Chapter Three Defining Apostasy (Jude 11-19)

Jude presents a three-fold apostasy. He identifies them as, “the way of Cain,” “the error of Balaam,” and the “gainsaying of [Koran].”

The Way of Cain (Jude 11a)

Strictly speaking there are only two religions in the world—true religion, that of God’s appointing, and false religion, the product of man’s own mind. The first is the religion of faith; the second that of credulity or superstition, in whatever form it may appear.

In the beginning God made known to guilty man the truth that death and judgment were his rightful portion, only to be averted by the sacrifice of the seed of the woman. In the fullness of time He would appear as the sinner’s Savior, bruising the serpent’s head, though Himself wounded in the heel. This was the revelation in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). In accordance with this revelation, faith taught those who were saved by grace, the propriety of approaching God, the Holy One, on the ground of sacrifice. Each bleeding sacrifice pointed to Jesus who was to be made sin so that guilty men might be delivered from their sins and stand before the throne of the Most High uncondemned. Therefore we read, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4). Abel did not offer his sacrifice by intuition, but by faith—through a revelation apprehending the mind of God. He brought a sacrifice which told of a life forfeited—a sinless substitute, whose vicarious death could take the place of the guilty one. This lamb of Abel’s speaks loudly, even though he who offered it has long been numbered with the dead in Christ.

This is the heart of the gospel: “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Everywhere in Scripture the same testimony is given, for “without shedding of blood [there] is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).

Now this is exactly what, in principle, Cain denied. He brought an offering to God according to the promptings of his own heart “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), as is the heart of every natural man. His sacrifice seemed fair and lovely: the fruits of the ground, brought forth by toil and labor. But there was no recognition of the true character of sin and its punishment. God’s sentence of death on account of sin is refused; therefore no life is given, no blood is shed. This is natural religion as opposed to what has been divinely revealed. The fruit of Cain pictures man’s effort to attain all that is fair in character-building, all that is lovely in human accomplishment. These things are beautiful indeed if the fruit of divine grace already exists in the soul. But they are of no use whatsoever to meet the claims of divine justice, or to purge the conscience and cleanse the soul from the stain of sin. It is clear that “the way of Cain” is a comprehensive title, embracing every form of religious teaching, ceremony, or cult that ignores the need of the vicarious atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The substitution of rites and ceremonies for simple faith in Christ and the subtle speculation of modern religious systems tend to deify man in his own estimation and free him from “the degrading thought” that he is a sinner needing a Savior. These humanistic religions all spring from one and the same thing—the pride of the human heart. This pride substitutes the notions of the unregenerate mind for the revealed truth of the Word of God. These “religions” are merely different forms of one common human religion—the way of Cain— and can only lead their deluded followers to share Cain’s doom.

Every “new theology” of the day is as old as the fallen creation. It was first pictured in the fig-leaf garments of Adam and Eve; then crystalized, as it were, in the offering of Cain. Every sinner who is too proud to admit his guilt and trust the atoning sacrifice of the Christ of God is a follower of the way of Cain, whatever form his superstition may have taken. Thousands who follow this way consider Christ as just a martyr merely following His conscience. They trample beneath their feet the atoning value of the blood of Christ and proudly dare to approach a holy God with the fruits and flowers of nature—the works of their hand.

So with readiness, refusing the ministry of the Holy Spirit, these followers of Cain give themselves up to the second apostasy.

The Error of Balaam (Jude 11b)

Three times in the New Testament we read about Balaam, the false prophet who “taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel” (Revelation 2:14). In a passage very nearly similar to the one before us, Peter wrote of “the way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15). The glorified Christ, in Revelation 2:14 speaks of “the doctrine of Balaam.” And here in verse 11, Jude mentioned his error. That the three are intimately related is self-evident. Out of Balaam’s error sprang both his way and his doctrine. He was a striking example of those whose sole object of godliness is greed. They consider it right and proper that religion should be used to minister to one’s personal advantage. Leo the Tenth was a true disciple of Balaam when he exclaimed to his cardinals, “What a profitable thing this myth about Jesus Christ has been to us!” This was also the thinking of Simon the magician in Acts 8:18-19. Every person, of whatever sect or system, who enters religious ministry solely for financial gain has followed after the error of Balaam.

Balaam’s history, as recorded in the book of Numbers, is an intensely solemn one. He “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15). While professedly a prophet of God, he endeavored to prostitute his sacred office for the accumulation of wealth. At times deterred by fear and at times by a sense of propriety, he yet persisted in the effort to either curse or seduce the people of God for his own advantage. He stands before us branded on the page of the Bible as one who, for temporary profit, would stifle his own convictions and lead astray those directed by him.

The same dreadful error is at the bottom of the vast majority of false “religious” systems. Which of them would exist for a month without the influence of money? Try to imagine the false teachers giving freely what they profess to believe is divine, suffering uncomplainingly in order to carry their false gospels to the ends of the earth, or dying triumphantly to seal their testimony in blood as did the early Christians. All human systems, however orthodox outwardly, come under the same covetous spell when they depart from the Word of truth. This covetousness leads them to please not God, but men. Only comforting things are prophesied, and offensive truths are scarcely mentioned, or altogether avoided. False doctrines are taught in order that the purse strings of the ungodly may be loosened, and the ministry be made a profitable and honorable occupation.

In the early church, Christ’s followers went forth in simple dependence on the Lord, “taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 7). Like Elisha, they refused anything that looked like payment tendered for the gift of God. Like Abraham, they would not be enriched by Sodom’s king. And like Peter, they spurned the money of the unworthy that nothing evil should taint their ministry. But it is far different with the “popular apostles” of a Christless religion. Like Gehazi, they run after every healed Naaman and beg or demand a fee. Like Lot, they pitch their tent towards, then build a house in Sodom. Like Simon Magus, whose very name gives title to this most odious of all sins, they practice their simony unblushingly, and think that the gift of God can be purchased with money. But the dark clouds of judgment are gathering overhead, and soon they will learn, as Balaam did, the folly of pursuing such evil.

Korah’s Rebellion (Jude 11c)

Korah represents the last of the unholy trinity of apostasy. The way of Cain is false religion. The error of Balaam is false ministry. The rebellion of Korah is false worship and denial of Christ’s authority.

Korah was not a priest, and neither were any of his rebellious company. They were Levites, whose business it was to attend to the outward service of the tabernacle. But lured on by pride they rose up against Moses and Aaron (types of Christ as “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession”), and setting aside God’s anointed, sought to force their way into His presence as priests and to worship before Him without divine warrant or title. This mindset is prevalent today. Independent and inflated with a sense of their own self-importance, vain men openly rebel against the authority of the Lord as Apostle and Priest. They dare to approach God as worshipers apart from Him, and ignore His claims. This is the leaven that is fast permeating unbelieving Christendom—the claim that all men by nature are sons of God. The declaration that they need no mediating High Priest is heard on every hand, and will increase and spread as the end draws nearer. Jude says that these apostates “perished in the gainsaying of Core” (Jude 11). He speaks of their doom as a settled thing. Just as sure as judgment came to Korah and all his company when the earth opened her mouth and they went down alive into the pit, so shall judgment overtake those who rebel against the Lord of glory and follow in Korah’s footsteps.

It is precious to read in Numbers 26:11, “Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.” Linked as they were by natural ties to the proud rebel, Korah’s children chose a different course, and are heard singing in Psalm 84:10, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Happy are all who are numbered in the same holy company!

The Divine Indictment of Evil Workers (Jude 12-13)

There is something unspeakably solemn in this severe indictment of those who profess to be followers of Christ and servants of God, but who really walk in a self-chosen path. Elsewhere they are described as “enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). Remember that throughout Jude’s warning letter, the evil-workers referred to are not those who oppose Christ outside the circle of profession, but rather are those inside the nominal church who make their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus a cover for their own selfish ends. They are often considered leaders of Christian thought and champions of truth and righteousness. But underlying all they say and do, there is the open, or covert, denial of everything that really makes for godliness. To the heavenly calling they are strangers; hence their aim and object is to advance their own interests in this world. They dwell upon the earth. They know nothing of pilgrimage in the Scriptural sense. Their place and portion are in this world, not in Heaven where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

Metaphor after metaphor is used by the Holy Spirit to describe these false apostles and ministers of unrighteousness. Every phrase is important, and demands careful consideration. “These are spots in your [love] feasts” (12). Perhaps, in place of “spots,” it will be clearer if we read, “sunken, or hidden rocks.” Such are these apostate teachers. Clearly-marked rocks are not a great danger to the mariner. It is the rocks that are hidden, over whose jagged edges roll the deceitfully peaceful waters, that are most to be dreaded. If these false teachers were to openly proclaim their opposition to what the godly hold sacred, their influence would be quickly nullified. But, posing as advocates of the truth, they deceive the hearts of the simple with their good words and fair speeches.

The expression, “they feast with you.. .without fear,” shows how fully they have gained the confidence of the mass. They participate fearlessly in holy Christian communion, but never enter into the spirit of love and fellowship with the Lord. They observe the form, pretending to piety and devotion, while all the time looking but to their own interests.

“Feeding themselves,” these apostates attend to their own needs instead of shepherding the flock of God. They who should feed the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock, fleece them instead, and consider them as those whose place it is to contribute to their honor, wealth, and dignity. Scripture knows of no distinction between clergy and laity. All believers are God’s kleros (or clergy)—His allotted portion. If some are raised up to act as pastors, by guiding and caring for those weaker or less instructed, they do it as a service to the Lord, the Chief Shepherd. These godly elders serve “not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage [kleros], but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-4). To this sincere and true-hearted devotedness these deceitful workers are utter strangers. Their true characters are even more graphically depicted in the metaphors taken from nature that immediately follow.

“Clouds they are without water, carried about of winds.” Big with promise, pretentious and impressive, their utterances are a disappointment to any who know the mind of God as revealed in His Word. In place of refreshing showers of spiritual blessing accompanying their ministry, there are but empty vapors and idle threatenings. In place of divine certainty, their fanciful theories and ever-changing notions reveal the fact that they themselves are blown around by every wind of human teaching (Ephesians 4:14), “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

They are further described as “trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.” Having a fair outward appearance, they are like trees which in the season of fruit bear only leaves—like the fig tree cursed by the Lord, which dried up from the roots. These indeed are “twice dead,” for they are “dead in trespasses and sins,” and dead too in a false profession. “Every plant,” said the Lord Jesus, “which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). So these apostles are seen already, in God’s estimation, as plucked up by the roots. In man’s eye they make a fair show in the flesh, but in the sight of God their judgment is already pronounced.

Impatient of restraint or rebuke of any kind, they are next likened to “raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame” (13). They feel no shame or remorse at what they say or do. By their very speech they show the true condition of their rebellious hearts when confronted with the Word that exposes the hollowness of their arguments. “The unjust knoweth no shame” (Zephaniah 3:5), but rather proudly glory in their evil before God and man. It is a blessing for those who cling to the Lord that He has set bounds to this sea, as to that in nature, beyond which its angry waters cannot go. He makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He restrains (see Psalm 76:10).

The last description of apostates portrays the doom that yet awaits those who trifle with holy things. They are “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” Like lost planets hurled out of their natural orbit, they flare brilliantly for the moment, then plunge off at a tangent into ever-deepening darkness as they rush through the fathomless depths of space farther and farther from the source of light. Such will be the end of all who now refuse the Light of life, and prefer instead to kindle their own fire, and compass themselves about with sparks (Isaiah 50:11). Solemnly the Holy Spirit says to every child of grace, “From such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Enoch’s Prophecy (Jude 14-15)

The source of Jude’s information as to this prophecy of Enoch “the seventh from Adam” is not given. Critics have tried to find out, but to little purpose, or profit. There is an apocryphal book bearing Enoch’s name which dates from pre-Christian times. It contains language very similar to that here recorded, but the nature of the book forbids the thought that it can be equated with Holy Scriptures. Yet it seems evident that in some way, whether orally or in writing, God has seen fit to preserve Enoch’s prophecy. It was partially fulfilled in the flood. Jude, by divine inspiration, declared that a more complete fulfillment awaits the return of the Lord Jesus, to take vengeance on all who have refused His grace and spurned the Holy Spirit.

What is referred to here in verses 14-15 is something very different from the happy event predicted in John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:51, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In those Scriptures, the theme is the return of the Lord to translate His saints to Heaven, of which Enoch’s rapture was a type. This could take place before the reader lays down this book. In a moment, the Lord may descend and call all His own to meet Him in the air. But this will not be the believer’s nor Christ’s unveiling before the world. That manifestation will take place later. While the judgment seat of Christ and the marriage supper of the Lamb transpire in Heaven, on earth apostasy will rise to its full height in the revelation and acceptance of antichrist, and the utter rejection of all that is of God. Then, when the cup of guilty Christendom’s iniquity is full, the Lord will come to the earth with a myriad of His redeemed saints and unfallen angels to execute the judgment long foretold on the despisers of His word.

A very similar expression occurs in chapter 14 of Zechariah’s prophecy: “The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee” (Zechariah 14:5). In each passage “saints” or “holy ones” does not, of itself, necessarily refer to redeemed humanity. Angels are also referred to as “saints” or “holy ones,” and some would therefore limit the application to them alone. But Scripture clearly teaches the double aspect of the second coming of the Lord. He is coming for His saints (John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). He is also coming with them (Colossians 3:4). Caught up to meet Him as He descends with a shout, they will return with Him in manifested glory— when Enoch’s prophecy and that of Zechariah will be fulfilled. Then will righteousness reign. Every enemy will be destroyed. No longer will impious deceivers profit by a profession of Christianity while secretly working to undermine the faith of God’s elect. To every one will be rendered according to their works.

While the present period (from the cross to the coming again of the Lord) lasts, God endures sinful men with much longsuffering. But when this period ends, the day of the Lord begins, when He who has been so long silent will arise to act in judgment on those who have taught blasphemous and damnable heresies. Then apostate men, who have despised the Word of truth, will learn too late that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”

Reader, challenge your heart now as to how you will stand then!

Unholy Separatists (Jude 16-19)

Just as the true servant of the Lord bears not only the doctrine of Christ, but commends himself by displaying the fruits of the Spirit, so Satan’s false apostles not only deny the truth, but display characteristic signs that soon reveal them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may attempt to speak as believers, but their habits and ways betray them.

Like the mixed multitude who came up out of Egypt, in company with redeemed Israel, those of whom Jude wrote to warn us are murmurers and complainers. Never having learned the initial lesson of subjection to God, they soon find the path of outward obedience to His Word incredibly irksome, for “the carnal mind.. .is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Therefore they continually object to the plainest precepts of the Holy Scriptures.

Aiming only to please themselves, they walk unashamedly after their own lusts, using their sacred calling as a ladder to worldly gain and ecclesiastical honor. They do not understand self-denying service for Christ’s sake, or being constrained by His all-conquering love. Yet they resent with indignation the suggestion that greed for money and power is the controlling principle of their lives. But He who sees not as man sees has searched them through and through, and here records their true character.

Great swelling words fall glibly from their unsanctified lips as they boast of human progress and accomplishments, while forgetting the dreadful fact that man’s will, until subdued by divine grace, is as much opposed to God as ever it was in the past. They forget it was man’s sinful, stubborn will that nailed God’s Son to a cross and poured judgment on His devoted head.

The fifth accusation against these deceitful workers is one to which many are now so accustomed that it never occurs to them as one of the special signs of apostasy—admiring persons for the sake of profit. The extent to which the public fawns over church dignitaries is shameful and disgusting. Adulation is carried to such an extreme as to be positively nauseating. But it is the order of the day, and will become increasingly prevalent as man is, inch by inch, pushed into the place of God. The consummation of this evil is found in the man of sin described in 2 Thessalonians 2. The deification of humanity and the humanizing of deity in the minds of men is the natural outcome of all this. How different was the spirit of Elihu, who declared, “Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away” (Job 32:21-22).

It is good for the soul guided by Scripture to remember that nothing man sees around him was unforeseen by God. Unbelief and apostasy may abound, but nothing takes God by surprise. The coming of mockers, walking after their own unholy desires, has been foretold from the beginning. The apostles warned of the spiritual declension that would characterize the last days.

Believers should not be overtaken by fear and gloom when they see teacher after teacher apostatizing from the truth, and the love of many growing cold, while erroneous teaching carries many away. Like the prophet, they may be ready to cry, “Truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.” But Isaiah also added, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment” (Isaiah 59:14-15). They will be encouraged to know that the prevailing evil has been foreknown by God from eternal times. In fact they should not expect anything else. The events they see around them firmly establishes the truth of Scripture. All this must happen before the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore they are strengthened in the realization that this very darkness will usher in the shining-forth of the Morning Star, and the rising in glory of the Sun of Righteousness. Prophecy is “a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Led on by this sure and steady gleam, the humble child of God will not be dazzled by the pretensions, nor disheartened by the evil influence of these haughty resisters of the truth.

“These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). These apostates set themselves apart as a select circle, pretending to have attained a level of spirituality beyond the common Christian. There is a spiritual and a carnal separation. The former is separation from evil at the call of the Word of God. The latter is a walking apart in fancied superiority, led on by pride and boastfulness. This is what marks out the class Jude is portraying, in the day of their power.

It should be noted that Jude traced for us the growth of apostasy. He began with evil workers privily creeping in, under cover of a Christian profession. Before he closed they are pictured as having cast off all fear, as though their very strength made secrecy unnecessary. In place of caution and covered tracks, we have exaggerated pride and superiority even to the forming of an elite sect who delegate to themselves all spiritual light and privilege, as well as human learning and scholarship. But great swelling words, even when coupled with the most arrogant presumption, can never overthrow the truth of the eternal Word. “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

Of the Word of God, as of the Son of God, it can be said, “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44). God is silent now, while men blaspheme His name and stumble over His Word. But soon He will speak from Heaven, when all will know “with whom [they] have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). Then it will be revealed that those who opposed Him in their pride were but natural men without the Spirit. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This explains the difficulty many have in regard to believing the great truths of Scripture. They are unregenerate, natural men, attempting to act as ministers of Christ. But their speech betrays them.