Five Metaphors

Jude 12-13 - These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

Metaphors are word pictures. Technically speaking, a metaphor is a form of figurative language in which a word denoting one subject or activity is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them. We use metaphors all the time in speaking. Metaphors are so woven into the English language that we usually use them without even realizing it. There! We just used a metaphor. "Woven," used in reference to the activity of putting words together, is a metaphor which comes from the activity of weaving thread into cloth. Occasionally we consciously use a metaphor to more vividly convey a thought or point we want to make. At those times we carefully select the best word picture to convey our message. Such is the case of five metaphors in the book of Jude.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jude purposely chose five metaphors to describe certain individuals who had infiltrated some of the churches near the end of the first century. Hidden reefs, clouds without water, trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea and wandering stars are all metaphors used to vividly portray the men who had crept into those churches (v4).

Who were the infiltrators, anyway? We can't be absolutely sure, but most likely these false teachers and their followers held to the philosophical ideas that grew into the second century Christian heresy known as Gnosticism. Without going into a long discussion on incipient Gnosticism, we should explain that these false teachings denied the full deity and lordship of Christ, and turned the grace of God into an excuse for indulging the desires of the flesh (v4). Since they are described as being devoid of the Holy Spirit (v19), these infiltrators were definitely not believers. At least some of them were involved in the sin of homosexuality (v8). In the context of verses 6 and 7, the words "in the same manner" of verse 8 lead us to this obvious conclusion. We aren't told whether this gay segment of the early churches had come "out of the closet" or was practicing homosexuality in secret, but there is no doubt that their sin is denounced in the strongest terms and linked with the gross immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah (v7).

Undoubtedly some of these false teachers and their followers had grown up "in the church" and considered themselves Christians, but they had turned away from the orthodox faith of their fathers. These apostates considered themselves superior to the ignorant masses because their self-proclaimed acquisition of "gnosis" (the Greek word for "knowledge") supposedly gave them spiritual, esoteric knowledge of ultimate reality and God. They felt that their superior knowledge of the all-important spiritual realm so far outweighed any prescribed behavior of the physical body that indulgence of the fleshly desires was not considered sin and was even encouraged. Although these people thought that they were a special class of spiritual elite, they are denounced by God through Jude as those who did not really understand spiritual realities at all, and as those who were destroying themselves through their instinctual behavior, like unreasoning animals (v10).

The five metaphors in verses 12 and 13 not only denounce these infiltrators, but they also expose their deceptive characteristics and insidious tactics. Furthermore, the metaphors not only reveal the nature of these first century heretics, but they also vividly portray the character and tactics of false teachers and apostates within the church today.

The first metaphor, "hidden reefs," could also be translated as "spots" or "blemishes" (cf. 2 Peter 2:13). However, the translation "hidden reefs" relates well with the other four metaphors, all of which come from nature, and is probably what Jude had in mind when he wrote this passage of Scripture. The imagery of a hidden reef is quite graphic. Think of a sailboat clipping along in open waters where there is no indication of the danger of a hidden reef ahead. It looks like smooth sailing, but suddenly and without warning disaster strikes, with major damage and destruction. The apostates of the book of Jude were participating in the fellowship suppers or "love feasts" of the early Church, but they were the hidden means of shipwreck for unsuspecting believers. Without qualms, these selfish pseudo-believers were pushing their distortions of the truth at every opportunity.

In the same way, the false teachers who are hidden in the "Christian" churches today could easily shipwreck the faith of the unwary. Many of the cults, for example, don't look dangerous on the surface. They have nice church buildings and pleasant smiles, and they emphasize the importance of loving God and doing good. But below the surface they are like hidden reefs which will cause the shipwreck of unsuspecting seekers. The cults, by definition, deny the deity of Christ and, in the final analysis, practice a works-oriented religion. They skillfully present their false teachings to those who have not "checked out the waters." Although the cults such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Unitarians consider themselves to be within the Christian Church, they are not true believers. Let's warn inexperienced sailors to be aware of these dangerous hidden reefs, and to always check the waters by reading the "navigational Chart" God has given us!

The second metaphor used for the apostates of Jude's day is "clouds without water, carried along by winds." This metaphor is very descriptive, especially if you live in the Middle East. After the dry season, the thirsty land craves the coming of the rains. How disappointing, then, when fast-moving clouds arrive without water. They give every impression of promise, but they produce no rain. How descriptive, not only of the teachers in Jude's day, but also of many within Christendom today. They give the impression that they have water for thirsty souls, but there is no substance to their message. Think of the flood of religious literature and tapes that are available today. From the titles it appears that the contents should bring refreshing rain. Help for just about every psychological, physiological or spiritual problem is promised. Some of it is good because it is biblically based, but a lot of it is the product of "clouds without water." Many have been disappointed to find, after investing a lot of time and money, that the promise of "rain" does not materialize.

A characteristic of the clouds without water is that they are carried along by winds. This part of the metaphor definitely suggests that the apostates were governed by the prevailing winds of the culture. False teachers today are likewise carried along by the prevailing ideas of the culture in which they operate. Distorted information on the roles of men and women in the Church, for example, can be traced to the feminist movement within today's culture. Tolerant attitudes towards greed and materialism are a direct reflection of our culture. Believers must always be sensitive to the culture and should thoughtfully "understand the times" in which we live. (See 1 Chronicles 12:32.) We must constantly be open to discussion and reexamination of the Scriptures to make sure that our thinking is biblical and not just governed by tradition. However, we dare not get caught up in the winds of culture to the extent of revising Scripture or manufacturing "forced" interpretations to suit our needs or to meet current trends in our culture! Satan knows that if he can capture the culture, it won't be long before his false teachers can easily slip unbiblical ideas into the Church. Believers in every generation are called on to withstand the satanic winds of the culture in which they live.

"Autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted," is the third metaphor that Jude uses to expose the unbelievers and their false teachings. In the Middle East, if a fruit tree hasn't produced fruit by autumn, it's obvious that something is wrong with that tree. If a further examination shows that the tree has no root system, the evidence is that the tree is dead. In fact, it's doubly dead--no fruit and no root.

What an accurate picture of unbelieving religious teachers, then and now. The typical unbelieving "Christian" minister, for example, has plenty of good activity going on in the church, but over the long haul that church produces no real spiritual fruit. Where are the testimonies of those who have "left the broad road leading to destruction" and acknowledged Christ as the "narrow gate and way leading to life"? (See Matthew 7:13-14.) Where are the conversions resulting from preaching the biblical doctrine that Christ is the only way to God and theonly escape from the coming judgment of Hell? (See John 3:18 and 36, John 5:24, and John 14:6, for example.) Where are the members who are growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?

A further examination of the tree of unbelieving liberal professing Christianity reveals that there is no root system in the ground of biblical truth. The reason that salvation in Christ alone is not preached is that it is not believed! The reason that warnings about the judgment to come are not proclaimed is that these ministers don't believe that there is a coming judgment or a literal hell! God's verdict on such fruitless and rootless trees is that they are doubly dead.

The fourth metaphor for the heretics within the church is "wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam." There is a good possibility that the waves Jude has in mind are those that crash against a rocky coast sending their spray up in all directions. Such violent confrontation is typical of the strident unbeliever who is constantly dashing against divinely ordained barriers. The result, then, would be a shameful exposure of the froth and spume of unbelief. Think, for example, of the shameful behavior of certain militant homosexuals who are within the ranks of Christian churches and ministries today. As wild waves of the sea, they crash head-on into divine barriers when they openly preach and practice a lifestyle which is clearly condemned by God's Word. While we must reach out and do what we can to rescue those who are being swept under by such wild waves (vs22-23), we must stand firm and unmoved on the standards of the solid rock of God's Word. In spite of the tumultuous crashing of the wild waves all around us, let's not run (or even retreat one inch) from the Rock.

"Wandering stars" is the last of the five metaphors that Jude uses to draw a verbal picture of the heretical leaders. In the ancient world, mariners and desert travelers used the stars for guidance. Navigation by stars is possible because certain stars, such as the North Star, remain fixed in the sky and can be depended on for guidance. Other stars and the planets do not remain stationary in the sky but "wander" as the earth makes its annual journey around the sun. How tragic--but how graphically true--is this picture of unbelieving leaders in the Church today. They pose as guiding lights for the searching parishioners but in actuality they lead them astray from the truth. How many TV "prosperity preachers," for example, promise all kinds of spiritual guidance and material fulfillment, but deliver little more than never-ending requests for money.

The lives of unwary believers can actually dead-end in disillusionment (or even apostasy) if they watch and follow "wandering stars." We must constantly set our compass course by the fixed star of God's Word! Although some TV preachers and personalities are genuine believers, it often seems that the highly visible "wandering stars" outnumber those who are truly seeking to be "lights in the world, holding fast the word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16). The Scripture leaves no doubt as to the destiny of these wandering stars. They are marked out for condemnation (v4), and will be consigned to black darkness forever (v13).

The graphic nature of a metaphor can many times shock us into seeing what we may have overlooked or what did not penetrate our thought processes. The five metaphors which were selected by the Holy Spirit had the effect of opening the eyes of many of the first century Christians and exposing the heretical infiltrators. It is the intention of the Holy Spirit today to use these five metaphors in Jude to help unmask unbelieving leaders within the Church today and lay bare their subtle ensnaring tactics.
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