“These are the men who are the hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;”
Jude is using a lot of descriptive metaphors when speaking of false teachers. Let’s take them apart piece by piece to get a better understanding of what the Holy Spirit is trying to show us.
“Hidden reefs” is “spilas” in Greek. In Homer’s Odyssey this word was used to denote a reef, but around the fourth century A.D. it began to mean more of a “stain”. With this understanding “spilas” is used regarding a rock or reef in which the sea rolls over or dashes against. Jude is not using this term literally, he is using it metaphorically. In context, this word denotes men and women whose conduct damages other people morally, thereby wrecking them. These false teachers seek to wreck the faith of the believer. How do they do this? They don’t do it by going after the strong in faith. They look for people weak in their faith or new to it. People who have been wounded deeply by their sinful past, or have been hurt deeply by others. They could exploit a man or woman who came from a past of prostitution or sexual promiscuity and say, “You don’t have to wait for sex until marriage as long as you love and plan to marry the person.” They may find someone new in the faith and say, “God loves all people, and because He loves all people, He would never send anyone to Hell.” There are three characteristics of reefs: they are hidden, they can damage or sink a ship, and they are stationary. The only differences between false teachers and reefs is that a false teacher is not stationary. They are a reef that is always on the move looking for someone to wreck. They are the very embodiment of 1 Peter 5:8 as they emulate their father, Satan, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Prowls is “peripateo” and means “to walk around” in such a way as making the most of your opportunities. All the false teacher wants to make you do is deviate in the most minute of ways from the truth, knowing that a minor deviation will lead you further and further away from it. They will waste no opportunity to lead a believer away from God or keep an unbeliever from knowing Him.
These men and women are hidden reefs in your “love feasts”. The love feast was a regular gathering in the early church where they had communion and then shared a meal together. People brought food according to their means. The wealthy usually brought a large amount of food, while the poor brought much less. For the more destitute brethren this would be the best meal that they would get each week. When Jude uses this in the context of love feasts he is only showing an example of how their apostasy arises. A marker, if you will. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul describes an issue in the Corinthian church where some of the wealthy members would devour the large amount of food they brought and even get drunk. The poor were neglected and had little to nothing to eat. Apostates are controlled by their appetites, because lust knows no boundary. They will devour food only having regard for themselves. They are never the last in line, but the first. I have never seen a church in this day and age emulate these love feasts. But if they were held today, you could count on apostates both rich and poor devouring the food, giving no regard to anyone else but themselves. Love is sacrificial, selfishness is not. They do this “without fear”, (aphobos). Alpha “a” is without, and “phobos” is where we get the English word phobia. This word carries a dual meaning: one of reverence and one of trembling/terror. The fear of God is not one or the other, it is both reverence and terror. These apostates do not fear God, and as such they have no shame when they take the last three pieces of bread at a feast when there are hungry people behind them who may have wanted some bread. They feel right at home amongst selfless people, as they will use the brethren for whatever they can take from them. A friend of mine told me about a time when he visited a church and he told the greeter who met him at his car that they were new in town. The person immediately pulled out a card and gave it to him revealing that he was a realtor. I can tell you that this man had no desire to greet the brethren or show philoxenia (love of strangers) to unbelievers. That person was only a greeter for the sole purpose of drumming up business for himself. It’s shameless, yet, this is what apostates do. They have no fear, and as such, they have no shame in any of their undertakings.
You can see that Jude is pointing to the apostates love of self, but he even lists it as a mark, “caring for themselves.” Poimaino is the word used for “caring” and derives from the word “poimen” which means “shepherd”. So you can literally say that apostates are shepherds over themselves, meaning they only look out for number one (themselves). If you have a need, they will not help you unless they can benefit from it in some way. Is it any wonder that the false teacher Paula White asked people to give a full month of salary to her ministry or they would suffer harm for being disobedient to God. She made Yahweh into a mafia Don who will break your legs if you don’t pay up. This prosperity gospel is heresy and she is not afraid to say such folly because she doesn’t fear God. They have no idea Whom they blaspheme. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Woe to the man who is made to eat the fruit of his own doings! That which men eat on earth they may have to digest in hell, and there shall they lie forever digesting the terrible morsels which they ate with so much gusto here below.”
The next phrase Jude uses is “clouds without water.” The Greek word used here is “nephele”. The word is used in the Septuagint to denote the pillar cloud that led Jerusalem through the desert. This was the same cloud that descended upon the temple (1 Kings 8:10). It was God’s Shekinah glory. The Hebrew word used for the pillar cloud meant “nimbus cloud”. It was a cloud that covered the sky. With this said, I do not believe that the imagery Jude is giving us has anything to do with the resemblance of the Shekinah glory cloud. In fact, I believe that Jude, who was living in an agrarian society is using this as an illustration. I have been slowly clearing out my yard and laying Bermuda sod down. When I lay sod I try to do it around a day and time where there will be rain. It is the rain that gets the Bermuda sod to eventually root. There were days that I was planting sod and expecting rain in which I hurried to put the sod into place. I remember on one of these days I saw some really dark and large clouds out in the west moving east towards my home. When the clouds finally came over my home they did not empty one drop onto the ground. I remember the sun coming out shortly after. Apostates give credence to being “clouds without water, carried along by winds.” You see, these false teachers act like they are clouds full of water getting ready to drench us with the truth of God, when in reality they are empty. Because they are empty those under their leadership will not grow, rather they will wither and die. There are so many believers that have followed false teachers and when they left those cemeteries for a real church they began to root, bloom, and come to life through the faithful teaching of God’s word.
“Autumn trees without fruit” is the next illustration Jude gives us. Autumn is a compound word consisting of Ptheiro (to waste away) and Opora (autumn). This compound word speaks of the time at the very end of fall, right as winter would begin. Jude is illustrating apostates as being like barren trees in the winter. They would be dry, cold, fruitless, and leafless. To put it bluntly, they are useless. He then goes on to the next progression from calling them autumn trees without fruit to “doubly dead”. This is very strong language because I believe Jude is speaking about apostates dying a physical death and then a spiritual death. It is appointed once for men to die and then the judgment (See Hebrews 9:27). A believer will only die once, but an unbeliever will die twice.
The final progression of Jude’s tree analogy is “uprooted”. “Ekrizoo” (uprooted) combines the prefix “Ek” (out) which intensifies “rhiza” (a root) giving us the meaning “uprooted” or “to pull up by the roots”. What I find particularly interesting is that I think Jude may have had the parable of the wheat and the tares in mind here. Just follow me as I break down this passage:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot (Ekrizoo) the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them up; but father the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-31.
Notice “ekrizoo” (uprooted) is used. God takes specific care of His children, protecting them from being uprooted. You see, tares look almost identical to wheat when they are growing. The only way to distinguish wheat from a tare is at maturity when they become fruit bearing. The tare (probably a weed called Darnel) will bear no fruit, whereas the wheat will. Likewise, apostates that are in the church will look just like an authentic believer, but like a tare, they will bear no fruit. This is how you can spot an apostate. At the harvest they (apostates) will be separated from the wheat (believers), and like a tare they will be thrown into the fire. These “autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;” are worthless, so they are dug up, being only worthy of fire. The fate of the apostate never ends in eternal life, rather it ends in eternal judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria!