Twelve Ordinary Men, Week 20

Twelve Ordinary Men  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:04:48
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Matthew 26:25 ESV
25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
The most notorious and universally scorned of all the disciples is Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. His name appears last in every biblical list of apostles, except for the list in Acts 1, where it doesn’t appear at all.
Why does his name not appear in Acts?
Acts 1:12–13 ESV
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
Every time Judas is mentioned in Scripture, we also find a notation about his being a traitor. (Not all of them come out and say “traitor”, but we do see the deceiver, the one who betrayed, the betrayer, so the understanding of who he was is linked to what he did).
He is the most colossal failure in all of human history. He committed the most horrible, heinous act of any individual, ever. He betrayed the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God for a handful of money. His dark story is a poignant example of the depths to which the human heart is capable of sinking. He spent three years with Jesus Christ, but for all that time his heart was only growing hard and hateful.
The other eleven apostles are all great encouragements to us because they exemplify how common people with typical failings can be used by God in uncommon, remarkable ways. Judas, on the other hand, stands as a warning about the evil potential of spiritual carelessness, squandered opportunity, sinful lusts, and hardness of the heart. Here was a man who drew as close to the Savior as it is humanly possible to be. He enjoyed every privilege Christ affords. He was intimately familiar with everything Jesus taught. Yet he remained in unbelief and went into a hopeless eternity.
Can/does this happen today?
Judas was as common as the rest, without earthly credentials and without any characteristics that made him stand out from the group. He began exactly like the others had begun. But he never laid hold of the truth by faith, so he was never transformed like the rest. While they were increasing in faith as sons of God, he was becoming more and more a child of hell.
The New Testament tells us plenty about Judas—enough to accomplish two things: First, the life of Judas reminds us that it is possible to be near Christ and associate with Him closely (but superficially) and yet become utterly hardened in sin. Second, Judas reminds us that no matter how sinful a person may be, no matter what treachery he or she may attempt against God, the purpose of God cannot be thwarted. Even the worst act of treachery works toward the fulfillment of the divine plan. God’s sovereign plan cannot be overthrown even by the most cunning schemes of those who hate Him.


Judas’s name is a form of Judah. The name means “Jehovah leads,” which indicates that when he was born his parents must have had great hopes for him to be led by God. The irony of the name is that no individual was ever more clearly led by Satan than Judas was. (This also proves the point a child can be raised in the best of circumstances, intentions, biblical knowledge, but still fall out of the will of God because of free will.)
His surname, Iscariot, signifies the region he came from. It is derived from the Hebrew term ish (“man”) and the name of a town, Kerioth—“man of Kerioth.” Judas probably came from Kerioth-hezron (cf. Joshua 15:25), a humble town in the south of Judea. He was apparently the only one of the apostles who did not come from Galilee. As we know, many of the others were brothers, friends, and working companions even before meeting Christ. Judas was a solitary figure who entered their midst from afar. Although there is no evidence that he was ever excluded or looked down upon by the rest of the group, he may have thought of himself as an outsider, which would have helped him justify his own treachery.
The Galilean disciples’ unfamiliarity with Judas would have aided and abetted him in his deception. The others knew little about his family, his background, or his life before he became a disciple. So it was easy for him to play the hypocrite. He was able to work his way into a place of trust, which we know he did, because he ultimately became the treasurer of the group and used that position to pilfer funds (John 12:6).
John 12:6 ESV
6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Judas’s father was named Simon (John 6:71).
John 6:71 ESV
71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
This Simon is otherwise unknown to us. It was a common name, obviously, because two of the disciples (Peter and the Zealot) were also named Simon. Beyond that, we know nothing of Judas’s family or social background.
Judas was ordinary in every way, just like the others. It is significant that when Jesus predicted one of them would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas (Matthew 26:22–23).
Matthew 26:22–23 ESV
22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.
He was so expert in his hypocrisy that no one seemed to distrust him. But Jesus knew his heart from the beginning (John 6:64).
John 6:64 ESV
64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)


The call of Judas is not recorded in Scripture. It is obvious, however, that he followed Jesus willingly. He lived in a time of heightened messianic hope, and like most in Israel, he was eager for the Messiah to come. When he heard about Jesus, he must have become convinced that this must be the true Messiah. Like the other eleven, he left whatever other enterprise he may have been engaged in and began to follow Jesus full-time. Judas even stayed with Jesus when less-devoted disciples began to leave the group (John 6:66–71). He had given his life to following Jesus. But he never gave Jesus his heart.
John 6:66–71 ESV
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Judas was probably a young, zealous, patriotic Jew who did not want the Romans to rule and who hoped Christ would overthrow the foreign oppressors and restore the kingdom to Israel. He obviously could see that Jesus had powers like no other man. There was plenty of reason for a man like Judas to be attracted to that.
It is equally obvious, however, that Judas was not attracted to Christ on a spiritual level. He followed Jesus out of a desire for selfish gain, worldly ambition, avarice, and greed. He sensed Jesus’ power, and he wanted power like that for himself. He was not interested in the kingdom for salvation’s sake or for Christ’s sake. He was interested only in what he could get out of it. Wealth, power, and prestige were what fueled his ambitions.
It is clear, on the one hand, that he chose to follow. He continued following even when following became difficult. He persisted in following even though it required him to be a more clever hypocrite in order to cover up the reality of what he really was.
On the other hand, Jesus also chose him. The tension between divine sovereignty and human choice is manifest in Judas’s calling, just as it is manifest in the calling of the other apostles. They had all chosen Jesus, but He chose them first (John 15:16). Judas had likewise chosen to follow Jesus. And yet he had also been chosen by Jesus, but not for redemption. His role of betrayal was ordained before the foundation of the world and even prophesied in the Old Testament.
Psalm 41:9, a messianic prophecy, says, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
Psalm 41:9 ESV
9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
Jesus cited that verse in John 13:18 and said its fulfillment would come in His own betrayal. Psalm 55:12–14 says, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng.” That passage also foretold the treachery of Judas. Zechariah 11:12–13 says, “They weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’; that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.” Matthew 27:9–10 identifies that as another prophecy about Judas. So Judas’s role was foreordained.
Scripture even says that when Jesus chose Judas, He knew Judas would be the one to fulfill the prophecies of betrayal. He knowingly chose him to fulfill the plan.
And yet Judas was in no sense coerced into doing what he did. No invisible hand forced him to betray Christ. He acted freely and without external compulsion. He was responsible for his own actions. Jesus said he would bear the guilt of his deed throughout eternity. His own greed, his own ambition, and his own wicked desires were the only forces that constrained him to betray Christ.
How do we reconcile the fact that Judas’s treachery was prophesied and predetermined with the fact that he acted of his own volition? There is no need to reconcile those two facts. They are not in contradiction. God’s plan and Judas’s evil deed concurred perfectly. Judas did what he did because his heart was evil. God, who works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11), had foreordained that Jesus would be betrayed and that He would die for the sins of the world. Jesus Himself affirmed both truths in Luke 22:22.
Luke 22:22 ESV
22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”
God ordained the events by which Christ would die, and yet Judas carried out his evil deed by his own choice, unfettered and uncoerced by any external force. Both things are true. The perfect will of God and the wicked purposes of Judas concurred to bring about Christ’s death. Judas did it for evil, but God meant it for good (cf. Genesis 50:20). There is no contradiction.
From a human perspective, Judas had the same potential as the others. The difference is that he was never really drawn to the Person of Christ. He saw Him only as a means to an end. Judas’s secret goal was personal prosperity—gain for himself. He never embraced Jesus’ teaching by faith. He never had an ounce of true love for Christ. His heart had never been changed, and therefore the light of truth only hardened him.
Judas had every opportunity to turn from his sin—as much opportunity as was ever afforded anyone. He heard numerous appeals from Christ urging him not to do the deed he was planning to do. He heard every lesson Jesus taught during His ministry. Many of those lessons applied directly to him: the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1–13); the message of the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11–14); and Jesus’ preaching against the love of money (Matthew 6:19–34), against greed (Luke 12:13–21), and against pride (Matthew 23:1–12). Jesus had even candidly told the Twelve, “One of you is a devil” (John 6:70). He cautioned them about the woe that would come to the person who betrayed him (Matthew 26:24). Judas listened to all of that unmoved. He never applied the lessons. He just kept up his deceit.


Meanwhile, Judas was becoming progressively more disillusioned with Christ. No doubt at the start, all the apostles thought of the Jewish Messiah as an oriental monarch who would defeat the enemies of Judea, rid Israel of pagan occupation, and reestablish the Davidic kingdom in unprecedented glory. They knew Jesus was a miracle worker. He obviously had power over the kingdom of darkness. He also had authority to command the physical world. No one ever taught the way He taught, spoke the way He spoke, or lived the way He lived. As far as the disciples were concerned, He was the obvious fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic promises.
But Jesus did not always fulfill their personal expectations and ambitions. To be perfectly honest, their expectations were not all spiritually motivated. We see evidence of this from time to time, such as when James and John asked for the chief seats in the kingdom. Most of them had hoped to see an earthly, materialistic, political, military, and economic kingdom. Although they had left all to follow Jesus, they did so with an expectation that they would be rewarded (Matthew 19:27).
Matthew 19:27 (ESV)
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?
The Lord assured them they would be rewarded, but their full and final reward would be in the age to come (Luke 18:29–30).
Luke 18:29–30 ESV
29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
If they were counting on immediate, material rewards, they were going to be disappointed.
The rest of the apostles had begun to catch on slowly that the true Messiah was not what they at first expected. They embraced the superior understanding of the biblical promises Jesus unfolded to them. Their love for Christ overcame their worldly ambitions. They received His teaching about the spiritual dimension of the kingdom, and they gladly became partakers.
Judas, meanwhile, simply became disillusioned. For the most part, he hid his disappointment under his blanket of hypocrisy, probably because he was looking for a way to get some money out of the years he had invested with Jesus. The worldliness in his heart was never conquered. He never embraced the spiritual kingdom of Christ. He remained an outsider, albeit secretly.
The few glimpses of Judas that are shown to us from time to time in the Gospels suggest that he had long been growing progressively more disillusioned and embittered but kept it hidden from everyone. As early as John 6, during Jesus’ Galilean ministry, Jesus referred to Judas as “a devil.” Jesus knew what no one else knew: Judas was becoming disgruntled already. He was still unbelieving, unrepentant, and unregenerate; and he was growing more and more hardhearted all the time.
By the time Jesus and the apostles went to Jerusalem for the Passover in the last year of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Judas’s spiritual disenfranchisement was complete. At some point in those final few days, his disillusionment turned to hate, and hate mixed with greed finally turned to treachery. Judas probably convinced himself that Jesus had stolen his life—robbed him of two years of money-making potential. That sort of thinking ate away at him until finally he became the monster who betrayed Christ.
John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 181–188.
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