft to sink. The love feast is likely a reference to the Lord’s Supper observed by believers. The early church likely practiced Communion as a feast, quite similar to fellowship meals today. Thus, Jude says that they sit among the believers, participating in the Lord’s Supper without fear, but they are like hidden reefs. Though we may not see them presently, they can tear holes in the community of the church if we are not vigilant to watch for them.

Second, Jude says they are shepherds feeding themselves. What a tragic statement! Shepherds are meant to guard and provide for their sheep. They regularly place themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the sheep. Jesus even uses this imagery for Himself, saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). A selfish shepherd is the opposite of Jesus’ character. These false teachers are antichrists, displaying the antithesis of Christ’s nature.

Third, he now uses a series of natural metaphors. They are waterless clouds, swept along by the slightest wind. They are fruitless trees. They are wild waves, vomiting up foam without meaning. They are wandering stars, for whom utter darkness is reserved. Like storm clouds that do not bring rain or fruit trees without fruit, so are these false teachers worthless. Sea foam is likewise without much value, but it also is very temporal, lasting for only a moment. By wandering stars, Jude probably means stars that are inconsistent in the sky. This would have been a problem for travelers who relied upon the stars for navigation. The false teachers are, therefore, worthless, fleeting, and inconsistent.

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