When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) Here’s death, and death is the great devourer of the human race. One-by- one, death swallows every one of...
The following is an adaptation of the Postscript from Pastor Colin’s book Heaven, So Near—So Far: The Story of Judas Iscariot (Christian Focus Publications). Learn more about this story and purchase the book and audiobook!
Q1: Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book for people who are moving away from the faith they once professed. Their number is growing fast. In 1990, about 8% of Americans did not identify with any religion. By 2008, that number had doubled to 15%, and just four years later, it had risen to 20%. Dubbed the “nones,” these people, when asked if they were Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, or Lutheran, or, more broadly, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, answered “none of the above.”
Behind this astonishing rise in people professing no religious affiliation is a growing trend of people who had at one time identified themselves as “Christian” giving up on the faith they once professed in Jesus Christ. But I have been moved to write by faces rather than numbers:
- The face of a young person brought up in a Christian home who now has little interest in the faith he once professed
- The face of one who extended herself in Christian ministry but was disappointed and now is close to leaving the church
- The face of one for whom life has brought pain and perplexity to the point where, having once given testimony to God’s grace, he now wonders why he should believe in Christ at all
I wrote this book to plead with you not to walk away from Jesus Christ.
Q2: If Judas is in hell, why would he be telling us the truth about Jesus?
My thinking about how Judas might tell his story has been guided by our Lord’s story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man had a clear memory of the events of his life, and so I have assumed that Judas could accurately recall what he saw, heard, and felt throughout his years as a follower of Jesus. Judas knew the truth even if, in the end, he did not believe or obey it.
I have also given weight to the request of the rich man that a message be sent to his brothers to warn them, lest they also come to the place of torment. This has led me to conclude that a person in hell might have some desire that others would be saved from the plight they experience. Hell involves weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12), which indicates sorrow, regret, self-recrimination, and self-condemnation over decisions made and opportunities missed. In light of this, I think it is likely that Judas would have some wistfulness in recalling happier days of his life, along with the misery of reflecting on the path he ultimately chose.
Q3: Don’t you think that Judas might be in heaven?
The thought behind this frequently asked question is that Judas may have repented at the last moment of his life and that, if he did, he would have been forgiven. That he would have been forgiven is undoubtedly true. God’s grace is sufficient to cover every sin, even the sin of betraying Christ. God offers this grace to every person, and Christ’s forgiveness can be received at any time, even the last moment of a person’s life.
This wonderful truth may allow some room for hope for those who grieve over loved ones who lived without evidence of either love or loyalty toward Jesus Christ. But in the case of Judas, the words of Jesus point in a different direction. Jesus repeatedly distinguished between Judas and the other disciples:
- “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil,” he said.
- John explains that, “He spoke of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him” (John 6:70-71).
- Then, in the upper room, Jesus said to the twelve, “You are clean, but not every one of you,” and again, John explains that he said, “For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 13:10-11).
The distinction between Judas and the other disciples is most clear in the prayer of Jesus for his disciples, where he said to the Father, “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: (John 17:12). Christ kept and guarded the disciples, whom he describes as having been “given” to him by the Father.
But our Lord distinguishes Judas from the other disciples. While they were kept, guarded, and given, Judas, according to the word of Jesus, was “lost.”
Q4: Is there any hope for a person who took his or her own life?
There might be. The answer to this question is complicated by the fact that the last act of a person who takes his own life, as Judas did, was a sin. The giving and taking of life belongs to God, and taking one’s own life is an act of treachery that defies God by taking into our own hands what belongs to him.
But people enter heaven, not because they are without sin, but because their sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, with whom they are united as one through the bond of faith. So, the ultimate question is always, “Did the person who died belong to Jesus Christ?” Responding to the widespread belief that people who take their own lives are thereby lost, Martin Luther once said,
I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber.
The analogy of being assaulted in the woods is helpful. People suffering from mental illness or other dire circumstances may find themselves so overwhelmed by darkness that they think and act in ways that they would not normally contemplate. In these circumstances, Paul’s counsel to Timothy is especially helpful: God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
God knows who belongs to him, and that allows us to leave the future of our loved ones in his hands. At the same time, the evidence that a person belongs to the Lord is that they turn from sin. Knowing this should act as a restraint to anyone who contemplates taking their own life.
Q5: What about eternal security?
Our Lord said of his sheep, “They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). But the sheep of whom he said this are those who hear his voice and follow him (v. 27). Christ’s sheep are the ones who follow him. Those who do not follow Christ are not his sheep. So, although Judas followed Jesus and was involved in ministry for a time, we have to conclude from his continued defection that he was not among the people to whom Christ’s great promise of security is given.
The sad fact that some people turn back from a faith they once professed should not surprise us, because the Scriptures lead us to expect it:
- In the parable of the sower, the seed that sprang up quickly (but was choked) and the seed in shallow ground (that was scorched) both point to professions of faith that do not last (Mark 4:5-7; 16-19).
- The Gospels give us specific examples of temporary professions of faith. John tells us that many in Jerusalem believed in Jesus’ name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus, for his part, “did not entrust himself to them” (John 2:23-24).
- Later, John tells us that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6:66).
- Taking up this theme, the book of Hebrews makes clear that it is possible for a person to know the truth, to enjoy great blessing, and even to serve fruitfully in ministry and then to abandon the faith they once professed (Hebrews 6:4-6).
- The apostle John gets to the heart of this issue when he speaks of those who “went out from us because they were not of us,” and then adds, “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19).
The evidence that a person truly belongs to Christ is that they persevere. Though, like Peter, they fail in many ways, their sins and follies lead them back to Christ in the end, knowing that they are his and that he will never let them go. This perseverance is the sure evidence of saving faith.