Saturday, January 02, 2021

Judas: What Hell May Be Like

Today, during my quiet time with God, I was struck by a prayer of the early Church. In it, they ask God to show them who should take on the role of apostle abandoned by Judas, who had betrayed Jesus: “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:24-25) 

I was especially hit by the last words in verse 25, which says the Church understood that Judas had turned aside from the apostolic office entrusted to him "to go to his own place."

This rendering of the passage comes from the English Standard Version. It is, I think, to be preferred to the New International Version translation, which says that Judas left the apostolic ministry "to go where he belongs." But the Greek in which Luke originally wrote his account of these events simply says that the Church prayed: "...ἀφ’ ἧς παρέβη Ἰούδας πορευθῆναι εἰς τὸν τόπον τὸν ἴδιον." 

A more literal rendering of those words would be: "from which Judas turned aside to go into his own place." 

The implication is not, as the NIV suggests, that Judas went to hell, although absent repentance and faith in Christ, that might be the case. Rather, the words in the original Greek show us that Judas went to "his own place," not just to the field he purchased with the money he was paid to betray Jesus, but a place apart from God and others.

In these days of necessary social isolation, those who live by themselves yearn for community, while those who are isolated with family members alone, may long for their own places apart. But all probably desire larger social connections. That's part of how we're made as human beings.

Judas had chosen isolation from the Church and the other apostles. He acted as a "free agent," whatever his motives may have been, to get Jesus arrested. 

After he saw what his betrayal brought about, he wanted to go to his own place, apart from either the confrontation or the consolation that God and Christ's Church might have given to him. 

This was a tragic decision born of Judas' unchallenged inborn sinful nature. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus' arrest and trial, yet had come back to God and the Church. The other apostles had run that night; they too had returned to fellowship. Whether because of guilt, shame, pride, or preference, Judas went off to his own place.

And this, I believe is what hell is like: A place where for all eternity, people dwell in a world of their own making, of separation from the consoling arms of God or the friendship of those who have trusted in God as revealed to us in Christ. 

Jesus says that hell will be a place in which there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth," that is, a place of constant regret that the outstretched hand of love and forgiveness of God that's offered to all in the crucified and risen Jesus was rejected; a place of eternal regret for those whose pride prevented them from confessing that, like the rest of the human race, they were sinners in need of the Savior Jesus.

We all know that in these days of COVID19, love of God and love of neighbor will require Christians to be significantly isolated from others. To prevent the spread of this deadly disease requires God to give us that fruit of the Spirit, self-control, that does not come naturally to us.

Nonetheless, we were made for loving fellowship with God and others, for honesty before God and humility and love for others.

In the days after he betrayed Jesus, Judas appears to have fallen into despair. Pride kept him from reconciliation with God and others. It's clear to me that he wasn't happy to be in his own place. Although we may all need our "alone times," over the long haul, life without God or God's people, the Church, isn't life. It's death.

Father, You are the Author of all life and You will to give it to all who turn to You in repentance and faith. Help me to turn to You each day, honestly confessing my sins and trusting You, for Jesus' sake, to forgive me, because I want to be with You forever. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen

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