Woe unto them! For they have gone in The Way of Cain, and ran greedily after The Error of Balaam for reward, and perished in The Gainsaying of Core. —Jude 11.
THE TRANSLATION of this from the Greek New Testament we take to be: “Woe to them! because they departed in The Way of Cain, and (for) pay they torrentially poured out themselves to The Error of Balaam, and in The Contradiction of Korah they perished!”
THE HEART of the body of the epistle. With this verse we come to the heart of Jude’s epistle-structure. It links his illustrations from the corporate examples in the history of apostasy (v. 5-7) with his personal examples in that history (v. 8-11), thus connecting apostasy in history (v. 5-10) with apostasy in prophecy (12-19). The verse summarizes the historical acts of the apostates in three Old Testament characters. Cain was a worldly farmer, Balaam a false prophet and Korah a rebellious prince in Israel. Thus apostasy runs in the ranks of people, prophets and princes, being found in professions, pulpits and palaces.
THE TEXT also reveals a development in the sin of apostasy. Apostates first depart and defect to a wrong way (in hatred and murder); then they devote themselves with a vengeance to that path of error for the love of pay (in licentiousness and seduction). Finally, they rebel against divine authority, decency and order (in dissension and sedition) to fatally crash at the end of their ill-chosen path. The apostate never turns back nor repents, but plunges pell-mell downhill in reckless abandon to end in an unarrested fall to ruin. (Cp. Heb. 6:4-6 and the herd of swine in Mk. 5:13; swine never become sheep!) The path of apostasy begins in envy, continues in covetousness, swells in pride and ends in destruction. Thus the text sets forth examples of the evil of apostasy and its punishment.
THE DENUNCIATION, “Woe to them!” is the verdict of God in Christ denouncing against them wrath, judgment, punishment and a curse. (Cp. Matt. 23:14, 15, 33, 38). The reason for this verdict of woe is “because they departed (cp. same word in Matt. 25:41) in the way of Cain.” Cain was the first apostate to depart from the true church and the divinely prescribe worship of God. He was the devil’s patron (sponsor), the first father of the seed of the serpent, the spring of the carnal seed, the one who initiated all the persecution of the righteous. Cain’s Club (it never was “church.” having departed from that) is still popular to this day, with many members. For there are thousands who separate themselves from all churches of Christ. The Quakers have a meeting-house, but no church. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their “kingdom halls,” but no church. Theosophical groups form a society, but no church. Rosicrucians have their fellowship, but no church. The Unity (Gnostic) cult is known as a school, not a church. Scientology is pseudo-science, ersatz philosophy and masked Buddhism, not church.
These all stem from Cain who rejected the truth that man is guilty for his disobedience and fall, for which judgment and death were his just due. He rejected the only way of deliverance from judgment and death, namely, by the sacrifice of the promised Seed of the woman, the blessed Savior Who would come to crush the serpent’s head, though himself crushed in His heel. Cain rejected this original, fundamental revelation from God. He refused the bleeding sacrifice offered on the altar outside Eden’s gate which pointed to the Lamb of God without spot or blemish, who knew no sin, but came to be made sin for us who knew no righteousness, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Therefore, “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Heb. 11:4). Abel did this by faith in the primeval promise. In faith he embraced the precarious death of the sinless Substitute in his place as the only deliverance from guilt, judgment and death.
Basically there are only two religions in the world, that of Abel’s and that of Cain’s, that of divine revelation (the religion of Jehovah) and that of secular humanism (the worship of man as all the god there is!). On the upper registers of the humanist scale, men (by nature) may be said to be “very religious” (Acts 17:22, margin), but on its lower registers, men (totally depraved in sin) must be said to be “very superstitious” (cp. KJV). The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers deemed Paul “a setter forth of strange gods,” That is, “of foreign deities,” or “outlandish divinities.” His word deities is literally demons. The latter term Luke used in his Gospel in the bad sense of evil demons, unclean spirits, but in the Acts he never so used it, but always in a good sense from a heathen point of view, for the heathen are here speaking. Paul takes up their language, calling them, literally, “demon fearers” (or. KJV, “too superstitious”), that is, demon worshipers, or a more polished translation would make it, “devoted to gods.” Paul, indeed, may be thought of in addressing the heathen as having in mind the more tactful and less offensive idea of “very religious.” Yet any on the Areopagus (17:19, 22) converted (v. 34) under his preaching would in their minds rightly penetrate to the deeper meaning of “very superstitious.” For when Paul “saw the city wholly given to idolatry” (v. 16), the meaning is that he saw it was idol-filled! It was jammed full of idols from top to bottom; it was idols “wall-to-wall”; we would say “snowed” with images, decorated and dotted with ubiquitously visible superstitions. Therefore, “ye are very superstitious” is easily and inescapably implicit in Paul’s language and thought.
Cain’s heart-sin was envy. He was envious of God’s acceptance of his brother’s gift and person, and full of hatred and murder over the divine rejection of his own offering and person. So apostate teachers envy the gifts given Christ’s fruitful ministers; they envy the success of their labors, the honor Christ has placed on them (Rev. 2:2, 3, 7) in speaking through them (Rom. 10:14, 15); they envy their esteem by the churches. “Which shows that they were destitute of grace, and particularly of the grace of. . .love, which envies not and (shows) that they were in an unregenerate. . .state and upon the brink of ruin and destruction.” (John Gill). Envy led to their further sin, hatred and murder. So, like Cain, these false brethren hated their true brethren, persecuting them to death and murdering the souls of men with their false doctrine (Ezek. 3:18).
“The way of Cain” is also an irreversible departure from the presence of the Lord and from the sphere of the true church and its pure worship. So these false prophets went out from the church (I Jn. 2:18, 19) and forsook the assembling of themselves together (Heb. 10:25), going as Cain, driven from the presence of the Lord (Gen. 4:14, 16) as cursed to everlasting fire (Matt. 25:41). The worst enemies of the church are those who have apostatized from the true doctrine of Christ (as exemplified in the ecumenical and Reformed confessions) to become haters of those who love and adhere to these. They have thrown off and quit all their profession of Christianity to take up with the false church (Canons of Dordrecht, Art. XXIX) and the weird cults.
Cain with his bloodless, vegetable offering represents every religion, ceremony or cult which rejects the doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atonement for sin. The way of Cain is approach to God by the imaginings of the human mind, the religion of the natural man, in offerings expressive of what man deems acceptable to God. Yet he dares to approach God his own way ignoring the divine revelation, setting aside God’s requirements, refusing to admit the exceeding sinfulness of sin and what his own sin. deserves, namely, spiritual, physical and eternal death. He dares to approach God while denying His sentence of death against sin and while refusing to approach Him through the offering of a life for a life, thus while denying the forgiveness of sins only through the shedding of blood. His is a fig-leaf or spider’s-web righteousness, a cult of “flower-power” and not one of faith in “power in the blood.” So Cain rejected God’s way of salvation to take up with “another gospel” which is no gospel.
In Cain we have a prime example of original sin, the same sin which, being in every man, is in us. A congenital disease may continue in a family line for generations, yet after a number of generations, die out. Yet this disease and death (Prov. 16:25) of the way of Cain will still run in an incurably polluted stream throughout the world as long as the carnal seed remains on the earth. We have the same devil with his same old temptations and solicitations. But there is the same blood of Jesus, typified in Cain and Abel’s day, actually poured out in these last days that we may overcome (Rev. 12:11). Are we better than Cain by nature? Is there any goodness in us to keep us from the sin of the Cain crew had we been left as they were? Are we not incapable of doing any good and prone to all wickedness? See the Broad Way to Hell which we may have taken except for preventing grace barring us from it. Thank the Lord for distinguishing mercy which steers our course in the Life, the Truth, the Way! Cain loved to dig in his fields and gardens, in itself good occupation. But he did not dig deeply for eternity. His religion was mere superstition. He did not trust in the Blood of the Lamb. The pageantry and parade of Cain’s profession will not stand in the judgment but be swept from off the land by the fiery wind of divine wrath in the day of the Lord. Our help is in the name of the Lord. By His grace we shall despise the way of Cain and “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth”!