There are few worse experiences in life than being betrayed by someone you trusted and loved. All amicable relationships inherently hold some level of trust, and for many of us trust is extremely difficult to extend after it has been broken. This tendency leaves our Churches and Spiritual circles vulnerable to rapid disintegration. All it takes is one leader to be caught in any form of deception or sin and the masses flee – because our trust is primarily in a man and not in God. If two dynamic church members can be pitted against one another for any reason, then the congregation becomes divided and they lose their effectiveness in the kingdom by wasting all of their energy fighting, reasoning, rebuilding internally.
Any breach of trust is a terrible sin. However, God sovereignly and beautifully orchestrates it to accomplish His will on occasion. Let us consider what is perhaps the most tragic and also the most purposeful betrayal of all time: Judas.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He chose twelve men to walk with Him daily. These twelve men were bonded to Jesus as their mentor or “rabbi” who had special insight into Scripture and the ways of God and they would soak up everything He taught. Jesus intentionally chose each of them and called them by name. For three years Jesus walked with them, explained Scripture and grace to them, gave them supernatural powers to cast out demons and represent Him in cities and towns, and lived life with them. They were His friends, they were His comrades, they were His family.
Included in this number was Judas. He was given the role as the keeper of the money, and was included in every activity that the rest of the disciples did (John 12.6).
Imagine your group of college friends – those ones who were thick as thieves, who did everything together, who stayed up late, went on adventures, talked about the meaning of life and discovered themselves together – after all of those years of trust, fun, experience and interaction turning out to be a participant of a sleeper cell and you “closest friends” were his mark. You did not simply lose touch after graduation, he actually sought your harm. This would be a similar level of relationships, except the twelve disciples did everything together – every day – for at least three years.
Judas, however, was the subject of a predestined plan from the beginning. His betrayal of Jesus was foretold hundreds of years beforehand and was an integral part of the Gospel story (Zech 11.12-13, Ps 41.9).
Jesus also, being God, knew that Judas was the one who would betray Him all along. Jesus knew, as He called Judas to come and walk with Him, as He empowered him to cast out demons, as He explained prophecy and scripture and as He loved him, that Judas would turn Him over unto death.
– John 6.64
Interestingly, however, we see no evidence of condemnation or premature revelation of Judas’ role. He was allowed to experience everything that the other eleven experienced and then, at the appropriate time, God allowed “Satan to enter into him” and he betrayed Jesus (John 13.27).
It was God’s plan from the beginning of time to send Jesus as the Savior and redeemer. It was prophesied in the Garden of Eden and we see the prophecies and promises throughout the whole Old Testament. In the New Testament, we learn that those who are saved have been written in the book of life since before the world was created, and it is by this book that God allows people into eternal rest at the end of time (Rev 17.8). Part of the Gospel story was Judas’ betrayal.
– Mark 14.21
Judas was created as a vessel of wrath (Rom 9.22). He served a very specific role by which God was glorified, the Gospel was written and Jesus made atonement for sin. It had to happen. Judas is also responsible for his choice of betraying Jesus, and thus we see that there is a mutual responsibility for the betrayal. And Jesus said simply, it would have been better for him if he had never been born. Even after all of those years of walking with Jesus.
Jesus gives us a small insight into the reality of Judas and his situation:
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
– John 6.63-65
Judas was welcomed and even empowered with the disciples, but Jesus knew all along that Judas did not believe. Yes, Judas believed the signs and sought the benefits of being around Jesus just like the crowds who would form for healing, for food, for teaching…but he did not have the belief that led to salvation. Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, rebuked the crowd because many only believed for the sake of the food that perishes and not for the “food that leads to eternal life” (John 6.26-27), and he lumped Judas into that group. He knew who had true faith, true belief, and who did not – and consequently who would betray Him.
But Judas had to be a part of the inner circle and group of friends to fulfill his role as inside betrayer. And in like manner, the faith of the Church will be chastened by the role of inside betrayers and false prophets. It is devastating indeed when a pastor, a leader, or a mentor falls but we see from the example of Judas that there is always an intentional plan for failure and sin. Thus we can claim the promise of Rom 8.28 in a new way: God is indeed working all things together for good for those who love God. And sometimes that good is learning to never put our faith or hope in a man but only in God.
Studies have been preformed and statistics analyzed about the flow of people in congregations when a pastor leaves a Church and when a pastor falls. It is a notable and consistent percentage that leaves when a pastor leaves, and a notable consistent percentage that leaves when the new pastor comes. God certainly can call people to serve and be involved in different churches during interim periods, but we can also expect that many come and go because their belief is only to their own, temporal benefit and not unto salvation.
We also see that Judas fulfilled his role by being a part of the group. Jesus taught a parable on such a situation. He stated that for the sake of those who do believe he allows those false believers to remain in the body – at least for a season:
“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!” The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’.”’”
– Matt 13.24-30
So we see that the uprooting of false believers and false prophets at times may cause more harm than good to the local body of believers. But we are also sternly warned to keep an eye out for false prophets and false believers and to keep our distance from them (even removing them from the Church), when they are evident (Matt 18, 1 Cor 5, Matt 7.15).
It is also important to remember that there are betrayals and failures that are not rooted in a lack of salvation. Peter denied Jesus three times within twenty-four hours of Judas’ betrayal, and he went on to be one of the most dynamic leaders in the Church. How do we tell the difference? By the response of the guilty party: repentance. Peter repented and turned back to Jesus. Judas knew he was guilty, but instead of repenting he went out and killed himself, he never repented.
God utilizes sin and even betrayal to grow and develop the faith of the Church and of individual believers. There will be times that the betrayer is a believer, and there will be times that he is not. It will all develop in us the discipline to keep our eyes and faith in Jesus alone and not in a man. It will also develop in us humility to remember that we are not above falling ourselves. It will teach us to forgive when the offender repents and it will teach us to stand firm on truth when the offender does not repent. It all serves a beautiful purpose to glorify God. So let us not shy away from the confrontation. Let us not be surprised when it happens. Let us press on in the faith and remember that Jesus was betrayed much more deeply than most of us will ever experience, and it was all to the glory of God.