Published in  
September 21, 2021

Hidden Reefs

One of the most prominent surf breaks in Tel Aviv-Yafo lies between two T-shaped jetties. Because of the inconsistent wind swell of the Mediterranean, good waves are a fleeting reality. Whenever the right conditions appear, the spot fills up quite quickly; on a good day, there are well over a hundred and fifty surfers within the confines of the three hundred-meter beach.

All skill levels are present, from first timers to high level professional surfers; but what makes this spot truly unique, and perhaps most deterring for many, is the reef and sand mixed bottom. The jagged reef protrudes from the waters in many spots and I have seen many a fin, board, and skin lost to its jagged edges. I find myself a much more reserved surfer when surfing over reefs compared to sand. I’m much less inclined to attempt certain maneuvers and I back down from waves that I wouldn’t think twice about charging on a beach break.

When surfing over reefs I always find it astonishing that the sharp realities underneath the surface of the water can impact my ability to joyfully live and surf above the waters; and yet, it makes sense. After all, reefs are dangerous. And not just for surfers but any type of vessel. While surfing, the most damage that can probably occur is harm to one individual, but think of the ships that have succumbed to a hidden reef. The imagery of lurking hidden reefs provides wonderful imagery for a crucial truth about the Christian life.

In the book of Jude, Jesus' half-brother offers the imagery of a hidden reef as a warning to his letter’s recipients. First, we must establish the context of Jude’s letter. Jude wished to write to his recipients about salvation (1:3), but he found it necessary to address that harmful false teachers and leaders had perverted early Christian gatherings and it was beginning to affect their community. Jude then uses an assortment of Old Testament scriptures and Jewish literature to rebuke the teachers bringing harm to the Christian community.

The difficult thing about false teachers, especially within the context of Jude’s rebuke, is sometimes that their ability to teach gives no indication of their destructive ways. Jesus calls these abusers "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15) because

a wolf in sheep's clothing knows how to fool the flock by looking like and talking like a sheep.

The disconnect between who they are and what they do is not seen by the flock. Meaning, their destructive and sin-filled lives pollute the community from the inside out, but it is masked by intellectual, persuasive teaching. Jude uses three people in Jude 11 (Cain, Balaam, and Korah) as examples of individuals who distorted entire communities and even cities because of their sinful actions (Cain built a city where violence reigned, Balaam lured Israel into idolatry, and Korah led a rebellion that killed hundreds of people). Jude’s two-fold point is quite clear. Firstly, harmful action within a community always has far-reaching consequences within that community. Secondly, false teachers who lead within a community have not only sealed their own destruction but will inevitably lead others to a similar fate. So Jude is on a rescue mission to prove that the character of a wolf always produces destruction and the realities of God’s impending judgment on abuse and sin.

To the ancient audiences immersed in the Scriptures, the connections Jude is making are quite clear. He shows multiple sets of destructive personalities and people groups and says that “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 12) Among a colorful assortment of parallels, Jude calls these false teachers polluting the Christian community “hidden reefs.” Jude is prompting believers to recognize that false teachers, like hidden reefs that puncture boards, rip the bottoms out of boats, and tear off layers of skin are lying in wait to bring utter destruction to faithful communities of believers.

So how do we recognize false teachers and their teachings? First, by being so familiar with the voice of the True Shepherd and the Spirit of Truth that a clear detection can be made in deciphering the hoax from the truth. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) As true believers in the Gospel, what we do and what we say must coincide.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

God's words always coincide with His actions (in the beginning, He said and there was). This is a challenge for all believers: that our actions and our words must both be objectively refined by the razor of the Gospel of Truth. Second, Jude offers an assortment of disciplines at the end of his letter for believers to follow until they are with Christ in all His fullness:

Build yourselves up in your most holy faith (the Gospel). Pray in the Holy Spirit. Remain in the love of God. Wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Let us remember that false teachers cannot defeat the work of Christ. Christ Himself protects us from stumbling, and for those who are in the grace of God, you are sealed by victory. Jesus is able to present you blameless before the presence of God’s glory with great joy! This glorious news should now express itself authentically in our words and actions as we worship God, who holds all glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, from before all time to the present, and from now through eternity! Regardless of the reefs, the wave can still be surfed...