To learn more about Judas, read Colin Smith’s new book, Heaven, So Near—So Far: The Story of Judas Iscariot (Christian Focus, 2018).
It’s easy to dismiss Judas as a villain or a victim, but I’m struck by the fact that, in many ways, he was just like me.
Judas was a follower of Jesus and a preacher of the gospel, but there was a doublemindedness about him. In the end, he abandoned the faith he once professed.
Here are four things that are easily overlooked in the story of Judas.
1. The Commitment He Made
Judas made a commitment to Jesus, and there’s no reason to think he was anything but sincere in his faith. Like the rest of the disciples, he left everything to follow our Lord. Judas was actively involved in ministry, and he was given remarkable spiritual gifts. Luke tells us that Jesus called “the twelve” together—that included Judas—and “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1–2).
Judas Iscariot was a gospel preacher! He was given the gift of healing, and he exercised authority over demons. Active involvement in ministry is a good and wonderful thing; but it is not, in itself, a guarantee of spiritual life or health.
2. The Opportunity He Was Given
Judas walked with Jesus for three years. He saw the greatest life ever lived up close and personal. You can’t have a better model of faith than Jesus or a better environment for forming faith than Judas had in walking with the Savior.
He directly witnessed the miracles. When Jesus fed the 5,000, Judas was there. He took the bread and distributed it along with the other disciples. When Jesus calmed the storm, Judas was there. And he was there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. You can’t have better evidence for faith than Judas had.
Judas heard all the teaching of Jesus, too. He heard the Sermon on the Mount, so he knew there is a narrow road that leads to life and a broad road that leads to destruction. He heard the warnings Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, so he knew there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain. He heard the parable of the prodigal son, so he knew God is ready to welcome and forgive those who have wasted themselves in many sins.
With Judas’s own eyes, he saw the clearest evidence. With his own ears, he heard the finest teaching. With his own feet, he followed the greatest example. And yet this man still betrayed Jesus.
With Judas’s eyes, he saw the clearest evidence. With his ears, he heard the finest teaching. With his feet, he followed the greatest example. And yet this man still betrayed Jesus.
The human heart is beyond understanding (Jer. 17:9), and there is something incomprehensible about a person who abandons the faith they once once professed. It’s hard to understand how a young person raised by godly parents in the context of a healthy church, taught the truths of Scripture from an early age, and grounded in apologetics can give up on Jesus.
Judas’s story contains an important lesson for parents, leaders, and friends who grieve over someone they love who has abandoned the faith. They worry:
- Where did we go wrong?
- What more could we have done?
- Did we fail in our teaching?
- Did we fail in our example?
- Should we have immersed our son or daughter or friend in a different environment?
But Judas teaches us that even the the best example, the most compelling evidence, and the finest teaching—the ultimate environment for incubating faith—cannot, in and of themselves, change the human heart.
3. The Choice He Made
Satan made a relentless assault on Judas’s soul, as he makes a relentless assault on everyone who chooses to follow Christ. We read about Satan’s attacks on Judas:
Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot. (Luke 22:3–4)
The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him. (John 13:2)
Satan entered into him. (John 13:27)
The Bible’s clear statements about Satan’s activity have led some to say, “Well, poor Judas, he didn’t have a chance. Satan entered into him. What could he do about that?” But this evaluation overlooks the fact that Judas opened the door to Satan.
Judas had been stealing from the collective money bag, and when he kept this sin secret, Satan entered into him. He made a deal with the chief priests and then sat down at our Lord’s table with known sins he would not confess, and Satan entered even further into his life. Unconfessed sin always opens the door to Satan’s power.
Unconfessed sin always opens the door to Satan’s power.
Satan doesn’t gain a foothold in the lives of people who are walking in the light with Jesus. He only gains access when we open the door. As Klaus Schilder observes:
It is the peculiar majesty of Jesus that he can conquer man without man’s first approaching him. But Satan’s frailty is proved by this, that he cannot approach a soul unless that soul has first turned to him.
Sometimes we get this the wrong way around, fearing that Satan will somehow have secret access to God’s children, while doubting that Jesus can do anything for a person unless they open the door. But the Bible teaches precisely the opposite.
4. The Outcome He Embraced
Judas went out into the darkness he had chosen. When you get close to Jesus, one of two things will happen: either you will become wholly his, or you will end up more alienated from him.
Among those who hate Christ the most, some once professed to trust him. His claims are so exclusive, and his demands so pervasive that, in the end, you must either give yourself to him completely or give him up altogether. There is no middle ground.
The story of Judas reminds us that nothing good can come from giving up on Jesus Christ.
Only those who have never known him can remain indifferent to him. For those who get close, the only outcomes are full devotion or eventual antagonism; and every day, each of us is heading in one direction or the other.
In an age when many are abandoning the faith they once professed, the story of Judas warns us to guard our hearts, lest we drift away. The story of Judas also equips us to reach out to those who may be close to walking away from the faith. Christ calls us to “be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 22–23). Finally, the story of Judas reminds us that nothing good can come from giving up on Jesus Christ. He is of supreme value, and following him is worth any cost.