06 December 2007

Scariest man ever

by Dan Phillips

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 (

…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 (

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (

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 (
Dan Phillips's signature


Daryl said...

As well placed reminder, Dan.

How amzing that God does what he does without regard for our merits or lack thereof, and that, even as he retains his absolute sovereignty, he calls us to be vigilant to not allow Satan a foothold.

We should constantly be praying that God will continue to grant us repentance as he did Peter.


Daryl said...

Incidentally, thanks for mentioning Saul in your article. For years (and even now) his story terrifies me.
As you said, he had all the advantages and the blessings, yet he walked away, I think mostly because he wanted the credit for his kingship.

God keep us from that.

DJP said...

Amen to that, Daryl. It's as if the phrase "cautionary tale" were invented with Saul in mind.

He started out wanting nothing to do with power, and ended up utterly addicted to it.

Warning to pastors, warning to all.

Friend of Cirdan said...

I've been thinking a lot about presumption lately as I walk through a very dry season in my life. The 'cautionary tale' is much-needed and a gift from God to me through you.

Thanks, Dan, for writing this blog post. In the sea of comments that you receive, I hope you'll see this one and be encouraged that one of your brothers, a long way from your keyboard, was encouraged to press on and, as grace enables, to keep the faith.

Kim said...

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.


goasktheplatypus said...

The irony of grace.

One man is constantly putting his foot in his mouth. He runs from his rabbi at the critical moment. He ends up being the Rock of the church.

One man actively persecutes men and women who follow God. He is the height of hypocrisy in his Pharisee prayer shawl. He ended up writing most of the New Testament.

And then there's that man who held the money for the Savior. That's a lot of responsibility for one person. He must have been a nice, decent, honest guy who everyone trusted, even Jesus. He ended up taking his own life in shame.

That is why I'm a Calvinist: I didn't do anything to deserve this ineffable grace, and neither did anyone else.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

Was just preparing a Sunday School lesson on Acts 4 and was amazed again at the change in Peter after Christ's resurrection.

He was there when Christ was on trial before Annas and then was sent to Caiaphas. He was so fearful to be arrested with Christ that, when asked if he knew Christ, he denied Him, just as He said he would. This, after having walked with Christ for three years.

And yet, after walking with the risen Christ for 40 days, arrested and in custody, he stood up to those same two men:

7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus [1] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [2] 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Kim from Hiraeth

C.T. Lillies said...

Good post Dan. Freddie's got nothing on Judas. What always bothered me was that he actually walked and talked with Jesus. He ate with him and saw all that he did and then denied him like that anyway...well I guess they both did that.

It gets creepy when we think it could be us. But whats the difference between Judas and say Hitler? Or Jeffrey Dahmer? Aren't we all just about the same?

Mike Riccardi said...

That's a wonderful conclusion to come away with, Grace, and I think a necessary one. Making those observations should lead us to glorify God in His sovereign grace. It should make us feel small and humbled while making Him seem exalted and lofty. What's the decisive factor in the whole equation? It's only grace.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

Amen...What a great thread!


Mark B. Hanson said...


You say, in effect, that Judas was "a man just like us." Of course, so was Elijah. One thing that interests me is that Judas is never used outside the Gospels (and Acts 1) as an example of a traitor to Jesus. Although his name has become a byword in the church for his betrayal, never in the rest of the NT are we told "Don't be like him."

Any thoughts on why this is?

Daryl said...


If I may...wouldn't that be kind of self-evident?

Stefan Ewing said...

Amen to what Kim wrote. I was struck with exactly the same impression as I reread Acts a few days ago, as Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and bore the fruits of repentance and sanctification.

I read through the General Epistles last night—which I'd never really paid much attention to before (apart from Hebrews, which was instrumental to my salvation), and I was humbled by the all the exhortations to godly living by James, Peter, John, and Jude. And let no one say that they in any way contradict Paul, for there is no contradiction, and they all wrote by the same authority of the Holy Spirit.

And as for Paul...every one of his letters cries out with joy and thanksgiving for having been redeemed by God! May we sinners, too, approach God with a humbled, repentant, and joyous heart! "I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name," said God, and Paul suffered in joy and thanksgiving. May we who live in comfort learn to live, endure, and prevail as Paul did.

"And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." (1 Peter 1:17-19)

Staci Eastin said...

Our little town was rocked earlier in the week by a horrible crime. Words like "monster" are being thrown around about the perpetrator.

My husband and I were discussing this subject last night. While the crime was terrible, the perpetrator, like the rest of us, was a sinner. A depraved human being. Just like we are.

There but for the grace of God go I.

James Scott Bell said...

Grace and Responsibility. The two tracks.

God, Tozer writes, is always "previous." Grace. And on our part there must be a "positive reciprocation." Responsibility.

Poised always in the balance of God's sovereignty.

Amazing. As Dan writes, one can never be smug, because the devil is prowling. OTOH, there is great joy in one's assurance of salvation through grace.

Another balancing act.

Rachael Starke said...

Jesus is the person I most long to BE like, but Peter is most often the person I AM like. Thankfully (and hopefully), especially in the repentance and change part. :)

Another home run Dan. And because it seems lately that ReformedHubby and I have spent more time discerning those who seem to NOT be called to preaching/teaching, how are the preaching/book publishing pursuits coming? Don't give up . . .

donsands said...

Great thoughts. Especially about Judas.

Peter loved Jesus. Of course he was chosen by God's grace. But is love for the Lord our best evidence for assurance?

Judas was told by our Lord that he would have been better off never having been born.
That's scary.
And yet Judas repented, and said he betrayed innocent blood, and killed himself.
I would think most unbelievers who may do something like this today would be considered to have gone to heaven.

Thanks for making us think a little deeper.

Solameanie said...

I think Solomon ranks up there in cautionary tales, although I might not put him in a "scary" category. Solomon was phenomenally blessed also, and then look how he blew it, followed by the consequences of his blowing it. I suppose that is scary.

BTW, Dan "Jael-Spike" Phillips . . . why are you writing scary posts at Christmas? Wouldn't late October have been a more appropriate time for goosebumps?

Stefan Ewing said...

What's striking is that both Saul and Judas both repented—or said they repented or attempted to repent—when the damage had already been done, and their repentance was for nought. Their hearts were so unspeakably hardened that there was no hope of redemption. That's scary, too. Really scary.

DJP said...

Sola — I should have thought of Solomon, and usually do. Thanks; he should have been in. And in a few weeks, when everyone's forgotten this post and I can put it up again, he will be!

I actually thought that about October; but then thought, "Do I really want to be h-t-ing that 'holi'day?" And I thought, "Nahh."

Matt Gumm said...

I just finished listening to the Book of John, and moved on to Acts. Starting in John 18, and going through Acts 2 (or Acts 4, as Kim mentioned) really gives a sense of what you're talking about, both for Peter and Judas.

I'm curious about the "did Judas repent" question. I have come to believe the Judas had remorse for what he had done, even to the point of changing his mind and trying to give the money back, but I don't think any of what he did could rightly be called repentance.

Any thoughts?

DJP said...

Yes, I do.

I'll offer a couple of mild ones.

First: working out the details of the texts isn't as simple as some make out.

Second: Judas showed a lot more "repentance" than a lot of so-called Christians content themselves with. I can think of two examples immediately, one very famous and one totally not. Both announced that they had "repented." Both did NOTHING to right the wrongs of which they had supposedly "repented."

And yet Judas admitted his wrong publicly to the people before whom he'd committed it, AND gave the money back.

If that is not genuine, saving repentance (and it isn't), can real repentance possibly demand less?

Stefan Ewing said...

I'd agree with that...there's no mention of his repenting to God. I guess I was just lumping him in with Saul, but on rereading 1 Samuel 15, he didn't actually repent directly to God, but confessed his sins to Samuel:

"Saul said to Samuel, 'I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the LORD.'" (15:24-25)

And that as a response to what Samuel had already prophesied as a word from the Lord:

"Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king." (15:23b)

It doesn't make it any less heartbreaking, though. No matter how fallen Saul was or the circumstances by which he became king, reading that passage is pretty gut-wrenching.

Stefan Ewing said...

Agreeing with Gummby, I mean.

pastorbrianculver said...

The scary part is that while I was a pastor, I look back now and see a lot of Judas in my life. I was walking with Him. I was talking to Him. I would have said, "is it I, Lord?" I put up a good front and no one knew I was not a true born-again Christian. I even fooled myself. It wasn't until I repented of my sins that I started to see Peter within me. I give God all the praise and all the glory for a changed life! Thank you for the post!

Mike Riccardi said...

I think 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 speaks on whether Judas repented or not.

A godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation. Sorrow not according to the will of God (or a wordly sorrow) leads to death. Especially in Judas' case, his worldly sorrow led to death in a very physical way no matter the spiritual implications. Indeed, Judas couldn't even do death right (cf. Acts 1).

Four Pointer said...

I found it fascinating when I read the account in Luke 22 of Jesus predicting Peter's denials. He tells him, "...I have prayed for you, that your faith would not fail, and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren."

Notice Jesus prayed that Peter's faith would not fail. He knew his flesh would fail. That's whay it's called "grace." Because even when our flesh fails, God looks at our whole life as a pattern of worship, and pardons those times we trespass against Him.

Solameanie said...



Stefan Ewing said...

Four Pointer's insight is pretty intriguing, too.

Solameanie said...

Actually, I've had second thoughts now. This guy ranks as the scariest.

My apologies, ladies and gentlemen.

Daryl said...

Aughhhhh!! Help.

Oh, that was only a picture...but I'll have nightmares, really I will.

DJP said...

Well, if we're going extra-canonical, my nominee would be him who is known in my family only as...

...The Nameless One.

But I meant canonical.

Stefan Ewing said...

Canonical? I never thought of Bach or Pachelbel as being scary!

ezekiel said...

When we look at the difference between Judas and Peter, do we not see the same between David and Saul, Esau and Jacob?

Peter, David and Jacob found a place of repentance? The others didn't.

Judas, Saul, and Esau all had sorrow. Guilt and even sought repentance but didn't find it, even after searching for it with tears.

Hebrews 12:16Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

17For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

Is the difference the selling of the birthright? Saul sold his for power. Judas sold his for 30 pieces of silver. Esau sold his for a morsel....

Kent Brandenburg said...


When you revealed Judas Iscariot as your choice, I thought you were going to write about the NY Times article that came out this week with a debunk of the Nat'l Geo. translation of the the Gospel according to Judas, reversing their original surmisal of hero status back to villainous betrayer.

It's at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/opinion/01deconink.html

Judas in the news again.

donsands said...

Judas was Satan's pawn. He was under the power of the evil one, and so the devil used him as he liked.

Does that fit in with his remorse and suicide?
Just thinking out loud.

Antonio said...


what make you of the Hebrews passages you quote?

What function would they serve to an elect person and to a spurious believing reprobate?

Do these passages hold out any real loss to the believer?

DJP said...

I think they mean what they say, warn what they warn, and have the same purpose in elect and reprobate as all the other Scriptures.

Matt Gumm said...

Kent: thanks for the link. That was good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan! How did you get a picture of my great grandfather in your post?!? And yes his name is Fredrick Ernest Kruger.

Good blog btw.

sdCorinne said...

I usually read all the posts before I write anything so as not to repeat what's been said already. But I'm too tired, and I must say THANK YOU so much for this post. It's exactly what I need right now - encouraging and convicting. I thank the Lord for you guys and His Word brought forth here.