Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
— James 4:3 —
Going back to Cain (Genesis 4), evil has always positioned itself right outside our doors looking to destroy. But recently, Christians in America have faced new challenges. In a country that continues to trample first amendment rights and eviscerate religious liberty, there is great temptation to do anything to maintain our place in the public square. I value that endeavor and lament the way Christians are being threatened in public, but I wonder if we are not being tempted to overcome evil with evil—or at least, the lesser of two evils.
What follows began as a study in Matthew, not an attempt to speak into the political fray. But as I considered the actions of Judas, I couldn’t help but think about Christians who are using (or being tempted to use) their proximity to Jesus as a means of securing our worldly standing. In truth, as Psalm 118:8–9 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
With that truth in mind, I share a few observations about Judas that I pray will protect us from putting confidence in earthly princes, and instead will steel our resolve to take refuge in Christ.
Six Lessons from Judas’ Betrayal
First, the one who must gain (or keep) his place in this world will be willing to give anything.
In Matthew 26:15 Judas asks, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” This is the question he asks the high priests after Satan had put it into his heart to betray Jesus (John 13:2). While the exact nature of this “Satanic inspiration” is mysterious, one manifestation is a greediness to get whatever he can and a willingness to give away anything to get it. Thus, Judas traded Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He used his place among the twelve (Matthew 26:14) to benefit himself and procure financial gain in this world. While Judas was uniquely positioned to betray Jesus, this temptation remains for any who follow Christ.
Second, the one who gives Jesus to his enemies becomes defined by that act.
It’s fascinating to see how the word paradidomi shifts in Matthew 26 from a verb to a substantive participle. When Jesus first uses the word he warns “one of you will betray me” (v. 21). Matthew traces this tragic plotline until Judas becomes known as the one “who would betray him” (v. 25) and “the betrayer” (26:46, 48; 27:3).
Matthew reads Judas’ all-encompassing identification of betrayal back into the calling of the twelve. In Matthew 10:4, he puts Judas at the end of the list saying, “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Therefore, although Judas life consisted of many acts (perhaps even many good works), his (ever)lasting identity was that of betrayer.
In principle, how one stands with Jesus either establishes his good works or erases them. In Judas’ case, because he handed Jesus over, this was his defining moment—one that led to his eternal destruction. In our case, you must decide whether you will use your relationship with Jesus for worldly gain, or whether you will “sell” all you have in order to gain Christ and make him known.
Third, the one who gives away Jesus gets nothing but destruction.
In Judas case, when he collected his reward, he sealed his condemnation. Matthew records that after Jesus was condemned, “[Judas] changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver” (27:3). The Sanhedrin refused to take it back and Judas responded by throwing down the money and hanging himself (v. 5). This tragedy teaches us that whatever we might gain in exchange for Jesus will eventuate in loss.
Ultimately, we can lose the whole world and gain Jesus, but we cannot gain a grain of sand by rejecting the Lord. Destruction awaits those who reject Christ. For unbelievers, Judas story is a warning to take refuge in Christ. For believers, it is equally instructive: whatever we build with wood, hay, and stubble will be burned in the end. Thus, disciples of Christ must refuse to use Christ as a means to gain anything else—especially money, political power, or cultural advantage.
Fourth, the one who colludes with wicked men will in the end become like them.
While Judas demise is clearly spiritual (Satan having deceived him); it is also collegial. Judas left the company of Christ and the twelve to collude with the wicked religious/political leaders. This is a lesson to all who follow Jesus, especially leaders who have access or opportunity to “commune” with cultural elites and political leaders.
Paul says bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). His maxim is not a blanket statement to avoid all bad company; it is a proverb to take care not to value the world over the Lord. In Judas’ case, the betrayer came to the leaders of Israel looking for what they could give him and in the end he became just like them. May we follow Christ, learn from his fall and flee all allures of worldly elevation.
Fifth, through it all, the wicked actions of evil men accomplish the purpose of God.
In Matthew’s Gospel the sovereignty of God is seen in the fact that three times before his crucifixion Jesus foretold the necessity of his arrest and execution (16:21–23; 17:22–23; 20:17–19). When the son of man was “delivered over to the chief priests and scribes” who would then “deliver him over to the Gentiles,” God’s eternal plan was being accomplished through the wicked schemes of men (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27–28).
This reality, known only through divine revelation, comforts the believer and begins to make sense of Jesus crucifixion. On the human level, Jesus was being delivered over by the evil intentions of men, but before, behind, and above these actions, the sovereign God was permitting these men to carry out their crime for the purpose securing salvation for his people. Thus, Jesus’ cross is not just the high-point of human evil, it is the turning-point for human salvation. God reveals that he can and will bring good from all things—even the worst thing: the death of his son—for the sake of those who love him. Yet, knowledge that God permits/uses/oversees such evil does not mean that men can or should cooperate with evil that good may result.
Sixth, we should not willingly align ourselves with evil men, even if (we think) their rise to power may accomplish the will of God.
That Scripture reveals God’s will of decree in the death of Christ, does not mean we have access to this aspect of God’s knowledge. The will of decree is often called God’s “hidden will” for the very reason that it is hidden. Christians are never called to live out their lives according to his hidden decree. Of course, all that happens in life will perfectly cohere to his will—God’s predestined plan (Ephesians 1:11)—but that doesn’t mean we make moral choices based on some super-rational understanding of “what God is up to.” That is superstition, not faith.
By contrast, we are called to make decisions based upon God’s will of command. This will is revealed in Scripture and is thus referred to as his “revealed will.” In every decision we face, this is the will we consult. By the Word of God, we make decisions that cohere with God’s revealed will. In truth, we often miss the mark. We err, we sin, we make poor decisions; and all of these choices fulfill God’s secret will, even as they violate his revealed will. Nonetheless, by God’s grace over time, we grow in our understanding of his revealed will, and we live accordingly.
What we learn from God’s revealed will as it concerns Judas is that he intentionally aligned himself with wicked men to deliver Jesus over to death. We can speculate that he sought to use his position with Jesus to advance himself—something he had done all along as he pilfered money from Jesus and the disciples. Whatever the motive, Judas action are a lesson to us all: even when actions fulfill God’s sovereign will—in Judas’ case even fulfilling Scripture (John 17:12)—his actions were horribly wicked and worthy of an eternal punishment (Mark 14:21). Thus, his betrayal teaches us that it is always right to flee from evil and never to pursue it—even if, in some way, that evil accomplishes God’s later, greater purposes.
When Evil Solicits Your Vote
The plain teaching of Scripture is that if we see evil, flee from it. If wicked men invite you to join them, endorse them, vote for them, do not be deceived. Proverbs 1:10–19 counsels,
My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.
Indeed, Judas betrayal of Jesus is a living parable that one can be in the will of God and totally out of step with righteousness. (This is the difference between God’s will of decree and will of command.) When making moral decisions, we can never justify that this “less evil” act will accomplish some greater good. If we are to walk in righteousness, we must always, as a matter of conscience, choose what we believe aligns ourselves with Christ’s righteousness (“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”), trusting God with the result of that decision.
This has many applications, but in this tumultuous political season it is a stark reminder that the more we feel alienated from the world—and the heritage of our American past—the more dangerous thirty pieces of silver become. While we do not know what the future holds, we must never compromise our standing with Christ, the One who holds the future. As the world and its would-be messiahs invite us to join them, we must remember these two principles from Judas’ betrayal:
- Beware of making friendship with the world. To collude with evil men does not secure a position in this world; but it may very well forfeit our ability to speak truth to the culture that needs to hear the gospel; and ultimately such collusion may forsake any right to stand with Christ in the coming kingdom.
- Beware of using your friendship with Christ for earthly gain. It is never safe or wise to use our position in Christ for personal gain or public security based upon unrighteous principles. Such compromise only lead to destruction—now and even forever. Christ is not a means to some other end; he is the end, and we must do everything to cling to him.
Sadly, this is the lesson of Judas’ life. May we who walk with Christ refuse to sell our influence for any kind worldly gain—personal, monetary, political. Instead, by an uncompromising devotion to Christ, may we be vigilant to walk by faith, not by sight.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds