Judas Iscariot: From Apostle to Apostate
There is likely no character in the Bible who lives in such infamy as that of Judas Iscariot. But the treachery of the traitor is not the entire story, though it is most prominently displayed. Unfortunately the dark side has become the exclusive characterization of Calvinists.
This article will consider two aspects of Judas: First, it will examine the well-known man of treachery and doom. Afterward we will survey the evidence for the early days of his apostleship—before Satan consumed the weak disciple.
The composite picture of Judas in the latter third of Christ’s ministry is stark. The following traits are stated explicitly, or else implied by the language of inspiration:
(1) At some point in his ministry Judas had “shut up his compassion” for the poor (cf. 1 John 3:17). When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointed Jesus’ feet with a “very precious” ointment a few days before the Savior’s death, Judas complained about it. His rationalization was that the valuable substance might have been sold, with the revenue distributed to the poor. But John affirmed that his protest had nothing to do with “care for the poor” (John 12:6). The object of his interest was “poor Judas.”
(2) The narrative is even more explicit. John declared that his protest was powered by greed, for he was a thief, who “took away” (v. 6b) what was deposited in the treasury box. The Greek verb (bastazo) in this context carries the idea of pilfering (Danker 2000, 171), and the imperfect tense reflects a sustained practice. Judas had become a petty thief!
(3) The wayward apostle’s harmful influence is suggested by the fact that though he apparently voiced the initial protest about the “wasted” ointment, his critical spirit was absorbed by some of the other disciples (cf. Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4). Keep this fact in mind.
(4) About a year before his death, the Lord explicitly indicated that he knew from the beginning “who it was that should betray him” (John 6:64). It must be emphasized that Jesus did not say that Judas was “a devil from the beginning,” as some allege; rather, the Savior “knew from the beginning” who the traitor would be. Speaking specifically to the Twelve, he said: “Did I not choose [aorist, past act] you the twelve, and one of you is [present, current status] a devil?” The latter reference, of course, was to Judas (vv. 70-71).
The term diabolos was applied figuratively to Judas because of his antagonism to Christ (cf. Matthew 16:23). The present tense (“is”) seems to state that opposition was already fomenting in the apostle’s heart—unless the tense is a prophetic present of what certainly was to happen in the not-distant future (cf. Matthew 7:19).
(5) On Tuesday before Christ’s death, Luke says that “Satan entered into Judas,” and he then met with the chief priests and captains. A bargain was struck with reference to the betrayal of Jesus (Luke 22:3-6). To suggest that Satan “entered into” Judas is a forceful way of stating that the apostle yielded to Satanic influence, implementing thoughts he had entertained for a while.
Two days later, at the time of the “last supper,” John observes that “the devil” had already “put into the heart of Judas” the inclination to betray his Lord (John 13:2). During the feet-washing episode, Christ hinted that Judas was not “clean” (v. 10b). Later during the meal, when Jesus indicated to the traitor that he knew of his diabolical plan (cf. Matthew 26:25), “then entered Satan into him” (John 13:27). Whatever reservations may have lingered in his tortured soul previously now were gone. The devilish plan crystallized!
(6) Each of the Gospel writers depicts Judas as a betrayer or traitor (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; John 6:71).
(7) Tragically, Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:3ff). His ultimate destiny in eternal punishment is hardly open to dispute. He was described as a “son of perdition” (John 17:12). The “son of” idiom conveys the idea of experiencing a destiny consistent with one’s character (see also 2 Thessalonians 2:3; cf. Thayer 1958, 635). Luke says that Judas “fell away” from his ministry and apostleship and went to “his own place,” i.e., the place he prepared for himself and deserved to be—hell (Acts 1:25).
As this section is concluded, it is important to observe that in the foregoing narratives there is a record of the facts in calm, objective terms. There are no blistering invectives, no reckless barbs for psychological relief. Such restrain is not in the style of the common journalist. This is subtle but powerful evidence of the superintendence of the Holy Spirit in the control of natural agitations that erupt spontaneously.
The Early Disciple
The distortion to which some scholars yield, in desperate attempts to preserve cherished ideologies, is as amazing as it is disheartening. In trying to embalm the dogma of “once-saved, always-saved,” the disciples of Calvin have but two choices: they must contend that those described as lost were never saved, or allege that though the redeemed subject “fell,” the mishap did not involve the forfeiture of salvation. In the case of Judas, his destiny is clear. The only recourse is to deny he ever was saved.
Popular preacher, John F. MacArthur Jr., argues that “while the others [the eleven] were growing into apostles, Judas was quietly becoming a vile, calculating tool of Satan. Whatever his character seemed to be at the beginning, his faith was not real (John 13:10-11). He was unregenerate” (1989, 99; emphasis added).
An article by Baptist editor Robert L. Sumner appeared recently under the following caption: JUDAS AND JESUS. The Most Amazing Story Ever Told: How a Miracle-Working Apostle of Jesus Christ Fell Into Sin, Committed Suicide, and Wound Up in Hell — Doomed and Damned Forever! Sumner then wrote: “[W]e ought to make it very clear that Judas was never saved. He was never converted. He never put his own personal faith in the Savior for the forgiveness of sins” (2008, 1, 17; emphasis added). These assertions will not bear the weight of careful scrutiny.
(1) The identical phraseology is employed to describe the enrollment of Judas into Christ’s service as that used of the other eleven: “And he [Christ] called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness” (Matthew 10:1; emphasis added). Where is the evidence that eleven belonged to Christ, but one was Satan’s? All twelve were his (cf. Acts 1:17).
(2) Judas happily accepted the office. There is no evidence he was forced to be a pawn in the plan of redemption. What would have motivated a charlatan to accept a position that involved no material gain but only sacrifice and significant persecution? Jesus discouraged the insincere from following him (Luke 9:57-62).
(3) After more than three years of association, the disciples entertained no suspicion of Judas’ duplicity, but had confidence in him. He served as their treasurer; and as noted earlier, they apparently yielded to his influence. At the final supper, none suspected him of being the traitor; they each asked, “Is it I?” (Matthew 26:22).
(4) Jesus’ love for Judas was manifested to the very end, one indication of which was that he was given the premier seat at the last supper. The Lord obviously reclined next to Judas, in “his bosom” so to speak, just as John was situated with reference to Jesus (cf. John 13:23). For a study of this obvious seating configuration (see Edersheim 1947, 494).
(5) One of the most compelling arguments against the theory that Judas was never saved is grounded in an incident in Matthew 12. As noted in Matthew 10:1, 8, Judas possessed the same miraculous powers as the other eleven (as Sumner conceded [see above]). Jesus healed a man who was possessed by a demon (Matthew 12:22ff). In response, the Pharisees charged that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub. With brilliant logic, Christ pointed out that “every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.” If Satan were casting out Satan, he would be divided against himself!
No rebuttal was offered because none was adequate to the task! If the Lord had enlisted a child of Satan as an apostle, would he have empowered the man with the ability to cast out demons? Would not such have been wholly inconsistent with his argument against the Pharisees?
(6) John 17 contains the prayer uttered by the Lord en route to Gethsemane. The prayer falls into three sections: (a) a petition for himself (vv. 1-8), (b) prayer for his disciples (vv. 9-19), (c) prayer for the future church (vv. 20-26). We focus momentarily on the petition for his immediate disciples.
While the prayer obviously was on behalf of the eleven remaining apostles, reference is made nonetheless to the original twelve. It therefore is not correct to contend that the language of the Lord has no relevance to Judas; it certainly did.
Note these crucial points, beginning with verse six: (a) Christ “manifested” (aorist tense, relating to a past situation, i.e., his ministry period) himself unto the men God gave him “out of the world” (v. 6). They belonged to God and were given to the Son. That included Judas. (b) Jesus conveyed the words of God unto these men and they “received them” (v. 8a). (c) They “believed” the Son was sent from the Father (v. 8b).
Of the twelve, the Lord subsequently said: “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” (v. 12, ESV). Focus on the term “except” in the last phrase. It translates the Greek ei me. Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson stated that “this phrase marks an exception,” and he cites this passage (1919, 1188). In his commentary, Word Pictures in the New Testament, he says Judas was a “sad and terrible exception” (1932, 278). This constitutes positive proof that “the men” of verses six through eight embraced the full complement of the twelve. Jesus “lost” Judas. The traitor’s lostness resulted from his wrong choices, and he “fell away” (Acts 1:17, 25).
- Danker, F. W. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
- Edersheim, Alfred. 1947. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1989. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Robertson, A. T. 1919. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton.
- Robertson, A. T. 1932. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Nashville: Broadman.
- Sumner, Robert L. 2008. Judas And Jesus. The Biblical Evangelist, May-June.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.