“Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
John’s narrative description of Jesus’ response to Judas is surprisingly matter-of-fact. On the face of it, John provides a simple narrative of how Jesus interacted with Judas. However, there is more to this text than meets the eye. John 13:18-30 offers a theology of acceptance and rejection, a case study in loyalty and betrayal, that leads the disciple to critical self-examination. As much as we might like to, we cannot put what Judas did out of mind. The dynamic interplay between Jesus and Judas hits too close to home.
This passage is also important in demonstrating how we are to love our enemies. John’s well crafted narrative captures the essence of Jesus’ interaction with Judas and the disciples, and in the process offers a practical example of loving non-resistance. Jesus has literally gotten up from his knees and put on his outer clothing, but figuratively speaking he is still on his knees. In the midst of this deep relational conflict, he demonstrates great humility and shows us what it means to go the extra mile with our enemies.
The authoritative “I” characteristic of Jesus’ deliberate speech (John 12:12-17) continues in this next section as well (13:18-21). We count seven first person references. At the center of good spiritual direction is the authoritative “I am who I am” Christ-focus. Jesus succinctly articulates the rationale for true preaching: “I am telling you now. . .so that . . .you will believe that I am who I am.”
Jesus is Lord. Who he is and what he has done is always the gospel’s focus. The ambassador of Christ never loses sight of King Jesus. Jesus turns from positive spiritual direction, preaching the Jesus way (“you also should wash one another’s feet”) to discerning the troubling reality of rejection and betrayal. Yet, the central focus remains the same: “I am who I am.” This must be true of our spiritual direction and preaching as well. No matter how conflicted the situation may be the fallen human condition and God’s redemptive provision in Christ are always in view. Even in the midst of betrayal-talk the focus is redemptive: “so that you will believe that I am who I am.”
His calculated move to inform the disciples of a betrayer in their midst was not designed to protect his reputation but to strengthen their faith. He gave the disciples this heads-up so they would not be blind-sided. The struggle between belief and unbelief was right there in the upper-room. Jesus spoke into that struggle: “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen.” The providence of God is deeply personal: “I know those I have chosen.” The predestinating power of the sovereign Lord of the universe is not dissipated in generic abstractions and categorical generalities but extends to the particular person. True human individuality finds its support in the Creator of humanity, who is not a generic power, but the Triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This image-of-God-individuality is further supported by the singular revelation of the Incarnate One, God-in-fleshed in a particular human being, who was sent on a mission to save us from our sins. The electing, predestinating, adopting power of God issues from the mind of God and refers directly to the individual in the most personal way possible. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). The reality of this personal chosen-ness does not preclude personal responsibility. We need not question Judas’ capacity to act according to his own mind and heart, but even his power to act independently is derived from God.
This gift which God insists on giving to us can be used either for or against God. Author Rob Bell wrote a popular book not long ago entitled, “Love Wins,” in which he argues that sooner or later God’s mercy wins and everyone gets out of the hell they have chosen. Everyone meets Jesus, whether in this life or the next. Everyone wins in the end. It doesn’t matter whether a person is an atheist or an agnostic, a Muslim or a Hindu, the love of God wins in the end and everyone is saved. There is no final judgment and ultimately no wrath of God that needs to be propitiated by the substitutionary death of Christ. Bell asks, “What makes us think that after a lifetime, let alone hundreds or even thousands of years, somebody who has consciously chosen a particular path away from God suddenly wakes up one day and decides to head in the completely opposite direction?” That’s the hope. According to Rob Bell salvation is like evolution, given enough time the good life happens. The gates of heaven are always open. Like choosing the ending of a movie, Bell claims we have a choice of stories. There’s the bad story in which billions perish in endless torment or a better story where everybody enjoys “God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame.”
Bell argues that everybody is saved sooner or later, whether in this life or in the futuristic ages to come. Heaven and hell are within you and eventually heaven wins. Bell resolves the dilemma of human destiny, not through Divine Providence, but through the eventual good sense of the existential self to determine the right path in open-ended freedom. Bell replaces the sovereign mind of God with the sovereign self. Instead of resting in the fact that God knows those who are his, and in spite of the Bible’s claim that many refuse to come to God, Bell gives that power to the individual self — everyone will sooner or later embrace God’s love.
Rob Bell’s theology expects to see Judas in heaven, but in the Bible, Judas stands as a one man argument against universalism. He represents the individual who has had every advantage to receive Christ, yet he persists in his refusal. Judas insisted on unbelief, and in the end, he preferred to be used by Satan than to follow Jesus.
Upper Room Reflection
Why is learning to love our enemies a necessary prerequisite for following Jesus?
What do you make of the fact that in God’s eyes there is no generic humanity, that everyone is personally and fully known to God?
How do you reconcile Judas-style-freedom with the sovereignty of God?
Do you agree that Judas is a one man argument against universalism?