This last couple of months I have been part of a study of the book of Jude and at church, we’ve been studying the churches at the beginning of Revelation. And, there is a connection. The connection is apostates. An apostate is one who falls away (or turns off on a side road) from true faith in God. First, we will look at some of the points of Jude and then the connection to some of the churches mentioned in Revelation.
The book of Jude is set up as a chiasm (pronounced ki-azm, use a long i). I find chiasms fascinating. A chiasm is a linguistic tool that points to the main idea centered within the supporting ideas. These ideas or points either run in parallel (ABCAB) fashion or in reverse (like a mirror) (ABCBA). A short example is found in Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Other chiasms are found in Genesis 1- 2:3; Genesis 7:4-8:3; Genesis 1 & 8; and so many more.
The center of the chiasm is the theme of the section. Jude is a mirrored set up with the center in verse 11. In the case of Jude, it is pronouncing judgment on apostates. Jude 11 reads,
“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
Paths of apostates
Notice the parts I marked with bold and underlined? These mark the process of apostasy: knowingly enter the wrong path, run down that path, and perish at the end.
- Way of Cain
- Genesis 4
- the wrong way; the blasphemous way
- disobeyed God’s word
Cain knew the right way. We can know this based on Abel. Abel knew what was right (he was taught) and was a shepherd. They did not eat meat yet (that command was given after Noah’s flood). The reason for keeping sheep would have been for sacrifice. Cain chose to disobey and then got angry with God when corrected. Instead of repentance, he chose a path of evil and moved further away from God.
- Balaam’s error
- Numbers 24:25-25:3; Numbers 31:16
- leads the crowd to sin; use deception to make money
- opposed God’s word
Balaam’s motivation was money. In the end, he taught Moab to use deception so he could get the money. Since God wouldn’t let him curse the Israelites, Balaam couldn’t make the money the King Balak of Moab promised him. But he then turned around and gave the Moabites and Midianites advice on how to destroy the Israelites. They (Moab) enticed the Israelites into their pagan worship and immorality. They literally lined up naked young women along the route the Israelites were taking and tempted them to worship baal with them at Peor. Balaam is killed (31:8) later because of this.
- Korah’s rebellion
- Numbers 16
- encourages open rebellion to the point of destruction
- the open rebellion of God’s word
Korah was a Levite. As a Levite, he would have been part of the process of caring for the tabernacle. It wasn’t enough for him though. He gathered 250 leaders from the tribes and led an open rebellion against God’s word and the authority given to Moses and Aaron. As a result, the earth swallowed him alive (verse 32). And, fire consumed his 250 followers (verse 35).
Apostate teaching revealed in the churches
Now for Revelation…
We have seven churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3. God commends some churches for their faithfulness and endurance. Others, he warns and exposes their faults. Remember, John the apostle wrote this down about 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Here are some of the apostate problems within the churches.
Let’s start with Pergamum. The name Pergamum taken in the literal sense means ‘high place of the people.’ It was the home of the temple of Asclepius and was known as the seat or throne of Satan. They have some who hold fast to God and the faith. But then we get to the apostates. Two groups are mentioned specifically.
Balaam teaching returns
First, we have those who follow Balaam’s teaching (listed as ‘error’ in Jude). What was it?… to draw people into pagan worship (mix with the world), and cause them to sin as a result.
There were those in Pergamum who taught and drew Christians to also participate in the pagan rituals. Two points are mentioned: one – eating food sacrificed to idols and 2 – sexual immorality, both of which would be part of the pagan temple worship.
Eating the food sacrificed to the idol was considered an actual act of worship to the idol. Is it any wonder the apostles told the early Christian Gentiles to abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29). Sexual immorality was also part of pagan temple worship. The temples had shrines full of prostitutes and to go worship at the temple also meant you went to visit one of the shrine prostitutes as part of your worship.
Second, we have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. They were named after Nicholas (Acts 6:5), who was a convert to Judaism and then to Christianity and at one time was one of the seven chosen to care for the widows of the church in Jerusalem. His wife was very beautiful and he was afraid of being proud of her beauty. So, he had her commit adultery with another man to “cure his pride.” He then taught the people of the church to practice wife-swapping.
The church of Thyatira had almost similar problems as Pergamum as far as the path of apostasy goes. A woman referred to as Jezebel who called herself a prophet. She is unrepentant. And continues to lead people into mixing the pagan culture into the church. The sins in the Thyatira are so bad God list them and says he will destroy Jezebel and her followers.
Sardis puts up a good appearance. People thought they were alive, but underneath they were dead and empty. Ephesus had quit responding to people with God’s love (agape). Laodicea is sitting on the fence and not taking a stand for either side. They are non-committal.
Markers of an apostate
Jude 18-19 gives us a list of actions that mark apostates. Some are easy to spot and others are more subtle. So, what actions do we need to watch for? Read verses 18-19 (verses are in italic, my notes are in print)
They (the apostles) said to you, “In the last time there will be, scoffers, following their own ungodly passions (lusts). It is these who cause divisions (the Greek indicates a continuous practice and choice of their will), worldly (sensual, in the realm of their natural senses, the natural man not the spiritual) people, devoid of the Spirit.
So, what is the list?
- people following their own passions, lusts, wants, desires…
- causing division continuously and by choice…
- worldly, in other words satisfying their natural senses and not the spiritual senses
- devoid of the Spirit…ouch
If the early church can have so many problems and paths of apostasy, what can we do in this day and age to avoid following the path of an apostate and becoming one ourselves? Look at Jude 20-23.
But you, beloved,
building yourselves up in your most holy faith
and praying in the Holy Spirit,
keep yourselves in the love of God,
waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
And have mercy on those who doubt;
save others by snatching them out of the fire;
to others show mercy with fear,
hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Now for our positive list; what we can do to avoid apostasy.
- build yourself in the holy faith
- pray in the Holy Spirit
- keep in the love of God
- wait for the mercy of Christ
- have mercy on those who doubt
- save others by snatching them from the fire…show mercy with fear…
- hate the garment stained by the flesh
We can only do this by having knowledge of God’s character and how he wants us to act. In other words, we need to study God’s Word. We need to pray in the Spirit. He will show us and guide us in that knowledge to understanding and right actions. We need to trust in God to fulfill his promise to keep us and preserve us from abandoning the faith (Jude 24). Our hearts need to be in a posture of worship, aiming to serve Him. And along the way, we share our lives with those around us drawing them to true faith and away from the sins that lead them to death.