A few weeks ago, I shared the poem The Ballad of the Judas Tree by Ruth Etchells. That post resulted in a great conversation with a few people regarding the final destiny of Judas Iscariot. In the discussion a friend of mine shared a few verses, which led him to believe that Judas had not been saved because Judas, although a disciple, was not one of the men chosen by Christ and given by the Father for final redemption. My first reaction was to look for verses which might show that Judas was chosen. As the weeks went by, I had not found time to dig deeper, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fate of Judas.
I’m assuming most people will approach this question with a strong feeling one way or another, but I would ask that you keep an open mind as I walk you through my own process for seeking an answer. As I mentioned earlier, I started by looking for relevant bible verses. One of the first verses I came across was John 17:12b which says, “none has been lost, except the one doomed to destruction.” Now some might be tempted to look at that verse and say, case closed. The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it! But in John 18:2 and 6:39 Jesus says that it is the will of the Father for him to lose none that he had been given, without qualification.
Now John 13:18 appears to give us some insight into this dilemma, while speaking to his followers Jesus says, “I am not referring to all of you, I know those I have chosen.” It would appear that Judas was one of the disciples, but was not one that had been chosen by Christ or given by the Father. And this is where I was stuck in the original Facebook conversation, so I asked some folks what their thoughts were. Another friend suggested I read an article he had written on the topic titled Judas Iscariot: Apostle to the Reprobate where he emphasized a passage from Luke 6:12-16 in which Jesus retreats to a mountain and prays to God all night before choosing the 12 disciples.
I agreed with the main ideas of the post, but I could imagine someone making a distinction between those chosen to be disciples and those given to Christ by the Father for redemption. As I continued to read, I came across John 6:71 where Jesus says, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” This passage is further evidence that Jesus chose Judas knowing that he would betray him. Judas was by the Father through prayer and chosen by Christ through calling, as one of his disciples and those whom Christ would ultimately redeem. I think this is the truth the scriptures are pointing to, but even with that conclusion the question becomes how then do we interpret John 17:12 and John 13:18?
As I prayed and read the scriptures again, what I started to see was this, in the beginning of John 17:12, Jesus says that he “protected and kept safe” all of those whom the Father had given him, except the one doomed to destruction. Now if we read that passage carefully, there is a difference between Jesus keeping his followers “safe” and “not losing” any of them. We know that the apostles would go on to experience tremendous suffering and most of them would be killed for their faith, but we also know that they would not ultimately be lost. There is a difference between suffering in this life and suffering in the next life. Debates about eternal security and lost salvation often fail to make this distinction. We may suffer in this life either from persecution for our faith or from a decision to turn our backs on our faith, but both of those are different from the reward or punishment we will receive at the last judgement.
It is possible then, that in John 17:12 Jesus was making reference to the suffering Judas would experience in this life. This interpretation would harmonize well with John 13:18 if we see that Jesus is not saying “I know those I have chosen,” as an indication that Judas had not been chosen, but as a sign that Jesus knew him well enough to know that he would give into Satan’s temptation (John 13:27). With all of this in mind we can start to see how Judas can be viewed as the disciple who failed and was ultimately rejected by God, or as the follower who failed but was redeemed because our salvation is by faith alone, not faith in our own faith but faith in the faithfulness of God.