Question: "What does "clouds without water" mean (Jude 1:12)?"

Answer: Scripture abounds with metaphors, allegories, and other figures of speech. For instance, in Jude 1:12, the author mentions “clouds without water” to describe false teachers who fail to deliver on their promises. To understand the significance of this expression, let us review the context of Jude 1:12.

Jude, the brother of James and half-brother of Jesus (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), addresses the ubiquity of false teachers and the consequent rise of apostates. Apostasy is defined as “the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.” Apparently, many believers had abandoned the truth of the gospel to embrace the lies of false teachers. For this reason, Jude urges believers to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3–4).

In Jude 1:11, the author compares false teachers to Cain (Genesis 4:5–8), Balaam (Numbers 22:5–7; 2 Peter 2:15), and Korah (Numbers 16:1–3, 31–35). That is, the false teachers are characterized by Cain’s hatred and jealousy, Balaam’s lust for selfish gain, and Korah’s rebellious spirit. Such qualities are antithetical to the gospel.

Next, Jude describes false teachers as “hidden reefs at your love feasts” (Jude 1:12). In the early church, love feasts were communal meals shared among Christians. The primary purpose of these meals was for the sake of fellowship (Acts 2:46–47; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34). Unfortunately, false teachers had infiltrated these love feasts and lurked unnoticed, like hidden reefs, ready to shipwreck souls without warning. Here, we are reminded of Judas, who shared a meal with the Lord and His disciples, even though he had already decided to betray Christ (John 13:2, 21–30). Although the disciples did not know who would betray the Lord, Jesus was not caught off guard by Judas’ spineless behavior.

These self-indulgent teachers “feast with [us] without fear” (Jude 1:12). Pretending to be “shepherds,” they feed only themselves. This is how Jesus spoke about false shepherds in John 10:12–13: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” Jesus, however, is the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11, 14–15).

False teachers can also be likened to “waterless clouds” (Jude 1:12) and “waterless springs” (2 Peter 2:17). In other words, they cannot deliver on their promises. When we see a sky full of clouds bringing the promise of a refreshing rain, we expect some moisture. When the clouds pass by without so much as a drizzle, we are disappointed. The false teachers are like those waterless clouds. They talk a good talk, but there is nothing to show for it. They promise spiritual refreshment, but none ever comes. They make a show of their knowledge and gifts, but no one benefits. The ancient word of the wise applies to them: “Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given” (Proverbs 25:14).

When people set their expectation on “waterless clouds,” they will continue in their dry and parched condition. When they drink the “water” offered by the false teachers, they “will be thirsty again” (John 4:13). Only Jesus can provide thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying water unto eternal life (John 4:14). Only He provides the showers of blessing we need.

Because false teachers are disconnected from the true source of life, they are like “fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted” (Jude 1:12). Conversely, genuine believers produce fruit that leads to righteousness and eternal life (Galatians 5:22–23).

So, how do we spot false teachers? We look at the fruit they produce (or fail to produce). We look at the clouds and the rain they give (or fail to give). That tells us everything we need to know about them (Matthew 7:15–20).