The Final State of the Unbeliever: The Lake of Fire

September 11, 2017

‘And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.’
— Revelation 20:15

My dear friend, if you die without being a Christian, without being born again through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, if you never gain the life of God in your soul, then upon your death your soul will immediately go to hell, a place of conscious, eternal torment, where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies. As bad as hell is, however, you would give everything you have, to stay there in hell for a million years.

Why? Because those now in hell know what you will know when you transition to hell. They fear more than anything ‘that day.’ And what is ‘that day’? It is the great white throne judgment, because there, on the day of Christ’s return, all the dead, great and small will stand before God and give account of the deeds they have done, according to the things written in the book.

Know this too, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a two-edged sword. Paul says that because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, He is the first fruits of those who are asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul wonderfully and vividly lays out the case for glorified bodies for the saints. At the last trumpet, the dead will be raised imperishable. However, the reuniting of body and soul on the new earth for believers is also true of unbelievers at the great white throne judgment. Daniel says, ‘Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life; but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt,’ (Daniel 12:2). Jesus tells us not to fear man who can kill the body. Rather we are to fear God who can destroy both the body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). And the parable of the rich man in hell makes clear that he possessed a body. He was asking that Lazarus could put a drop of water on his tongue to quench his thirst (Luke 16:24). It is one thing to suffer in one’s soul in hell, and it is quite another to suffer in body and soul.

So, if you are a hell bound sinner, why should you fear the great white throne judgment? Because you, and every other unbeliever, will stand, body and soul, before King Jesus to witness the charges against you and them. As you stand, by yourself, before the thrice Holy God, the jealous and avenging God, who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, your thoughts will be judged (Romans 2:16). Jesus will summon every thought you ever had–your lusts, anger, bitterness, bigotry, jealousy, envy–and place them alongside His holy law.

You will be speechless (Romans 3:19). You will have no defense. You are doomed and you know it. Then your words will be summoned, because Jesus said that every careless word will be judged (Matthew 12:36). All those harsh, foul, sensual, vile, blasphemous, lying, manipulating, degrading words you spoke throughout your life will be placed alongside the purity of the One with whom we all will have to do. No defense here, either. Finally, your every action will be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:12, Matthew 16:27). All of the millions of times you disobeyed God, in what we might call small or large ways, will be evaluated in light of His perfect law. Every jealous, selfish, licentious, sensual, idolatrous act you ever did, will be judged by the One whose eyes are a flaming fire, whose feet are like bronze made to glow in a furnace. Not only your sins of commission, but perhaps even more dreadfully, your sins of omission will be judged. You will remember the times you passed by a needy man on the street and did nothing to help him. You will remember the multitudinous times you neglected to care for your spouse, children, parents, or close friends. You will remember the times you hated instead of loved your enemy. You will also be unable to make a defense before God for your actions.

With all of this evidence now displayed before you and the Holy One, you will hear those words you knew were coming but have long dreaded, the most awful words which could ever be uttered, ‘Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, into the everlasting fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels,’ (Matthew 25:41). And as you are being led from the great white throne of God to be thrown in the lake of fire, you will know for certain, without the slightest equivocation, that you are receiving the exact judgment you deserve.

The lake of fire is the second death. Many have noted that those who are born once, will die twice; and those who are born twice will die once. And what will you do in the lake of fire? Presumably the same thing you have been doing in hell from the moment you arrived there, but now, due to the union of body and soul, the pain, horror, and awareness will be infinitely magnified. As in hell, there will be weeping or wailing along with the gnashing of teeth. I have heard the anguish and grief of unmitigated wailing coming from one who has suddenly lost a child or a spouse. Perhaps you have also. It is terrible. The wailing in the lake of fire will be infinitely worse. Every sense will be heightened there. Though you are alone in darkness, you nonetheless will hear the hopeless wailing of the damned.

With your eyes which on earth looked at pornography or read blasphemous books denying the Christ whom you have always hated, you will look on untold, unimaginable horror. With your ears which listened to wicked jokes and took in perverse, godless, licentious ideas, you will now hear the cries of the condemned. They beg for mercy but there is none forthcoming. With your mouth, which uttered blasphemous, vile, crude, demeaning speech, you will curse God and His servants with loud voices of contempt, hatred, and sorrow. With your hands, which were engaged in all manner of creative sinning, building kingdoms for yourself which you used to oppress other people, they will now reach up to heaven, begging for a touch from the God whom you rejected, but there is no reciprocation from the Holy One. With your feet, which were swift to run to shed innocent blood and to take you to places of sensual delight and debauchery, your feet will then seek to run for refuge but they will be like feet stuck in cement.

There is no movement from judgment. There is no hope.

Do you think this is over the top? My friend, I am so completely limited in my ability to communicate to you the horrors of hell and the lake of fire. Is is infinitely worse than I am able to portray to you.

But there is hope. There is always hope in Jesus. He can save you. He can deliver you from the wrath which is surely coming. He took hell and the lake of fire in His own fleshly body through death that He might bring you back to God. Turn, my friend, from your sin lest you burn in the lake of fire forever. Jesus offers a way out of hell and the lake of fire. He is the only remedy. Flee to Him today. Say to Him, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’

Seek Him until you find Him, until He gives you His peace.


Al Baker is an Evangelistic Revival Preacher with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship and can be contacted at



GOD TOLD ME ? (A CRITIQUE OF MYSTICISM) by Shane Lems and Martyn Lloyd-Jones

God Told Me!? (A Critique of Mysticism)

What do you do when a friend says, “God told me I needed to go on a diet,” or “The Holy Spirit spoke to me last night and said you should make more friends”?

“The main criticism of the evangelical can be put in this form: It is a claim to a continuing of inspiration. The mystic in a sense is claiming that God is dealing as directly with him as He was with the Old Testament prophets; he claims God is dealing with him as He did with the Apostles. …The mystic says he has received a new and fresh message and that he is in a state of direct inspiration…. Now we believe that God gave a message to the prophets, He gave a message to the Apostles; but we say that because God has done that, it is unnecessary that He should do that directly with us.”

What do you do when a friend says, “God told me I needed to go on a diet,” or “The Holy Spirit spoke to me last night and said you should make more friends”? How do we even begin to respond? It’s not easy to respond to such comments; it takes patience and wisdom! If you’ve heard these statements before, you might appreciate Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ comments on this kind of “God-told-me” mysticism. In the paragraphs below, Lloyd-Jones says these are his main critiques of mysticism: 1) it is claiming continuing inspiration, 2) it devalues Scripture, 3) it devalues the person and work of Christ, 4) it focuses on the Lord’s work in us so much that it forgets His work for us, 5) it is weak on the doctrine of sin, 6) it is entirely subjective, 7) it tends to extremism and fanaticism. Here are his comments:

“The main criticism of the evangelical can be put in this form: It is a claim to a continuing of inspiration. The mystic in a sense is claiming that God is dealing as directly with him as He was with the Old Testament prophets; he claims God is dealing with him as He did with the Apostles. …The mystic says he has received a new and fresh message and that he is in a state of direct inspiration…. Now we believe that God gave a message to the prophets, He gave a message to the Apostles; but we say that because God has done that, it is unnecessary that He should do that directly with us.

“My second criticism would be that mysticism of necessity puts the Scriptures on one side and makes them more or less unnecessary. You will always find that persons who have a mystical tendency never talk very much about the Bible. …They say, ‘No, I do not follow the Bible reading plans; I find one verse is generally enough for me. I take one verse and then I begin to meditate.’ …He does not need this objective revelation; he wants something to start him in his meditation and he will then receive it as coming directly from God; he depreciates the value of the Scriptures.”

“I do not hesitate to go further and say that mysticism, as a whole, even tends to make our Lord Himself unnecessary. …There have been people who have been mystical and who claim that their souls have immediate access to God. They say that just as they are, they have but to relax and let go and let God speak to them and He will do so; they do not mention the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“…The danger of mysticism is to concentrate so much on the Lord’s work in us that it forgets the Lord’s work for us. …It is so concerned about this immediate work upon the soul that it quite forgets the preliminary work that had to be done before anything could be done upon the soul. It tends to forget the cross and the absolute necessity of the atoning death of Christ before fellowship with God is in any way possible.”

“We can go further…. Mysticism is never very strong on the doctrine of sin. The mystic tends to say, ‘…If you want to know God just as you are, you have to start getting into communion with Him, and He will speak to you and give you all the blessings.’ They never mention the doctrine of sin in the sense that the guilt of sin is such a terrible thing that nothing but the coming of the Son of God into the world and the bearing of our sins in His own body….”

“Another very serious criticism of mysticism is that it always leaves us without a standard. Let us imagine I follow the mystic way. I begin to have experiences; I think God is speaking to me; how do I know it is God who is speaking to me? …How can I be sure that I am not the victim of hallucinations, since this has happened to many of the mystics? If I believe in mysticism as such without the Bible, how do I test my experiences? How do I prove the Scriptures; how do I know I am not perhaps being deluded by Satan as an angel of light in order to keep me from the true and living God? I have no standard.”

“In other words, my last criticism is that mysticism always tends to fanaticism and excesses. If you put feelings before understanding, you are bound to end in that, because you have nothing to check your experiences with, and you will have no reason to control your sensations and susceptibilities.”

Lloyd Jones goes on to mention that the Scriptures are the “only authority and final standard with regard to these matters, with regard to a knowledge of God.” He said, “the evangelical doctrine tells me not to look into myself but to look into the Word of God. …It tells me that God can only be known in His own way, the way which has been revealed in the Scriptures themselves.”

This entire section is very much worth reading. It’s found on pages 89-92 of Life in Christ.

Rev. Shane Lems is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis.


40 Truths about the Fear of God

Fearing God is a mark of the New Testament church and is consistent with the comforting work of the Holy Spirit

Written by David Murray | Monday, September 11, 2017

After preaching a sermon on the necessity of the fear of God in public worship, a friend reminded me, “If you want a nail driven in, you have to hit it more than once.” With that in mind, I set about a survey of the Bible’s teaching and found forty truths about fearing God to help hammer in the nail. Brief expositions of some of these verses can be found in Pastor Al Martin’s The Forgotten Fear: Where have all the God-Fearers Gone? (RHB) and Arnold Frank’s The Fear Of God: A Forgotten Doctrine (RHB).

Old Testament

Fearing God is the right reaction to sin, guilt, and shame (Gen. 3:10).

Fearing God will flow from being in the presence of God (Gen. 28:16-17: Ex. 3:6).

Fearing God is an appropriate response to God’s character (Gen. 31:42).

Fearing God is an essential characteristic of Christian leaders (Ex.18:21).

Fearing God is the ultimate purpose of divine revelation (Deut. 4:10).

Fearing God should flow from the administration of justice (Deut. 17:13; 21:19-21).

Fearing God is the mark of an exceptional believer (Neh. 7:2).

Fearing God is approved by God and noted by Satan (Job 1:1, 9).

Fearing God is the right response to the exalted Christ (Ps.2:10-11).

Fearing God is to be mixed with joy (Ps. 2:10-11).

Fearing God will happen where mission is successful (Ps. 67:7).

Fearing God assures us of God’s mercy and love (Ps. 103:11, 13).

Fearing God is the result of forgiveness (Ps. 130:4).

Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7).

Fearing God is the end of wisdom (Eccl. 12:13-14).

Fearing God turns us away from evil (Prov. 3:7).

Fearing God will extend your life (Prov. 10:27) and improve the quality of your life (Prov. 14:27).

Fearing God will make you happier than millions of dollars (Prov. 15:16).

Fearing God neutralizes envy and is to be present throughout our lives (Prov. 23:17).

Fearing God is more important than looks in choosing a wife (Prov. 31:30).

Fearing God is a dominant trait in the Messiah and will always accompany the work of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2-3).

Fearing God is the promised gift of God to new covenant believers (Jer. 32:40).

Fearing God helps them persevere in the faith (Jer. 32:40).

New Testament

Fearing God is commanded by Jesus (Matt. 10:28).

Fearing God is still expected of God’s people in the New Testament (Luke 1:49-50).

Fearing God grows in response to miracles (Luke 5:8).

Fearing God was one of the fruits of Pentecost (Acts 2:43).

Fearing God is a spiritually healthy reaction to his judgments in the church (Acts 5:5,11).

Fearing God is a mark of the New Testament church and is consistent with the comforting work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31).

Fearing God is deepened by sovereign election (Rom. 11:20-21).

Fearing God is a motive for evangelism (2 Cor. 5:10-11).

Fearing God motivates sanctification (2 Cor. 7:1).

Fearing God is the framework for a biblical marriage (Eph. 5:21).

Fearing God makes us better employees (Col. 3:22).

Fearing God is the context for working out our salvation (Phil. 2:12-13).

Fearing God assists perseverance in faith (Heb. 4:1).

Fearing God is intensified by redemption and continues throughout our whole lives (1 Peter 1:17-19).

Fearing God is an essential part of successful witnessing (1 Peter 3:15).

Fearing God is God’s last sermon to the world (Rev. 14:6-7).

Fearing God continues into eternity (Rev. 15:3-4; 19:4-5)


David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary


Protestant and Catholic: What’s the Difference?
Sep 12, 2017 | Kevin DeYoung; DeYOUNG, RESTLESS & REFORMED

Ask a serious Protestant today what is the biggest threat to orthodox Christianity today, and he might mention cultural hostilities, the sexual revolution, or nominalism in our churches. But if you would have asked a Protestant the same question a hundred years ago, he would have almost certainly mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. Until fairly recently, Protestants and Catholics in this country were, if not enemies, then certainly players on opposing teams.

Today, much of that animosity has melted away. And to a large extent, the thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been a good thing. Sincere Protestants and Catholics often find themselves to be co-belligerents, defending the unborn, upholding traditional marriage, and standing up for religious liberty. And in an age which discounts doctrine, evangelical Protestants often share more in common theologically with a devout Roman Catholic steeped in historic orthodoxy than they do with liberal members of their own denominations. I personally have benefited over the years from Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton, Richard John Neuhaus, and Robert George.

And yet, theological differences between Protestants and Catholics are still wide and in places very deep. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation draws near, it’s important to be conversant with some of the main issues that legitimately divide us, lest we think all the theological hills have been laid low and all the dogmatic valleys made into a plain.

Below are a few of the main points that still separate Catholics and Protestants. Of course, many Roman Catholics may not believe (or even know) what their forma theology states. But by seeking to understand official church documents we can get a good idea of what Catholics are supposed to believe and see how these differ from traditional Protestant beliefs (unless otherwise noted, quotations are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

The Church

Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has softened its stance toward Protestants, calling them “estranged brothers.” Nevertheless, to be a part of the church in its fullness one must be immersed in the Roman Catholic system of sacraments, orders, and under the authority of the Pope. “Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who…are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules here through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.”

Further, the Pope is considered infallible when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair); that is, when he makes official doctrinal pronouncements.

The Catholic Church also has seven sacraments instead of two-Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) and baptism like Protestants, and then penance, holy orders, marriage, confirmation, and last rites.


Catholics have a larger biblical canon. In addition to the 66 books in the Protestant Bible, Catholic Bibles include the Apocrypha, with books like Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccebees, Sirach, and Baruch. Catholic teaching also elevates Tradition more than Protestants do. Granted, many evangelicals suffer from ignoring tradition and the wisdom of the past. But Catholic theology goes beyond just respecting the past; it sacralizes it. “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence,” states the Catechism.

Likewise, the Magisterium has the authority to make definitive interpretations. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching, office of the Church alone…to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.” The issue of authority continues to be the biggest practical divide between Protestants and Catholics.

Lord’s Supper

Central to the Catholic faith is the Mass (their worship service), and central to the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist. Catholics believe that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the actual, physical body and blood of Jesus Christ.

The elements are offered as a sacrifice from the church and a sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. This is not simply a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, but the same atoning work: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice…the sacrifice [of the Eucharist] is truly propitiatory.”


Catholics teach that “justification is conferred in Baptism.” The waters of baptism wash away original sin and join us with Christ. Baptism is not merely a sign and seal of grace, but actually confers saving grace.


Mary is not only the Mother of Christ, but the Mother of the Church. She was conceived without original sin (the immaculate conception) and at the end of her earthly life “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (assumption). She intercedes for the church, “continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation,” and is “a mother to us in the order of grace.”

Mary was more than just the faith-filled mother of Jesus: “The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”


Those who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are assured of eternal life, but must first undergo purification in purgatory. Because of the presence of this intermediate state, the Catholic Church has developed the practice of prayer for the dead. “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

Concerning the salvation of those who do not hear the gospel, the Catholic Catechism is committed to inclusivism: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation.”


It is not really fair to say “Catholics teach that you can earn your salvation.” That may be what many Catholics believe, but the official teaching of Rome is more nuanced, though still a long way off from the Reformation understanding sola gratia. The Catechism summarizes: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”


Catholic teaching rejects the Protestant doctrine of imputed righteousness. The question is this: is the righteousness whereby we are forgiven and made right with God a righteousness working in us or a righteousness reckoned to our account? Catholics say the former, Protestants the latter. According to Catholic teaching, justification is more than God’s declaration of our righteousness based on Christ’s work, it is also a renewal of the inner man and reconciliation with God. Of course, these are good things too, but Catholics make them present in and through justification, rather than by faith alone.

The Council of Trent, from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation, declares: “If anyone says, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of grace and charity that is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.” While individual Protestants and Catholics may work to find common ground on justification, the official teaching of the Roman Church is still opposed to any notion of an imputed righteousness through faith alone.


Should Catholics and Protestants treat each other decently and with respect? Of course. Will we labor side by side on important moral and social matters? Quite often. Can we find born again Christians worshiping in Catholic churches? I’m sure. But are the disagreements between Protestants and Catholics, therefore, negligible? Hardly. The differences still exist, and they still matter.

Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord; your word is truth.



Calvin’s Life: The Servetus Affair

My first pastorate was a small rural congregational church. Her only doctrinal statement was the Apostle’s Creed. The ol’ timers said it was because doctrine didn’t matter out in the country. I served that congregation while in my last year of college and almost all three years of my seminary career. The summer I received a call to that church I became persuaded that Calvinism was simply a shorthand way of describing the Bible’s message of salvation. Not everyone in my new congregation was thrilled about my turn toward Reformed soteriology (i.e. the doctrine of salvation). So, it should have come as little surprise when I received a packet in the mail one day. It was filled with polemics against Calvinism. It was plain nasty. So much for theology not mattering in the country! But there was one item in that packet that I have to this very day. It’s a cartoon about the circumstances surrounding Calvin and Servetus. A cartoon of the event seems almost callous. Let me tell you the story.[1]

Michael Servetus believed that reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Bucer, Farel, and others were not reformed and reforming enough and he saw it as his calling to correct that error. So, at twenty one years of age he published De Trinitatis Erroribus in which he attacked and denied the doctrine of the Trinity calling it a deception of the devil. Servetus believed that he might draw some notable reformed theologians into debate and thus create the radical reform for which he aimed. However, all he felt was pressure to retract his position, which he did in a second edition. However, his retraction did not appear to be truthful.

Nevertheless, though he continued to teach his spurious theology he did not put it in print but instead decided to take up medicine. In France, he achieved quite a notable reputation writing books and giving lectures. But Servetus had a quarrelsome personality and it wasn’t long until he made a nuisance of himself among the medical community in Paris. He seems to have been always looking for the extreme position no matter the field. In medicine, he apparently believed that knowing astrology gave the doctor the upper hand and he was not shy to belittle his colleagues for their lack of starry knowledge. Not surprisingly, Servetus had to leave town.

What also seems to emerge from a study of his life and character is an obsession with John Calvin. Sometime after 1540 Servetus wrote Calvin at least thirty letters. He was apparently seeking to engage Calvin in a Trinitarian debate. He even asked Calvin if he wanted him to come to Geneva. Calvin ignored the letters but he did write to tell Servetus that he did not want him to come to Geneva. Servetus must have felt rejected once again. No one seemed willing to engage his extreme views. So, apparently in exasperation, he sent Calvin his Restitutio, which had been secretly published in 1553 because it revealed his heretical views. Thus, Calvin had, in hand, proof that Servetus had never forsaken his anti-Trinitarian heresy.

On August 13, 1553, Servetus was spotted in Geneva. Someone told Calvin and he reported the sighting to the authorities. Servetus, who had escaped from a jail in Lyons, was to be shipped back to France for trial in that city. However, Servetus begged to be tried for heresy in Geneva. His apparent desire to make a name through controversy knew no bounds. His request was honored.
The Council at Geneva found Servetus guilty and sentenced him to be burned at the stake. Throughout the trial Calvin went to Servetus and repeatedly attempted to convince him to recant of his heretical statements, but his attempts failed. Calvin also sought a less painful death for Servetus from the Council but he failed there as well. It’s little wonder that Calvin did not attend the burning of Servetus, which was also botched. The fire would not stay lit and it took the man no less than thirty agonizing minutes to expire.

Now, this story is surrounded by rhetoric but the facts are available for all to read. So, how the death of Michael Servetus can be laid at the feet of Calvin is somewhat mystifying and yet it is. What is more, those who oppose Calvin behave much like the caricature they have drawn of him! I am obviously not saying that Calvin was perfect – he was not. However, to lay the death of Servetus at Calvin’s feet is simply to read the evidence of history through an anti-Calvinistic lens and that is not good history. Come to think of it – it’s not very gracious either.


Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.


[1] This story can be found in Calvin biographies. There is Bruce Gordon’s Calvin, Herman J. Selderhuis’s John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, Ronald S. Wallace’s Calvin: Geneva and the Reformation, and T.H.L. Parker’s John Calvin: A Biography. There is also a cartoon which shall remain nameless.

JUDAS IS A WARNING by R. Scott Clark

Judas Is A Warning

Few figures in the history of Christianity are as notorious as Judas Iscariot but for all his infamy, we know remarkably little about him. Nevertheless, he plays a major role in the gospel narratives and in Acts chapter 1. He was certainly a historical figure but he also played a literary and theological role in the narratives. After all, even though the original 12 all scattered, even though Peter denied our Lord three times, only Judas betrayed him. In the gospels and Acts he is the prototypical reprobate and apostate. Since he plays such an important role in the narrative of the life, suffering, and death of Christ we are compelled to ask what we should do with him? If we think about the early Christian congregations to whom the Gospels and Acts came we can imagine what the gospel writers were doing with him as a character in the story. He serves as a warning about those in the midst of the congregation, who seem zealous but whose motives and interests are not our Lord’s.

What We Know
There are only a few things we know with certainty and chief among them is that he betrayed Jesus. That is the first thing we read about him in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). E.g., Matthew 10:4 he is listed among the twelve apostles whom Jesus called: “Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him (ὁ καὶ παραδοὺς αὐτόν);” Mark 3:19, “and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him (παρέδωκεν αὐτόν);” and Luke 6:16: “…and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor (προδότης)” (NASB95). The last thing we read about him in the synoptics is that he was a betrayer: “…Judas, who had betrayed (ὁ ⸀παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν) Him” (Matt 27:3). Mark 14:45 records the betrayal, “After coming, Judas immediately went to Him, saying, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him” and Luke 22:48 records our Lord saying “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (NASB95). The same pattern appears in John. He is first described as “…one of the twelve” who “was going to betray Him” (John 6:71; NASB95). In John 18:5, he is “the one who was betraying him.” So too he is both “one of the disciples” and “he who was about to betray” Jesus (John 12:4). Judas is so odious that when another Judas is mentioned John immediately clarifies with a parenthetical remark “not Iscariot” (14:22). He plays a major role in the narrative of the Last Supper, which we will consider momentarily.

Not unexpectedly, since he is “the betrayer,” Judas plays a major role in John’s narrative Jesus’ arrest. For John (18:2), the act of betrayal was merely the realization of what had been done in principle because Judas was “the betrayer” (ὁ παραδιδοὺς). It was Judas who gathered the soldiers (v.3). John repeats Judas title in v. 5, “Judas, the Betrayer” (Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς) was “standing with them.” In the synoptics (e.g., Matt 26), of course, he simply “The Betrayer” (ὁ δὲ παραδιδοὺς) who had agreed that the sign (σημεῖον), the act of betrayal itself, would be a kiss—the customary act of honor and affection perverted—: “And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him” (v. 50; ESV).

Before we consider the question of Judas’ relationship to the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, there is one more element to note: the spiritual. Luke 22:3–6 says,

And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. They were glad and agreed to give him money. So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd (NASB95).

In distinction from Matthew, Luke is not interested in the amount of money. The first thing he notes is that Judas’ betrayal was a spiritual matter. Indeed, the expression “Satan entered” only occurs twice in the New Testament and both times (here and in John 13:27) regarding Judas. John says, “the devil had put it in to Judas’ heart” to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Again, Luke notes that Judas was one of the 12. We are meant to be impressed by the incongruity that among Jesus’ closest friends and disciples, among those who are to become his apostles, his Spirit-filled, authorized public representatives exercising their ministry on his behalf, is one who is not only to betray him but who does so under the influence and inspiration of the Evil One himself. Thus, we must affirm at least two aspects to Judas’ motivation and there may be others. Further, we know that he was a reprobate, he who “turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:25; NASB95).

We also know that his betrayal was the fulfillment of various Old Testament passages. In Acts 1 Peter says,

“Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. “For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
“For it is written in the book of Psalms,




Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection (Acts 1:16–22; NASB95).

Ultimately neither Judas, nor Satan, nor the chief priests and scribes were in charge of Jesus’ arrest, humiliation, and sacrifice on the cross. Christ himself was in charge and his Father was in charge. Both are true simultaneously. Jesus was doing his Father’s will. He was also voluntarily doing that which he had agreed with the Father to do (see John 17). In the sovereign providence of God, Judas was fulfilling Scripture. Matthew (see below) calls our attention to the way Judas’ return of the coins fulfills Zechariah 11:12–13. Peter quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 He was also fulfilling Psalm 41:9, “he who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me” (Acts 1:16; John 13:18).

Judas And the Supper
The question of Judas’ relation to the Supper is fascinating and difficult. Luke begins his narrative of the last Passover to be observed by Jesus with his disciples by noting that the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to murder Jesus (Luke 22:2). It is in this context that he mentions Satan entering Judas. That moment, like the payment of Judas, is part of a broader narrative of demonic opposition to Jesus and his kingdom. Jesus sends the disciples ahead to prepare the Passover (vv.7–13) but the table narrative moves immediately to the Supper. The two acts, the Passover and the institution of the Supper are treated as one. Matthew’s narrative (26:25–25) distinguishes them. First they celebrated the Passover and then our Lord instituted the Supper. According to the synoptics (e.g., Matt 26:25) Judas was present for the Passover and apparently for the Supper.

“And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus *said to him, “You have said it yourself” (NASB95). The next verse begins the institution of the Supper and there is no mention that Judas left the table. The Reformed confess that Judas participated in the Supper. In Belgic Confession art. 35 we say:

Moreover, though the sacraments and thing signified are joined together, not all receive both of them. The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers.

John’s narrative of the Passover is a little different, however. He narrates the celebration of the Passover in chapter 13 but omits the institution of the Supper. John’s account is so interested in communicating the role of the betrayal in leading to the cross that he compresses the story to get to Judas leaving. This has caused some to conclude that Judas did not participate in the Passover but this conclusion does not account for the different emphases of the synoptics and John.

What Remains Enigmatic
There is much that we do not know with certainty, e.g., there is debate about his family name, Iscariot. Is it a reference to Kerioth? Is it a hint as to his character? It has been interpreted to mean “man of the lie.” Bart Ehrman suggests that it simply means that he was dyer of cloth. It could also mean, however, that he was a dagger bearer, an assassin.1

One of the most fascinating questions concerns Judas’ motivation. Was he motivated by greed? Matthew 2614–16 suggests as much:

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus (NASB95).

One commentator (Michael J. Wilkins) estimates the thirty pieces to have been worth the equivalent of about 4 months labor. Interestingly, Matthew is the only one who mentions the payment and he mentions it 3 times (26:15; 27:3, 9) but even Matthew’s interpretation is layered since he notes, as Luke does, that Judas’ return of the money was in fulfillment of Zechariah 11:13,

Then Yahweh said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of Yahweh, to the potter.

Matthew is clear that Judas betrayed Jesus for money but Matthew also says “[t]hen when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders…” (Matt 27:3; NASB95). Most of the time when people do bad things for money they take the money and run. Judas did not. He took the money and then tried to return it. Why? Matthew says that he regretted what he had done. What does it mean to say that Judas “felt remorse” (μεταμεληθεὶς)? Paul uses the same verb in 2 Corinthians 7:8 when he tells the Corinthians that he does not regret making them feel bad causing them sorrow. It also occurs in Psalm the LXX (Septuagint) translation of 110:4:

Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind (μεταμεληθήσεται), ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’

Based on what we know about Judas, we should distinguish between his regret and rather more serious instances in 2 Corinthians 7 and Psalm 110. Verse 4 is the center of Psalm 110. It is the only verse that does not have a parallel in the psalm. It contains the promise of Christ’s eternal, Melchizedekian priesthood. Yahweh’s covenant with the Son is to be trusted because it is sworn with an oath and will not be revoked. In the other case, Paul does not regret or repent of his pastoral admonition of the congregation because it was the right thing to do. It seems impossible to attribute repentance to Judas. His return of the money is a vain, even bitter attempt to undo what he had done. It was so futile that the only thing he could do afterward was to commit suicide.

Why did Judas regret his action? Maybe there is a good reason that Scripture does not explore deeply his motivations? He plays a major, tragic role in the gospel narratives (and Acts 1). He is the prototypical apostate and reprobate. Yet, apart from Matthew’s explanation, from a human and psychological perspective, his motives remain enigmatic. Four months wages is a good bit of money but is it enough to sell out a friend and a teacher? What causes someone to do such a thing? Was Judas disappointed in Jesus? That Judas sold out Jesus when he did, near the end, when it became inescapably clear that Jesus came not to establish and earthly kingdom but to suffer, die, and to be raised on the third day, tells us something about Judas’ interests and motives.

Like the early churches to whom the Gospels and Acts first came, we too are in mixed congregations. There are those in our midst who follow Jesus not because he obeyed, suffered, died, and was raised but for what they think he can do for them in this life. They follow him because they hope that he can bring about their agenda. He is not their Savior. He is a cosmic facilitator. When they too realize that Jesus came not to bring earthly glory but to be humiliated, to die, they too will leave him.

Do not be surprised.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3–4 (NASB95).

There have always been some in the congregation who have “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away” (Heb 6:5–6; NASB95).

This is not a new phenomenon but it is shocking when it happens right before us.

It is not for us to say who are the apostates. That is God’s business. Our pastors and elders administer the Word, sacraments, and discipline. We pray that those who fall away will be convicted of their sin, that their eyes will be opened, and they will be brought to new life and true faith. Do not be surprised at that either. It happens. Just today I was reading a letter from Calvin to just such a person. It still happens.

Be chastened. There are great spiritual mysteries at work in our midst, in the ministry of the Word. Some are being softened and some are being hardened. If you believe, give thanks that you were softened!

If you do not believe or if you have wandered, repent! Salvation is at hand. The specter of Judas should terrify you.


1. See, e.g., the entry s.v., “Judas Iscariot” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Revised.

Posted by R. SCOTT CLARK | Wednesday, September 6, 2017 |


He Buried 200 Church Members
Sep 07, 2017 | Erik Raymond; ORDINARY PASTOR

I remember spending some time with a minister who was nearing retirement. He was cleaning out his office and packing up boxes, books, and other personal items. He directed me to a large box and told me to take a look. I saw dozens and dozens of manilla file folders with names on them.

“What are all these?” I asked.

“Funerals.” The pastor said.

“How many?” I inquired.

“More than 200.” He soberly replied.

There in his office, I was hit with so many emotions. Here was a man who has buried more than 200 of his parishioners. And here I stood, a young-buck having buried a grand total of zero of our members.

The seasoned pastor went on to tell me that he cannot throw this box away because in every folder is a life.

“In every folder is a life, a soul. And in each one is a piece of my life.” He said, holding back obvious emotion. I almost lost it too.

It seems wise for all pastors to think about this. But even more, it’s important for younger pastors to consider. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Pastors have a unique privilege (responsibility) to care for people through all areas of life (birth, marriage, and death). We are there to celebrate, counsel, instruct, protect, console, and grieve. All the while we are to faithfully represent God and his Word. There is no escape from this type of intensity. When we are called we must come in and speak God’s Word.

Application: Pastors must rejoice in and faithfully engage the duty of being a steward.

2. Our people will die. Unless Jesus returns in their lifetime, every one of your church members will die. And a pastor, maybe you–or maybe another–will bury them. How well are we preparing people to live today with the end in mind?

Application: Pastors must prepare people to die to the glory of Christ.

3. Pastoral care doesn’t begin in hospice. If I am thinking that I am going to have to speak at someone’s funeral and comfort the family then I should prepare for this service by serving them now. As this seasoned pastors said so well, these files, these funerals are part of his life too.

Application: Pastors must emulate Jesus and know the sheep.

4. The gospel doesn’t ignore death but defeats it. Our culture likes to minimize, medicate, and throw up a mist before the pain of death. We temper the language and try to forget about its reality. But the truth of the matter is that our hearts are the main instruments in our own funeral parade. When the instruments stop, the parade ends and we are lowered into the ground. This the is reality. Don’t ignore it. Treasure the truth that Christ truly conquered death. Because of his powerful triumph believers may even, like Paul, mock its hold (1 Cor. 15.54-55).

Application: Pastors must believe and preach Jesus’s powerful death-defeating, wrath-guzzling, triumph!