Did the devil destroy Judas forever?

If Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, was destroyed by Satan forever, what does that say about God? That the devil is more powerful than God? Or that God doesn’t have the power to save some people?

But if that’s true, how can anyone preach the gospel with a clear conscience? The gospel is supposed to be the good news of God sending Jesus to save us, with no exceptions – a point Jesus himself emphasized in John 18:9 when he said, “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” Not one.

Ah, but didn’t Jesus also say in John 17:12, “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction”? So there was an exception, right? Jesus did lose somebody. But did Jesus lose Judas because he was unable to save him? No, verse 12, Judas was lost “so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” It was already predicted in Scripture that someone would betray Jesus, and Judas ended up being the one. Judas, therefore, wasn’t one of those God gave to Jesus for salvation. God had another purpose for Judas.

But if Judas wasn’t lost forever because he’d never been given to Jesus for salvation in the first place, why did Jesus use the term “lost” to describe Judas at all? Because in context Jesus meant he lost Judas as a disciple (verse 12). Not lost him forever, but lost him as one of the twelve.

But what about Matthew 26:24 where Jesus says of Judas, “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Well of course it would have been better if Judas had never existed, knowing what he did, but is there any mention in this verse of Judas being lost forever? No.

Jesus talks of the exact opposite happening to Judas, in fact, in verse 28, when Jesus describes the cup of wine they shared as the “blood of my covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Judas drank from that cup too, and did Jesus exclude Judas from the forgiveness of sins it pictured? No.

So when Judas admits “I have sinned,” Matthew 27:4, was his sin the one exception to God’s forgiveness? If it was then we must preach that Christ’s blood does not cover every sin, and that God can’t save some people because the devil’s managed to destroy them, which is saying the devil is more powerful than God. But is that the picture of God we preach? No, we preach the good news of John 3:16-17.

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The worst thing Judas did wasn’t betraying Jesus

The worst thing Judas did wasn’t betraying Jesus, because someone had to betray Jesus “to fulfill the scripture; ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me,'” John 13:18. Jesus was quoting Psalm 41:9, and David’s lament that “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me,” a probable reference to Ahithophel, David’s personal confidante and “counselor” (2 Samuel 15:12), who joined Absalom’s rebellion against David.

Jesus lifted that scripture from Psalms to predict that someone was going to betray him, just like Ahithophel betrayed David. Jesus knew who that someone was too, as early as John 6:70-71, when he told his disciples, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot).” Jesus also knew that Judas’ betrayal of him would be the devil’s doing, and in John 13:2, “the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.” So it all happened exactly as Jesus knew it would: the betrayal, who would do the betraying, and who inspired it. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, therefore, wasn’t the worst thing in the world; it was, in fact, fulfilling a necessary part in the Father’s plan, and it didn’t shock Jesus at all when it happened.

The worst thing Judas did was to commit suicide after it happened, because he didn’t have to. In Matthew 27:3-4, “he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.'” When he realized what he’d done he repented, publicly admitted his fault, and he tried to make amends by returning the money. And when the priests wouldn’t take the money back “Judas threw the money into the temple and left,” verse 5. Even Judas’ biggest problem, his love for money, disappeared.

Unfortunately, Judas then “went away and hanged himself.” I say “unfortunately,” because there were other people just as responsible for Jesus’ death as Judas was, but they didn’t kill themselves, and nor did they need to. When Peter yelled out: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” in Acts 2:36, he didn’t tell all those guilty of crucifying Christ to go away and commit suicide, even though they’d killed Christ too. Their sin was just as bad as Judas’ sin, but Peter simply told them to “Repent,” verse 38.

But Judas HAD repented. He’d done what Peter said. Killing himself, therefore, was the worst thing Judas did, because his repentance, just like Israel’s repentance, would have been accepted.

Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

For a while yet, the big, bad wolf – the devil – still has powerful influence on our world, much like the White Witch in the land of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He still “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” 1 Peter 5:8. He is still “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” Ephesians 2:2. He is still the “god of this age” who “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, and “the whole world is (still) under the control of the evil one,” 1 John 5:19.

Can the big, bad wolf still devour and control Christians, though? Not according to 1 John 5:18 which says, “the one born of God (Jesus) keeps him (the Christian) safe, and the evil one does not touch him.” The evil one couldn’t touch Jesus’ disciples either, John 17:12 – “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe.” The devil tried to get Peter, Luke 22:31, “But,” verse 32, “I (Jesus) have prayed for you, Simon (Peter), that your faith may not fail.” So when we belong to Christ we are safe from the devil. There’s no need to be afraid of the big, bad wolf.

But what about Ephesians 6:11 and the need for Christians to “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”? Without that armour aren’t we vulnerable to “the flaming arrows of the evil one” (verse 16)? Well, yes, or why would Paul say we needed armour in the first place? There are precautions we take “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes,” 2 Corinthians 2:11.

In James 3:14, for instance, the devil was influencing Christians into “bitter envy and selfish ambition” and “wrong motives” (4:3), causing fights and quarrels to break out amongst them (verse 2), but there’s no mention of those Christians losing out on their eternal life because of it. The devil couldn’t touch that. He could get in a stab or two through weak or non-existent armour, and flair up all sorts of anger, bitterness and jealousy, but “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge who is able to save and destroy” and it’s not Satan. He cannot destroy a Christian. He can make life utterly miserable for us, but he can’t touch our eternal life.

And any time we see what the devil’s done to us and we turn to God in humble repentance, the big, bad wolf “will flee from you,” James 4:7. He’s the one who’s afraid.

Once in hell is there no way out?

Is hell the end of the road, the final dumping ground for the unsalvageable? And once in hell, is there no way out? Has the deadline passed for saying sorry and asking for another chance? Has a person blown his chances forever because his pride seared his conscience beyond repair?

It certainly sounds like it in Jesus’ reaction to the Pharisees. He blasts them with seven “woes” in Matthew 23:13-32, at the end of which he yells, “You snakes. You brood of vipers. How will you escape being condemned to hell?” verse 33. With an attitude like theirs they deserved hell. But what did Jesus mean by “hell,” and was there no escape from it?

Jesus drops a couple of hints in the context as to what this hell might be. In verse 38, Jesus tells them, “Look, your house is left to you desolate.” The “house” that would feel like hell to a Pharisee if it was made desolate was the religious system they’d built, of strict obedience to the Law, the Temple rituals and all sorts of other requirements, that they believed had to be obeyed for Israel to be rescued from its enemies and restored to its former glory.

But that house was already becoming desolate because the Pharisees weren’t living by their own rules (verse 3). Worse than that was their rejection of Jesus as God’s agent of rescue for the nation, just like their forefathers had rejected all the other prophets God had sent to rescue them (verse 34-36). Their entire system, therefore, was about to come crumbling down, including the Temple, the literal “house” they’d looked to rather than Christ. And if that wasn’t hell enough for them, Jesus also told them in verse 39, “you will not see me again,” so once Jesus was gone there was no getting him back again to give them another chance. They’d lost out. No more second chances in their lifetime. Everything they held dear would be destroyed and there was no way out of it.

But was the door of their hell shut forever? No, because Jesus went on to say in verse 39 that they wouldn’t see him again “UNTIL you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” So there was a way out of hell for them: It was willingly accepting those whom God sent to them (verse 37), the one thing they and their ancestors had never done. A massive change of heart and attitude on their part was needed, therefore, but the offer was still open. And if it was still open to the Pharisees, of all people, how about to everyone else condemned to hell too?

Universalism, Annihilationism, Eternal Torment, or what?…

I’ve been all three, a Universalist, an Annihilationist, and a believer in Eternal Torment. Eternal Torment was my favourite to start with, chucking the likes of Hitler into the flames to pay for what he did. The wretched man deserved eternal punishment, so do child abusers and those who pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). Let them suffer in public humiliation forever.

But what good would it do? It satisfied an inner need in me, I suppose, knowing that horrible people got horrible punishment, but now we’d be stuck with these horrible people forever, and stuck with the memory of what they did too. Far better, surely, would be getting rid of them. Burn them up like Sodom and Gomorrah, so all memory of them vanishes. It made a lot more sense to me, and it was less embarrassing too, wishing a person dead forever rather than wishing him flailing in agony forever. So I became an Annihilationist instead.

But I didn’t annihilate my children when they messed up, did I? Instead, my hope sprang eternal that life, the school of hard knocks, and punishment when needed, would translate into lessons learned, wisdom gained, and a real desire in my children to be good people. Punishment wasn’t meant to be final, in other words, it was meant to be corrective resulting in change, and isn’t that what God wants for his children too? Rather than hell being eternal torment or annihilation, therefore, I saw it in the same light as sending my children to their rooms to change their attitudes.

But if that was the purpose of hell instead, then God could save everybody, couldn’t he? He could isolate them in hell to stew in their own juice for as long as was needed to soften up their attitude, and when they were ready they could come out and join the rest of us. And if I’m like that with my children, it made perfect sense that God’s like that with his children, so I became a Universalist, believing God could, and would, save everybody in the end.

But then I discovered that scriptures can be found that support or refute all three views, so now what?

Well, there was still Paul, “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16), and look what happened to him. “The grace of our Lord was poured out” on him (verse 14). It was grace, that marvellous mixture of mercy and justice that only God is perfectly capable of, that saved Paul.

So with that in mind I became a Gracist, a believer in “God’s abundant provision of grace” (Romans 5:17) as the only and final solution in every human life.

Is God a Universalist – or not?

The fact that God is loving and merciful demands that he is a universalist, but the fact that God is also fair and just demands that he is not a universalist. In heart and intent God wants everybody in a loving relationship with him forever, but in practice how can he have a loving relationship forever with someone who resists the Holy Spirit and thinks only evil thoughts?

The Israelites perfectly illustrate God’s dilemma. He was merciful and loving to them, sending them a constant stream of “prophets, and wise men and teachers,” Matthew 23:34, to guide them and keep them on the straight and narrow. He gave them a sacrificial system that prevented even their worst sins from killing them, and he provided a priesthood to show them how much he loved and cared for them, but the Israelites were a “stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears,” Acts 7:51, who “always resist the Holy Spirit.”

And that was a real problem, Isaiah 63:10, because when Israel “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit, he (God) became their enemy and he himself fought against them.” Jesus also made it clear in Mark 3:29 that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

The story of Israel, therefore, is one huge warning “that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” Hebrews 3:12, because it’s the hardening of the human heart (verse 8) that makes God “declare on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest'” (verse 11).

The great dilemma God faces, then, is the hardening of the human heart against him, because it’s only when “you believe” that God “gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you,” Galatians 3:5. The softening of a person’s heart toward God, then, is the key to the Spirit working his magic. So will God in his love and mercy UNharden every hardened human heart? – because if he does he’s a universalist. But will God in his anger and justice NOT unharden every unbelieving heart?- because if he doesn’t he’s not a universalist.

Everything comes down to what God does with a human heart so hardened against him it’s created an impenetrable wall. So what does God do with Israel and their impenetrable wall? Jesus said of them, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Matthew 23:33, which sounds pretty final, but Paul asked, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” Romans 11:11, which sounds like God may have a solution after all. But since Israel’s story hasn’t finished yet we’re going to have to wait and see whether God is a universalist – or not.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

Two words bounce out in that statement above from 2 Corinthians 13:14, the first being that Jesus is “Lord,” and the second that the Lord is all about “grace.”

So over this earth right now we have a Lord, a King, Jesus Christ, who will continue to “reign until he has put all enemies under his feet,” 1 Corinthians 15:25, and “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power,” verse 24. Scripture is clear that Jesus is in charge, and he has been ever since he was “raised from the dead” by the Father and “seated at (the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come,” Ephesians 1:20-21. He is “the LORD” Jesus Christ all right.

But where does “grace” fit in with that? It sounds like Christ is a violent Lord, throwing his weight around until all challengers are crushed to pulp. And how is that different to the rulers of the earth right now, who try to preserve their power and office by belittling their opponents in parliament and in vicious attack ads leading up to elections, or by killing off the opposition literally by assassinations and brutal violence?

But the enemies Christ is crushing aren’t people, or even opposition by people. The enemy is the influence of evil that so easily turns the human heart against God. Evil caused “sin to enter the world, and death through sin,” Romans 5:12, bringing with it “condemnation for all men,” verse 18, and an era when “Sin reigned in death,” verse 21. From Adam to Christ humanity lay helpless under the vicious reign of evil that ruled by the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

At the resurrection of Christ, however, the reign of grace began, that did a real number on King Evil, because “where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” Romans 5:20. Every time evil condemned someone to death, the person was immediately released from all charges against him. The only hold King Evil now had was blinding people to the all powerful reign of “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” bringing “eternal life” to humanity “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” verses 17 and 21. So Christ has his church out there in the world ripping the blinders off so people can see that because of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” King Evil has been dethroned, so that humans not only escape condemnation by King Evil, they can also escape evil’s influence.