The Devil is in the Details
There has been a great attempt in recent times to redeem the character of Judas. In “The Passover Plot”, the recent writings of Dan Brown, and others, modern man have tried to present Judas in a different light. Some would say that Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand into becoming the earthly Messiah. Other see Judas reacting to the disappointment with Jesus’ actions. Others see Judas and Jesus conspiring together, with this plot backfiring and leading to the death of Jesus and Judas. Judas gets to sing his bitterness of Jesus in the song “Jesus Christ, Superstar”. However, does this modern reappraisal of Judas line up with what Scripture teaches? Has Judas gotten a bad rap from history? Let us see.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 18 begins on an ominous note. He again reminds the disciples that the washing of the feet of the disciples and the subsequent lesson was not for everyone. This picks up from verses 10 and 11 in which Jesus tells them that they are not all clean. By this Jesus is telling them that He knows every human heart. All 12 had washed themselves before the Passover on the outside. And after the foot washing, they all had clean feet. On the surface, no distinction could be made concerning any of the disciples.
In this verse, Jesus asserts that there is a distinction. One of them did not belong to Him. The Greek word for “choose” is in what is called the middle voice and has the meaning here “I chose for myself”or “I myself chose”. But one of them was not chosen. Jesus is perfectly aware of this situation. The disciples are caught by surprise, but Jesus is never in the dark about the matter. As far back as John 6:70, Jesus, having heard Peter speaking for the twelve who remained after the crowds deserted Jesus and said there was no one else to turn to, that Jesus was the Christ, said “Did I not choose the twelve of you? Yet one of you is a devil.” The Greek there uses the same middle form of choose, and Judas is included in the ministry of Jesus as one of the twelve but is also set off. One of the twelve is “a” devil, perhaps “the devil”. Judas was partaker of the earthly ministry of Jesus. But his share in the ministry was now at an end. The words of comfort and promise he was about to deliver were not for Judas. It was time to separate the goat from the sheep.
In last week’s sermon “Is Foot Washing a Sacrament” we learned from the text which said that “He loved them to the end” about the Greek word, telos, which indicated the completion of something according to plan. We have the same idea here in this verse which the necessity of fulfilling the Scripture is the cause of what is about to happen. What we call the Old Testament reveals God’s ultimate plan for the universe including its redemption. Even Jesus who is the Lord of Scripture places Himself under its necessity. This is reflected in the strong Greek word which is translated “but” in some English translations, The Scriptures which John cites here that must be fulfilled is from Psalm 41:9, in which David laments the treachery of someone David trusted, who had eaten at his table. There were many who fit that bill in David’s life, but perhaps he is referring to Ahithophel who had been David’s trusted counselor who betrayed him and joined David’s own son’s Absalom in the attempt to overthrow King David. Whatever it might have meant to David, the ultimate intent of the Holy Spirit was meant to point to the betrayal of Jesus. This was one of the details of the plan that was about to reach its telos, or planned completion.
In verse 19, Jesus elaborated further. He wanted to tell this in advance to show that what was about to happen was no accident. It was not a matter of Jesus being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rather, Jesus was in the right place at the right time, and everything was working as planned. By telling the disciples in advance, it would build their faith. Rather than looking for an explanation of what happened and then trying to find rationale for it in the Scripture, Jesus interprets it in advance. It also served to offer Judas one more opportunity to repent. It is significant also that Jesus uses the intensive form of I AM. He was no ordinary prophet. He then goes on to say that whoever will accept the message of someone He sends, presumably but not limited to the eleven here, id accepting Christ and His Father. This is said with the solemn double amen. It is not stated here, but the opposite is also true. Whoever rejects God’s messenger is rejecting both Christ and the Father.
In verse 21, we see the full humanity of Jesus. He was greatly distressed. But his agony was not so much for the torture of the cross He was about to undergo. That would happen a few hours later in the garden. His distress seems to be directed towards the rejection of Judas. Again with the solemn double amen, Jesus states to the twelve that one of them was about to betray Him. And for that person, Jesus in another place said it would have been better that that man had never been born. Jesus already knew who Judas was, that he had stolen from the group’s funds, what arrangements he had made to betray Him and Judas’ upcoming suicide. I think Jesus was pained for Judas who was about to lose his place in the ministry and would end up eternally lost. Jesus felt grief for Judas. I would guess in the human sphere, Jesus felt the deep hurt of betrayal by one of his disciples.
The disciples were stunned. The Greek emphasizes the idea that they were looking round and round at each other. They had spent three years together. When a large group of followers left, they had remained steadfast. Through many dangers, toils, and snares they had all come together. How could one of them be a betrayer?
I wonder how many of them looked at Judas like they had looked at everyone else? Did Judas look back? How could a guilty heart not betray Judas and what he was about to do? These are painful questions. Was Judas so much a sociopath that his treachery passed the gazing eyes of the other disciples? He would have remorse, but not now.
Not able to determine which of them Jesus was referring to, Peter, who is across the table from Jesus beckons John to ask Jesus who the betrayer was. So John leans back to Jesus chest and asks Him. Jesus’ answer was that the one who he gave the bread he had dipped in the bitter herbs was the man. This man Judas was given the bitter bread. He must have reclined next to Jesus in the seat of honor. We know from Luke that the disciples were arguing who was the greatest. The whole foot washing was meant to address this issue as well. Table seating was a symbol of who was who in the group. John, who only refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved does not even mention his own name, even though he is seated at one of the positions of honor. Peter apparently sat in the very least position, the position of the one who was to have washed the feet of the others. Peter did what Jesus commanded in Luke, to seek out the least place at the table. If the host wished to promote him he would say “Friend, come up higher.” Judas sat at the other seat of honor, to whom Jesus would say, “Friend, are you betraying me with a kiss?” Simon, despite his upcoming and dismal failure would be restored and promoted to a higher place. Judas would descend in shame to the lowest.
In his betrayal, Judas is like Lucifer who held a place of high authority in heaven. Yet this position of honor was not good enough. He betrayed God and started a rebellion. As punishment, Lucifer would be cast down from his position to earth. He tempted Adam and Eve in the garden and brought misery and ruin to the human race. Judas took the bitter pill handed him from Jesus, his treachery known only to Jesus, John, and himself. It says that Satan himself entered Judas. It was not an ordinary devil, it was Satan himself. None of the others knew what Jesus meant when he dismissed Judas and beckoning him to make haste. They just thought that Jesus sent the treasurer out to buy more food. They were still in the dark of unbelief. But they would come to the light soon.
But of Judas it is said that he went out, and it was night. The word “was” here is an imperfect verb in Greek which can be used as it is of the Word in John 1:1 to denote a continuous state. In this sense, John is telling us of the eternal night that Judas had condemned himself to. Certainly it can also be used as a statement of fact, that it was nighttime in Jerusalem. This is certainly the fact as the meal would have started at sunset, and now it was later. But the way John uses double meanings, something more than just a statement of fact is indicated. Judas was eternally lost and would be called by Peter in Acts 1, the “son of perdition”. His name would forever be one of infamy. He had refused all of the opportunities Jesus had presented to him to repent.
We can now see that the teaching of Scripture is entirely opposed to the modern attempt to justify what Judas did. The Scripture clearly shows that Judas willfully betrayed Jesus, even after Jesus’ attempts to get Judas to repent of his action. The remorse that Judas had afterward in throwing the money back at the priests and going out and hanging himself does not change the fact that Peter calls him the “son of perdition” in Acts, and follows with that Judas went to his own place. This means that Judas is in hell.
Any other portrayal of Judas is in complete denial of the Scripture. The opponents would claim that the vengeful disciples deliberately colored their accounts to castigate the memory of Judas as a traitor. These same opponents would try to take later accounts of Jesus and Judah, such as the Gospel of Judas, as being the accurate reflection of the events as though they were unbiased accounts. The modern critic assumes that the Scripture is wrong and biased, and that any other writing referring to Jesus but refused by the church to be accurate. Does this mean that the modern critic is an unbiased seeker of the truth? Are they rather not trying for whatever reason to destroy Christianity and its message.
As we can see from the text this morning, to deny the message of Scripture is to reject the Lord Jesus as well as to reject the one who sent Jesus. In other words, it is to put one’s self in the place of Judas. The warnings which Jesus gave to Judas are the warnings that Christ’s disciples must bring to the skeptics today. They must be told that they know the truth because God has already told them. This is what Romans 1 says. They must be told that they willingly repress this truth. They must be told that they must repent of this and believe on Jesus or be eternally lost.
We who are in the visible church need to be aware that not every one who calls themselves a Christian is a Christian. Sometimes, it can be hard to determine from the surface appearance. Jesus’ disciples could not tell, even though they had spent three years with Judas. Judas was in the teaching ministry alongside the others. Sooner or later, the Judas’ of this age will be brought to light, but how much damage do they do in the meantime! This is why we must cling closely to the authority of the Scripture and not to the newest teaching, no matter how much an angel of light the speaker seems to be. The Scripture teaches of Jesus Christ who is presented as the only way, the only truth, and the only source and means of living itself (John 14:6). This is not the time to turn to the left or the right after the newest trends in worldly philosophy, but to remain steadfast in Christ. We also need to seek out other Christians of like faith to help support each other. Finally, we must realize that without the Triune God, we would have no hope for success in this manner but would fail, just like Peter and the eleven would. But Christ knows who are His. The Scripture says He is able to keep them. The Scripture says that no one is able to pluck His own out of His hand, even less than that of the Father. So let us continue to remain faithful, knowing that He who has begun this work in us will continue His plan for us unto the Day of Jesus Christ. The Devil may torment us, but even what the Devil does is subject to God’s Sovereignty. Even the details of Satan’s work cannot but in the end be turned to the glory of God and our good.