Study Notes 9-8-13: A New Commandement

This passage of our study on John covers 13:31-35

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

First, its probably worth nothing that Jesus says, “now”, and that this seems to give us a demarcation between Judas’ presence among them, and this time afterwards when He would give His last instructions and teaching to His disciples.  It is often thought that from verse 31 onward the ‘farewell discourses’ of Christ begin since Judas has now finally left, and only His chosen ones are left.

And as we get into the meat of the text, we see that Jesus is pointing toward an impending event – one that is imminent. R.C. Sproul’s study notes point us to Pauline theology which hangs so much on the shame that Christ was about to suffer in just a few hours from now, and the contrast Sproul notes is how John sees this as an hour of shame, yes, but mostly of glory. Jesus saw His imminent death as a source for His greatest glorification. As John MacArthur writes, “His entire ministry pointed to the cross (Mark 10:45), making it the glorious climax of the life He lived perfectly in keeping with His Father’s will.”

All of this is simply hard to imagine logically. But J.C. Ryle helps frame the problematic contrast between the way we think of “glory” typically, and the way that Christ and the Father had in mind:

This was a dark and mysterious saying, and we may well believe that the eleven did not understand it. And no wonder! In all the agony of the death on the cross, in all the ignominy and humiliation which they saw afar off, or heard of next day, in hanging naked for six hours between two thieves, – in all this there was no appearance of glory! On the contrary, it was an event calculated to fill the minds of the Apostles with shame, disappointment, and dismay. And yet our lord’s saying was true.

The idea that the chosen one, the Christ of God would be glorified was not an unfamiliar one, for as Isaiah said:

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3).

Yet at the same time we see Jesus use the name “Son of Man” to describe himself.  And so we see that there are two themes colliding that the Jewish audience of the day could not have seen coming together: the Christ will be a man who will bring glory to Him own name, who will usher in a glorious kingdom, but will do so by suffering in humiliation and agony. More than just a martyr, Jesus was actually accomplishing something for His people – freedom and eternal life.

In light of this, I really love Carson’s comments on the nature of Christ’s glorification:

Even in the Prologue, the glorification of the incarnate Word occurs not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence (1:14). Now, bringing to a climax a theme developed throughout this Gospel, the Evangelist makes it clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross. That is the primary reason why the title Son of Man is employed here.

Pastor John MacArthur says that Christ was glorified in three ways by the cross: “by satisfying the demands of God’s justice for all who would believe in Him”, by destroying “the power of sin”, and by destroying “the power of Satan, ending the reign of terror of ‘him who had the power of death.’”

The Father Receives Glory as well

But not only did Jesus receive glory from the cross, but as He says, “God is glorified in him.”  This means that the Father would also receive glory in the cross-work of Christ. I see this happening in primarily two ways: In the righteous obedience and character of Christ, and in the knowledge of what Jesus was accomplishing for those whom He loved.

You see, God’s character was put on full display as Christ showed that God was holy, faithful, and loved His people. His law had consequences, and yet He was willing to pay the price for our breaking of His law. I hear recently that it’s a habit of Christians to talk as if we need to be guilty for the death of Jesus – that He died for us, and that this deep sense of shame pervades them for their sin. Well this is only a half-correct way to think about it.  Yes we should feel shame for our sins, but Christ did what He did not out of compunction, and not out of duty.  And as Pastor Tony Romano was so keen to remind us recently, God did what He did in sending His Son not out of some cosmic law that says He has to behave this way, but because He finds pleasure in doing so.  God loves to save sinners, and when His Son hung on that tree it magnified who He is! It screams for all the world to see that God is love; and it shouts from the mountaintops that He is just and righteous and holy. For He is God, and there is none like Him.

In Sum…

We often have a difficult time at first glance with some of these ideas. For what has “glory” to do with something so painful and horrific and hanging from a tree all bloody and bruised? What God does is expand our way of thinking. He is offering us a look at Himself.  He is inviting us to behold His character, His majesty there at the cross. The cross confounds our fleshly sensibilities and offers to us another paradigm of thinking: heavenly thinking.

I imagine that for the disciples it would have been difficult to comprehend how these two concepts (glory and shame) fit together apart from the help of the Spirit (which would come later).  We live on this side of the cross, and on this side of the cross we have the privilege of the Spirit’s abiding work within us. This work of His is helping change our thinking to be more like Christ’s thinking (1 Cor. 2:16).”

The same thing eventually happened with the disciples, you know. The suspended disbelief of this group of me will soon turn to faith in action, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that would prove to be of such a deep nature that most everyone in that room would suffer and die for their Lord many years later.

13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once

The Logical Progression of Glorious Events

Jesus also saw that not only would the Father be glorified, and not only would He be glorified by His actions on Earth, but that soon (“at once”) He would join His Father in Heaven once again and enjoy the glory He had with Him from the beginning. And so this comment “will also glorify him in himself” is an anticipation of His glorification. Jesus trusted and knew that His death would result in ultimate victory.  Jesus was not a fatalist; He did not march to death with no hope for future life. And so we too can face physical death knowing that those chains will never hold us back from the bosom of the Father.

This statement from Jesus therefore shows us that He was looking beyond the cross toward the joy that awaited Him:

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

The way D.A. Carson explains it may be helpful:

Instead of focusing on the glorification of the Son of Man and the correlative glorification of the Father in the Son’s voluntary sacrifice, one may reverse the order. If God is glorified in the Son, it is no less true to say that God will glorify the Son in himself…the entire clause has much the same force as 17:5. Christ’s glorified humanity is taken up to have fellowship with the Father…in the eternal presence and essence of his heavenly Father, partly because by this event he re-enters the glory he had with the Gather before the Word became incarnate (1:14), before the world began (17:5). The entire event displays the saving sovereignty of God, God’s dawning kingdom.

13:33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

“Little children” is a beautiful saying of Christ, and (as Ryle notes) is the only time Jesus referred to them in this way. It reminds us of our adoption into the family of Christ.  In J.I. Packer’s classic book ‘Knowing God’ he devotes an entire chapter on the subject of our adoption.  Packer says that, “Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification…Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves” (pg. 206-207).

That Jesus would offer the disciples this title after just speaking of His impending cross-work seems to me a special and wonderful revelation; a small peak into the blessings to come.

13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Introduction

A few introductory thoughts to this important passage. First, this “new commandment” is not new in the sense that God had not called His people to love one another in the OT (Lev. 19:18), but rather that this will be a new covenant. In the OT God’s people were never able to keep the commandments. Jesus is saying that this is an entirely new paradigm, a new covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6-13).  He is going to change not simply the way (or what) we obey, but the fact that we will be able to obey, and will actually desire to obey, and that when we fail we will not need to make sacrifices for our sin – for He is our sacrifice.

Secondly, by issuing the command to love, He is anticipating the coming of the Spirit, which will enable them to actually keep the covenant – in other words, He’s making new creations that will be covenant keepers rather than covenant breakers.

Lastly, this obedience will be so radical (love for enemies etc.) that it could only come from God – it has to be supernaturally motivated. The people called by the name of Christ (“Christians”) will behave in such a way that marks them as something completely “other” (“called out” and “holy”). People will ask, “Why do these people march to their deaths, love their enemies, and speak kindness and love in the face of hate, persecution and scorn?” There will be only one answer: They are Christians.

Not “New”, Yet “New”

This “new command” is not a new “rule” but rather a new covenant, a new way that God is dealing with His children.  As far back as the time of Moses we read that the Israelites were called to “love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Yet even the new covenant Jesus is ushering in isn’t something that ought to be totally foreign to these disciples sitting around the room that evening with Jesus. For we read in several places that this new covenant was going to come one day – a brand new covenant with better promises, namely eternal life and righteousness earned by Christ plus sanctification worked out by the power of God’s own Spirit.

Look, for instance at what both Ezekiel and Jeremiah had to say about this great impending day:

 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. [23] And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. [24] I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [28] You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:22-28)

And…

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [11] Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ [12] Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. [13] And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. [14] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:10-14)

And…

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Covenant Keepers

This leads us to the next logical step, which is that in giving us His Spirit, and issuing a new covenant with His people, He has a goal in mind.  He will shortly break the power of death and sin by His atoning work on the cross, but He hasn’t stopped there.  God not only sent His only Son to die in our places, and to give us His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21 – double imputation), but He wants to have an intimate relationship with His people.  He has promised to dwell among us.  How is this going to happen?  By sending His Spirit to live within us.

The consequence of this is that He is transforming us from covenant breakers into covenant keepers. Listen to what Paul says:

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. [3] And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.[4] Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, [6] who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:2-6)

Baptist scholar Stephen Wellum outlines the importance of Christ’s obedience in reconciling us to God in the context of the inauguration of this command and the New Covenant, “…this is precisely the problem: God remains faithful to his promises, but we do not. It is only if God himself provides an obedient son – his Son – that the covenant relationship will be what it was intended to be from the beginning.”

Wellum continues:

What is needed is such heart transformation tied to the forgiveness of our sin, literally being born of God’s Spirit, so that human being will fulfill the purpose of their creation, namely, obediently living in relation to their covenant Lord and to each other (KTC, pg. 629)

In the New Testament, the Spirit is presented as the agent who not only gives us life but also enables us to follow God’s decrees and keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant keepers and not breakers (KTC, pg. 648).

Previously we were unable to keep the commands of God, yet we are told by Paul that they were a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). This new command will be possible because the law will be written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). This is the great fulfilling of the promise of a time when God would dwell within us and help us to obey. What we could not do in the flesh, God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3).

The Coming of the Spirit

It is important to understand that this commandment comes from Christ by was of introducing the rest of what He is going to say to the disciples. The remainder of His conversation (and prayer) in chapters 14-17 is saturated by the promise that when He leaves He will send the Spirit. It is only because of this promised coming of the Spirit that this command, this new covenant, can be taken with joy and not complete consternation and (if they were being honest with themselves) the anticipation of utter failure.

This “new commandment” is the great “royal law” (James 2:8) which Christ has given us, a law which we could not keep if it were not for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is more going on here than we might realize, because as I’ve labored to show, Jesus is saying that he is going to transform us from covenant breakers to covenant keepers, with the goal that we might enter into a relationship with Him, and fulfill the reason for our creation in the first place – what was originally meant for us in the garden, and has been won for us by the work of the ‘Last Adam’, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5).

The Mark of a Christian

Jesus’ words signal the announcement of a new covenant, a better covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6), and a people whose actions of love will set them apart as a clear distinction from all others in this world.

Now, this is why Jesus says that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This isn’t because of our own wisdom or knowledge, but because the Holy Spirit will be so markedly making a difference in our lives that we will act differently than all other people. It is both a stunning pronouncement on the evil of humanity, and the amazing promise of God’s work within us that “love” for others will be the most pronounced indicator of our inclusion in His heavenly family.

Scripture tells us that God’s people are a holy nation, not geographically, but spiritually (Gal. 6:16). We are a called people, called out of the world (ekklesia), called to be holy, live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15, 2 Tim. 1:19), and called to love each other (Matt. 22:38-40). This love is a sign of the working of the Spirit.

This is what Frances Schaeffer called ‘The Mark of a Christian’ (Sproul & MacArthur both cite Schaeffer in this way) and it is not simply an emotional reaction to His goodness, it is much more. It is an outpouring of His Spirit’s work within us. It controls us. It motivates us to action. And it is these actions that justify outwardly our identification as His children. As John Stott says, “Christian love is not the victim of our emotions but the servant of our will.”  And this “will” has been changed by Him from a will bent on sin and resulting in death, to a will inclined toward the things of God.

One need only look to church history to know that the love which Christ has given His children has driven them to do and say things they never would have otherwise. Peter, the blustering big-talking fisherman became a man who could speak before councils and kings.  He was transformed from a cowardly traitor into a bold proclaimer of the Gospel, and eventual martyr.

Only a supernatural kind of love could possibly affect this kind of change – church history is littered with case after case of this testimony. From Peter and Paul and James, to Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin. Time after time men and women gladly marched to death rather than surrender their affiliation and love for Jesus.

Lastly, but certainly not “least”, it is worth noting that if we are truly filled with the Spirit, we will know we’re never going to be lost. He will preserve us until His return, or our death. What a wonderful assurance! If we are filled with His Spirit, then surely He has adopted us into His family and ushered us into His kingdom.

John tells us in his first epistle, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14 – also 1 John 2:29, and 3:7 tell us this truth).  This love is a result of the Spirit’s work within us, and the Spirit is given to us when we are born again (John 3).

And as Wellum remarks, “In this age, Christ sends the Spirit to all believers and the Spirit becomes the previous seal, down payment, and guarantee of the promised inheritance of the last day.”  The indwelling presence of the Spirit the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:5), and the proof that one day Christ will come back and consummate the kingdom He inaugurated 2000 years ago.

Study Notes 9-2-12

This week we finished off the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and in two weeks we’ll begin the 7th chapter.  Below are my full notes on the section (about 7 pages worth I believe).  I included all of them instead of bullet pointing because I think there’s probably a lot more below than I covered in class + I didn’t get to record the audio (oops!!).  Hopefully this is sufficient.  Enjoy!

6:67-69 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.”

Before we go into what it is that Peter says, I wanted to note something that Calvin says about this shift in dialogue. “As the faith of the apostles might be greatly shaken, when they saw that they were so small a remnant of a great multitude, Christ directs his discourse to them, and shows that there is no reason why they should allow themselves to be hurried away by the lightness and unsteadiness of others.”

This is one of the things I love about Calvin; he’s always putting himself in the situation so that he can explain the context to us more accurately than we might initially compose it in our minds. And what it is that he draws out here is the compassion of Christ.  He directs His attention to the disciples because He knows their hearts and thoughts and wants to be sure that they understand the truths He’s teaching.  He does the same with us, don’t you think?  So many times when I get shaken about something I’ve read or learned, I turn to Christ in prayer and He settles me down.  He speaks soothing words to my heart and helps me understand what it is that He’s made known in His word.

The Bible and specifically the words of Christ, aren’t always easy things to understand.  Carson points out that Peter’s understanding of what Jesus had been saying thus far might have been a bit “muddy.”  The same is often true of myself. That is why it is so comforting to see this example of the attention Christ is giving these men.  His desire is for us to learn more about Him.

Peter’s Confession

Peter makes a great confession here. He must have thought to himself, “what am I to do? What can I say to this”?  This is the same thing we might think from time to time.  We get frustrated with something we face in life and we blame God.  Or we can’t understand the difficult mysteries of Scripture so we get turned off by them and don’t read anymore, or we get rubbed wrong by a pastor or leader and stop coming to church etc.  But Peter, while acknowledging that Christ’s words are difficult – note that he doesn’t deny this – still admits that Christ is the only one with the words of life.  And so He is. We must therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, but with humility, knowing that these mysteries are difficult even for those who spent time in the very presence of God incarnate.

John Piper talks about the vast wisdom and knowledge of Christ in his book ‘Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ’ and says that the greatest knowledge Christ had was of who God was.  He had this knowledge because He was God Himself!  And this is what Christ is trying to get these people (and us) to understand: that He is God.  Here’s what Piper says:

Nothing greater can be said about the knowledge of Jesus than that he knows God perfectly. All reality outside God is parochial compared to the infinite reality that God is. What God has made is like a toy compared to the complexity and depth of who God is. All the sciences that scratch the surface of the created universe are mere ABCs compared to Christ’s exhaustive knowledge of the created universe. And even this knowledge of the created universe is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the ocean of knowledge that Jesus has of the being of God himself. While the universe is finite, God is infinite. Complete knowledge of the infinite is infinite. Therefore to know God as Jesus knows God is to have infinite knowledge.

And so this is the reality that Peter came to at the end of this discourse.  And this is why verse 64 is so significant, it all points to Christ’s knowledge.  He knows everything from before the foundation of the world.

There are other instances of this in Scripture.  For example, in John 18:4 it says “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him…” and earlier in John 2:24-25 it says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

I also love the example of a time when the Pharisees were trying to question Jesus to see how smart he really was, and He ended up asking them the questions instead.  The passage is Matthew 23:41-46:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

I just love that last verse – the reaction to His scriptural example is that “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions”!  What a great verse!

This is where Peter found himself, only his reaction was one of confessional worship, while the Pharisees were simply silenced in their embarrassment.

6:70-71 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.

First we notice that Christ makes certain that His disciples understand that it is He that is doing the choosing and not themselves. This is perhaps a very clear example of election, though MacArthur says “He is not here referring to election to salvation, but rather selection to apostleship.” God knows who His chosen ones will be, as He also knew who Jesus’ disciples would be. Peter makes his declaration of faith, first and then Christ reminds him that it wasn’t Peter who chose Christ for His words, but rather Christ chose Peter that he might hear His words and choose to follow Him. So while we see that Christ might not specifically be talking about salvation, the principles of sovereignty are the same – in all things He is sovereign.  As D.A. Carson says, “Ultimately, the twelve did not choose Jesus; He chose them.”

Very interesting that Jesus would choose to react in verse 70 to Peter’s confession this way.  In another discourse Peter makes a more clear confession of faith and Christ responds slightly differently, but the point is really the same.  That confession is found in Matthew 16:16-17.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

There are some wonderful parallels between this passage and the one we’re looking at here in John.  As you recall, we said that being taught of God is the same as being drawn or chosen by God.  And these two verses demonstrate this all the more.  The Matthew passage shows us that what Peter understood about Christ did not emanate from within himself, but rather from God who revealed it to him.  We might call this being “taught” of God.

The passage we have in John shows us a similar confession by Peter, though slightly different in the phraseology.  He states that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” and Jesus doesn’t say specifically this time that God revealed this to him, but rather says that it wasn’t Peter that chose to have this knowledge, it wasn’t something within Peter that made him want to stay and be with Christ and follow Him, rather Jesus says that it was Christ who called him out of darkness.  Peter would later write this about what it means to be a Christian:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

So we see here that Jesus isn’t going away from His main point of this passage, which is that in all things God is sovereign, and particularly in the matter of salvation.

Allowing Evil

The second thing we notice here is what Boice calls “a disturbing revelation.”  He points out is that one of the disciples is “a devil” and John adds a contextual note that Judas will betray Jesus.  Leon Morris says that all the gospel authors make this betrayal clear when they first introduce Judas in each of their accounts.

There is no question that Jesus is stating that He is sovereign over who will be His disciples, just as He is sovereign over salvation and is sovereign over all living things.  He’s already stated this numerous times throughout the passage, and once more again just now.  But why would He allow Judas to be numbered among them?

The answer lies in the fact that, while God hates evil, He allows evil, and even chooses to work through evil situations and people, to bring good to His people.  This is the whole meaning of Romans 8:28.  It isn’t that God simply is sovereign over the good times, and it isn’t as though these evil people are somehow out from under His thumb.  No indeed.  God in His mysterious sovereignty allows evil people to do what they do in order that He might bring about redemption.

This is the kind of thing that baffles us.  Christ ends the passage that is so rich with predestinarian language and teaching that one can’t help but realize that from the beginning of time God had a plan for us and for His Son’s incarnation, death, and glorious resurrection.  Yet we struggle with the purpose of evil.  And we must be careful, because this is where errors can filter into our thinking.

We must guide our thoughts of Jesus’ allowing of Judas, and other evil men, into His plans by what we know is true about God’s character.  God is not the author of evil Himself, nor does He like, or condone it.  Evil is contrary to God’s holy character, it is so fully opposite of who He is that He will not evil look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13).

And yet His Spirit strives with us while we continue to sin, and He also uses evil to accomplish His will on earth.  This is close to being a paradox – it is something that seems contradictory on the surface, but when we look at God’s character we find it is not so.  God can be both merciful, and holy.  He can be both loving of His sinful creatures, while displaying at least some measure of His wrath at our sin.

We would not call these attributes contradictory in a person, just as we won’t call them so in God.  But we do have a tendency as human beings to assume God’s mercy outweighs His justice and wrath.  We tend to think of God as sort of a one-sided all loving God, or perhaps as a lopsided all-judging and wrathful God.  But the truth is that God’s characteristics are balanced as He sees fit.  We can’t know the “why” of His choosing to be merciful to some and deliver justice to others.  He chose to be merciful to the disciples and deliver justice to Judas.  He had a plan that involved Judas betraying Him.  If He hadn’t have chosen Judas to be one of the 12, there would be no betrayal, no cross, and no redemption for sins.

The Mind of God and Vessels of Wrath

It is impossible to understand fully the mind of God.  For the past several weeks we have been struggling with the operation of God’s choosing some and not others.  We have mostly been focused on how God chose us, and how amazing it is that He would do so – and indeed it is amazing!  But here we’re confronted with the necessary opposite of that choice of His.  Here we see that Judas was not only not chosen for heaven, but was in fact chosen by God for a purpose – as a vessel of wrath to fulfill the scriptures.

This seems even more unacceptable and unpalatable to us that God discriminating who will be chosen to go to heaven!  But the Bible isn’t silent on this either.  In Romans 9 Paul explains the mysterious dilemma we’re facing right now:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

This is an astounding passage of scripture and it would be easy to fall into error if we don’t properly understand what God is saying here.

In one sense, God is both active and in another He is passive.  This is a paradox – not a contradiction (hence why I’ve taken the time in the past to explain this important principle).  God is actively not choosing some men – like Judas, and in the passage above Esau, while He is also not actively putting any kind of evil into their hearts.

This doctrine is called by some “Double-Predestination”, and the idea is that God elects some to life and others to destruction, while not retracting any responsibility from mankind whatsoever. Judas was still responsible for his actions. So then, God knows both who will go to hell and who will go to heaven.  He elects believers to life – we know that because we’ve spent the last few weeks reading all about Christ’s teaching on the matter.  But now we read that He also has plans for Judas – plans that end in his destruction. We can’t escape the fact that Jesus knew what was going to happen, and not only knew, but also chose to have Judas as part of the 12.

But none of this makes God the author of evil, nor does it take away Judas’ responsibility for his own sin. This is why it is so very important that we have a clear understanding that mankind is fallen, sinful, and without God. We are strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19) to God until He brings us into His kingdom.  Once we understand our radical depravity, we’ll understand how God can not be the author of evil, and yet allow some men (like Judas) to be vessels of wrath.

Just as with Pharaoh, Judas was a sinner who loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). We are all the same way. Why did Judas sell Christ out to the Pharisees?  For money!  He was a lover of money and not a lover of God.  It wasn’t as though Christ did something within the heart of Judas to make him do what he did.  No indeed.  We all are bound for Hell regardless of how sinful we are because we’re all sinful at some level – we were born that way.  So all men, in a manner of speaking, are destined for Hell until God intervenes and saves us from that terrible destruction!

But we know that here there’s another more terrible reality.  God actively allowed this man to do what he did.  Judas was a vessel of wrath.  The same was true for Pharaoh.  But in “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart, God was not placing some new evil there, but rather turning Pharaoh over to him own desires.  Paul tells us in Romans 1:24 and 1:26 that God “gave them up” to their sins.

God does actively make His children alive from the dead through the power of His spirit, and God does actively pass over those who are not His children.  But God does not actively implant evil in men – He doesn’t need to!  For we are already evil, and when He lifts His restraining arm of common grace from our lives and turns us over to ourselves, we quickly destroy ourselves.

In all of this, He has a purpose and a plan.

The Answer is Hidden in His Purposes

The “answer” or the “reason” in all of this is that God chooses some for heaven and not others – in fact He hardens some and not others.  And this seems difficult, but we don’t know all of His reasoning, we just know that He does it because for His own pleasure and for His own glory.

You see, as Paul pointed out, God is the creator, and as part of the Trinity, Christ was a part of that creation process.  So Christ saying that He chose these 12 men – including one as a vessel of destruction – is the same as God saying He chose these 12.  Jesus is God, and that is what He’s trying to get across.  He can do whatever He wants with His creation for His own glory and pleasure.  We’re the creatures.  He made us and can really do whatever He wants.

When I was younger I played with Lego men, army men, and GI Joe figurines.  I would make Lego fortresses and ships and zoom them around my bedroom.  Some I kept in pristine condition because I wanted to make certain I could continue to use them the next day, but others I crashed into the floor.  I did so because it was my pleasure to do so, because it brought my joy.  Now God is not an 8-year-old boy.  God’s heart is much more complex and more sincere and loving.  And we are not merely Lego men, but we are creatures and He is the creator and He is absolutely sovereign over our lives and over who will join Him in heaven, and who He will use as vessels of wrath.

Judas was placed where he was because God allowed it.  Boice talks about how this was an ongoing trial for Jesus – even when He was alone with the 12, He had an enemy in His presence.

A.W. Pink says that God chose Judas for several reasons:

  1. Because it furnished an opportunity for Christ to display His perfections
  2. It provided an impartial witness to the moral excellency of Christ
  3. It gave occasion to uncover the awfulness of sin.
  4. The choice of Judas supplies the sinner with a solemn warning – Boice says, “A person may experience the closest possible contact with Jesus and still not come to Him for salvation.”
  5. The presence of Judas shows us that we may expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.
  6. It affords us one more illustration of how radically different are God’s thoughts and ways from ours.

This is a mystery that will not be solved in one day or in one reading.  We have to have faith that God, who created us and has saved us, also has a plan that is bigger than our finite minds can comprehend.

What Should our Reaction be?

I think the only proper reaction to this is to fear the Lord.  We too easily forget that His ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  So often we use that as a cop-out for learning more about God, but this is one instance where His mind and His plans are simply out of bounds.  And I do not mean simply beyond out understanding, but also beyond our questioning.  What He has purposed from eternity past we must not question.  Instead we must bow before Him in admiration for His power, His sovereignty, and His love for us.  For indeed we see evil all around us.  We ourselves were once enemies of God.  And yet, not because of anything in us – “not because of man who wills or who runs” but for His own purposes and His own glory (Eph. 2:8-9) He has chosen to redeem us from our fallen state (Rom. 5:8).  He does this because He wants your worship.  God has saved you for a point.  He has not only saved you from something but also for something (Eph. 2:10).  He wants you to know about these great truths because He wants your to be broken.  He wants you to be humbly relying completely on Him – for surely if He has planned all things from eternity, He can guide you through the rocky shoals of life.

This should cause us to love God. We see what He’s done in us, and though we can’t know His secret purposes, we do know the why of His purposes in our lives and what we ought to do with this new life we’ve been given.  Boice says, “let us learn to trust God in matters for which we can see no reason. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Moreover, since we can se that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, let us learn that our thoughts must change.”

I pray we learn to use this small understanding of His ways to foster a new love for Him in our hearts.  For we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).