This article was first published in May of 1977, and was adapted from an earlier message, “Jude Foretells the Age of Apostasy,” which was printed in September of 1967. This edition contains some revisions from the 1977 article made by the editor.
The word “apostasy” means “a falling away or a defection from the faith.” The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word “apostasia” in Joshua 22:22 to describe the rebellion of the people against God. The same word is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to describe the falling away which will precede our Lord’s Second Coming.
Apostasy should be distinguished from ignorance (a lack of knowledge). Apostasy is characterized by a deliberate rejection of Christ’s deity, His atoning death, and other cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. The book of Jude foretells the age of apostasy and warns against its inroads in the church.
The writer of the epistle of Jude was Jude, the brother of James, and therefore a brother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19). Just at the time when Jude was preparing to write on the subject of salvation, he heard of godless men who were threatening the church with erroneous teachings. Thus he was moved to write about the perils of false teachers. The epistle of Jude is the Holy Spirit’s warning to the church against apostasy.
1. The Rise of Apostate Teachers (Jude 3-4)
Jude was planning to write his fellow believers a letter on the subject of the salvation which they all shared (verse 3). He saw the need, however, to abandon this plan and prepare an epistle in which he could urge his readers to a faithful defense of the great truths which had been received from Christ and His Apostles. He saw that these truths were in grave peril. The nature of the peril was the presence and influence of certain men in the church who denied the Lord they professed by their teaching and by their conduct. Their coming had long ago been predicted, but their entrance into the church had been unobserved (“crept in unawares,” verse 4).
Jude speaks here about “the faith.” This speaks of the body of truth regarding God’s great plan of redemption. It speaks of the great principles of Christian truth. The first is the incarnation—God was in Christ and Christ was God incarnate in human flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The second is the vicarious death of the Son of God for sinners (Romans 5:10). The third is the truth that Jesus Christ arose from the tomb in a body (1 Corinthians 15:14,20). The fourth is the authority of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). The fifth is belief in Heaven and Hell. Other foundational doctrines include salvation by grace through faith in Christ, the evangelization of the nations of the world, the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ, and the personal and visible return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude indicates that the body of revealed truth is complete and final. Verse 3 literally says the faith was “once for all” delivered. There is no other true gospel, and there will be no other. God’s revelation is complete. The last chapter of the Bible warns against adding to or deleting from God’s Word. We do grow in grace and in the knowledge of these truths, but there is no change in the truths themselves.
The faith was delivered to “the saints.” God’s people have been entrusted with the faith. It is your heritage and mine; it was not invented by man, but directed from God. We are to “earnestly contend” for the faith. The Greek for these two words means, “Fight for what you are standing on and hold on to what you have.” We must not fail to defend the truth and expose error, but at the same time we need to exercise the spirit of meekness. The epistles frequently warn us about error and admonish us to defend the truth (Romans 16:17-18, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 6:13-14).
Who are the opposers of the faith? Jude was referring to those who “crept in” unnoticed. Thousands of people heard famous agnostics like Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Huxley belittle the faith outside the church, but many of these false teachers about whom Jude speaks actually occupy prominent pulpits within our churches today. They make a display of scholarship. They deny the faith and substitute pagan ethics and an excessively sentimental gospel. They talk about the love of God but reject His judgment against sin. They carry a shallow view of sin, and “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.” That is, they claim that liberty in Christ gives them license to do as they please concerning the gratification of the flesh. This is a result of emphasizing God’s love to the exclusion of His wrath against sin. Paul said, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Let us earnestly contend for the faith. Paul says, “Let your conversation [conduct] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). And again he says, “I am set for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:17).
2. The Warning to Apostate Teachers (Jude 5-7)
Jude, in these verses, cites God’s judgments in the past as warnings to men living in these last days. Most of the incidents are judgment-scenes from the Old Testament revealing God’s punishment of sin. Today, we are also living in an age when shallow views of sin are met on every hand. When the church succumbs to the spirit of the world, it always accepts light views of sin.
The first incident is about the unbelief of Israel in the wilderness (verse 5). These people, though they had special privileges and were miraculously delivered out of Egypt, yielded to unbelief, and as a result did not enter the Promised Land. Those who were responsible for this unbelief never set their feet inside the land of Canaan. We too are warned about unbelief in the epistle to the Hebrews: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing [falling away] from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
The second example is about fallen angels (verse 6). Compare the phrase, “And the angels which kept not their first estate,” with 2 Peter 2:4. The lesson of these passages is that if the apostate angels in Heaven did not escape the judgments of God, surely apostates on earth will not.
In verse 7, Sodom and Gomorrah are set forth as the third example. The judgment on these cities is a warning to those who live afterward. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of God’s great signposts on the highway of life against fornication and unbridled sensuality.
Each of the above examples reminds us that God brings judgment upon sin, and if God punished those who took shallow views of sin in the past, He will do it again. There are numerous warnings about disobedience and falling away in both the Old and New Testaments (Ephesians 5:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:3). We need to pay attention to the sins to avoid and commands to obey (Colossians 3:5-15). Most importantly, we need to be fully surrendered to Jesus Christ, Who empowers us to do His will (Philippians 3:7-8, Ephesians 3:7).
3. A Description of Apostate Teachers (Jude 8-19)
The false teachers are often lawless. They reject God’s way of salvation, follow the error of greed for money, and rebel against authority.
To “despise dominion” (verse 8) means to make light of authority. There is often rebellion in the home. The Scriptural mandate, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right,” has many times become, “Parents obey your children for this is more up to date.” There is also revolt against authority in the schools, against the government, and against the authority of the Word of God. Even the archangel did not bring a railing accusation against Satan, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee.” Though Michael was the archangel, he submitted to the supreme authority of God. Lawlessness began in Eden, and it can only be controlled when the Spirit of God controls the heart.
In verse 11, three incidents are brought out of the dim past to warn men who live in the last days that God has not changed His attitude toward sin and lawlessness.
The first incident here is “the way of Cain.” Cain was the first man to despise and reject God’s way of salvation and to set up a religion which pleased his own evil heart (1 John 3:12). He wanted to erect an altar that would never be stained with blood, but rather embellished with flowers and fruits as an offering to the Lord (Hebrews 11:4,6). This is a picture of men and women who despise salvation by blood, and would rather have extravagant buildings, entrancing music, and ritualism for their “worship.” The way of Cain is man’s way of life and righteousness as opposed to God’s way.
The second incident is “the error of Balaam.” Balaam tried to change God’s wrath for material gain. The sin of Balaam is with us today. Those ministers who for the love of money are dishonoring their high calling by trying to please the people rather than trying to honor God are following the error of Balaam. For example, there are preachers who diminish the reality of eternal damnation by teaching that Hell is not forever, or that it does not exist at all. Such teaching dishonors God and His Word, but is quite popular and yields significant material gain from book sales, television shows, and speaker’s commissions.
The final incident mentioned in this verse is “the gainsaying of Korah.” Korah was the leader of a group that rebelled against the authority God had given to Moses and Aaron, and claimed to be equal with Moses. What a terrible judgment fell upon Korah and his companions! The earth opened and they went alive into the pit. This same sin is evident today. The religious leaders who deny the deity of Christ are actually saying that He is no better than they, and that He is only a man like we are. If Korah and his followers met with such an awful judgment, what will be the punishment for those who deny the One Who is the Mediator of a greater covenant? The rebellion of Korah was a refusal to submit to the authority of God’s appointed servant.
The verses thus far (verses 5-11) have named seven characteristics of apostates. But the picture is made even more repulsive by the figures of speech which follow. Verses 12-19 further describe false teachers by showing their corrupt influence, their hypocrisy, their disgrace, and their doom.
In verses 12 and 13, Jude described false teachers as “spots in your feasts of charity.” Beware of those who make merchandise of their religion, posing as followers of Christ, participating in the Lovefeast and Communion services, but whose speech and practices betray them to be apostates. By their fruits you shall know them. Jude further describes them as “clouds without water.” Just as a farmer is disappointed when he sees rain clouds gather during a dry season and then bring no rain, so a thirsty soul is disappointed when all he hears is an unsatisfying social gospel. Also, they are like “trees whose fruit withereth.” What a contrast is found here in comparison with the man who meditates on God’s Word. He shall be “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psalms 1:3). False teachers are also like “raging waves of the sea.” They are often carried about by every wind of doctrine. They accept the latest thinking of prominent theologians instead of the simple truth of the Word of God. Thank God we can be settled upon the Rock of Ages! They are “wandering stars.” That is, they are like meteors that flash in the sky for a short time and then suddenly disappear. The Bible says, “For if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it” (Acts 5:38-39).
Those who have no real faith in God are many times “murmurers” and “complainers” and speakers of “great swelling words” (verse 16). “Murmurers” refers to finding fault with and grumbling about God’s plans and purposes. “Complainers” are those who find fault with their circumstances or lot in life. They cannot be pleased by either God or man. “Walking after their own lusts” indicates they allow unlimited indulgence to their own wild, disorderly, and impure passions rather than heed the writings of the apostles and prophets. To “speak great swelling words of vanity” (2 Peter 2:18) means to pretend to be wise and well-educated. These false teachers pretend to have a high degree of knowledge, but it’s all for show. Truth is simple and will stand on it’s own inherent force, or will be based on the Word of God. On the other hand, error is showy, attempting to persuade people by putting on an extravagant display. “Having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” means showing great respect to the rich, powerful, or famous persons for personal gain. False prophets do not respect someone because of who they are or what they have accomplished, but rather they pay special attention to selected persons for their own benefit (especially for the sake of money) or to promote their own selfish agenda.
In verses 17 and 18, we are told to remember the teachings and warnings of the Apostles (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3-4). Jude exhorts us to meet apostasy not with surprise, for these things have been predicted, but with careful discernment. The sensual men who were prophesied to come had already begun to appear on the scene before the end of the first century after Christ.
The punishment for apostate teachers had been predicted over and over again. Verses 14 and 15 state, in words which tradition assigns to Enoch (the man who walked with God), that scoffers and mockers will come in the last days—but that the hour will also strike when the Judge shall appear from Heaven with all His saints, and then He will convict those who had gone through life without recognizing and submitting to the true God (verse 15a). The punishment of Hell (“blackness of darkness”) will be “for ever” (verse 13).
4. Counsel in View of Apostate Teachers (Jude 20-23)
Jude’s picture of the apostasy in the closing days of this age, as we have just seen it, is a dark one. The growth of evil will continue right up to the end. But we come now to the brighter side of the epistle. Jude mentions some factors that should characterize the true Christian in the age of apostasy.
The life of the true believer cannot be static. There must be growth and progress and advancement in the Christian life. We are to continue to build upon our “most holy faith” (verse 20). Moses was told to build the tabernacle according to the pattern shown him, and just so we are to add to our faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and so forth (2 Peter 1:5-7). The Christian life is a continuing building process.
“Praying in the Holy Ghost” should also characterize the Christian (verse 20). Praying in the Spirit means praying in the energy of the Spirit and according to God’s will (Romans 8:26-27). It also means making our requests within the bounds of believing prayer, and in accordance with the mind of the Spirit as revealed in the Word of God (which the Spirit inspired when written). Praying in the Holy Ghost indicates we need to be yielded to Him (Romans 6:13), and under His control (James 4:7). We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
Further, we are to keep ourselves in the love of God (verse 21). That is, we are to “walk in love as Christ also hath loved us” (Ephesians 5:2). We must not allow the distracting, discouraging events that take place all around us to draw us from fellowship with our ascended Lord, and from showing charity toward our fellow men. The Holy Spirit, Who lives within us, empowers us to radiate an attitude of love in a world that is filled with controversy and hatred as we surrender our lives to Him (1 Peter 1:22).
We are also told to look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we shall find at His coming for His own when He calls us out of the world to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Let us keep on building, praying, keeping, and looking, as we are admonished to do in the inspired epistle of Jude.
It is our duty to save souls from the paths of sin (verses 22-23). There are different degrees of sin into which apostates have fallen. Also, different persons are influenced by different methods. For some, a kind, gentle word will motivate them to embrace the gospel message. For others (like the Apostle Paul) it takes a more traumatic event. Jude recognizes this when he says, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.” But for others, Jude says, “save with fear.” For these kinds of people, it will take more urgency and more persuading. Those who have been redeemed from sin are to consistently try to save others caught in Satan’s trap. Show them the danger of living without Christ. Warn them to flee the wrath to come. Snatch them as brands from the burning.
The book of Jude is filled with the flashing of lightnings and judgments upon fallen angels and fallen men. Here we see the fall of angels; here we see the burning flames of Sodom and Gomorrah; here we see Cain going guiltily out from the presence of the Lord. But just as a stormy day sometimes comes to a close with a beautiful sunset, so this brief and stormy book comes to a conclusion with one of the grandest and most precious of all the promises and sayings of God’s Word. This interesting little epistle ends with a wonderful doxology of divine glory. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
We see in the closing verses of Jude that the danger of falling is mentioned. And no marvel, for when we consider the number and the power of our foes, it is not surprising that a Christian should fall. He must often walk in slippery places; he is subject to great weakness; there are many hindrances in his path. The flesh, the world, and the devil are continually trying to cause him to fall. But thanks be unto God, He is able to keep us from falling! God is powerful, and we have the promise that we are “kept by the power of God through faith” until our salvation is completed (1 Peter 1:5). We are made fit sons of His through the imputed righteousness of Christ.
In this small book, the reader’s thoughts have been led through dark scenes of perplexity and suffering, and of apostasy and doom. But now the clouds break away, and the eyes gaze in rapture on the face of a God who is love, and on the glory of a coming Christ. So unto God be all the glory, majesty, dominion, and authority. In spite of all that the devil can do, and in spite of all the apostasy and the failure of men, God’s program of redemption will be carried out to its final and victorious end. Hallelujah, what a Savior!