In youth group we are wrapping up a six month study on the twelve disciples. It culminates this Sunday by looking at the most notorious of the group, Judas. Even just the name which ironically means “Jehovah leads,” signifying the ambitions his parents had for him, brings up thoughts of treachery.
We know a few things about Judas. First, we know that he was one of the twelve disciples chosen by and choosing to follow Jesus (Matthew 10:4). Second, we know that he played the role of treasurer for the group and in that role stole money from the group (John 12:6). Third, we know that he betrayed Jesus and it also involved receiving money (Matthew 26:14-16). Finally, after betraying Jesus, the Bible tells us that he felt remorseful and hung himself (Matthew 27:1-5).
So, based on these facts can we answer this question: Is Judas in Heaven or Hell? It’s a question I left our students with last Sunday as a cliffhanger. Of course, the easiest and perhaps most accurate answer is, “I don’t know.” We have to remember that we only get a glimpse into the life of Judas from the Bible. The ending of the book of John is a good reminder that there are probably a lot of details we just don’t know:”Jesus did many other things as well, I suppose if they were written down not even the whole world would have enough books to contain them.” (John 21:25)
We must never be too quick to condemn someone’s fate. Even as I write this about Judas I keep a dose of reluctance in my back pocket. However, just going based off of what we see in the Bible, I would place my bet on Judas going to Hell, but the more important question is why? The answer might seem obvious at first, but it probably isn’t what you think. Did he go to Hell because he betrayed Jesus? No. Did he go to to Hell because he committed suicide? No.
Two Old Testament verses can help us understand what to look for: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) and “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
We must always keep in mind the real issue at hand. Thieves don’t go to hell because they steal, gay people don’t go to hell because they are gay, liars don’t go to hell because they lie. People of all sorts go to hell because of hearts that were never redeemed, whatever their sin may have been. God has called us less so into the realm of condemnation of sin and more so into the business of redeeming of hearts.
Judas had a heart problem. He was dealt a deck of cards and played his hand selfishly. Judas needed to “give Jesus his heart” but what does that abstract Christianese phrase mean exactly?
In simple terms, it’s a takeover.
In John 13:27 during The Last Supper, Judas partakes of the bread and the Bible says that in that moment “Satan entered into him.” Satan cannot enter into the heart of someone who has surrendered it to Jesus. See 1 Corinthians 3:16, Romans 8:9-11.
Apparently, despite having followed him for years, Judas never fully believed in Jesus or failed to grasp the concept of grace. We read that he was remorseful of his decision to betray Jesus, but remorseful isn’t the same thing as repentant. The former is about feeling guilty and hopelessness, the latter is about grace and change.
What is scary is that we too can fall into this same trap of following Jesus but never fully surrendering to him. We can perform all of Christianity as a routine without even really trying too hard, but that isn’t enough. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
It’s all about redeeming hearts and sharing a grace that covers a multitude of sin is the method by which its done.