Jude, the brother of James and half brother of Jesus, declared that apostates are spots in a church’s gatherings, clouds that can’t hold water, trees that produce no fruit, waves of the sea that foam up all kinds of filth, and wandering stars that appear in the sky briefly and then disappear into the blackness of space forever (Jude 11-13). Such are those who make pretense of faith in Christ but are deceivers and themselves deceived.
I’ve always loved the stars. Who hasn’t? There is no more majestic spectacle in all of God’s wonderful creation than peering into space on a clear night and seeing the lights of the sky placed there by the God of lights. God has put earth in the Milky Way Galaxy which, by average estimates, has over 400 billion stars in it. Some galaxies have a trillion stars. And (my mind loses comprehension here) there are over 170 billion galaxies!
Isaiah described the immensity of God, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out the heavens with the span” (Isa. 40:12). The Psalmist declared, “He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names” (Psa. 147:4). Imagine! God holds the universe in His hand and knows every star by name! Try to picture that on a clear starry night!
I have enough trouble finding a few planets that appear in the night sky and the big dipper. I can tell if the moon is waxing or waning and I can always find the north star. I have one of those phone apps that I can point in a certain direction at night and it will give me the names of the constellations and planets in that direction. Pretty amazing! One of the thrills that we always remember when we look at the night sky is the shooting star. These pieces of rock, or meteoroids, come streaming out of the darkness, creating enough heat by entering the earth’s atmosphere to leave a streak of light, and sometimes a tail of glowing particles, and then disappear as quickly as they appeared. Jude simply called them “wandering stars.”
Jude’s word choice is typical and yet unique. “Wandering” is the word planētai, from which we get our word “planet.” Some have thought that Jude intended to signify the very planets which circle the sun but are never in a fixed position (The north star is the only celestial star that remains fixed). Most agree, however, that Jude referred to the shooting stars that disappear into the darkness. The word is appropriate. Planē in its various forms takes on the meaning of going astray, deceiving, seducing, wandering, and of being out of the way.
Besides our sun itself, the brightest objects in the sky are the least reliable. The shooting stars are fantastic to see, but can’t be counted on at any given time. The moon is bright but it is in a different position each night and throughout the month. The planets are the brightest “stars” but pass quickly across the sky and come only seasonally. The constellations are always there but are not always visible either. Jude’s description of apostates as shooting stars depicts them as the most thrilling but least reliable of the night lights.
The word planē, planaō, and planos, are together used over fifty times in the New Testament in a number of different contexts. A few times the word is morally neutral and signifies a direction as when the writer of Hebrews tells us that the persecuted saints “wandered in deserts” (Heb. 11:38). He also wrote that Christ is a High Priest for those who are “out of the way” (5:2). Jesus used the word in the parable of the one sheep that had “gone astray” (Matt. 18:12), and Peter reminds us that we were “as sheep going astray” (1 Pet. 2:25). But the great majority of uses for this word have to do with the deceptions and the deceivers of this world. We should realize that these “wandering stars” are not reliable guides for the believer.
Satan and his ministers
We know so much about Satan that we almost take him for granted. Most of us can give a quick biography of his history and future prophecies and speak about him as if he were a political contemporary. Well, he does control spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12) and he does have ministers preaching all around us (2 Cor. 11:15). In the book of Revelation our word planē is used six times to describe his world-wide activity, each time translated as “deceive.” He is the one who “deceiveth the whole world” (12:9), whose false prophet “deceiveth them that dwell on the earth” (13:14), whose antichrist and false prophet “deceived them” (19:20) with the mark of the beast, and who will be bound for a thousand years so that he can “deceive the nations” no more (20:3, 8, 10).
When we are warned not to love the world (1 Jn. 2:15), it is because Satan controls the world through deception. This is the proper point with which to begin. The other ways in which we are deceived are overseen, influenced, or controlled by Satan’s great power in the world. He deceives whole nations, and therefore “it is no great thing” (2 Cor. 11:15) if he controls businesses, churches, families, and individuals with his ministers and “doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). He was able to offer the Son of God the “kingdoms of the world” (Matt. 4:8) because he is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), and is, in fact, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).
He truly “has blinded the minds of them which believe not lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). Sinners are simply “taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). Luther wrote in his great hymn, “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe, his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.”
We should not leave this thought without also remembering that as believers we can “resist the devil, and he will flee” from us (Jas. 4:7), and that we do not have to “give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27), and he is one whom we can “resist in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:9). When we put on the armor of God, we can “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Satan is a wandering star who will one day fade into the blackness and darkness forever. No one has to go with him.
Much as our familiarity with Satan dulls our fear of him, our knowledge and “fairness” toward world religions dulls our differences with them. Any religion that denies the gospel of Jesus Christ is false and is taking people to a Christless eternity. “Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22). John would then say, “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce [planaō] you” (2:26).
Paul told Timothy, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). These false religions are wandering stars themselves and are causing people to wander away with them. Jesus told the Sadducees, a religious group that denied the doctrine of the resurrection, “Ye do err [planaō], not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29). Jesus severely criticized the church of Thyatira because they suffered “that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (Rev. 2:20). This was the inroad of an ancient religion which would destroy the church. The same danger was also in the old teaching of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). John also saw the harlot, the one-world religious system, and said, “for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived” (Rev. 18:23).
Paul gave the Ephesian church an interesting word picture concerning false teachers of false religions when he wrote, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). Those that are lying in wait to deceive God’s church are like leaves being carried around with the wind, and are like cubes (“sleight” is from kubeia), or the rolling of the cubes i.e., the dice. Here are two more pictures of those who deceive: blowing leaves and rolling dice! You take your chances on where you will end up.
Lusts and desires
In the end, we will not be able to blame Satan or religions for our sin. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Tit. 3:3). James said, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren” (Jas. 1:14-16). When the sinner stands before a holy God and hears his fate read, it will be for no other reason than that his own sin was not forgiven through Jesus Christ. It is our own sin that makes us wandering stars “To whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 13).
Paul wrote, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Paul also wrote, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:7-8). John would conclude, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).
To be deceived by our own sin is so serious that hell is waiting for us. The pale horse of the Apocalypse was named Death, “and hell followed him” (Rev. 6:8). We naturally recoil at the thought of a literal hell of fire and brimstone being eternal, without ending. Surely, we think, a loving God would not send someone there. One cannot think of a more horrible punishment. And why? For sins during a moment of life on the earth? But the only answer can be that a holy God must determine it so. Sin is so contrary to God, so appalling to His holy nature, so foreign to His holy heaven, that the punishment can never fully be paid. This is how serious our sin is and how deceived we are by being led astray by it.
The debate still rages over the definition of culture. I think the older definitions are unbiased and more correct. T.S. Eliot called culture “The incarnation of religion.”1 Later, Ravi Zacharias also said, “Religion is the essence of culture while culture is the dress of religion.”2 That is, culture is not a neutral phenomenon that just happens to exist, that we can copy without caution or reserve. Culture is the expression of man’s nature. It is what man really believes. It is what the Bible means when it uses the word “world.” “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15).
God became grieved with Israel in the wilderness because they created a culture contrary to His law. “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways” (Heb. 3:10). When we follow our natural desires and beliefs, we are following a worldly culture created by ourselves and not God. That’s why James could say, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). When believers try to appease the world, they are becoming an enemy of God. John cautioned against the false teachers who did that very thing. “They are of the world: therefore they speak of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (1 Jn. 4:5-6).
Many today look at the culture as something inviolable. They think it is like the north star, unchangeable and something by which to set your compass. So rather than working to change the culture, they change themselves to fit the culture. To be “cultured” used to mean to have refined yourself, to have changed your culture. Now it means to be changed by your culture. This is the “spirit of error,” or of planē.
Antichrist, and many antichrists
The antichrist will be the great deceiver of humans. He will foster a lie that the whole world will follow (2 Thes. 2:11) and be deceived. John warned, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 Jn. 2:18). Jesus taught that this will be especially critical in the last days, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5).
In his second epistle John wrote, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 Jn. 7). Not only will the antichrist himself be a world-wide deceiver, but until then there will always be the spirit of antichrist. Anyone or anything that lends itself to that final apostasy is antichrist. This is why John taught that we cannot bid “God speed” to false teaching (2 Jn. 10-11). When we do, we are “partakers” (koinōnei, fellowshippers) of that evil deed and are deceived by it.
And So . . . .
Isaac Watts put Psalm 147 to verse in this way:
Praise ye the Lord; tis good to raise
Our hearts and voices in his praise;
His nature and his works invite
To make this duty our delight.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem,
And gathers nations to his name;
His mercy melts the stubborn soul,
And makes the broken spirit whole.
He form’d the stars, those heav’nly flames;
He counts their numbers, calls their names;
His wisdom vast, and knows no bound,
A deep where all our thoughts are drown’d.
Great is our Lord, and great his might;
And all his glories infinite:
He crowns the meek, rewards the just,
And treads the wicked to the dust.
Sing to the Lord, exalt him high,
Who spreads his clouds all round the sky;
There he prepares the fruitful rain,
Nor lets the drops descend in vain.
He makes the grass the hills adorn,
And clothes the smiling fields with corn;
The beasts with food his hands supply,
And the young ravens when they cry.
What is the creature’s skill or force,
The sprightly man, the warlike horse,
The nimble wit, the active limb?
All are too mean delights for him.
But saints are lovely in his sight,
He views his children with delight;
He sees their hope, he knows their fear,
And looks, and loves his image there.3
- T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcout Brace, 1949) 101.
- Ravi Zachariah, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 82.
- Isaac Watts, Psalm 147, The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997) 265-266.