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Text: Jude 8-11
"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."
What False Teachers are Really Like
Jude has just finished reminding his readers how God had in the past repeatedly demonstrated his determination to carry out judgment when justice required it. Those who persistently refused to respect his order for the world he had made had been punished and this should be seen as a warning for God does not change.
Now Jude begins to apply this a little more closely to the case of the false teachers who had penetrated the church of his day. These false teachers were causing trouble and, in essence, they were acting in similar ways to those who had been judged in the past. Such teachers, Jude writes, could expect no other treatment regardless of what they might try to suggest to the contrary.
As Jude continues he provides the Christians to whom he writes with a description of some of the features that characterise those false teachers. This description is designed to help us both to recognise a false teacher should we meet with one and also to help us understand their pretentious claims for what they really are.
Jude’s Unflattering Description
False teachers like in one way or another to make out, by their words or by their behaviour, that they are somehow special people. Some will suggest that they have a special immediate knowledge of some truth that has not been made readily available to others before them; while others may prefer to give the impression that they possess an elevated spiritual status and perhaps a power that is out of the ordinary.
Jude’s appreciation of them is rather different: he refers to them over and over again simply as "these people" vv.8, 10, 12. Were these false teachers really a cut above the rest as they thought of themselves? No, comes Jude’s answer. They might like to think they’re equal to or even superior to the angels, they may not hesitate to put their own authority on a par with that of the Lord Jesus, they may even in practical terms deny him altogether but at the end of the day they’re not special at all, they’re just men like others – "these people".
And "these people" are characterised by certain traits that Jude highlights for us:
Instead of holding on to the "faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints" (v.3) these people relied upon something else, something different. It might all have the appearance of being new and fresh but it was in reality simply based upon their own dreams, they were nothing more than dreamers v.8 and dreamers who would follow their dreams rather than the truth.
There are plenty of folk like this around still today. People are always on the lookout for something new, so, a new take on an old truth is easily promoted and soon becomes a replacement "truth" as the old is quietly set to one side. And how easy it can be for churches to move away from the revealed truth contained in the Bible to something that has the appearance of being modern, containing a certain excitement, and claiming to be somehow relevant!
But for all the pretensions of these people to be part of a super-spiritual elite with wonderfully helpful insights to help the church Jude maintains that their actual conduct shows something totally different. Instead of being high and exalted beings they actually behave, in Jude’s assessment, no better than animals as they follow their animal instincts and lusts in an uncontrollable way v.10.
And the kind of behaviour they exhibit flows from this faulty foundation is not unsurprisingly faulty as well:
They defile the flesh ie. they defile their own bodies through sexual immorality.
They reject authority – they won’t heed the properly appointed leaders in the church and they even go so far as to sidestep the authority of the Lord Jesus by giving precedence to their own private "revelations" than to his revealed truth.
They arrogantly use blasphemous or slanderous language as they relate to celestial beings justifying such behaviour as a mark of their own supposed superiority.
We must pause for a moment with v.9 where Jude refers to a incident that is not recorded in the Bible. (He will do the same later in the letter too in v.14 where he refers to Enoch).
What are we to make of the fact that Jude quotes/refers to non-biblical sources?
Well, first we can say that Jude is not the only one to do this. For example in Num.21 Moses quoted from the Book of the Wars of the LORD and in 2Sam.1 we read of the Book of Jashar. In the NT Paul quoted pagan poetry when he preached in Athens Acts 17.
Jude’s reason in doing so here is probably as follows. The books to which he referred were well-known to Jewish believers at the time and they contained a lot of speculative material concerning angels and of experiences had with angels. The false teachers seemed to have wanted to make much of their experience of angels and these extra-biblical books gave them a ready context to lend credence to their claims. Jude is not suggesting that he accepts these books and is even further from suggesting that they should be included in our Bibles but if the false teachers were leaning upon ideas found in them he would use other ideas found there to demonstrate that the false teachers were not the spiritual masters they wished to portray themselves as being.
After all how could they compare themselves with the angels while they slandered celestial beings when Michael – the archangel – would do nothing of the sort?
In short Jude was demonstrating that the false teachers were being thoroughly inconsistent. If such were the case then not only were they not worthy of great trust they were unworthy of any trust!
We must not be duped. Loud protestations are not to be heeded if unaccompanied by appropriate behaviour. As John Benton puts it:
"True spirituality is not to do with mere talk, or experiences. It is to do with pleasing God by Christlike character and submissive obedience. We are free in Christ – free not to sin, free to serve. These men are spiritual dunces."
So far we have seen that according to Jude false teachers tend to be self-serving and self-promoting, as they cast off authority and entertain an exaggerated and erroneous view of their own spiritual importance. Their influence has negative effects especially in encouraging sexual immorality.
But we are not to imagine that false teachers are all identikit copies of each other. While the basics may remain the same the specifics of individual cases may involve significant differences, and to this matter we now turn our attention.
Three OT Examples
We shouldn’t think that every false teacher will demonstrate all the character traits that Jude alludes to here but rather we should understand Jude to be telling the church that false teachers can present themselves under different guises and with differing defects driving them.
Jude mentions three but perhaps we should see these as a selection of examples and not interpret it as a comprehensive listing.
They all appear in v. 11 where we read:
"They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion."
Let’s briefly consider them in turn:
In order to understand what Jude wants us to understand we simply need to remind ourselves as to what the Bible teaches us about Cain. What do you know about Cain? Well, I hope most of you will know that:
1. He offered a sacrifice that wasn’t accepted and
2. He killed his brother whose sacrifice was accepted.
But what lessons are there for us? With a little investigation I think we will see that two truths stand out:
Cain’s sacrifice was deemed unacceptable by God but why so? What was the fundamental reason? In the Book of Hebrews the answer is clearly implied:
Heb.11:4 "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks."
The clear implication is that Cain did not trust God; in other words Cain did not have faith.
Cain killed his brother Abel. He did so because he became angry and full of envy when Abel’s sacrifice was accepted but his own was not. The apostle John wrote of this in his first letter:
1Jn.3:11-12 "we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous."
What kind of response was Cain’s response? Was it an act of love? Hardly – murder would seem to be the very antithesis of love as John makes clear.
So we can now conclude that Cain lacked not only faith he lacked love too. In the light of what Paul wrote to the Galatians this is crucial for according to Paul the only thing that matters is:
"Gal.5:6 "faith working through love."
Who is the person who lacks these twin elements of faith and love? It is the unconverted person.
What this example tells us is that some false teachers are indeed unconverted people who have never submitted themselves to the Lord; they have never confessed their sin and have never cried out for a new heart. And as such they can only ever lead others astray having no godly love in them. Sadly, there are many who have taken an office or position of influence within the church who have no spiritual life in them. These may pleasant engaging people but very often they are extremely hostile to those who uphold the Bible and who preach faith alone in Christ alone.
Balaam presents us with a somewhat different type of person for Balaam did appear to have a certain knowledge of God and possessed certain spiritual gifts: he could prophesy, bless and curse with power – his history is recounted in Num.22-24.
But Balaam had serious flaws. As we read about him it soon becomes apparent that despite many fine words he was chiefly interested in his own interests! He liked the thought of being wealthy and he liked the thought of being highly honoured and he was prepared to argue with God to try to get his way.
He knew that God had no intention of cursing the Israelites but he thought perhaps the LORD would change his mind. The LORD allows Balaam to head off on his hopeless mission but he was seriously displeased with Balaam for going:
Num.22:21-22 "So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary."
You know the rest of the story don’t you. The prophet Balaam who had been influential in the past and who lusted after greater influence and wealth in the future had to learn the hard way. This man who was flattered to be sought out as a great man had to be brought low and he was because God gave his donkey more wisdom than him and Balaam had to be taught by his own ass!
Was Balaam humbled by the experience so that he became a faithful servant of God’s people? Not a bit of it for we read in Revelation 2 that he was involved in teaching Balak, the king of Moab, how to hinder God’s people:
Rev.2:14 "Balaam... taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality."
And doubtless Barak rewarded him well for his pains!
How many false teachers are there today who still want to gain personal honours and personal wealth as they abuse the people of God? They might utter pleasant words but they insist upon that contribution – they might protest innocence but preside over sexual immorality and sexual abuse at the same time. As I prepare this I’m conscious that today another Christian organisation, the Jesus Army which is described as an orthodox evangelical church, is being taken to court by former members who allege serious abuse. The church closed in May of this year when the allegations came to light.
Korah provides us with a third model. Korah was an important Levite who led a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Already the Levites occupied an important place in the life of the new nation of Israel. They had special responsibilities in the religious life of the people as God had revealed his plans to Moses. But this was not good enough for Korah he wanted more. Life for Israel in the wilderness was not trouble-free and Korah took advantage of this to criticise the current leadership. Why should Moses and Aaron be set apart in any special sort of way – weren’t all the members of the people equally set apart/holy in God’s sight?
To follow in the footsteps of Korah would mean to pursue personal ambition and desire for status and the power and influence which flow from it. Korah’s rebellion threatened the well-being of the people of God rather than promoted it despite his popular sounding words.
We have been told that false teachers do at times infiltrate the church – so we should not panic or be overly worried should we encounter such. After all the church still exists in the 21 st century and still holds on to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. False teachers have not succeeded in destroying the church and we can be sure that they never will.
And yet that does not mean we are to grow complacent. One of the ways in which Christ preserves his church is by his warnings and through Jude he has told his people how to recognise and identify those destructive false teachers who are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing.
May we pay attention!