Who would you name?
Saul of Kish would be a good candidate. Such a promising beginning. Humble, modest, unambitious (1 Samuel 9:21; 10:20-22). Chosen by God, moved upon by the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 10:1, 10). Yet such a wretched, sad end to his life.
But no, Saul is not my candidate. You'll have long since guessed my proposal: Judas Iscariot. Most terrifying man who ever lived.
Such promise, such privilege; unlimited access to Truth Incarnate such as we can scarce even imagine.
And yet this is what he comes to:
"Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve" (Luke 22:3)And now, whatever Judas' childhood, his youth, his other accomplishments; whatever it took to bring Judas to this point or make him the man he was, everything is erased and overshadowed by this one event: Satan found in him a willing host. All his yesterdays do not matter. Whatever his family, his friends; his accomplishments, his hopes, his dreams. All are blotted out. All that remains is this: Satan himself made Judas his base of operations from which he could launch a killing strike on the Son of God.
And now, when we think of Judas, we think of this, we think of what came of this. Not of the preaching, the following, the miracle-ministry. No, Judas' name is the eponym of a traitor. We remember his treachery, and we remember his foul kiss.
But what was Judas? Was he an alien being, a creature from another race? No, he was a man, a human being, a child of Adam as you are, and as I am. In fact, but for the grace of God, he was just precisely like us.
If our theology enables us to read Judas' tale without a shudder and an earnest prayer, I daresay something vital is missing.
We may draw this observation: a man can be known for what comes of his devotion to God — or for what comes of his being a willing tool for Satan.
Judas Iscariot. Scariest man who ever lived.
Yet pause just one moment longer. I see in the shadows there a man who could be Judas' twin in some ways. He too was a big talker. He too was privileged, even more so than Judas.
He too caved, buckled, gave way before the trial. He too denied his Lord, and not once, nor twice, but thrice.
We remember his name, as well: Peter. "The Rock." We chuckled when we say it, and shake our heads, because of how "The Rock" crumbled.
But here's the difference. Judas' betrayal was his final act in relation to Christ. Peter's was not. Christ had prayed for Peter (Luke 22:32), and Peter repented, was restored. The book of Acts shows in Peter the fruits of repentance, of a genuine change of heart and mind.
If Judas is the scariest man who ever lived (and he is), then what is Peter? The most humbling man who ever lived, as we see our big mouths and lofty promises — and our feet of clay — in him?
Or possibly the most encouraging man who ever lived, because his repentance found forgiveness and restoration in the Lord's grand heart?
Both men rebuke the smug. Both men rebuke the overconfident. Both both men point us to Christ, to our need to walk with the Lord now, rather than rest on memories of having walked with Him yesterday.
A vivid view of these two men gives the appropriate edge to the words of Hebrews:
For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (3:14)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession (4:14)
…by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (6:18)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (10:23)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 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 (12:1-2)