Judas: A Response to Craig Gross

March 19, 2015 at 6:20 pm

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          Craig Gross, founder and pastor of xxxchurch.com, recently posted an article in CNN questioning the eternal fate of Judas Iscariot. For those unfamiliar with the historical details, Judas was one of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. He was the treasurer of the bunch and followed Jesus throughout his three-year earthly ministry. He was also the disciple that betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies for 30 pieces of silver; a betrayal that lead to his eventually arrest and execution. Given these facts, Gross asks on facebook- “Is Judas in heaven or Hell?”

           It is certainly an interesting question (albeit a tad loaded) that guarantees the exploration of the very definitions of salvation, grace, repentance, forgiveness and discipleship. As assumed, Gross’ query elicits a number of responses, all of which are eventually dismissed by Gross in a single sentence, “we don’t know.”

           While the article was intended to lead readers to introspection about their own sinfulness, the piece also included a handful of well intended, albeit, incorrect, biblical and theological assertions. Before I offer any critique please let me be clear that I have the highest respect for Craig Gross and the ministry of xxxchurch.com. While he may not remember, I actually spent several days with him during my tenure at Montreat College when I invited him to speak to our college community about the epidemic of porn addiction. Since that time, I have repeatedly used his resources to support those under my care whose lives have been shattered by this devastating problem. I see very few threats in the Kingdom today more destructive than the beast that Craig is constantly engaging and he and his ministry are to be greatly applauded.

           With that said, I do want to explore a couple elements of his piece in order to offer some points of clarity which I hope will sharpen and clarify our communal thinking on the topic. Of particular importance for me is Craig’s description of Judas as a “believer.” He writes, “No one suspected that Judas would betray Jesus, which tells me he was a believer.” As evidence for this claim Gross recaps the experiences Judas had with Jesus, the duration of their relationship and the unique role he had as treasurer among the disciples. All of which, according to Gross, proves the authentic nature of his faith. In addition Gross points to Peter’s denial of Christ as an analogous sin and asks rhetorically “why do most people think one goes to heaven and one goes to hell?” Great question.

           The reasons are twofold. The simplest, and most often quoted response, comes from Jesus himself who said The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). Without diving into a great deal of exegetical jargon, most people would readily agree that they do not ever want Jesus to declare “Woe” to them, never mind have Jesus pronounces that it would be better if they “had not been born.” While Gross may accurately defend that Jesus never explicitly tells us about the eternal destiny of Judas, even the most casual observer would conclude that Jesus’ statement here is not good news about an awaiting paradise, or the quick dismissal of what Gross declares ultimately as Judas making “a mistake.” This is condemnation language of the highest order from God himself. It is not the least bit strange, or presumptuously judgmental, that many find in these words definitive evidence of Judas’ final resting place.

           Second, and most importantly, is the weak definition of discipleship that Gross offers in this brief treatise. While Gross appears to take a more punticular view of salvation (salvation that occurs in a single moment of time) the biblical picture is one of progressive development. Discipleship is the act of following Jesus, not once, but daily. Judas followed Jesus until 30 pieces of silver looked more attractive. This is why the bible is able to tell us at one point in John’s gospel “many of (Jesus’) disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” It is possible to be a disciple one day and turn your back on God the next. Images of the crowd during the triumphal entry come to mind; when many turn out to proclaim Jesus “King” and then show up the next day in front of Pilot to chant, “crucify him.” Many of us are willing to follow Jesus until he shatters our ambitions and agendas. Not everyone who starts, finishes.

           And herein lies the greatest distinction between Peter and Judas. While Gross states “both denied Jesus” he focuses on the sin instead of the response as the center of the story. Judas despaired and hung himself. Peter wept bitterly and then swam into the arms of Jesus after his resurrection. The fruit of their repentance declares the two at odds with each other. Judas is guilty and falls into despair, denying the grace that may have been offered to him. Peter is guilty and throws himself at the mercy of the only one who can save him, the resurrected Christ waiting for him on the shore with open arms.

           I agree with Gross that we do not know with certainty where Judas is today. But I will also say that I am far more confident that how we respond to our failures tells us a great deal about the condition of our heart. For some, sin shatters the image we want to see of ourselves in the mirror and drives us even further from Christ. We can’t stand to see ourselves naked before a Holy God. While for others, our broken lives only serve as a constant reminder of how desperate we are for a Savior, and the certainty that Jesus is the only one able to rescue us. When you are a true disciple of Christ, your sin will always drive you towards him, not away.

           It wasn’t Judas’ first betrayal of Jesus that hurt the most it was his last one that was far more devastating. The betrayal he uttered with his life as he declared with a noose that the Jesus he followed was too impotent to save him- “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”