Keep Yourselves in God’s Love––An Exposition of Jude’s Epistle (10): Empty Promises

Woe to them because they walked in Cain’s way and committed themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of pay and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These false teachers are hidden reefs at your love feasts by feasting with you without reverence, shepherds feeding themselves, waterless clouds carried away by the winds, autumnal trees that are twice dead and uprooted, 13 wild waves of the sea that are foaming their own shame, wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been kept forever.
Jude 11–13 (author’s translation)

I will not entertain debate when I assert that one of America’s great cultural legacies is Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner, chronicling the coyote’s continual but always failing quest to catch and eat the Road Runner. They live in the desert with lots of plateaus and rock faces, and one of the coyote’s repeated mistakes is that he chases the Road Runner off a cliff and plummets down to a painful landing. In these instances, the Road Runner travels so fast that he runs straight through the air to the other side of the ravine. The coyote gets so focused on chasing him that he too runs over the cliff but does not immediately realize that he has no more ground underneath him. After a few moments hanging mid-air, he realizes his mistake and the consequences of his actions take effect, so that he drops to a painful crash at the bottom of the canyon.

Jude 11–13 highlights how the false teachers who had crept into the church were standing in mid-air. They had not realized that they ran over a cliff. Although their plummet had not yet begun, it was only a matter of time before the consequences of their actions took effect. Jude wrote to a church that had been infiltrated by false teachers who had corrupted grace and denied Christ’s lordship. They were perverting grace to support their godless lifestyles. So, the difficulty is that there were genuine unbelievers who were recognized and working within the true church even as teachers. We have to reckon with the hard fact that unbelievers can participate in the administration of the covenant of grace without truly partaking of its substance, salvation in Christ, by faith. Jude 11–13 notes that woe, a curse, is upon the false teachers because they are like so many other godless leaders who have preceded them.

Three New Examples

Throughout verses 5–10, Jude outlined three well-known examples of God’s judgment on sinners, followed by an explanation of how that judgment applied to the false teachers in the church to which he wrote. In verses 11–13, he restarts the cycle with another three examples of people who led others into sin.1 Jude did not simply repeat his point though because this cycle of example and application advances the point from forcefully stating their sin to more emphatically stating its consequences. In other words, whereas Jude had been explaining the ways the coyote ran off the cliff, now he marks the implication that they would certainly fall into the chasm. The false teachers were like the coyote who went too quickly after what he wanted without realizing the consequences. Now, verse 11 states the consequence. They are cursed. The deliverance of woe is a curse.

Even though Jude has been very clear about the situation already, he proceeds to state the reasons for their woe again. Verse 11: “Woe to them because they walked in Cain’s way and committed themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of pay and perished in Korah’s rebellion.” The false teachers whom Jude addressed were replicating the behavior of three notorious sinners who led others astray. Cain, in many Jewish writings, was the paradigmatic heretic because he rejected God’s authority about what constituted acceptable sacrifice.2 Balaam, although at first reluctant to team up with king Balak, in Numbers 31:16 devised the plan for Moabite women to use sexual temptation to lure Israelites to sacrifice to pagan gods.3 In Numbers 16, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and made himself the preeminent example of rebellion and antinomianism. That it was Korah’s rebellion shows how he drew others along with him in his rejection of God’s authority through the leaders appointed over the covenant community.

These three examples highlight the reasons that woe is upon the false teachers because they are following the path of quintessential sinners who lead others into sin. The false teachers were like anchors tied to the feet of church members as they tread water in the Christian life. They were pulling them down as they plunged themselves into the depths of sin. The examples show us how risky doctrinal error is. The examples promised great achievement but led people to ruin. We cannot fly by the seat of our spiritual pants in the Christian life but must be grounded in the sure guidance of God’s Word and trustworthy teachers.

Empty Offerings

If verse 11 informed the false teachers that hung mid-air over a ravine of consequences, verses 12–13 explained the effect that they have on the church community. The six illustrations show how the false teachers promise nourishment and sustenance but fail to deliver. They should provide needed resources but instead try to lead others into sin.4 They prove empty despite what they claim to offer.

Maybe you have had the experience at a soda fountain where the machine is out of syrup. You think that you will get something pleasing and helpful out of the beverage spout you have chosen. Instead, you get a cup full of carbonated water. Maybe you do not even notice the problem and take a big swig, only to have your tongue battered with that bitter swill rather than your refreshing drink of choice. The false teachers were like a deceptive, empty soda fountain, promising something good but providing nothing but rubbish.

Jude’s six illustrations in verses 12–13 show how the false teachers falsely advertise nourishment but ultimately rob people of more than they provide. They are like hidden reefs. Reefs hide beneath the water’s surface, and the appearance of a clear course evaporates as they surprisingly strip the bottom out of a boat.5 False teaching can appear like open water, smooth on the surface but will eventually blast holes in our ship.

We should pause for reflection because these false teachers are hidden reefs specifically at the church’s love feasts—namely, their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.6 These ungodly ones bring their immorality to the Lord’s Table, flaunting their debauchery. This problem of these hidden reefs in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was so serious because it may have suggested to other church members that practicing Christians can live in flagrant sin and still have a credible profession of faith.7 In other words, these sinners should have been excluded from the table.

Jude’s problem gives us the opportunity to reflect upon the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper, especially commending more frequent (weekly) celebration of it. We might think that a valid response to this problem is to have the Supper infrequently, because then people like the false teachers could not access it much. That option, however, does not get at the real problem. One commentator noted that Jude homed in on the heinousness of the false teachers’ presence at the Lord’s Supper because the love feasts “were the focal point of the common life of the Christian community.”8 The practical point is that persevering with regular observance of the Lord’s Supper would bless those with true professions of faith and excluding the false teachers would turn them from hidden reefs into exposed reefs.

To put a more practical point on it, infrequent communion allows those who might lead believers astray to continue in the regular patterns of church life without people being aware of the danger. The proper solution is not less frequent communion, but frequent communion with vigilant church discipline. Even if someone were under disciplinary censure, infrequent communion allows them to go unnoticed—that is, remain a hidden reef—because they could easily avoid the consequences of being blocked from the table, since the table is hardly ever set.

Frequent communion is, on one hand, a blessing to God’s people as a means of grace to build us up in grace and godliness as God’s promise to give Christ to us by faith as much as Christ gave Himself for us in His life, death, and resurrection. On the other, it blesses to protect believers who have credible professions of faith so we know which of our neighbors are trustworthy guides in living for Christ and which neighbors need our love through exhortation to turn away from their sin so that they might be restored to our table. How beautiful to be fortified and to expose our hidden reefs by following apostolic practice.

The Lord’s Supper is supposed to be for spiritual nourishment, but these false teachers had made it into a moment of difficulty for God’s people. Likewise, Jude illustrated other aspects of how they promised provision to the church but truly looked to lead them astray. Citing Ezekiel 34:2 about self-feeding shepherds, Jude notes that they feed themselves rather than the sheep.9 They claimed to have God’s truth for the church but were interested only in satisfying their lawless instincts and passions.

Drawing on Provers 25:14, Jude noted that the false teachers are waterless clouds directed by other forces.10 In a desert context, water is precious, and clouds promise needed refreshment. The raincloud drifting along promising needed nourishment that disappears at the last moment is like a dissolving taste of hope. Christians likewise long for restorative teaching. Although these teachers promised that provision, they denied it to them like unwrapping a present to find an empty box.

They also should have had nourishing fruit but were barren. They were teachers and the season had come for them to bear fruit to feed the flock. Yet, even dressed in full leaf, these false teacher’s branches lack anything to nourish God’s people (Mark 11:12–25). So, again the consequences will come upon them, the first and second death will befall them as they are judged and uprooted.

Instead of the nourishment of refreshing water or restoring fruit, they spewed foam good for nothing. Using Isaiah 57:20, Jude noted how they are like waves that stir up the sea, churning silt and dirt throughout the waters.11 So, they agitate the woe that is to come upon them, tossing up their own shame as they deliver false descriptions of God and His grace.

Stars used to be a key navigational tool because of their predictability. Rather than charting clear and reliable courses, these teachers were wandering all about the sky, misdirecting God’s people to follow unreliable and dangerous paths. These heretics give empty offerings by claiming truth and direction for God’s people but lack the substance they promise. They provide no nourishment and strive after their own desires instead.

Exact Satisfaction

If these heretics show themselves as sinful teachers trying to lead God’s people astray by taking a prominent role but being truly empty, the question is what should they have offered to God’s people? Although it sounds very obvious, the exact thing these teachers were lacking—but the exact thing God’s people need to hear—is Christ. In verse 4, Jude noted that the teachers “are altering our God’s grace into sensuality and are denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.” They were caught on what they wanted and neglected Christ. They focused on their own desires, their fleshly longings, the things they “understand instinctively” with their sinful minds (v. 10). Focused on themselves, they had forgotten Christ.

We see quite simply how our greatest need is Christ. We have no more pointed or fundamental need than the gospel. We all easily lean into what we understand instinctively and into our temptations. We need the clear and unperverted message of grace, the affirmation of Christ.

Jude’s illustrations get right to the heart of that need. Because each one shows how much we need care. Our souls get hungry, needing a shepherd to give us food. Our souls get dried out, needing a cloud to bring rain. Our hearts get bitter and tacky, crying out for the refreshing nectar from sweet fruit from spiritual trees. We are prone to tumult and need the storms within us calmed. And we so easily lose our way, desperately needing a reliable guide through the dark night of the soul.

In this age, we will feel worn out, parched, bitter, unsettled, or lost. You, reader, may feel the need for critical nourishment, rest, or direction. Jesus Christ is our shepherd, the bright and faithful star charting the course through all life’s raging seas toward restful plains ripe with refreshing fruit and restoring water. Whatever our soul might need, Christ is our exact satisfaction.

Christ can be our exact satisfaction in the Christian life as we walk with Him because He has made exact satisfaction for all our sins to make us right with God. He followed the perfect course of life so that, rather than charting a path to doom, He has gone before us into heaven, having earned our citizenship there. He went to the cross to bear the penalty for our transgression. Rather than casting foam of condemnation upon us, having been justified by faith we have peace with God. He rose from the grave, so that rather than leaving us twice dead, He plants us in everlasting life. Being justified by faith alone, we are not left drifting like wandering stars, but have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts to lead us in all truth.

Whereas false teachers do nothing but take, draining God’s people of all our sustenance for their own benefit, Christ gave Himself for us and gives Himself to us, having made and still being our exact satisfaction.

©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

Here is the entire series so far.


1. Richard Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 78; Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 68; Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 87, 88–89; Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (New American Commentary; Nashville, TN; B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 461; Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 256.
2. Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter, 79–80, Davids, 2 Peter and Jude, 65; Green, Jude and 2 Peter, 90.
3. Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter, 81–82; Green, Jude and 2 Peter, 91; Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 464; Davids, 2 Peter and Jude, 66–67; Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, trans. John Nichols Lenker (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1990), 295.
4. Bauckham, Jude-2 Peter, 79.
5. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 259.
6. Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter, 85; Green, Jude and 2 Peter, 94–95; Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 465; Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 259; Davids, 2 Peter, and Jude, 69–70.
7. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 259; Davids, 2 Peter and Jude, 69–70.
8. Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter, 85.
9. Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter, 87; Green, Jude and 2 Peter, 95; Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 466; Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 259.
10. Bauckham, Jude–2 Peter, 87; Green, Jude and 2 Peter, 96; Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 466; Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 259; Davids, 2 Peter and Jude, 70–71.
11. Bauckham, Jud–-2 Peter, 88–89; Davids, 2 Peter and Jude, 73.


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One comment

  1. Dr. Harrison Perkins,
    Thank you for translating Jude, newly.

    Thank you for writing this commentary on Jude that takes seriously the warning in Jude 1-4 and now on 11-13.

    It appears that every gathering of His beloved saints has men and women (in our midst) whose confession is questionable. And many of these are in offices, or positions of leadership. It is evidenced by the confusion and mis-use of Scripture regarding God’s Plan for marriage between His beloved saints, one husband and one wife.

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