In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:8-13
Well by my reckoning this is the last water reference up to the book of revelations. I have scouted ahead in Revelations and it has many passages to explore and puzzle over. The book of Jude was apparently written by either an apostle or a brother of Jesus named Judas (not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus). Apparently the recipients of the letter where being deceived by leaders among them who were teaching that because they were saved they could go ahead and sin and not have any consequences. Clearly this was missing the point of the Messiah and his purpose in coming to save us.
In trying to wrap my brain around this seemingly ludicrous leader behavior the image comes into my head of a boat full of people, the boat sinks, and the people are flailing about in the water drowning. Jesus arrives in a boat to rescue them. He walks across the water to rescue each of them and leads them carefully into his boat. Many accept this rescue and await Jesus as he rescues others that are drowning. But there are some people in the boat who seem to be suggesting that jumping back in the water is a good idea because after all Jesus will just save them again right? When recast in this way it seems ludicrous that anyone would actively reject the grace that Jesus freely offers, but that is essentially error that the author is trying combat.
There are people who “on the strength of their dreams….pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.” Back in a letter from John he also brought up this idea abusing celestial beings. I am not sure what is meant by “on the strength of their own dreams”. Maybe these people were taking the dreams created by their own subconscious as being the voice of God without considering that other voices can attempt to sway our consciences.
The behavior of these wayward teachers is compared to numerous historical figures who failed to lead those they were called to lead toward a closer relationship with God. The passage gets to the meat of the matter towards end with a number of amazing word pictures to describe the lost leaders.
They are “shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars”. These are some really rich and deep images full of many layers of meaning. Let’s take each one separately then see what they all have in common.
“Shepherds who feed only themselves.” That is certainly pretty much the opposite of the example provided by Jesus as he fed and healed his way across Israel. His focus was always on others and he met people where they were at physically and spiritually. He was the ultimate lifeguard and He trained his followers to do the same. This group of selfish sheperds have clearly missed this important role.
Clouds without rain are an interesting one and certainly more water-related. Clouds are beautiful and fundamentally they are composed of water, or rain that is awaiting delivery. So a cloud with no rain is actually something that is not really possible. It is the condensed moisture that gives rise to the cloud in the first place. Just like it was the condensed Son of God, Jesus that gave rise to all of the followers being addressed in this letter. These conscienceless clouds are drifting about being blown by the wind rather than led by the Spirit. I am going to float on by the colorful, but not water-related reference, to “autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead”.
The next image is one of the most interesting and watery for sure “wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame”. The idea of “wild waves” is so emotive and meaningful, especially to these people familiar with squalls and storms. Wild waves have great power and can do great harm when their energy is unleashed on boats or beaches. These wayward leaders apparently also have great power and they are unleashing it on their followers causing erosion of their faith and sickness in their souls. They seem like big Waves but really they are only foam, scary on the outside but empty on the inside.
These “wandering stars” are misusing their stardom and influence over their young and impressionable followers. All of these powerful images of wayward leaders have at their root a lack of humility and a servant’s heart to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This passage is a great reminder to walk humbly and keep a sharp spiritual lookout for what God is up to as we make our journey home.
Prayer: God help us to walk and lead with humility and grace, never losing sight of the example You provided in Jesus.