Monday, August 26, 2013

In Judas' Defense

Today is the first day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* this week are:

  •  Isaiah 7-10; Matt 26; Psalm 22
  •  Isa 11-13; Matt 27; Psalm 118
  •  Isa 14-16; Matt 28
  •  Isa 17-19; 1 Cor 1; Psalm 62
  •  Isa 20-22; 1 Cor 2
Today, I want to defend Judas.  Yes, I know, it's not a popular thing to do.  Defense attorneys are often unpopular people.  But I just don't think he deserves as much condemnation as he gets.  Throughout the centuries, many Christians have consigned Judas to a special place in hell.  Yes, I'm aware of certain scriptures that treat Judas harshly:

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me (John 12:3-8).”

I give no argument here.  Judas was wrong to say what he said, and also wrong to pilfer from the purse.  These are sins, of which Judas was guilty.  But the Bible also says:

The righteousness of God [has been manifested] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:22-25).

Since Judas was a disciple of Jesus, it's pretty clear that he put his faith in Jesus.  Having trusted Jesus, Judas receives forgiveness for his sins, the same as anyone does when they trust the Lord.  Why, then, do many consign Judas to hell?  Some quote the following verses:

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”  He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him (John 6:70-71).

Clearly, we know that Judas himself was not actually a devil (meaning a fallen angel, or demon).  He was a human.  Jesus is using a figure of speech.  Judas would, however, be possessed by the devil at the time of his betrayal of Jesus (Lk 22:3; Jn 13:27).  Certainly, Judas in some way opened himself to this possession, probably through his greed.  Yet in this case, his sin would be opening himself to possession, not the actual betrayal of his Lord.  And it's the betrayal of Jesus for which many people damn him.  This betrayal was done under manipulation, and Judas was not in control of himself when he committed the act.  Does God hold a puppet on a string accountable for their sins?  

Of course, in addition to Jesus calling Judas a devil, we hear the Lord's other nickname for him in John 17:12, "While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."  Often, the word translated here as "destruction" is rendered as "perdition."  People point to the word "perdition" and say, "See--Judas is in hell."  But the Greek word Jesus used is ἀπωλείας (apōleias), which truly means "destruction."  Jesus could have been saying that Judas' life would end in suicide, or that Jesus' own life would be destroyed because of what Judas would do.  Either way, this doesn't necessarily indicate Judas' consignment to perdition.  

I've heard many say that Judas showed no remorse for his sin (in contrast to Peter, who wept bitterly over his own denial of Jesus (Lk 22:62).  This couldn't be further from the truth.  Even as he was betraying Jesus, Judas kissed his Lord (Matthew 26:48-49).  Yes, the kiss was a signal to those who would arrest Jesus--but he could have chosen any signal.  Why would he have chosen a kiss, if he didn't want to show some affection or loyalty.  To me, it seems as if Judas is carrying out what he was appointed to do (Ps 41:9; Jn 13:18; 17:12), yet even as he was playing his necessary role in history, he regretted and even loathed his own actions.

In Matthew 27, Judas betrays his own emotions, showing himself to be not a cold-blooded betrayer, but someone who shows great remorse for what he has done.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5).

This morning as I was reading this scripture, it occurred to me--Judas is confessing his sins to priests, hoping that they will make a sacrifice for his sin.  But they refuse to offer a sacrifice for his sin, instead telling him "see to it yourself."  So, seeing to it himself, he offers his own death to try to make atonement.

This tragic interpretation in no case excuses his suicide.  But it's clear that he was sorry for his sin of betraying Jesus' innocent blood.  Why would God not forgive so remorseful a person?  

Many Christians condemn Judas to hell, not because of his betrayal of Jesus, but because of his suicide.  Some denominations teach that suicide is a one-way ticket to hell.  Click here to read my article that addresses this issue.  In short, I don't believe that everyone who commits suicide goes to hell.  The Bible never states that, and it's an unfounded doctrine.

So, any good Bible study should have a take-home life application.  What's the point of all these musings?  Simply that it's not any of our business, who's in heaven and who's in hell.  That's God's business.  

Christian singer Carman's iconic song "The Champion" describes a showdown between Jesus and Satan, as if it were a scene from the boxing movie "Rocky."  (He even employs a bit of Rocky's theme song in his music.)  In the song, the crowd gathers to watch the contest that will determine which one is the Champion.  Carman gives examples of some real historical people that he assumes are captives in Satan's train: 

The audience for the 'Fight of the Ages' was
assembled and in place.
The angels came in splendor from a star.
The saints that had gone before were there:
Jeremiah, Enoch, Job.
They were singing the "Song of Zion" on David's harp.
The demons arrived, offensive and vile,
cursing and blaspheming God.
Followed by their 'trophies' dead and gone.
Hitler, Napoleon, Pharaoh, Capone,
Tormented and vexed and grieved.
Waiting for their judgment From the Throne.

This is an extremely moving and inspiring song, despite its problems.  Yet, despite its emotionalism, there certainly are are a lot of theological difficulties with this song that I won't get into here. You can click here to watch the video, and maybe you can figure out what the other problems are.  Today I simply want to point out how wrong Christians are when we try to guess who God has pardoned and who God has condemned.  It's presumptuous and offensive.  Nobody can guess the eternal state of another person's soul, because nobody can guess another person's relationship with God.  Remember, Jesus said:

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:36-37).

*Today's scripture references are taken from the ESV.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How refreshing to see a pastor take up the cause of Judas, here's hoping you set off a stampede. For what it's worth, the N.T. is a much more clever book than it's been given credit for. And by getting so many people to execrate the name of Judas, it has set the stage for a sort of global catharsis when the opprobrium upon him is removed. Praising his name is the way to do it. Keep up the good work.