What’s the Big Deal? (Jude 5-16)
I woke up a couple of weeks ago with tingling in my left arm. I was thinking that it was probably nothing. I slept on it funny or something. But I’ve heard of people who ignore signs like this. I quickly checked Google, that source of reliable medical knowledge. It said:
Is your left arm tingling? Do not neglect the sign! Tingling in left arm may be a warning sign of something serious, therefore, is not worth neglecting…
Following are some possible causes for tingling in left arm and hand.
When the left arm or hand tingles, and at the same time if you experience pain in your jaw as well as chest, it is a major indication of an oncoming heart attack. You are advised to immediately rush to the doctor.
Left arm tingling can also be a stroke symptom. Stroke is a medical condition in which the brain activity ceases due to insufficient supply of blood to the brain.
Just to be safe, I called my doctor. My doctor told me to get to the hospital emergency room immediately. So, I spent the rest of the day waiting to find out that the tingling in my arm was not caused by anything serious. But I was told that it’s very good that I took the warning signs seriously.
It is very easy to ignore warning signs like a tingling arm, and not realize that the tingling could be a sign that something very dangerous is happening. Tingling may only be tingling, but it could also be a sign of something much worse.
This morning we’re looking at a book in the Bible called Jude. It’s the second-last book in the Bible, located right before the book of Revelation. And Jude has told us that there’s something tingling, something that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Jude says:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)
Here’s the problem. Just like I’m tempted to say, “What’s wrong with a little tingling?” the church was tempted to say “What’s wrong with a little false teaching?” Picture that somebody you know and like starts teaching something that you think is wrong. It would be easy to ignore. You could say:
- She’s really nice. I mean, how can you criticize someone who does so much and who has such a good heart?
- Who am I to judge? I’m sure that my theology is off at some points. It would be arrogant to suggest that their position is wrong.
- Why waste time arguing over theology? There are much more important things we should be worried about, like the poor and the victims of tornados.
But Jude writes to say: Don’t ignore the tingling! The implied question he’s answering in this passage is, “What’s wrong with a little false teaching?” I mean, who really cares about fighting over what we believe? And Jude answers with three reasons why we can’t ignore false teaching. He’s not talking about minor differences, by the way. He’s talking about major departures from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” And he says that there are three reasons that we should care about this.
He’s writing this because we are tempted to say it doesn’t matter. We’re tempted to turn a blind eye to this issue and pretend that nothing is wrong. Jude gives us three reasons why it matters.
Here’s the first reason:
False teachers are rebels against God.
Why should we care about false teaching? We should care about false teachers because of who they are. And who are the false teachers? The answer is surprising. I want to answer that the false teachers are really nice people who are just a little bit wrong. But Jude answers by showing us that the false teachers are the latest in a string of rebels against God.
Let me give you some examples. In verses 5 to 7 he gives three examples from the Old Testament of evildoers:
- The Israelites God rescued out of Egypt. God saved them out of Egypt, but they never got to enjoy the delights of the Promised Land because they refused to believe God.
- The angels – probably a reference to a puzzling passage from Genesis 6 – who rebelled against God and were condemned by him.
- The rebels in Sodom and Gomorrah, who were guilty of sinning against God, and who were completely destroyed by God.
You don’t get any better examples of God’s judgment than these three. This is serious! But notice what Jude does. He’s not giving a history lesson. He’s attaching these three events to the false teaching taking place in Jude’s day. In verse 8 he says, “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” Do you see what he’s saying? In verse 10 he again identifies these people with the rebels against God, except he gives three more examples and pronounces a woe to them:
He says they’re like Cain, who thought he could get away with it (verse 11). Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, the one who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel. It’s not a compliment to be compared to Cain. In what way are false teachers like Cain? One Jewish commentary says that Cain believed he could get away with whatever he liked because:
There is no judgment, no judge, no reward to come; no reward will be given to the righteous, and no destruction for the wicked.
In other words, these false teachers think they can teach whatever they’d like and get away with it.
Then he says they’re like Balaam the self-indulgent. Balaam was an Old Testament prophet for hire. He’d say anything you’d like if you paid the right money. He was guilty of laying aside God’s Word and teaching something else for his own personal benefit.
And then he says they’re like Korah the rebel. Korah was a leader of a mutiny against Moses. He was a teacher who rejected what God had said about authority. God judged him by swallowing him alive. We read in Numbers 16:
And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:32-33)
Has anyone ever told you, “You remind me of…?” You are waiting to hear how they finish the sentence. You want them to say the name of someone wonderful, someone handsome or beautiful, someone accomplished and appreciated. You don’t want to hear that you remind them of their cousin who’s in jail, or some rogue character who never amounted to much.
That’s what Jude is saying in this passage. These false teachers remind him a lot of some of the worst rebels in Old Testament history. David Helm writes:
So in the body of this letter we find Jude stepping through layers of time, grabbing hold of historical events and examples in groups of three, and pulling them into the present day and applying them in the first person – and all of this under divine authority…These guys are those guys! Ancient archetypes are walking in our world. They have come to life again – only they go by different names.
We need to think about this for a minute. Jude is telling us that these guys that he’s pointed to are still probably around today. This is sobering. “What’s the big deal about false teachers?” we ask. Jude takes us through a rogue’s gallery of false teachers and says that this line of rebels lives on, and it’s a big deal to God.
But then he gives us a second reason why false teaching is a big deal:
False teachers will be judged.
I remember being in a park at the end of my street as a kid. There were some older kids there. I should have been afraid of them, but I wasn’t, because my older brother was a lifeguard at the pool. I provoked them thinking I could get away with it because my big brother would come to my defense. I still remember when he didn’t step in. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted and that there would be no consequences.
You get the impression that the false teachers Jude writes about were doing the same thing. Let me give you one example. It’s a puzzling one. Verses 9 and 10 say:
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.
It’s not clear to most of us what he’s talking about. He’s quoting here from a story that would have been well-known to his readers, but that isn’t from the Bible. We do this all the time; we quote from a story that’s well-known in order to make a point. In this story, Michael, the archangel, tried to bury Moses’ body. The devil opposed the burial on the grounds that Moses was a murderer. Even Michael, an archangel, did not dare go toe to toe against the devil on his own authority. There’s a word for you if you take on the devil on your own strength: stupid. Even Michael the archangel, who is way more powerful than us, would not dare to do anything except by God’s authority. Michael knew his place. He knew that if he attempted anything but by God’s power he was sunk. Yet these false teachers didn’t know their place. They somehow thought that they had authority and power apart from Jesus Christ. The minute we think that we have a leg to stand on apart from Jesus, we are in very serious trouble.
So Jude is being very clear. These false teachers are rebels just like the ones we read about in the Old Testament. And God will judge, just as he did the desert generation, the angels who sinned, and Sodom and Gomorrah.
If we believe in judgment, it changes everything. Charlie Peace, a notorious thief and murderer in England in the 1800s, listened to a sermon on the day that he was going to be executed. The preacher was talking about heaven and hell. He said, “Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say, and even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that.” You may not believe what Jude is saying about judgment, but if you do, it changes everything.
I want to be honest. I don’t want to believe in hell. But as Mike Wittmer writes, “Jettisoning hell also demands that we reassess the sinfulness of humanity.” In order to believe that we don’t face judgment, we have to believe that we’re not so bad or that God isn’t so holy. And once we believe that we’re not so bad or that God isn’t that holy, then we start to think that maybe Jesus didn’t have to pay the penalty for our sins at the cross. Pretty soon we’re just like the false teachers Jude talks about. Pretty soon we think we can handle Satan on our own strength. The minute we think we can stand on our own without Jesus, we’ve joined these people that Jude is warning against.
Jude is answering the question, “What’s so bad about false teaching?” And he’s saying that false teachers are rebels, and that false teachers will be judged. There’s one more thing.
False teachers are a danger.
Jude writes in verses 12 and 13:
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude is saying two things here. First, he’s saying that these people aren’t helping the church at all. They’re waterless clouds. They’re fruitless trees. They’re like stars that keep changing their course so that you can’t navigate according to them. These people promise a lot, but they don’t deliver.
But it gets worse. These false teachers actually do harm. “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts.” We’re having a potluck after our service today. Back then the church held the communion service in the middle of a potluck-type meal. Jude says that these false teachers are dangers to the community. Hidden reefs under water sink ships; you don’t want to go anywhere near them. These teachers are dangerous to have around.
This is hard. I’m sure that the people who got this letter were surprised. These false teachers were probably very nice guys. What’s so bad about a little false teaching? Jude says it’s a serious problem. These false teachers are rebels; they’re going to be judged; they’re dangerous. False teaching is a very big deal.
This past week one of the most wanted war criminals in the world was arrested. He was living in plain sight in a tiny Serbian village. I’m betting that few people would have guessed that the person living next door is accused of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
Jude is telling us that false teachers don’t look evil. They’re probably really nice. We’re going to be tempted to think, “What’s the big deal?” But Jude says that false teachers are the rebels we read about in Scripture. They’re going to be judged. And they’re dangerous to us as well.
One of our greatest needs as a church is to see that what we believe matters. It is a dangerous thing to lose our grip on the gospel.
That’s why Jude writes:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
So see the dangers of false teaching. Don’t say it’s not a big deal. It is a clear and present danger. But also: See what Jesus has done. Grasp the good news of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Delight in it. Even today remind yourself of what Jesus Christ has done in offering his life for sinners, and being raised again so that we can live. Contend for the gospel.