Merely Natural: Scoffers Without the Spirit

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features Chapter 12: Wild Waves and Wandering Stars: The Doom of False Teachers.

Previously: Look! The Lord Comes: The Prophecy of Enoch



But you, dear friends, remember the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions and are merely natural, not having the Spirit. (Jude 17-19 HCSB)

William MacLeod Raine (1871 – 1954) was a newspaper man and author of a number of western adventure novels. In a feature about Dodge City, Kansas, Raine wrote that practical jokes fueled the city’s “good spirits” in the late 19thcentury – and the wilder the joke, the better.

Enter “Mysterious Dave,” also known as Dave Mathers, one of the nastiest characters to walk the sawdust trail. Raine called him “the worst of bad men and a notorious scoffer.”

It so happened that an evangelist known as Brother Johnson came to town and led a series of meetings so successful that the crowds outgrew the church and adjourned to a local dance hall, thus attracting Mysterious Dave. He listened to Brother Johnson preach several times, admiring the evangelist’s fiery sermons against sin. Perhaps, the preacher thought, there was hope for this Dodge City scoundrel.

So, Brother Johnson preached directly at Dave, leveraging the full weight of his message against the sinner’s stubborn resistance. And then it happened. Dave buried his head in his hands and sobbed. The preacher boldly exclaimed that he was willing to die if he could convert this one vile sinner. The deacons in the congregation agreed that they, too, would not resist going straight to heaven if Mysterious Dave were converted.

At last Dave rose to his feet and said, “I’ve got yore company, friends. Now, while we’re all saved I reckon we better start straight for heaven. First off, the preacher; then the deacons; me last.” Dave pulled out his “whoppin’ big gun” and started shooting.

The preacher dove through a window to avoid the gunfire. His deacons scattered in search of cover. Raine concluded, “Seemed like they was willin’ to postpone taking that ticket to heaven. After that they never did worry any more about Dave’s soul.”

Notorious scoffers like Dave Mathers eventually reveal their true character. They are incorrigible and unrepentant. At some point, people may fairly conclude that they have passed the point of no return. Nothing successfully prompts a change in their behavior because their character is fully corrupted.

But scoffers in the Old West are nothing new. First-century false teachers honed the art of ridicule long before the first brigands rode into Dodge City. Jude reminds his readers that the apostles warned us of such people. We should be on guard but not surprised.

What is the end time?

Jude exhorts his readers to “remember the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they told you, ‘In theend timethere will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires’” (vv. 17-18 – emphasis added). Most English translations render “end time” as “last times” or “last time.” In the parallel passage in 2 Peter 3:3, Peter uses a phrase that nearly every English version translates as “last days.” So, if the “end time” is the same as “last time” and “last days,” how are we to understand the time frame to which Jude refers?

Since Jude mentions the apostles’ end-time prophecies, and these prophecies describe the work of scoffers after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – yet prior to His return – we must conclude that the “end time” describes the days between the Lord’s first coming and His second coming.

In other words, Jude reminds his readers that throughout the church age, Satan sows tares in Christ’s wheat fields (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). False teachers play a key role in Satan’s plan to spoil the crop. But when Jesus returns with His holy angels, He casts those who cause sin and are guilty of lawlessness into the blazing furnace, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. With judgment completed, “the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 13:43a).

As with the prophecy of Enoch, Jude applies the apostles’ foresight to his own day. The fulfillment of these prophecies is not reserved for some far-away date. Rather, it unfolds before the very eyes of Jude’s readers. This is an important reminder to those who read Bible prophecy by the light of today’s headlines. We may rightly expect the world to become more wicked as the return of Christ draws nearer, but we have no right to claim for the 21stcentury alone the fulfillment of New Testament end-times prophecies. Things already are pretty bad in the first generation of the church age.

Even so, it may prove helpful to step back and look at the last days from a broader perspective. There is a connection between the New Testament teaching on the “end time” and the Old Testament concept of the “day of the Lord.”

To ancient Israelites, the Messianic age was completely in the future and encompassed everything related to the Anointed One suffering for our sins, rising from the dead, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling the world in righteousness. When Jesus appears and fulfills the Messianic prophecies relating to His passion, but not to His glorious reign in Jerusalem, it becomes necessary to see the Old Testament prophecies in a new light – as an already-but-not-yet fulfillment of the Messiah’s kingdom work.

The “day of the Lord” in the Old Testament, as it refers to final judgment and restoration, is yet to come. Meanwhile, it merges with the “end time” of the New Testament and anticipates the glorious return of the Son of Man, when He sets things right and creates new heavens and a new earth. With that in mind, let’s review a few related biblical terms and corresponding passages.

Last days

The term “last days” refers to the final period in history when the Messiah comes to establish God’s kingdom. The Old Testament writers envision a time when God makes good on His promises, delivers His people from their enemies, and blesses them. “The fulfillment of the last days is also tied directly to the coming ruler from David’s line” (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 30:9; 33:15).

The New Testament writers understand that the “last days” began with the first coming of Jesus and will be completed when He returns at a future unknown time. The apostles warn us that rebellion and ungodliness characterize the last days (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1 – 4:5; 2 Peter 3:3). The writer of Hebrews understands that he and his audience are living in this time frame: “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son …” (Heb. 1:1-2a – emphasis added).

While Christians live in these “last days,” we are to remain faithful (2 Tim. 3:10, 14-15); prepare to face persecution (2 Tim. 3:12); persevere in ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-2, 5); live holy lives (2 Peter 3:11, 14); prepare ourselves, for we do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return (Matt. 25:13); and be positive in our outlook because He is going to set things right (Revelation 21-22).

The last day

“The last day” refers in some New Testament contexts to future resurrection and judgment. After the death of her brother, Martha expresses to Jesus her confidence that Lazarus will “rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24).

Jesus uses the term “last day” in the same manner in John 6:39-40: “This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (emphasis added; see also vv. 44, 54.)

There is an already-but-not-yet tension in which Christians live today – a joyful tension, if it may be so described – that anticipates a coming day in which all God’s promises are fulfilled. The one who believes in Jesus has eternal life (already), and will be resurrected and fully conformed to the image of Christ on the last day (not yet).

In John 12:48, Jesus foretells the future destiny of those who rebuff His gracious call to salvation: “The one who rejects Me and doesn’t accept My sayings has this as his judge: the word I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (emphasis added).

The already-but-not-yet reality of the kingdom affects all people. The unbeliever stands condemned (the already; John 3:18), and faces future resurrection and judgment (not yet; Rev. 20:11-15).

Last time, end of times, last hour

The New Testament writers use the phrases “last time,” “end of times,” and “last hour” to further depict the already-but-not-yet nature of God’s kingdom.

In 1 Peter 1:3-5, Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (emphasis added).

So, we have a new birth, a living hope, and a promised inheritance now (the already), to be realized in the future (not yet).

Peter further says in 1 Peter 1:20-21, “He [Christ] was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the timesfor you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (emphasis added).

Our salvation is anchored in eternity past to the election of God the Father and the foreordination of Christ, who was revealed at the “end of the times” for us (the already), so that our present-day faith and hope in God assures future fulfillment of all His promises (not yet).

John writes in 1 John 2:18, “Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard, ‘Antichrist is coming,’ even now many antichrists have come. We know from this that it is the last hour” (emphasis added).

Many “antichrists” – those opposed to Christ, including some who presume to take His place – already have come, proving that we are in the last hour (the already). This serves as a prelude to the coming Antichrist (not yet).

Day of the Lord

The expression “day of the Lord” in Scripture often refers to events at the end of human history. Sometimes it’s associated with the words “that day.” A key to understanding these phrases is to note that “they always identify a span of time during which God personally intervenes in history, directly or indirectly, to accomplish some specific aspect of His plan.”

To the ancient Israelites, “the day of the Lord” sometimes meant the day Yahweh would intervene to put Israel at the head of the nations, irrespective of their faithfulness to Him. But prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Joel, Zephaniah, and Zechariah make it clear that “the day” also means judgment upon God’s people. Other spokesmen, fully aware of the sinfulness of surrounding nations, prophesy that the day (or “that day”) is one of judgment on other nations for their wickedness, such as Babylon (Isa. 13:6, 9), Egypt (Jer. 46:10), and even “all the nations” (Oba. 15).

J.S. Wright summarizes it well: “The Day of the Lord is thus the occasion when Yahweh actively intervenes to punish sin that has come to a climax. This punishment may come through an invasion (Am. 5-6; Is. 13; Ezk. 13:5), or through some natural disaster, such as a locust invasion (Joel 1-2). All lesser interventions come to a head in the actual coming of the Lord himself. At this Day there are truly repentant believers who are saved (Joel 2:28-32), while those who remain enemies of the Lord, whether Jews or Gentiles, are punished.”

Concerning the end of human history, scholars are divided as to whether the day of the Lord is an instantaneous event in which Christ returns to reward His children and banish the wicked to hell, or a series of events featuring Christ’s glorious return, the resurrection and final judgment of all people, an extended reign of Christ on earth, and the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

Old Testament passages often convey a sense of expectation, proclaiming that the day of the Lord is near (Isa. 13:6; Ezek. 30:3; Zeph. 1:7). Some passages about the day of the Lord describe historical judgments that already have been fulfilled to some degree (for example, Isa. 13:6-22; Ezek. 30:2-19; and Zeph. 1:14-18), while others refer to divine intervention further into the future (such as Joel 2:30-32; Zech. 14:1-21; Mal. 4:1, 5). This is because the Old Testament prophets often are given a telescopic view of the future, when, from their perspective, the events encompassing God’s intervention in human history are compressed.

New Testament passages refer to the day of the Lord as a day of wrath, a day of visitation, and even “the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14), a future time when God’s wrath and His salvation are fully revealed. The day of the Lord comes quickly (2 Thess. 2:2; compare Zeph. 1:14-15), and so we must keep ourselves prepared and watchful.

Ultimately, the day of the Lord is fulfilled when all that God’s Word promises takes place. Christ returns, resurrects and judges all people, casts Satan and his demons into the lake of fire, and creates new heavens and a new earth. The day of the Lord is a day of vengeance, salvation, restoration, and completion. Believers should look forward to it; the wicked should fear it and repent while there is still time.

Where does Jude get the quote about scoffers?

Nowhere in the New Testament is an apostle quoted exactly as saying, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires” (Jude 18). However, Jude’s words approximate what Peter writes in a parallel passage: “First, be aware of this: scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, following their own lusts …” (2 Peter 3:3). No doubt, Jude makes reference to Peter’s words, lending credence to the view that Jude is written after 2 Peter. Peter warns of a coming day when false teachers infiltrate the church. Jude sounds the alarm that the false teachers have arrived.

Even before Peter, though, Paul offers similar warnings. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, he says, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them” (Acts 20:29-30).

And to Timothy, Paul offers these exhortations:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:1-2).

And, “But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of religion but denying its power. Avoid these people!” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

John further contributes (years after the epistle of Jude is written): “Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard, ‘Antichrist is coming,’ even now many antichrists have come. We know from this that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

Other passages could be cited, but Jude’s point is clear: His contemporaries, the leaders of the early church, provide abundant warning about arrogant, unrepentant, blasphemous scoffers. Jude lends his voice to their clarion call for followers of Jesus to be on guard.

Jude’s use of the term “scoffers” stands with Peter’s (2 Peter 3:3) as the only places in the New Testament where this word is used as a noun. The Greek word empaiktairefers to those who deride or mock. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the word appears in Isa. 3:4, where the Lord warns Judah, “I will make youths their leaders, and the unstable(or mischief makers) will govern them” (emphasis added).

The verb empaizo– which means to play like a child; to sport, jest, or ridicule – is used in the synoptic Gospels by Jesus as He prophesies His impending sufferings, and by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers who inflict these sufferings.

Clearly, Jude’s reference to scoffers should be applied to the false teachers of his day.  But who, or what, are they mocking?

In Peter’s use of “scoffers,” he describes the dismissive way people mock the message of Christ’s return. “Where is the promise of his coming?” these scoffers ask derisively. “For ever since the fathers fell asleep [died], all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Peter responds by reminding his readers that these mockers ignore God’s judgment of the world by water in the days of Noah, and thus they cannot see the impending judgment of this world by fire.

Peter then offers a word of encouragement: “Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance…. But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:8-9, 13).

Jude’s use of “scoffers” is different. While no doubt he would stand in full agreement with Peter and the other apostles about the imminent return of Christ, and those who refuse to see it coming, Jude’s point seems to be that these false teachers mock the law of God. These ideas are related. After all, those who mock God’s revealed will for all people naturally reject the idea that they must give an account one day before the divine Moral Lawgiver.

Jude puts a finer point on this when he caps what he already has written. These teachers are “ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). They commit “ungodly deeds” in an “ungodly way,” and say “harsh things” against God (v. 15). They are “discontented grumblers” who walk “according to their desires,” and their mouths “utter arrogant words” (v. 16). Now, Jude writes, the result of this ungodliness is that “These people create divisions and are merely natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19).

Next: The Divisions False Teachers Create