Dangerous and Empty Promises

False teaching leads only to death and disappointment.

“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[.]” (Jude 12) 

Bad motives often hide behind good appearances. From the infamous Trojan horse to the common occurrence of telemarketing scams, there is no shortage of examples to consider. Throughout church history, false teachers have time and again peddled their heresies to God’s people under the guise of smooth speech and promises of prosperity and grandeur. 

Jude addresses just such a situation. He has spent the majority of his letter pointing out the presence and danger of false teachers, along with their coming judgment. Now he draws the reader’s attention to the utter emptiness of their promises. 

He does so through a series of analogies beginning with “hidden reefs at your love feasts.” Reefs just below the surface of the ocean present serious danger to ships and their crews. Though not easily visible, they can cause immeasurable damage to a ship’s hull. Likewise, these false teachers enter the church appearing as calm water but do not deliver the smooth sailing they promise; in reality, they are dangerous reefs waiting to destroy their hearers. The faith of Jude’s readers will quickly be shipwrecked if they do not keep a watchful eye on the doctrine they receive and believe. 

Though these teachers claim to participate in the brotherly fellowship and unity of “love feasts,” there is a spiritual chasm that divides them from true believers. Jude goes on to say that “they feast without fear.” Not only do they enter into fellowship, but they do so with blatant disregard for holiness. They may have used such occasions to encourage outright immorality or other sins. At the very least, they do not hesitate to participate in the church, knowing full well their true intentions. 

The second analogy Jude uses is of “shepherds feeding themselves.” Unlike Christ, as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11), these false teachers are entirely self-focused. They are not motivated by any desire to serve or protect the sheep, but rather to gain from the flock. There is nothing more antithetical to the true calling of a shepherd than for him to disregard the needs of the sheep to serve his own desires. These teachers are self-professed leaders in the church, yet they bear no resemblance to Christ’s servant leadership of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). 

This should raise immediate cautions for any church or ministry. If a leader’s words and actions are primarily concerned with his own desires and needs, rather than those of his congregation, there is little reason to believe he is called to or qualified for that office. This is true in missions as well. The primary motive should always be to bring the hope of the gospel to the lost, not to make a name for oneself. 

Next, Jude says that these spiritual wolves are “waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn.” These two images carry the same message: their promises of fruitfulness are void of substance. To his readers living in an agrarian context, rain was invaluable. Their life depended upon a good harvest, and a good harvest depended upon rain at the right time. Thus, the promise of rain would have been deeply attractive, and if clouds appeared in the sky yet produced no rain, the land would be left disappointed, dry, and withering.  

John Calvin comments, “These unprincipled men, though promising much, were yet barren within and empty, like clouds driven by stormy winds, which give hope of rain, but soon vanish into nothing.” 

Similarly, these false teachers are “fruitless trees in late autumn.” Trees in late autumn are expected to yield a harvest. While their branches should be laden with fruit, these spiritual trees are barren—a state which brings judgment (John 15:2). They have neither the desire nor the ability to deliver any of the blessings which they promise. 

Lastly, they are “twice dead” and “uprooted.” They neither have spiritual life nor any source from which to derive it. They are dead and rootless trees because they are separated from the true Vine (John 15:1). Jude warns his reader to run from them so as not to fall under the same judgment. Like Bunyan’s Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, they should turn from these false teachers with their fingers in their ears and run to Christ, crying, “Life! Life! Eternal life!” 


Heavenly Father, 
Teach us to cling to Christ as our only source of spiritual life. Preserve us from the empty promises of false teachers and the danger of their ways. 
In Jesus’ name,

Prayer Requests: 

  • Pray for the Spirit’s help to discern false gospels and to faithfully refute them. 
  • Pray for opportunities to share the gospel with those who are deceived by false teachers. This resource will be a helpful tool. 
  • Pray for the Lord to thwart the schemes of those who would harm the body of Christ.